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How do you balance writing and seeking empathy (and readership)?

“I wonder what would have become of me if I had come of age as a writer during these years of living out loud. My parents were in a car crash in 1986 that killed my father and badly injured my mother. If social media had been available to me at the time, would I have posted the news on Facebook? Tweeted it to my followers as I stood on line to board the flight home? Instead of sitting numbly on the plane, with the help of several little bottles of vodka, would I have purchased a few hours of air time with Boingo Wi-Fi and monitored the response—the outpouring of kindness, a deluge of ‘likes,’ mostly from strangers?”
-Dani Shapiro

When you write, you want to know people have read it. When some do read it, you want to make sure you know how they feel about it. Even though most ‘creative’ writing is mainly meant for the writer herself — as catharsis or as a means of self-expression, where does any writing go to unless it finds a reader, who can empathise with its unique expression?

With book-writing becoming more of a technical talent demanding schemes and structures requiring training and fellowships that instruct you the best way to weave magic with words, you tend to become a little unsure of whether your natural means to that weave is good enough for the contemporary reader. Is there a way to find him?

When new-age tools like Facebook and Twitter provide the delectable carrot of a million followers, you get sucked in. Start a Facebook page, start a blog, look for followers, follow other pages, like their posts, write witty comments — preferably with a link to your own creation, spend restless hours wondering if that promised carrot is going to come to you at all.

Where is the time to really write?

So, if today’s publishers expect you to contribute to your pool of readers, how do you build upon that when Facebook and Twitter and online events are distracting you from what you actually, really ought to do?

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More About Me. Thank You for Listening.

I don’t remember hesitating much before writing anything on this blog, so today — this post-writing — surprises me. I struggle to find words and it seems like a defeat. Truth be told, though, it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise because I have been struggling with what they call a writer’s block for what seems like forever. I have written some blog posts, of course, and a few odd emails I think about with a smile, but they don’t satisfy this endless, now-shuddering, now-shivering gong I have going on in my head. It keeps gonging! Write, write, write! it says. I pick up my fingers, my pens, pencils, my daughter’s crayons, even, but nothing seems to work. This damn block is a heavy one.

The character, a woman (surprise!), is a struggler like me. She doesn’t quite know what she wants, she hasn’t achieved much by way of awards and narratable experiences, but there is a fire in her she can’t describe and it keeps her seeking for something that will quench her thirst, if only for a short while. That seems like a workable character for a decent story, doesn’t it? But the story keeps bloody changing before I try to write it! Frustration, annoyance, frustration, annoyance. Arrrgh.

My trusty soundboard for story-writing stuff is busy. Not that had he been around I’d have begun writing, but I could have at least sounded the board and silenced the gong for a bit.

Not all struggle is in vain, though, dear reader. I have scaled a treacherous summit in the meantime. From here, I can see people doing their work and achieving things, travelling to my kind of places, having my kind of conversations, sipping my cup of tea, and it no longer makes me want to pull off my hair and wonder what happened to my existence. I am no longer very jealous. I use very because this summit has hypnotising precipices that occasionally pipe the piper’s tune. But I am generally safe, so I can proudly stand on a steeple (summit, if you will), and cry out with glee — “I look within, you other beings of this world!”

Being Enid. Or Jane. Or Becoming Just Me

Image courtesy: zazzle.com

“I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
– Mark Twain in a letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898

I am happy I wasn’t born when Mr. Twain was alive. Those who know me, know that such a criticism from a writer of calibre would send me in throes of sorrow. And if the writer were Mark Twain, I’d never pick up a pen again. Well, Ms. Austen was peacefully resting when he said that; who knows what the history of English Literature would’ve been, had she been alive. But then he wouldn’t have been able to beat her over with her own shin bone. Regardless, it’d have been an interesting time.

About a year back, I watched a movie called Enid. As the name might suggest to you, it was a little peek into the world of the famous Enid Blyton. I could have said the lovable writer for children, Enid Blyton, but I didn’t because I have watched the movie. It shows without reserve the kind of woman Ms. Blyton might’ve been — ambitious, manipulative, cruel, inconsiderate, driven for glory. If even half of what is shown there is true, I might never be able to read her books without wondering who might she be thinking of while she wrote about this ‘horrible gnome’ or that ‘annoying milkman’. “I’m going to write about the insufferable postman today, and I’m going to make him you!” She shouted this, or something like this to her husband in the movie. The husband, who was trying to coax her into paying a little more attention towards her children rather than shooting off 6000 words a day, tried in vain to make her realise the importance of spending time with/for the family, too.

While I was watching the movie, I was thinking of the child I was carrying, and the book I was planning to finish before she arrived. I never started the book, the child has arrived, and I am more keen than ever to finish and publish a book. But not like Enid. Or Jane.

As we struggle to keep our finances in order, B and I, I wonder if this unexplainable urge I’ve had to write and publish (a bestseller), write and publish (a bestseller) was for a purpose. I was never ambitious, and no, I never ‘always wanted to be a writer’. Ever since I started blogging, however, I’ve been wanting to become a professionally successful author. It’s been a little over two years. Just about the time I began to sense a nudge to give up translation, a profession that was not only taking up most of my day, it was also weakening my body. Could it have been that this urge to write and publish (a bestseller, Lord!) was to provide for this time in our lives, when I want to do nothing but sit with my girl?

I think too much, don’t I? While I take out reams of zilch every Wednesday, I wonder where I am going. Not to worry, though, dear reader. I am happy. Where am I going smilingly?

An Open Letter to Ursula.

Dreaded Ursula,

I, a mousey, terrified child yearning for appreciation — for some kind of confirmation that she’ll pass the test she knows she’s meant to, but isn’t quite sure she will — write to you in distress. This letter is a weird way I’ve conjured to find the security I lost about a year back when you read some of my written work and found it judicious to speak your mind on a post I co-authored with our friend Charles, an established writer —  “Truth be told and it is a most unpalatable one: There will always be one of the two who is by far the better writer (even if he does dumb it down). However, I think it most commendable to encourage talent. And that you most certainly have done, Charles.” I don’t know just how it’ll come back, but I’ve vowed to try.

I write to you, not to seek anything from you, but to write about how I feel, and make it known. And hope that I will stop feeling debilitated by my own fears. It’s not that I haven’t been insecure as a writer before (you must know that, for you read the About page of my last blog). The problem is that my insecurity now has a name — Ursula.

My mind jets annoyingly frequent reminders to me about how my writing will find some unappreciative readers, who criticise it, tearing it to bits. It keeps analysing responses from people. The list is a lot longer than I’d care for, but I get by. Until I reach your name. Ursula. That’s when I wet my pants, not literally, thankfully.

You, Ursula, represent the monster I’ve known I’d have to live with. But now that the introductions are over, I am not so sure I am equipped to cohabit this world with you. I do not have the personal weaponry to evolve, regardless of what you will say (if you read my words). This frightening prospect stymies every effort I make to write and finish anything. I will, during my journey as a writer (or anybody, in fact), find many more of you — my critics. I want to be able to function efficiently in spite of the knowledge that you will be around to ignore or, if forced to respond, scathe.

It is said that in order to spar, you must first understand your opponent (you aren’t quite my opponent, but I had to use the word because better words fail me). I did visit your blog a few times last year and also read some of your comments on Charles’ blog to understand you. Unfortunately, I struggled to. And became even more terrified in the process. She’s on a totally different wavelength, I thought. My wavelength is shorter, less intellectual, I thought. So, I gave up.

Today, while I struggle with much more besides the time to write, your name springs up often. After trying in vain to shoo the thoughts away, I decided to write to you publicly just to air the cobwebs in my head.

A Struggling Writer.

I Hate Charles Gulotta.

Some confessions are difficult to make, but one has to make them sometime, somehow. I’d have liked to keep this one to myself, but it’s been my motto to let things out when I cannot manage them on my own, regardless of the extent of my foolishness I might reveal in the process.

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” someone has said to the world in general. And this is what someone said to me in particular — “Priya, you’re a nice person, but it is difficult to get to like you. How does one? You are somehow… distant …, you know?”

Well, as things stand today, I am comfortable with what and who I am, and have (perhaps because of this reason) a few friends, who know me from real close emotional proximity. What eats my peace is that, like stiff limbs while dancing, my writing is stiff with too much distance. At least I fear so.

Consider this:

Papa: You write well. But it’s all too philosophical. Too sentimental. So sentimental, it is frightening.

Priya: Ouch.

Papa: There must be readers you have, of course. And friends who’ll be around you to understand you. But they must be very few. Right?”

Priya: I have friends I like and those who reciprocate. That’s enough. But my blog has 12 subscribers. Charles Gulotta’s has 2875*. I have not many readers to appreciate me.

Papa: He must be skilled. A writer is an entertainer, too. People need comfort. Does he give them that? Make them feel happy with small joys?

Priya: Yes.

Yes, I hate Charles Gulotta.

When I write, I write with my heart. My heart knows how to sing and skip and titter besides smiling, gently nodding its head, looking at ether poignantly, and crying. Somehow, the lighter aspects get smoothened out with bitter, rich, caramel.

“You know how writers are… they create themselves as they create their work. Or perhaps they create their work in order to create themselves,” said Orson Scott Card once. I do not know who he is, but I found this quote somewhere, and it has stuck with me. The ever-growing urge I feel to write a piece of work that satiates a strange chasm in me — breaks me, recreates  me — can perhaps be best explained with this quote. 

I stand on a threshold. A place from where there is no back-tracking. If I do step back and take a different course, I will have to take some time to forget these aspirations I have. Of writing. Writing to instill positivity, to make people happy, to make them cry. Cry. Will that create distance? It must. And what about humour? I want to come closer to people with my words. If humour won’t do it, what will?

Charles, my dear friend, symbolises what I am not — all in the writing world that I’ve secretly wanted to be. We writers like readers who appreciate. But that’s not what many of us really wish for, I think. We want to move minds. It is the thrill of knowing that your humility is powerful enough to impress a positive idea in your reader that makes us write more. You don’t have to pretend, you simply need words, which mean the world — real world. Simply? It isn’t all that easy to string words together, which talk of all that the world is about and make the reader laugh at the same time. Such writers are few. And most of us, who aspire to do that end up continuing to do so in vain.

When I think of those numerous writers, who have made an impact on people, I cannot help but compare. If I were a good girl, I’d have listened to my parents and remembered to “never compare”. Charles, who must be fed up with my I-hate-yous, has told me a number of times that like everyone else, I have my set of readers somewhere in this world. I just have to continue writing to find them. Why does it become so difficult to remain positive? Why can’t I just write for the joy of writing? “Write for the joy of it, and forget everything else,” says B. Perhaps I am impatient. I am impatient. And very insecure.

Drat. This post was supposed to be humourous. Eye-catching title, and all. See what I mean? The humour in my head becomes Mr. Bean-gone-wonky on my keyboard.

This is how things are with my relationship with light-hearted seriousness. The fluffy, uplifting matter just goes poof. Just like all the fog in the head somehow melts if you sit on a lone bench, looking at the endless, embracing waters.

* I saw the number when I began this post, by the time it was published, the number had probably reached 15,000.

Shelling, and then hoping

The oysters weren’t quite done yet. Noon breeze caressed him gently, bringing with it the aromas of something yummy. “Something yummy” in Jeremy’s dictionary was oysters. He especially loved the ones they made at The Drunken Crab. Jeremy lazily drew whorls on the outside of his beer mug. He was enjoying the breeze more than the beer. And since it was only very seldom that he allowed himself to enjoy, he was taking his time. Or rather, he’d put it on hold.

Jeremy Y was a strange man. He grew up in a suburban mansion with two parents, two dogs and many goldfish. The latter gave way to many of their kind over the years, but there were always many of them. His parents, Emily and Wilfred, were rich heirs of very rich people who liked to live big. But these things were not that made him strange. It was his incongruous existence at the mansion viz a viz everything and everybody; in fact his incongruity every where. He did not fit in. No, he wasn’t a square peg in a round hole. He was a football trying to snug it in inside a highway tunnel.

Jeremy was home-tutored. And that made things worse. He didn’t have to meet anyone except the tutor who was — to Jeremy — a non-entity anyway. You see, Jeremy did not like people. He did not like places or things or people. He did not like being. He did not like.

But he was sitting here, smelling oysters, the only exception.

And he was wondering whether it was really true. Had he really got married last week? He found himself startled each time this question sneaked in. Kathy was a sweet girl, and was everything his parents would want in a daughter-in-law. Well-groomed, and rich. It didn’t take them long to decide that the two should get married. Jeremy wasn’t asked. He was told. He was always told the next thing to do, so he listened this time as well, and obeyed. Somehow, he was certain Kathy wouldn’t have had it any different than them either. The rich people they lived with and around were clever in ensuring their richness got replenished with every occasion — weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, divorces. This knowledge relieved him of any trace of guilt that might have visited him about having married a girl without intending to ever be a husband.

Unsuspecting, Kathy walked in.

“Hi! Did you see the rainbow?”

He could never have seen one if it pounded drums in his ears.

“Umm, not really. Well, yes. On TV.”

Kathy’s laughter reminded him of the tinkling bells in this mother’s charm bracelet. There were times when he really listened for something that might take this endless cold out of his chest and every time it was the bracelet that rang in his years, but only to be dumbed by Emily’s sticky-like-toffee laughter.

“Where’ve you been living? Come out here,” chimed Kathy with a sunshine-y tinkle.

He reluctantly got up and even more reluctantly put his hand in hers. Together, they stepped out of the trendy coconut-leaf shack. The drizzle had just given way to a downpour. The rainbow to their right was fading rapidly, and would vanish before he could think of coming up with an excuse to get inside. It, the rainbow, was not going to permit him a view just yet.

Jeremy was in any case interested in other things Goa had to offer. He hadn’t picked it for his honeymoon for rainbows. He had other plans.

“Yeah. There it was. I saw it,” he obliged. And then mumbled a wry “Pity, it got washed away.” Kathy’s enthusiasm was made of stronger stuff. She cried with childish pleasure at the sight of fishermen coming out of the ocean, hopefully with prized catches. She ran towards them and called for him. Jeremy shuffled along the formless sand, glad that the Goan rain had gone as soon as it’d come.

The fishermen were prepared for enthusiastic tourists from the western world.

“Hello, Miss,” said a youngish sea-farer, his skin the color of sun-baked earth.

“Hello to you! Did you get some good catch?”

“Not today, Miss. Just some pomfret and a lot of oysters.”

“Lot of oysters, hmm? Isn’t that good?”

“Not much demand in this season.”

“Can I pick one?” Jeremy’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Yes, yes. Try one, no.”

“Try one?”

“Yes, yes. Open and put in mouth.” He washed one in the sea and handed it to Kathy. She pretended to pry it open to put the smelly meat in her mouth. She didn’t have the stomach for this.

Jeremy, on the other hand, worked it like he’d been doing it all his life. He’d eaten oysters, of course. But this was different.

When the meat dropped in his mouth, he felt an animal surge of triumph. The sticky flesh nudged the insides of his mouth, the weighty smell clung to his throat as he slowly, deliberately chewed the flesh.

“Mm. Very nice.”

Kathy looked at him, surprised. “You know, this is the closest you’ve come to appreciating something? What is it about this oyster?”

“It is a whole world in a shell,” he said as he glanced at her astonished face. Turning away, he was surprised to sense that animal in his chest again. It howled. Just for a bit.

“Thank you,” he said to the fisherman and began walking away. Kathy threw her still unopened mollusk and caught up with him.

“You say strange things.”

Jeremy shrugged and led the way to the Drunken Crab.

Josef, the restaurant’s very young chef, was looking around with two plates in his hands, “Ah, there you are Mr. Y. Thought you’d chickened out. Oysters aren’t for every one. Here, oysters in white wine and celery sauce.”

Kathy, sitting down, looked at the sea and said, “I’ve change my mind. I’ll have your pomfret masala after all.”

Josef didn’t seem much bothered. Probably there’d be more takers of wine-and-celery oysters, “Sure, right away,” he boomed and weaved gracefully through the tables. Kathy couldn’t help following him with her eyes. Jeremy was looking at the sea, his sandy hair protesting against the breeze, his mouth thoughtfully churning the sea-juices.

Picking up the beer pitcher, Kathy poured herself a generous pint, sipped at it, and, licking the froth mustache, pointed out a motorcyclist, “They seem to have a lot of those here. They’re available on rent. The bikes.”

“Hmm,” said Jeremy, doing nothing to hide his disinterest.

Kathy’s enthusiasm had finally caught up with the rainbow. “Did you marry me for any reason other than my father’s money?”

“Hm? Yes, of course,” he made some effort to focus his eyes on hers. “My parents wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Kathy looked away, unable to believe what she’d just heard. And what it implied.

<> <> <>

As a child, Jeremy was quite remarkable. He was inert. So inert, he could be the rug underneath his mother’s Chippendale, and no one would notice. But even more remarkable was his persistent, insistent need to keep away. Jeremy Y was painfully suspicious of everything and everybody. He was quite adept at shrugging off people because he’d practiced over the years to build an impenetrable barbed shell around him. Well, almost.

During a holiday at Aunt Josephine’s ocean home, where his parents had sent him with a hope to soothe his frightfully morbid nerves, 10-year old Jeremy was looking at the deep ocean, stretching out to eternity.

The sea did soothe him. He looked endlessly at the endless troughs and swells, allowing the whispering breeze to lull him out of his apathy. He was so engrossed in this therapeutic daze that he didn’t notice a boy about his age approach him. By the time he did notice him, the visitor had almost sat down next to him. Jeremy’s armor was back up.
“Haven’t seen you around before.”

The sea must’ve made the armor rusty. The normal Jeremy would have kept mulishly quiet, but this day was different “I am visiting my aunt here,” he nodded towards the house below.

“Ms. J’s your aunt? She’s one swell lady.”

Jeremy’s grunt was non-committal.

Marty didn’t seem to notice Jeremy’s disinterest, “You ever fished for oysters?”

“No. I’ve never fished,” said Jeremy and continued to look at the sea. Much to his own surprise, he added, “Seeing an ocean for the first time. It is… very different.”

Strange things happen. It was strange for Jeremy to volunteer more conversation than necessary. He hardly ever got beyond monosyllables and callously truncated sentences. It was probably the stress of this new interaction that became so overwhelming that he got up to leave.

“Hey! Wanna join me help my Dad unload oysters?”

“Where?” Jeremy found himself saying.

“Right down there. Race you,” the boy ran down the gentle slope, Jeremy jogging behind him with no intention of racing, his eyes on the deep blue below. He could feel something changing in him; something filling the empty depths inside.

The friendly new acquaintance won. His dad’s boat was about to moor at the pier. Jeremy saw a pile of brownish green shells on the boat. Oysters were served often at home, but given his general disinterest, he’d never tried them.

The boat was a bright traffic-light green. Her name, Sally Flier, was painted in white along the hull. The boy waved to his father, “Hey, watcha got?”

“Guess you were right about the mood, son. Didn’t get much.” He was now tying Sally Flier to the pier. They chuckled at some secret joke, father and son. Jeremy tried not to look at them. It was embarrassing to see such warmth.

“Who’s your friend?”

“He wants to help me help you. He’s visiting Ms. J, aren’t you umm..?”

Jeremy gave his name and heard himself saying, “Yes sir, I’d like to help.”

“All right then, heave ‘em out and help me load ‘em on the truck. Marty, show how.”

Marty got on the boat and told Jeremy to lift out the load. Jeremy heard the sound of oysters rubbing against each other, he felt the salt-laden air cover him with a crisp blanket of life. As he stood beside Marty’s father, mostly useless, because his partner’s sure hands and muscular body didn’t require much from him, he felt surer and more secure than he’d ever been.

They got the load on the truck; and while he was removing sand from inside his shoes, Jeremy saw his reflection on the rear-view mirror. He was smiling.

Marty came around and picked a couple of oysters, throwing one at Jeremy.

“Open it.”

Jeremy turned it over. He wasn’t quite sure how to, but was reluctant to ask.

“Here, lemme show you,” he pried one open and held it out for Jeremy to see. The pink flesh looked too raw. He’d never seen anything like it. Pink, and gooey. Inviting, somehow.

“Dad says they have an entire world in them.” Marty had begun eating them in a sort of meditative tempo. Jeremy was still, meditatively, on the first one. The raw meat was leathery and soft – a marshmallow with more masculinity than you could ask for.

The rest of the day was a fog in Jeremy’s head. That one oyster opened up a whole new world for him. The sea was bluer than it was in the morning, Aunt Josephine less meddlesome. His parents seemed like specters from a world that didn’t matter.

Jeremy was one with the sea and the oyster’s world was no longer a clammed-up non-entity. It nourished him.

<> <> <>

Evening had set in. The waves had found a deeper urge to embrace the skies. They poured in, one after the other, as Kathy, a solitary figure, walked the beach. This was something she had planned for her honeymoon. But she had not thought that the do-nothing days would be alone.

Marriage wasn’t something she was trained to expect anything from. She knew it had to be with someone her parents would eventually find. Sweet Kathy was never the kind to argue or question, she just accommodated. When she saw Jeremy for the first time, she was impressed with his haughty, disinterested air. She smiled with her girlish fantasy, wondering how his expression would change when he knew her more. His expression hadn’t changed. He hadn’t bothered to know her. What she thought was aristocratic pomp for the benefit of the masses was in fact what Jeremy Y was — a cold fish. Would her marriage be what everyone had promised her it would be, after all — strange lives, hand-in-hand, roboting their way to fuller coffers? That is not what she’d secretly dreamed of. Where was her knight? Even a rusty armor would do.

Jeremy leaned against the wooden pillar, arms tied in an unrelenting cross. Those who had been around him would have thought he was looking as usual at the sea. But those who had been around him did not know him. He wasn’t looking at the sea. He was looking at his wife’s lonely figure drawing whorls (he assumed) on the sand with her toes. Her pretty skirt with periwinkle flowers flagged gayly in the breeze. Her auburn hair flipped. She had movement around her. Quite different from his mother’s well-coiffed hair and crisp dresses. He was watching movement. Something he wasn’t accustomed to doing.

And it scared him.

Even though she was far away from the cottage pillar where he was, he thought he could smell her mild gardenia scent. His mother always used a spicy musk. Musk. Why was he thinking about musk when gardenia was something he’d found himself getting drawn to for as long as he could remember? Why must he always look at what he did not like? Always the same things. Pretension, sacrifice, force, manipulation.  Musk. And here she was, this almost-free figure in white encased in a soft, gentle perfume, so far from all those things that made him crawl into a mother-of-pearl case he hated so much, but stayed on in because it saved him from all those things. She was so far, and she wasn’t a cage.

He shuddered and it wasn’t the Goa breeze. It must’ve been the sudden invasion of emotions he knew had no use in his world. But hadn’t they? Should he go out there and help her tame her unruly hair? He made to go, but thought otherwise and looked at his watch instead. Time for dinner. Oysters. The word brought new energy in him. But what was this new feeling? Did the word just bring some impatience within him? A sort of boredom that the rest of the world made him feel? Surely not the oysters!

This was turning out to be very different from what he’s planned for his honeymoon — spend a day or two in Panaji with Kathy just to keep up the charade, and then catch a bus to south Goa to the bungalow he’d taken special pains to purchase. And then vanish from the world that had Chippendale furniture and indecent cacophony. He’d arranged for everything. And yet, here he was, with Kathy, still in Panaji after four days. Why?

He found himself walking towards her. Before he even realized his unusual action, he was close enough to her. She looked up at him and then looked away. Was it the setting sun or a strange something that made her eyes reflect the ocean? He was mesmerized.

“I..”

“You.”

“I…um. Will you.. um.”

“Will I what?” Kathy spat with surprising ferocity.

“I came here to invite you for dinner.”

“Oysters again.”

“Actually, I was wondering if you’d like to order tonight. Anything. As long as it isn’t clammy.”

Unspoken commitments

There must be numerous stories that I haven’t completed. Many still lie lonely in my notebook. Many are even less privileged — they float amongst the countless other thoughts inside my head. The characters, their stories, their lives keep coming back to me from time to time as I’d imagined them before I gave up on them for one reason or the other. Sara, Josef, The Earth-Mover, Nandini, Promila. There are so many. When I get down to write something new, however, one character whispers to me without fail — “You’ve abandoned me, you deserter,” he says. Meet Jeremy Y.

Jeremy was inspired by Jeremy Irons. Not the man, but the character he played in a movie called Being Julia. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that the main character was Julia, played brilliantly by Annette Bening. But there was something fascinating about Michael, Jeremy’s character. He was supremely apathetic, I thought.

When I was kicked about giving meat and body and soul to an idea more than a year back, the first character that came to my mind was Jeremy Y. The idea was to write short stories, seven of them, in which the main characters displayed predominance of at least one of the seven chakras, the centres of energy in our bodies. (If you’d like to know more about chakras, visit here). Jeremy was conceptualised to be an apathetic, insecure, obsessively cold person. Somewhere along the story, I lost track of where he wanted to take me.

I am publishing this post to seek your opinion about what might have gone wrong. Why couldn’t I finish the story? I put forth this same question to Charles, my friend, almost a year back. He patiently read the whole thing, listened to (read) my rants with more patience than I deserved. And he suggested I get acquainted with Jeremy and Kathy more first. To understand why they acted the way they did, to know what they thought. I try. But fail.

Jeremy led me through this that you see below. I didn’t know what I was going to write when I began the story and now I don’t know where he wants me to go! Silly, no? Would you read, and tell me what you see here? Jeremy calls for help!


Jeremy

The oysters weren’t quite done yet. Noon breeze caressed him gently, bringing with it the aromas of something yummy. “Something yummy” in Jeremy’s dictionary was oysters. He especially loved the ones they made at The Drunken Crab. Jeremy lazily grew whorls on the outside of his beer mug. He was enjoying the breeze more than the beer. And since it was only very seldom that he allowed himself to enjoy, he was taking his time. Or rather, he’d put it on hold.

Jeremy Y was a strange man. He grew up in a suburban mansion with two parents, two dogs and many goldfish. The latter gave way to many of their kind over the years, but there were always many of them. His parents, Emily and Wilfred, were rich heirs of very rich people who liked to live big. But these things were not that made him strange. It was his incongruous existence at the mansion viz a viz everything and everybody; in fact his incongruity every where. He did not fit in. No, he wasn’t a square peg in a round hole. He was a football trying to snug it in inside a highway tunnel.

Jeremy was home-tutored. And that made things worse. He didn’t have to meet anyone except the tutor, who was, to him, a non-entity anyway. You see, Jeremy did not like people. He did not like places, things or being. He did not like.

But he was sitting here, smelling oysters, the only exception.

And he was wondering whether it was really true. Had he really got married last week? He found himself startled each time this question sneaked in. Kathy was a sweet girl, and was everything his parents would want in a daughter-in-law. Well-groomed, and rich. The entire crowd at The Drunken Crab seemed to somehow know that when she walked in.

“Hi! Did you see the rainbow?”

He could never have seen one if it pounded drums in his ears.

“Umm, not really. Well, yes. On TV.”

Kathy’s laughter reminded him of the tinkling bells in this mother’s charm bracelet.

“Where’ve you been living? Come out here.”

He reluctantly got up and even more reluctantly put his hand in hers. Together, they stepped out of the trendy coconut-leaf shack. The drizzle had just given way to a downpour. The rainbow to their right was fading rapidly, and would vanish before he could think of coming up with an excuse to get inside. It, the rainbow, was not going to permit him a view just yet.

Jeremy was in any case interested in other things Goa had to offer. He hadn’t picked it for his honeymoon for rainbows. He had other plans.

“Yeah. There it was. I saw it,” he obliged. And then mumbled a wry “Pity, it got washed away.” Kathy’s enthusiasm was made of stronger stuff. She cried with childish pleasure at the sight of fishermen coming out of the ocean, hopefully with prized catches. She ran towards them and called for him. Jeremy shuffled along the formless sand, glad that the Goan rain had gone as soon as it’d come.

The fishermen were prepared for enthusiastic tourists from the western world.

“Hello, Miss,” said a youngish sea-farer, his skin the color of sun-baked earth.

“Hello to you! Did you get some good catch?”

“Not today, Miss. Just some pomfret and a lot of oysters.”

“Lot of oysters, hmm? Isn’t that good?”

“Not much demand in this season.”

“Can I pick one?” Jeremy’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Yes, yes. Try one, no.”

“Try one?”

“Yes, yes. Open and put in mouth.” He washed one in the sea and handed it to Kathy. She pretended to pry it open to put the smelly meat in her mouth. She didn’t have the stomach for this.

Jeremy, on the other hand, worked it like he’d been doing it all his life. He’d eaten oysters, of course. But this was different.

When the meat dropped in his mouth, he felt an animal surge of triumph. The sticky flesh nudged the insides of his mouth, the weighty smell clung to his throat as he slowly, deliberately chewed the flesh.

“Mm. Very nice.”

Kathy looked at him, surprised. “You know, this is the closest you’ve come to appreciating something? What is it about this oyster?”

“It is a whole world in a shell.”

“Thank you,” he said to the fisherman and began walking away. Kathy threw her still unopened mollusk and caught up with him.

“You say strange things.”

Jeremy shrugged and led the way to the Drunken Crab.

Josef, the restaurant’s very young chef, was looking around with two plates in his hands, “Ah, there you are Mr. Y. Thought you’d chickened out. Oysters aren’t for every one. Here, oysters in white wine and celery sauce.”

Kathy, sitting down, looked at the sea and said, “I’ve change my mind. I’ll have your pomfret masala after all.”

Josef didn’t seem much bothered. Probably there’d be more takers of wine-and-celery oysters, “Sure, right away,” he boomed and weaved gracefully through the tables. Kathy couldn’t help following him with her eyes. Jeremy was looking at the sea, his sandy hair protesting against the breeze, his mouth thoughtfully churning the sea-juices.

Picking up the beer pitcher, Kathy poured herself a generous pint, sipped at it, and, licking the froth mustache, pointed out a motorcyclist, “They seem to have a lot of those here. They’re available on rent. The bikes.”

“Hmm,” said Jeremy, doing nothing to hide his disinterest.

Kathy’s enthusiasm had finally caught up with the rainbow. “Did you marry me for any reason other than my father’s money?”

“Hm? Yes, of course,” he made some effort to focus his eyes on hers. “My parents wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Kathy looked away, unable to believe what she’d just heard. And what it implied.

<> <> <>

As a child, Jeremy was quite remarkable. He was inert; he could be the rug underneath his mother’s Chippendale which no one would notice. But even more remarkable was his persistent, insistent need to keep away.

Jeremy Y was painfully suspicious of everything and everybody. He was quite adept at shrugging off people because he’d practiced over the years to build an impenetrable barbed shell around him. Well, almost.

During a holiday at Aunt Josephine’s ocean home, where his parents had sent him with a hope to soothe his frightfully morbid nerves, 10-year old Jeremy was looking at the deep ocean, stretching out to eternity.

The sea did soothe him. He looked endlessly at the endless troughs and swells, allowing the whispering breeze to lull him out of his apathy. He was so engrossed in this therapeutic daze, that he didn’t notice a boy about his age approach him. By the time he noticed him, the visitor had almost sat down next to him. Jeremy’s armor was back up.
“Haven’t seen you around before.”

The usual Jeremy would have kept mulishly quiet, but this day was different “I am visiting my aunt here,” he nodded towards the house below.

“Ms. J’s your aunt? She’s one swell lady.”

Jeremy’s grunt was non-committal.

Marty didn’t seem to notice Jeremy’s disinterest, “You ever fished for oysters?”

“No. I’ve never fished,” said Jeremy and continued to look at the sea. Much to his own surprise, he added, “Seeing an ocean for the first time. It is… very different.”

Strange things happen. It was strange for Jeremy to volunteer more conversation than necessary. He hardly ever got beyond monosyllables and callously truncated sentences. The stress of this new interaction was too much and he got up to leave.

“Hey! Wanna join me help my Dad unload oysters?”

“Where?” Jeremy found himself saying.

“Right down there. Race you,” the boy ran down the gentle slope, Jeremy jogging behind him with no intention of racing, his eyes on the deep blue below. He could feel something changing in him; something filling the empty depths inside.

The friendly new acquaintance won. His dad’s boat was about to moor at the pier. Jeremy saw a pile of brownish green shells on the boat. Oysters were served often at home, but given his general disinterest, he’d never tried them.

The boat was a bright traffic-light green. Her name, Sally Flier, was painted in white along the hull. The boy waved to his father, “Hey, watcha got?”

“Guess you were right about the mood, son. Didn’t get much.” He was now tying Sally Flier to the pier. They chuckled at some secret joke, father and son. “Who’s your friend?”

“He wants to help me help you. He’s visiting Ms. J, aren’t you umm..?”

Jeremy gave his name and found himself saying, “Yes sir, I’d like to help.”

“All right then, heave ‘em out and help me load ‘em on the truck. Marty, show how.”

Marty got on the boat and told Jeremy to lift out the load. Jeremy heard the sound of oysters rubbing against each other, he felt the salt-laden air cover him with a crisp blanket of life. As he stood beside Marty’s father, mostly useless, because his partner’s sure hands and muscular body didn’t require much from him, he felt surer and more secure than he’d ever been.

They got the load on the truck; and while he was removing sand from inside his shoes, Jeremy saw his reflection on the rear-view mirror. He was smiling.

Marty came around and picked a couple of oysters, throwing one at Jeremy.

“Open it.”

Jeremy turned it over. He wasn’t quite sure how to, but was reluctant to ask.

“Here, lemme show you,” he pried one open and held it out for Jeremy to see. The pink flesh looked too raw. He’d never seen anything like it. Pink, and gooey. Inviting, somehow.

“Dad says they have an entire world in them.” Marty had begun eating them in a sort of meditative tempo. Jeremy was still, meditatively, on the first one. The raw meat was leathery and soft – a marshmallow with more masculinity than you could ask for.

The rest of the day was a fog in Jeremy’s head. That one oyster opened up a whole new world for him. The sea was bluer than it was in the morning, Aunt Josephine less meddlesome. His parents seemed like specters from a world that didn’t matter.

Jeremy was one with the sea and the oyster’s world was no longer a clammed-up non-entity. It nourished him.

<> <> <>

Evening had set in. The waves had found a deeper urge to embrace the skies. They poured in, one after the other, as Kathy, a solitary figure, walked the beach. That was something she had planned for her honeymoon. But she had not thought that the do-nothing days would be alone.

Marriage wasn’t something she was trained to expect anything from. She knew it had to be with someone her parents would eventually find. She was never the kind to argue or question, she just accommodated. When she saw Jeremy for the first time, she was impressed with his haughty, disinterested air. It interested her to think how his expression would change when he knew her more. But it didn’t change. She had misunderstood his general apathy for aristocratic pomp.

And after this, naught.

And every floating thought turns into a doodle...



Of unexpected gifts

If you visit the other page on this blog, Me, you’ll notice that I’ve mentioned the reason I started this blog. It was to “trick me into writing”. Well, it’s done that, and more. In the time I have been here, I’ve not only written more than I’ve ever written in my life, I have also begun to sometimes like what I say, too! That is one of the best gifts being here on this platform has given me.

But what makes this decision one of the best I’ve ever taken is something I’d never expected. It’s given me a chance to know beautiful people without ever meeting them. While, at the first glance, it might seem a cheesy fact to rejoice over, it isn’t. There are hardly any beautiful people left in the virtual world to meet! There’s cosmetic surgery everywhere — physical, emotional and behavioural. It is refreshing to meet simple, real people leading their lives like simple, real people. There’s still hope in this world!

And even more so, when the world reciprocates with the acknowledgement of just how cool I am.

When I started blogging, another thing I did not know was that blog writers have devised ingenious ways to appreciate the goodness they see around them. Linda Paul of Rangewriter pleasantly surprised me with the Stylish Blogger Award almost a year back. I am still preening my feathers in a not-so humble response to it.

Recently, more fellow writers gave me more reason to want to continue seeing this accepting world that lets you be just the way you are, and appreciates you for it, too. Well, I’ll be. If these pleasures were available in the so-called real world, we’d all be beautiful the natural way. No?

Allow me to first introduce you to these people, who decided to humble me with their sweetness.

Arindam of Being Arindam has a large heart. I often tell him he’s also acquired wisdom beyond his age. That might explain the two awards he’s given me — The Candle Lighter Award and The 7 x 7 Link Award.

Vineet of The Confused Graduate and Patrice of The Heartbreak of Invention decided that I am a Versatile Blogger, let it be known, too. Vineet’s new to me. But his posts make me think I know him for a long time. He reminds me of those mischievous boys I taught at school — the ones who’d make you laugh and impress you with their sharp minds all at once.

Patrice. What do I say about her but this — if you visit her blog, and read what she has to say, you’ll be glad she walks this earth somewhere, and radiates her intensity into this increasingly shallow world.

Melissa of Play101 is creative, insightful, considerate and very wise. Judge that with the fact that she created her own award, and a happy one, too! The Happy Blog Award. Out of all the awards mentioned above, this surprised me the most. Largely because I constantly doubt my writing’s ability to spread happiness.  But that’s exactly what displays Melissa’s ability. She makes you feel appreciated, makes you want to like yourself. Consequently, what’s not to like in her?!

And lo! While I was writing this post, Perspectives And Prejudices thought of me for a Liebster Award. If I’d wished for the moon, I’d be bathing in its light right now. Only this award was missing from the ones I’ve seen around and I was wondering why no one finds me worth a Liebster. And there you go, I have it! And from P&P, too. The person who is so lovable herself, you’ve got to read her posts to know!

It makes me feel privileged to know people like these, and the ones I am going to mention in just a bit. But first, I am going to bend some rules.

1. I’m going to tweak the instructions of these six awards, and combine them.

2. I am not going to pass on the awards because I am selfish and I want to keep ’em all.

Well, now that that’s settled, I can tell you more about myself.

Ever since my father discovered that my brother and I had acquired some sort of passable intelligence, he’s been trying to educate us about a certain list he was introduced to as a young cadet in the Indian Military Academy. The list of The Thirteen Mistakes. It was compiled by Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall in his book An Officer As A Leader. Surprisingly, you and I can also read it and feel ashamed about the distance to cover.


It is a mistake

1. To attempt to set up your own standard of right and wrong.
2. To try to measure the enjoyment of others by your own.
3. To expect uniformity of opinions in the world.
4. To fail to make allowance for inexperience.
5. To endeavor to mold all dispositions alike.
6. Not to yield on unimportant trifles.
7. To look for perfection in our own actions.
8. To worry ourselves and others about what can’t be remedied.
9. Not to help everybody wherever, however, whenever we can.
10. To consider impossible what we cannot ourselves perform.
11. To believe only what our finite minds can grasp.
12. Not to make allowances for the weaknesses of others.
13. To estimate by some outside quality, when it is that within which makes the man.

I’ve attempted a few times in all these years to see where I stand according to this gauge. A few months back, I thought I’d almost accomplished all. When I rummaged through my notes to find the list (No, I don’t remember it by heart. Still.) and read it again, I realised that barring Numbers 10 and 11, I am a nitwit. Which is why I need to read what the world’s doing, and how. And this is where being in touch with your world helps me. Thank you.

The people below have either become friends I’ve never met, or have just entered my world but have still nourished me in small ways only friends can. All of them, however, have given me the hope that I will, in one way or the other, learn important lessons in life, and deserve the awards I get.

Charles of Mostly Bright Ideas has become an important part of not just my blogging routine, but of many, many others. His humility and wit make him so likeable (lovable, even) that it is difficult to not read him, impossible to not want to interact with him. He was my first visitor (apart from one-time friends and family who’ve bailed out since that first comment. So they don’t count), and has stayed on to become an important friend. He has, among many other things, taught me the value of being positive in spite of odds. To laugh and to give others laughter, even in the face of trials.

Val of Art by Val Erde is another blog writer to have visited me when I had no other visitors. She read my words and understood them in a way that made me think that I could communicate my heart, after all. Her former blog Absurd Old Bird is no more. Those who’ve not read it have missed the intricacies of a wise, clever mind. But I am lucky. She’s taught me just how essential it is to not allow what I call little annoying flies on the fruit of life to keep you from enjoying the fruit.

I met Rosie of Wondering Rose at a time when I first reconsidered my decision to blog. I’ve reconsidered the decision several times since, but it is precisely because of people like her that I stayed on. Not only are her posts a delight to read, they make you marvel at her unending patience, and appreciation for goodness. I am proud to call myself Rosie’s friend, because she brings to my flighty nerves the calming touch of a person who knows how to give.

Dave of Dave Whatt is someone you’ll rarely see here. And you’ll see me occasionally there at his blog. And yet, I feel a certain sense of friendship with him that’s rare to find even with people you know in flesh. He calls himself a grumpy old man, well he just might be (I haven’t met him, you see), but for me, he’s a man full of wisdom and wisecracks that make the word worth its inception. In spite of his alleged grumpiness, he’s managed to touch my heart.


Jean of Snoring Dog Studio was perhaps one of the few that scared me when I first visited their blog. Her passion for ideals, her well-researched posts on things ranging from health to politics made me want to shake myself up and ask “And what are you doing, you arse?” With time, I discovered she’s as sweet as she’s passionate, and that her dogs are probably the luckiest on this planet. That speaks a lot. So, she’s taught me that you can be strong and gentle at the same time.

Linda of Rangewriter inspires me not with her taste for travel, but with the fact that she actually does travel. Not many can boast of that. I certainly can’t. Her words transport me to the places she goes to, be it her memories, or the restaurant round the corner. I’d like to be like that someday.

Earth Ocean Sky Redux humbled me with her interest. I didn’t expect her to show any, but she did. Her blog is one of the very few that posts on an eclectic range of subjects and succeeds in entertaining or educating every time. Whenever I visit, I leave with a sense of wanting to do more.

Amy of Soul Dipper takes mischievous dips into your soul without your knowing it. And when she reveals what she sees, she astounds with the insights she’s had. These virtues are too high for me even to consider, but what I like best about her is that she chops her own firewood. If I could feel embarrassed about something, this is it. When my husband and I fight over who’s mightier, I never fail to ask him, “But you won’t be able to chop wood, would you?” That takes care of my victory. Thank you, Amy.

I first read a post by Darla of She’s a Maineiac that was about learning to do running circuits (I forget what they’re called, Darla). To me, she appeared to be Goddess of Strength incarnate. In the course of these few months I’ve read her work, I know she’s a Goddess of Strength who overcomes the highs and lows with her strength — positivity and unmatched humour.

Lenore of Lenore’s Thoughts Exactly came into my world, and I didn’t even realise it before I discovered that she had. Her work, her words and her unassuming wisdom enter your being without an announcing bell. They waft in gently. She teases me about my vocabulary (I know you do, Lenore) and I tell her the truth that I am jealous of her off-the-cuff humour.


Bela of Bela’s Bright Ideas takes my breath away with her words and the profundity of her thoughts. Interacting with her takes me to a place where I feel like an unknowing learner of life’s lessons and she’s the wise tutor who’s seen life with experience.

An Idealist Thinker reminds me of myself. Only, she’s the stronger version of me. Her idealism is what I can relate to. Her steadfast belief in keeping that idealism makes my attempts look pale. She struggles with life with the kind of elegance I can only dream of.

Nel of Directionally Impaired is hardly directionally impaired. Her words flow out of her keyboard and they’re not just any words. They’re full of her very unassuming attitude. Just recently I left a comment on her blog saying that I like her style. And that’s the truth.

Kevin of Arbor Familiae is one of the most staunch believers of constructive values I know of in the blogging world, and off it. I am sure of that, I think, even though I barely know him. This blog of his is dedicated to his ancestry, the people from which he’s descended. But every post of his gives more than just information on people you’ll never meet. Each post talks of humanity in the most compassionate way. What a human.

Sandra of Sandra D’Souza Photography takes pictures that show the colour and soul of India. Besides these soulful pictures, if you look closely, she owns a soulful heart because it wouldn’t be possible to take such photographs otherwise.


There are some people I’ve just begun visiting, but wish I could have known a little earlier so that I had read more from them by now.

I’ve come to know Aparna of The Whole Hearted Mind only recently, read only two posts, and I am interested in knowing more. She does have a whole-hearted mind which makes her perspective particularly wholesome to read about.

Shama of C’est La Vie astounds me with her faith and the gentleness she radiates in every thing she says. It is a rare trait these days, is it not?

Saara of Saara’s World reminds me of Sophie of Sophie’s World. You love her and feel awed by her all at once.


Chris of Earth and Hearth is sweet. I like him so much, I am feeling guilty for having missed his last two posts. He’s shifted into a new house with his partner and writes about how best to make a house a home.

Marusia of The Perfect Mother. I’ve just visited her once and she’s taken a place in my heart and mind. Visit her to know just how good she is.

Nandini of Life Just Is lives in one of the beautiful hill stations of India and takes pictures that do justice to the place. Beautiful is the word.

Georgette of Georgette Sullins’s Blog writes with her heart and her mind. It’s never easy to do that successfully unless both are very strong.

Emily of Emily’s Photography Blog takes breathtaking pictures. And then embellishes them with compelling words. Beautiful.

There are many more I’d like to mention here. People who’ve visited me or whom I’ve visited to my benefit. Time and words must be spent with care, though. It is time I end this post.

But before I do that, I must reveal a secret about me. I used to secretly admire Betty Londergan of What Gives 365. Used to? Because it’s no longer a secret, is it? If you’ve visited her, you’ll know the incredible work she’s done last year to improve this world, and is off to do more this year. I’ve been to her blog a few times and never cease to be amazed at the energy and dedication she has. The intensity of her conviction and action leaves me so embarrassed, I rarely go there any more. But whenever I do, I find myself promising myself that I will someday give light to dark lives, too. I hope I am able to.

And for you I wish a beautiful world — inside and outside of you — this year. And if I may dare, then I also wish shorter posts. At least from me.



When time stops

The mind plays tricks with itself sometimes. Mine is particularly insistent in doing so these days. Since I struggle to use it for comprehensible things, I must view and listen instead. Here’s what I saw and listened to this evening. Just click on the play button below the slideshow to listen to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper while you look at the pictures with me. Or, just do what you feel like.

Have a lovesome day.

The Invincible

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, place or incident is purely coincidental.

Or

See it just as a story, won’t you?

My father’s bangle shop was in the heart of the Alwar market. Our house was just above the shop, immersed in the sounds, colours, smells and intelligence of a busy bazaar. Growing up there taught me the kind of ever-ready reflex you need in order to know just when to duck, and when to strike. I wouldn’t live in such a place now, no; I’ve taken what I could from there. But back then, it was the only world I wanted.

It is not strange for a person to reminisce about the old days, the childhood dreamlands. You might not be surprised, therefore, when I tell you I took out my old diary on this raving, snowy evening here in Halifax. The Rajasthani dust on its yellowed pages, the memories of an Indian sun, and more, warm my soul like no rum would. I was a keen cataloguer of my exploits back then — filled with a certainty that I would be the Don Corleone of the better part of the world someday, I wanted to chronicle the making of the legend.

Here’s a chapter for you, uncut. Raw. Of the time when we were 12 years old. I, an investment banker, did not become a don, but just look at the potential I had!

Read more

Musings of an ordinary blog writer

To write a blog is to agree to go through the nail-biting crunch of getting your book published. Only, here it comes with every blog post.

In an attempt to explore the feelings of blog writer, I’ve written the musings of a fictitious writer of a fictitious blog. Any resemblance to anyone, blogging or retired-from-blogging-to-tend-to-a-broken-ego, is purely coincidental. If you find you can relate to one, some or all of the thoughts of Bee, our heroine, join the club. If you do not, ask yourself this, “I am really blogging?” If nothing here really applies to you, consider patting yourself on the back for being a hard-boiled egg. Read more

Winter’s Thaw

This post is the fruit of our combined efforts, my friend Charles’ and mine. The only two things we’d decided were — a rough plot, and that I would begin the story, whereas he’d finish it. The rest came and evolved on its own. His writing is in blue, while mine is in black. You can find the story here on his blog Mostly Bright Ideas as well.

I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it. And that you will let us know, too.

—————————————————————

The list seemed determined to disappear beyond where Jade’s fingers could reach, or her eyes could see.Where had she put it now? The heat and fatigue had been taking their toll on her, and the weary fan above, dripping air like it was doing the room a favor, was no help. She needed that slip of paper because it identified the things that were finished. And those that were still pending.

Spent with frustration, Jade looked around the room, now filled with strips of late evening light. The week had gone in a flash. She hadn’t given herself a chance to see the house, to allow its being to enter her weary heart and pluck at its strings. She didn’t have time for all that. But this room called to her as she plopped on the beige sofa. She looked at the yellowed wallpaper with the white roses. Her lips curled at the memory of her six-year-old fingers trying to pick them out, but never quite managing to. The net door was keen to sway with the elusive breeze; the mosquitoes were raring to come hunting with the setting sun. Her eyes moved to the painting hung next to her father’s antique binoculars. It was older than she was, a rushed watercolor impression of a distant sea, with words calligraphed on the left side of the canvas:

End
The winter
Before the birds
Hasten to distant skies
Hurry

Her mother had painted it long before she was born. She had never come to know whose words they were, but they had always reassured her. They seemed to be keen to make amends, to quickly heal wounds, to avoid losing some treasure.

The last month hadn’t been easy. Jade’s career as a graphic designer in a ruthlessly competitive city was promising to reach giddy heights, when it became clear that she couldn’t avoid going to her parents to help them move. They were both fifty by the time she, a child conceived as an afterthought, was born. Nancy and Blake were eighty-two now, and much as Jade liked to deny it, they needed her help in leaving this house, battered by time.

Jade spotted the list on top of the bookcase. She must have placed it there while trying to open the window, hoping to inject some spirit into the lifeless draft. She grabbed a chair and slid it across the room. It was a timid piece of furniture, made when people required less support. Not sure it would carry her weight, Jade put one foot into the center of the seat and pressed down with a gradual effort, rising into the warmer air near the ceiling. Careful to avoid the fan’s rotating blades, she reached for the list resting in a dusty nest on the top shelf of the bookcase. It was only then that she noticed the slim volume lying on its side, so nearly covered with forgotten years that its title was all but invisible. With the list in her left hand, she reached for the neglected book and turned it over, blowing the dust away.

If Only A Second Chance.”

It was an odd moment, an unseen push from the side that almost knocked Jade off the chair. She had read the book’s title in her head, but the words had been spoken by her mother’s voice. Turning to the right, she saw Nancy standing in the doorway, her tiny figure looking even smaller from the height of the chair.

Jade lowered herself to the floor.

“How did you know the title? It looks as though it’s been up there for years.”

“More than thirty,” said Nancy. “Look at the author’s name.”

Jade lowered herself to the floor.

 

Jade turned the book around to read its spine, because much of the cover had surrendered to mildew. She inhaled deeply to make up for the skipped heartbeat. And then, she read it again. This time slowly and out loud, “Sandra Kitchener.”

She placed the book on the tall side table, her anger evident only when she swatted at the palm fronds caressing the table top.

“Will she never go away?”

Jade really did want this question answered. It was high time. Sandra Kitchener had taken a lot away from her parents, and from her.

Nancy turned from Jade and chose to look at the lint on the sofa, picking at it with her trembling fingers. It wasn’t an easy question to answer.

“Well, I tried, didn’t I? Put the book up there, where we couldn’t see her name,” said Nancy, still unable to look at her daughter. “If only a second chance, indeed.”

“I suppose you did your best,” said Jade. “And he remembers nothing?”

“He didn’t. We don’t talk about it anymore. Haven’t. It’s been years.”

Jade sat on the old chair and stared at this collapsed core of a woman, this person who had given her life, and whose own life had once been so expansive. Almost all of her mother’s connections were severed, shriveled, lost, or forgotten. Her world had shrunk, so that it barely extended beyond the boundary of her tired body. She was like a stove, once pulsing with heat. These days, you had to put your hand almost right up to her skin in order to feel any warmth. She had told Jade the story, once, and answered a few questions on several occasions after that. But always, she cut the conversation short.

“He used to say that he never would have done it. That wasn’t him. Especially for a poet. He hated poetry. Always had.”

“Then where was he going that day?” asked Jade. “Where does he say he was going?”

“It was all erased. When he regained consciousness in the hospital, he had no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there.”

“What about the car? How did he explain that?”

“He didn’t explain it. He thought I’d been driving, that I was the one who’d hit the tree.”

“But he was going to find her. That’s what you said.”

“He read that book. Every page. He’d put it back on the shelf each time, but I’d check, and the slip of paper was always in a different place.”

“This hater of poetry.”

Nancy looked hard out the window. Even now, thirty years later, she seemed bewildered by the entire incident. “Turning fifty did something to him. Scared him. He said he was afraid he was running out of time. That he’d wasted his life.”

“But that isn’t the father I know.”

“No. In a funny way, the accident changed him. Made him more aware of himself. More sensitive. By the time you came along, he was a different person.”

“But the damage had been done.”

“He was going to leave me, Jade. He was going to find this woman he’d never met. A woman he said touched his soul with her words.”

“After fifteen years of being together with you, he decided that a faceless woman had touched his soul with poetry? Poetry, Mom?”

“It does have a way of getting inside the hardest of hearts. With time. And your father had a soft heart to begin with. You know that.”

Jade hadn’t come here to rake up old earth. She wanted her mother to know that she understood, but without trying too hard. The dam had burst, let out the emotions it had stored, and was ready to get back to work.

“I’m eighty-one now,” Nancy said. “Nothing much stays inside when you’re that age.” She had put her frail fingers on Jade’s arm, hoping that her daughter didn’t feel like she was out in the cold.

“I know,” said Jade. “Yet, a lot does. And you’re eighty-two.”

Jade looked her mother in the eye, and smiled. Then she said, “Come on, we have an old man to feed.”

They made cottage cheese pâtés and cherry tomato salad. Blake would be shuffling in any time now. He’d gone to the general store just across the road to get batteries for his flashlight, and some orange juice.

As if on cue, Blake stepped into the kitchen. “Hey, love,” he said, surprised, when Jade gave him a spontaneous hug. Nancy looked at the two of them and pretended not to see. She was setting the table. The blue-and-white striped tablecloth smelled of a distant sun. Blake poured juice for everyone. It had always been his little girl’s favorite with dinner. The glasses clinked, the cutlery felt safe and familiar. Everything was all right.

Jade rose earlier than usual the next morning to make sure she had done most of the work before Nancy woke up. She decided to begin with the huge tool wall Blake had maintained for years.

On a shelf nearest to the stairway, she found an old carton held together with twine. Inside was an envelope bearing their home address, and a postmark dated September 21, 1980. The sender was a J. Gilbert from Summer Wings Publishers.

“Dear Ms. Kitchener,” the letter began.

Later, while Blake fiddled with something in another room, Jade confronted her mother.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she said, holding the letter at arm’s length. “What’s this about?”

“It’s about poetry,” said Nancy. “That’s all. Something I once did. Something I was proud of, but at the same time, had to hide behind.”

“You never told anyone?”

“No one.”

“How could you stand it? That nobody knew?”

“I knew,” said Nancy.

“But this woman. Sandra Kitchener. You allowed me to despise her. And it was you all along?”

“I’ve accomplished three worthy goals in my life, Jade. I published a book of poetry. I raised a magnificent daughter. And I salvaged something that seemed intent on destroying itself. As far as I’m concerned, everything else is just details.”

Jade moved to put her arms around her mother, when Blake appeared in the doorway. He was holding the watercolor painting of the sea.

“Would you like to keep this, Jade?” he said. “It has that poem scrawled on it, which I’ve never quite understood. But the picture is nice. We picked it up many years ago, at a flea market, I think.”

Blake set the painting on the floor. Then he looked around for a vase in which to place the white roses he had just picked for his wife.

——————————————–

The poem in this story is called an Elfchen. It is a pedagogic trick to make learners of German practise using the words to make interesting poetry. The words in it are always eleven — hence the name (The Little Eleven), and are always written in this layout — 1-2-3-4-1. The first line is supposed to be the prompt from which the poetry will originate. The last word will sum the conclusion of the poetry.

About burning embers and pecking at reflective windows

The Truth Within

First hear, then understand, and then, leaving all distractions, shut your mind to outside influences and devote yourself to developing the truth within you. There is the danger of frittering away your energies by taking up an idea only for its novelty, and then giving it up for another that is newer.

Take one thing up and do it, and see the end of it, and before you have seen the end, do not give it up. He who can become mad with an idea, he alone sees light.

Swami Vivekananda

Humbug.

One of the babblers in our garden is mad about the windows. Or is it his own reflection he finds threatening? I wonder. He comes and pecks at each one, turn after turn. Peck, peck, peck. He is so insistent, in fact , that the dogs have given up trying to shoo him away (and they are known to be quite dogged already). Quite mad. How did he get the idea of finding a competitor or a companion on the other side of the window? How did he get so mad about the prospect of beaking at the window? But then what is it to me? I am concerned with getting mad about an idea long enough to see light. And finding the truth within.

If I peck at each reflection I see, I might reach a personal nirvana at some point in time. Once the insistent tap-tapping has punctured holes in the indefatigable titanium of my fantasy-plane, light just might beam in. So, maybe, Swami Vivekananda’s concept may not be humbug after all. I’d reverently jotted these lines of his on my writing practise notebook, quite sure of my determination to finish one story. That was about 6 years back. I haven’t finished a single story. But I am still mad about the pecking. Honestly. And unlike the babbler, I do not see a competitor on the window pane. I see just the pane. It can be quite tiresome to communicate with a blank sheet of glass. But I admit it has its virtues, too. I can go on to explore each section, make patterns, fly off and come back and see if there’s a drifting feather stuck on to it. Yes. Maybe that is it. Maybe the stories need a drifting feather to see their completion.

Just one big fleck of something to justify the pecking! (Image courtesy blazer8696 at Flickr.com)

The Caveman must have discovered the virtues of rhubarb*. Or it may have been The Neanderthal Man. It matters not. It does bother me, however, that before He saw the virtues of the Red Stalk, He must’ve eaten the lush greens of it. What made him get mad with the idea enough to jeopardise health over and over again. Had it not been for His burning desire to find more veggies to make pies with, we’d have been stuck with broccoli. Bless Him.

And bless Him for seamlessly bringing me to another concept that has been burning holes in my brain for a number of years. Fire. Fire is a concept, because

a. Its figurative aspect can make you grow crazy

b. The fact that all people sitting around a fire will hypnotically stare at it till the time there’s some rhubarb pie distraction (and subsequently go back to the staring) makes for a reasonable research concept.

I am concerned with b.

Well, fire consumes, doesn’t it?

If there were a better way to express being consumed with an idea than fire, I’d use it. Perhaps this is why people sitting around fire cannot take their eyes off it.

Much like being mad with an idea. And I suppose the light that it gives will stand aside for a more brilliant one, once you see the end of it.

*While I was looking for an interesting rhubarb picture on Wikipedia, I came across this singular piece of trivia. It is absolutely not related to being mad about an idea: Rhubarb is usually considered to be a vegetable; however, in the United States a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. A side effect was a reduction in taxes paid. (I decided not to use a rhubarb picture, by the way).