Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life – Robert Louis Stevenson
Urma, my protagonist was born the moment I exited Iran – a country that was not my birthplace, and yet my home. The first sketch of Urma was etched on the paper during the summer of 1989 and yet lost in the vagaries of everyday life, as I jostled studies, career, marriage and later motherhood.
It was yet another life changing moment that drove home my father’s advice of following one’s dreams, aspiring and working towards achieving them. Urma, again rose like a phoenix from the tangle of my everyday existence, nurtured by a lot of love, labour and sacrifice. And not to forget the frustration that seemed to stretch till eternity as words eluded me. After five laborious years, the Urma that lived in my mind metamorphed into a novel.
Before delving on the novel itself, I would like to answer a question that I have been often asked i.e. why Iran of all places. My answer is…
I remember walking with my dad, mom & sisters on Pehlvi Street, Tehran eating my favourite – bastani falioda.
I remember our Iranian friends, so very cultured and yet extremely modern.
I remember huge sacs of fresh pistachios that landed at our doorstep by happy patients of father.
I remember the lazy coastal town of Chaloos that I had fallen in love with – one of the most beautiful places with green mountains on one side of the road and caspian on the other.
I love Iran and I have extreme adulation for their culture. That was Iran as it existed and Iranians as I knew them. I wanted people to have a glimpse of that Iran which is only a history today.
Coming to the book, my protagonist Urma Behdad is a strong woman whose life gets unwittingly changed by the course of history. People love and lose yet love again. Only, Urma is different. Her emotional clock stopped with the revolution of Iran as she fled the country without her love. The book traces her life in the backdrop of the revolution.
All my women characters are strong and successful. I believe, strength is inherent to women and I always celebrate being a woman myself. But the world is rife with women who are overburdened with troubles, unfavorable circumstances, lack of opportunities, oppression or external forces like wars etc. I truly believe that a woman has the power of rising above her circumstances. She only needs to reconnect with her inner strength and sometimes one needs a catalyst to do that. Urma, is written with the perspective of providing that inspiration. This book is dedicated to all those Urma’s who have loved and lost and have never found love again!
The manuscript during the publishing phase, reached hands of Gen. Sec. of Urdu Press Club, India and her got my permission to translate it into Urdu with the aim of inspiring many more people. It was done in a record time and a limited edition hard bound was released along with English in India. Urdu Press Club has nominated it for an award to be announced in November.
This is today. But my baby steps towards publication didn’t have only ‘ups’ and smiles.… there have been many ‘downs’ as well! ‘Down’ during my writing phase, when my mind was plagued with writers block and I couldn’t write for weeks. And when I finished writing my novel, the next ‘down’ was the critique from my editor in California giving me a set of instructions that sounded Greek to me as I am an MBA and an advertising professional and not a trained writer. Writing was a need for me. So, I enrolled in the London School of Journalism to make sense of it all and learn the craft of writing. It was a great decision, I think. Then I wrote the drafts again. And was euphoric when my editor gave a go ahead too. Next ‘down’- set of rejections pouring from agents in UK and US with various reasons… either the project was not what they were looking for or the backdrop of Iran was too sensitive for them.
Either way, they were rejections. And then, I decided to print myself. So I did research and self published on Amazon through CreateSpace. Meanwhile I kept querying other publishers from India and around the same time I found a publisher in India, interested in publishing my manuscript but he was not a big publisher to be able to distribute worldwide. Hence, I gave him rights for India and Middle East. I found a distributor locally. So, the books reached the stores and I had a great launch in India with well-known dignitaries and in Dubai by the Indian Consul to UAE and well received. Book signing and road shows waiting in September. For me, a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing turned out to be a great learning experience. Being a control freak, in publishing also, I am taking baby steps – so, I am focusing on local market and India for now. I gave up looking for a publisher in UK and US as the markets are out of reach for me. I am still querying for an agent, and unless I find a good agent to represent me, I will not touch other markets. I will visit Women Fiction Writers conference in Matera to find agents for publishing it in Italian.
I believe in ‘today’ and what fuels my drive is my fear of the line -‘if tomorrow never comes’ and this keeps me going. I try to pack as much as I can in my ‘today’.
Deeba breathes advertising during the day and writes at night. She lives in Dubai, UAE with her husband, three kids and one hyperactive Maltese. She spent her childhood in Iran, where her father worked as an ENT surgeon. She has first-hand experience of the Shah’s reign and the Iranian revolution. This gives her a unique sense of perspective into the events that unfolded and of course having lived in Iran, she has had the chance of closely observing the Iranian society and its culture.
A day at a time
I soak and feel.
A moment shared
what a steal.
I see you there
with a tear in your hand.
I look at you and across
I turn away to pass
yet you hold
you – my yesterday.
So I say,
Once my tomorrow,
and then my today
just my yesterday.
Didn’t I tie you too to that pier?
You, but you did break alas,
To reach you,
I need to blend to yesterday.
So I stand affirm
for tomorrow that
await too, to melt to yesterday!
Basking in the memory
I stroll for a mile
head bent low
yet a faded smile
at the corner of my lips
and an arch on my brow
Leaves changed, green to yellow
yellow to orange and back to green
mono to dialogue to conversations
black to red my hair, though nothing lack
I walk picking stones that before I have seen
am I retracing or going farther away
reach out and hold my capricious heart
and turn away, away from that insipid shack
Life is handed to us in waves,
alternating high and low.
my heart soared
and now back at equilibrium.
A tender calm.
No more screams within.
when heartbeat is in sync
with the mind.
The breath is deep
and slow and I can feel it
complementing my heartbeat.
A tender yet rare serene moment
to focus on my internal peace.
Before life hits
the next high or a low again.
A moment to re-connect with my soul.
I live it, lest this too shall pass!
This moment floats over each one of us
once in a while,
and it’s up to us to relish or to relinquish!
Opulence of inner peace
is a state of perfection
set by our own mind
I want to evolve today
I hold myself
embrace and caress
my own mind
Life feels too short
Today maybe forever
Forever may never be
So I ignite a thought
soak self with hues
within and all around
a state of peace
not just perceived
believed with here and now
Till I completed my novel URMA, I was sure of having spent my entire childhood in Iran, a country I have extreme adulation for. This is a given I grew up with. And then, came questions for interviews and I had to answer questions about my childhood never raised before. Never had to be answered accurately. I remember my parents returned when I had completed 12th and I came to India when I was in year 4. I left India when I was in year 1. Other than this, I did not calculate much. Was never needed. Never thought numbers were of any importance. But when I counted years on my fingers, they didn’t seem as much as I had always felt them to be. I was confused, yet I brushed it aside. Then, a dear friend shot me point blank saying what are you talking so much about your childhood in Iran? Count on your fingers and they aren’t even double figures. After all, you stayed 3 years initially and then if you calculate all holidays together – still they do not add up to a double figure. I didn’t have much to offer in explanation. I just let it pass. But I couldn’t take it off my mind. I just couldn’t detach. It was like a bullet had hit right through my heart. No one had ever questioned my devotion to the country I love. I had never questioned so much myself as to why I had such feelings myself, right up till that moment.
But my friend was right in a sense. For a normal human being it might not be such a big deal as may be it was in my case. A few things are extremely personal. And one does not want to justify them either. However, it just weighs too much on your heart to let it pass.
I know of one of our Iranian friend who got married to an Indian and stays in India now with her sons. Though she is an Iranian herself, her sons do not speak Persian and I do not think, visited Iran again. I would think, and maybe I am wrong, do not have any memories of Iran though they also spent childhood in Iran and their own mother is Iranian. Why me then? I wondered. I sat and revisited my childhood again. I was restless and I needed an answer for my own peace.
I got an answer in my childhood, in the way I was separated from my parents. I read a lot after my friend had posed that question to me and had added to it that I do not remember such details of that age. I read research papers on childhood memory and amnesia and its clear that a child’s earliest memories can be way back till the age of 3 years and prior to that is called childhood amnesia. Also, it’s an individual capacity to remember specific details. Another factor is gender. Females score higher on details remembered. More important is the parent-child relationship.
I sat and thought with a heavy heart. A part of me that I had killed and buried, I revisited. All my holidays spent in mountains of Iran. I remember a car journey of over a 1000 km every holiday. The rest of the days in India, I would only strike the days off the calendar to go back again. We as a family were extremely influenced by Iran’s culture. When we returned, the culture was kept alive in our home. My sister who was born in Iran, but brought-up in India, speaks Persian fluently. We mostly speak Persian at home. Mom prepares Persian food at home and the only anecdotes and stories we have heard are those of Iran and Iranians. You can call it obsession or whatever. We truly are a unique lot, I must say and my husband is a witness to it and I am sure, it took him a while to adjust to us. Now he also speaks a few phrases of Persian and we eat the Persian food. Not only that, my daughter has a fancy for the language and is learning from me because she is fascinated when I speak with my sister and mom and she wants to join the conversation. And all this happened much before my novel, URMA took shape.
Today, I come across as an extrovert. I remember that I was depressed as a child. Then, couple of years back, I dug my old diaries and stumbled upon one which was dated 1989 and in that, besides the pages of Urma dated back then, I found a part of me. It was like re-introduction with my old self. I had been so depressed that I had no hope from my life. Life really is like waves – low and high, low and high again.
In my diary, I found a child who found the most beautiful life and just when it was perfect, it got snatched away from her. I found a child who scribbled with that state of mind. Being an obedient child, she could not express her displeasure. She adapted. After every summer holiday she returned to the country to attend school without her family and without her sisters. That pain can be only experienced and not expressed. And again, this is different to different people. One might not be so affected. I had forgotten how affected I was – till I found myself in those pages dated back, in 1984, 1986, 1989.
Grandparents were never harsh, they were wonderful and the most loving people one could imagine and I was under the best care possible. Will be indebted for all the values they have ingrained in me. However, here we are talking of an internal vacuum for parental love alone that cannot be compensated by anything else.
I hope someday my friend reads this and realizes that one discussion raised a tsunami of questions in my mind and I couldn’t concentrate on anything till I satisfied my quest for my past.
I also learnt, love and attachments do not have a reason and one should topple things in the way trying to justify them. What is, will remain – etched. We just select a part of our memory – a drop at a time. Sometimes a part that soothes us and at others a part that perturbs us. That’s how sometimes we have happy dreams and at others nightmares.
May we have lovely dreams ahead to cherish and look back upon 10 years hence?
(P.S.: Images are not mine and courtesy image owners and for illustration purposes only)
A voice in my ears…
a thump in my heart
an aura around
yet all hazy
right from the start.
Yet was mendable
I saw its gleam
and felt salvo in my veins.
But was anything ever there?
or was it only in my tears?
Did anything ever exist ?
or only in my mind it persist?
I raise my hand
and close my eyes
and I feel it there…
But that is all,
I chose to live with.
Vague halos, vague forms
That is all…
yet that’s more than a myth…
A mind form complete
for an elusive me.
Floating in the sky
From ground zero straight up high
Palms facing up, head held high
Smog all around
Till I entered the clouds
As I stretched my empty hands
As all was lost
Finger tips ached to hold
Yet were left empty to fold
I opened my eyes and felt
Reality is far too cold
From straight up high
Back to ground zero in rain
Euphoria is over
Time to peg away again
Sick of pointee that I’m in clover!