It is when you start examining life. It is when most of what you have been taught so far comes unhinged, your mind is uncontainable, it flits, it zigzags, like a balloon you are blowing into that escapes from your fingers. When your school regimen ends, when you start learning, absorbing, what you want to, not what they tell you. When you figure nothing is what it seems, you realise history has many retellings, all great men and women have flaws. It is when you find out films can choke you, a painting can move you, music can make tears well up in your eyes, cooking can elate and travel overwhelm. When you feel finally the only true companions in your life are going to be books. It is when nothing seems right, you want to rebel against everything: the state, the army, America, your genetic make-up, big companies, your caste, the traffic cop, acne. It is when you formally start asking ‘why me’.
Eighteen is when you fall in love every three days, you discover new things about your body, discover new contours in another’s. It is when you discover the strength of a caress, when desire burns you, jealousy crushes you, ambition blinds you. It is when you really learn to laugh. It is when you want to try out life, try out people, try out everything. When you know this earth is fragile, you know mankind is, well, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. It is when what lies ahead is mysterious, it terrifies you but you know you are indestructible. It is when you know you cannot die.
We asked 18 top authors to write about this curious phase in life. Their thoughts are here—from Ruskin Bond, 79, in Mussoorie who does not have a cellphone or an e-mail address, who speed-posted his handwritten notes and it reached us the day he said it would, to Fatima Bhutto, 31, who promptly replied to the mail requesting her to write in half an hour when she was travelling in Johannesburg and sent an enchanting little piece about growing up in Damascus, to Pico Iyer who quickly sent in his piece as he said he was going to be cut off from the world soon.