Tag Archives: Teacher

My First Publisher

Performing at LitCon 2015, Mithibai college

Tuesday was really special. I had a chance to perform at Mithibai college’s LitCon festival. The alma mater makes everything a magical experience. Even though the building has changed beyond recognition, it has echoes of my adolescent self, climbing out of windows, sneaking vada-paos into chemistry labs, reading books hidden inside journals during class. I had a complete college experience, from landmark conversations with strangers to friendships with the kind of people that I’d never have known otherwise, an experience that only enriches you.

I never did anything of note in the six years. But when I was in my second year, groaning and hating every bit of it, something happened. In typical teenage carelessness, I had neglected to thoroughly research my choices. B.Sc. in Mumbai university required students to pick a combination of three subjects in first year, two from those in second year and then one from that in third year (which would be the major). The only science subject I could tolerate was mathematics and that was available in only two combinations. Both combinations had physics, a subject that I loathed even more than I liked mathematics. These two combinations were PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics) and PMS (Physics, Mathematics, Statistics). I didn’t feel like applying my brain enough to understanding why Mathematics and Statistics were different so I picked PCM. It wasn’t till the start of second year that I discovered I couldn’t drop Physics, as I had intended. Apparently the only second year combinations available to me were PM and PC. If I had taken PMS, I could have opted for MS but my harebrained choice had pushed me into having Physics for one extra year.

I coasted through the entire year, feeling bleak and utterly defeated. Physics laboratory really was the worst because I couldn’t bunk it the way I could bunk class. And my poor work was even more glaringly obvious there than in the crowded classroom. I found refuge in my rough journal.

The rough journal was a college given volume, bigger than the typical school notebook and smaller than registers. It was hardbound and made of thick, good quality paper. The icing on the cake was that every page was ruled on one side and plain on the other. Even in those days, I had an eye for good stationery. It enticed me so much, I’d spend the dreaded laboratory hours doodling and falling back into a habit I had thought I’d drummed out of my system since it was deemed useless for my future — writing. I wrote about what I felt, I unentangled the things I saw around me that I had nobody to talk to about and I poured the alternate life I could only dream of, into words in that rough journal.

At the end of every lab session, we were supposed to take our books to the teacher and have her sign off on our work. I’d finish my writing just in time to hear the bell go, frantically copy someone else’s readings and get it signed by the teacher.

One day a lady stopped me in the corridor. I knew her only as an English teacher. I had never been in her class but she was friends with my Physics teacher and I had seen her visit the laboratory several times.

“Did you know there is a college magazine?” she began without preamble. And then she asked me if I’d like to write for it.

I gaped. No one had ever asked me that before. I was a science student, after all. My brain was supposed to be filled with formulae and equations, not stories and words. And there was a sizable Literature fraternity for such activities. Why would anyone even care about what I wrote?

“Can you show me something you’ve written?” she asked, her eyes keenly searching mine.

I gulped guiltily, thinking of the nonsense I spent my laboratory time on, instead of the experiments I was supposed to be doing. Then I told her, I’d bring her something to see.

The next day, I carried my poetry book. This was a journal I had been maintaining since I was 7 and first toyed around with words on paper. I’d painstakingly copy whatever ‘poem’ I had written during recess or whenever, in my best handwriting into it. It was covered with a shiny red sheet of wrapping paper with silver stars on it. Once, I had thought it was marvelous and wanted to use it only for this book. When I became a teenager, it started to look pathetic and silly so I put it away and stopped writing. I hadn’t touched the book in years.

“Can I go through it and give it back to you at the end of the day?” she asked.

I paused, a part of me reluctant to even show her that poor little book. But then, I decided, it was time to let it die out. Writing got me into trouble, gave me all kinds of dreams that made reality seem unbearable. I really ought to be studying and concentrating on my lab work. It was time to let that red register go.

“Take it,” I told her, “You can keep it.”

She looked very, very surprised as she took the book.

“I’ll give it back to you on the weekend,” she promised.

I didn’t think any more of it. The whole incident seemed so surreal.

But on Monday, she came looking for me. I was surprised that she even knew my classroom. Remember the science stream had over a dozen subjects and each classroom had at least 70 students. And that was just the science degree students, not counting the other streams and the junior college kids. But in that buzzing, bustling crowd of a college, she found me.

“I spent all weekend reading it,” she said, “It was lovely. I could see the journey of a little girl growing up to be a young woman. And I got this for you.”

And she gave me a book. It was Antonie St.Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ and it was inscribed, “Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams die, life like a broken winged bird, cannot fly”.

I still remember the scene as clearly as if it happened just a day ago and not 17 years in my past. This teacher who didn’t know me, had never taught me, standing there in a cream coloured saree and curly hair all around her face. She was holding out my red register of poems but she was holding it between both her hands with a kind of respect, a gesture I had never seen anyone accord to something I had written. Many, many years later, Manisha Lakhe would tell me,

“Treat your notebooks with respect and regard. They are the tools of your trade.”

And I would think back to this moment, to this teacher who showed me how I should treat my writing.

One of my poems was published in the college magazine that year, a non-rhyming list piece titled ‘Unanswered Questions’. The next year another poem ran with my name too.

Four years later, as a postgraduate student in another college, I would help revive a dead college magazine, be a member of its editorial committee, propose and run a new column. And a year after I finished my education, I would set up a blog that went on to change my career, my identity and my life. But it all started with one red register covered in childish handwriting. And one teacher who believed in a dream that I didn’t even know I had. She was my first publisher, the first person to call me a writer.

All these years later, I had a chance to share that story on stage. There were dozens of students in the auditorium, smarter, more aware and mature than I remember myself being. And in the midst of all of them, was the head of the department, Mrs.Suma Narayana, the lady who first asked me if I’d like to write.

I had a chance to perform three of my favorite pieces — The Dating Thing, Flamingos and Paper Plane. Thank you, Isha, for giving me a chance to bring my words back here.

Reverb 10.12: One With All

A health-related Reverb10 prompt. I guess it has its place. I’m doing this on the run before I rush out to meet a friend on this uncharacteristically cold December evening in Mumbai.

December 12 – Body Integration

This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

(Author: Patrick Reynolds)

A few weeks ago, the boyfriend decided to pick on his fitness regime again. After a round of the local gymnasiums, he signed up for a membership at one of them and has been regularly working out, working day or not. I can’t understand that. Few things feel as boring to me as repeating the same action over and over again, whether it is running in place or moving an arm up and down or doing crunches. And yet, he seems to really enjoy it.

I realized then that a fitness regime has to be personalized, not just according to the bodily needs but also the person’s requirements. Gymming is not for me. But a lot of other things are.

A lot of my contemporaries find yoga really boring. I’ve been exposed to yoga when I was a child and I can see how that would be an unimpressive experience for most people. But I started a tri-weekly yoga routine five years ago and I revelled in the experience. Not only did I love how I felt later, I really enjoyed every minute that I was actually doing the asanas too. That’s what a good exercise routine should feel like.

I was aided by the fact that I have a very good yoga instructor. She doesn’t just demonstrate and teach the asanas, she also explains the spiritual associations and the relationships of the body’s movement and state to the emotional well-being. For example, when I started the class, I was plagued with chronic lower back pain and stiffness. She explained that a lot of my stress was going straight to my back and what’s more, I had literally made myself more rigid to deal with the situation I was in. I pondered that and I realised that I really had accumulated ego, envy and pride as if they were necessary tools to compete in the corporate world. Through the asanas, she showed me how to release them and let them go.

“Attitude is the most important thing in yoga, not the physical asana itself.”

was her adage and it really worked. I also learnt to empty my head of the various conflicting thoughts that clamoured for attention and focus my mind. It brought me peace, resolution, clarity and confidence.  A few years later, she was describing my body type as extremely flexible which made me :-).

The yoga sessions have stopped in the past few months as my schedule doesn’t match my instructor’s. But on her advice, I took to another exercise that I’ve enjoyed almost as much and for even longer – swimming. I swim 2-3 times a week. Working for myself means I have the liberty of a 5p.m. swim in a virtually unoccupied pool.

I try and do 20 laps crosswise. I usually start with a freestyle with my face in the water, which means I reach the other side out of breath. Then, instead of stopping, I flip onto my back and float back to the other side. The 90-odd seconds that this takes is a time when I feel like my ego, my worries, my ambitions, my pride…everything that creates barriers, problems and structures for me, is easing away. All there is the core, the very essence of me, that can’t be bounded or contained any more than a beam of light can.

That’s integration with myself, my universe and my body.

Katy And I

My school had an interesting way of encouraging children to read. An annual Book Fair was held every year in a couple of the classrooms. After school-hours, parents coming to pick up their kids could buy those books. It was a much anticipated event for me and I’d go and look over the books during my lunch break and go back tell my mother about what was on offer. A few days later, I might be surprised with one of the books I mentioned or perhaps she’d come and look at the books with me and then decide to buy something. Those are my earliest memories of browsing.

In the later years, as the school board got marketing-savvy, they’d also visit each classroom and display a few choice books and talk about them – a promotion of sorts. By the time I got to secondary school, I had discovered the vast library my school owned and was a regular there, matronly (scary) librarian notwithstanding. But the Book Fair was still a special event.

At the end of the year, would be the annual day when various dances, songs and recitals were put up for the benefit of the parents. And at the end was the long-drawn out prize distribution where children were rewarded for good academic performance, winning scholarships but also sports victories as well as cultural activities. I had the pleasure of walking up the dais a few times in my twelve-year long school career, for a few scattered academic wins and once for a music prize.

The annual day of my third standard yielded the first prize in the singing competition for my rendition of ‘My Favorite Things’. It was my first time on that dais. As I nervously shook hands with the school Father, he smiled and handed me the certificate. Attached under it, was a gift-voucher redeemable at the next Book Fair. I would learn the next year, when I walked that dais again to get an academic certificate, that all the prizes included a Book Fair voucher.

When the Fair came along, mum and I walked down the stacks of books on desks and as we came up to the teacher’s desk, I put down a heavy bound book and my mother handed over the voucher. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was the proud owner of the kind of book I had only seen in pictures. It had a solid navy-blue leather bound cover on which was embossed in gold letters,

Katy front

Hamlyn Classics

What Katy Did
What Katy Did at School

Susan Coolidge

The text was bordered by gold lines and edged with pictures of trees. I thought it was beautiful. The spine had the title and author’s name in smaller typeface, crowned with the same tree motif. I fell in love with the book instantly.

It actually was over a year before I got down to actually reading it. I was too scared to breathe on it till then but the fine-stroked pictures in it won me over and I dove right into the story. The adventures of a motherless, lively 12-year-old girl, eldest of six siblings kept me amused for many long hours.

Katy was only one of the many books that I had the privilege of growing up with, as my parents kept me well-supplied with good books. Owing to Mumbai’s space constraints however, my father was also equally strict that some books should be disposed off every year to make place for the new ones. I dreaded the annual book-clearing as much as I looked forward to the Book Fair.

The books that I had outgrown were removed and given to the raddiwalla. I was required to do the sorting myself, after which one of my parents would inspect my shelf and tell me that I needed to get rid of more, else I’d never have place to stock anymore. There were many accusations and tearful confrontations and books were handed over with a heavy-heart.

Katy resisted the clearing attempts of a number of years, my parents also yielding probably due to its beautiful binding (they are book-lovers too, after all). When it finally made it to the pile, I sneaked out of bed in the night and retrieved it – two years in a row.

Finally, the summer that I was twelve, the same age that Katy was at the start of the book, I finally sighed and gave up the fight. Katy went out of the door that day with a pile of books that were deemed too young for a soon-teenager. I didn’t sleep too well that night and was restless all of the next day.

Two days later, I couldn’t stand it anymore and went down to the raddiwalla’s shop in a frantic bid to buy back Katy. To my utter dismay, it had been sold already while the rest of my collection still lay in the same neat stack in one corner of the shop. If I had a best friend or a blog in those days, I would have ranted and raved all day.

I think Katy was special to me for a lot of reasons. There was of course, the fact that in a way, it was the first book that I really earned for myself. Then there was its beautiful hardbound leather cover, its striking pictures and each chapter beginning with old English lettering. And finally there was Katy herself. The book was about a girl, with a very different world around her, than mine. But inside, she felt so much like me, with her grand intentions that often came to nothing, her bright ideas distracted by momentary mischief and silliness and the mistakes she made. Yes, Katy was special.

I would come to realize just how special only in the years to come as I faced some of my own personal challenges, had my own little victories. I did read the sequel called ‘What Katy did next’ borrowed from the school library. But it was a paperback with a coloured cover and didn’t impact me all that much.

There must have been some kind of divine connection or perhaps my longing for my beloved book was so strong that – would you believe it – I got it back!! After I finished school, I took to haunting the raddiwala’s shop often. I had always known that his shop was a treasure-trove of books but till then I had been dependent on my mother to pick out good books and pay for them. As my pocket-money and my geographical boundaries increased, so did my browsing.

And one wonderful, brilliant, lovely day, I found my beloved Katy sitting atop a pile of magazines. It was inconceivable that the book should come back and be spotted by me but it did happen. I opened the leather cover lovingly, after all those years and sure enough, on the page leaf was my name and the date of purchase, albeit crossed out by a strange hand. On the facing page was the rubber stamp of a bookshop in another part of the city. My Katy had gone on an adventure and come home to me.

Katy spine

I just finished reading it again last week and as always, it kept me engrossed. This precious navy blue leather-bound volume will stay one of my treasured possessions and will be passed on to my children or bequeathed in my will to someone I love.


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This post won the ‘My Oldest Book, its Memories‘ contest on BlogAdda. And the prizes were these.

A Music Lesson With Lolita

Good evening sir. Isn’t aunty home? Oh, I see.
Thank you, I’m going to a birthday party, that’s why.
Yes, I chose the dress. Thank you, sir.
Please don’t.
I’m not sure if you should.
I’m not sure what is right.

Yes, I practiced last time’s lesson.
Well, 3 times this week.
You are older than I, and an adult.
And hence you must be right, and I wrong.
But some voice inside me is screaming.

I had to do homework. Really, I practiced thrice.
No…I wasn’t meeting any boys. I don’t have a boyfriend.
I must be really bad for resisting what you tell me.
You can only be doing this for my own good.
Tell the voice to stop.

Shut up shut up shut up why the hell did I wear this dress?
Those are words I’m not supposed to say.
A well-brought up child does not say shut up.
A good girl takes what is given to her and says thank you.
A child should not be screaming when big people are saying something.

Please don’t…I beg you, don’t make me…
I know I’m very naughty, I promise I’m sorry.
Its my fault for wearing this dress.
I promise I’ll study hard and I’ll never lie.
I promise on God and mommy and daddy, I’ll never be bad again.
Please make this screaming go away.

Okay, I will..
But why do I feel wrong?
Mommy will get angry and daddy will too.
I don’t want to displease them.
No, please don’t be angry.
I’ll be good, I promise.
Yes, I know I promised last time..I’m sorry, really am.
Please forgive me.
Here, is this how?
I’m not screaming, see I’m smiling.
I’m not crying, no I promise I’ll never tell mommy and daddy.
Yes, yes its over.

Thank God, thank god, thank you god.
I’m a sinner for being glad it is over when its all for my own good.
It’s a punishment for my sins and I should be glad for it.

Thank you sir, yes I’ll practise this song for next time. Goodbye.
Yes, I’ll wear dresses like this more often.
I hate you, you bastard.
Shutup shutup, a good girl does not use words like this


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