Quote

"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fate? Coincidence? And who are you climbing trees with this week?

Last summer, I attended my very first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was exciting, fun, inspiring, and totally exhausting. By the time I crashed into bed, I was so full of all that had happened during the day that my mind continued to buzz all night long and I barely got any sleep. I met people who came from all over the world. I heard many different languages being spoken among conference attendees. Thanks to that, and to the genuinely friendly atmosphere, I felt totally at ease, and that's rare enough to be mentioned, as I'm at my most awkward in big groups and crowds.

Where is this going, you ask? Well, on the second evening of the peer critique group session, I arrived a few minutes late and was shown two tables where I could sit. I hesitated a fraction of a second and chose the second one. I sat as discreetly as I could and took out my manuscript. After a few seconds, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was staring at the address at the top of my first page. I looked at her and found her eyeing me with an air that was part unbelieving part suspicious.

She: "You live in Hyderabad?"
Me: "Yes."
She: "Hyderabad, India?"
Me: "Yes." (starting to think : so what's wrong with that?)
She: "That's my hometown!"
Me, eyes now wide open: "Really ?"
You can imagine the rest.

Coincidence? Fate? Just another proof that our world is so much smaller than we imagine it to be? I'm not a religious person, but I believe in signs, in life sending us signals and even tests. And I don't believe in coincidence, not this type of coincidence anyway. What where the odds that I, currently living in a south Indian city, would sit next to THE person (out of the 600 + attendees) who grew up in that same city, at a children's writers' conference in Los Angeles, California, half a world away? And that it would be precisely at a peer critique group where she was bound to see my address on the first page of the manuscript ? I mean, I sat next to a lot of people at that conference, and we sometimes exchanged a few words, but my situation is so complicated - French and Spanish, writes in English, lives in India, currently vacationing in Florida in order to see my husband's family as the situation in Haiti no longer permits that we travel there with our small children... stop to catch my breath - that I usually chose to give a short cut or it would have taken too long to explain it all within the few seconds or minutes we had between talks or riding the elevator. The way I see it? Life, destiny, wanted me to meet this new friend.

Anyway, Rilla came to Hyderabad to visit family over Christmas, and we saw each other. We ended up climbing the very old Golconda fortification walls at sunrise AND a very tricky, slippery 500-year-old African Baobab tree that I had been unsuccessfully trying to locate for some time. We had an absolute ball, and here we are, in the early Hyderabad morning light, talking, talking, talking :
And my point? Well, I just love that story so much that I can't resist telling it over and over again. And because I just LOVE it when life sends me surprises like that. I consider them an invaluable gift. Because even though Rilla is part American part Indian living now in California, and I'm part French part Spanish living now in India, even though our backgrounds differ quite a lot - our childhoods couldn't have been more different, even if she also read in the dark at night - we share a common passion for writing. We both have an interest in multicultural themes and issues. And I think that we all need to meet, talk and laugh with people who come from different backgrounds - social, religious, racial, etc - and chances are we'd better understand how we can all get along.

At that same conference, one of the authors who really stood out for me was Jacqueline Woodson. The world needs more authors like her, who actively seek not only to denounce, but also to bridge the gap between people. She gave a great presentation, and read her last picture book SHOW WAY. It was so beautiful I had tears in my eyes. Someone asked her a question : "Do you think there are still fences in America today?" She was referring to JW's picture book THE OTHER SIDE, where two girls living in a segregated town strike a friendship in spite of the fences that separate their worlds.
Jacqueline Woodson's answer (I quote from memory, so if anyone who was there reads this and thinks that some words are not exactly the ones she used, please, don't sue me :) : "If you haven't had dinner with a black person or a mixed race person at least once in the past week, then, I'd say there are still fences in America today."
How simple, and yet, how very powerful ! Can the whole world do that ? Make sure that we have dinner - or climb trees - with people from a different race and/or religion, and/or sexual inclination... at least once a week ?


3 comments:

Rilla said...

Hey Katia,
Just read your latest. Actually, my first words were more like, 'how dare you live in my hometown!' I was sure you had that address wrong, I mean, come on, here I am in LA, at a conference of many hundreds and a woman with blue eyes and blonde hair and a French accent sits down beside me from nowhere and tells me she lives in my hometown back in India that never used to be on the map! You know, you say 'I'm from Hyderabad,' and people nod and smile and kind of sidle away from you! Well, serendipity was at its best wasn't it, that magical evening in LA? I now have a whole new reason to look forward to visiting home. It was so lovely to share one of the places I loved, growing up, with you, mosquitos and all. Let's do it again. Wish you were coming to LA this year. And thanks for getting me involved in this blogger business ;) Rilla

Rilla said...

Let me clarify. It wasn't so much 'how dare you live in my hometown' as 'how dare you say you live in my hometown, because clearly that is impossible!' ha ha

Katia Novet Saint-Lot said...

Ha, you are right, Rilla, I'd forgotten about the pesty-pesky mosquitoes ! I mean, it was COLD, AND and there were zillions of mosquitoes. No matter, I can't wait for you guys to come back so we can go visit some new old place at 5 in the morning.
As for Hyderabad, it's getting more and more on the map. No longer the small town you grew up in, as you well know.
Katia