Write your own history

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 23 2020
Columns Write your own history

By R.S. Karunaratne

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train”

– Oscar Wilde

Being a holiday everybody was at home. The novel I was reading was getting duller with every page. My wife seemed bored too. She was sewing a frock for our daughter. She got up and went over to the bookcase and pulled out an old diary.

“Want to know what happened five years ago today?” She asked opening the diary. “We were in India visiting religious sites. Can’t you remember?”

We did go to India five years ago but I had forgotten all about it. 

“Five years ago we were at Buddhagaya. Can you remember how you found it difficult to sit under the sacred bo tree for a long time? What a beautiful day it was!” She said.

Cable car

Yes, now I remember the whole incident. I couldn’t sit cross-legged for a long time although others managed to do so quite easily. On another day, we travelled in a cable car to reach a temple on top of a mountain. When we looked down we saw a large expanse of the virgin forest with its beautiful animals, a few streams and brooks babbling down the mountain. She had recorded everything in her diary. Then only I realised the importance of keeping a diary even when you travel abroad. When we grow old we can refresh our memory by reading old diaries. Even our children and grandchildren will enjoy reading them.

The diary is a book in which you write down the things that happen to you each day. It can also be a book with separate spaces for each day of the year in which you write down the meetings and events that are planned for each day.

Diaries are divided up into days, and day is where their name comes from – or rather dies: Latin had a noun ‘diarium’ based on ‘dies.’ Originally it referred to a daily payment or to the amount of food someone was allowed per day, but later it came to be used for a book with daily entries – hence, English ‘diary.’ We have another word with almost the same meaning, journal, and its origins are similar, being from Latin ‘diurnalis,’ meaning ‘daily,’ which was based on ‘dies.’

Mundane events

Nowadays, many people do not keep diaries. Even if they have diaries they write mundane events in them. It is all right to write down important events of your life, but there is no need to record everything you do every day.

If you become a diarist, you will find a subtle but interesting metamorphosis taking place in your daily life. At once you will become a reporter without any training in journalism. Your eye and mind will catch small things that happen all around you, every day. When did you graduate? When did you get your first job? When did you get a promotion? All these are clearly recorded in a diary.

An old friend of mine who lived up to 90 years died recently. When I visited him I saw a box full of old diaries. When I asked him why he was keeping them, he said, “They contain my life history. If any of my children or any outsider is interested in reading them, they are free to do so.”

With his permission I read a few entries in a diary. In one diary I found, “Now my daughter is married and she will be a mother one day. When I am no longer with them, how would she feel?” Another entry said, “What will happen to my son when I die? He didn’t get married or find a job.”

Corona virus

If you are a diarist, you will record COVID-19 and how we suffer today. After 20 years, somebody will read the entry and they will be surprised that so many people had died due to the pandemic. A diary can be a log of your life written for family scrutiny and enjoyment. Or it can be a private and personal as the innermost yearnings and aspirations of the human mind. The blank pages you fill can become a warm and receptive friend waiting for you to say what you have in mind. After writing, tuck the diary away and lead your normal life.

I had an aunt who used to write cooking recipes in her diary. In addition, she used to write the dates of birth of her children and grandchildren. She also recorded their wedding anniversaries. Over the years she became a weather reporter. If she experienced heavy rains or storms, she would record them in her diary. Some critics say diaries are not meant for recording such trivial events. However, you are free to write anything in your diary.

Some well-written diaries get published. The best example is Anne Frank’s diary. She was a German diarist. In 1933, she and her family who were Jewish left Nazi Germany and settled in Amsterdam. In July 1942 they went into hiding in the sealed-off back rooms of an Amsterdam office building in order to avoid arrest by German occupation forces. In August 1944 their hiding place was revealed and they were taken into custody. Anne died in the concentration camp at Belsen less than one year later. Her Dutch diary, describing with humour and tenderness her two arduous years in seclusion was found in the hiding place. It was published in 1952 in the United States as “Anne Frank: The diary of a young girl.” One of the entries in her diary is memorable: “I want to go on living even after death!”

Every human life is a free-fall through time. Lives of great men are recorded for posterity. You may not be a great person, but you have travelled through good and bad times. You had your own space on this planet. Don’t you think that you should leave your life story or at least some glimpses of it for the future generations? Those who will come after you may wish to know who you were;what you did for a living; what you thought about other humans, and how you faced life’s eternal challenges. If you are not someone who does not keep a diary, remember that a diary can be your priceless legacy to the future generations. So, keep a diary and leave your footprints in the sands of time!

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By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 23 2020

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