than mislead you with a lie”
Many years ago, I heard a beautiful ballad on the radio called “Sometimes When We Touch…” and it was that particular line that really struck home with me.
Oh the love stuff was nice, but at the time it kind of made me squirm, a bit too intimate.
And I got the lyrics way wrong!
I heard “Sometimes when we touch the artist sees too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide…”
But it’s actually “Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much…”
And even that line “I’d rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie” I’d heard it: “I’d rather hurt you honestly than treat you with a lie.”
Funny how the meaning changes and yet the sentiment stays the same.
And it’s funny how that mistaken line: “I’d rather hurt you honestly than treat you with a lie.” Became a sort of motto for me.
I internalized it.
It’s my philosophy when dealing with people. And it’s all from a love song.
Who says they’re just silly songs?
Who says they can’t speak the truth and lead you to higher heights of principle?
Of course it helped that the idea jived well with one of the hadiths/sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where he said, “Speak the truth even if it is bitter and displeasing to people.”
That doesn’t mean that I’ll go about spouting off my opinion, especially if people will find it offensive, but at the same time, if someone asks me an honest question, then don’t they deserve an honest answer???
I think they do.
And that’s when I’d rather hurt them honestly than ‘treat’ them with a lie.
Of course there are gentle ways to say things. Diplomacy. You know…
I think I’ve gotten better at it.
But one thing I haven’t gotten better is wiping the gauche look off my face when I meet someone whose words have really touched me like that.
Tonight I was at a fund-raising program held by the Toronto United Church Council to raise money for unwed mothers.
And on the program was Dan Hill. When the organizer first called me and told me the lineup included Dan Hill, I immediately thought of Sometimes When We Touch, but then thought, “Nah! Couldn’t be.”
Uh huh. It was.
And I got very excited!
(By the way, I know perfectly well I’m doing some shameless name-dropping, but I can’t help it!)
And when he actually showed up, just this quiet, unassuming looking guy, I tried to think of something intelligent to say, some question, some way to engage him in conversation.
I was starting to get nervous. There were stand up comedians on the bill and Dan Hill and a harpist and a saxophone player, and then me.
And I was second to last in the program! After me was the choir singing Winter Wonderland, that was it.
It went wonderfully!
I needn’t have gotten so worried.
I knew how much I tripped over the first few words of the story, but apparently the audience didn’t even notice. At the end of the program some of us sold books and CD’s at the back of the hall, by the way it was in one of those old fashioned churches that had been built in 1914 and was basically a hundred years old with the intricate stained glass windows and a pipe organ that took up the whole wall behind the altar, stretching right up to the ceiling!
I set up right beside Dan Hill and I thought, “Oh boy, it’ll be one of those events where he’ll have the big long line up and I’ll be sitting there by myself looking pathetic, but no, the way they came up to my table with my books for sale…wow!
They really liked the story!
And it was so funny because even during his stint on the stage, Mr. Hill sang a couple of Christmas carols with the harpist, then a beautiful song called “I am My Father’s Son” about a father and son relationship, and then he said how he called his mom everyday and she’d told him, “Don’t sing that song, son, they’re sick of it!” (I’m paraphrasing)
And then he sang it.
And of course we were all waiting for it.
And I wondered to myself, if that’s how people might feel one day about Big Red Lollipop. I’ve told that story SO many times! I call it my no-brainer-crowd-pleaser.
And as the crowd dispersed and Mr. Hill was getting ready to leave, I called out to him about that line that had really influenced me. I tried to tell him how much that line ‘I’d rather hurt you honestly than treat (sic) you with a lie’ had meant to me, and even as I quoted it, I mumbled the word ‘treat’ because it didn’t sound right and right then I was sure I had gotten it wrong. And sure enough when I checked on line, I had gotten it wrong.
But he graciously didn’t correct me.
And even though I knew I was acting the total fan, I didn’t really care…it was honest.
Here’s him singing it from the original music video:
This is going to be a long post! I have so much to tell to wind up my trip to India–but bear with me I think you might find it pretty funny!
So I went to the Taj, straight from Delhi airport on Monday, Dec. 3rd.
Our flight from Pune get delayed because the system went down and they had to check us in manually.
Omigosh, talk about lineups! Left the hotel in Pune at 5:30 am, and didn’t leave on the airplane till about 8:20, delayed an hour. We were supposed to get into Delhi for 9:40, got out around 10:30 instead.
My husband had kept drilling it into me to make sure I don’t miss my flight back, don’t miss my flight back, so I came out of the airport, and luckily my driver was waiting right there for me. Asked him if we still had enough time to go to the Taj and he said yeah, sure!
So we were off.
Wasn’t sure it would be worth it.
In fact I was thinking of my trip to Stonehenge. I’d been way more fascinated with Stonehenge than I’d ever been with the Taj Mahal, and yet when I’d actually seen the Stonehenge my reaction was, “Meh! A bunch of big rocks, lying on their sides!”
Of course the Taj isn’t nearly as old as Stonehenge. It’s about 450 years old.
And yes, it’s listed as one of the 7 man-made wonders of the world!
Got there and it took my breath away!
It really is that beautiful!
Words can’t express the exquisiteness of this grand old mausoleum!
On the weekends they usually get about 50,000 visitors a day. Being a Monday the crowd was light. Only about 10,000. And the thing is that most of the visitors were local.
That should tell you something.
And most of the visitors had come often before.
That also should tell you something.
And as I strolled along the beautiful white marble tiles of the courtyard, I realized something. There are reasons why certain places resonate with people from around the world to become infinitely famous and ranked as one of the wonders of the world.
And I think it all comes down to the feeling the visitor achieves when they visit there.
The feeling of the Taj Mahal is one of incredible love and sadness.
Shah Jehan obviously loved his third wife, Mumtaz so much!
You feel it viscerally, you do.
And there’s that feeling of haunting romance that has infused the place.
And yet I’m torn.
I had a guide leading me through the grounds but I think I hardly needed him. It was good though because I think under the circumstances it’s best not to go to places like that alone, and he warned me what to do and what not to do.
The historical stuff he told me, I basically already knew.
I wrote about a young emperor Shah Jehan in my book Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile. The play that Zainab and Premini perform in the competition is based on a true story of his.
But truth be told, I think he was a bit of a fool. A prisoner of the mindset of opulence he grew up in. It seems to me that he would have been more than content with just the one woman, Mumtaz. He had two other legal wives, because in Islam you can legally have up to four, but then he had a thousand concubines: basically pretty girls he noticed in the land and had soldiers go and take them as part of his harem.
It makes me cringe to think that yes, these emperors really did have harems full of women, that literally waited upon him.
And yet, I think it’s all a silly status thing. It seems to be hard-wired in men to want women–plural. And the more women you have, the higher the status, hence the notoriety of powerful men with lots of mistresses. Men look at other men with lots of women and envy them, so Shah Jehan had to show how impressive he was in that regard.
When I went to South Africa the locals told me that a lot of the local ‘kings’ were like that too. It was their custom that if they saw a pretty girl, they could just force her to join his harem.
It just seemed so wrong there and it seemed equally wrong here.
And I knew what happened, how Shah Jehan’s son Aurangzeb took over because Shah Jehan’s elaborate buildings were bankrupting the country. Shah Jehan always planned to build a mirror image to the Taj Mahal on the other side of the Yamuna river, only all in black marble. He’d already prepared the foundations for it. You can actually see them from the balcony of the Taj Mahal, but Aurangzeb stopped him from doing so.
The expense!!! Shah Jehan brought in architects from all over the world, he shipped in white marble from Rajasthan, and artisans to inlay all the semi precious stones at enormous cost!
It’s unseemly for a ruler to do that to his country and yet…look at it now. It’s such a tourist hot spot and has brought fame and notoriety to the country of India.
Everyone knows Agra, the old capital of the Moghuls simply because of the Taj Mahal.
And yes, when you first see it, it really is surreal, dreamy, beautiful.
And yet driving through Agra, you see the other India. The squalor, the lame and pregnant dogs, the Brahmin bulls strolling through the streets with the big humps on their back and a disdainful expression on their faces and the ragged children and the people trying to eek out a living.
And traveling through India you see the other India, the modern India with the high towers dedicated to IT, and the business plazas, and the nouveau riche, ignoring the perrenially poor as if the poor really have nothing to do with them.
So we left Agra at around 6 pm because my hubby kept telling me to be careful with timing. My flight out of Delhi wasn’t till 3 am but I was planning on arriving at the airport by 12 midnight, just to be sure.
In my haste, we got there by 10 pm.
Five hours of nothing much to do.
Got hungry, but I’d used up most of my rupees, I only had 3 American dollars, 2 Euros in coins, and some Canadian money on me (that I needed for the taxi back home). I had some hundred dollar bills in U.S. but I wasn’t planning on exchanging them at that point! Didn’t want a bunch of rupees to take home, not just to buy a sandwich and a drink!
I tried to change my small bills, but they wouldn’t take my Canadian dollars and I didn’t have enough U.S. so a kind stranger offered to take my two Euro coins off me (he was traveling to Europe) and he ended up paying the difference of about 40 rupees.
In the airport I read a lot of Malala Yousufzai’s book I Am Malala co-written with some English author in the hopes of making her seem deeper than she really is. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good read, but I lost a lot of respect for her when she started singing the praises of that crook Benazhir Bhutto! (By the way I’m not a fan of ANY of the Pakistani politicians! Can’t stand Musharraf and none of the others are any better! But Bhutto and Zardari have Swiss bank accounts with millions of absconded funds from Pakistan–and that’s a fact! Any ruler who’d pillage their own people like that…grrr!!!! (Um kind of like Shah Jehan) A plague on all their crooked houses, if you ask me!)
Anyway, it was a LONG night!
While I was reading there in the lounge area, this big hairy Indian was lying flat on his back, on the carpet to the right of me, a hanky over his face, snoring.
That wasn’t so bothersome. What was awful, was when he grunted, got to his feet, then went to sit on the lounge chair a few feet away, and he farted loud enough for half the people in the lounge to hear.
But what really surprised me was this skinny proper looking white guy, some businessman perhaps, sitting across the aisle from me, he hardly even winced. The only way you could tell that he heard the guy let one rip was that he just paused a bit, didn’t even look up, and then continued reading.
And I thought Omigosh! He’s so used to this kind of thing!
And I felt SO embarrassed!
It was a Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Toronto, but there was a weird arrangement because we would be stopping in Brussels for a few hours where we had to deplane and everything.
I didn’t realize it was an unusual format for a flight.
Anyway, went through the passport control and they put a sticker on the back of my passport with some numbers and signatures and stuff.
I hate stickers on my passport! When you take them off they leave such a gooey residue!
We got onto the flight and what is it with South Asians and washrooms! Especially the men!
Going into the bathroom after one of these hairy Indian neanderthals is awful! Couldn’t help thinking that people who went in there after me were lucky because I would clean the place before and after!
As we landed in Brussels the crew made an announcement that apparently it was regulation that they’d have to spray a disinfectant throughout the cabin and anyone who was allergic or wearing contacts should cover their faces. So the flight attendant passes up and down the aisles with these two automatic spraying aerosol cans and I felt like we were a bunch of lepers being deloused or something.
In Brussels we had to get off the plane, with all our hand luggage, go through airport security again! Ooh the lineups!
And then we had to walk over to the new lounge area where all of us, mostly South Asian types wearing turbans, shalwar kameezes (me), sweaters and some wearing jeans and western clothes, sat with all our stuff, exhausted and just wanting to continue on our journey to Toronto.
Then the announcement came that they were boarding the flight and EVERYONE, I kid you not, got up and crowded around the gate to board as quickly as possible.
There were three people wearing uniforms who came down towards the gate. The flight was being operated by Air Canada and two of the people were white, an older gentleman who looked kind of German or Nordic with a Nordic accent, and then a petite blonde lady and then a black lady.
Well… for a moment the older gentleman and the petite blonde lady just looked at the throng of us exhausted South Asians, all crowded around the gate.
They just looked at us silently, like they were wondering if we were dangerous, going to revolt or something.
They looked scared.
And we were all standing there silent.
Nobody said anything, until I broke the silence in my perfect Canadian accent, “Um…are we supposed to board now?”
It was like the trance was broken and the petite white lady said, “Yes, but I don’t know why you’re all standing there… the line is over here.” (She was indicating a spot on the other side of those roped up barricade things.)
So the whole mob starts moving towards the ‘line’ and the old guy goes, “No! Stop! Stop! Only the families with small children may board first.”
And then the families with small children started going towards the line area and they were looking over their documents and allowing them through.
And the old guy waved his arms and said, “Back! Back! We’ll be boarding by row numbers!”
But nobody in the mob moved back. Not really.
So then he called, “Rows 35-47, may board now.”
But of course a man from row 30 tried to sneak in there and he turned him back. And then someone from row 29 tried their luck and were turned back again.
And while I’m standing there waiting for my row to be called I suddenly got really irritated at that stupid little sticker on the back of my passport and thought, “Okay, don’t need that any more! So I peeled it off, curled it up, and tossed it on the carpeted floor.
Finally when he said, “Okay, all other rows!”
I came forward and some lady to the right of the barrier pushed her way in beside me, and got in between me and my rolling bag, the one with my presentation stuff in it. I gently pulled at my bag. Really I was trying to be gentle, but it was bumping against another bag, and some guy behind me swore saying, “Oh these pushy people!” And I wondered if he was talking about me or the lady beside me, and then he kicked my bag in a supremely futile gesture.
But I just ignored it, because really, we were all tired, and these things would happen.
So when I went up to the old guy in uniform to show him my passport he turns it over and says, “Where’s your sticker?”
Like I just committed an unforgivable crime.
I looked at him blankly and told the truth. “I took it off.”
Again I told the truth, “Because I don’t like sticky things on my passport.”
“Because they make my passport all gooey.”
Couldn’t he see the residue of past stickers on the back of it?
And he said, “Well…you’ll just have to go back to immigration!”
And I thought he was referring back to that incredibly long line of security screening, and I thought, “Oh no! I’ll miss my flight!”
I said, “I can’t! It’s right there!” And I waved towards the carpeted floor on the other side of the barrier. “I just took it off.”
He said, “But why?”
“Because I don’t like sticky things on my passport! I can find it! I’ll show you!” And I was ready to move the people out of the way so I could find the curled up shreds of my sticker, but the black lady said, “How do we know it’s YOUR sticker?”
What a dumb question!
Tried to convince them but they were unmoved.
I tried the petite blonde lady and she assured me I had to go back to immigration. So I said, “Where?” And she waved her hand at the counter at the front of the gate.
Dealing with all these South Asians I just knew they wouldn’t grant me any quarter whatsoever.
So I went back to the counter and luckily it turned out that ‘immigration’ involved an official who was stationed right at the counter but had left for a moment.
When he showed up, I showed him my passport, he had a whole bunch of stickers on one of those sheet thingies. I told him I needed a new sticker. And he asked, “What happened to your own sticker?”
“I peeled it off.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I don’t like sticky things on my passport. They make it gooey.”
“Well! You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“That proved it had been checked by Jet Airways.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry. Lesson learned. Don’t take off the sticker!”
So he checks my passport and puts a new sticker on it and says, (as if it needs repeating), “Don’t do that again!” Then he adds, “You can take it off once you board the airplane.”
So I go back, triumphantly, to the old guy and the black lady, with the sticker on my passport, and as I’m passing by, the crowd has thinned, and I see the curled up remnants of my old sticker and I point, “See? There it is! That’s my sticker.”
To show I was speaking the truth.
And the black lady says again, “How do I know that’s YOUR sticker?”
And I thought, “Really? Is anyone else admitting to doing something so stupid???”
But I didn’t say anything more, because they were the ones in power, and it’s better to just keep your mouth shut.
But I didn’t take the sticker off once I was safely on board. I didn’t take it off till I was collecting my luggage at Pearson airport.
And yup, it left a gooey residue on my passport.
So I guess the Delhi belly phenomenon took a while to hit me, because I didn’t get it till the second last day of this whirlwind tour, here in Pune.
Delhi belly is basically vomiting and diarrhea. The runs, you name it.
Started with a general feeling of queasiness yesterday morning, and by the time it was time for my session at 3:30 in the afternoon, I was really ill.
Felt like the dog’s breakfast.
Just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep…but the show must go on.
I normally stand for the presentation, but the concession I made was I sat.
People couldn’t even tell I felt so awful.
I think the adventure in Amritsar caught up to me, and the general exhaustion.
Because even as I was making my way back to the hotel, I couldn’t hold it any longer, and I burst into tears.
That usually only happens when I’m absolutely exhausted.
I get totally weepy. Like a blubbering child.
I think that was the worst part of it all. And of course the organizers were totally wonderful, so solicitous, and me all flushed one minute, and shivering with chills the next.
It was a rough night! But alhamdu lillah, I woke up feeling better.
It’s funny how in my travel purse I have basically ever non-prescription medication you might need.
Never had to use the gravol and imodium as much as I had to use them over the past day and a half!
What a life saver!
And this morning, the organizers kept telling me that I didn’t have to push myself, it would be fine if I cut it short. She even said I could skip some parts, but the problem is the way the presentation has developed, every bit is necessary to get to the finale.
It wouldn’t work half so well if I skipped some parts.
I was scared, really nervous of how strong I’d be, but once I got started, I found myself feeling just fine.
But still pretty soon after my session was done I took advantage of the car going back to the hotel so I could come to my room and rest.
Not doing that last session would have been getting within inches of a finish line and not crossing over it.
It just felt wrong.
I’m so glad I was able to do it.
I know that the organizers of Bookaroo as well as Duckbill, my publisher, invested an incredible amount of resources in bringing me here, so to not finish…
The press coverage has been phenomenal!
Wow! What a big splash Bookaroo has made! It keeps growing and growing, with other cities expressing interest in hosting it.
And Wanting Mor has made quite the splash here!
I’m so glad.
I’ve done my part, but boy, am I ready to come home!
Tomorrow it’s an early flight back to Delhi then a whirlwind tour of the Taj Mahal, and then back to the airport for the homebound journey.
I must confess I’m looking forward to going home.
Over and out in Pune.
Suhaani Raath being sung by a young Indian troubadour strumming on a guitar on the roof of our hotel in Pune…wow, pretty close to heavenly!
They had the Bookaroo Pune launch dinner last night and it was smaller than the one in Delhi, had a completely different feel to it, and it came with that perfect moment!
It’s funny but you can’t choreograph these things.
Perfect moments have to be spontaneous.
What happened was at someone’s request he had called his driver to bring his guitar in from the car. This young boy, probably still in his teens, and then he sat down and started singing some beautiful Indian songs.
People listened, rapt and then gradually returned to their conversations.
He had already put the guitar away and I was enjoying the dessert…I know, I know, I said I wouldn’t but I’m weak-willed this way, and I figure I’ll get back to dieting when I go home.
Three perfect little gulab jamuns the size of big red grapes and creamy vanilla ice cream and suddenly I had such a craving for this beautiful old song from my childhood, Suhaani Raath. Raath means night, and I think suhaani means beautiful. It’s about a young man who’s pining for his love and the chorus consists of “Na jaane, thum kub ougey.” Which means ‘don’t go, when will you come back again?’
So I asked him to sing it.
He had already put away his guitar. He said, “It’s so slow! It puts people to sleep.” I said no, it’s beautiful. Then he admitted it was his favourite song and I entreated him so he pulled it out the guitar again and sat down at our table, and just for me he started singing it.
It was so beautiful, that soon everyone on the rooftop stopped talking and listened.
And I took a bite of that creamy vanilla ice cream along with a smidge of gulab jamun and I thought, yup, doesn’t get much better than this!
Check out the original and you’ll get an idea of it:
It’s such a treat to see some of the same faces I got acquainted with at Bookaroo in Delhi!
And the wonderful thing is we’ve kind of gotten past that initial euphoria stage, if you know what I mean.
One of the things I try very hard NOT to do is to hog a conversation. I have my family to thank for that! They’ve trained me well! In times past when I became overbearing they did well to point it out and I find myself catching myself before I have a chance to become too obnoxious, I hope.
But at the same time, on these overseas trips, I find myself ‘on’ a lot!
‘On’ is that state when I’m reaching out to people, gregarious, talking up a storm, basically engaging them in conversation.
But here in Pune, I’m finding that with some of the folks I’ve met at Bookaroo Delhi we’ve passed that stage already, and we’re sitting back and having very interesting conversations!
Just spent some fascinating time with a Muslim storyteller I’d initially met in Bangalore (I think, though he might have been in Delhi). And he told me how he got into storytelling.
He tells to autistic kids, and I thought, “Wow!” That’s probably the hardest audience there is!
He even gave me pointers on how to keep them more engaged.
It was great! I got a chance to shut up and listen, sharing shop talk, even sharing some Mullah Nasruddin stories.
He told me some I’d never heard of and I told him some he’d never heard of!
I heard about the history of India, and I got to chat with a fascinating illustrator/photographer and we discussed why publishers often keep authors and illustrators at bay from each other.
I told him there’s a very good reason for this practice!
He sounded kind of sad when he said only a few of the writers for whom he’d done illustrations had ever contacted him about them.
The illustrator needs to be left to ply their craft, to interpret the authors words without interference!
And especially when authors are just starting out they can be quite the control freaks.
I remember hearing a picture book author I admire, Jo Ellen Bogart, sum it up perfectly when she said that she’d learned to let go and just waited to see what surprise the illustrator would come up with.
Yup, that pretty much sums up my attitude towards it now too.
But that said I do like contacting the illustrator after the process and expressing how much I like their work. But then I would only do that if I’m sincere, and I am.
There have been many newspaper articles done on Bookaroo as well as myself. I’m glad to say that the organizers are pleased with the media attention.
Just finished a photo shoot where the photographer asked me to show the kinds of faces and poses I do in my storytelling session.
The pictures are hilarious. Makes me wonder which ones he’ll use.
I think on Sunday the Times of India, which already ran a beautiful article on me, will be running another profile sort of piece. Looking forward to seeing it!
In the meantime, here’s the Times article they did: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-27/bangalore/44518792_1_books-good-story-voice-modulation
Have to go down to the restaurant in a half hour for the pre-Bookaroo launch party. Should be fun!
Over and out in Pune.
Today was supposed to be an in and out trip. Came into Amritsar at about 10 am, did three major presentations and two journalist interviews, and I was supposed to be out on the 8:45 pm flight.
Only it got cancelled, so I’m stuck here, and my flight leaves at 3 am, back to Delhi where I need to pack up my stuff, and head back to the airport at 6 am.
Wow! It’s going to be hard!
I’m just going to pray Maghrib and Isha, take a shower, put on the same clothes I wore all day, have no choice! And then try to get some sleep before the taxi guy comes to get me at 1:30 am to head to the airport.
It was a fascinating day though! Amritsar is only 30 miles from the border and just on the other side is Lahore, the city I was born in!
Haven’t seen it for more than 20 years. And somehow I feel keenly how close I am and yet so far.
Don’t have a visa to go to Pakistan so even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.
The biggest attraction in Amritsar is the Golden Temple.
My cab driver and other people in Bangalore all said I should go there!
And it worked out that I did indeed get a chance to go there.
I wish I’d known more about Sikhism. I am woefully ignorant!
All I know is that it arose as a sort of protest to Muslim rule.
And of course I knew that their holiest site is the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
It’s part of protocol to not only take off your shoes when you go in there, but to take off your socks too.
Everybody walks up this tiled area in bare feet, to this kind of a shallow ditch that’s laid across the pathway, and lined with a rough kind of a rubber mat at the bottom in which you wash your feet.
Then you go up the marble stairs and enter the enclosure.
I saw people knealing and gesticulating (kissing their fingers and touching them to the ground) at various points.
Inside they were mopping the marble tile floor, and it was VERY wet, and very slippery. I had to tread carefully.
The driver had come in with me and stopped at a place to pick up a golden coloured kerchief type of material that he tied on his head to cover his hair.
Then we went towards the golden covered bridge that leads across the square pond to the golden temple itself.
We went in batches. There were so many people in line ahead of us that they couldn’t let us all in at once, I guess. And we went forward a bit, and then stopped and waited, then went forward again till we got nearer and nearer and all the while from loudspeakers came the sound of singing and the people around me, the tall men with their turbans and the ladies with their heads covered with dupattas and many clutching babies, often sang along.
I was taking pictures, and people were giving me curious looks, and I hope they realized that I was respectful, but it was a little frightening at the same time.
When we first came in to the enclosure, there was some kind of sermon going on and I heard the guy saying that “We should not give the Musilmaan even one rupee…” That’s all I caught in my understanding of Punjabi or was it Urdu he was speaking, I’m not sure. I often get them mixed up.
And I thought to myself, wow, there’s a lot of hostility there towards us Muslims, and yet I never did anything to them at all.
Now here I was surrounded by Sikhs and they surely must know that I’m a Muslim, I sure don’t want to do anything to offend them.
Not just because I’m scared of getting harmed but because really I mean no disrespect.
As we got closer, I asked the driver who’d escorted me if I could take picturs inside the temple and he nodded, “Yeah, yeah.”
But a gentleman behind me, wearing a turban said quite gently, “No. Not inside.”
And boy was I glad I had asked!
The temple is beautifully made. Some of the outside part, the bottom part looks a lot like the designs of inlaid marble in the Taj Mahal, and then the top part looks like it’s made of solid gold.
Inside there were all kinds of people sitting in nooks and crannies, it really is a small little place inside, there was a golden bannister that encircled the central part of the temple and up above there were other floors and people were sitting up there, men and women, I’m sure, singing along to the men in the middle who had the kind of accordian instrument the folks at the Nizamuddin event had.
In fact it was very reminiscent of the Nizamuddin night.
The guy did have a beautiful voice, and I realized he was the one singing on the loud speakers as we’d been creeping along, stop and go, on that golden canopied bridge to the temple.
Many people were prostrating to the middle area, where apparently there is a copy of their holy scripture.
And many people were tossing rupee bills in to the area and they were being put into a box with a lock.
We were ushered out the side of the building and then down back from where we’d come and that was it.
What I really wanted to do was just sit by the square pond for a little while. That’s what people had told me to do. They said it was so serene, but I had to follow the driver and time was going. It had taken an awfully long time just getting into the temple.
What an interesting experience.
I think the biggest thought I took away from it is that I guess it’s always the same. When it comes to the holy relics people of all faiths feel pretty much the same.
Going into the temple area reminded me an awful lot of going to the Rowdah, the area right beside the Prophet (peace be upon him)’s grave, where he would deliver his sermons. There was the same feeling of reverence, and anxiousness to get closer.
Oh, one more thing.
Had an interesting moment during one of the presentations! This gentleman came up to me and said his wife was awfully mad at me. I said why?
He said because last night he had started reading Wanting Mor, and he’d spent many hours reading it in bed and the beside lamp had disturbed his wife, because he couldn’t put my book down!
Oooh, it makes me feel SO good when I get that kind of feedback!
And so much for the conservativeness of Indian audiences.
There were young kids in the presentation, and I went ahead and talked about the stuff I needed to talk about, including the suicide, and no problem, none of them left on that regard.
Oh, and they all laughed at the racism and bullying parts! But I must admit, asking this one twelve year old boy which part he’d enjoyed the most he said the part about Wanting Mor.
And one lady who teaches literature asked me the same question many kids ask me, “Why don’t I write my autobiography?”
I don’t have a good reason for that except that I’ve always just used my story as back story in the presentations I do. Never thought I should make it an autobiography.
Over and out from Amritsar.
I think it’s a few minutes past 9 pm and I’m beat.
Just thinking of the schedule ahead is making me seriously reconsider my sanity in saying yes.
Bangalore was amazing. Or I should say the people were amazing because I actually didn’t get to ‘see’ that much of the place.
Oh, I spoke to the white lady who was sitting through the author meet and greet with that horrified look on her face.
We met last night at a lovely little dinner that one of the hosts had arranged.
I told her that I had blogged about the horrified look on her face and we got to talking.
Basically it came down to she just didn’t think all the racist and bullying anecdotes I was relating were funny.
She really was horrified.
Oh well, can’t win everyone.
But isn’t it funny how as a performer, I tend to always focus on the people who ARE NOT getting it, rather than all the others who are!
Yesterday was utterly gruelling! I don’t know when I’ve been that tired!
This is what happened. Because I had to wake up early for the first journalist interview, I didn’t sleep very well. Got up early anyway, got ready for breakfast at the dining hall only to find out that breakfast didn’t start till 8 am.
Rushed through breakfast (it was actually quite tasty! They had this lovely halwa with bananas in it!) Then rushed back to the reception area so that I could wait for the journalist to show up.
She was a tender young thing. How many times did her eyes get glassy with tears while I was telling her the back story of Wanting Mor and why I wrote it? I can’t even tell. Partly because when I get really tired, I actually get weepy.
Anything will set me off! It’s not good!
So here I was dripping tears while I was relating this very emotional stuff, and constantly apologizing for losing it, and yet she was crying too, because yes, darn it, it was emotional!
The interview went way too quickly!
The lady who was taking me to the school visit showed up then, I glanced at my watch and realized we’d been talking for close to an hour and I had to go!
But it was lovely to talk to her.
Then I got into the car and we dialed the next journalist for the next interview. And while the taxi was navigating the rough streets of Bangalore, I answered her questions the best I could.
I think doing that leaves you pretty disoriented.
I’m lucky I don’t get car sick that easy because with all the motion and the concentrating on what I was saying…it sure wasn’t easy.
It was supposed to take an hour and a half with traffic to get to this school but somehow we got there quickly and since I’d told the lady who was escorting me that I hadn’t slept well, she told me to go ahead and take a nap right there in the car.
Wonder of wonders, I actually slept! Quite well. And awoke feeling quite refreshed.
Went inside the school, did a good presentation if I say so myself, had many of the students quite emotional–some of the teachers were even in tears–but luckily, alhamdu lillah, I wasn’t!
At the session there was a journalist from the Times of India, the biggest English daily paper in the country! And afterwards came interview number three.
He was lovely, and then he asked if I could answer some more questions he’d send me by email, which I just finished answering tonight (Wednesday night).
Then I got to the library where I was going to give a two hour workshop on picture book writing. And at 3 o’clock we phoned in the next interview.
Luckily the library had internet so I could catch up on my emails, but maybe I should have taken another nap, because by the time the two hour workshop was winding down, I was ready to drop!
The nicest thing was when one of the audience, a storyteller himself, came up and said how many authors hold back when they do a session like that but how I had actually revealed a lot of the tricks of the trade.
He’s actually right.
I gave them a LOT of nitty gritty practical steps they could take to not only break into the market but write really well!
I pointed out the techniques I’d used in some of my picture books.
But the neat thing was the whole two hours was like a standup routine for goodness sakes! They were laughing really hard!
Afterwards the host librarian was kind enough to invite us back to her house for dinner.
I had said yes, but I really should have politely declined.
I tried to be good company, but honestly I was talked out and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed.
And then I had to get up early early this morning to catch the flight back to Delhi.
And tomorrow I have to get up early to catch the flight to Amritsar. I return to Delhi on the 8:50 pm flight, getting into Delhi around 10 pm, and then I have to get up early on Friday to catch the flight to Pune.
My publisher said it best. She said that when she saw my schedule she shuddered, or something like that. Wouldn’t you know I’m too tired to remember the exact wording!
But the one thing that’s good is that they seem pleased at the results of all the presentations.
I’m giving it my all, and I think they can tell.
Over and out and exhausted in Delhi!
is as hot and steamy as Delhi was cool and dry!
It’s been a whirlwind to say the least!
Got in yesterday morning, met with the people picking me up without incident, yay!!!
And took a bumpy ride into the city.
People had told me that Bangalore airport is about 2 hours outside the city, so I was expecting empty fields and vast distances, but no, the city encroaches right up close to the edge of the airport, it’s just not the city centre.
I’m staying at the Bangalore Club hotel, and it was established during the British Raj, and hasn’t let go of its colonial feel!
Oh my! From the way the stucco is painted a light blue to the Jacarunda tree (labeled as such) and the weapons mounted on the wall, battle axes and spears, and the heads of long dead animals.
The ‘gent’s’ cloak room, and the men’s bar, and the sign that says when billiards are to be played in the billiard room…
It’s like stepping into a time warp.
Someone well versed in the history of Bangalore told me that Bangalore Club has a very famous defaulter, a guy who stiffed them for his tab, and apparently it turns out to be Winston Churchill!
Had to smile at at that, and then I thought of the Islamic tradition that anyone leaving a debt will not have the prayers that people pray for them listened to until that debt is cleared.
Last night I did a sort of meet and greet event with Bookalore, a group of avid book lovers at this independent library called Hippocampus here in Bangalore.
I got up and talked about my journey, bringing special focus to Wanting Mor, the whole reason I’m here!
And it was fascinating because when they were introducing me, they mentioned how Duckbill, my Indian publisher, is sponsoring the event, but I made sure to mention that the Canada Arts Council also did their part by paying for me to come here through a travel grant.
Let’s just say that for a whole hour or more, can’t remember exactly how long I ran on at the mouth, I had this group of about sixty people listening attentively.
In the whole crowd there was only one white woman. And during most of the time, she sat towards the back with her mouth hanging slightly open and a horrified look on her face.
I was wondering if it was something I had done.
Then I realized she was responding to the incidents of racism I was talking about.
The other Indians in the crowd were quite jocular. They were laughing at all the right bits, right along with me, and when I got to the funniest parts, where I was dealling with the two bullies that tormented me during middle school, instead of laughing along, this poor lady looked even more horrified.
She didn’t leave though.
She stayed till the end. And there were definitely times when she stopped looking horrified and was even smiling, but somehow it bothers me that I didn’t get her laughing.
Oh well, can’t get everyone.
I never did get to speak to her, she left without talking to me.
I would have liked to ask her how she felt about the presentation.
Afterwards I was taken to dinner to a positively sumptuous restaurant.
Omigosh, did I rave about the food in Delhi???
The food here is just as good if not better.
It was just so yummy!
The restaurant was super fancy, with beautiful copper plates underneath our dinner plates and even the menu was a work of art, including full color portraits of Moghul emperors and Indian nobility!
I ate way too much!
And then when dessert was mentioned, I couldn’t resist.
And the conversation was even more spectacular.
One of the party was an amazing historian–ooh love history!!!
And I picked his brain for details of Indian history.
All in all a fabulous evening!
I even got a hot shower!!!
First one since I got here!
Tomorrow morning I leave bright and early to go back to Delhi.
Over and out.
It’s never a good idea to criticize yourself.
Especially if people are raving about your presentation.
Don’t criticize yourself publicly, don’t diminish their exuberance or their compliments by putting yourself down, but in the privacy of your own room…yes, think of what you did wrong. Analyze, assess, and fix it for next time so it’s even better!
While you’ll never reach perfection you should still strive for it!
I think I’m super hard on myself when it comes to presentations! My hubby’s right when he says, “Take it easy. They don’t know how it was supposed to go.”
So when I missed a vital piece of the Wanting Mor presentation during my session at Bookaroo on the first day, I’ve been beating myself up about it all night.
Can’t help it!
It was the theme of Wanting Mor for goodness sakes!!!
But I did manage to correct it today. And the funny thing was the word seemed to have spread since yesterday, and there were people getting ready for my presentation ten minutes before the scheduled time today.
So I gave them a reward. I read/storytold them The Roses in My Carpets so that I could later refer to the book and they’d understand what I was talking about.
And then at the end…I did the most important piece of the presentation, the theme of Wanting Mor, and alhamdu lillah, it went beautifully.
I won’t say ‘perfectly’ but man, it was pretty darn close!
Oh the reaction of the kids and the adults.
I think the reason why I got so discombobulated the first day was because even though the program clearly stated that the presentation was for 14-16 year olds, many parents had young kids sitting there!
I was going to be talking about big breasts, and suicide for goodness sakes!
And at first I tried to skirt around some of the issues, and in doing so I lost the flow of the presentation!
I was worried.
I had been repeatedly warned that Indian audiences were very conservative!
I tend to be blatant and up front in matters of sexuality and suicide even, how would they take my frankness?
I really needn’t have worried!
Yesterday I was in a space called the amphitheatre.
The volunteer brought me into the venue and I looked out at the meager handful of people who had bothered to show up…and this was because a Bollywood actress had actually arrived!!!
Her name is Kajol and apparently she’s pretty big! She was in Kutch Kutch Hotha Hai, which I think I might have seen, but honestly I didn’t remember her face.
They all look alike to me–white skin, arched brows, lipstick…
And she was off with a crowd on the side. And I thought alhamdu lillah, it’s just like the tiny little crowds I sometimes get in Canada. *sigh*
But I went ahead and began as usual, and the funny thing was, I kept seeing people standing at the edges, watching, listening, and then coming to sit down, and by the time I was done, the entire amphitheatre was packed solid!
And to my surprise, I was mobbed!
Even the little children, who’d been listening, were shoving pieces of paper at me for my autograph, and I started signing some of the chits till the volunteer told me that we had to clear out of there, take the whole kit and kaboodle to the author signing area, which we did.
The effusiveness of their reactions! Wow! They really loved it. And it was about then that I realized I hadn’t even tackled the most important point… the theme of Wanting Mor!
And I could have kicked myself, but I held my tongue when they poured their compliments over me.
And perhaps I shouldn’t even be criticizing myself here on the blog, but I figure someone might be able to learn from the experience so why not?
It’s been a fabulous learning experience. And…I got to meet Cornelia Funke!
It was so funny, I actually met her at the fancy dinner the night before Bookaroo started.
I saw her sitting at a table, this slight lady with blonde hair and she looked interesting so I came over to introduce myself–I’m brazen that way.
I said, “Hi, I’m Rukhsana, and you’re???”
She shook my hand and said, “Cornelia.”
There’s only one Cornelia I’ve ever heard of and that’s Cornelia Funke, so I said, “Funke?”
And she smiled! “Yes!”
And that’s when I lost my cool. I babbled, “You’re Cornelia Funke! The Cornelia Funke!”
And she laughed. “Yes!”
I guess it was cute. And I managed to recover my composure and we started talking, and later in the conversation I got to tell her some stories.
What’s amazing is how strong she is in folktales! She loves them as I do! In fact she’s working on a project that incorporates folktales from around the world into her story.
It was a fascinating conversation!
I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit!
And I got to tell her two of my favourites.
Cornelia Funke listened to me storytell, and she enjoyed them immensely, I can tell!
Oh it’s been amazing!
And on Friday before the dinner, I got to stroll through Lodhi gardens. It’s adjacent to the IIC where I’m staying.
Someone told me when I asked which sites there were to see in Delhi, oh yeah, Lodhi gardens…it has some ruins in it.
So I went in there, not knowing anything about the Lodhi dynasty at all!
The Lodhi emperors were originally from Afghanistan and ruled India for about eighty years before the Moghuls!
They predate the Moghuls!
And Lodhi gardens is the burial place of some of the Lodhi emperors!
It was magnificent!
And then today I got to see Moghul Emperor Humayun’s tomb. Oh, it was definitely a fine example of Moghul architecture, very Taj Mahal like! Loved it!
And emperor Babar was buried in there too, but his tomb is tiny. I just took a pic from afar because by that time the driver had been waiting quite a while and I was getting a bit tired. Didn’t want to exhaust myself before my presentation in the afternoon.
So it’s been a very full, very satisfying day.
And then while I was signing autographs and talking to all the people who’d been at the session. accepting their kind words on how moved they were by my story, this lady came up to me and said they were waiting for me come and do my presentation.
I said, “Huh? I did it at 2:45 to 3:45. It was done and I was getting ready to go home.
The problem was, in the program it was listed in standard format of 14:45, they’d read 4:45 and had missed it!
There were about thirteen people who’d completely missed it.
And desperately she asked me to tell her how to write stories of loss and abandonment (that’s the way my session had been described in the program). So right there, I gave her a mini workshop.
It was really touching!
And a fitting end to a beautiful day.
So last night there was a sort of cocktail party/dinner to launch the Bookaroo experience. Members of the press were there, including one of the sponsors of Bookaroo, and it was held on a rooftop veranda/restaurant with the cool night air and occasional fireworks in the area–such a contrast from the night before!
All sorts of people from all over the world were there, really quite an impressive lineup!
And I thought it was just lovely.
They started with drinks and waiters came around with little hors d’oevres and I thought that was dinner, because so many events in the West, yup, those little snackie things ARE dinner!
But no, like I said before, they really know how to eat here! The real dinner was served later, and it was sumptuous to say the least!
But enough about food. Suffice to say it was fabulous, right down to the dessert (which I did partake of) some yummy yummy gulab jamuns and vanilla ice cream!
So I was schmoozing, talking to some wonderful people including a tall Norwegian named Ulf (which means wolf), such a charming man! He was one of the party of us who went to the Nizamuddin area.
Ooh, I should backtrack and talk about that experience a bit!
Nizamuddin was some sort of Muslim saint or something, I’m not really sure. The people who were going just talked about what an experience it was, where there were these men who sang ‘songs’, nasheeds, and if you know anything about the famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, you’ll get what I’m talking about!
I’m game for almost anything, so I went along.
The area was very cramped, very old and quite dirty!
There were sinuous streets lined with vendors, and lots and lots of beggars flaunting their deformities and holding out their hands.
The place was packed!
We wove through all these alleyways, and bazaars and as we got closer to the shrine of Nizamuddin (where he’s buried) there were more and more beggars and more and more of the vendors were selling plates of funeral offerings: red roses and little white flowers, probably jasmine or a flower called motia but I didn’t buy any.
I’ve never found any reason to put flowers on a grave, it’s not like the dead can smell them.
Frankly, I’d rather spend that money on the living.
So as we got closer to the shrine, the people found a guy who’d keep their shoes (you can’t wear shoes in there) but I took out a bag and put my shoes in it, thinking I’d carry them in with me.
The others warned me to just keep mine with the others but I wouldn’t listen, thinking there was nothing wrong with carrying my shoes.
Needless to say they were right.
It was so cute to see how very respectful the people in our party were. There was a Swedish author, I think that was her (I’ve met so many people now I’m getting a bit mixed up) but she was watching so respectfully and had even covered her hair with a shawl.
We got to the inner sanctum where there were crowds gathered and some men sitting facing the shrine singing qawwalis, drumming and singing in a group.
Ladies were sitting towards the left so we sat down and watched and listened while men went into the grave area to pay their respects, women weren’t allowed in there.
I kept looking at the marble latticework, really beautiful! And I listened carefully to the songs so that I could understand them.
You can think of them as sort of an Islamic equivalent of Southern Baptist type gospel music. I had to laugh out loud when the guy sang something about a miracle that would turn all the people listening there into “Muselmaan” (Muslims).
Talk about Evengelical!!!
Things got really heated up when a guy came forward and gave the singers some rupee notes! It’s funny how the sound of the singing raised up in decibels.
Oh it did bring back memories!
My older sister, when she was alive, would put on a tape of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and lip sync to one of his qawali tunes with my nephew, her son, who was about eight years old at the time. She would use one of her accordian files, you know the kind that bankers use, working it like a sort of accordian instrument that the singers use and my nephew would put on a fake beard and the two would put on quite the show!
These men reminded me of that, only of course they were the real thing.
One of my companions said that there were women behind the marble lattices, praying, and some were having some sort of fits. And again I remembered the Southern Baptist type of gatherings and the speaking in tongues. I wouldn’t be surprised.
They were starting to serve the free food when began leaving. Poor people were lined up for rice and meat, cauldrons full of it (that is one nice thing they do!) We left after a little while and as we were winding our way back through the narrow streets among all the beggars lining the way, some very vocal and pleading, there was an old lady, just quietly sitting on the side. She wasn’t that ragged, and she didn’t say anything, didn’t even hardly hold out her hand, she looked actually quite dignified, and yet somehow to me she seemed all the more desperate.
First I passed her by. I didn’t want to take out my wallet there.
But then something made me turn back and I pulled out a bill, didn’t even know what denomination it was, and just gave it to her.
Then more came after me.
Another woman, pleading pleading, and something made me give her something too.
But then it seemed a professional beggar caught sight of me, and oh she would not stop.
She trailed after me like a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe, wheedling wheedling, saying, “Sister, I’ve got children at home who are hungry… Sister, God will reward you. blah blah blah”
And yet it was way too rehearsed and somehow I couldn’t believe a word she said. I told her, “Nai, nai, aunty.” But she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
All the way out to the rendezvous point she followed me and one of the organizers, this lovely lady named Jo, said, “You want me to stand with my back to her.” Because she just wouldn’t stop.
And I explained how I couldn’t resist giving the old lady some money, and Jo only nodded, “I know, I know.” She completely understood. And she told me how she supported the local charities but had learned not to give to street beggars like that.
In some ways it was quite embarrassing.
But the people I was with where lovely and understanding!
Eventually, finally the woman left, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I still don’t regret giving it to the women I did give it to. And part of me wonders if I did right ignoring the last one.
I just wish you could tell who was truly needy.
Really India is such a land of extremes: extreme wealth and extreme poverty!