NVM apparently loved to talk, and he talked to us workshoppers about everything. One time he noticed a book I was reading (a book about fiction-writing). He said he also had a copy of the book, too, and that he read a chapter every night before he went to sleep. He advised I do the same, too, and with a wink, he told me to keep the book our little secret. I've not divulged the title and the author to any other soul, to this day (well, except perhaps A--but he's my husband, whom I made to swear he'll keep it a secret).
Everything he said, I wanted to take down in my notebook--such gems of advice from a wonderful, generous, writer. He learned that I was going to Bali the week after the workshop. My office was sending me for a leadership workshop. He told me to look up an Indonesian friend (I forget the name now), handed me his business card and a P500 note, and asked me to buy a Ganesh sandalwood figurine for him.
I did not buy him a Ganesh figurine, however. Surprisingly, there weren't any nice Ganesh figurines in Bali--all of them looked very ugly and evil, and none were like the pictures of the benevolent Hindu elephant-god I'd seen (he's supposed to bring joy and happiness to the home). So I got an elegant Shiva instead, and hoped he wouldn't mind.
This--plus his change for his P500--was what brought me to his house in the UP Campus a couple of weeks later, where I got a lecture on metaphors, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, gestalt and creating a "synergistic wholeness" to stories, and an introduction to his former teacher's book, The Story: A Critical Anthology by Mark Schorer (which he even let me take home to read and study--and photocopy, hehe). All, incredibly, in one sitting.
Thankfully, he didn't mind the Shiva instead of the Ganesh he asked for (or he was too polite to tell me he did mind).
And he loved Chekhov. I was so fortunate to have had all the meetings I had with him in his bungalow in UP, all the mini-lectures on literature and writing. I even got critiques for 2 of my stories, which eventually got published in the Philippine Graphic Weekly (one of which came out only two weeks after i sent it). It was actually a short course on comparative literature, and he even gave me a reading list (which mostly consisted of stories from the Schorer anthology--because I told him I was interested most of all in the short story genre), and a list of books. And the top book on that list was Chekhov's Lady with the Lapdog and Other Stories. Most important of all, he gave me this advice, “If you want to write, take Comparative Lit, not Creative Writing.”
Of his own story collections I was somehow able to persuade him to name his favorite, and it was, at that time, A Bread of Salt. He said his favorite short story was "A Warm Hand".
He passed away on November 27, 1999, and I was too busy with my life at that time I wasn't even able to attend his tribute at the CCP.
Looking back now, it all seems so surreal. But to show for it, I still keep NVM’s blue calling card, and that close-up picture I took of him in a cab ride we shared in Baguio.