A Christmas Miracle

Christmas holds a warm place in my heart because of the tradition from the school days. I went to a Christian school (people’s words not mine) and every year students take part in the Christmas play which is basically staging the nativity scene. It was followed a long Christmas vacation. One time I essayed the role of a sheep and boy wasn’t I happy to be an animal on stage. Happiness didn’t cost much then. Those were good times.

One never has to go too far to look for a miracle. A stranger helped me meet Ruskin Bond which was my very own Christmas miracle. I could never have imagined meeting him in my wildest dreams that too here in my hometown.  It was  a few days before Christmas and just like any other cold winter day. Somehow even old crusty me can’t call what happened a coincidence.

When I found out Mr Bond would be gracing a literary festival in the city I asked my sister to ask her friend who studied in the institution which was organizing it to inquire about the system of entry of non-school students. Her friend told her to tell me to gatecrash the event because it isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you it was a big deal. Clearly her friend doesn’t read many books. The guard at the door wasn’t budging if you weren’t in a uniform or didn’t have a pass. I asked on the festival’s online page and wrote an email asking if there’s a way for people like us to meet and greet (their phrase) Ruskin Bond but there was no response. So I just decided to land up at the venue which was quite unlike me. It was at the other end of the city but I was by my parents told to give it a try in spite of my illness, and I did just that.

Why would a stranger, who has never seen you before in her life, cared if you meet (or didn’t meet) Mr Ruskin Bond. And what are the odds that the stranger was dressed like you and lived in the same locality as you. And someone who wore the adjective bookish like a badge of honour. It was like at first sight. She was wearing a kurti in the same shade of green I was, it was the same length as mine and we had the same hair style even. Had I been plump like I’m now and not leaner like I was then, we really would have looked like two peas in a pod. (I just wanted to use the phrase.) Not believable? But then truth is stranger than fiction. The similarities end here. Unlike garrulous me she prefers silence.

She helped me realize my lifelong dream of seeing Ruskin Bond in flesh and blood with my very own eyes. Had I reached a minute before or a minute later, our paths wouldn’t have crossed. Should I call it destiny, fate, coincidence, serendipity or just my luck? I could have been a serial bomber for all she knew, wanting to go inside the venue to blow it up into smithereens but didn’t have a pass (obviously). Perhaps she could see in me the same thing which had brought her there, a love for the written word and the worlds created by Mr Bond and a fervent desire to hear the man whose words were synonymous with our childhood. Any interaction was the cherry on top of a richly iced cake. At the last minute when he was leaving I was egged on my another young friend to go and get my book signed. And that’s how I spoke two sentences to him. I wasn’t going because everywhere he was surrounnded by hordes of school students or posing for group photographs.  Mr Ruskin Bond exudes warmth and generosity. He actually had twinkling eyes that we read about in books. Larger than life yet down to earth. Yes I’m gushing. I was over the moon.

This holiday season spread good cheer, it is infectious. And when you feel too lonely, remember solitude and loneliness are two sides of the same coin.

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Thoughts on Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is an epistolary novel co-authored by Rachel Cohn  and David Levithan. Their earlier collaborations include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi and Eli’s No Kiss List, which caters to teens, just like this one. The cover was appealing but a bit too cutesy for its own good. Heart shaped snowflakes really? But don’t let it deceive you. It is not just a Christmas romance though it is set during Christmas  in Manhattan, when there is snow in the air and good cheer.

It is alternatively narrated by Lily (written by Rachel Cohn) and Dash (written by David Levithan). Dash and Lily  write dares and  thoughts in a red Moleskine notebook which Dash finds next to Lily’s favourite author (which also happens to be his) while perusing through the books in Strand Book Store (yes the one and only). The idea was devised by Langston (named after  Langston Hughes), Lily’s older brother so that she finds someone to share her Christmas excitement with (she loves Christmas like only children can and she is not a child so that does make it a little odd) as he will be busy with his boyfriend and their parents will be out of town.

Lily is a shy teenager, good at football and overprotected by her family. She does not fit in and has no friends at school though her lovable extended family more than make up for it. Her cousin Mark and Great Aunt Ida make for great secondary characters and play a significant role in safeguarding the notebook.

Lily’s notebook is picked up by Dash who hates the idea of Christmas. He is an introvert and comfortable in his own company. A child of divorce, he’s used to taking care of himself and guards his solitude fiercely. Dash’s best friend  Boomer, is overexcited and overeager (for his age) not unlike a toddler on a sugar rush providing us with many funny moments. I thought theirs would be an unlikely friendship but they complement each other well. Yin and Yang.

Through impossible dares Dash and Lily accept, designed to push themselves out of their comfort zones, they see new sides to themselves. They grow  together  and confide their innermost longings to each other in a notebook. Sharing a common ground with an anonymous if not nameless but faceless stranger can be a powerful connection. Would it have been better (read more acceptable) if they had done it face to face or had it been a conversation on the phone? It isn’t the mode of communication that matters but the connection. Or is it just plain idiocy trusting someone’s words, someone whom you have never seen or met, in this age of dishonesty? It’s Kali Yuga after all.

Here the the barriers in real everyday life appear to dissolve and the playing field is vast. I mean anyone could have picked up that notebook.  It goes on to show how we box ourselves and allow others to pigeonhole us, put labels, when we can go beyond it and be so much more alive.

Lily and Dash are book nerds hence the usage of words isn’t what would constitute normal teenage banter. Nevertheless the writing is contemporary although you might feel out of your element (read bored) if you don’t share their love for words. Take a look at these lines:

“I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.” 
“I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable.”

“We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn’t trust a bookstore, what could you trust?

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