Our host on this wine tour was GB. As we boarded the bus for our return home, my husband Ben was telling him about my new poetry podcast and GB said I should talk to the man sitting on the bus seat directly in front of us. "He has written a book."
His name was Manish Nandy. Ben graciously exchanged seats with him, and I found myself face to face with a distinguished Indian man a decade or so older than myself, dressed in a crisp cream shirt. He had a gentle, intelligent and discerning expression. I felt immediately at home with him and interested in anything he had to say.
|My new friend Manish Nandy, taken during our first conversation|
By way of example, he then recounted one of the stories from his book, which involved an exchange with a waiter and a meal he'd had on a boat which had been converted into a fish restaurant in Abu Dhabi. It was a delightful story. After hearing it, I told him about my poetry podcast -which has many listeners in India. In fact, I told him, the following week, I intended to record a selection from the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, requested by one of my listeners. Our conversation moved on from Tagore to John Donne to poetry recitation in general, and before we knew it we'd arrived at our destination.
Manish and I parted with joy and a sense of awe. We were thrilled to have made such a surprising connection with each other. I promised to send him the Tagore translation I planned to read. We subsequently had a fascinating email exchange - culminating in his sending me his own translation of the Tagore selection, along with the original Bengali poem. I then shared this with my dear friend Ananya, also a Bengali speaker. Since a full explanation is a bit too complicated to go into, let me just add that when I got home, I immediately ordered Manish's book. It arrived a few days later, and I was instantly captivated by its charm and poignancy.
One of the stories in his book which touched my heart is entitled "Somebody Waited." It's about a man who, without explanation, left a woman he deeply loved. He had a few other fleeting relationships later, but none with the resonance of this abandoned relationship. Some years later, when he was on his way to Madrid, this man suddenly realized a painful truth. Nobody else had cared what he did or where he was. Certainly nobody had cared like this woman. So on a whim, he decided to contact his long lost love. He told her that since leaving her, his life had been a waste. He had accomplished nothing and made no real difference to anybody. Hearing him out, she begged him to cut his travels short. Visit her instead. She begged him not to take his flight to Madrid.
But the man was a fraud. After putting down the phone, he decided he would not visit her. Instead, he shamefully allowed her to wait for him indefinitely. "It was enough for me that somebody was waiting for me," he said. "I could go on and leave her in peace."
In another story, Manish writes about Auden and Yeats - "Do what Yeats did," he urges. "Sing of human unsuccess/ in a rapture of distress. Sing of your sorrow, write of your misery, but do it with verve and spirit, without shame and apology, know it to be a shared story of the human lot. And let others join in."
I can hardly wait to see where our conversations about Rabindranath Tagore and my own shared stories of the human lot will go from here. Manish Nandy's book The Stranger In My Home is full of sorrow and lost opportunity, but it's also full of joy, and because it is a shared story of the human lot it has enormous potential to accompany, comfort and enlighten all who read it.
|Lost Creek Winery in Leesburg Virginia|