Monday, August 29, 2016

Part of an unfinished story.  

Mightier than a Sword

“ You don’t know how privileged, how lucky you are that  today you can  go to school.  We did not have that privilege.  Never neglect your studies.” Dhuli didimoni warned. 
  Which thirteen-year old child  likes to hear such lectures? We didn’t either. 
But when we heard,  “ Just a stroke of pen, and that saved my life”, we sat up straight. 
“How?  How was your life saved? Tell us, tell us”. Padma's doe-eyes twinkled. Dhuli didimoni crackled, “Oh that’s a long story.  You must go back to your studies now, prepare for your exams.” 
“Please, please Didimoni, we’ll stay up late tonight and catch up for our tests, now tell us that story, please,” we cuddled beside her. 

Paan Bata...very close to what I described here.  

“Well, then listen.”  She opened up the lid of a brass box.  The rectangular ornate box had several chambers inside.  We found that the very first one was a shallow tray  that held a moistened cloth. Dhuli didimoni gently took out  the tray and put  aside. Unfolding  the moist cotton cloth she took out a betel leaf, paan. Several  tiny  cylindrical  brass pots came out after that. From the very first one she scooped out a little white paste, slaked lime, and smeared it on to the paan with the tip of her forefinger. Shredded areca nut pieces, supari, were added from the second one and then from the very  last one she drew out a pinch of silvery something and added  on her paan.  “This is zarda, a kind of sweet tobacco, absolutely not okay for kids. It will make your head spin like crazy and make you throw up and that’d be  the proof that you stole zarda and ate it. ” She warned with wide eyes.   Didimoni then folded the paan into a neat triangle and shoved it in her mouth.  One side of her  cheek flared up as she kept on chewing.  
We knew it would be a long wait now until that puffed cheek normalizes. The little pots and pans went back to the brass box to their respective designated space.  The lid was shut with a swift click.  Didimoni swallowed the juice of her paan with great relish and started:

“ I was the fifth child of the ten children my parents had.  But the very first daughter.   I had three younger sisters.  When I was nine years old, I was married. Don’t remember much of that, only,  that I was bundled in a heavy red sari with  a thick gold border.  Real gold thread. Gold jewelry was hung on me that was too heavy and bulky for my size.  I felt like a sack, but fell asleep any way.   Late at night, they woke me up and carried me to the groom. I had no idea how the man looked, or what this fuss was all about.  All I remembered was,  I had overheard a whispering murmur, ‘Oh, what a match, such a beautiful girl for that old coffin-dodger? How long is he going to last?’
‘Hush, hush, think, what a family she is going to be married to, the highest of the Brahmin caste,  a Kulin Brahmin.   They have three more daughters to be married and this will pave their paths’. 
‘Doesn’t the groom have fourteen other wives?’ someone remarked.‘Of course he does.  Which Kulin Brahmin groom  would you find that doesn’t?’ another answered. 
‘Why you frown, dear child.  Smile. It’s your wedding today’, an old lady held up my chin with a toothless grin.  I must have scowled and turned away, I don’t remember. 
I managed to live with my parents for four more years.  But then came a day when I became a woman, and it was time to go to my husband’s house. 

I vividly remember that day. I  had heard that my husband was almost my father’s age. To me he looked like my grandfather and indeed he had fourteen wives.
All my family came to see me off at the river bank  While they were busy with the farewell rituals,  I looked around.  

The sky was crisp cerulean,  not a single speck of cloud. A blue machranga, kingfisher bird,  with its long scarlet beak  gazed  faraway.   An egret stood on one leg,  forever.  The swarna champa tree was full of blossoms . Tiny  bell shaped, golden flowers made an  amber circle around  the tree.  People  walked on them, trampled, unaware. Unaware of that  heavenly smell.  

That  smell defined home to me. My childhood, my familiar life,  all that I was leaving here.

Ulululu.  I startled at that shrill.  They were now inaugurating me, ceremoniously  saying good bye, wishing me  a safe journey to my new life. Clay lamps were lit, sandalwood paste  was smeared on my forehead.   A man from the groom’s team announced that we must hurry, speed things up. My younger sister, Bonu, scurried.   Streaks of  tears running down her cheek, she  embraced  me in a tight hug and emptied something from the corner of her sari to mine. And then tied a  tight knot to keep the contents safe. The swarna champa flowers. Some spilled on my feet.   How could she know? 

They pushed me to board the boat.  The rope unfurled. The vessel shook.  I felt dizzy  as if there was no ground under my feet.  Indeed, there was none. I held on to those flowers as tight as I could to my bosom.  They were the only tie with my known world."

Friday, June 3, 2016

Puerto Vallarta - The best and worst Part II - Time Share Gamble

 Time Share:  Did we win the gamble?

At our Grand Mayan Resort, the very first thing they ask us is, attend a  Time Share presentation,  the very first thing, next morning. 

“We can’t.”  We protest.  “ Any one catched  you at the airport and want to meet at Walmart?”  The robust manager barks.

 “ May be!” my husband admits.

 “ No señor! Why did you do that?”  His brows are knitted.

“ Any way,  we’ll match whatever he promised and give you mucho  more.   Right now you have a cheap studio  unit with view of the construction site.  No good, senorina. “ This time he looks at me crinkling his nose. 

“ I will upgrade that to a one bed room with kitchen and a great ocean view….. and ….” 

“ Thanks, but no thanks. We are  fine with the studio.  I am not going to any presentation.  Please give the key for my room.” my husband demands.

The guy ties a yellow- red- aztec design bracelet  on our wrists that looks more like a friendship bracelet that little kids make. This is the key he explains,  and made a face that scared the heck out of me  that we’d end up with a stinky room with a lousy view. 

With that strange key when  I opened the room we were pleasantly surprised.  It’s   a beautiful room  on the fourth floor with a  balcony  view of a cute wooden bridge in a lush green forest.   The room has a  king bed and enough room to do all the yoga moves I want to,  on the floor.  The bath even has a jacuzzi. We are quite happy.

Next morning I get a  text message from Marco that he is on his way to Walmart. Even with our very limited Spanish when we informed the taxi driver our destination,  he understood immediately. “ To meet a person, señor ?” he nodded his head.

At Walmart the taxi driver spotted Marco before we did, who paid our fare and took us to Flamingo Resort. We are still not sure if we won the gamble,  yet.  I am kind of enjoying this little adventure, the way  it is unfolding.  What the worst can happen? 

Flamingo Estate is not as big or grandeurous like the Grand Mayan, but charming enough. 

At the gate Marco hands us to the next Welcoming Guide,  John Smith.  John Smith speaks very good English and he looks  more American than Mexican.  Indeed! he  is from San Diego.  Born and brought up there. 

“I can’t speak Spanish. No man!” he confesses.  “John Smith, like apple pie, what can be more American, right?’- he chuckles.

 “ I consider myself a guide, a mentor, rather than a sales person.  Try to show people what to do with life…how to do it.  Life is short. Vacations are so so important.  But you need a plan.”  John says in one breath. Then as he shows us the path through the meandering walkways, he looks at my husband.  “ “What do you do sir? “ 

 “ Retired.  Taking a vacation.” he replies.

 I look at my watch.  We have spent about three hours talking with him.  He had taken us to a grand buffet  and introduced us to several  special Mexican dishes,  “ This lady will make you an empanada with your choice of fillings and don’t forget to try the roasted poblanos.” 

 In the mean time he told us his  life story, may be, tapping  our needs. May be he thought  it will make us  feel comfortable  to open up,  But,   in the process  John Smith,  unconsciously  was confessing how confused he feels about what to do with his own life.  He had changed careers many times, been to several places and wore many hats.  “ This 15th July I’ll have my 50 th birthday!”  he adds.

“ How do you plan to celebrate?”  I ask.

 “ I think I’ll celebrate it becoming a Mexican citizen and give up my American passport. I hope my Mexican papers will be done by then”. He keeps his fingers crossed. 

“ Really!  While everyone wants to go to the other side?”  My husband could not hide his surprise.

 “Yes Sir. I’ve seen both sides. Been there, done that.   My mom lives in San Diego. I go there.  But this is my home.”  He slaps on the table.  

“ I was an adopted child.  No clue of my biological parents.  I grew up as a single child with no siblings.  My  mom,  as a single parent, raised me  with much care. She is kind and generous. She did a lot for me.  She was stern too.  But you know …when I go there, I feel restless, anxious to return here.  I don’t feel comfortable. Family… home… you know…!”  John squeezes his shoulders, wiggles, trying to find the right word.

 “ Last winter I was terribly sick.  Dengue…from mosquito bite. I was dying. You wont believe what these people did for me. That is home.  That is family. “ 

John met his soulmate, Jaxmen here. “ She is also a single mom raising her twin girls .. with so much love.  Very caring.  I’d miss the girls much when they’ll go to college after this summer.”  John takes out his smart phone to show the pictures of his family.

“ Life is much relaxed here., much slow- paced, with much less needs. I am enjoying what I am doing  now,  and I feel I am giving back.  Over there I was only concerned if it was giving me enough, I was only counting  my profit..  I was tired of running, running… running the rat race and getting stuck at  Los Angeles traffic. 

This place survives  by serving people.  Tourism is what brings food on the table, so people go out of their way to make you happy.  There is no crime.  There is a prison, but it is not needed.”

John could not sell us anything.   But we enjoyed knowing each other.   

Along with several tours and perks that they had promised, John’s story was the most precious gift in this deal, to me.

An iguana
 When I go visit a  new place,  with its flora and fauna and the superficial  charm I  crave  to know the  real people who live there. I wish to understand their ways of living, their values and culture.

A show o the beach where they were thanking nature for her abundance

 John gave me an authentic picture of that: an endorsement of the character of the people of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.  What could I expect more?   I think the $50 gamble was not a loss. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Adventure in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta - The best things and the worst things

The Welcoming Guide

In Puerto Vallarta airport, the first thing you'll encounter after you pass through immigration and customs, is a Welcoming Guide.

We were told  ( by our resort manager - The Grand Mayan) that a 'Welcome Tour Guide' in a tan shirt and a placard  with VIDANTA sign  in his hand will meet us and take us to our resort.

Indeed we were greeted by a tan color- shirt -wearing guy with a VIDANTA placard,  who brought us in front of a booth.  We saw VIDANTA signs  and logos  all over  on the walls.

A young man  with a name plate Marco  greets us with a big smile.

"Buenos diez Señor, I'll call you taxi.  He'll take you to the Grand Mayan, your resort.  While you wait you want me to help you with any thing, any special tour you want to take?" he asks with high Spanish accent.

We saw some pictures of ethnic dances. My husband points to one of them.

"Of course, Señor.  It is beautiful. It is $169 a ticket, but we can give you a discount for $100 for two.  That will include taking you to the island in a nice boat, a nice ethnic dinner and then the show."  He smiles, then adds, " And señor, if you come to our presentation,  a time share presentation, we'll show you more  savings.  ..just a 90 minute presentation, that's all I'm asking."

"No thanks!" I interrupt. I am afraid of these time share presentations.

"We can add a city tour with board walk and show you where Richard Burton and Liz Tayor made the bridge, and then a jungle tour and sir, we'll also pay for your taxi fare back  to the airport."

This is what got me doubting him more when he started showing how much we'd save.   We all know that catch. " No sir, no 90 minute presentation." I protest.

"Senorina, nothing to lose for you. Don't buy anything.  This just gives me a commission, that's all."  he touches his heart, and looks humble.

Another guy ( his boss) comes in and they start talking in Spanish that we don't understand.

" Ok, I  make it $50 for you senorina, Just come tomorrow to meet me at Walmart, and come to this presentation.  I  take you and give you all that I promise.. "

My husband took out a $50 bill from his pocket and hands him. " Now please give me a receipt and take me to my hotel. I'm tired."

" Why not at our hotel?  Why at Walmart?" I ask with a blank stare.

" Because, your resort won't let any one else enter there,  senorina.  Not me.  Every one wants to sell time  share here, you see.  Your Grand Mayan too.  It is  a very big place,  senorina.  Trust me you'll not lose.  Just give a chance to me." He pleads.

A taxi  appears and he opens the door for us, then exchanges phone number and we take off.

" You just gambled  $50, Didn't you?"  I look at my husband. " What if he does not show up tomorrow?"

" Yes, I gambled.  But he'll show up.  He'll get a commission.  This is his livelihood. Let's see.  A little adventure." He smiles.

I read somewhere that the biggest industry of this place, Puerto Vallarta, is tourism.  This is how modern Puerto Vallarta survives.

There was a time when the people of this place yelled at the green suited (army suit) Americans 'gingo', meaning,  green go!

Today, they welcome.  Please come here,  they say as soon as their eyes meet yours, with the right hand touching the heart, they nod and smile " Bien venido amigos, gracias".

I'll be able to tell you tomorrow if we really won the gamble.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Do I need a writing group

Do I need a writing group?

In my last blog I told you how I feel lonely sometimes in this journey as a writer.  I came to know that it's not only me, many published and well known authors  including Jack London and Hemingway felt the same way.

Writing is a solitary journey, yet we want to see our readers, need a hand sometimes from a fellow writer and feel willing to do the same.

In that quest I joined a Writers club and volunteered to read the first page of my novel to a group whom I have never met.

In a crowded room at a corner we, five such writers who signed off to be critiqued sat and read each others work and  at the end gave a  feed back.  I got such harsh cirticism that it took me two weeks to recover.  I felt numb as I sat in front of  my journal to write.  What's the use of writing this novel?  No one would read it any way. It is too foreign to them.

Then one day it dawned on to me that I was not very honest  as a critique to the other four writers either.  When   I said to one of them that  I'd turn the first  page and read more, I was just polite.  That gibberish of Speculative Science or the mystic, magical, allegorical alligator's story the other one shared  ...they are not my kind.  Besides I  do not really know how to critique others work very well yet.  I can say if I like it or not,  but why or why not ...that's a different level.

No wonder all readers are not my readers and not everyone will be interested in my work It is true that not every one may want to know  how my protagonist, a twelve year girl from undivided India of 1940s felt when she had to leave everything she knew as her home and be a refugee. They might not  be willing to read her story. They might be interested in Speculative Science genre.  I am not.

Not all groups are beneficial for a writers soul either.

 Actually this was a negative experience and I should not put myself to that position,  I promised to myself, at least until I finish  the first draft of my novel. It hurts the creative soul. Yes, yes I am aware of the great quotation:

"People ask for criticism, but they only want praise." - William Maugham

We all want different things from a writer's group and the group will only work if your motivation align warns Allison Tait  in her blog.

Following Tuesday I went to my informal Writers Friends group. We know each other and know why we write what we write. I do not expect that in real life.  In  real world  I'd not  know my readers or they would know me personally.  I would be judged by my work,  but for now this is important.

I read what I wrote, part of that fiction,  and got feed back from my friends.   They  told  me  clearly why something worked, why not, helped me with grammar or  found a  more appropriate word to improve the piece.

"Critique is not about changing your story. It's about improving the relating of the story to the reader". says Tara K. Haret.

And I felt so thankful to them. They were genuinely interested to know what I wrote.  And the same thing happened to me.

When I  was driving  back home I  was thinking of Wayne's story. I could see his father riding a wagon in the 1930 era.  I sincerely wished Sylvia's poem should be published and where would Jane's personal essay about  her friend's loneliness find a niche?

This warm community is nurturing to our writer soul.  We cherish it and feel it nourishes us.

Do you have a writers' group?  What are your thoughts about it?  I am looking forward to knowing your experience in the comments below. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why Write a Blog

Why another blog ? Are n't there enough in the blogosphere? Even I have another one where I journal my agony and ecstasy as a jewelry artist/entrepreneur. Then why start another one?

Here, I want to share my experience, resources, struggle as a writer.  Writing is a solitary thing, it gets lonely and cold some times.  And you look for support.  You want to give the same  to fellow writers.  You want to communicate with your readers, other fellow writers.

Who are they, I wonder sometimes.  Are there any one at all?  At times I  wake up from night mares that there is no one reading my writing, no one cares to know what I had to say.  There is no point in writing then.  Really?

But I do have a story inside which like a  caterpillar  is  struggling to break out from its cocoon. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

You need a Club

The most exciting thing that happened today is that I am a member of the California Writers Club now.   I got the little card in the mail and holding it I was feeling so thrilled.  It is the same club that  was formed by Jack London, one hundred years ago!

An informal gathering of Jack London, poet George Sterling and short story writer Herman Whitaker,  among others formed the Press Club of Alameda in 1909 and eventually the California Writers Club was incorporated in 1913.

Early honorary members were John Muir, Joaquin Miller, the first California poet laureate Ina Coolbrith and later Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein and the famous historians Will and Arial Durant visited.

Today, 107 years old, this Club has 21 branches throughout the state of California with nearly 2000 members and I am one of those who strive to write.