Doctor's prescription for writers: A Tall, Strong Glass of 'Medeira'
Odil D’Souza now Medeira seems to have made headlines ever since she was a little girl. An athlete from Bangalore and a Writer/Trainer in Mumbai she seems to always be in the news. While she was growing up relatives and friends often marveled at her speed, convinced she was destined to be a star. They were right, of course. She did emerge a star, when at age 13 when she became a national running champion…And then, 40 years later, India’s foremost children’s author, scriptwriter/director of Children’s shows, and a trainer in speech and drama. A very, very successful one at that!
Hers is a remarkable story, one for the readers and most specially, one for the writers.
The Wonder Years.
The athlete turned writer Odil Medeira, shone brightly long before hundreds of children came to bask in her warmth and light. Odil did not grow up in Mumbai, the city of her acclaim, as most of her audiences assume, but rather in Fraser Town, Bangalore surrounded by the still fresh remnants of colonial history. Belonging to a family of plantation owners with eight other siblings, her school holidays were often spent in the ghats of Chikmagalur, playing with her siblings or enjoying books she often won at school competitions, memories that are etched into many of her works that peek out of her lines and themes.
The magic of words entered her life when she was a young student at the St. Francis Xavier Girls' High School, Bangalore, a colonial institution run by The Saint Joseph of Tarbes nuns. Works like Shakespeare and T.S.Eliot often passed through young Odil’s hands who not only treasured these but was also encouraged to develop a writing style of her own by her teachers who identified that writer’s streak in her long before she did.
Pursuing a degree in BSc, seemed to be the worst thing she remembers doing. After her Senior Cambridge she reminisces, “I Should have taken up Literature in College…but, my life took a different turn, with experiences that were a far better guide than a literary teacher!”
From Bangalore to Mumbai.
In the summer of 1975, while Odil was futilely pursuing a B.Sc. degree, she was introduced to her sister-in-law’s brother, who was not only completely charmed by her wide smile and her vivacious personality but who almost immediately decided she was the woman for him. Within a few months of endless wooing, Odil agreed to marry young Air India Cabin attendant, Roland Medeira hailing from the city of dreams - Mumbai.
At 22, Odil D’Souza, now Medeira, stepped into the Medeira home at Byculla in South Bombay. A far cry from her Bangalore home and plantation heritage, Bombay was new Trips around the city told her Bombay was dirty and cramped yet so exciting in many ways. In the early years of her marriage, Odil tried her hand at being a beauty and hair artist but failed miserably. A fierceness for her work, she felt was lacking, giving her little incentive to pursue it wholeheartedly.
When she heard that a receptionist’s position had opened up at a firm called ‘Contour Advertising’, she grabbed at the opportunity, eager to try something new. In a few months, this young woman with no background in advertising went from receptionist to model-coordinator and finally to no one’s surprise at the agency, a copywriter, all within a few months.
The world of advertising was intense, high-pressure, demanding, and Odil loved it. With now two little children, Odil would balance her home and career to go all the way to the summits of advertising, until she gave up her job to care for her children. It seemed like an orthodox choice for an independent woman like her but it was a decision she never regretted and one fortunately for us that propelled her towards writing.
The Writer was BORN.
While her own tiny tots were growing up, Odil would often notice that they hardly ever understood the poems they were taught in school. ‘Daffodils’ or renditions from ‘Shakespeare’, were often so strange to these young children who better identified with the local vegetable-hawkers and local trains so much more. Wanting her children to access literature that they could connect with, Odil sought out to fill this lacunae by writing poems and pieces for her daughter who often competed in inter-school championships. Her pieces were based on characters and elements like the fishermen, the milkman, young girls called ‘Raani’, elements characteristic of the everyday life of a child living in India, not 18th century Britain, as she calls it.
Soon, a murmur ran through the halls of Canossa High School, Mahim. Odil’s daughter, Natasha Medeira had a secret new trainer. They questioned and cajoled– was it that teacher in Bandra or a new one in town? It baffled them all when it turned out it was just her mother! Her teachers were impressed and the competition judges even more. Competitive parents sought out Odil in church or the market – ‘Would she mind writing a piece for Raina or Brian?’ And the burgeoning writer in her happily obliged. Word of her talent spread on the school circuit with schools even seeking her out to write plays.
Now, any new writer, much less one who was juggling a home, a husband who was flying and therefore not in town all the time, and two children in their formative years, would have turned down such a request, but not this one. Odil took this challenging head on, often burning the midnight oil to write scripts for school plays,elocution pieces and poems. Within three years, Odil was sought after by every major school in Bombay. And within six years, no speech and drama teacher worth their salt, would have not heard of Odil Medeira.
The Journey to Success
For those marveling, this was not an overnight journey. Long before she became acclaimed, Odil would write and train for free, to build a repertoire and establish her creativity. Conscious that certificates in India sometimes held more power than experience, she began studying for the Trinity College London examinations. All the while, writing original compositions on everyday experiences that kept inspiring her genius and paid the bills. Now a force to reckon with, Odil broadened every horizon she could lay her eyes on. While continuing to train at schools, she also started private classes of her own titled ‘Magic Touch’. She published four books on children’s poetry and began speaking at public forums for children’s writers. Accolade after accolade began to crowd her showcase, features in newspapers and opportunities to showcase her skills emerged at every corner she turned.
When you ask her about her biggest achievements, she wouldn’t mention the awards or her numerous students who went on to become lawyers, doctors, actors, and journalists. Her eyes, rather sparkle when she talks of the young girl from the slums of Dharavi who became a state athlete under her wing or the shy teenager from Church who could barely speak but who went on to attain a teaching degree in the United Kingdom under Odil’s training and encouragement. Those, she says, are the gems.
The Magic Touch
One must scroll through Odil’s Facebook page and Magic Touch website for that answer. Countless students have written and posted about how she encouraged them to step up to the front of the class, helped them overcome their shyness or offered them refuge (financial and emotional) from a troubled home. As her initiative is named, she magically ‘touched’ the lives of so many children, gave them the courage and confidence to be whoever they wanted to, a philosophy that had cascading effects into their careers, families, relationships and most importantly their personalities. Not just a teacher, no, Odil Medeira was and is an institution.
The End or the Beginning?
In 2020, in her home in Mahim, Mumbai where countless children became performers, I sit and chat with her, while parents call her pleading for private classes for their children. At 60 plus years of age, she hasn’t slowed down. She is still awaiting her Licentiate Trinity College London exam results, one she appeared for a month ago. Just for the record she scored a whopping 94% in the written exam! (That ,I guess is another record she has sent into oblivion, along with many on the track and field!)
Odil has a priceless collection of her award winning poems and pieces on the anvil, awaiting publishing. Between her cooking which is grinding ingredients for masalas from scratch and her attempts to master the mystery of ‘Zoom calls’, for online classes one wonders …”What lockdown?”. The energy with which she moves is not unlike the Tasmanian Devil tornado in Looney tunes.
When she finally takes a breather, I asked Odil if she considers retiring, with so many accomplishments, stopping to enjoy the slow life would only be natural. She stops, gives me that smile that has warmed many a child and pretends to consider my question. In a second thought, she rebounds – ‘I don’t think I’ll ever want to, it's not for me, till I have words to give and children to give them to, you’ll find me here penning a poem or enacting a scene’. And that is what writers do, don’t they? They pick the pieces of their lives, the pain as well as joy, mind you. Take them and weave them into stories. Magical ones!
Odil’s work reflects her childhood in Bangalore, her moments in Chikmangalur, finding her passion much later in life, her early struggles, and lastly, the moments of solace she finds in prayer and yoga. Not to mention today her husband Roland who is her best critique and perhaps biggest fan, her daughter Natasha is her poetry writing teacher, editor and confidant and her son Aquil, from whom she says she is still learning many lessons. Above all, she takes great pride in her seven grandchildren!
As young professionals, we struggle so much with finding ourselves at twenty, twenty-five, twenty-seven years, determined to know our course before we begin the journey. Bogged down with constructs like ‘marriage is the end of a career for a woman’, ‘by thirty, you need a home, career and a family’.
Odil’s journey inspires us to take up our passion whole-heartedly, no matter the age or circumstances. Here was a young woman, who tried and struggled with several different choices, let life take its course, decided to pursue a completely different career at thirty-three, and came out of it, yes, with battle scars but with so many victories to go with it.
Odil believes a talent, an urge, a passion can surface anytime and pursuing that is beyond living, it's thriving’. And imagine, dear readers, she has only just begun. Check Out Her Website The Magic Touch For More Updates
Odil Medeira conducts her private workshops at Mahim, Mumbai and her classes at the various schools she is affiliated with.
You can visit her, by appointment, at 5/2, Magwill Lodge, M. M. Chotani Road, Mahim, Mumbai 400 016. India.
+91 224467228 / 98210 37535 / 98194 67326 / 98693 84655
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