The scary idea of marriage

img_20161110_202550788You are settled now, get married. You are getting old, get married. Time is running out, get married. I want grandchildren, get married. Huh!!

I have faced a barrage of these questions over the past one year and none of my answers (logical or emotional) seem to convince my parents otherwise. I am done giving answers; it’s tiring. Instead, I tried to understand the idea of marriage at the wedding of a close friend recently. img-20161112-wa0006When I think of a life partner, I imagine someone close and afar. Close enough to inspire and far enough to allow inspiration to translate into words and stories.

Moon is benign on the river tonight so the water shines. True love is when two people are benign to each other. They shine.moonThere is a girl I know. She has all the grace in the world in her soft voice. It’s a strange idea that I have to share my feelings with her. One look into my eyes should reveal everything.

My friend said, “We are going to chill next to a bonfire. Why are you carrying notepad and pen?”

“You never know,” I replied. “Love and inspiration come unannounced.”

This girl I know, she has all I could ask for, while I have nothing to offer her except my words. I hope she understands they are priceless.

My friends called me. I am expected somewhere and I have to go. I realise that something has to end for something else to begin.img_20161110_083812926It is a funny institution marriage. Unlike any other venture, where we celebrate accomplishments, here we make a lot of noise about its beginning. May be what we are really celebrating is the best of humanity. Coming together of two people in search of love, joy and fulfillment.

I am not against the idea of marriage at all. A life partner adds meaning and value to life. He/she checks us from our excesses, shares our success and supports us in our failures. I am all for marriage and a life partner and particularly vary about not ending up with someone who does exactly the opposite.

At some point you have to find your courage. Take off the cloak, open your heart and allow vulnerability to fill your lungs. It is frightening at first, but give yourself a chance. Wounds don’t go  away, but a layer of happy memories can act as a balm.

There is no shortage of romantic songs tonight, but not a single hand to hold.img_20161110_131238395_hdrMy friends are discussing how marriage is about “compromise.” I think that’s a terrible idea. Soaps and shampoos are about compromise. Together is the right word that defines marriage. Grief together. Failure together. Moments of laughter, in between, together.

Weddings, they are indeed beautiful. A celebration of love, life and togetherness. They make you want to believe in a bright future. It is good to be positive at the start of a journey that will last a lifetime.

When I make this commitment, when I say those vows, I will mean every word. I will put her happiness above all else. A partnership based on honesty, simplicity, and mutual respect. I hope she understands what that means. I hope she signs up for the same. If we take care of each other’s happiness, we won’t have to worry about our own.

Will they let me carry a pen and a notepad to my wedding? I would like my wife to get married to me and my words.IMG_20161111_095510804.jpg

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That One Corbett Wedding

IMG_20161111_164723838.jpgIt was That One Corbett Wedding where the bride danced with all the guests (wearing a kala chashma of course), and her mother sang a graceful Hindi rendition, and the bridesmaid danced to the delight of everyone and the groom sat atop an elephant for the first and only time in his life and even managed to stand up and smile.

I saw it all and I put it in words so that no one forgets:

Day 1:IMG_20161109_174439407_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpgAs I walked towards a dark and silent corner of the resort, I could hear a woman sing a love song. Her voice was uninhibited and melodious. She was alone, but the song was meant for someone. It had to be. She sang from her soul.

A speck of river water shines under the moonlight. Moon is benign on the river tonight so the water shines. I hope Pakhi and Sahil are benign to each other so both shine.

Day 2: Sangeet and EngagementIMG_20161110_215054409.jpgThe bride (Pakhi) she wasn’t okay with sitting quietly and posing during the sangeet ceremony, instead she danced with all the guests. We even did burpees together. The only thing close to dance that I know. She calls me her workout partner. I wish her health and happiness and a few burpees every now and then.

Pakhi is not my sister, at least not by blood. But that is irrelevant. It is these bonds with no name that define us, that connect us, that make life meaningful.

If there was one moment of the wedding it was this: The pets (Smokey and Frodo) had an engagement ring attached to their collars. Pakhi accepted the ring from Saahil’s pet, while he did the same from Pakhi’s.

They exchanged more than rings, they exchanged promises. She was in tears but she looked happy. He played it calm. His role for a lifetime. Something tells me they will make this work. The river below will continue to flow and life will take its own course. For now, it is time to celebrate.

Someday, somewhere I will make the same vows to a woman. We will have our promises to keep. I hope she cries, from happiness.

What is the significance of dogs wearing an engagement ring around their collar? Not much. Except it makes for a good story and we all love good stories.

Sahil seems to know who he is not and what he doesn’t want. I like those qualities in people, whereas I am always suspicious of those who are too sure of themselves.

Day 3: Haldi and WeddingIMG_20161111_111243769.jpgTheir face, hair, clothes, everything is covered by a yellow paste. Yellow and music and laughter and everyone jumping into the pool filled with freezing water. A friend asked me the significance of Haldi ceremony. I didn’t know. But I do know this: By the time the colours come off they would have become life partners with nothing left to hide.

Weddings, they are indeed beautiful. A celebration of love, life and togetherness. They make you want to believe in a bright future. It’s good to be hopeful at the start of a long journey.

With a glass of whiskey in their hands, my friends are discussing how marriage and love is about “compromise”. I think that’s a terrible idea. Toothpaste and soaps are about compromise. Marriage and love is about togetherness. Grief together, failure together, moments of laughter (in between) together. I raise of glass of togetherness to Pakhi and Sahil.

Each of their seven vows will be questioned at some point. Their faith will come to a test. Will they prevail? I don’t know the answer, but they can always look back at That One Corbett Wedding for strength and hope.

Day 4: FarewellIMG_20161110_083812926.jpgIt is peaceful. Sunshine wading through leaves, sound of the flowing river underneath, a cup of warm tea in hand. Sometimes we ask too much from life when we need so little.

It’s a funny institution, marriage. Unlike any other venture, where we celebrate accomplishments, here we celebrate its very inception. May be what we are celebrating is the best of humanity. Coming together of two people in search of joy, love and fulfillment.

The shenanigans, the ceremonies are now over. Guests have left. The music lingers on. Moon and stars continue their watch. The river takes its course. What’s left? A lifetime together.

Pakhi and Sahil, here is my wedding gift to you. A gift of words and memories.

A letter to my mother

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Ma,

I once heard the story of a man who spent many years travelling in search of enlightenment. His quest led him to a Buddhist monastery high atop a mountain in the Himalayas.

“I am looking for answers,” he said at the entrance.

The monk nodded and asked him to join in the meditation. An hour passed. Nothing happened. Two. Three. Four. The traveller soon grew restless. Finally, no longer able to control himself, he screamed out loud.

“I don’t want silence. I want answers.”

The monk opened his eyes and said, “The answer is Silence.”

Mom, the answer is silence and slowing down.

You have devoted your life to your family, to fulfilling your responsibilities and to the well-being of your children. You are no less than Superman, but even superheroes need a break.

The responsibilities have taken a toll on you. You may not realise, but they leave you irritable and rushed and perpetually worried. While it is natural for you to be concerned, the continuous stress and anxiety is toxic for your system. It affects not only your but our collective well-being. Personally, I feel hassled and rushed in your presence. You carry this anxious energy (vibe) like a piece of garment. I am unable to share a story or an idea with you, because I know you have a million tasks to attend to. This equation plays out negatively in your day to day life and interactions. The good news is that it can be changed.

Give your body and mind time to refresh and replenish. Continue to create and teach and mentor, but not at the cost of your well-being. Allow yourself the luxury of a late-evening walk, ten-minutes of meditation and a few hours to unwind. That’s all.

You have given me a lifetime of love; I hope to give you a few moments of comfort, joy and peace. I can only do that if you take care of your health (mental as well as physical). I want to introduce you to my life partner someday and grandchildren to whom you can tell wonderful stories. Hopefully, they will listen more attentively than I did.

We have a lifetime of happiness and prosperity ahead of us, I promise. But first, learn to enjoy silence.

Love,

Anmol

Work and play in Thailand

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Anyone who says “I was in Bangkok for work” sets himself up for mockery and taunts. Especially if he is young bachelor. So go ahead, have a laugh at my expense because this is the story of my “work” in the world’s sex capital.

It was a late July evening. I sat on a plane and couldn’t help notice this beautiful air hostess with colourful nails. They are no less than modern day fairies, their cheeks are the colour of pink, hair tied in a neat bun and a wonderful smile on their face, like they have been waiting for you all their lives. Flights would be such tedious affairs without them.

I requested a glass of red wine. She told me how the white wine with grape juice was a better combination. I smiled and agreed. Even a glass of poison would have tasted sweet from her hands.

A friend had once told me how I slip so easily at the sight of a pretty woman. And why not? It is a privilege of a young man.

A rush of adrenaline9Image: Link

I went to one of the most popular tourist spots, Khao San street, for a stroll. It is fuelled by dollars and runs on the energy of backpackers. People come and go. They are important, but the music, booze and party is non-stop.

There are girls in skimpy clothes dancing on top of bars. There are girls out on the streets to lure you inside. People leave their worries at the entrance and “Have a good time.” No wonder tourists flock this hedonistic heaven.

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It didn’t hurt to have Soi Cowboy street next to my hotel. Don’t really think I need to explain any further. The name is self-explanatory. Men walk these streets with a sheepish grin and women flaunt their sexuality like there is no tomorrow.
The English music (“She doesn’t mind” “Baby I don’t need dollar bills”) gives the impression that anything goes. The lights are dim and the women are up on the dance floor.

You can sit and enjoy the show or be a more active participant, whatever suits your wallet.

Blondes, brunettes and redheads in pink bras and pierced abdomens are happy to indulge you.

It is good to look at them, but when they look at you it is difficult not to feel a little embarrassed, a little shameful.
We have goddesses, Lakshmi and Kali and yet so little respect for women, while they have prostitution and yet women are empowered. This world is full of contradictions.

Pattaya1234

Every travel is enjoyable when I find a coffee shop where I can sit for hours and write my heart out. Pattaya was no different except this was a street side stall with a vast ocean in front. I ordered a cold coffee. It came in a glass which was twice as big as a Costa at 1/10th the price. Travel is full of surprise.

I hadn’t done much writing until this point, almost the end of the trip. I wondered if I had nothing to say but the words came in the coffee shop. Somewhere in the mix of noise, traffic, waves and Coldplay, I could hear my own voice.

There is no point in pushing things. Let them come to you, accept what life has to offer and you will be happy.

The Jomtein Beach was dirty. Not the turquoise water that a traveller enjoys. I wonder if the crowd if to blame. Perhaps the way to maintain sanctity of a life, relationships and beaches is to restrict them to a select few.

I had every intention of going to a party spot, but the breeze was so strong and pleasant that I parked my bicycle, sat next to the ocean and enjoyed every moment. We can never compete with nature. The thought itself is laughable. I can look at oceans and mountains all day. It enriches my imagination, fosters creativity and heals me from within. Can anyone say that about a club or a tall building?

This country comes alive at night. Even the ocean is charged up. The breeze picks pace and waves come and hit the shore with vengeance. I wonder if we touch the water, whether a current would pass through our body.

The whole trip was surreal. A climate change conference, go go bars, ocean, coffee shops and what not. Thailand lives up to its expectation. A heady mix of work and play.

Love on the streets of Mumbai

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I have never liked the idea of Mumbai. A crowded, crammed city with too many human bodies is not my idea of happiness. The quest for fame and stinking wealth at the cost of my soul seems like a terrible bargain. And I hate the idea of paying a fortune for a roof over my head. Mumbai is not the place for me, I thought.

To be honest, Delhi has spoiled me in many ways. I am accustomed to spacious streets hemmed by lush greenery and an air conditioned metro that runs with clockwork precision. When work took me to Mumbai, I wasn’t expecting much.

After a tiring day of work, I went to Carter Road for shawarmas. Succulent pieces of meat and plenty of cheese wrapped up in bread. Who can resist such a thing?

Life on Carter Road

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They have a beautiful promenade and a buzzing market next to it. Mumbai’s young and restless flock to that market like moth to flame. After another round of shawarma, one satisfied my hunger but not my desire, I left for Bandstand.

It was an odd choice. The market and promenade had everything I could hope for, but I wanted to be close to the waves, to hear them, to feel them. There is no arguing with a stubborn writer.

It was beautiful to just sit there, next to the ocean and watch airplanes disappear behind the clouds, almost like magic. Can anyone tire of such a sight? The wind and waves had a hypnotic effect on me. Words and feelings, that I didn’t know existed revealed themselves on paper. One of the charms of an ocean is that you can sit next to it, and it offers you solace.

Love on the rocks

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Couples sat in dark corners, near rocks. They are embarrassed of love in Mumbai. I wondered if there was a better approach. What if they light up the space and celebrated love? What’s there to hide?

I don’t know if I would kiss my girlfriend in a place like this. It’s too open, too public. But then again, I am in live with words. I sat there and poured my heart out on a piece of paper. Is that any less intimate?

It didn’t matter that I sat on an uncomfortable rock in a dusty place. It didn’t matter that there were all kinds of people around me. In fact, it doesn’t matter who you are with or where you are. It is your state of mind that makes all the difference.

I came across a beautiful girl carrying flowers. Our eyes met for a moment and there was something unsaid between us. I so wished she had bought those flowers for me. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Parsi Bhonu food

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I had heard so much about Parsi food in Mumbai that I just had to try it. I went to an old, rundown café, Ashmit’s snack shack. It was a hole in a wall kind of operation with bland plastic chairs and bamboo shoots for a wall. The café had refused to change in an ever changing world. I liked its stubbornness and promise of authenticity. These qualities are so rare in our world.

Two lovely Parsi ladies sat next to me and eyed me and my ntoebook with suspicion. I wonder what they thought of a Punjabi writer boy, giving up chole bature, for Parsi bhonu food.

Hours just passed by. It was time to leave, but I wasn’t finished. Soon, I was going to board a plane, up in the sky, high above the ocean. my love stories never do last.

I have been married to Delhi for years now. It is too early for a divorce, but I would certainly like an affair with Mumbai.

#Priceless

A writer lost and found on the mountains of Ladakh

_Ladakh is an outlier, a black sheep, in a remote corner of the globe accessible only during a short summer season. It appeals to those on the fringe: Bikers ride thousands of kilometers on a roller coaster of a highway to reach this motorcycle Mecca, trekkers dare to scale its rugged mountains that almost touch the sky and writers like myself wander its steep curves in search of inspiration.

So much of what we hear about India is aspirational with global ambitions, but here I saw Indians concerned only with survival. Ladakhis looking to pass this summer and hoping the upcoming winter won’t be too harsh. People who were simple and content with little that life has to offer. Surprisingly, this India is happy, warm-hearted and welcoming.

Indy, a young doctor, and I trekked to Ladakh’s remote villages and spoke to people cut off from the mainstream consciousness. We were lost and we were found on the mountains of Ladakh.

Sunset near a stream in Skiu villagePANO_20160605_182512After a day spent acclimatizing in Leh, we decided to explore Markha valley and learn about the healthcare conditions in the region. It was part of Indy’s missionary zeal and I was happy to play a supporting role.

The beginning of the five day trek was as dramatic as any Mission Impossible movie. Indy and I hopped into a rickety wooden trolley (hanging twenty feet above a free flowing river) supported by a flimsy cable rope. We were two idealistic men way over our head.

During the 15-kilometer walk, I was constantly comparing Markha valley trek to the Great Lakes trek in Kashmir that I had taken in 2015. I was in search of pine trees and turquoise lakes, but there were none to be found. I couldn’t have been more foolish. There was a brown in Ladakh for every shade of Kashmir’s green. Tall, rugged mountains and a river that cut through them with grace.

Sometimes we make this mistake: compare jobs, people and relationships. There are no comparisons in life, just different shades.

An old lady with a toothless smile at Markha valley_-2I sat on the floor of a small kitchen with a concerned mother, a shy daughter suffering from a brain stem problem and an extremely worried set of grandparents eager to help. Add to that a translator and two strange men (Indy and myself) asking personal questions.

“She is a 25-years-old woman, but often behaves like a 12-year-old girl,” said Dorjee the translator, referring to one of the taunts hurled by the patient’s cousin. It was too much pressure and embarrassment and the girl began to cry.

Indy stood there strong, asked a million questions, looked deep into her eyes, checked her hand and leg movements and reassured the family. “Nothing has changed,” he said to calm the teary-eyed girl. “You have lived 25-years without any problems. There is no reason why you should have any difficulties for the next 50.”

It was reassuring. The 80-year-old grandmother scrambled to her room, brought two fine white mufflers and wrapped them around our neck. What a priceless gift; its tied around my backpack. I carry it with pride. The old lady had less than three teeth and a lovely smile. There was such kindness and love in her wrinkled face that I wanted to kiss her and somehow tell her how adorable she was. By the time we bid farewell, they were all smiling. I felt there was nothing more meaningful I could do with my life than help such families._

Travel, travel, travel people say. It changes you. May be a little travel should be about changing the lives of others, for the better.

The pain and pleasure of trekking in Hanker valley

We came across a remote monastery on our way to Hanker Valley and decided to see it up close. The monk was too tired to accompany us and gave the key instead. The route was steep and we were completely out of breath by the time we unlocked the gates but I learned something on the way.IMG_20160607_110224 (2)

Ninety-nine percent of trekking is painful and pointless. An endless walk leading to sore limbs and not even a pot to take a dump. But that one percent, when you come across a breathtaking place, a lone monastery on top of a hill, is extraordinary. It’s much the same with friendship, love and life in general. May be the proportions vary a little, but most of it is monotonous. It’s important to love that one percent enough to go through the grind.

That evening, Indy and I had a long discussion about our past mistakes, present plans and dreams for the future. I slept morose that night thinking about all that I had lost. The darkness from the sky seeped through the window and found a way into my heart.

But When I woke up, the Sun was shining bright, high up in the sky. I felt a surge of optimism within me. Life is like that, isn’t it? There are often dark times, wait for the sun and start walking.

We were having lunch next to a lake when I heard the sound of thunder. The birds chirped in alarm and flew away to safety. There was rousing thunder in the sky and ominous dark clouds gathered around us. The weather had changed within minutes. It was only a matter of time before a hail storm began. The mountains that were moments ago brown in color were now covered by a white sheet. We rushed to the nearest camp site.

Smoke came out of my mouth like a chimney. The local caretaker offered me a hot, steaming bowl of Maggie. All of us – Israelis, Canadians, French, Indians – were huddled inside a warm kitchen. So much for our differences.

I thought of Orhan Pamuk’s novel, Snow and wished to write a poem of my own. If there is any good place to write a poem, its inside a tent, looking at the snow outside. Unfortunately, no such poem came to my mind. I was too cold both outside and inside.

The highest pass with the greatest life lesson_-2We had saved the best and the hardest for the last day. The ascent to the Kongmaru la Pass (5,300 meters) was demanding on the body and even more on the mind. With every step, the pass seemed to move farther away from us. I was out of breath within minutes. Add a hail storm to the mix and it became a battle for survival. I didn’t allow myself to look at the summit, instead I focused on the next ten steps. Four hours later, we were at the summit and the view was nothing like I had ever seen before and there was snow.

The snowstorm and the freezing cold didn’t prevent me from writing down another priceless lesson. That pass, this trek taught me all I wanted to learn about life. You set yourself an impossible goal (a high pass) and inch your way towards it, step by step, like an ant.

It doesn’t matter what your speed is, there are times when each step brings with it excruciating pain. Hail and snow make the path slippery, even dangerous but you have got to push past the pain barrier. Halt for a few seconds, look behind, see how far you have come already and continue onwards. The view at the top will be etched in your memory; the pain will eventually be forgotten.

 IMG_20160609_092925The descent back to reality

When the dust settles and you head home unshaven, unshowered and unkempt. What’s left?

A quiet confidence that says you can conquer the world. My lasting memory, what I took home wasn’t a trophy or a picture. It was the genteel smile of that old lady which carried hope and love. God bless her.IMG_20160605_140954Travel really has little to do with the destination, if at all, it’s about discovering something unique, hidden about yourself that gets lost behind in the daily madness of life.

A Song about Love

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Love, its such a wonderful feeling
Selfless and joyful and innocent
But, by itself, it’s not enough

I have loved deeply and lost myself in its flames
Consumed by its bitter aftertaste
Fought with the demons of self-doubt
Hurt myself from its poisoned arrows
Again and again
Just because the pain reminded me of love’s pleasures

I have stared at the moon and sighed deeply
Late into nights and complained to dark grey clouds
All things beautiful carried a reflection of her
Delightful but distant

The empty streets have echoed my lonely heart
The silence has screemed in my ears
Words have flowed like blood from my body
Draining her and immortalising her, sentence by sentence

And now I am empty. Redeemed. Cleansed from the burden of love.
Her spell has run dry
It no longer snares my beating heart

I have a voice now, a beating heart and a song about love.

#priceless

Garden of Eden

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Even the Sun has lost hope
Disappeared in the darkness
But I still wait for a ray of light
In the Garden of Eden

There is noise, a hint of a sound
I look eagerly for your trace
But its not you
I am sitting on a bench all alone
In the Garden of Eden

The smoke from the chimney is nauseating
It comes straight from the fires of hell
And spreads in my lungs like poison
But I refuse to move
From the Garden of Eden

What have I done to deserve this punishment
My conscience is clear
My words are solemn
Howcome they are falling on deaf ears
I am still waiting in the Garden of Eden

My prayers will be answered
My soul will find redemption
There is pleasure in pain
In the Garden of Eden

#priceless

Three Powerful Publishing Women Meet a Young, Struggling Writer

anmol123I am sitting in a small, rectangularish garden, alone and quiet – in deep thought. There is movement and plenty of noise all around me.  I can hear so many conversations and announcements coming from different directions that I can’t make any sense out of it. For some strange reason, I enjoy this kind of setting. My stillness is enhanced in chaos.

The Sun on my back is soothing. There are plastic caricatures and quotes of great authors all around. Anna Kareineina’s caricature is dressed in a red gown. Someday I wish to have my own quotes turned into caricatures.  I have beautiful, breath taking women of my own imagination.5The caricature of Anna Kareineina at the Jaipur literature festival. Credit: JLF

I am not here to learn about literature, politics or one of the vast number of issues being discussed at the five stages across the rustic venue, Diggi Palace. I came with a set agenda. To find an agent/publisher for my debut novel.

I am young struggling writer at the world’s largest free literature festival in Jaipur, India.

It is not that I haven’t tried the more conventional approach of reaching out to the gatekeepers of the publishing business. I have contributed to the slush pile of more than 70 literary agents in India and abroad, written to idols like Suketu Mehta and Ruskin Bond and exhausted 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree Linked in connections, without success.

I hoped to meet and woo three powerful publishing women at the Jaipur literature festival: Chiki Sarkar (Founder  Juggernaut Publishing), Meru Gokhale (CEO of Penguin Random House) and Debasri Rakshit (Commissioning Editor at Harper Collins). They held the keys to unlock my dreams of being a published writer.

Meru Gokhale: CEO Penguin Random HousemERU.jpgI didn’t know who she was until I sat down for the session The Creative Process: How Writers Write and asked the girl sitting next to me about Meru. Once I knew, my attention shifted completely on her.  I held on to Meru’s every word, expression and movement.

She is a brilliant moderator and like any great moderator, she talked the least, involved each one of the panelists and drew the best out of them. She was polite and gracious but firm. There was this good heartedness about her that appealed to me.

“May I have a word ma’am?” I said to her while everyone else rushed towards the authors for book signing.

“Sure,” she replied.

“I have spent the past two years writing the story of a Turkish refugee girl in India. It is a heartfelt account of her trials in the world of Indian classical dance. I would love to share it with you.”

“Why don’t you email it on the Penguin website.”

My heart burned. I was hoping to get her personal email id. Penguin’s inbox is a black hole where debut authors’ words go missing.

“Write attention to Meru Gokhale in the subject line,” she said. “It will reach me.”

I thanked her and also managed to hand her a copy of my query letter as well the first two chapters of the story. I had them ready. She could easily throw it away in the bin or give it one glance. The destiny of a young writer hung in balance. Hopes of a young, struggling writer.

Chiki Sarkar: Founder Juggernaut Publisherschiki-featured.jpgShe is arguably the most recognised face of the Indian publishing industry. Former head of Penguin, she now runs her own publishing firm named Juggernaut. I had dreamt of handing over my manuscript to Chiki even before the festival had begun.

She moderated the perfect session titled, The Global Novel, full of literary heavyweights including Margaret Atwood. It was the perfect setting for me since my story spans countries, cultures and art forms. I became hopeful.

She moderated with ease and humility. Deferred to Margaret without sounding overawed. She set the tonality of the session without taking over the discussion. It was one of the most intellectually stimulating talks of JLF. Of course I approached her when she stepped off the stage.

“May I have a word ma’am………”

She saw right through me.

“I am not taking queries. Send it across on Juggernaut mail.”

“I have. The editor liked the story. She asked me to add more depth to the characters. I have worked on it. Can I send it again?”

“You should. We will look at it,” she said in a reassuring manner that was least bit reassuring. Chikki broke my heart. Dreams of a young, struggling writer.

Debasri Rakshit: Commissioning Editor, Harper CollinsDEB.jpg I was going home dejected when I saw Debasri walk in. It was the perfect opportunity to strike a conversation. Immediately, I took a U turn and entered alongside her. When she needed space to move ahead in the queue, I was a thorough gentleman. Gave her space and a ready smile.

“May I have a word ma’am…..”

“You are the writer from Delhi literature festival who wants an international publisher?”

She was most patient. Heard me out and looked me in the eye. There was a genuine curiosity, almost care in her expression. You don’t usually expect publishers and agents to have a heart. She promised to connect me to her colleague who looks at fiction. Life of a young, struggling writer  

Five days passed by in a flash. Invigorating sessions, catching up with friends, warm cups of tea and some leads.  Who would I choose? That’s tough to answer. They are all powerful publishing women and I am a young struggling writers. I would pick any one of them.

Letters to a young poet

Paris, February 17, 1903

Dear Sir,

Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsay able than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.

With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings of something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, “My Soul.” There, some thing of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem “To Leopardi” a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet any thing independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them managed to make clear to me various faults that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.poet

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one.

There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.

If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sound – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of , this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.

But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude, perhaps you will have to renounce becoming a poet (if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all). Nevertheless, even then, this self searching that I ask of you will not have been for nothing. Your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.

What else can I tell you? It seems to me that everything has its proper emphasis; and finally I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.

It was a pleasure for me to find in your letter the name of Professor Horacek; I have great reverence for that kind, learned man, and a gratitude that has lasted through the years. Will you please tell him how I feel; it is very good of him to still think of me, and I appreciate it.

The poem that you entrusted me with, I am sending back to you. And I thank you once more for your questions and sincere trust, of which, by answering as honestly as I can, I have tried to make myself a little worthier than I, as a stranger, really am.

Yours very truly,

Rainer Maria Rilke