I met Priyanka today, the Soccer Mom. Her son, Raihan, is a member of the All Stars United, a team in Division 2 of the Delhi International Football League. My daughter, Alexis, is also on the team, making me the Soccer Dad. My wife is the Coach, making me, well, the Coach’s Husband. That’s how I introduced myself last week to Robert, Raihan’s father, another Soccer Dad. He was amused with how I understood my identity.

Our identities, of course, are wrapped up in relationships. Sometimes a first name is enough, but most of the time there is something more. For Priyanka, there’s more. This morning, as she introduced herself to me on the sidelines, it was just, I’m Priyanka, but I already knew her son and her husband. In some ways, that was enough, but the fact is I know much more. I know that her father was murdered, actually assassinated, almost twenty years ago. I know that just five years before that Priyanka’s grandmother met with the same fate. Both of them had been the Prime Ministers of India.

Priyanka comes from the Gandhi-Nehru family. They are much like the “first family” of India, as they have been dominant in national politics since India’s independence. Priyanka’s great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first Prime Minister of India and worked closely with the nation’s famed independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi (who, despite the same name, is not related to the family). Priyanka's grandmother was Indira Gandhi, India's first and only female Prime Minister, who remained in office for fifteen years. After her assassination, she was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Gandhi, Priyanka's father. Today, Priyanka’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, is the President of the Indian National Congress and is considered to be one of the most influential women in the world. Priyanka's brother, Rahul, has just entered politics in the past five years, but many think that he will someday be the next from this family to be Prime Minister. According to some polls, many would prefer Priyanka in that role. Apparently, she’s not interested.

We didn’t talk politics today on the sidelines. We chatted about soccer, about little sisters, and about ballet. That’s her world, and my world. Today, that was enough. There’s much more to both of us, but for now we met as individuals, and as parents.

After the game, the security guards and secret service personnel will swoop in from their posts behind us and escort the family off the field, out of the gates, and into their vehicles. With lights flashing and guns loaded, Priyanka and her family will be taken home.

Raihan and Alexis are disappointed today, along with the rest of us. We lost 1-0. But we’ll all be back next week, I hope. 

Although Priyanka has refused politics, Raihan may choose otherwise. If he does, he may someday become the Prime Minister of India. For now, he’s Robert and Priyanka’s son. For me, he’s Alexis’ teammate. Today, that’s enough. 

The Confession and The Club

It started out as a short story. Then it grew into something more. It wasn't long before I started calling it, The Novel. 

There, I said it, I'm writing a novel. (That's the confession part.)

EB White, the American author and essayist for The New Yorker, once said in a speech, "I admire anyone who has the courage to write anything at all."

Personally, every time I write, my soul bears witness to the vulnerability of which White speaks. It has been a long and winding road for me to admit that I am a writer. I have no formal training in the field and I have no job that is specifically related to my ability to write. 

Yet I am now becoming more and more comfortable with the simple fact that I am a writer, mostly because these days I do actually write regularly and I do enjoy it. That doesn't make me a success, of course, and depending on the crowd, it's still hard to tell others that I'm a writer. This is despite the fact I am already a published author with at least one book and several articles to my name.

But it doesn't seem to matter, especially when you take the plunge and add novelist to the equation. It's one thing to be a writer; it's quite another to be a novelist. At least, that's how it feels right now. 

It feels like The Novel requires a special act of courage to write. And I feel that weight each time I give myself to it. I feel the insecurities, the doubts. I hear the naysayers. I face the demons. But then, this is all part of the adventure, part of the risk. Writing is dangerous. It's the wild that my heart thrives on. 

In those treacherous waters, then, it helps to have someone else in the boat. As lonely as writing can be, genuine encouragement from others can go a long way in keeping you afloat. My wife is the only one who has read the early pages of my novel. She liked it, though she has wisely refused to play the role of critic. She gives me support, but not feedback, at least not at this point. We know each other well enough to draw those boundaries. 

That's why I was so pleasantly surprised when I discovered that a friend of ours in Delhi was also working on his first novel. Unlike me, he's a journalist. Like me, he's a foreigner and a family man. He's much farther along on his novel than I am, but we can relate. He knows what I'm going through. We compare notes and talk about the process. We haven't read each other's work, mostly because he's not writing in English. But we've told our stories in outline and given each other those nods of affirmation. We keep in touch, and it helps. 

What are the chances of meeting another novice novelist in a city of 15 million people? How much more strange would it be if a third such person was added to The Club? 

I met the third member recently, and I must say that I wasn't immediately surprised that he also was embarking on the journey. He's already known as a writer and he's a prolific reader of fiction. I had heard of him before we met. I had even read him. He happens to be a reporter and blogger here in Delhi, an Indian writing in English. A day after hearing his Confession, it did strike me how fortuitous it was to have met another potential member of The Club. I told him then that there was yet another one of us in the city. He was similarly amused.

Could it be that a fourth member would come forward even before the first meeting was called? Yes, indeed, it happened. I met him a couple weekends ago. He made his Confession in a group setting and I approached him afterwards. We talked and I told him about The Club. He's also interested. 

The fourth member is, like me, not a journalist and not even really working as a writer. He's an established business professional who is getting bored with his work and is becoming more interested in writing. He has begun work on The Novel but admitted that he could benefit from some prodding and probing from others.

We haven't met as a group yet, and I'm not sure when we will. It's strange but it almost feels like the group is getting too big before it's even begun. However, it does seem evident that such a group is needed, and I must say, I already look forward to the day when there are four more published novels in this world and each of them has a reference to The Club in the acknowledgements. 

Note: I have purposely not mentioned the names of the other club members, nor have I described them too carefully. After all, this is my confession, not theirs. 

Google Me, Google You

Everyone's doing it! 

Internet search engines, like Google, have become a part of our global culture, at least among those everywhere who are internet savvy. People are entering every kind of topic imaginable in search of information. Sometimes, of course, they enter names, in search of personal information. On occasion, people enter their own names to see what will come up. Depending on who you are and what you've done, you may find something about yourself, or about someone else with your name. Most know that internet information is not always reliable, but it's usually interesting nonetheless. Of course, people who already have a presence on the internet, probably won't be too surprised with what turns up. But you just never know. 

I was surprised the other day when I “googled” my name. It may sound like a vain thing to do, but I was having new business cards made with a variety of information on them, so I thought I'd check out online what would come up if someone had access to this information. I entered only my surname and the main name of the company I work with. Among a few results bringing up articles I’ve written in the past, and a few others entirely unrelated to me, was a link to a monthly newsletter put out by a publishing house in Lahore, Pakistan. (I've never been to Pakistan, and I had no idea what this was about.) I clicked on the link because, well, of course I was curious, and I could see in the Google result not only the full name (all four words) of the Canadian company I work with but also my surname preceded by my first name and my two middle initials. It was too exact, and too strange. What was even stranger, as the webpage downloaded in front of me, was that the newsletter was almost entirely in a language I cannot read, an Arabic-looking script, probably Urdu, the language of Pakistan and parts of North India.

So I'm sitting there, looking at the article, seeing mostly incomprehensible script but with a smattering of English words, like my full name and the name of my company. Yes, quite eerie, actually. Below that, as I scrolled down the article, were a few other words like “sonship”, “atonement”, “Trinity” and “Christianity.” Very interesting. As I look further, there are also a couple quotes from the Bible. With those last few clues, I can figure out pretty quickly that the piece is about a conversation I've had with a Muslim. I feel a little uncomfortable, not knowing what else it says about me or the conversation, whether positive or negative. But as I think more about the words and their context, I think back a few months to a particular visit I had with a prominent Muslim teacher in Delhi named Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a man who has written many books and who has a strong presence on the internet. A few months back, a friend of mine from our neighborhood had taken me to meet with this Maulana and we had talked about these kinds of things. Afterward, I had left him with my business card. It was a very positive experience for me at the time. I hoped now that, if the article on the internet was a reflection of that conversation, it was similarly positive in its tone. 

The aforementioned Maulana had actually become a friend of mine, meaning that we had since met on other occasions as well. A few weeks ago, in fact, I was very pleased that he had been willing to participate in a public dialogue that I had helped to organize, which was focused on the peacemaking efforts of Muslims and Christians. That event was also, as far as I could tell, a very positive experience for those involved.

Still, the webpage in front of me was clouded in mystery. I showed it to my wife, who was equally bewildered, and maybe a little nervous. We are living in the days when it’s perhaps not so popular to have unexplainable links to Pakistan. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, it seemed rather exciting to me. After all, I really had nothing to hide. I don’t have any shady ties to Pakistan and most people who know me know that I quite enjoy engaging others in conversation about faith and spirituality.

I forwarded the link to a couple of my friends in Delhi. One of them, a foreigner, was quite intrigued and suggested that I forward it to a mutual friend in Canada who reads Urdu. The other friend that I sent it to was the one from my neighborhood who had initially introduced me to the Maulana. Within a couple days, a reply came from Canada confirming that the article was friendly and, as I had suspected, merely described the conversation that I had had with the Maulana. My local friend confirmed the same.

My worries, if any, were quelled. The excitement had waned. Peace was intact. This time, my encounter with Google had only turned up something real, something friendly. Thank you, God.