After the Artesia Library author talk on March 22, I changed my profile photo on my author page on Facebook to this one. I was signing a copy for a member of the audience named Eddie – a name which, for some reason, has always been very dear to me! I described it as “the best first name ever,” but Edward is not my favorite boy’s name. My favorite boy’s name is my favorite boy’s name.
I had considered cropping the photo so that the book doesn’t show, but it was looking awkward as a thumbnail so I left the book in. After I had updated my Facebook profile, it occurred to me that someone might be curious to know what I had written in the inscription. This they could discover by rotating the image and enlarging it, but then it occurred to me that this person might be curious to know about my other inscriptions. Judging by the popularity of this blog, I’m guessing there’s only one such person, which is why I must indulge their curiosity by disclosing some of the inscriptions I have written since Pioneer Boulevard was released on June 29 last year.
The following is a partial list – and much as I love wordplay, I don’t mean the list I am partial to. I am grateful to have a book to write inscriptions in and I like every inscription I have written. This list only includes what I think of as the Magnificent Seven.
To a Friend
Some months prior to publication I began to share with friends that I had decided to publish my manuscript through Consonant Books. They were all happy for me, and one of them, whom I told over the phone, sounded ecstatic. “I can’t wait to read the book and get your autograph!” he exclaimed. (As a doctor, Sanjeev normally speaks in what I describe in “Nectar of Life” as “that straightforward, unruffled manner in which doctors treat birth, death, and everything in between,” so the emotion in his voice spoke volumes.) Before we hung up Sanjeev said I must let him know when he could buy the book, but since he has given me medical help worth several hundred copies of Pioneer Boulevard, I had already decided to give him a copy. It bore this inscription:
Because you said you couldn’t wait to get my autograph, this is the first copy I’m signing.
To my Mother
The most special copy of Pioneer Boulevard is the one I gave my mother. She unfortunately didn’t receive it until October, when a friend from Seattle was traveling to India, but I had known what I’d write in her copy even before the book was published. In the Acknowledgements I have thanked God for “the parents He gave me, who gave me (with life and other good things) the gift of literature.” Although I didn’t specify there which parent was responsible for nurturing my love for literature at considerable personal cost, I’ll do so here. It was Mummy. This is what I wrote in her copy:
In 1998 you gave me a novel in which you had written, “One day I will read a book by Sharon Edwards.” Thanks for believing in me, and sorry for the long wait.
The novel I was referring to is The God of Small Things, which remains my favorite novel by any Indian author. I had wanted to read it since it was released but couldn’t afford to buy it. I was on the library waitlist, but before my turn could arrive my mother had given me my own copy. The gift was more than a book. It represented all those trips to the library in childhood, all those birthday and Christmas gifts she’d sacrificed to buy me, simply to quench my thirst for books.
My thirst for books was never quenched; it only grew by the book. And it’s what has made me a writer. Which is why I owe as much to my mother as I do to my father (now in heaven), from whom I inherited my love for literature.
To my Godson
My godson Atish, who made me an aunt, was the only member of my family who could attend the book launch, and I suppose if I had to pick one member of my family to be present, I’d have picked him because he represents the younger generation. (I hope the legacy I leave will be far more than my writings.)
One of the happiest days of my life was the day Atish was born, and my heart has never been the same since I saw him for the first time, on a foggy December evening in Calcutta eleven days later. I thought I’d never be able to love any other child like I love him, but then he had a sister, and my heart expanded to include her. Nihara’s birth taught me that the heart cannot contract to make room for one more; it must expand. And so I love their younger cousins – Alita, Samaya, and Nihal – just as much as I love Atish and Nihara. In fact, as I have said in the Acknowledgements, I wear these five “in my heart’s core.” In the copy I gave Atish I wrote:
Thanks for the joy you have given me since the day you were born, and for giving me my favorite name.
When Atish was fourteen months his family moved to what was still called Bombay, which meant that I was at their place constantly. After trying to get him to call me Aunty Sharon for a couple weeks or so, I was overjoyed when one morning he looked directly at me and said “Ana.” Though a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, I wouldn’t have had him call me by any other name.
At Keele I met an Indian student who is the same age as Atish, and his name (Daniel) is Nihal’s middle name. So I thought of him as a nephew of sorts. I told him that my nephews and nieces call me Ana – and he said he calls his aunt that too! Indian kids don’t normally call their aunts Ana, and I was amused by the coincidence but decided that he was not to call me that. “There are only five people on earth who can call me Ana,” I said. To which he responded, “There’s only one person on earth I will call Ana.”
To my Mentor
In the book’s Acknowledgements I have referred to my two spiritual mentors as “the North Stars to my wandering bark,” which is more than a metaphor taken from Sonnet 116. I’d have been lost on the sea of troubles had these two gentlemen(tors) not shown me the way. For this I have said that they “deserve the kind of thanks I lack the words for. Maybe I’ll find them when I am a better writer, maybe Michael and Dale will have to wait until the mortal puts on immortality.”
This is what I wrote in the copy I gave Michael, to whom Pioneer Boulevard owes more than to anyone apart from my tutor:
With a gratitude words will never adequately express this side of eternity.
To my Tutor
Words will never adequately express the gratitude I owe my tutor, but I didn’t write that in the copy I sent Joe Stretch. He may not have killed me, but he would definitely have said, in that polite English accent of his, “What the hell do you mean words will never adequately express? You’re a writer, you bloody well ought to know how to make words express.”
In the first line of Joe’s paragraph in the Acknowledgements I have said that he “deserves more than a paragraph, he deserves a chapter” (and he’s a nice chap, really, when he isn’t yelling at me). So in his copy I wrote:
Someday I’ll write that chapter.
To my Second Reader
Tim Lustig, who is among the most well-read people and certainly one of the most perceptive readers I know, not only gave me invaluable feedback on the Pioneer Boulevard stories; he also helped me grow as a writer. My final portfolio for his Life Writing class is one of my favorite pieces of anything I have written. The copy I sent Tim bore this inscription:
The best second reader this book could have had, whose opinion about my writing will always be among those that matter most.
To a Reader
As I said, I like every inscription I have written because I am grateful to have a book to write inscriptions in. I am especially grateful when someone buys a copy at my author talks, and I try to give their inscription (if they want one) a personal touch.
After the Hastings Branch reading on January 7, a reader named Jerrine came up to buy a copy. She said she had read the library’s copy in one day and now wanted to own the book. During our chat she shared that she had recently moved to LA from the South to be closer to her daughter, so in her copy I wrote something that gave me immense pleasure as an immigrant Angeleno whose book has the city’s name on its cover:
Welcome to Los Angeles!