Shikhandin: Holding that Moonbeam in Your Hand

Shikhandin was one of the winners of the Children First contest run by Parag, an initiative of the Tata Trusts, Vidyasagar School, Chennai and Duckbill Books. The purpose of this contest was to publish more stories about kids with special needs. Her picture book, Vibhuti Cat, is illustrated by Shubham Lakhera. 

Ideas are free floating, sentient beings. They cannot, should not, be owned. They can spring like a sudden jungle leopard or leap up like a geyser from cracked volcanic rock. They can drop on your head like a careless crow’s poop or knock you over like an unseen poltergeist’s lobbed missile.

Ideas are proud creatures. They won’t hang around for your head to clear up so you can comprehend them fully. Nor will they wait for your hands to unlock from your chores so you can capture them in words. You’ve got to pick up your pen or hit the computer keyboard and put them down, just as they are, right away.

Ideas arrive in myriad shapes, colours and forms. They either can be noisy or insist on communicating in sign language. You can’t always get what the idea is trying to say immediately. For they can be vague and eccentric. Even play hide-and-seek. Or appear and disappear like a will-o-the-wisp. At times they sidle up and tap on your shoulder, but run off too fast for you to turn around and catch them.

Ideas are naughty and stubborn. They’d rather tickle your mind and create unrest and lead you round the nose than let themselves be quietly taken. When you see that string floating past from the corner of your eye. Act fast. Grab it, and hold on to the kite. Lovely picture isn’t it, of the idea as a loose kite? Holding it is easier said than done. But once you do the rewards are good. The best part being, while you cannot own an idea, the product of it–the story, article, poem or play–is yours, copyrighted to you.

Writers have their own individual tricks. Bags of them. Most common being the trusty notebook. Light and pocketable. Fits into a lady’s purse just as easily. The only catch is if you have terrible handwriting (like mine for instance), you may not be able to decipher what you’ve scribbled in haste. If you’re at home, you can keep your laptop or desktop running, and a file open for any ideas. Some writers have scrapbooks, in which they collect not just words and descriptions, but also photographs and drawings, and label them too. A few, the most organised writers I’m guessing, actually keep them filed and stored in a cabinet. Can you imagine that? A whole cabinet full, and jostling with ideas?

The trick is to nab ’em and bag ’em. How you do it is up to you, including your choice of bag.

I wonder though, whether writers remember the source of their inspirations. Ideas come from somewhere. Usually a place of impactful emotion. Sometimes the source can be a wonderful story in itself. Or even a sensation so strong and vivid that every time you feel it the idea resonates all around you. But more often than not, we tend to forget the source, so caught up do we become with the crafting of the creative piece.

Forgetting can be a good thing, especially if the idea comes from pain, sorrow, an unsavoury occurrence. Writers fashion fresh things and worlds from words. That is how the old continues to stay alive–reworked into something new. Not as something necessarily related to the source though. The source or origin becomes immaterial anyway, once the new work begins to breathe.

Sometimes the idea may come from an incident so full of sweetness that you never want to let go of the origins, even when your story or poem is done. Forgetting is not an option. The idea, having inspired your creative work, demands to live on in your heart; a vivid picture or a clear sound, powerful in its ability to touch the heart again and again. My story, Vibhuti Cat, was one such idea for me.

I have not always been privileged enough to remember where my story came from. Having done its job of inspiring, an idea may disintegrate like an iridescent soap bubble. But Vibhuti Cat’s origins will live within me forever. I don’t remember the date, but the day is bright before me now, as it is every time I dip into my mental album.

The heroes of my story are two little bright-eyed boys, the younger of whom goes to a school for special children. He paints and draws with a gusto that would make Vincent Van Gogh smile with approval. His school held an exhibition once of their students’ paintings. That’s where I saw Vibhuti Cat for the first time. My little hero’s teacher proudly explained to me that her ward was very particular about putting vibhuti on his cat’s forehead and white socks on its paws; the rest of the body could have other colours, but these two were constant. I stood before the original Vibhuti Cat for a long time. I returned home feeling that I had been touched by something.

Maybe someday I will put together a scrapbook of the stories behind the ideas. Vibhuti Cat, of course, will lead the lot. That’s something I savour in my heart, like a cat after a saucer licked clean of cream!





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