This is in response to Akarsh Jain’s post, “In Conversation With Nadine — Part 2”
What a wonderful reply to my second set of questions, this time sent by email. (The first, if you missed it, dear readers, is here, and came via blog post. But stay with us now, and if you wish, read that after this. Nothing will be lost that you cannot find later.)
Akarsh, as I read your answers, I pulled a few sentences and phrases which had special meaning for me, and below I respond to them, to continue our conversation.
To set the scene, as you did for us, my end of the conversation begins in a cosy warm bed, my back against an ancient oak tabletop which has been placed as a headboard, then it moves to an attic desk, under a skylight and sloped white ceilings, and later will finish at a table near a washing machine in a crowded mudroom. There will be the smell of fried eggs and and the taste of fresh salad with sweet red beets, when I make lunch for the children. There will be a whiff of dark chocolate afterwards. The wind outside still blows strongly as it did two days ago, when I sent you those five questions — although it will not result in a blizzard of hail stones, today, as it did that day — and the sky is just as silver and moving; the sun as intermittent, making shadows fly across the land. The wind chime jangles from an oak beam outside the stone walls of the house. I feel a deep sense of warmth, companionship and gratitude.
And now the power has gone out! The lights flicker and the documentary goes silent upstairs. The children are shouting. But no matter; power always returns to where it is invited, and never dies. In the meantimes, we can still write, and be patient. The children may go outside.
There, now the power has returned!
First off, in response to this: “You are so good at this whole interview thing. Only a mother or a good teacher can do this so well as you do, and you happen to be both [even if you are not teaching full time now, in my defence, I’d say, ‘she who teaches once remains a teacher forever’].” Such kind words, and yet I must clarify that I never taught as a profession, although both my parents did. My Linguistics degree and TESL certificate lie unused, since I went directly into office work after university, and then into mothering, and then editing and now writing. That said, every one of us is a teacher in some way. Mothers included. So thank you; I’ll take what I am generously offered. And you have certainly taught me as well.
“The flight is delayed. Things that are supposed to be on time always end up being delayed in India and this includes trains, buses, repentance for having wronged someone and seeking forgiveness from that person.”
I loved this, Akarsh. The way you tucked that last important phrase in there! So many stories are contained in that phrase! I suspect you have written some of them already and may write more of them later. I shall look forward to those, or any others, yet to come.
“Tea is something I cannot do without. I asked the vendor for the best tea they serve, and he handed me a cup of Assamese tea. It couldn’t possibly have been their best.”
I sputtered a little over my coffee as I read that. And sadly, I have let my coffee grow cold, as I seem to do, most mornings these days, ever since I switched to decaf, on a whim. So it is not the best either. Perhaps I must switch to tea!
“There is so much mirth in India, Nadine, of course, if one is up for it.”
This was a powerful sentence for me to read. The reason is that my father said I should not go in his footsteps to India. He (or perhaps it was my mom? or my friend’s dad? the memory is fading now) said I was too sensitive, and could not handle the poverty and suffering. I’d made a collect call to my parents, when I was backpacking through Europe with a friend, in my late teens, to announce that my friend and I were about to take a sudden detour, and that my new career would be hair-wrapping, as I hitchhiked through Asia with people we’d met. Of course the parents are always worried about the dangers. Perhaps they were right, at that time.
Just afterward, a girl at the hotel coffee bar I worked for told me she never called collect, not even to her parents. This was a manner of showing her independence. I thought that was a good lesson in maturity. She was around the same age as me, but had already travelled through India, and sold her own handmade jewellery as a business. But I digress.
I have since read the autobiographical novel by Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram, which was a gift from another dear friend of mine, and though it only made me love India more (from afar), it also made me fear it a little more, as well. But what you have done here is create a richness in my vision of your country, with just a single sentence. The mirth is where one is up for it. Yes, thank you. That is a good teaching indeed.
The part about the Indian mothers cracked me up completely. Beating on my own head is something I can certainly relate to, though I’ve never done it over the kids not eating enough at dinnertime. It’s usually more over sympathy for my kids, at having such an imperfect mother. And yet I love my own imperfect mother very much. Perhaps I should take a cue from your Indian mothers, and I might be more mirthful.
“I smell food, particularly pickles, we Indians are pickle zealots, Nadine. The flight has not taken off yet and people in the seat ahead of mine are already dipping their fingers in the pickles.”
“Pickle zealots”!!! More mirth over here as I grin at the screen. And then, I am joyfully tearing up inside, at your description of the mother-daughter journeys: “(There is something very powerful seeing a mother accompanying her daughter on journeys. They dress up beautifully, they smile, they kiss each other on the cheeks for trivial accomplishments, and they feed each other a lot.)” What a love-filled, humorous picture.
“By continuing writing the stories (this must be one of those grammatically wrong statements that people politely ask me to improve on and I fail them every time I write something new).”
This statement is chuckle-y and lovely in and of itself. You are so good at graciously being you. And letting everyone else (continue) be(ing) them(selves).
By the way, I had an “error” in my own email message, which I saw copied into your post. I wrote “right” when it should have been “write.” So the right was not right. Or perhaps it was right according to my subconscious. I love that about language. But in the philosophy of linguistics, I am a descriptivist more than a prescriptionist (sic). At least I believe so in this moment.
“The truth, then, must be the story that we tell ourselves when we are alone, naked under the showers, sealing every word of it with the water that falls from above. Perhaps that is how fiction is formed and perhaps that is why fiction appeals almost with the same vigour as life.”
Akarsh, that is exactly how one of my own poems got written not long ago. I was standing in the shower, writing in my head, feeling the truth come down and then rise up again inside me, and feeling the water seal the lines of it into my memory. So seeing your words gave me the “absolute-truth” tingles.
The truth: all that you wrote about it is just how I feel as well. I’ve been writing what I thought was in the genre of creative nonfiction for some time now. For four months here on this platform, and a bit elsewhere as well. But the more I write and immediately publish my “truths,” the more find I have to keep doing more of the same, to “correct” what I wrote before. I get through my righted wrongs, in so doing, wrong the rights; the more I wrong the rights, the more I realize the “rights” were all a fiction of my own mind, as I wrote them in that moment.
Yes I tried my best to get the facts documented as purely as possible. Tried obsessively, “in fact.” But how can a fact be a truth, when it is only a fraction of it, and all reality is subjective? It is more a faction than a fact.
One of the first times I understood this properly (although my father taught me this, practically from birth) was while reading a book called Illusions by Richard Bach.
A fellow backpacker had recommended it to me some twenty-odd years ago, as I tried desperately to understand that wildly intelligent boy’s mad accent from Manchester, over the chugging of the wheels of a train going to Athens. When I got home some time later, I checked my parents’ wibbly-wobbly wood-panelled bookshelves, for they usually had all the best books, and there it was, all beat up, with its blue feather on the black and starry front. I still have it now, or at least some version of it. And I have lost and found many blue feathers since then. Yet the stars remain the same.
But even having understood the nature of reality, or of truth, or having thought that I understood it, I need constant reminders. Your stories, like those of some other writers of “fiction” whose work I’ve loved as well, helped remind me — not only through what they said but what they showed — that “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.” And yes, you were right, I looked it up, it was Oscar Wilde. Thank you for this, dear Akarsh!
And thanks also for this beautifully relaxed conversation, born of your stories and a few of my comments, and for taking us all with you, on your planes and trains. These journeys of love, and of momentary universal truths, spoken from the heart, are all that matter.
With love, from a light-filled attic in the Auvergne, France (but does it really matter if it’s true? and the power has gone out again!),
- Image is by Alinda at Kisspng.com. (I reverse-image searched the one that Akarsh used to find the source. License: free, for personal use only.)
- I have previously talked about this interview here, here and here, and in the comments here. (I share these links with you, dear reader, because I am always curious about process. Perhaps you are the same.)
Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. If you wish to contribute and/or show appreciation, please recommend/like and/or comment. Thank you for reading. ❤︎