Friday, September 23, 2011

Since the Book

The heart held the visions gingerly, like they were the most breakable things in the world, for when fortunes dropped them, they would shatter into shards that flew everywhere; and then the soul couldn’t dream again. It held them with a shimmering hope. Not slightly, but gripped secure with clandestine intent: wanting. Whereupon, I dwelled, in prevenient contentment of a lost somebody; in illusions now bullied to the forefront, in sporadic creativity of late-night reverie.  

I will not tell just anybody, but I will publish a book. Because Amma said that someday, it would be possible. Because someday, I will be an author. I will sit on a proud chair and sign those copies. Because I will give a speech, and tell everyone that I have always wanted this. There will be a podium, there will be people, there will be journalists who have come from far and wide, and photographers from somewhere in the dark, visible only in sudden flashes on happiness, like the moments of the past.

I typed a book that month. It was 80 pages, and it was named The Heart Remembers. I was the only person who ever read that book. Starry-eyed, I saw it in paperback. Delusions met the pride, and then, I harassed the printer to translate the abstract into tangible solidarity on loose A4 size sheets. Yes, 80 pages. 80 pages of grammatically incorrect, stupid collection of childhood stories that didn't quite match up to "mildly interesting". Yes, 80 pages of senselessness with only a teenager to vouch for its credibility. Yes, that book would be a best-seller. Definitely.

I don't know why the brain gripped so hard at that delusion. It was just something I very clearly wanted, without knowing why. I could not cleave the reasoning or philosophize it. It was just blunt wanting. I want to publish a book. 

Every year for the past five years, I have lived with that thirst. I, who typed on computers on January nights, saw these stories on paper. I, who typed each and every blog post weaved this into a grand dream; everything would be a book. Nothing would go a waste. People would hear me as I called out from the podium of my mind. Imagined applause listening, waiting to explode. People would hear.

It was no small dream. So they consoled me then when I presented the manuscript; they assured me then, when I edited it and presented the manuscript again, they told me they’ll publish it then, when I was still a teenager and hoping---repeated on a late night as I typed; when I bought up the topic, when I was depressed, when my eyes spoke the uncertainty, when I said I wanted this so badly, when stuffed away those 80 pages knowing that it will never visit the printing press. Replayed last summer, and the summer before that, and the summer before that. The 80 pages yellowed and crumbled away. 

But still the dream grew dangerously, I was still gripping the vision. I want to publish a book.

It was very very uncertain that it would happen, and the dream was on precarious ground. Why then, was it not swayed by dejection? Why not, by the sullen moods that extinguished every other rampant desire? It was unscathed by any such poison, it always endured.

Even after teenage ended. With every blog post. It has always endured. It did not just exist, it burned. Like an immortal flame for five years. Even if it would never happen, it would be the grandest dream I have ever envisioned. And it burned on, bright, blazing, beautiful.
I saw these people there, on plastic chairs. All waiting. Only the very few who even cared. I saw their eyes meet mine, and that was resplendent to the festivity of my heart. I sat with my head bowed, when unjustly eloquent praise was heaped on me. I talked a nervous speech. I heard the applause from five years past sounding exactly the way I had envisioned. The heart slacked on the dream now materializing. I saw flashes of light, like the past grazing the pastures of the certain mind, and it was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.

No gift has been better, no recognition more amazing. No degree more meaningful, no journey more compelling. And at the end of the day, happiness to me is this: to be a writer. To be turning the pages of An Amateur’s Attempts, and finding in myself the hope, the courage, the grand dream that heart cradled delicately in its insomnia that dark day. Peace had finally found me, seeping life into these struggling, difficult ambitions that had finally made it's words a book. 

I was a writer.

(Photo-credits for these pictures of the book release to Vijay raj of IClicked Photography ;
. For more pictures of the event, go here. )

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lighting a Way

* An article that I had once written for an e-magazine that was unpublished and never made it. I still found it too beautiful a true-life story narrated by a doctor to ever consider not being published. So, here, I share, Lighting a Way: a story that truly taught me a thing or two about kindness.

She came as five, scrawny and poisoned. Orango-phosphorous substance that killed rats and vermin, the young doctor recognized. The sickly invasion had patterned her skin by then, and the doctor wiped it off her. Light had cheated her eyes. The pupils were constricted. The mouth and nose were cleared by assessment. The heart cradled a slow, dull rhythm. She was still breathing.

The young Pediatrician set up a steady drip of Atropine after calculating the dose for her meager weight. The mother had come with similar fate, too unconscious for the pangs of distraught, panicking love. Then they left them to their separate battles with unfortunate adventure. It was going to be a long night.

The call from the registrar of the female ward at 2 o clock in the morning pronounced that the mother had succumbed. Luck had tested the unknowing child, orphaned prematurely in a life that would require a great deal of tenacity. She had lived to only be stranded. She had fought, only to be burdened. She existed, only as a tiny inconsequential speck in the constellation of struggling souls whose sighs heaved and saturated this hospital air heavy with anxiety. But the smile she presented the doctor showed no knowledge. The smile she presented the doctor was innocent, fresh. It was a tender awakening of an extraordinary relationship.

It was the middle of a relentless summer in the small city of Mysore. The emergency ward of the Children’s Hospital had always been busy at times like these. It was the time of the year when the sun mercilessly poured in the heat to burnish these tall tables covered in flaky grey paint and line the rubber mattresses covered in a green rexin sheets, announcing sickness. Up above, a couple of fans protested in their rusty frames, doing only little to dissipate the unsettling stupor. It was a bewildering landscape and that sparked fear in the now-dilated eyes of the young one. Her eyes met the doctors with a hesitant, pitiful fixation. “She looked at me for another second or two and then the most glorious light lit up her face and eyes as a smile made its way delicately into her visage.” The doctor recalled later, “She sat up more erect and I rushed towards her and lifted her blanketed light frame into my arms.” My name is Parvati, she whispered to him.

Parvati’s questions would come later, on the lap of the weary pediatrician. “Where is my mother?” A simple query with a tragic answer. The poisoning was now a police case, and none could elucidate the mysterious circumstances under which the mother and daughter had been found splayed on a hotel floor. The doctor saw the child in and around, dropping by between his routine check-ups. His almost fatherly affection for the child grew between those rounds, she melted his heart. Once, they even escaped for a fun holiday, buying popsicles from across the street. He had showed her the reflection in the mirror, with tongue turned a gaudy purple from the savoring. She laughed then and changed his life.

There was something special about Parvati, something enigmatic, beautiful and simple. She was the face of eager honesty, a natural curiousness of a growing child. She was innocence that lived in troubled waters. She was an angel; she was bundle of joy that bought cheer to this fatigued hospital space.

The days had only been rolling. She was healthy now. She could run about and squeal in recognition. She could tell the doctor her stories from a comfortable lap. She could smile with fire in her eyes. A hospital was no place for a well child to be. What was to be her fate now? The police had decided on placing advertisements in the newspaper for someone to claim her. Else, she would be stuffed away to an orphanage. The doctor then cycled all the way to the Police Station for a word with the Superintendant. The ensuing conversation was persuasive, pleading and polite.

“He could see how much I had come to care about this little girl. That evening, when I went home on my cycle, Parvati rode in the back with me. She was quite delighted and kept laughing and singing all the way.”
The doctor had made an important decision. He had saved the girl from the clutches of death, and he had now assumed the duty to save her from the wrath of a merciless world. Parvati was to live with the doctor until responses to the newspaper ads came. Here, she became Jyothi, the light of the doctor’s life, the radiance that bought peace to his household.  She came to be regarded as much more than just a somebody; she came to be family. There was a new fullness in the doctor’s heart, much like that of a proud father returning with a newborn. Jyothi scampered around all of the house, exploring with newfound excitement.

The little one was the new sensation, not just in the family, but elsewhere as well. A journalist promptly arrived on the doorstep one morning, begging for an interview. They turned him away with clever lies, protecting the child from media attention. Police Case, that’s how the papers would address her, not as Jyothi. The doctor wanted to shield her, fiercely protecting. The paperwork only found neglect in the Police Station. The replies that the ads expected never came, but a couple of people expressed interest in adoption. It was a bitter-sweet moment for the doctor who had nurtured the child so vigilantly. The attachment was strong, he wouldn’t let go so easily. He personally cycled to the place to meet with Jyothi’s prospective parents.

They met them in Bungalows, good families of aristocratic power. When Police Case and the death of the mother were explained, the couple politely declined from adopting the child.

“They feared the mother was of ill-repute. I felt a deep pain in my stomach almost as if I had been kicked by a horse.” The attachment had grown enough for the doctor and Jyothi to feel a joint pain.

Jyothi understood the rejection, even if she was too young to grasp the magnitude of such choices. It hit her hard. She only cried, and the doctor hushed her into calmness.

A second call came. This time, they were careful to not get their hopes up too much.

“I may be able to find a mother for you today.” The doctor told her. She was unusually silent, her eyes never leaving his face. They cycled again. The house was a poor one, on the first floor of a many-storied building. The family had three children, a homely mother and a loving father. Jyothi took one look at the house and fell deeply in love with it. The parents embraced her. They took Jyothi into their arms without hesitation or second thought.

The doctor knew it was time. He arranged for a familiar lawyer, and the adoption was made a quick, hassle-free process. This was a goodbye he would never forget. Jyothi, the light of his life, would light another family. She was to leave his household and find meaning in life. She flew away to the happy safety of a new shelter. He missed her often. Three months afterwards, he cycled to meet with Jyothi and her new family. They had shifted to a better locality and the little one was doing tremendously well. She smiled again and enriched the doctor’s life. At that instant, he discovered a sense of profound fulfillment within himself, a sort of calming enlightenment that comes with the knowledge of doing good.

Many years later, the doctor had migrated to England. He had set up medical practice there and was flourishing. Jyothi was a little thought in the back of his head now, a shadow, a question, a curiosity. A phone call from India from his mother informed him one day that Jyothi’s parents had visited. Jyoti was now in Singapore, happily married and mothering a baby boy. The doctor was delighted to find his answers. The parents had left for the doctor a statue of sandalwood, a mark of their respect, a token of Jyothi’s overwhelming gratitude. The little girl was all grown up now, but the thankfulness hadn’t left her.

The Ganesha statue of sandalwood sits today by the doctor’s bed-side table, reminding of a blossoming, an enduring bondage, and the beauty of human endeavor.