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.