How My Writing Desk Steers Me Through The Chaos Of The Covid Pandemic

When I'm at my desk, I'm in work mode and everything else recedes to the background.

It is July 2020. A global pandemic has forced us to be stuck at home for months. I am in no hurry to wake up early, prepare breakfast and pack lunch for my school-going son. The entire household is often asleep till 8 am, while I wake up and sit at my desk, trying to make sense of my life. A scenario none of us ever dreamed of is unfolding before us and I deal with it by writing.

I open my laptop and look at the pink PostIt note stuck on the top of my desk. It has a list of things I need to get done in the day. With my mug of tea beside me, I get down to working – whether it is knocking off a chapter or two of the book I’m currently writing, or listening to notes from a client whose book I’m ghost writing, much of my daily routine revolves around my desk.

When I’m at my desk, I don’t feel the need to do anything else but to focus on my work. My sister-in-law looked at it once and said, “But there’s no window! Don’t you feel like looking outside now and then?” I shook my head. Sure, I’d have loved it if there was a window (with a good view) but I was happy with what I had too. Who had the time to look out anyway?

A few years ago, I had another desk to write. Since there was no space in mine, it was in my son’s bedroom — a chaotic space with clothes and toys strewn about everywhere. I despaired every time I entered, but the moment I sat down at the desk, I was magically transferred into another land.

I remember my mother-in-law walked into the room once and looked at me in disbelief. “How can you possibly work, surrounded by all this mess?” she asked. I really couldn’t articulate how I felt when I sat at my desk. I felt like the rest of the world had dissolved and only I was there, working away diligently. I could be surrounded by all sorts of mess but when I sat at my desk, it always felt like home.

Much before I became a writer, when I was about eight-years-old, I used to see my father sitting behind his desk while he talked on the phone to a client. He had a home office in Hong Kong, back in the 80s. While he worked there, my mother, brother and I visited during our summer vacations and after the initial euphoria and excitement of foreign travel, it used to become boring.

My father got us notebooks to scribble in and write to keep us occupied. One day, when he wasn’t in the office, I ventured in, clutching the notebook and sat down on the revolving chair behind his desk. I felt a great sense of importance as I shifted my body to make the chair swivel but more than that, I felt an urge build inside me — I wanted to become a writer.

An eight year old’s strange desire to become a writer because of a desk wasn’t the reason why I became a writer though. It was more than that, but I remember it as the point where it all began. A couple of years later, my father got a carpenter to build desks for my brother and I in Bangalore, where I grew up. I was absolutely thrilled to have an entire desk to myself. When the carpenter was done, I felt like hugging my new desk, but decided to just kiss the surface instead. The carpenter, who hadn’t yet left, caught me in the act and he was very amused. But my mother wasn’t. “At least dust the desk first”, she yelled.

“It feels like an island in the middle of all the chaos that life throws at us. It gives me a sense of control even in turbulent times like this pandemic.”

That desk became the place where I sat down to study for my exams, I squirreled away the things I didn’t want my brother to find. I would put them in the drawer, lock it and hide the keys. It was where I could be found on most days, my chair leaning against the wall, a book in my hand if I wasn’t studying. It was where I diligently worked on Math problems with my sweet tuition teacher Indu Aunty. She would pull up a stool beside me and watch me while I worked. Sometimes we would pause and talk about this and that, and then get back to work. When I was in college, I sat on the desk to write poems — silly rhyming couplets to make my friends laugh. I wrote of confusion and heartbreak when things didn’t go my way. I was quite upset when I realised I wouldn’t be able to take my desk along with me when I got married. I didn’t mind leaving behind my room, but my desk was special. It had a piece of me, and I felt lost without it.

Several years later, after my children were born, my mother suggested I take my desk for them and I jumped at that idea. It now stands in my son’s room, rarely used but still has the stickers I adorned it with in the early days after it was made. Some of the lamination has chipped off, but it’s still sturdy and useful — it feels like a friend that I have outgrown.

My own desk isn’t custom-made, but a hand-me-down from my husband. It’s a massive one and a bit cluttered. The storage space is where I stash all my notebooks (an obsession of mine). It has photos of my kids taped on it, my laptop, pens, notebooks, PostIts with to-do lists and all sorts of detritus. But when I’m at my desk, I’m in work mode and everything else recedes to the background. It feels like an island in the middle of all the chaos that life throws at us. It gives me a sense of control even in turbulent times like this pandemic. At a time when life feels completely out of whack, I continue to return to this haven, creating fictional worlds where people can step out without the fear of an invisible virus.