Meet the Author Day at WCC

After 24 years I returned to my alma mater, Women’s Christian College, not as a casual visitor to roam around campus and take selfies, but as a speaker on the occasion of World Book Day. I still marvel at how the whole thing sort of fell in my lap without great effort on my part.

Sometime in March I decided to go to my old college and drop off a copy of my book. I had emailed the principal, Dr. Jasper, and she was gracious enough to find some time to meet with me. On a bright Monday morning I walked into campus and got a private tour of the sprawling 100-year old college with none other than the principal. The lily pond, just outside Main hostel actually has lilies in it and a turtle stuck its head out of the water when Dr. Jasper talked to it. As someone who loves plants, she has really put in a lot of effort to beautify the campus. All the ancient trees have name tags and QR codes that take you to a website with details about the trees on campus. A medicinal plant garden and community garden maintained by the students are other notable additions.

After the tour, we made our way to the library and Dr. Sheba, the librarian, also received a copy of my book. The college collects books written by former students and has a special cupboard dedicated to these books. It was Dr. Sheba who suggested that I could be the speaker for the Meet the Author event scheduled for World Book Day.

It felt surreal to stand on stage and address girls from different departments. For a couple of hours, I was treated like a celebrity in my old college. I shall be ever grateful to Dr. Jasper and Dr. Sheba for this opportunity. Here’s a copy of the speech I gave for those of you who could not attend.

It’s so good to be back and never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be standing on this stage and addressing all of you. Several years ago, I was a student like you, a student of WCC. I passed out in 1998 with a degree in Zoology. Back then things were a lot different. Half the buildings you see today did not exist.

The principal back then was Dr. Kanmani Christian. Dr. Rita Cherian, your former principal was the HoD of the English department and she taught me English. Dr. Waller, former principal, was a lecturer in the Zoology department. And your current principal, Dr. Lilian Jasper, was a young lecturer in the English department.

And those days we had ragging. I got ragged as a “freshie” which is what the seniors called us freshmen. They would order us to oil our hair and wear pigtails to class. Swap our shoes out with rubber chappals. Make us squat on bricks and lay eggs (with sound effects!) Sing songs to the Couuam River that bordered our college. All of it was harmless and just good fun. The seniors even gave us nicknames like Smiley, Cherokee, Chokee and these names stuck. Even to this day, I don’t know the real names of some of my batch mates. I want to emphasize that none of us got PTSD or had to be admitted to the psych ward because of ragging!

In my final year, the government decided to crack down on ragging. The principal and lecturers sat us down in this very same auditorium and told us that there would be no more ragging on campus and that it was a punishable offense. We were mad! How could they do this to us? We got ragged when we were freshies and we had every right to rag the current freshies. But that was the year they put an end to ragging. So that was my college life. Let’s fast forward to 2009. That’s the year my grandmother died. Now she had a connection with WCC much before I even set foot in this college.

How many of you have been to the mess? (A few students raised their hands.)

How many of you eat at the mess every day? (A few students raised their hands again. )

Where do they get the cooking gas to cook your food? Does anybody know? (Nobody raises their hand.)

They get the cooking gas from Super Flame which happens to be the gas agency that my grandma owned and operated for nearly 40 years of her life. (Audience applause.)

She was the first woman LPG distributor in India. (More applause.) She was widowed at the age of 36 and had to provide for herself and her son (my father) who was still in college. For someone who had lived comfortably and never worked a job it was all new and it’s a man’s world whatever said and done. But she was fierce and hardworking and built up a successful business over the years.

She has been an inspiration to me and many many others. We as women need strong role models to help us break glass ceilings and reach for the stars. So, when she died I really wanted to tell her story and that’s how this book was born.

I titled my book, “Thank you, Dadima,” because cultivating gratitude is so important in life. Living in the US, we as a family celebrate Thanksgiving every November. And it is one of my favorite holidays because we cook a meal, share it with family and friends and basically give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. So, I thought why not be thankful every day in November and so I started something called “30 days of gratitude.” The first time I did it, it was hard, because you pretty much run out of things to be thankful for very quickly. Once you tick off the basic things from your list, like food, family, friends, a roof over your head, it gets harder. You have to look beyond the obvious. For instance, electricity. It’s probably something you take for granted till you have a 5-hour power cut and can’t run the mixie to make chutney for breakfast or can’t log into your laptop for work.

My daughter once told me that she was thankful she didn’t have allergies. She loved peanut butter so much and if she had allergies it would have meant no peanut butter (one of the top things that people are allergic to.)

So I decided the theme for my book has to be gratitude because my grandma imparted so many values and principles to me and for that I’m very very grateful to her.

Today happens to be Earth day so I want to acknowledge that and encourage you to do something for the earth today. If you can’t plant a 100 trees, just plant one tree. If you can’t clean up the whole beach, just pick up a piece of trash from your campus or the road leading to your house. Take ownership of this campus, your community, and this planet.

A big shout out to Dr. Jasper for the ancient trees and plants on campus and for beautifying it. Big thank you to her for being gracious and giving me this opportunity. Thank you Dr. Sheba for organizing this event and to Dr. Vanitha Williams and others for making it a success. And lastly, thank you for being a great audience. I hope you enjoy reading my book and I hope it inspires you to be the strong successful women that you are destined to be. Thank you!

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