Josna Rege

167. Diary-keeping

In 1960s, 2000s, 2010s, Books, Childhood, Education, India, Inter/Transnational, Stories, writing on January 1, 2013 at 4:34 pm


Do you remember those diaries that banks and various companies used to send out to their customers as New Year’s gifts (along with calendars, of course)? These were not the anorexic little datebooks that pass as diaries today—at least, for those who still use books at all rather than Blackberries or iPhones. No, these were substantial, well-padded, sometimes even leather-bound tomes with a full page allotted for each day, along with built-in calendars, address books, conversion formulas for weights and measures, and sections for memoranda and accounts.

Soon after our return to India at the end of 1963 one of these beauties fell into my hands, one of my prize Christmas presents that year. I carried it around with me for years afterwards through a succession of moves, until it finally slipped away not so very long ago. Imagine my surprise when, fully 43 years later, I found a very similar, almost pristine diary in the book shed at our town dump (er, sanitary landfill, no—transfer station) for the very same year!

I often think back to that original 1964 diary, the gold standard of all diaries to follow. It happened to be a leap year and ever since, I have been able to keep track of leap years using 1964 as a starting point. As I had all those years before, I began writing in its newfound successor with the best of intentions, only to have those first, well-developed entries peter out after a few short days, with long gaps punctuated by sporadic entries, and periodic absurd attempts to catch up by reconstructing the events of the missed days.

Everyone’s diary-writing style reflects their personality, and mine is no exception. My entries have been erratic, with occasional gems, a lot of lists, and many, many blank pages. I remember once in high school in the U.S., when I had recently begun to learn Calculus, using the differentiation formula (was that it?) to calculate how many pages I would have to write per day in order to catch up on all the missing entries by a certain date. I remember being very pleased with myself for actually having used Calculus for a practical purpose, if you can call that practical. Sad to say, it was the last time I ever used it for anything at all. So much of our time, so much of our education wasted.

I know better than to make any New Year’s resolutions in the realm of diary-keeping. The only diary-keeping I do these days—besides more-or-less keeping track of doctors’ appointments and committee meetings—is continuing to hold on to the motley collection of notebooks I have used as journals over the years. My friend Sejal started a decluttering group on Facebook last year, and I know that she employed a professional organizer to help her tackle boxes of journals that dated all the way back to middle school. As a writer, these hold precious raw material for her, worth holding on to even as most other stuff can be jettisoned without a second thought.

Occasionally I delve into some of those old diaries, the oldest dating back to high school in England, circa 1969, and, to be honest, what I unearth there are the very same themes and preoccupations that can be found in my private writing to this day. Please tell me there’s at least some forward movement in life!

Best wishes for the New Year.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. Perhaps forward isn’t the direction to seek, Josna. To me, there’s something reassuring about your grappling with the same themes over many years. I’d be very surprised if you don’t engage them more deeply and in ways more nuanced now than you did then.

  2. Great blog, Josna! I, too, tried and failed at keeping diaries (and at keeping hold of any that I ever had). Probably a good thing, as most were embarrassingly filled with fatuous drivel about my many unrequited crushes in middle school. I think I do still have the odd autograph book stashed somewhere, which provides a very limited window onto what my friends and I were thinking about at the time. What an odd concept the autograph book was — you and your friends as celebrities. I rather prefer the private written version to the endless YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook postings of today. Surely showing my age with that comment! Lots of love to you and family, and Happy New Year! xxoo

    • Hi McNance! Those old diaries can be embarrassing to revisit! As you say, they give us that window into ourselves at the time, naive and sometimes maudlin, yes, but also open and idealistic. And yes, I still have my autograph book, which I agree is an odd phenomenon. It’s interesting to think of it as an earlier incarnation of Facebook, one important difference being that it’s private. Of course it gets continually updated, but for Facebook-Google’s archives for all time (aaargh). I also like your point that one’s friends are the celebrities whose autographs one seeks. (Have you read my TMA story on my autograph book?

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