Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To write or not to write

'Oh have you heard, the famous Hong Kong comedy king Stephen Chow, he used to sell vegetables in a market!' my mom-in-law chirped, her sudden revelation jolted me out of the disheartening monologue I was incessantly having with my down-trodden dream.

Unbeknownst to them, I catch more than I listen. I catch messages behind words spoken, looks exchanged, behaviours displayed, and habits repeated.

I turned to my husband and gave him a weak smile. 'I guess the fastest way to recognition, fame and riches is through the entertainment industry - because you get thrown in the public's eye through frequent and broad media coverage.'

I pondered if I should make a quick inroad into fame through other means or simply stay true to my inner desire: write.

I am at the crossroad of a very significant and eventful year coming to an end of its term and a brand new year of relatively bleak economic prospects. The present year has been significant because the journey to my undergraduate studies undertaken two years ago is coming to completion and I have been faring well; I toiled through a year of routine, manual and uninspiring work, no matter how I tried to vary my daily tasks and force-dosing myself with spurts of joy and gratitude; I desperately needed to shed some pounds and successfully turned myself into a fitnes junkie, jogging 5 times a week and swimming 4 times week, shedding 8 kilos in 6 months, and boosted my frailing self esteem; I developed closer friendships with wonderful people in church who have now become my constant suppy of love, joy, support and deep-bellied laughters, Jason's love so overwhelms me I could count with my 5 fingers the few occasions I cried painfully; and finally, a recent participation in a talentime competition got me and my 2 lovely girlfriends a measure of fame and recognition, such that we are now deciding if we should pursue our acoustic singing career seriously and professionally.

Remembering the many rags-to-riches and lousy-to-celebrity stories I hear and read so much about, I resolute to take a different path next year. Except that next year is only a month away. Which means my time is running short. I do not want to squirm around in mud and wallow in darkness no more.

Writing has always served as an objective outlet for me. Bottled up frustrations translate themselves into words that upon second and more reading, could potentially be useful as antidotes and encouragement to others in the form of autobiography upon publication.

Writing releases me to feel and express myself fully and easily, with no fear nor apprehension, because I let myself loose. Like an unbridled horse cut loose to run freely in the open plains, so is my being liberated on paper.

Yet many a times I find myself not knowing how to begin or where to begin writing.

Thus Joyce Carol Oates liberated my frustration, when I read this in her book, "The Faith of a Writer" (pp. 52):

"The writer, however battered a veteran, can't have any real faith, any absolute faith, in his stamina to get him through the ordeal of creating, to the plateau of creation. One is frequently asked whether the process becomes easier, with the passage of time, and the reply is obvious: Nothing gets easier with the passage of time, not even the passing of time.

The artist, perhaps more than most people, inhabits failure, degrees of failure and accommodation and compromise."

I am but human, and I am, as always, searching, for the right words.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Morning hawker fare

I like being here in the morning. To sit in the midst of a quaint hawker centre, bustling with the breakfast crowd. Though the air smelled bad; an uneasy mix of stale foul air from yesterday’s poultry meat and today's breakfast like bread, rice, bak kut tea, wanton noodles, fried fritters and oh, coffee and tea; it is made pleasant by the hustle of human activity that greets a mundane work morning.

The hawker centre however is kept cool (temperature) by the many fans lined up along the age-stained, yellow walls – every piece of furniture you see in this place speaks of an era preserved by our fathers of times past for the current generation of comfort-seeking individuals.

Yet it is this harmonious blend of old and new, past and present, that instinctively evokes a certain gratitude this beautiful Thursday morning, bringing to remembrance the importance of taking in every day as a gift in itself and desiring peace among brothers, families and strangers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

In loving memory - Adeline

9 Sep 1970 - 9 Dec 2008

The beauty of life lies not just in the living, but the cause fought for while living. I believe Adeline fought hard to live well, well above her circumstances. May she be a testimony to those who know her, of our need to live life on the line of gratitude every single day and moment.

Friday, December 05, 2008

A survivor's account of the Mumbai terrorist attack

Courage in the face of extreme danger - see especially the last paragraph...

Straits Times – Dec 5, 2008

'I hid in toilet stall for 7 hours'
American Michael Pollack was having dinner in the Taj Mahal Hotel with his wife when attackers struck. He gives one of the first comprehensive accounts to emerge of the terrifying hours that followed. This is an excerpt from his story published by Forbes.

MUMBAI: My wife Anjali and I were married in the Taj's Crystal Ballroom. Her parents were married there, too, and so were Shiv and Reshma, the couple with whom we had dinner plans.

The four of us arrived at the Taj around 9.30pm for dinner at the Golden Dragon. We were a little early, and our table wasn't ready. So we walked next door to the Harbour Bar and had barely begun to enjoy our beers when the host told us our table was ready. We decided to stay and finish our drinks.

Thirty seconds later, we heard what sounded like a heavy tray smashing to the ground. This was followed by 20 or 30 similar sounds and then, absolute silence. We crouched behind a table just feet away from who we now knew were gunmen. Terrorists had stormed the lobby and were firing indiscriminately.

We tried to break the glass window in front of us with a chair, but it wouldn't budge. The Harbour Bar's hostess, who had remained at her post, motioned to us that it was safe to make a run for the stairwell. We believed this courageous woman was murdered after we ran away.

We took refuge in the small office of the kitchen of another restaurant, Wasabi, on the second floor. Its chef and staff served the four of us food and drink and even apologised for the inconvenience we were suffering.

Through text messaging, e-mail on BlackBerrys and a small TV in the office, we realised the full extent of the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We figured we were in a secure place for the moment. There was also no way out.

At around 11.30pm, the kitchen went silent. We took a massive wooden table and pushed it up against the door, turned off all the lights and hid. All of the kitchen workers remained outside; not one staff member had run.

The terrorists repeatedly slammed against our door. We heard them ask the chef in Hindi if anyone was inside the office. He responded calmly: 'No one is in there. It's empty.'

That was the second time the Taj staff saved our lives.

After about 20 minutes, other staff members escorted us down a corridor to an area called The Chambers, a members-only area of the hotel. There were about 250 people in six rooms.

Inside, the staff was serving sandwiches and alcohol. We were told The Chambers was the safest place because the army was now guarding its two entrances and the streets were still dangerous.

But then, an MP phoned into a live newscast and let the world know that hundreds of people were 'secure and safe in The Chambers together'.

At around 2am, the staff attempted an evacuation. We all lined up to head down a dark fire escape exit. But after five minutes, grenade blasts and automatic weapon fire pierced the air. A mad stampede ensued to get out of the stairwell and take cover back inside The Chambers.

After that near-miss, my wife and I decided we should hide in different rooms. While we hoped to be together at the end, our primary obligation was to our children. We wanted to keep one parent alive.

Because I am American and my wife is Indian, and news reports said the terrorists were targeting Americans and Britons, I believed I would further endanger her life if we were together in a hostage situation. So when we ran back to The Chambers, I hid in a toilet stall with a floor-to-ceiling door and my wife stayed with our friends, who fled to a large room across the hall.

For the next seven hours, I lay in the fetal position, keeping in touch with Anjali via BlackBerry. I was joined in the stall by Joe, a Nigerian with a US green card. I managed to get in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and several agents gave me status updates throughout the night.

After our failed evacuation, most of the people in the fire escape stairwell and many staff members who attempted to protect the guests were shot and killed.

The 10 minutes around 2.30am were the most frightening. Rather than the back-and-forth of gunfire, we just heard single, punctuated shots.

We later learnt that the terrorists went along a different corridor of The Chambers, room by room, and systematically executed everyone: women, elderly, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners. It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.

The next five hours were filled with the sounds of an intense grenade/gun battle between the Indian commandos and the terrorists. By the time dawn broke, the commandos had successfully secured our corridor.

A young commando led out the people packed into Anjali's room. When one woman asked whether it was safe to leave, the commando replied: 'Don't worry, you have nothing to fear. The first bullets have to go through me.'

Anjali and I embraced for the first time in seven hours at the Taj's ground-floor entrance. I didn't know whether she was dead or injured because we hadn't been able to text for the past three hours.

Some may say our survival was due to random luck, others may credit divine intervention. But I can assure you only one thing: Far fewer people would have survived if it weren't for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organised us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us.