Each morning, I rise and greet the day with a cup of coffee – the measuring out of grounds, water and milk a ritual so regular that I can complete it a state of semi-consciousness. I pour one brimming cup of water into the machine, two heaping tablespoons of French roast into the filter, a splash of soy milk in the carafe. Somehow, despite evaporation, one cup of water always yields one and a half cups of coffee – more than it is possible for a person to drink in the short time between waking, reading and readying oneself for work. That overfull mug is my morning companion; sipped at between the other little tasks of watering the plants, filling the bucket, transcribing last evening’s interview or editing this morning’s copy, it is a constant partner whose presence is so familiar that the interruption of quotidian chores never breaks our conversation. At the same time, that lingering half cup of liquid, too cold too quickly to enjoy, the absent other’s share, is a reminder that I am my own good company, not caffeine.
“Life for both sexes is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle,” wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own: “It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself.” The quickest way to confidence, Woolf notes, is by casting others as inferior. Possibly seeing oneself reflected in a steady lover’s eyes also works. The slower, surer way, of course, is nurturing self-sufficiency and a happy conversation with that solitary coffee mug – whether one is single, coupled, in a crowd, or in any of the other complicated sets of relations to other people that society tries to straitjacket into damaging dichotomies. “Suppose, for instance,” Woolf writes, “that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers…” One day, maybe, our primary concerns about women won’t be the question of their current state of affairs, or lack thereof. Until then, I’m happy to carry the single torch if it lights up a brighter picture of a complete existence, sans romantic partner. My glass is certainly more than half full.
Sonal Shah is Editor, Time Out Delhi.