An Enthralling Morning with Pia Petersen

You have to traverse,
from the personal to the impersonal, to write.
To become immaterial.
To become blocks of stone with stories hidden inside.

At the start of each month, the very efficient team at the Seagull School of Publishing prepare, evidently with love, a timetable. Ensconced within its colourful pages are the lessons, ideas and people from the publishing world that we, the students eagerly wait for.

Pia Petersen’s name had been flying around in whispers as July progressed, but the timetable did not give any definite indication of her arrival. The bureaucratic powers were in a tizzy; they had to be reassured that Pia would not be carrying any lighted matches in her luggage. Finally, the immigration office reached for the green stamp instead of the red one and we were gifted with one of the most bewitching mornings of our lives.

Our conversations before the session that day consisted of—the anticipation of meeting with an author as a student of editing, discussing the ways that an author might view the editor and the publisher, and wondering with wide-eyed glee, the delicious experiences that a mere Google search of the author’s name generated!

A slight woman with wide mascara-embellished eyes and a dimpled smile greeted us, halting our animated discussion of the questions that we should, and must not, ask her. Our discussion on the appropriateness of our questions was not needed. Pia, candidly and confidently, launched into her own story, inviting us into her strange, uncomfortable world of her quest for Freedom.

My pencil sketch as Pia let us capture her world.

The very thought of a five-year-old being so sure of her discomfort in her environment that she wanted to escape; of a seven-year-old being so sure of her destiny to write, was astounding to us. Was she not terrified? A friend asked, voicing our thoughts.

‘I was,’ she replied, ‘but not escaping was more terrifying.’

I could understand when she said, ‘I didn’t want to be normal. I didn’t want to conform to a stereotype.’

Her long awaited escape at the age of 16, when she went in the eternal and romantic search for love, her disappointment at not finding it, brought forth bursts of dark humour in us.

After her yearlong Greek odyssey, Pia returned to Denmark. She tried to become a Dane, just as her mother had wanted. But the restrictions were too constricting for her and she escaped, once again.

The next part of her story is deliciously scandalous and entails a disclaimer: Whatever you read further may or may not have happened.

Pia landed up in France, without knowing French. And yet she applied and was accepted at the prestigious Sorbonne University to study philosophy in French! A gang of the Arab mafia, unbeknownst to her, took her in and gave her boarding and food. Thus, her first days in France were spent studying philosophy while self-learning the language of her books, living and eating with the members of the Arab mafia in Paris, and writing stuff that terrified whosoever read them.

She tried innumerable odd jobs, which she was terrible at, and where her bosses sighed with relief when she left.

Listening to Pia’s story—her failures, her drive, her need to be free and to free—made my own creative juices flow, made me look at life from a whole new angle that I had not known existed before. It made me forget that I am hungry, physically. For she made my mental hunger more pronounced.

I congratulate and thank Pia Petersen and Seagull (without whom I would probably not have known Pia at all) for this experience.

Tanvee Jagatramka