Turning 11 was a very significant year for me. We moved house from Vijayanagar (suburb in Bangalore) and what I see now clearly as this Kannadiga middle-classness to Indiranagar (an upscale suburb in Bangalore) with its mostly rich and classy people, posh bungalows, and whispered scandals. An atmosphere that insidiously shapes a person.
Our house in Indiranagar was a very modest one bedroom house in an extremely posh locality. It was the smallest house I have ever lived in. We had come upon bad times financially.
The owner of the house was a woman in her late 50s. She was God-fearing, bold, and unconventional. Amma (Mother), as we all called her, lived life based on her own moral and ethical codes. She didn’t give a damn about society. She had been the second wife of a man whom she left after she had a daughter. She had single-handedly raised her daughter and constructed her house in Indiranagar. In all the years I got to know her she never gave up on anything easily, went after what she wanted, and took no bullshit from anyone. People feared and revered her even as they whispered mean things behind her back.
She was my teacher. She taught me to sing prayers, songs, recite Vacchanas (religious Bhakti poetry), debate, play roles, perform, even write essays, and give speeches. She would enrol her daughter a Bharatanatyam dancer, herself, and me in every/any community event that happened across Bangalore. Between the ages of 11 and 12, I would have performed on over a 100 stages almost always winning a prize. It had nothing to do with how I was as a performer. It was all her coaching.
From her I learnt how I could manipulate my voice, how I could use my body on stage, what stage presence meant, how I needed to breathe before I spoke into the mike. Everything. From a shy, quiet, little girl I slowly became loud, bold, the sort of girl who raised an eyebrow, or smiled coquettishly. There was a confidence and certainty in all I did. It was a period of discovery and learning.
At 11, I also began reading the unabridged English Classics in earnest. It was difficult but a dictionary helped. By the time I turned 14, I had read Jane Eyre at least six times, Wuthering Heights thrice – they were my favourites – all the works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Oscar Wilde. I had always thought and spoken in English. Now I had a passionate and sacred relationship with the language. I was also voraciously dipping into Sidney Sheldon, Daniel Steele, Jackie Collins and the rest of the pop authors. Around that time I also read tons of women writers – most of the novels now (Not M&Bs – that I wasn’t allowed to read) nameless in my head. One that I do remember is Empire by Elaine Bissell.
These novels all had one thing in common. A strong, bold, and beautiful protagonist who has very humble, sometimes dastardly beginnings but who with her grit, determination, charm, and by falling in love with the right man, or falling out of love with the wrong man builds an empire from scratch and becomes a force to reckon with.
In my own life, Amma had shown me how being just that sort of woman was possible. That’s when the idea of starting something on my own first occurred to me. More than anything though, I wanted people. People who would love me and do anything for me. I had read about Heathcliff. My favourite song those days used to be Father Figure. I knew all about love and devotion at 11!
From 11 to 30 is a long time to wait, plan, vegetate, lose nerve, get swayed by others, fight with people, make love, share hate, give up, get involved with companies and unwittingly learn on the job.
During Infy, I was sure I would get into business with the beau. Post Infy, my friend Vikram wanted us to start something on our own. For about a week, I was alive with ideas, possibilities, and dreams before it all crashed and the arthritis attacked.
When I joined Zynga, I knew I needed to work. It wasn’t even a choice. There was absolutely no option. Or so I believed. The month-long break from work had done wonders to my soul, my health, my state of being. I had begun to write and I had writing projects I needed to complete; work I was serious about.
During Zynga, my health took a turn for the worse. I had never imagined it could get that nasty. I quit work dreaming only about being by myself, healing, and writing. Maybe teaching. My life was opening up. I quit. It felt like giving up and there was angst. I felt I had let myself down, maybe I’d given up too soon. But that disappeared as health got better. Quitting was the only thing to have done then. And there has been no looking back.
The sabbatical was necessary, meaningful, and a brilliant excuse to get out of all sorts of chores. ‘Do the dishes? Who me? I’m so sorry, I would have, but I am on a sabbatical, you see.’
Then Rheea came back into my life as a fixture. We did not get married. Other than that, we were together in coffee shops all over Koramangala, on streets, in malls. Writing. Talking. Sharing. Planning. And that is how the idea of BWW was born. She writes a lot, teaches a bit. I teach a lot, write a bit. It couldn’t get more perfect. I was dubious; extremely cynical. We were almost best buddies. How sensible would it be to get into business together? How would we work together?
It was all answered at City Writes. I wanted to take part in the workshop. Two days before the workshop, she frantically called me and said I had to facilitate it with her. No debate. I agreed. Health withstanding, I said. Health withstood. We did it. More than the rush of teaching or facilitating, there was the joy of learning. People came together from different walks of life, spoke about writing, their lives, their experiences, and put it on paper beautifully. It was awe-inspiring. It was humbling. It was precious.
And we knew. When we announced we would do such workshops at a professional scale, everyone was enthusisatic. The elderly couple who reminded me so much of Virgina Woolf and Leonard Woolf came to us and offered us their office in Indiranagar to conduct the workshops. For the love of art. For the love of literature. He, it turned out, was the ex-commissioner of Police in Bangalore. She had been a Principal and a lecturer of English. Together they ran an NGO called Forhd Foundation for the children of prisoners. We decided to affiliate ourselves with their work. We suddenly had mentors, and clout, and a space.
Then it came together some more. Anbu Jawahar of AJ Photography agreed to design our logo. When he got sudden assignments, we gave the job to our designer friend, Jayesh Sivan. He created our identity and built our design. My buddy, Jithin Jaladharan then agreed to edit our content for SEO optimisation.
The biggest aid of all, however, was when Ramdas Sivadas bought us our domain, hosted our site, and built our site bearing my grammar naziness, overzealous editing and sub-editing, and our insistence for just the right colours and fonts, and sticking to the timeline. He put in nights, staying friendly and patient with us, me in particular because I always had changes, even after working strenuously at his own company during the day.
And finally, it was done. We launched.
Now here I am being writer, teacher, business woman, and entrepreneur, and all sorts of fabulous things. It feels like I got into one of my old books. That after everything, I have been the sort of person I wanted to be when I learnt all those things from Amma. I have the people I always craved for in life.
I should feel proud and accomplished but all I am feeling is grateful and overwhelmed. That the people I have in my life are so giving, so wonderful. That my family of lovers, husbands, and assorted relations have been so patient with my panic attacks, my self-doubts, and have always reassured me so much and so convincingly. That everyone worked so hard to put us in business, as if they were doing it for themselves. Such kindness. That we have applications coming in. In modest numbers but really sincere attempts as most people are so bloody talented. It’s so humbling. There will be tons to teach. But so much more to learn!
At 30, there is change. I might not be able to kiss my own arse or become a performer at Broadway yet. I might not build an empire. I might always have a hand-to-mouth relationship with money. I might still be a bitch and fight with those I most love because I am daft that way. Worst case scenario, we might shut shop and look for regular jobs again.
For now though, we have begun, and it so exciting! So much to do. So much to learn. So much to write. So much to live. So much to laugh about. Most importantly, so much to give and so many to love.
The world is truly fabulous, children. Let no one tell you otherwise. Muah.
P. S. My super heroes (gender common usage here), I love you. Thank you for everything.