The question came out of the blue. “How do we know that the changes you suggest are the best possible changes?” And the question was dipped in teen scorn.
I could sense the teacher, my facilitator for that workshop, bristling at the questioner’s temerity. I motioned her to remain seated. After all, I was the coach, the expert who had travelled all the way to help the students and teachers of the school write better English. Surely, I could handle this?
Some 15 minutes earlier, they had all sauntered in, noticed a stranger with their teacher, deposited their bags and extracted a notebook. While I was being introduced with teacherly gravitas, some 20 pairs of eyes beamed two clear questions at me. “What are you doing here?” “What are we doing here?”
It took a while but I managed to get the notebooks closed and the pens put away.
Most of my jokes ended up wriggling on the floor having bashed their heads against a still-standing wall, but a few managed to loosen some bricks and reveal some smiles. More importantly, I discovered some writers.
“That’s a very good question,” I said, although a good answer was nowhere in sight. Then I took the safe route and smashed it right back! “Would any of you like to answer that question?”
One hand was already up, much to my relief. It was the quiet poet.
“I don’t think there is something like the best in writing,” she declared. “You express what you are feeling or what you want to say. It is your expression. Maybe someone can do it better. Maybe on another day you will do it better if you try again.”
“But who is to judge what is best?” a would-be journalist questioned. “You may love what you have written, but the reader may not. Or you may write something that is ordinary and the readers may make it a best seller.”
“I think best is relative.” This was from someone who had confessed to loathe “pointless” writing. “You may like it today, hate it tomorrow. Your readers may not appreciate it today; and when you are dead, someone might discover the relevance of your work.”
Wow! It was turning out to be some debate. While the teacher helped to keep things civil, I tried to ensure the punches were legal. Somewhere along, I inserted a few words about my role as a coach—understand what they wanted to say and help them put it in a manner that was clear, convincing and interesting to the reader. Probably that little pitch did not survive the heat of the debate.
Don't correct, don't read
At the end of the session, the teacher summoned the boy who had thrown the tricky question. Was she planning to take him to task? Before she could say anything, I shook his hand and thanked him for initiating a very interesting debate. There was no stopping the teacher. “So, did you get the answer to the question?” It was a hostile question. Thankfully, he did not bite. He looked her in the eye and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
The three of us walked out of the class together. The teacher was headed elsewhere and directed the student to walk with me to the room where a group of teachers were waiting for my next session. She made it sound like a punishment.
We started walking in silence. “I am writing a novel,” he announced without any preamble. Surprise!
But I just nodded by head as I felt there was more coming. “The teachers correct whatever I write. And I must change it, whether I like it or not.” I was surprised at the intensity of his emotion. “The novel is mine. No one will change it. I don’t care if no one reads it.”
I jumped at that chance. “I would love to read it. When it is ready and only if you don’t mind. And I can assure you I am not interested in correcting it.”
He stopped near a room, my destination. He stood there facing me, running his fingers through the straps of his bag.
“You promise?” he asked. “You will not correct?”
“I don’t have the time to correct everything I read,” I replied earnestly. Unintentionally, I ended up mocking his serious tone.
He smiled bashfully and then asked for my email ID. I gave that and quickly walked into the room.
The waiting teachers must have wondered what this guy was grinning about. They didn’t know that I had just uncovered a stone and I had a strong feeling it would turn out to be precious.