Zeenat Arsiwalla’s 26-Minute Memoir

Hi Readers,

26In 2009 I started a blog called 26-Minute Memoir and started publishing 26-Minute Memoirs–stories that describe the essence of your life written in 26 minutes–from students, friends, Facebook and blog followers. In my book Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too), I encourage readers to write their own 26-Minute Memoir and send them to me, and now they are sending me their 26-Minute Memoirs. Below you’ll find Zeenat Arsiwalla’s 26-Minute Memoir. Please feel free to write one of wimd-34your own. You can find instructions and links to other 26-Minute Memoirs here: https://writingismydrink.com/26-minutes/.

Thanks for reading my blog!


26-Minute Memoir

By Zeenat Arsiwalla

I wonder if I’d ever begin writing if I hadn’t written that first poem in 6th grade, that got read in the teacher’s lounge.

We had been given a few words and were asked to write a poem making sure we used all those words. It was my first writing exercise, but I didn’t know this then. Instead I remember thinking of it as a challenge, as something my ten year old self could sink her teeth into. I though of it as a piece of homework I would actually enjoy. I don’t remember too much of the poem, but it involved sunshine and singing and happiness. I also remember that when the teacher, after grading the assignment, returned it back to us, I candidly asked her what she thought of it. The three-second exchange we had plays out in my thirty-year old brain as vividly as ever, when I call upon it from time to time.

I was a second-bencher (yes I was one of those kids), and I remember sitting through the entire English period, waiting for the poem assignment sheets to be distributed back to us. As a practice, graded assignments were given at the end of class, lest we get into comparisons or bickering, distracting us from the lesson of the day. When the bell finally rang marking the end of the period, Mrs Swaminathan quickly pulled out from her purse, a roll of sheets held with a thin rubber band and thunked it down on the bench in the first row.
“Distribute these”, she told one of the students and began hurriedly packing up.

When I got my poem, I quickly turned to the last page to read her comments. It read “Very Very good!” I was thrilled. But I guess the thrilling feeling that had lodged itself in the pit of my stomach wasn’t enough.

Mrs S had packed up her belongings and was out the door and in the midst of the chaos that ensues a ringing bell, in the midst of students shouting and chalkboards being erased and sheets being distributed, and Mrs S pulling together the pleats of her sari, and my bench partner telling me something that I was half-listening to, I yelled out “Ma’am did you like my poem?”

I didn’t know it then, but in that moment my destiny was about to be written. I had called upon her like a babe at sea, like someone who was floating away into the deep end of the ocean and had suddenly, magically found a floater and had suddenly, magically let out a yelp of joy at the thought of survival.

She turned around, least expecting this question. She smiled, might have even laughed. And then Mrs S, with her winning smile, adjusting her thick-rimmed glasses, shouted back, “Yes, yes. I read it out in the teacher’s lounge today to all the teachers.”  Saying this, she rushed away.

There was something about my poem being read in he teacher’s lounge that made me beam. My pretty little poem had been read to the teachers. It was worthy enough to be shared with the adults. No, it wasn’t just a poem that had been written on paper and graced with a “Very very good!” It had been read out loud. I didn’t know it then, but for years to come, blessed Mrs S, the blessed teachers in that blessed lounge, would be my lighthouse. I steer towards them in the darkest of times.

About Theo Pauline Nestor

Author of Writing Is My Drink (Simon & Schuster) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Learn more about my courses, editing, and coaching at TheoNestor.com.
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