Subhadra and I met decades ago as starter writers. Actually, creative people consider themselves starters all their lives. But Subhadra and I were also caught up at that time in the excitement of writing about us, about our India. No longer did publishers want us to imitate Enid Blyton or Angela Brazil. We could be us, unabashedly.
So Subhadra evolved, writing about the adventure that our India is – a festival of mixed-upness, of fables, smells, scents, legends, common sense, of profound thinking. I knew that Subhadra did extensive research, but her writing was never smudged with jargon and data. Her work was as clear as rain washed petals, fresh, heart-warming.
One of the first stories I read of hers, was about a red crow. This was many, many years ago. I remember I teased her about it; I was older, senior, I sniffed at it. I remember the hurt on her face, and I carried that face in my memory for many years – a cut in my mind. We lost contact with each other. I had moved away from Delhi geographically and emotionally. From remote districts across Karnataka, with almost no phone connections, no internet those days, and a tardy postal system, I got glimpses of Subhadra’s work, of how she was transforming India’s fabled past into a living, pulsating presence — Emperor Akbar a familiar next-door neighbour, our Constitution as comfortable as a favourite pillow.
Subhadra told her young readers of who they truly were – a fascinating smorgasbord of rajma chawal, mutton biriyani, kakori kababs, bondas and curd rice, a glorious culinary mixed-upness.
Then about five years ago, she came to Bangalore on a work visit. I was able, at last, to speak to her about the cut in my mind that had travelled with me for so long. I had a chance, in a poor way, to apologise.
It was her innate generosity that made Subhadra assure me that she did not remember the incident. But for me, that red crow was the visual image of all her work – exotic, fabulous, vigorous, unique, familiar, everyday.
Subhadra, my red crow, why have you left me with so much unspoken conversation?