Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Heart on Fire









One cold winter morning, this experience set my heart on fire, and the flame will burn within me as long as I live.

It happened just around this time, the time of Christmas and good cheer, when people are lighting fires and drinking warm things to banish the cold of the world outside and some of the darkness that visits everyone inside their hearts on lonely winter nights.

I was in Berlin in a hospital, and recovering slowly from an illness that had almost taken my life. The room was white and stark, well ordered and clean, gleaming like only hospital rooms can, since everything has to be germ-free. Outside the room the world gleamed under a weak winter sun and there was no snow. It was a surprising winter in Berlin when there was no snow, the first of its kind for many years. For the first time in many years too, there was sadness and loneliness in my heart. I was alone in a strange country, away from my loved ones, and my husband had yet to come, to be with me and hold my hand.

Any given day consisted of thermometers inserted under the arm to take temperature, injections pricked into skin for blood samples, the swallowing of prescribed pills, and the continuous visits of doctors and nurses. It was a non-stop if well-meant invasion of me and my time. I had to lie on my back and accept it all with good grace. I had just enough energy to be thankful for the care and attention being showered on me, the best of Indian hospitals lack this degree of concern. But the view outside was bleak, and though I am pretty spunky, I was feeling rather tearful, wondering when I would be home and enveloped in familiar warmth.

It was Christmas Eve, just like it is today, when early in the morning, my doctor walked in. She was a package deal in herself, but I found out all that much later when I got to know her better. On this day, she was just my doctor, dressed for Christmas with red lipstick on, black eyes snapping and her short hair gleaming. She smiled as she looked at me and said, “’ello, Abba.” That is how all of them pronounced my name and I had given up on the ‘h’ factor soon enough.

I smiled wanly. “Hi,” I said.

“And how are ‘du’ today?” she asked. She said the German ‘du’ instead of ‘you’, still it was close enough for me to understand. She was learning English and it embarrassed her no end to flail in front of me. So I did not correct her. Anyway, I was not up to it.

“Um…uh,” I said, not wanting to make a big deal of how I was feeling in front of her cheerfulness. She walked over to the window and ran a finger along the ledge to check. These doctors are finicky, very finicky. A smile almost crept along my mouth, they needed to come to India and smell the dust. And then my heart wrenched a bit more at the thought of my country.


She had a bright red coat on under her white doctor’s coat. I did tell you she was a package. She put her hands inside one of the pockets of the coat and took out a little white plastic flowerpot, the size of a tea cup. It was ridged. And in its centre there bloomed a single red star-shaped flower. I recognized this flower, but did not know its name. I found out later that it is called a poinsettia. She placed this flower pot on the window ledge.

“Merry Christmas, Abba,” she said, and her eyes crinkled.

Suddenly there was fire and warmth in the room, love and the sharing of it. I have not forgotten that flower, and it burns like a flame in my heart. It set my heart on fire that day and every time I looked at it, I knew I would return home.

*****



Friday, December 23, 2011

Encounter: A Different Set of Students


It is not all about fiction…

I am teaching a group of students who are studying marketing and advertizing as their main subject. This batch belongs more or less to the age group I usually teach, i.e. post-graduate students aiming to hone their writing skills. The difference here is that their aim is not to become 'writers’, but to have such a skill as an added advantage when they sally forth into the business world.

Well, I geared my talks keeping their interests in view, and as they learn from me, I also learn that each group of students is a different kettle of fish altogether. Delightful, yes, but quite different in their selection of waters for swimming.   

For example, there is great bonding in this group because they are exactly the same age, give a year here and there. They are interested in marketing, advertizing and public relations. Creativity and writing is a part and parcel of their greater pursuits. Despite the bonding, they come from different backgrounds, some have studied literature and some have studied commerce. They are dead serious about the classes, and almost everyone is present.

As we sit  in the sun in the ampitheatre (the cold chill of the class had prompted us to move out and it has been a good decision), the sound of the airplanes that fly overhead often disturbs us. So does the carol singing of the young kids,  preparing for the Christmas show, in the garden above the sunken ampitheatre. Despite the constant noise of some kind on the other, we manage to communicate and are happy in the warmth.

So we discuss books. What kind of books do they like to read? The feedback is revealing. One does not read at all, another watches 'only' movies, a couple of them read 'only' biographies and autobiographies. One of them says she does not like fiction at all, and then says she enjoys reading books by Amitav Ghosh! Turns out she is mixing fiction with fantasy.  So she likes reading fiction but not fantasy. Not one of them like any kind of fantasy, and all of them hate Harry Potter (especially the books). Now that is shockingly revealing! There is one book-worm amongst them who reads everything from Chetan Bhagat (all the novels) to the new breed of young Indian English writers (“ I Hate to Love You” and “I Too Have a Love story” types) to Sidney Sheldon and more. But she is the only one. A couple of them like ‘Sybil’ and recommend I read it, and one of them mentions "Love Story" and how passe it is. Someone asks me about "Catcher in the Rye" and what it is about.

In totality, the impression I got was of students who do not read a lot. And they acknowledge it with grinning nods. And ask me about the books I read. Hopefully, and I can see the hope reflected in their eyes, they will read some more now. At the moment,they are aware but not absorbed…regarding books. But ask them about advertizements and they will roll them off their tongue. We like the “daag achey hain” and  “get lost” and “jid karo, duniya badlo,”advetizements but we can’t understand the logic of this one and hate that one and so on. They are pretty vociferous about advertizements, so I guess they are in the right program. The ‘Creative Writing’ student groups (and there have been several) were into creative writing and reading and mentioned books they had read like flipping coins one after the other…non-stop. Much like this batch does regarding advertizements.

I love their smiles, enthusiasm and willingness to absorb and learn. They pay attention despite the distractions. They are a close-knit set with pen drives and netbooks and tight jeans and a certain degree of cockiness. And I just love to connect with them as they talk after class about a game called ‘sun’, ‘moon’ and ‘home’ and jump up and down the steps of the ampitheatre, playing the game and laughing like a bunch of school kids. Books are the furthest from their mind as they begin talking about a marketing survey they need to do.

I head out to lunch with my mom where the sarson-ka-saag, makki-ki-roti  and adrak-chai is waiting along with more of this sun and laughter.

*****





Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Indiblogger Meet …an Encounter worth the time!



I decided to attend the Indibloggers meet at the Park Hotel  on Sunday, the 11th December, for several reasons. One was to connect with some of the bloggers whom I knew  online and second to connect with some I did not know at all. It was also the convenience of both the time  (afternoon) and venue  (Connaught Place) for me. 

I can say that I was rather apprehensive about the meet, since I had not attended any before, and also because I could get lost and lonely in the milieu. So it was more of an impulsive whim and a desire to meet fellow bloggers that propelled me there. The Park is a familiar venue for me, so that offered a level of comfort.

The welcome was warm. Introductions were in full swing among the women at least and I soon joined in, introduced myself, and found that there were all kinds of bloggers. I blog on ‘encounters’, and this covers a gamut of situations. Two popular bloggers whose blog names were being thrown around were Cyber Nag and Indian Home Maker. Cyber Nag was gentle and friendly and Indian Home Maker was smart and camera-wielding. So the titles did not ‘really’ fit in real life, but must be doing so in their blog avatars. I have yet to find out, for I have many blogs to visit now. I met a quiet Anshuman who blogs about ‘random resistance’ , Sangeeta Khanna who has 4 blogposts on desi food, Santosh Bangar who blogs on simple healthy cooking, Purba Ray, Pallavi, Rachit, Vineet, and a host of others. Someone intorduced himself as “not from Jalandar” (to refute his introduction on- screen as being from Jalandar). I met Dr. Maurice Ryder who writes on Himalayan adventure and action, on animals and on…many things. Ritu Lalit and Aabha Midha I met in person for the first time, and it was great to do this eventually. Hiren Gogoi, a young student from Amity, obliged by clicking several of our photos from the several cameras handed to him!

There was a blogger who blogged on liver transplants, and another who did the same on finance.  Jaspal said he made lakhs from his blogging, I think we all need to know the secret of his success. There were blogs on the mundane and the unusual, but blogs galore, take your pick!

HPoriginals emphasized the value of the original over the copy. We talked on plagiarism, and I spoke of how some of my poems had been pasted once without attribution to me. A young lady, who spoke about her blog on liver transpant being completely copied by someone, won an HP Printer.
The introductions over, the games began. Team work, treasure hunt. So the team with the most number of ‘original’ (guess what) finds, won! And individuals who found an ‘original’ also won…a printer!

High tea. Chole-bhaturey and pakoras and other mouth-watering goodies.

The Discussion is On !

Another game of writing comments on flat boards carried by the participants on their back (I got a couple of really sweet commentsJ), and some lucky ones won again. The last event was where a mock panel of Kapil Sibal, Mark Z., Sonia Gandhi, Digvijay Singh, Suhel Seth, a Yahoo and Google rep. etc., faced the audience. With  the bloggers’ own version of Rajdeep S. manning the show, we had a humourous and enlightening time. Someone in the audience said that Sonia Gandhi should not be mocked, and he was asked whether Veena Malik should? Touche. Thank god for freedom of speech, that is all I can say. Each one of us can speak and be heard.

Well, the cars and autos and buses were waiting. We took our T shirts (yes, that too!) and bid our goodbyes to new friends made and old friendships strengthened.

Thank you Indiblogger and HPoriginals for a really good time. Oh yes, I learnt how to use the QR App. too!That is an added attribute.

**********************************************************************************


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

FLASH BITES : A collection of Flash Fiction by Abha Iyengar





Available as an e-book on smashwords 


Review by: BishalThapa on Aug. 29, 2011 :     

Ever stood under an Indian Monsoon after a hot, sunny day? Flash Bites might let you experience that sensation. 

Each raindrop is unique. Some are big heavy drops that hurt you when it lands. Some are small light drops that tickle you when it lands. Yet others are just illusionary drops that disappear somewhere on the way down. Some drops hurtle straight down; some sideways; yet others have no idea which way it wants to go. A rain shower contains many such drops.

Taking in Ms. Iyengar’s book is like standing under an Indian Monsoon after a hot, sunny day. Each drop has its unique character. But it is the rain shower that drenches you.

I would recommend not bringing an umbrella.


(Bishal Thapa is Vice President with global consultancy firm works on energy and environmental issues, though he would rather be reviewing books than climate policies.)



Sunday, October 2, 2011

With Due Respect to Those Who Eventually Find Their Way




Streets, Signs, Directions…

I am known as one who reads the signs. That is the only way I know where to go.  I am the quintessential ‘wanderer’ in the sense that I will wander very often because I do not know the direction that I need to take. It embarrases me to admit this, but I may have traversed a road often enough and still not know whether I need to turn right or wrong, sorry, left , from there. And this is not a case of senility taking over, I have been like this from the day I began  to venture out on my own.

I mean, there are all kinds of travellers in the world, aren’t there? Do note here that despite this apparent lack of direction, I am one gung-ho traveller. There is a place to see in the world…just lead me to it. I am a taster of strange waters and listener of stranger talks and I just love it like nothing else. There is a sense of wonder in travelling and seeing a new place. The fact that I may not find my way home is very far from my mind when I venture out. Foolish? I would say not. I have an enquiring nature and am willing to stop every furlong and ask for directions. Thank god I can read the signs. Sometimes I just have to read them, remember them, and then move on.

But I know the reasons for this lack of street sense. I can enumerate them and perhaps will find a few who will sympathise and empathise. As a child I travelled in a chauffeur-driven car, and in the point to point travelling, I never looked out of the window. Even when I did look out, I never noticed anything, least of all directions. I was either day dreaming, or had my nose in a book. I never felt the need or desire to watch the world go by. Strange,for now I see and look and watch. Then, after marrriage, I travelled with my husband, and once again, I moved blindly, in complete faith and trust, not bothering about directions. It is only when I began travelling on my own for work that the issues got raised. Left or right or straight ahead began to be big questions that loomed on the horizon for me. If I wanted to reach that horizon, I had to know how to get there.

I agree that I cannot hold the exterior environment as totally responsible, I did say that I am a day dreamer and a reader. I had to change all that when I began to travel alone. It has made me become aware like never before of streets and signs and landmarks for destinations. I also know that many people who daydream or read while travelling will still know how to reach a place. Alas, I am not so gifted. I have to din the directions into my head. And of course, I can read signs, and thank god for them popping up everywhere.

I once gave directions to a friend who was pick me up from my mother’s house. We were a group of writers from all over India who were meeting after a long time and all of us were looking forward to this meeting. My friend arriving safely at my mom’s place to pick me up in time. I patted myself on giving him good directions, you could just see me beaming as I hugged my fellow writers. Imagine my chagrin when he said, “Abha, I just went in the opposite direction of your instructions. That is why I have reached here.” The fact was that he lived in New Delhi and had soon figured out that whatever directions I had given him would not land him at my mom’s doorstep, but in the market behind it. Now how could I react to this? I could be upset in his proclamation of this in front of my other writer friends, or just be happy that he had arrived. I swallowed my pride and took his remark with grace, got into the car and pretended I was not smarting at all. I was, though. It is difficult to admit to one self that one is not purr-fect. Especially when people usually tell you that you are quite a cat. Such statements help you see you for what you are. Okay, so cats have their quirks.

And at least I can read signs and behave smart in front of certain auto drivers who insist on stopping at every traffic light  and asking questions like, “Madam, do you want to go right from here or left?” with complete innocence. As if Madam knows. Yet, at any such driver query, I nod sagely and tell him to take the fastest route,  since I want to get to the place in time, and surely he knows the way, being an auto driver and all that? And I hate him forever for trying to see whether I do. Delhi auto drivers can give you a good merry-go-round of the city if they get a whiff of uncertainty from you.

What happens in places where the signs are in a different language? Or the people speak a different tongue? I look helpless and throw words around, go through the guide book, accost a stranger and see if s/he knows the languages I do. Someone always come as an answer to the silent prayers I send out. Like in Ponidcherry, where they only speak Tamil or French and I I didn’t know either language, I was often in a fix. However, I would always find some auto driver who spoke English,  what with so many foreigners visiting Pondicherry.  And, I even found one who spoke Hindi whose mobile number I took immedaitely, so that I could call him for my expeditions into the city. In Bangalore, I found it very tough, though, for Kannada (the local language) stumped me and my languages stumped the drivers there. So then it was just clear enunciation of the destination street name, and then trusting the signs and the gods.

I wartch carefully now, spot and remember landmarks. I also guage distances and directions of movement. I note which side of the road I got off on, so that I cross to the other side for the return ride. I have found that I am not so helpless when I am on my own, I do find my way back everytime, whether on the tram in Paris or the autobahn in Berlin. Or on the Metro in New Delhi, my hometown. So I do know that the Metro blue line goes from East to West Delhi, the yellow line from Central Delhi to Gurgaon, and so on. There is also a purple line, and that is so exciting, since the colour purple makes me go green with delight.

I may be dumb with directions, but then, ask me where Rykjavik is, and I can tell you on the map. How many can? And if I know where it is , rest assured I can get there, for I know all about streets, directions and tell tale signs. I also have a woman’s instinct and am loaded with intuition. More than enough to get by on any street I choose to make mine at any time in my life.

As for finding my way back from my adventurous outings…I did mention I am a kind of a cat, and cats always find their way home. Purr-fect.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Return Encounters of the Class Kind



I am writing this after a long time, have had several classes in between but somehow had not felt like putting it all down, maybe it was just that I was so busy completing my novel. It is done. I am happy, and taking a breather, not thinking about the next stepping stone yet: you got it, the publsihing of the novel!
Meanwhile, to saner things.

The class was back again to being interesting. Good turnout, and the airconditioning  on full to kill all hot and humid feelings from the flesh. What was hot and churning was the brain. The topic for the day was dialogue writing, and there was much to be discussed here. The initial exercise was of a mother telling her 14 year old son or daughter to change his/her clothes which she considered unsuitable and the child’s reaction. This was to be in the form of a dialogue. Some responses were more narration than dialogue, one lady misunderstood it to be a father telling the child off, but apart from such gaffes the exercise had its high points. There was a story of how a girl refuses to take her dupatta to cover her head in the gurdwara, saying she will pick up a scarf at the place instead(a compromise of sorts but also getting her way), another one where the child accepts  being left behind at home rather than change her clothes. In another tale, the child is told  that even though he thinks he looks like Farhan Akhtar dressed for the Tomatino Fair in Spain, such an outfit would not go down well for a grandparent’s birthday party. Here,the mother tells the son he looks like a Holocaust Survivor while he thinks he looks like a film star. She also says that his outfit would not go well with her kanjeevaram saree, so it was a funny one, this one. In four out of ten stories, there was talk of ‘banging doors’ in anger as people stomped out or into their rooms. So we had a discussion on the banging of doors and someone said that in her house they cannot bang doors, and someone said his dog bangs the door for them, another said if the door banged, the walls would fall, and so on. ;)

We then did an exercise where one of the girls, a 9th class student , wearing tight jeans and strappy purple sandals, braces and spectacles, and hair in pony tails, was made to stand in a Shringar Mudra pose (which she learnt as a student of kathak), and 2 of the paritcipants were asked to walk in the garden (imaginative), and chance upon this sculpture. They had to  comment on this ‘sculpture’ supposedly placed in the middle of the garden. The comments were funny to say the least, they were astounded at this post-modernist piece of art with the girl dressed in jeans and adopting a 'shingar' pose.(one hand holding a mirror in front of the face, the other hand putting a mark on her forehead, one leg bent behind the other and a hip stuck out). Then each one wrote the dialogue down as their version, as they thought it would happen, and once again we had some good pieces. There was a conversation between a hip- hop dancer guy in the US who found the statue yuck and funny and not dressed as it should be. He was with and Indian  girl named Shakuntala, called ‘Shat ‘for short , (I squirmed at this),who thought that the hip-hop guy should appreciate a dance form since he was a dancer, even though the dance form (kathak) is not known to him.

We then went into the nitty grity of dialogue writing, the punctuations etc., and this the class found to be a real learning experience. They were busy noting down the points and getting their doubts clarified.

The next class was equally interesting, but that is another story!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Recent Review of 'Flash Bites' e book

"Relationships seem to be the basic theme that weaves into most all of yor stories. Poignant are stories of broken relationships. But the most beautiful part of your stories are the IMAGERY. It is rich, graphic and all pervasive. It makes the reading not only powerful but also pretty and oh, so touching."


~Vasudha Gupta (Ph.D.)
Licensed Psychologist, USA


Link to Flash Bites: 
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/59782

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My film Parwaaz can be viewed on youtube


My poem film, Parwaaz, means Flight.  It showed successfully at several international film festivals in Germany, India, Zimbabwe, and won the Special Jury Prize at Patras Film Festival, Greece.  With subtitles in English, it has been directed by Biju Viswanath. The Urdu poem is written by me and translated into English by me. I also act in the film and the voice is mine.
This film is now available for your viewing pleasure online on you tube.

Do watch and comment here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Presentation on The Story teller and Imaginative Spaces



A talk I had given earlier this year at CeC 2011, the Carnival of e-Creativity.I was one of the Primary Participants here.

I spoke on the Storyteller and his contribution to society. How, as a writer I consider myself a storyteller and my awakening as a writer to the various aspects of existence through the path of writing.

I speak also of Imaginative Spaces, what they mean to me as writer, and how collaboration is so important for synergy to take place.

It is an introduction to the process of writing, story telling, and through it, realization.


It is available on you tube and you can watch it and comment upon it here.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On my story ,'The Gourd Seller'


"While all the short stories in this anthology are viable narratives, the two
that stand out from the lot, to my mind, are “Seiji” by George Polley and “The 
Gourd Seller” by Abha Iyengar. Polley’s story is about an artist who grew up
and spent his life in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, Japan. With his intimate and
persistent grasp of the devastating violence in the aftermath of the Second
World War, the artist responds creatively to the given reality and looks beyond
the ravaged remains around him for light and life. Along another track of
violence, Iyengar’s story, set in the Indian city of Kanpur, depicts a Hindu
widow, Reena’s strange fascination for Altaf, the gourd seller, who falls victim
to communal violence. The story exudes the local aroma and ambience and the
literal translation of Reena’s outbursts has unmistakable Indian flavour."

~ Murari Prasad 
B.N. Mandal University, India 
on my story in this collection:   A Rainbow Feast:  New Asian Short
Stories.Mohammad A. Quayum, ed. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International, 2010. 328 pp.
ISBN 978-981-4302-71-5.

The link here:

http://asiatic.iium.edu.my/asiatic/article/Asiatic%204.2%20pdf%20files/Murari.review.pdf

Friday, May 20, 2011

Beauty from Within



Real beauty is something which stems from within a person, it is internal beauty. It lies in the heartfelt smile, the gentle touch, the welcome in the voice. It is the shine in the eyes and the enthusiasm in the walk of the spirit which greets the dawn of each day with hope. Real beauty is honesty and truth that shows on the face of a person who strives to live by a certain set of ideals and beliefs.

It is often believed that by colouring the lips, outlining eyes, sporting a designer haircut, or wearing branded clothes, a person begins to look beautiful. However, beneath the makeup if the skin is unhealthy, or if beneath the designer clothes the body is unfit, then this kind of attempt at beauty is artificial. It comes off when the make up and designer clothes are removed. Beauty of the skin and body lies in being clean and fit. It requires regular cleansing and exercising, so that the skin is vibrant and the body agile.

Real beauty also means that we remain intelligent and aware and participate in the everyday human endeavour to live a wholesome and fulfilling life. We do  not have to be a film star or a public persona to do this. Leading our life based on our convictions and working with our strengths to create a meaninful existence makes us beautiful.

Very often, there is a loss of physical beauty, or there is a lack of what the world defines as beautiful. Yet we call that person beautiful. Mother Teresa is a well cited example of this. It is the beauty of her spirit and her love  that has remained with us well after she is gone from the world.

A really beautiful person is constantly learning, evolving and is happy to be alive. She is one who pays attention to her diet and exercise and keeps active and vibrant, attempting to face each day as it comes and tries to contribute in whatever small way she can to the Universe to which she belongs.

Real beauty from within will colour our lives for much longer beyond our years. It is also important to acknowledge the beauty of the world around us, the beauty of being alive. ‘Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.’

Real beauty lies in taking care of our health, both mental and physical. It means  having confidence in ourselves and  being thoughtful towards others. Such beauty is never faked, it will show through the  sparkling eyes, the glowing skin and  the happy smile. Whether we are young or old, when we are really beautiful, no one, with all the made-up perfection in the world, will be able to match our looks. For we will possess the gentle, lasting beauty if a Dove.

*****

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Flash Fiction collection available online


FLASH BITES by Abha Iyengar is a collection of flash and micro fiction, telling stories in a few words,letting the reader in into a world and allowing her to fill in the gaps to arrive at her own interpretations. The stories are sometimes down- to -earth and sometimes surreal. They open a different door to let the light in on what may seem to be the mundane and ordinary. They give an insight into what lies beneath the surface of things, people and places. 
You can read more about Flash Bites, sample a few excerpts, or buy the book online by visitng this link

To know more about Abha Iyengar and her writing, visit here.
Happy reading...
Abha

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month -Parents Should Open Communication Channels with Kids



Child sexual abuse takes place because the child has no protection, no one to turn to. A child is trusting and innocent. When something like this happens, the child would not know what it is that is happening to him/her. The terror, the agony, and then the guilt, coupled with the threats of the molester, all of these would add up to silencing the child.

So it is very important that parents keep the channels of communication open between themselves and their children. Parents often drill so much of morality and what is right and wrong into the minds of their children, in order to teach them to tread the straight and narrow path. Yet, they fail to warn their children about those who may have no morals at all as far as children are concerned.  Parents have to teach their children about the ‘right kind of touch’ by others, and the wrong kind of touch.  And in the ‘others’ , the rest of the family members should also be included, the brothers, cousins, uncles and grandparents. Servants should also be included in this list of ‘others’ , even old, trustable, family servants.

 Many parents fight shy of talking to their children, because they do not know how to talk to their kids regarding such matters. Some parents also feel that such talk is ‘dirty’.  They first have to teach themselves that creating awareness of sexual matters, and also making their children aware of the dangers of sexual molestation  is not ‘dirty’ nor ‘shameful’, nor something to be embarrassed about.

Very often it has come to my notice that children are scared of their mother and father, and do not want to discuss anything with either of them, whether it be their dreams or their terrors. Parents, please have an open mind towards your children, you do want the best for them, and you do want them to be safe and sound , especially within the four walls that they call ‘home’.  Be open to their thoughts and ideas, be understanding and compassionate, and try not to be judgmental.  Children need to have someone to turn to and trust with their deepest feelings, and parents need to have the time and ability to understand those feelings.

Parents who teach their children about sex, and about what the right or wrong touch is, guide their children well.  Parents who tell their children that they must be informed if someone ‘wrongly ‘touches them, even if this is done by  a much loved uncle of the family, or a visiting friend of their father’s, are saving their children from a lot of pain. For this, parents have to keep their channels of communication open.

It can happen that the molester is the father himself. In which case, the mother has to be the strong one and the one who supports the child and listens to him/her and takes action. A mother who turns a blind eye or refuses to listen to her child is as much a perpetrator. Mothers cannot claim to be helpless. They have to support the child and get in touch with help from an NGO like RAHI ,or any other, which helps them deal with such traumatic experiences. Anything to do with the family becomes a touchy, sensitive and complex issue, so outside help is required, which works in the form of support and guidance and action to be taken.

However, the first step begins from home, it is important to show love to the child by making him/her aware of the existence of child sexual abuse and incest.  If guidance is required regarding the right age and how to do this kind of awareness creation, once again concerned parents can turn to books on the subject, and to the help and guidance offered by NGO s who work on such issues, like RAHI.

RAHI is Delhi based, but other NGOs are working with such issues all over India and abroad. The bottom line is that Child Sexual Abuse exists, and parents must make their children aware about it, in a gentle and educated manner.
*****

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month



When I first starting talking about CSA to people I knew, I got several responses. These responses came from people who were considered educated and aware. These were working women who went out in the world, interacted with an outside world, knew what was going on in the world around them and were not ignorant to say the least. They held well paid jobs. One of these women was a 28 year old (can’t call a today’s urban working 28 year old na├»ve, can you?) who said , when she first learnt of the existence of CSA, that she could not believe such a thing existed. I looked at her in shocked surprise, surely she could not be so impervious to what went on in the world?  Surely she must have heard some stories, some whiff of all this must have reached her ears at some point in her 28 year old life? Anyways, better late than never, be aware and know that CSA exists everywhere, and is often to be found happening within the confines of family life.
The other response was from an Indian lady who lives abroad and is middle aged. She has seen and experienced a lot of life. She is a working woman, holds a very important job, has grown up children. She is aware and alert about several issues. When I mentioned the prevalence of CSA in India, especially that it often takes place in families and that the abuse is done by someone who is either trusted or held in high regard by the victim, she gave an unbelievable response. She said that she did not think that CSA could happen in India, since our religion (sic) would prevent people from doing such shameful things. According to her, it was a malaise of the West. I was so dumbfounded that for a long time I could not speak. Well, now she has become aware that CSA exists wherever there are people, and it is as rampant in India as it is anywhere else.
That is why CSA awareness becomes important. So that people know that CSA exists, that it exists within families, and what to look out for to know if it is taking place within your own family, or happening to someone you know. CSA awareness makes you understand that these issues have to be dealt with, otherwise the implications are great. CSA is hushed, ignore, not made much of, because of the stigma attached to it. So the more people become aware, the more they talk about these issues and bring them out into the open, the more it becomes something that the perpetrators know they cannot get away with without being punished. CSA is a crime against the vulnerable, the tender, the innocent. Awareness is the first step towards action.
Those of you who do want to discuss anything related to CSA, please get in touch with Anuja Gupta of RAHI Foundation. She is there to counsel and help.


Talk today, April 12th, with Anuja of RAHI between 4.30 and 5.30 on Twitter: @CSAawareness

 For more on CSA Awareness, another site : www.karmickids.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 10, 2011

stories connect and reconnect

Rasana writes : Hi Abha,

I read an absolutely brilliant short story recently in the Unison collection. The characterization, the pacing, the execution - everything was superb. I flipped over to check the name of the author and saw that you'd written it.

Congratulations! It is, by far, the best short story I've read in a long time.

Rasana

She just made my day! The Unison collection is titled "Two Is Company" and available for order online at Flipkart . My story is called "Marked Territories". 

She has a very helpful blog for writers right here! Go check.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another class: another encounter of the fun kind


This was a fresh batch of students and I was getting better at it. I went with a more relaxed approach but of course the underlying excitement was there, of meeting a new bunch. This bunch had students, a civil servant, a businessman, writers, hairstylist, a yoga enthusiast, a sportsperson, a couple of dancers, a sci- fic lover,  and a lot of enthusiasm. Winter was setting out and spring was on its way in, yet the air did have the element of chill in it. I was early for the first class and as I sat nursing my tea, two of the students walked up to me and we talked before we left for the formal class interactions. They later joked about it, saying they were making sure they got to know me before the others did. J

In class, the ice-breaker was a laugh, with Ramesh and Rama as two characters who were married for thirty years and had grandchildren before a small act of Ramesh’s made Rama decide she could not live with him any longer. He broke the ice and put it in his red wine, and she thought, yuck, how could she possibly put up with someone like this. So she left him and found another guy but the best was that Ramesh was very happy with this separation for finally he could drink the wine as he liked it (with ice) and he also could show his interest in Rama’s lover since he could now proclaim that he was gay and not have any problems about it.

We then worked with an image which threw up all kinds of story ideas from mother earth to performing lemons to a sadhu within the central green pod who was out to mislead the world. I liked the idea of the performing lemon the most. The other tales were of how the blue squiggles were the common man who was non- descript and shallow, the ones on the balconies above were likened to noblemen or controllers of the pod or even jalebis (by one of the students who said she could not think beyond food).

One of the other exercises also produced some very interesting tales. There was a tale of a man buying a lettuce and wondering why the seller asked for hard cash as change and why he could not ask for liquid  change instead, as he sat under a lamplight in the gathering dusk. There was another fantasy tale of how a lettuce could only live so long and then change into a liquid form which could impart its life to another being but become liquid as it did so and be held within a lamp after that. These were very interesting tales, and then one of them brought out a tale of a dancing lamp. So we had homework to do with a dancing lamp or a performing lemon since the photo had a performing central piece that resembled a lemon to one of the participants.

It was a good experience, full of fun and laughter. And work done.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dream, Destination, Destiny!


I was in Trivandrum to make a film. I did not know anything about film making, I was a poet, I knew how to write and recite. I was also a risk taker, an entrepreneur of a kind, or why should I be there for making the film? Or, and I think this could be the real reason, maybe it was just that I had always wanted to go to Kerala http://greatbackwaters.com/




and my desire was finally taking shape. It was materializing, but in a totally different way from what I had envisaged. I had always thought I would holiday in Kerala with my family when my children were young. The desire to see Kerala had been fuelled a long time ago by my next- door neighbour. She was from Kerala. My children had breakfast every Sunday morning at her home. Her dishes were delicious and I learnt a lot from her, like not wasting anything. When she transferred rice from one dish to the other, not a grain of rice was left behind. I stopped being so careless about food after watching her. But what I learnt more from her was of Kerala, which till then had been just a part of the nebulous, hazy South for me. I had never gone beyond Hyderabad. Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are poles apart in more ways than one, and Hyderabad cannot be really considered as geographically ‘South’ as Trivandrum.
As the years passed and the children grew into teenagers, I began to believe that I would never get to see God’s Own Country, despite my fervent wish to do so. But as they say, “there is delay in God’s house, not darkness”. And, “when He gives, He breaks rooftops”. So finally, many years later, I was whisked away to Trivandrum not to holiday but to make a film there.
This experience was a mixed blessing. It was raining every time we tried to shoot the film. I realized the degree of hard work the making of a film requires. It meant crew, co-ordination, timing, jugaad panaa by the minute. Each day cost money in terms of camera, crew and actors. The weather and luck play a big part in the whole thing if you are shooting outside like we were. I realized that making a movie is not a cakewalk because everyone and everything has to work for each of those perfect shots that seem to flow so easy on the screen. The high-voltage tension involved has to be experienced to be realized.
I learnt a lot in Trivandrum during the process of film making. Of how a fire is lit for a film and kept going on the beach despite rain. How you can be blessed by a sudden shot of crows flying low, which when filmed there and then, add to the film’s depth.
With all this, I experienced the sheer beauty of Nature with all its bounty. The grey beaches, the deep blue waters, the dark green coconut trees, the sweet yellow bananas, Nature just gave of itself freely and willingly. The film could not have been made anywhere else but here, against this backdrop of lyrical natural bounty.
Trivandrum is different in so many ways from Delhi, the city where I live. In Delhi, we get the beginning nips of cold in October. In Trivandrum, it is humid, and it rains, even in October. Yet it is a part of India, and beautiful in so many ways.
The trip to Trivandrum seemed to have opened up the South for me, for after shooting this film, I have gone to Pondicherry and Chennai in subsequent years. I love to travel, and I am so happy that my dream of going to Kerala finally materialized in the most stupendously exciting and remarkable way. Two dreams came true, Trivandrum and a film. Three dreams, actually, for the dream to travel also got fresh wings.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The bey blade : encounter with a high tech toy



On the way up to my flat in the lift I met a young boy. He held in his hand a green coloured plastic object which I could identify as a bey blade, since I was still somehow in the loop and was not so alienated from what moves the ages between 8 to 12. Bey blades have many names and types, but only those who play with them, or their mothers who are forced to purchase them, would know the variegated names of these.
I am wont to make conversation with young things, who may or may not be sweet. So I opened my conversation with what would be of interest to him, and to me as well. Bey blades are strange and unfamiliar objects in my eyes and I could get to know them better.
“What do you have in your hand? Some kind of new fangled gun?”
It could be, it could be.
Amazed, he looked at me. I did not know? ‘This… is a bey blade.” Then his face put on once again a dead pan expression. He just wanted to get on with his life.
I did know. but I wanted more.
“So what is this one called?” I knew they had names.
He mumbled something, I could not catch the name.
“I have many ,” he said. He rattled off the names now, and I caught a few. Not so sure I heard these right…Dragoon? Pegasus?
“This one has ‘stamina’,” he said. He was referring to the one he held.
Stamina?
It seems the bey blades have characteristics like stamina.
He had begun to talk. The lift had gone all the way up to the 7th floor.  Impatiently, he pressed the button for his floor again.
“Yes,” he said, “stamina. It can go on a lot longer than others.”
“There are other characteristics too?”
“Oh, yes.”
This was a whole new ball game, no, lattoo game.
“So this is a  lattoo,” I said, knowingly.
He was shocked. “No. this is not a lattoo. I told you, this is a beyblade.”
Lattoo. In the streets of Karolbagh many years ago, was played this game. Young boys played it and me, the tomboy for a while, often tried my hand at it. Though I never got interested enough to master the craft, I did love the way the lattoo spun on the mud or the tarmac or the grass, its pointed  end sharp and cutting, a one- legged ballerina spinning on her own.  One spinning wooden top would be joined by several others, and I would watch to see whose lasted it out the most, who won, which lattoo fell first. The guy whose lattoo lasted it all was the hero of course. He would most probably be taken to the corner shop and fed a samosa to acknowledge his victory for the day. If he was lucky and his friends had some money in the pockets of their cotton shorts or pale blue school pants.
The spinning top of those days was a red and yellow toy with a fat centre, a little cap on top and a tapered iron pointed leg. You would wind a thin twine round and round from its top to its fat stomach and right down below, catch the end of the twine in your hand, balanced the lattoo between your index finger and thumb, and then release it by pulling hard the twine.  So much balance and art, premeditation and control required for the lattoo to spin and not fall flat on its face. Much like today’s bey blade but here, the control and preparation is of a different type. And the feel is all plastic, no wood, no twine, no bright red and green painted colours. I am nostalgic. I do not care much for bey blades, I did care for lattoos then. Not too much, but enough, enough to write about it now.
His sister stood next to him with a  ‘scooter’, those one- legged things you trundle along.
I asked him whether he had one.
“No, I have my bey blades,” he said.
I know he spoke in the plural, because kids don’t have one, they have many. They are expensive, the price range is from 150 to 400 rupees. And then they have spare parts, the more fun add-ons to the basics, which again cost some more, say another rupees 50/- for each spare. Welcome to the world of money makes the top spin more. The old wooden top is a cheap, forgotten hero of another era.
“Do you ride this sometime?” I asked him as I looked at his sister’s scooter.
“No, it’s hers, it’s a girl thing, a girl model, I would never ride it.” He gave me a look from under his eyes as if he was talking to a strange creature.
I was strange to his world, a world of bey blades, a world where stuff was not shared. These are the times of specializations, and what does for one will never do for the other.
The lift doors opened, he walked out. His sister walked out. He looked back. We, of two different worlds, were travelling in the same lift, the lift a time machine.
A  bey blade which would never be a lattoo again, in any avatar. In the future, it may be something else, a ‘funky-toss’, a ‘snake-slide’, or a gutter-snipe’, who knows?
Is my nostalgia tinged with regret? A trifle, yes, for who does not want to be that kid again, the one who ran down stairs and watched the tops spin in the galli late into the evening? But otherwise, no, for it is pure nostalgia of my childhood time, just like this young one will have of his. The bey blade is a product of this time, where games have to be specialized and high-tech, the spin instantaneous. What is not lost is the spirit of competition, game play and the human endeavour to make sure that kids have toys.
*****