How are you all holding up? Things in India are grim and being in Delhi at the moment is like sitting on a ticking time bomb. The second wave of Corona Virus has hit us hard and the only way to be safe is to stay home. Several people and organizations have come forward to support those in need and it’s heartening to see all the hand holding.
While it’s difficult to focus on anything at the moment, here is the link to a story that I had submitted to ‘Muse of the Month’ contest organized by Women’s Web. That it is one of the winning entries, comes as a tiny source of joy in these bleak times. I am sharing the link to the story. Hope you will enjoy reading it.
PS: The story was titled “The Gulmohar Blossoms” by me but the title was changed by the publication to the following, click on the link below to read and do let me know your thoughts.
“My eyes were set on plumes of flaming orange right outside the kitchen window, when Meera walked in. The delicate aroma of the Gulmohar served as the perfect antidote to cooking odours and I so loved it! I bent over the window sill, trying to catch a bunch that had been thrown upwards with great force…”
Hello everyone! Welcome to A Hundred Quills once again. I am joining the WEP after a long gap and I am glad to be back!
The prompt for this April is a watercolour by Claude Clark, the African American artist and art educator, called Freedom Morning, painted in 1941. (see image below).
Claude Clark was born in Georgia in 1915. His art characterises the African American diaspora experience. He faced prejudice, poverty and racism but did not allow these to deter him. He mixed his own paints from the trashed tubes in art schools. When he could not afford the expensive brushes and cleaning agents, he developed his unique technique with the palette knife. Read more about his remarkable life here. (from the WEP website).
Here in India, we are going through the second wave of coronavirus and it is worse than the last time. It is a difficult gloomy time with the numbers rising continuously and crumbling health facilities. When I saw Claude Clark’s painting, it spoke to me at various levels, but predominantly I could only think of breaking free from the shackles of the virus and also from deceitful, incompetent governance.
I have attempted a poem, keeping it hopeful with prayers and good faith.
The exalted circle rose
before their unbelieving eyes,
a ripe lemon with
dabbed in red,
shattering the darkness
of all times.
A sliver of gold
its arms outstretched
Bathing the white chalk
up the mountainside
in its aureate light.
The bugle of victory
was long awaited
in dingy alleys of
in a fortress so strong.
Pulling down walls
pints of untruth
Mortgaged futures for
behind fickle violence,
was never an easy affair.
Bricks and mortar
Fortresses of suppression grown
taller with age.
an archipelago of d e s p a i r
a whirlpool of mayhem
in a sea of existence.
Those who were
shrivelled up— us and them—
would they ever escape?
No hocus pocus this
Only the gravity-defying
could climb up
walls of fortresses, the impossible
on the Freedom Morning.
And the shrivelled stood up like
The colours of promise
pirouetting in myriad hues.
A dripping light
of yellow semblance,
A gleeful breeze in turquoise blue,
escaping sighs of
pearly relief, glinting
in eyes- the homes (to now)
Total words- 198
Thank you to the hosts for this month, Denise, Olga, Laura, Nilanjana, Renee. Happy WEP!
(Image: Harper Collins)
Book: After Death Comes Water
Poet: Joy Goswami (Translated from the Bengali by Sampurna Chattarji)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Prose Poetry
Lovers of poetry can only hope to satiate some of their thirst for this enriching art if they meander into the world of translated verses. The globe with its linguistical variety is a trove of rare pieces of poetry and in translation lies the key to their discovery. Joy Goswami is one of the most prominent and finest of Indian poets from Bengal and a versatile crusader of modernism.
Sampurna Chattarji’s translations of his poems has brought the inimitable poet to readers of the English language. As an amateur poet myself, let me add right in the beginning that this book has not only painted a vast and varied landscape of prose poems but has also made me eager for more translations. It took me two back-to-back readings of ‘After Death Comes Water’ to understand the depth of emotions that characterize the poems.
As a back story to how the book made its way to my library, I was to have a little interaction with Sampurna during Blogchatter’s Writing Festival, but for some technical issues it got stalled. Having read a little about her, I was keen to read her work and this translation was an opportunity to read two fine poets.
Meena Kandasamy (Author of Exquisite Cadavers) says about the book, “Allow yourself to be outraged and furious, allow yourself to be swept into Joy Goswami’s intimate world of passion. His poems are breathtaking. They will momentarily remind you of the time you were resting your head on the chest of a lover, and by the turn of a page remind you of the bloodbath that exists in the world outside. Sampurna Chattarji’s translations breathe life and fire into his words.”
The book is recommended enough by some of the stalwarts of poetry, with a foreword by Ranjit Hoskote, poet, art critic and Sahitya Akademi Award winner.
About the Author Joy Goswami is an Indian poet who writes in Bengali and is considered the most important Bengali poet of his generation. He is a winner of several awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2000. The Library of Congress has fourteen titles by him. His everyday poetic prose is fiery and passionate. He is a powerful voice against violence, war and genocide.
Sampurna Chattarji, a well-known poet, novelist, translator and poetry editor at Indian Quarterly has eighteen books to her credit, including five poetry books. As a participant of international translation workshops, she has worked with poets from France, Holland, Ireland, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and Wales. She teaches writing to design students at IIT Bombay. Her first translation of Goswami’s poems (Selected Poems) won him the first Tata Literature Live! Poet Laureate Award in 2014.
Review Although I underline some aspects of the book in this section, it is more of an admiration of the versatility of the poet. It will not be befitting of me to talk about technicalities, considering that the vitality and visceral conviction of the verses completely overpowers the senses. And in any case, Joy Goswami is known to defy convention. So, I too have decided to refrain myself from talking about the book in conventional terms.
The book of prose poems is divided into three sections; translations of three collections by the poet, namely Solo for the Deer (Horiner Jonyo Ekok, 2002); No shame in bathing before your mother (Ma’er shamne snan korte lojja nei, 2012) and Whiplash(Shopaang Shopaang, 2017).
The subjects range from environmental conservation to absurdism, fate and meaning of life and in each rendition the poet blows you over with his sheer brilliance. Consider this,
//I’m leaving this
Unfinished poem behind
In the hands of all the
Imminent painters and sculptors. In oils in pastels
In acrylics—in wood in bronze in rock
Let them complete the body
//Agony, too, is a kind of institution. It will sit on you all the time swinging its legs from your shoulders.//
Joy Goswami doesn’t cease to surprise you. The surrealism and fantastic imagery creates the perfect dreamlike atmosphere.
Jeremy Noel -Tod (editor of The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem: From Baudelaireto Anne Carson) recalls Charles Baudelaire when he writes about Goswami’s work. Baudelaire, as we know, is known for his original style of prose-poetry, modernism and inventiveness.
Goswami’s prose poems defy convention slipping easily between the metre and everyday speech. They are an ensemble of new styles, techniques, imagery, familiarity, recognizability as also uniqueness.
I am not versed in Bengali and I consider it a disadvantage because a translated piece of work is largely at the mercy of the translator. However, if I were to simply view this collection as my indulgence into the world of Joy Goswami sans the focus on language, I will say it flows seamlessly. Peppered with Hindi and several references, it makes one feel alive. The poems break barriers and as I felt, they move unconventionally from the personal to the universal and paint with perfect precision the insanity of existence. Sampurna Chattarji makes it a collection worthy of your time and senses both.
My rating is five stars. Having read the book, I have been on a rampant research, studying about Joy Goswami and his work and it’s like diving into a vast ocean.
If you are a poet, this compelling book will motivate you to dive deep into translated verses and discover the raw beauty of India’s vernacular poets.
The book can be purchased from the following link,
Super glad to be writing this IWSG post today. With a lot going on at the personal front, I missed out posting last month and didn’t visit many of my IWSG friends the month before that. But I’m hoping to share more snippets from my writing journey from now on. Fingers crossed!
The IWSG is a wonderful platform that helps you to carve your own writing path. Writing is a lonely pursuit and the IWSG gives you an opportunity to connect with others and learn from their experience. Being a part of this group has helped me to understand my own writing journey and work towards a goal.
If you would like to join the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, please click on the link below.
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!
April 7th’s question:
Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?
Let me begin by saying that I admire the chutzpah of those who experiment with genres, styles, etc. At the same time, I am a traditionalist when it comes to both reading and writing. Seldom has experimentation caught my fancy. My writing journey is relatively young and for the past three or four years of writing poetry and short fiction, I don’t think I have tried anything radically different.
Having said that, I would like to add that I think I was only testing the waters in these initial years. This year, particularly, I made a conscious decision to experiment and go another route. Before I talk about style or genre, this is the first time in four years that I’ve chosen to send poems to various magazines looking for submissions rather than posting them here on my blog. The blog has taken a backseat with me making only sporadic appearances here.
I’ve been a stickler for rhyme and metre, but now I’ve been trying my hand at prose poetry. I haven’t had a breakthrough with this experiment as of now but I am enjoying this new phase of writing.
A first for me this year has also been a submission for an anthology of memoirs, which has fortunately been accepted. I read two memoirs in January and February and when I saw a call for one, I was naturally inclined to submit a piece may be because I was in that frame of mind. But I completely enjoyed writing it and was glad about a successful attempt.
When it comes to short story writing, I find it hard to even contemplate writing sci-fi and horror. My stories have a more contemporary flavour. But now I see a call for horror stories which has caught my attention and am keen to give it a shot.
It is surprising that I have taken this route but I have also started to believe that taking risks or should I say, being experimental when it comes to writing is adding that necessary thrill to the entire process and making it fun, an absolute joyful exercise. I am not writing as much as I did previously and am going really slow, but stepping out of my comfort zone has ironically made me more comfortable about what/how I write.
As far as controversial topics are concerned, I have written several pieces of non-fiction as a content writer which have been controversial. But when it comes to stories and poetry, I like to keep it layered with only slight allusions here and there.
Finally, talking about point of view and approach to a piece, I like to be real. I don’t really paint a rosy picture unless I see it as such and am comfortable presenting life as it is.
How I enjoyed answering this month’s question! What about you? Do you like to experiment with writing? Do you like to take risks?
Let me end with this quote that I just remembered, which I think perfectly sums up what I’ve tried to say.
Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go !
Book: Chinese Whiskers
Author: Pallavi Aiyar (@pallaviaiyar)
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: General Fiction/ Contemporary Fiction
Recently I watched an interesting writing session with Pallavi Aiyar as part of Blogchatter’s #WritFest. Thereafter her book ‘Chinese Whiskers’ made its way into my library. It was the author’s debut book and the first edition was published in 2010. This new edition has been published in 2021 and is as relevant today as it was a decade ago. But before we find out more about that, let us begin with the book cover.
The book cover which showcases two cats, one inside a television set and the other on top of a cushion with Chinese motifs sets the mood right away. The honey base is attention grabbing and immediately caught the eye of my ten-year-old who grabbed the book before I could lay my hands on it.
Blurb: Soyabean is a kittenwhen he is adopted by Mr and Mrs A, foreigners who live in a large courtyard house in Beijing. Soon after, the couple brings home Tofu, a rescued dustbin cat. Just as the cats begin to settle into their new pampered lives, Soyabean is offered a job as a model for a new brand of cat food. Meanwhile, a mysterious virus is sickening people across the city and it is cats that are being blamed.
Chinese Whiskers is a modern fable set in the ever-changing landscape of early twenty-first-century China. Told from a feline point of view and richly textured with the sights and sounds of the hutong neighbourhoods of Beijing, Pallavi Aiyar’s first novel will make you laugh and tear up, and think again about the battles that we all fight between the corruption of fast living and the ideals of traditional life.
About the Author: Pallavi Aiyar is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has reported from across China, Europe, Indonesia and Japan. She is the author of several books of fiction and non-fiction, including the bestselling China memoir, Smoke and Mirrors. She currently lives in Spain with her family- human and feline.
Review: The story set in Beijing, China is a tale of two cats Soyabean and Tofu. Written in first-person (cat) narrative, the story incorporates the perspectives of both cats in alternate chapters. As mentioned in the blurb, both felines come from different social backgrounds but land up in the home of their well-to-do European owner who loves them both immensely. However, despite being a part of the same environment Soyabean and Tofu are like chalk and cheese in their personal preferences. It is through them that the writer presents a commentary on life in Beijing. Although I wouldn’t call the book allegorical, it does touch upon the moral and political aspect of life in China as also on the large social divide.
The cats form a strong bond and during the course of their seemingly ‘simple’ lives land up in a precarious situation. An adventure of sorts, which uncovers the corruption and filth surrounding human lives is next on the cards. The story which has been conceptualized keeping a deadly virus, story of migrant workers and the Olympic Games in the backdrop transcends both time and space and is equally relevant today and across nations and societies. Indian readers are likely to savour the flavour which is very Asian and very familiar.
The language is simple and so is the setting. At face value it may even pass off as YA fiction with the illustrations and can be easily picked up by young adults. At the same time, it is multilayered for the adult reader with the confrontation between generations, class divide, corruption, human apathy being some of the several themes that will provide enough to chew on.
The resolution to the cat-adventure has been worked out in an easy manner, and you almost see it coming. The predictability factor can turn the whole thing a little wobbly. But I guess it has been done consciously to keep it in tandem with the uncomplicated plot. No, there isn’t a moral at the end but there is lots to dwell on.
All in all, a quick and fun read and it did well to arouse my interest in the next escapade of the cats as it appears in Jakarta Tales.
My rating is four stars.
The Amazon link to purchase the book is right here!
This book has been reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Programme which you can join here.
How do you deal with the sheer predictability of life?
I sit in my tiny apartment balcony each evening, watching the city lights and trying to gather my thoughts on the day gone by. They rarely take a detour. At the end of every single day, I land up having done nearly the same things that I probably did the day before. The city at a distance bathes in the same radiance. Right opposite the railway track lies the bustling market area, my sole means of daily survival by daytime. As night begins to descend, I can visibly make out the various stores, neatly lined up. The digital boards with their names brightly lit up. Green, red, orange. I see them in the evenings and they stay up till the wee hours. Unfailingly, always. Just on one of the days I do hope for some of them to malfunction. Maybe I can then spot a slight change. The traffic rushing past the over bridge like cannonballs is no different. Seldom does a vehicle break down causing a “serpentine delay”, which is immediately substituted by honking cars. Soon, it’s back to the haste.
I shift my focus to early mornings. I run downstairs from the tenth floor of the building sharp at 6 AM. I wear the same track pants that I wore yesterday. But yesterday I used the elevator. I alternate between the two but I have only two to choose from. The compound is packed with dazzling bougainvillea, carefully planted on a small patch in front of each building. I try to calculate the distance of each shrub from the entrance. The absolute correctness, the precision of existence. I run away from the bougainvillea and head towards the green carpet. I must walk barefoot on the grass. I look for scrubby tufts. I am glad to discover something gone awry. This is the place where I decide to spend the next one hour, looking around at familiar faces trickle in. I look at the burly man in blue sweatpants. He is into his fifth round and will soon be taking his place on a standing twister. Before I can see him do that for the umpteenth time in a month, I realize my one hour is over, once again.
The rest of the day between the morning and the descending of the city lights juggles between hunger pangs, food stories, phone calls, work deadlines and ticking off lists…almost in an identical order each day. I sneak in minutes of social media, only to be greeted by much of a muchness of this devil. I type familiar words one after the other on the profiles of friends. They do the same. I open an article, trying to figure out whether I’ve read it before. Modern life runs in a loop.
I have an hour left before the 5 PM tea. At 5 PM every day, tea leaves simmer in a pot and I pour a cup with no sugar and another with a teaspoon of it. One more, with sugar free. Every day at five in the evening.
Next, I take my position in the balcony and turn to the city lights. Tonight, I must write. What will I write about? The City Lights! The same city lights? Yes. Don’t I have something new? No. I only have the predictability of routine.
In March 2019, a post on Facebook caught my attention. I was a young blogger, looking to gain a foothold in the blogging world. The post was an announcement about a friend’s participation in a month-long blogging event, popularly called ‘The A to Z Challenge’. I must admit here that I have all the qualities that do not impress popularity or drive growth of a social media platform. Needless to say, the blog’s reach in 2019 was limited and sluggish. And so, the Challenge appeared as a lucrative means to gain traction and add discipline to my writing journey. I took the plunge precisely at the last moment. As you will go on to read, it turned out to be a profitable bargain in the end!
Here is a quick recap of how the Challenge played out for me. In the process, I have also tried to answer some general questions/doubts.
What is the A to Z Challenge?
Held in the month of April, it wouldn’t be wrong to term this mega event as a sort of Blogger’s Pilgrimage. For the entire month of April, bloggers post on their blog every single day, except Sundays. This makes a total of twenty-six posts, corresponding to the twenty-six alphabets of the English Language. You always have a choice to title your posts according to the alphabets, but even if you don’t it is perfectly fine as long as you have twenty-six posts out there!
It is also a month of not just writing consistently, but also reading the other bloggers, sharing their work, finding like-minded people, collaborating, learning and unlearning! Since I particularly enjoy poetry and fiction, short stories and pieces of flash as well as personal tales, the challenge helped me to connect with bloggers/ poets/writers who shared my interest.
Should I have a theme for the A to Z Challenge?
Not necessarily. In 2019, I went unprepared into the challenge and without a theme. The posts were a mash up of poetry, essays, stories for children, my travel tales and even didactic pieces of prose!
By the next year, A to Z had established me as a blogger who was also a poet. I therefore, decided to write twenty-six poems, all based in history. It was an unusual combination and was very well received. So, I stuck to a theme in 2020.
Which of these choices is better? Definitely, having a theme helps other bloggers identify your niche and know where to come when they are looking for something particular. As for you, well you manage to literally write twenty-six chapters of a book, which may find its way into Blogchatter’s Book Carnival in the month of May!
Take the Plunge
Two years of ‘A to Z’ seem inconsequential when you compare them to the years put in by the stalwarts of the blogging zone. But on an individual level, being a part of A to Z in April 2019 and in 2020, helped me understand my own writing journey, carved my writer’s path, connected me to other writers and eventually found me a place in various poetry anthologies and collaborations, catapulted ‘A Hundred Quills’ from unknown to a place of prominence and helped my writing to get noticed. May I add that it is the success of my past A to Z Challenges and the support of the Blogchatter community that have given me the courage to take my writing to the next level.
I recommend the A to Z Challenge to new and established bloggers. To register simply visit Blogchatter’s portal here. (The last date to register is 25 March)
You may also add your blog link to the Master List of Blogging from A to Z April Challenge here to get the international feel and, if I may say so, forge global alliances. (The Master List opens on March 29 and the Theme Reveal is till March 20).
So, don’t procrastinate. Click on the links above to register yourself right away!
Happy Blogging, Happy April, Happy A to Z!
Book: Along Came a Spyder
Author: Apeksha Rao ( https://twitter.com/apekshar )
Publisher: Tree Shade Books
Genre: YA spy thriller
Price: INR 315/- (Paperback)
INR 175/- (Kindle Edition)
A YA spy thriller? Didn’t I leave them way behind when I entered adulthood?
It was with scepticism that I picked up Apeksha Rao’s ‘Along Came a Spyder’, after my ten-year-old couldn’t stop raving about ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spyder’ which is a prequel to the book. The young girl has been on a high dose of Nancy Drews and an Indian teenage sleuth with her ‘grey cells’ seemed no less exciting. I decided to play along and that is how Samira Joshi walked into our library.
Blurb: At 17, Samira Joshi has only one dream in life. She wants to be a spy. And why not? Spying runs in the Joshi genes. Her great-grandmother was famous for sticking her nose in everyone’s business. Her grandmother had a flourishing side-business of tracking down errant husbands and missing servants. Her parents are elite intelligence agents for RAW. Yet, they want their only daughter to become a doctor. When she sees a college friend being trapped by a pimp, Samira does some spying of her own, and discovers the existence of a secret sisterhood often spies— The Spyders. And, she wants in! The question is, do they want her?
About the Author: Apeksha Rao is a homoeopath by profession, and a writer by passion. A polyglot, fluent in six languages by the age of five, she fell in love with words very early in life. She wrote her first story at the age of seven.
At the age of thirty-four, she wound up her practice and moved to Bangaluru. As she explored the new city, she was inspired to start a food blog, in addition to her already-popular fiction blog.
Apeksha has been lauded for her taut and gripping stories that always come with a twist at the end. She is a keen observer of human nature, something that is reflected in her stories.
Review: The adventure begins from the word go. Samira Joshi has had several previews of the life of a spy, having travelled with her parents on some of their missions, of course, only as a matter of chance. Her holiday in Dubai with RAW agents Alka and Ranjit Joshi, is no different. The stage is set for the Joshis to move on a critical mission straight after the Dubai holiday. Samira, who stays back with her grandmother, accidentally stumbles upon a group of teenage girl spies called ‘The Spyders’. That begins an unexpected journey, marking her foray into the world of sleuths, even as she overcomes personal battles along the way. A series of mysteries resolved with the help of her girl gang set the pace for a gripping YA thriller.
There are a few things about the book that are particularly appealing. The ‘make-believe’ characters are straight out of a regular Indian family. A doting grandmother, who is seemingly unhappy with the job profile of her daughter-in-law and well, even her son! Although my instinct says that Ajji might come up as a surprise package in one of the stories later. Samira’s parents are typical Indian parents, who understand the unpredictability and dangers of their own profession and would thus rather have their daughter take up something steadier. Samira and The Spyders are young girls, bold, intelligent, technically sound, can be stubborn, do have their cat-fights and yet are as ingénue as can be. They are the right example of a generation that has a mind of its own but is as willing to learn from its mistakes and grow. One is bound to enjoy the witty conversations between them, as also the war of words between Samira and her mother.
Samira continues to be a part of several sub-plots (read cases) which she solves while her parents deal with the bigger mission of saving the nation. The sub-plots can get a little exasperating, considering they are more than one or two, but the well-paced writing and continuous action makes up for this minor glitch.
The epilogue makes sure you know that there are more thrillers in the pipeline. My ten-year-old is sure to get a collection of The Spyders for herself (she says it’s added much to her vocabulary) and I am definitely going to borrow them all!
My Rating is 4/5
The Amazon link to purchase the book is right here!
This book has been reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Programme which you can join here.
More than four decades ago, in an army cantonment far away from the city, a young Captain and his new bride sat watching ‘The Little Tramp’ in action. As the Captain rolled over laughing, his young bride peered into his sparkling eyes with admiration. Her own eyes, then darted towards the wall clock. Half past eleven.
‘Another thirty minutes,’ she mused. She couldn’t wait to watch him spring out of bed, and produce a bunch of roses magically from under the couch or maybe he had already placed a bar or two of her favourite chocolate right beneath the pillow! She slid her hand under the satin covers to see if there was anything there, but then withdrew it immediately because she did not wish to spoil the fun.
The credits rolled on the screen. She looked at the clock once more. Ten minutes to go. She couldn’t stop marvelling at her husband’s perfect plan. Sitting late on pretext of a movie, he was leading them to a midnight birthday bash. But what excuse would he have to stay up for ten more minutes? She was only wondering, when he leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek, which immediately turned the colour of raspberry.
‘Good night darling,’ he said and then turning over to his side of the bed, switched off the lamp. It took a moment or two for reality to dawn on her. But she instantly waved it off.
She loved surprises but wasn’t a fan of thrillers. She hoped he wasn’t planning a ghastly celebration. Imagine glittery red roses flying towards her in the dark night! Or, ooh la la, did he have something else on his mind?
There was no way she could read the clock, so she simply turned her mind into the second hand and began to tick away.
1,2,3,4….576,577,578…600. That was it! Ten minutes over, well, not in a jiffy.
But the night had come to a grinding halt and her husband continued to lay on the bed, absolutely still, oblivious of his anticipating wife…and…uh…well…snoring!
Had he forgotten her birthday after barely a few months of their wedding? No! It couldn’t be. He had mentioned it just the day before, enough reason for her to have hoped for a pack of surprises. She waited long enough, her heart a flurry of emotions, before sleep stole her.
The next morning, as the rays of the sun tiptoed through the silk drapes, she opened her eyes to see the dashing Captain in a green camouflage and maroon beret, standing next to her bed holding a cup of tea in his hands.
‘Good morning darling. I made you some tea,’ he said, placing the cup on the bedside table. She smiled, waiting for him to pull out something from his pocket or from behind his back. Instead, he bent forward, carefully placing his moist lips on hers and then whispered into her ear, ‘Happy Birthday, my love!’
‘Thankyou!’ she said, returning the favour. The Captain then stood up, giving his lady-love a distinguished military salute and moved out of the room.
The woman sat right there, wondering if the whole thing was a charade. A contrived effort to shield something bigger that had perhaps been stashed away for the latter half of the day.
She spent the morning cooking some birthday-worthy cuisines, and getting the house ready for a supposed celebration. She pulled out a lovely floral dress from her trousseau and pearls to go with it. A gentle touch of rouge on the cheeks gave her the perfect shade fit for a bashful birthday girl. After plucking flowers from her mini garden, she placed them in a china vase which was a wedding gift from a dear friend. And she baked a cake as well! A tiny one. They were both wary of calories and with the Captain sure to bring one along, it would be a bit too much.
As birds began to fly home and the evening sun cast its long shadows into the living room, her eyes rested on the gate, waiting for her lover to walk in, sanguine that a most glorious evening awaited her. He did, soon enough, rushing in at the speed of light and melting her away in a titanic hug.
‘I love you, my sweetheart,’ he said, looking at her. ‘Ah! The birthday girl looks beautiful. What a lucky man I am!’ She fluttered her eyes that seemed to be working like a surveillance camera at that moment.
Releasing her, the Captain walked into the house, empty-handed, welcomed by the ambrosial scent of the cake wafting from the oven.
She, on the other hand, stood at the door, her mouth agape, her listless hands dangling in free air and her eyes, a pool of water.
‘Aaahhhh… I’m famished,’ he said, drawing into his nostrils the sweet, fragrant smell and turning around to look at his wife. But what was it that he saw? His beloved, his little birdie, the one he loved most dearly in the entire world, was standing at the door with tears flowing down her orbs, smearing the mascara that had embellished her long, black, eyelashes. Her cheeks were blotchy and redder than before.
It took him a moment to register the changed scenario. And then, with lines of worry cast on his forehead, he walked back to her.
‘What is it, my love? What happened?’ he asked, holding her hands, pulling her towards him and trying to wipe off her tears. She pushed him back, rushing to her room and burying her head in the pillow. He ran right behind her, shocked by the sudden turn of events.
‘Please speak to me once darling. What is it that makes you cry? Am I the one to be blamed today?’
She sat up, looking at him with her bloodshot eyes. She wasn’t sure if she should be the one to spell it out. He was supposed to know, wasn’t he?
‘My love, I can’t bear to see you like this. Please speak up,’ he implored.
‘When I was with mumma-papa, oh, what splendid celebrations we had on my birthday! Each year. They made it so special for me. It’s just…just that I’m missing them.’ She wanted to say so much more, but something held her back.
He stood there, frozen. Oh! He hadn’t thought of it at all! He loved her, yes, he did. But that’s how it had always been at the military school. Birthdays meant wishes. Maybe if his birthday had fallen before hers, he would have got a demo just the way they did at work. But now it was too late. Or, was it?
‘Give me a moment darling,’ he said, storming out of the room. The next she heard was the sound of the engine revving up. She ran out, only to see him speed away in his scooter. Where had he gone? The city was more than an hour away. She sat down on the stairs, right outside the door with the wind ruffling her hair. As the tears on her face dried up, it felt like a patch of earth in peak summers. She was parched, but she refused to move inside, not until he returned.
As night descended, she looked up at the blanket of stars, secretly cursing herself for sending her husband away at that hour. It must have been around nine in the night when she caught sight of a bunch of balloons at a distance. The rumbling Bajaj Chetak then appeared outside the gate, and the Captain alighted from it. In his hands he carried boxes and roses, bright-coloured balloons and party hats!
No prizes for guessing what transpired in the young couple’s home that evening. But what’s of more significance is how birthdays and similar situations panned out for them in the next four decades.
Well, the husband didn’t quite learn his lesson and regretfully the years only expanded his skills in forgetfulness. And the wife? The tantalizing glimpse of their forthcoming life, on that eventful day, taught her precisely how she was to have her way with the man.
And that is how love bloomed, in the midst of unharmonious music and brush strokes gone wrong. For, you know what, it is only the wild flowers that make the woods beautiful.
This blog post is part of the ‘Petals of Love’ Blog Hop by Swarnali Nath. (The Saffron Story Teller)
The acceptance of who we are is a daunting task. So hung up are we on the flawlessness of existence, that we spend long hours ironing away the wrinkles. The political correctness of living consumes us early on in life.
I remember a class-fellow at school whose fastidious devotion to carving out an impeccable life was a little annoying. There was so much effort in preservation of life’s niceties that it seemed no less than a façade. From a glorious academic time-table to personal grooming, everything fell perfectly in place for her. In contrast, we were always struggling with one thing or the other. As a student ‘All is Well’ was just another spurious expression for me. It didn’t really exist. Or maybe it did, along with ‘All isn’t well’!
The pretence of my class-fellow continued to flummox me for quite some time until a Bollywood blockbuster came to my rescue. In 1994, I watched the popular Hindi film Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. We didn’t watch many movies back then because there was no OTT and of course the parental nod was hard to get. But a goody goody picture could easily make its way into our weekend schedule. For those of you who need to jog their memories about this Madhuri Dixit – Salman Khan starrer, it was about a huge family that lived together…well, happily! There were no fam-gangs and if at all a quirky case did spring up, it all made sense in the end. The movie appeared bizarre to me because in my opinion and from my experience of large families (and even small ones) I could say that they struggled with more than just one-odd case. Gossiping was a given, accompanied by regular issues of jealousy, betrayal, snobbery, comparisons and other minor lapses. So, what was this flick all about? In simple words, it was a cover-up for our duplicitous lives.
Everything is perfect, everything is nice! I could now correlate my class-fellow’s efforts and reasons for carving out a near-perfect persona of herself to the movie I had just watched. In a way I began to feel sorry for her. I realised, she had only been trying hard to fit into the mould.
The books I was reading were no different. Allegorical and didactic, they didn’t quite represent life’s struggles. Even if they did, it would all turn out fine in the end. Kiss the frog and discover the prince!
I had had enough of Santa’s tales. I began to look out for real stories. Tales of struggle, tales of strife. And I discovered quite a few. They were not a revelation for me as such, but certainly a depiction of something far more real and convincing. For now, I was sure that I wasn’t the only one.
Some of the books that came to my rescue included the story of ‘Annawadi’ that suggested poverty, hunger, violence, the fear of being rendered homeless ( Behind the Beautiful Forevers- Katherine Boo) ; or the tale of Celie (The Color Purple), so accepting of life’s misfortunes as if that’s how it’s supposed to be until she was shown the other side. I was comfortable comprehending Nihilism in The Waste Land or despondency in Plath’s The Bell Jar or even in Tagore’s Kabuliwallah. The immersive reading experience that these books offered was something I had been chasing for a long time.
Was I beginning to enjoy grief? That sounds so politically incorrect, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t want to put it that way. Let’s say instead, I was becoming more accepting of the shadows that surround us. I was no longer looking at exemplary existences and wondering if I was stranded on an island!
Which isn’t to say that I was averse to solutions or unaware of the fact that things do work out… but sometimes we must learn to live with them. I was keener to hear stories where people continued the journey regardless of…
Recently, I watched A Beautiful Mind, a second time, as part of Blogchatter’s initiative ‘The Creative Soul Club’. On a personal note, I would say, what makes the movie work is the fact that John Nash’s story continues despite the several interventions. The acceptance of an imperfect life can be way more encouraging for others than the story of a life lived to a T.
When I read Damyanti Biswas’ ‘You Beneath Your Skin’ in 2019, it was not just the ‘whodunnit’ factor that made me recommend it (I finished reading this heavy tome in record time and I’m not a fan of thrillers) but also the fact that the life of the protagonists did not end in a ‘happily ever after’! They found their way out of the maze, of course, but a closure which is the norm made way for a more plausible and workable (read believable) solution.
Over years and with flourishing quotients of happiness on social media, my admiration for imperfect lives and of the people who proudly display their jagged edges has grown manifolds. It takes strength to keep it all bottled up inside you but it takes greater courage to unveil your wounds.
Reading and appreciating real stories of grief and survival (sometimes not) doesn’t mean that I believe that happiness is non-existent. But I do believe that life isn’t all about saccharine smiles. It is far more real than the big, happy, Indian family saga of 1994. And you never know, your real story might just help someone heal.
What do you think? Are you comfortable talking about life’s misadventures? Which are the books or movies about real-life situations that have resonated with you? Do mention them in the comments below.