When we went to the 'Unfestival - Spaces between Words' Writers Retreat sponsored by the JSW at Kaladham, Vidyanagar, we vaguely knew that the idea was to compile writing that we generated in those 10 days. I wrote randomly - most times just to meet the daily deadline, sometimes to indulge a passing fancy, and one that seriously captured my imagination. By the end, I had written five pieces - an article of what the 'Spaces between Words' meant to me, another on my search for inspiration on the Vidyanagar campus, a long 5000 word piece on the 'Inspire Insitute of Sports' an article dedicated to my friends at the retreat - a profile of each as I saw them and one as an afterthought, a cricket fiction centred around Kaladham.
Somewhere along the way the idea of publishing as a book was shelved and the idea of making a supplement in The Hindu came about. With the shortage of space the pieces had to be shelved, some edited. My 5000 word article became a 1250 word piece.
Finally the supplement came out yesterday in The Hindu - in some localities. As luck would have it not in our locality of course - but thankfully Nalini saw it and so did Sridhar from our MBA group and Gunu and I picked up a couple of copies. It was well designed and eye-catching.
|This is how the 4 page supplement appeared in The Hindu on August 17, 2019|
|My article on the front page - my terrified plea used as an introduction|
|My second article - the 5000 word one edited to 1250 or so|
I wrote the piece pasted below as my tribute to the team - the things about them that I observed and the things that I will take away with me. It was meant to be shared in the group but Sathya felt that it could go into the book as well. But since it won't make the book, here it is on my blog.
The Unfestival Eleven
That's 9 - Shubra, Vishakha, Nimmi, Hash, Piyush, Sharon, Brandon, George and me
Sathya, who I feel has found the perfect balance between the inside and outside, and it enables her to retain a child-like wonder and enthusiasm that she balances with a clear and rational judgment. The way she says just the right thing, with just the right number of words to create what she wants, the way she holds the energy in the space without exerting any push or pull. Like water in an open palm, she lets it lie and allows things to unfold. Watching her walk all across Hampi, climb into the window without a moment’s hesitation at the Queen’s Bath to pose for Sharon’s picture (after I politely refused), climbing the 575 steps to the Hanuman temple, giving it back to the rude priest at the Pampa sarovar, listening keenly and intently to every piece of reading at the end of each day at Kaladham and finding something good and constructive about it to build on are all memories that will stay with me. What will always remain is the way she reacted after she heard a pup crying faintly (I did too, but did not think much of it), walked across an open field searching for it, found it trapped between stones and helped it out. The little pup could well have died yelping for help if Sathya had not done that. Net time I hear a cry for help, I might not ignore it as I did earlier.
Shubra, with her zest for life, food, music, movies, for good writing and all things good about life. For being so comfortable as she is, in her own skin with all her vulnerability. Her wearing her feelings on her sleeve, be it worrying about not having anything to write that day, worrying about taking the leap into starting a restaurant, the way her eyes light up when she talks about good writing. She is someone I can identify with, surely everyone does, for being such a sport. I love the way she says ‘I am too nice’ when she gets saddled with extra work but she goes ahead and does it. Just as she says ‘Óh you are a nice guy too’ when she realises I am doing something I am not fully convinced about too. She is someone who is just that – nice- and makes the world a nicer place for that. That niceness coupled with that mischief that’s always around is what I take away.
Nimmi, who is this feisty person, a force of nature, this shakthi, with not an artificial bone in her, happy in her life, her experience, her silence, her art. Always ready to explode, with so much energy wound up inside her. But then so deeply thoughtful, who keeps her problems to herself, as one can see when she walks off to talk seriously into her phone and deals with her fears and apprehensions privately, and spreads only the good that she can publicly. She will give a massage if you look tired, offers to sit on the floor when Brandon looks ill, gets completely concerned when Sharon is unwell, hugs you till you feel that you are indeed a special person and deserve that time and warmth, laughs brilliantly at everything, does all she can to make an insecure world more secure. There won’t be another like her. This compassion, this spirit, this ability to let life flow through is what inspires me.
Brandon, calm and meditative, thoughtful and insightful, fun and creative, and so very talented. The gentle way he does things – I feel it comes from a compassion that is deep rooted in him. A compassion that is evident even when he writes an angry letter. I will never forget him singing ‘The Dark Side of Beautiful’ passionately or even all those 80s Hindi film songs, will not forget him battling his fever alone and quietly, his joy and relief at finding a compassionate doctor whose memory just ‘makes him cry’. The chat we had while climbing down the sunrise hill, talking of all things from spirituality to high performance and connecting them all was one of the most animated conversations I have had in a long time. The gentleness, intelligence and honesty he brings to the world, the balls to be himself, his style, his storytelling ability, his presence and his wholehearted laughter apart - the spine that he carries in his slender frame is what stays with me.
Vishakha, who is so talented and quietly observant, who picks up the right cues and angles perfectly, who softly gets it all done. There is no denying the thought that goes into all she does, the connections she makes between random things – the painting she drew of the bath, the gate and the temple for example, which could be viewed either way. For one so young, she is so mature in her outlook. I was so impressed with the way she got coach Antony Yaich and athlete Elakkiya at the Inspire Institute of Sports to pose for her - just right. I am impressed with her questions on what I teach and her genuine interest to learn. But mostly, I admire this quality of hers where she says she will do it, and it is done. You can trust her to do anything in the world and she will not hesitate or say no, however difficult it is, and will simply get it done. And I am sure – so it will be with all she chooses to do in her life.
Sharon, feisty and firebrand, knowledgeable and energetic, who genuinely seeks not just to know but to understand, who lives life fully, experiments and is ready for the consequences. Like wearing a tiara of flowers and then waiting patiently for them to be disentangled, one by one! She knows the lyrics of songs and what they mean, writers and literature, aerialist who knows malkhamb, rides Jawa and Bullet bikes, belongs to biker groups, knows why boulders are like that in Hampi, what time the Sandur market opens and closes, anything actually. There is a sharpness, a quick wittedness, a fight, in her and one would like to be like that. Also one senses that she is someone who is very loyal, quick to help. With all the talent within her, the many things she can do effortlessly and confidently, one knows she will breakout big time when she wants to. The poem she read was ample proof of what she is capable of. The concentration and intelligence she brings to her work, the mischief she has and the capacity to feel deeply will stay, but mostly from her, her energy, her spunk and her quest to know and to execute – are what I take away.
Piyush, who is someone you cannot ignore because he has this personality that fills the room, this smile and warm greeting that you cannot not be drawn into. He is incredibly talented and highly accomplished – sings, writes, directs, comes up with great ideas, has great energy and is full of confidence. On the other side is someone who has this vulnerable side to him that shows up, as he says, like the boy who is forever fifteen, curious, wanting things to move on, unsure with silences and structure. Piyush is someone who has seen and experienced much, and has much to share. Big hearted, open, keeps the group going and together, says it as he feels. I remember the walks, the PBC jokes, his energetic singing all the way back from Hampi, the talks, the age discussion, his first date story on the bus in Mumbai, his clear views on fundamentalism, on sustainable practices, his lesson to me and George on how to quote for our projects are all etched deep in my mind. Piyush it was, who proposed watching ‘Gully Boy’at the JNox, organised Mangalore lunch and an Andhra meal for all those who wanted a change from the Convertor, bought jackets with George at the tailoring school, framed brilliant pictures, played eclectic music – always adding something to the moment. But it is that aspect – that paradox between that Bombaiya confidence and the vulnerability of the 15 year old that’s most endearing.
Chandrahas, Hash, who looks at life with mild amusement, which appears to be a good way to look at it. Not to take it too seriously. Who has his world in control – the coffee pot he carries with himself to make the perfect coffee for himself, or his afternoon runs after which he lies down on the lawn to gaze at the blue sky. Who plays football, and knows his cricket. Who keeps to himself, but also has a watchful eye for all that goes around. Like the way he picks up leftover glasses after the beer sessions, or the way he asked if I needed help on the slippery Sivakoti rocks during the coracle ride, not once, but twice. I was touched – not many ask me if I need help. I admire his commitment to the craft, the way he makes his notes. Mostly though, Hash’s one quality I would like to take away is the way he enjoys what he does – the delight with which he reads what he had written especially. That is something I would love to learn to do. Enjoy what I write, what I do.
George, lost in his own world it appears, as he shifts quietly to the back seat and into his art, away from the limelight, but deeply observant and extremely clear about what he wants to do. Constantly thinking ahead, fully aware. He has chosen a difficult path and walks it without fear. I love it – what is an easy life anyway! Amazìng talent, amazing flexibility as a person, superbly confident about himself and his work. Writes the kind of stuff you are scared to even ‘like’ – so politically in the face. Yet, caring and gentle, thoughtful and responsible – like the way he told me he bought a book for Anjali which he says she will enjoy. Or about his cricket career and his father’s cricket quizzes, his experiments with life. I believe he hovers on the fringes, not to escape, but to keep a distance, not too close but not too far, steps in when needed. Uncanny emotional intelligence, brutally honest and perceptive - and it shows in his work. Nowhere in his work does he try to explain – he treats his reader as someone who is capable of understanding it. His clarity of vision, commitment to his craft and conviction in what he does are highly inspiring to me. Just as his high Emotional Intelligence and the way he is so comfortable to have around.
Shireen, who quietly gets things done, exactly the way she wants, who brings a presence that seems to round it all off for the group. Again a softness that I believe is deceptive, a professionalism that is apparent. She has this ability to create this space around her which is so easy for others and I find myself pouring water for her, carrying her bags, giving her assurances on her worries about her extra baggage, or how much time she has at the Bangalore airport, doing the many things that I normally do not do for many others. I love the fact that she does that, allows that and makes me, and surely so many others, feel useful. This most elusive of qualities, to glide through life with such ease, to ask and let things happen, to bring such an easy vibe to the group, I am most inspired by.
Elisabeth, who merged effortlessly with the group, which is a great quality for anyone to have – like sugar in water. The care, thought and effort in her animation film and her choice of subjects reflect in her actions and speech, her choices and reactions. The gentleness, patience and empathy she brings to such difficult subjects impressed me just as the political nature and the stand she chose to take. I was equally amazed at the question she posed to Elakkiya Dasan, the Olympic probable at Inspire Institute of Sports, and the wonderful moment it helped unfold. It will remain a moment I cannot forget in my life and I cannot help but think that it was her non-judgment of his capacity to answer an abstract question that allowed that. I truly believe non-judgment is the way forward for me and this will be one of the big things that Elisabeth has inspired in me.