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For a budding scribe befriending an established writer can give a boost to push your pen against the vicissitudes of the publishing world. But sometimes things can go the other way and the rendezvous can well turn out to be catastrophic.
I had one such experience last year at a writers’ conference in
. The two-day conference was attended by
writers and poets from all over Agra
and a few from abroad. As it happens, some desi writers started hobnobbing with
foreign delegates to seek avenues for foreign trips. I, for one, was well
contented with a coterie of unambitious participants. Among them was my
roommate, a Sahitya Akademi award winner, from Orissa. He became a pal rather
quickly. For two days we sat together in the auditorium ploughing through the
tiring verbiage of the presenters. India
As the celebrated expression goes “the morning shows the day”. The inaugural speech was delivered by one Dr Sashikant (name changed), a Padmashree recipient, for two gruelling hours until everybody started talking without bothering to lend their already exhausted ears to his monotonous renditions.
There were too many speakers and too little time at disposal. Too many papers were accepted and hence, the later ones had to be truncated. Most of us accepted the fate barring some “established” poets and poetesses who defied all fervent appeals to “cut it short”. One of them was an old lady who read her poems on the first day but insisted to be given a second chance to present her paper. The organisers curtly refused her. She left the auditorium in a jiffy, for obvious reasons. I read some of her works published in the poetry magazines I contribute to. When my turn came I delivered an extempore speech — a synopsis of my paper — on only the important points of the text and left the hall somewhat dejected.
When I met her she was fuming. However, finding in me a patient listener, she vented out her anger against the organisers while I nodded in approval. When the storm subsided and the communication levelled down to a mere confabulation, I took the opportunity to present her my book of poems that I had penned a couple of years back. At the end of the conference, the organisers took us to the Taj. She invited me to sit beside her and started telling me her story. She was a spinster, not by choice, but by compulsion. She had to look after her ailing mother. She inherited a property for which she had to struggle for the greater part of her life in courts to deter land sharks from grabbing it. She was ostracised by her neighbours, who, according to her, wanted a share of her property.
When the bus stopped, we had to distribute ourselves into several auto rickshaws to reach the gate. At that point of commotion, we dissociated. Luckily, I found my roommate and went inside along with him. Soon the Taj engulfed us in its grandeur. Our eyes devoured the ecstasy of the symmetry of a mausoleum that epitomises love entwined with pathos. My trance was not destined to last long. Half an hour later I met the old lady on the main podium. She burst into a fit of irrepressible rage. “Why did you leave me like that?” she asked. A volley of choicest adjectives followed. Suddenly she took my book out from the bag and threw it at me. “I don’t want to keep a book by an author who deceives girls!” she shouted. I was left dumbfounded. How could an octogenarian consider herself a girl and where from did the question of cheating arise? But before I received any satisfactory answer, she was gone.
A strange numbness devoured me. As if the emperor and his beloved were going to sleep. To me the grandeur of the tomb started to wean and dissolved in the ebb of the muddy Jamuna. Suddenly a few lines flashed in my memory:
Never saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still.
(Published in Strange & Sublime in " The Statesman")