Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random Notes: Nausea, the Reading Habit and a Big Heart

I haven’t gone in for the check up with the doctor yet, but thankfully things are looking hunky dory. That is, if you consider constant nausea, wild cravings (yes, this early on!) and miserable mood swings to be normal everyday behaviour. Just another mad pregnant woman with hormone levels rising...


A friend of mine in Mumbai always carries a book with him to work, so he can read during the one-hour journey in the early morning local train. Why not on the one-hour journey back? I ask. Because I’m too bushed to read and prefer to doze, he says. Anyhoo, he said he noticed something different among Mumbaikars lately. Every day he comes across people who want to know what he’s reading. Every day there are at least three inquisitive people in the train.

If you’ve lived in Mumbai, you know how Mumbaikars don’t give a damn about the throngs of people they meet every day in their travels to and from their work places. So it’s quite strange to have random people strike a conversation with you every single day. And all because you carry a book. He says this never used to happen about 8 years ago. I find this wonderful. It means more and more people in Mumbai are getting interested in books.

My friend says some enquirers even ask him what the book is about and if it’s any good. He says Chetan Bhagat’s book (he read Two States recently) has generated the most interest, hands down. That’s what I love about Bhagat. Purists can scoff all they want at his writing skills (lack of?) but ultimately, he is one of the few writers doing a great service to the common man, namely pushing the reading habit in India.


I was reading this post on adoption which got me thinking about something I’m sure a lot of us have thought about sometime or the other. When I was younger I was almost certain that I would adopt a child one day. But the problem is we grow up and as we do, we rapidly shed ourselves of courage and idealism, preferring to link ourselves to things more within our comfort zone. Oh for the strength, love and determination to happily go through all the sticky issues that come with raising an adopted child! Especially when one already has biological children. I know no one is perfect and we are only human, so it is hard to imagine parents being completely unbiased all through.

Then again, I know there are exceptions. The following example is not really about adoption but it comes close, I think. Growing up in the Gulf, my family was very close to this family with five kids. We never realised till years later that the older two kids were products of their father’s previous marriage. They were only toddlers when their real mom passed away and their father remarried. No one in our circle of friends knew this bit of history, and the amazing woman who became their new mother never gave anyone a reason to doubt that all five kids were her own flesh and blood. We came to know the truth much later when the eldest child was in med school. I do remember when I was probably only ten years old, my mother remarked to this fine lady how much her eldest daughter resembled her and she only smiled in response.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Expansion in Progress

The assistant at the doctor’s office took down my history. “29 years old, third pregnancy,” she said aloud while scribbling on a notepad containing other important details.

I suddenly felt quite old and wise. I repeated the words in my head. Third pregnancy. That would make me a pro by now, right? Something I can probably just breeze through. Never mind that my first pregnancy lasted only two weeks or so (after I found out I was pregnant, that is) and ended in a heart-wrenching miscarriage.

It was a beautiful two week period. The excitement of finding out that a life was growing within me was overwhelming. Countless plans and expectations soon came crashing down and I spent my first wedding anniversary flat on my back, hoping against hope that somehow, the life within would put up a fight and sustain. It was not meant to be. Thinking back, I now realise that it was for the best. I grew, professionally and personally, in leaps and bounds the following year.

The second time round, praise the Lord, it was meant to be, and I delivered a beautiful bundle of joy, complete with powerful ear-splitting wails. I had a harrowing C-section experience, followed by night after night after night of trying to constantly coax, sing and plead the wailing baby to please, please go to sleep. She was a very light sleeper during the day too, so you can imagine how much rest I got. This went on for over a year. She is almost two now but still wakes up twice at night. Despite being a complete brat from day one, our daughter enveloped our lives with love and a warm, cosy, baby pink feeling of fulfilment. I don’t think I have experienced anything as beautiful as the feeling I get when my baby girl puts her chubby little arms around me and says “Love you, Mamma.”

This time feels nothing like the previous two. Our future plans didn’t have a second child in it. But there I was, in the doctor’s office talking about nausea, tiredness and the other baggage that comes with pregnancy. And here I am, announcing my pregnancy to the world through my blog. :)

It’s elation I feel again, but from a different perspective this time. My daughter will have a sibling. I can be a mom to one more little person. It’s uncanny that one can have enough love to go around no matter how big a family one has. It’s still a strange feeling though, the love that I’m feeling, having not being in the scheme of things for us. I’m still trying to come to terms with it. My thoughts and feelings are a little too disoriented right now, but that could be due to the hormonal rollercoaster my body is experiencing.

A minor complication put my doctor on high alert. She tells me it’s too early to know if the foetus is strong enough. We’ll know after two weeks. If we can detect the heart beat at that point, things should be fine. Until then, I’m told I need to put my feet up and get some rest. I’m nervous. I hope the little angelic life within will pull through. And when we are back at the doctor’s office in two weeks I hope to see that miraculous heartbeat flutter on the ultrasound.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Just Discovered I Will Never Be a Genius

Last year, I watched an online video of Elizabeth Gilbert on this wonderfully refreshing site. The American novelist and widely successful author of Eat, Love, Pray spoke about the disturbing observation that creativity and suffering are inherently linked. This is probably a fact everyone is familiar with. For centuries, artists – from actors to writers to painters to musicians - have fallen prey to depression and often died young because of it.

Gilbert says that this is due to the enormous pressure creative people have on their shoulders to perform, to delight their audiences, to move mountains maybe, to keep going a step ahead and better their previous works of art. Something that they might never be able to do, and which therefore leads them spiralling down to the depths of despair and is ultimately their undoing.

The author said that to protect herself from going down a similar path she looked at how ancient civilizations had dealt with creativity. This led her to a theory that she believes in strongly. The theory, in brief, is that creative people are not geniuses, but each of them have had a genius. She likens it to having a house elf (or a genie) who appears magically to complete all the housework. She believes that the reason a creative person can create those rare marvellously magical works of art is because of the presence of a divine spirit who decides to send a message through the artist.

The fantastic work, therefore, is not the human being’s at all; rather he or she is just the vehicle for the work to reach the world. So if he or she is never able to match that quality of work again, it isn’t his or her fault – the spirit had moved on to another artist.

When I saw the video last year, I was a struggling freelance content writer (I still am, mind you) who wasn’t giving as much thought to creativity as I was to paying the monthly bills. All I thought was, ‘hey! that makes sense’ and equated it with something that I believed in – that everything we have is on loan to us from God; it can be taken away from us at any point. I don’t think I gave it much thought after that.

Cut to today. I am still a struggling freelance content writer but I’m not as worried about paying bills so I’m using my few hours of daily joblessness (“It’s the financial year end,” my clients tell me, “bear with us.”) to indulge in my long standing fantasy of becoming a story writer. A few days ago I wrote my first short story. Yes, first ever (not counting the one I wrote for this blog). I’ve never had the nerve to do it before since I never thought myself capable of it.

Anyway, I wrote. And I surprised myself. For a first attempt I think it’s pretty good. And a few other people who read it said they love it (my husband actually got goose bumps reading it last night). But when I read the story today I still feel I am incapable of story writing. I have no idea how that story formed in my head and how I could make it so interesting to my readers.

Which made me think of Gilbert’s suddenly-everything-falls-into-place theory. I’m NOT saying my story is so wonderfully brilliant or that I am the next bestselling author to look out for. Nor am I saying I am suddenly being visited by God’s little helpers. What I am saying is I completely believe that without the presence of a divine something I would not be capable of writing a single word, let alone writing a whole story, and one that a few people find interesting at that. This makes complete sense to me. Keeps the pressure off the artists and keeps them sane.

So twenty or thirty years down the road, I’m not sure if I’m going to be a hugely successful author or not, but I do know I will be always be a writer, a sane one who is not contemplating suicide. I won't get all depressed when people say "Sumira who?" and I’ll have God to thank for keeping me sane. Oh yes, and Gilbert and her theory too.

P.S.: Don't forget to watch the video and tell me what you think of her theory.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Writer’s Block

Early mornings are the best time to write, especially if you are a mom and happen to live in a joint family. In such a household, the peace and tranquillity of predawn are bonuses that do not exist at any other time of the day.

Yesterday I crawled out of bed and headed towards my laptop, wondering if this is going to be worth losing an hour of sleep over. Because I had no clue what I wanted to write. But write I must, I said to myself. I kind of hoped inspiration would hit me while I stared dazed (and yawning) at the blank word document open in front of me. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a blank page just begging to be typed on, right?


I realised that I had been staring at the screen for the past 10 minutes with not much coherency in my thoughts. I decided to put some caffeine in me which would hopefully slap me into consciousness. And it did. Soon enough I was typing like mad, writing like there was no tomorrow. The plot and characters materialised in my head, and on and on I went till my time was up and the other members of the household began to wake up.

I looked proudly at the 3 page word document… half a draft of a short story. I shut the document, pleased with what I had accomplished in half an hour.

I reopened it at 5 am the next day. This time the strong coffee didn’t help. The creative juices had taken a day off. 10 minutes of staring later I crawled back into bed telling myself I needed the rest and maybe if I’m lucky the rest of the story will materialise in a dream.

I'm guessing being articulate at 5 am is a talent I will have to acquire over time.