Got Mill?

If you are among the millions out there who noticed that I missed two weekly posts this month, and who missed those two weekly posts, I congratulate you on your powers of observation and your impeccable taste. If you are not among the millions, I can only commiserate with you. It must be hard to be lacking in both powers of observation and impeccable taste. What’s more, I feel sorry for you because you are not like me: I missed two weekly posts but you did not. But cheer up. You’re not alone. There are billions out there like you.

I searched for images of our not-so-lonely planet’s teeming billions, to show you that you are not alone. I also wanted to keep you happy. I’m not naïve, reader. I know you like my images, and some of you like them more than my text. Well, I must inform you that instead of finding moving or humorous images to keep you happy, I only found millions of typos to keep me happy.

Billions of typos

I was exaggerating, of course. I didn’t find millions of typos. I only found these few, and maybe ten or twenty more. But I’m sure there are many millions in print, on the internet and off it. Why, my own book had some eight or nine. Apart from being mortifying, they were ironic because my book’s back cover says something about my having been a proufreeder. (It will be the ultimate irony if their our sum tie pose hear. Unintentional ones, I mean.)

The most mortifying of my typos was an incorrect end-of-line break that could have been avoided had Word been smart enough to know I meant “biolog-ical,” not “biology-ical,” and had I been smart enough to know how to turn off that feature. But I was not smart enough. Don’t be shocked, reader. If you’ve been reading the posts I churn out for your reading pleasure week after week (barring a couple weeks here and there), you will know what grade I’m mentally in. Turning off features in Word is for Indian techies, those teeming millions in whose august company I will never feature, in August or in any other month.

Pioneer Boulevard Back Cover

Most of the typos I came across as a proofreader at Warner Bros. weren’t funny, but I remember these because they were.

  1. Fathering Forces. The copy had gathering, but given the licentious lifestyle of the heroes in the movie, fathering would have been right too.
  2. Until then, ______ was the longest loving member of the Senate. Obviously the copy had said living. Even if the writer knew something about the senator’s love life, they wouldn’t have told.
  3. Standing on the shoulder of Stanley Kubrick. If you have as good an imagination as Stanley Kubrick, you’ll be able to picture what it would be like to stand on his shoulder. Especially because he’s been dead since 1999.

Apostrophe Intelligence

And now, let me tell you about the not-so-teeming millions. These are a million dollars, which my wallet has yet to teem with. (Please don’t stop reading. I have something very important to say on this.)

Some days ago I was in conversation with a man who visits India regularly in connection with some community development projects he raises funds for. At one point he stopped mid-sentence to ask, “What would you do if you were given a million dollars?”

Someone asked me this question when I first came to the US, and at the time my hopes rose. The speaker was an elderly woman, and I thought she was about to bequeath her estate to me. I’d heard that anything was possible in America, and I felt it was about to happen to me. So convinced was I that I almost gave her the answers I thought might win her (“Save the manta rays” being at the top of the list, this being Hawaii). I soon discovered that she had no intention of bequeathing anything to me. When I finished speaking, she began telling me what she would do if given a million, and that’s when I discovered she had nothing to bequeath to anyone.

It took another five or six people to ask me that question before I figured out that when someone asks that, they are only trying to eavesdrop on your thoughts. Because (if you answer honestly), what you would do if you were given a million dollars shows where your greatest passions and interests lie.

Note: Change that to a billion when speaking to a millionaire. And if you’re speaking to a billionaire, don’t ask them what they would do. Ask them what they are doing.

Who wants to be a millionaire

When I first came to the US, I also heard about a study that had been done a decade or so before among the Builders (people who had lived through both world wars), in which they had been asked this question: “If you had to live your live over, what would you do differently?”

This is another of those “million dollar” questions of the kind I was asked recently. It’s different in the sense that you could be given a million dollars whereas you cannot get to live your life over, but the Builders have not been called the greatest generation for nothing. They gamely responded, and these are the top three answers:

  1. I would watch more sunsets.
  2. I would spend more time with those I love.
  3. I would invest in things that will outlive my lifetime.

When my conversation with the man who regularly visits India began, I hadn’t been expecting the “million dollar” question, and I wasn’t thinking about the Builders when I replied, but I knew what he was getting at and I named the top three items on my wishlist. I responded honestly, but I’m not revealing my answer. If you’ve been eavesdropping on my Collected Thoughts for any length of time, you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself. I will say this, though: I believe my three points cover the three points on the Builders’ list. The first two things I’d do if someone gave me a million dollars will be an investment into something that outlives my lifetime, and the third will allow me to watch more sunsets and spend more time with those I love.

So here’s the very important thing I have to say to you: If you have a mill bill to spare, please pass the buck to me.

Million dollar bill

Sorry Brazil

I had national anthems on my mind on Friday, the Fourth of July, when Colombia met Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals. And since Messi wasn’t playing, for me it all boiled down to the national anthems, with more than a little help from Colombia’s only Nobel laureate.

Garcia Marquez

I had discovered the Colombian anthem quite by chance, while writing an essay some months ago, and I liked it immediately – tune, words, et al. And on the Fourth of July I heard Brazil’s anthem for the first time. I hope all Brazilians love it, but there are three things I didn’t like about it. 

Disclaimer: I had posted these three things on Facebook on Friday, as the quarterfinal was in progress. They are a personal opinion, and this post is not intended to rub salt into semifinal wounds. I hope all Brazilians find my tweet of Saturday comforting: “Colombia’s greater loss was the passing of Gabriel García Márquez in April. The World Cup will be back in four years.”  Sadly, García Márquez never will.

(i) The Portuguese “O lábaro que ostentas estrelado” is sometimes translated “the star-spangled banner which you display.” Sorry Brazil, but there’s only one star-spangled banner for me, and Francis Scott Key wrote his poem in 1814, well before Francisco Manuel da Silva composed his lyrics in 1831. Perhaps Francisco hadn’t read what Francis had written, and the translation on Wikipedia calls it “the starred labarum,” but still.

(ii) I didn’t care for the tune – and not for want of trying. I don’t like not liking music so I listened to it at least six times, with and without vocals. Still this tune didn’t strike a chord with me.     

(iii) The phrase “idolized homeland” seemed ominous to me. Any human institution that’s idolized is bound to have feet of clay. Even if those feet can kick. I use the present tense because Brazil’s drubbing at the hands (by the feet) of Kroos and co. can’t touch Pelé’s greatness.

Pele

As I said, that was a personal opinion. I am expressing it on my own blog, and more politely than some people (hiding behind screen names) express their opinions on other people’s YouTube channels. For instance, one person has this to say about the Indian national anthem: “Most boring anthem only about rivers mountain and ocean” (quoted and punctuated as in original).

I don’t know whether this person was expecting India’s anthem to be as entertaining as a Bollywood number, but he clearly didn’t understand the song itself. Not only is it not only about geographic features, it is not about geographic features at all. The anthem is the opening stanza of a hymn composed by Rabindranath Tagore, India’s first Nobel laureate and the first non-European to win the Prize (Literature). The geographic features are only mentioned in the context of the prayer. India’s mountains and rivers and peoples, says the poet, all offer their worship to the One who holds the destiny of their land.

If the person who expressed that opinion on YouTube was reacting to that one rendition (which I must admit sounds most boring), he had confused the music with the lyrics. Hindustani classical singers (or Bollywood singers affecting a classical style) can make “Jana Gana Mana” sound like a dirge when they sing it slowly and mournfully. National anthems are not meant to evoke pathos; they are meant to rouse patriotic sentiments. Having been an Indian citizen for most of my life, I know that “Jana Gana Mana” can stir the finest patriotic sentiments when played by a brass band.

Indian military band

As a North Indian I’d have preferred Hindi or Urdu over Sanskritized Bengali – but Tagore won the Prize. I also like the idea of the anthem as a prayer instead of one that says, “Better than the entire world is our India.” That sort of thing is best said from a place with a view of the entire world. Like outer space.

In April 1984, when Indira Gandhi asked the first Indian cosmonaut how India looked from outer space, Rakesh Sharma replied, “Saare jahan se accha” (“Better than the entire world”). He was quoting from the opening line of a poem by Muhammad Iqbal, written in the early decades of the freedom movement.

I wonder if Sharma had thought up his reply before Mrs. Gandhi asked her question, or whether it was a spontaneous response, like Neil Armstrong’s words upon making that step/leap off Apollo 11. It doesn’t matter, of course. He said it – and saying it, won the hearts of Indians who were young in that Orwellian year.

Neil Armstrong

I started this blog with a reference to Colombia’s national anthem. When I discovered it back in February, I discovered that the singer Shakira is Colombian. All I knew about her until then was that she had sung “Waka Waka” at the last World Cup. And that I discovered only because a friend’s one-year-old daughter loved the song.

Don’t blame me, reader. I don’t get my kicks from soccer, and in July 2010 I was preparing for England. I didn’t have time for TV. I forced myself to watch the World Cup final only because a Dutch American friend was wearing an orange shirt that morning. He’d dressed his infant son the same, so I naturally asked what it was all about. After staring at me in amazement for several seconds, he told me what it was all about. So to remedy the gap in my education, I turned on the TV that afternoon. After the game was over, I sent him a one-word text: “Sorry.”

No doubt there have been other more beautiful goals in the history of soccer, but I was awestruck by Iniesta’s goal. Not because it won Spain the 2010 Cup (I was going Dutch that day), but because Iniesta kicked the ball, at an angle and past an aggressively positioned opponent, almost instinctively into the net. When I had recovered enough to think, it struck me that behind that two-second piece of action lay years and years of practice.

It was probably less than two seconds, but I like two-second for the wordplay. Having no soccer skills, I can only play on words. And I may not know much about any kind of football, but I know mastery when I see it. Iniesta’s goal was a demonstration of just that, because mastery is doing something so often until you can do it quickly, instinctively, and in less-than-perfect circumstances. And make it look effortless, to boot.

Iniesta goal 2010

My Art in San Francisco, part 2

This is the concluding part of “My Art in San Francisco,” but it’s not the end of the story. My art will go on. (I’m only punning. I’m not trying to evoke the image of Celine Dion singing the Titanic theme in a French accent.)

Like the unnamed protagonist of “Some Sunny Day,” the story I read at Milpitas Library on June 17, my former classmates and I lost track of time while catching up when we met for a girls’ night out last Friday. In fact, we didn’t even go out of Geeta’s house until it was (well past) time to drop Neeraja back. Next morning, grateful that I didn’t have an early flight to New York or Vegas like my friends, I drove to Oakland, where I was spending the weekend. En route I visited the main branch of San Francisco Public Library, which has two copies of my book.

I call myself a writer, but words cannot describe my disappointment to find both copies sitting on the shelf. I thank SFPL for ordering my book, of course, but the copies don’t belong on the shelf. They belong in the hands of readers! I removed duplicate copies of Pioneer Boulevard and every book near it (to make it fair), and took a photo.

Pioneer Boulevard SFPL

To get my books from where they were to where they belong, I considered making an announcement over the PA offering an autographed business card to anyone who’d be willing to borrow my book, but I quickly decided against it. With my luck, everyone would step forward, only to tell me to be quiet.

I returned the duplicate copies to the shelf and began strolling through the E–F aisle in search of a better idea. I tried to make it appear as though I was searching for a book, not a book promo idea. The aisle was deserted so it’s not like anyone was watching me, but I sometimes get this feeling when I’m in a deserted aisle (which would never happen on a deserted isle) that I’m being watched by a hidden camera. I have no kleptomanic tendencies, and the feeling only comes upon me in a library or bookstore, so I must have a subliminal desire to acquire books. Actually, anyone who has helped me move will tell you it’s not subliminal. And now that I’ve given my psychoanalytical reader something to think about (which I try to do in every post), let me finish my story (which, believe it or not, I also try to do in every post).

Before I could reach the G–H aisle, this inspired thought reached me: Why not ask someone to read my book? It would be more personal (and less humiliating) than a PA announcement. I’d attempt to tempt them with a smile and if that didn’t work, I’d use the business card trick.

Sharon Edwards business card

I had only three or four minutes to do the deed because the parking meter was dangerously close to running out, and much as I wanted a reader, I didn’t want a ticket. The parking was steep enough on its own. But everyone in the neighborhood of the fiction aisles was hunched over a newspaper or staring at a computer or snoozing in a comfy chair. No potential reader there. I was about to give up when I saw him standing there. He had headphones on and was browsing through a thick book. The headphones were a bad sign, but the thick book was a very good sign. It meant he was a reader. And it seemed that Dame Luck was smiling at me, because he looked like the kind of guy who’d be tempted by a smile.

Maybe it was the smile. Maybe I convinced him that his life was incomplete without my book. Maybe he felt sorry for me. Either way, when I asked if he’d be willing to check out my book (no pun intended), he said yes, so I led him to the deserted E–F aisleHe was kind enough to pose for a photo while taking a copy off the shelf and also give me permission to post it. And he graciously accepted the autographed business card.

SFPL Patron

His name is Matt. Thanks to him, the shelf had only one copy of my book when I deserted the E–F aisle. And hopefully that’s in another reader’s hands by now.

As I was leaving the library, it occurred to me that my GPS might to not know how to get me out of the downtown maze (it gets lost even in DTLA), so I asked someone for directions. He walked me to my car as he explained the lefts and rights (three times), and since I didn’t have a parking ticket, I asked him to take a photo on my phone. He got down on his knees (because he was as tall as an SF Giant, not because he wanted to give me a ring), and said “Smile big.”

I smiled big. My art was in a San Francisco reader’s hands, and I was on the verge of leaving my heart behind.

Sharon Edwards outside SFPL

My Art in San Francisco, part 1

During my first visit to the US a well-traveled American told me that the two prettiest cities in this country are Washington and San Francisco. I saw the capital that summer and I saw the City by the Bay last week, and the capital doesn’t even come close. I’m sure the capital won’t mind my saying this. It’s where freedom of speech is upheld, after all.

I’d like to say I left my heart in San Francisco, but in one of my favorite posts to date, “Morley, Morley, and More” (February 25), I had said that as a writer I must remain above clichés so let me not stoop now. And anyway, this post is not about my heart. There being no he, I must stick to my art.

Pioneer Boulevard Golden Gate

After months of trying to make the Bay Area trip happen, it worked out suddenly, as these things sometimes happen. On the morning of June 2 I received a message from my friend Neeraja (to whom the post of April 16 is addressed), giving me her Bay Area itinerary. She lives in New Delhi and she’d told me about the trip some months ago, but we didn’t know if our dates would match. Happily they did, so as soon as the clock struck ten (that auspicious hour when libraries open), I began making calls in an attempt to land a reading between June 17 and 21. Being a true friend, Neeraja has often expressed the desire to attend a library reading, and I felt it would make a good gift.

Since becoming an author I have discovered that landing a library reading is, cliché or no cliché, a Herculean feat. It was only love for a childhood friend that compelled me to dial another number whenever a librarian hung up saying “Sorry, we don’t have anything available. Good luck.”

As Dame Luck (that lame duck) would have it, Milpitas was the only library that had something available that week. Naturally I took it. A bird in hand is better than no bird. The same holds true of a nerd, but given the number of Indian techies in the Bay Area, it was disappointing that not one of them showed up at the reading on the 17th. Perhaps this has to do with how the event had been publicized. Or perhaps Indian nerds in the Bay Area don’t want to read about the Indian community of So Cal.

A nerd in hand

Absent nerds notwithstanding, the Milpitas Library reading was special for these reasons:
(i) It was the first reading at which all members of the audience were, like my protagonists, Indian women.
(ii) It was the first time an Indian publisher was present: Neeta Gupta of Yatra Books, New Delhi, who has given me some invaluable help with publishing matters this past year. I had come up with an inscription for her copy in LA, but blanked out while signing it. In the end, I had to ask Neeta for help – and of course she gave it.
(iii) It was the first time I had two former classmates from St. Mary’s, Pune, in the audience. In honor of Neeraja and Geeta, I read an excerpt from “Some Sunny Day,” in which two former classmates from Poona meet again after many years.

Milpitas Library

Some Sunny Day p1

Some Sunny Day p2