Ya devi sarva bhooteshu kshudha roopena samsthita
Namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namaha

Prathamam: Hunger

Waiting for the first word is like waiting for that first morsel of food after a night of hunger.

All night you toss and turn, your stomach cramps and your liver injects a shot of bile into your system. Your head hurts and you think, through the pangs of pain, of all the things that you might eat. You think of all the nights in your own home when you could go up to the refrigerator, make a snack and alleviate that growing discomfort. You think of the freedom that the late night snack symbolizes and then your stomach hurts again and you return to the immediate. You wait for the first light of morning and that slice of hot buttered toast.

For the fortunate, hunger comes to an end. Not soon enough, not with a dish of their choice, not in the quantity they crave; but end it does.

Soon they can write.

Everybody is not as lucky as that. Some people spend a lifetime waiting to know what ‘three square meals’ must feel like. Like those of us who learn to see them and not see them at all, they learn to feel the pangs of hunger and not feel them at all. They work longer hours, harder, more physically and on less food-fuel than others do. Bile becomes blood and pain becomes breath. Their heads don’t hurt and their backs don’t tire. They slow down with hunger. And as they are chided for that slowness, their souls become lead, insulating their hungry hearts from abuse.

We live in a universe that delights in ironies and there is one here too. Some spend their lives trying to never go hungry; others struggle not to eat in the midst of plenty.

Waiting for words is hunger.

Some are luckier than others in that their wait ends and their struggles—patient or impatient—are rewarded. Luckiest are those who do not know this hunger at all.

No empty page stares back at them. No words tease them at every turn, appearing when there is no page in sight and disappearing at the first promise of a chance to write. No ideas flirt with their dreams and then melt into the morning light. No inner demons cry out for conquest and no fantasies long for expression. The universe cannot mock their inability to create for they made it no such promise.

And the words only come when other things do not. They fill the holes in our lives as punctuation creates closure in the areas that remain without resolution. “I long for a child and here is a poem to place in my arms where my child should have been.” “I cannot cope with this struggle any more so here is a full-stop to all that.” “I need a break but am not ready to stop altogether so here is a comma for a month’s holiday and a semi-colon for a sabbatical.” “There is no home we can call our own so I will create a novel structure that I might inhabit.” Words fill the hungers that remain in our lives. Those who do not hunger for words are lucky; chances are, neither do other hungers besiege them.

However, what would I do without my hunger, either for those missing things, or for the words that would remedy their lack? It is the pang in my stomach that tells me that I am alive, it is the idea that plays hide and seek with my brain that keeps me moving, it is the ache in my heart that teaches me the purpose of my life.

It is through hunger that your presence is manifest in my life—as the will to survive and thrive, the strength and the steel to cope, the passion to engage with the world and the creativity to give my life purpose. For this hunger, I am grateful.

Namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namaha.

Sept. 27 2003

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