Expressing myself

KETAKI BARDALAI attends a ‘free’ writing course for the community in Qatar

So I went to this workshop about two weeks ago at the College of North Atlantic – Qatar campus. I had responded to an advertisement they put out in the local papers announcing a series of ‘free’ Writing courses for the community. The first course was spread over two sessions and aptly titled Express Yourself! I was quite excited when I got a response from Andrea Comeau, Mentor at the Advanced Writing Centre of the University, saying she had me down for the course after I committed to take both the sessions.

Now to figure out how to get there. You see, I don’t drive, and have to depend on taxis to get around the city. This works well most of the time, as we live just across the road from City Centre where there usually is a long line of waiting cabs driven by men from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Phillipines, Kenya, Ghana, Somalia, Egypt, Morocco – some total newbies, others seasoned old hands. The newbies are usually courteous and helpful, but often dont know their way around, while the older guys are wily and usually reluctant to go by the meter. Getting back home, is often a problem. Sometime cabbies offer to come back and fetch me (my phone has a long list of mobile numbers of cabbies!) but it doesnt always work out. As this was an evening class, and CNAQ is a little way out, decided to call Shahmim, my go-to guy, from Bangladesh who runs a more expensive private taxi service, whom we had befriended some months ago when he drove us back home from Katara late one evening and bonded over our common Bengali origins. Shahmim has since regularly rescued me from being stranded and frequently ferries me to new unfamiliar places.

So Shahmim gets me to CNAQ a little early and offers to come back for me if I cant swing a lift with somebody. As we drive in to the sprawling grounds of the very swish, state of the art campus, we slow down at a speed breaker, and I catch a glimpse of this cute little Bulbul like bird peering out from among the leaves of this neatly trimmed topiaried tree lining the driveway….one of the oh-so-many ‘aha’ moments when I wished I had a camera on the ready!

Andrea was busy setting up the Learning Commons for the meeting and I was joined shortly by Maya, another younger coursemate from India. We were delighted to learn that Andrea is really widely travelled, having visited India a few times. Soon others began to trickle in and by the time we really got going, what started like a low turnout became a very full class of people, all very keen to learn to ‘express ourselves’. Most of us were there for the first time, but a few participants, had taken earlier courses and had even been published in CNAQ’s Mosaic publication. I totally understood, when one gentleman said he was impressed by columnists who are able to write so much about some seemingly trivial matter. I for one, want to be able to find a focus in my amateurish attempts at blogging.

I learned that there can be a whole lot of ways to express ourselves – it could be written (poetry, prose etc), oral (public speaking etc), visual (photographs, videos etc). There is a whole multitude of medium out there – Journalling — chronicling and reflecting, writing memoirs and autobiographies, vision boards, blogging, tweeting, and facebooking etc.By the way, did you know ‘who’ your audience is going to be? Gosh! so far, my audience has mostly been my husband and two children! even though I have started to make the blog public via Google Plus and occasionally shared it via Facebook. I guess this is the price of teaching yourself to use all these new apps and social medium and being a wannabe. You fumble and fall and then pick yourself up and try to figure out stuff on your own, with occasional help from your children. So far I have managed to navigate my way into Facebook and I am thrilled to be able to connect on so many levels with old and new ‘friends’, sharing thoughts, comments, opinions and of course photos. I do worry about being a bit voyeur-ish sometimes, of others’ travels, get togethers and shameless selfies. I tweet occasionally, but am unsure about using hashtags and following ‘trends’. Communicating your thoughts and ideas in 140 characters can be fun and challenging. I even have a Pinterest account, where so far I have collected and pinned photos of garden ideas, recipes, cross stitch and embroidery patterns and a whole lot of Islamic art motifs.

Blogging via e-Blogger has been quite user friendly, and as I mentioned in my introduction in the class, very liberating. The shackle of all those years of being brief, to the point and succinct while drafting documents, reports and official correspondence, have fallen off. I can express myself just as I wish. I can ramble and roam, like I tend to do when I speak. My children, who are young adults now, remain my harshest critics (God bless them!) are forever ticking me off about my meandering conversations. They say I loose the thread and focus. I tell them, I am establishing context. Now that I think of it, I do get impatient with my mother when we are talking, she can go on and on. Sigh, I guess I will have to learn to rein myself in!

It was great to talk with Arti from our group, who has also started blogging recently to share her thoughts about recent travels and record them for posterity. I hugely enjoyed reading of her Tblisi travels, her poems and the twist in the tail of her Valentine Day blog!!! Way to go Arti! I also eagerly follow April Hoeller’s blogs that I stumbled upon while idly surfing the net.

We did an interesting exercise in the class. Following the less is more principle I guess, and based on the Smith Magazine Six Word Memoir contest. We were asked to describe ourselves in just 6 words! Boy! That was a tough one. I had earlier struggled with a 50 word intro about myself when I enrolled for a MOOC in October. After hemming and hawing I came up with ‘Living and learning, greying and growing’. Seemed kind of tame. I loved some of the really clever ones in the handouts that we were given ‘surfing life’s ripples, wishing for waves’ , former doc now wears art smock’ , ‘the good child until I wasnt’. My 60 yr old friend Virginia, whom I mentioned this exercise to last Friday came up with a 4 word tagline for herself, ‘Still in the game’ that was really apt and so her. Maybe mine should be ‘change is the name of my game’ (>6) or ‘Change is my game’s name’ (<6) or 'Variety is my life's spice' (<6), considering that I am a Gemini and I like change and enjoying doing new things. As I think of 6 clever words I am reminded of Vani Saraswathy's blog response to the question Who are you? asked in another blog by Kirsty Rice. It depends on who is asking. At the risk of incurring Vani’s wrath, for the moment, I would like to borrow her words, ‘I am a work in progress’....

Ketaki Bardalai

Ketaki Bardalai

Looking back at a very chequered three decade plus career that started as a lowly account executive trainee in a small advertising firm in Kolkata, and running her own advertising and marketing agency in Guwahati, to a longish stint at Shishu Sarothi and raising the flag of activism on disability, and more recently to laying the groundwork at FST – an indigenous philanthropic organization with the mantra of ‘enabling Northeast India’, Ketaki Bardalai has been on a constant learning curve as she navigated different places and spaces. Largely self taught, she is now trying to virtually find her feet, in Doha, Qatar.