A Few of my Favorite Words

It’s been less than a week since the end of Ramzan and I’ve been able to eat and drink through daylight hours with complete freedom. I’m still waking up at 3.30 am, however, as hunger pangs hit me, a belated memory of a month of fasting. A regular fasting day starts just before sunrise, so our breakfast, or sehri as we call it, is normally an hour before, mostly to ensure that we get the time needed to drink bucket-loads of water before the sound of the azaan (call to prayer) (when I was working full-time, I’d rarely sleep after sehri, working through the whole day and falling asleep well before 10 pm. Now that I’m self-employed, I tend to nod off around 5.30 am and wake up again at 8. It’s been very disorienting, because I was sleeping later, and not getting more than 3-4 hours of sleep at one stretch).And the same thing happens at 7.30 pm, when we normally broke our fast with the sunset. I’m forgetting to drink water during the day, so accustomed have I become, in 29 short days, to going without. I have to think twice before I pick up an apple, checking my brain to see if it’s ‘allowed’.

This is despite a day of celebrating Eid (my Eid was shortened from the usual 3-day fest because of personal reasons), of visiting family and friends and gorging myself on the traditional sweet sawaiyan (vermicelli cooked in milk and served with roasted pistachios and almonds) or sheerkorma (peculiar to households from Hyderabad Deccan, this is basically the same as sawaiyan, but it’s more milk than vermicelli. Many of the older generation in my family actually drink it rather than eat it). It’s as if my consciousness acknowledged that Eid was an aberration, and in returning to a regular routine, picked right up from where it left off in Ramzan. I am not at all hungry at lunch, which drives my poor beleaguered husband (who can’t fast due to health reasons) insane. He hates eating alone, and he’s categorically told me that starving because of these new ‘habits’ of mine is not on the agenda.

So, I’m ‘re-learning’ to eat at normal times in a regular day.

It seems to me that habits aren’t all that hard to form—good or bad. It took less than a week for my internal clock to align itself to the very early morning wake-up call. It took just about a week for lunchtime hunger pangs to fade. By week two, I was sailing through the fasts, though the odd sleeping patterns were disturbing. I still get sleepy at 8 in the morning, even though I will have slept the night through.

Based on this, I figure, not counting Eid, I should be back to normal in a few more days. Why is it, then, that I can’t seem to break my writing habits? I had someone come back to me on a read of a short story of mine with highlights of the word ‘hence’ all over the place. Apparently, I really like that word. I remember when I was in college and I wrote ‘hence’ in a birthday card (no, I don’t remember my message, and yes, I was a nerd) to a friend who laughed mercilessly at my stuffy language. Granted, when it came to writing essays or working on collaborative projects, I was the one everyone turned to! But, yes, it’s a twenty-year habit that I haven’t grown out of.

The highlights on the story led me to examine my writing a little more closely and I’ve come to realize that it is, in fact, ridiculously formal and sometimes formulaic. I like, for instance, saying ‘in fact’, ‘needless to say’ and ‘ostensibly’ a lot—someone asked me once, who uses ‘ostensibly’ in regular conversation? Oh, and ‘it occurs to me’ and ‘apparently’ and ‘for instance’ and ‘therefore’ and ‘nevertheless’ and… Damn these habits.

I’m torn, though, between preserving my style, such as it is, and making my language more ‘reader-friendly’. What would that mean, really? Not a dumbing down of my language—I don’t believe that readers are stupid or turned off by old-fashioned words, as long as the writing isn’t too wordy. Maybe just bringing some variety into it? Finding a middle ground, perhaps, between too many ‘hences’ versus none at all?

Nevertheless (see how I used that here?), I have decided to make a conscious effort to write something that doesn’t include these words or phrases at all. I’ll try it for a whole week and see if I can break the habit of stuffy language and predictable word patterns. Maybe I need to break my writing down before I can build it up again. Maybe this is one phoenix that needs to rise regularly from its own ashes.

I won’t, however, be starting with this post. I’ll start next week. I promise.

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