Mountains & the Delhi Trees

I’ve been trying to get out early in the morning nowadays. The wee hours that I normally devoted to my writing are being spent roaming the streets of Delhi. Not that the city can boast of an early morning breeze but it’s enough that I can now afford to give the strident noise of the evening rush hours a clear miss.  

I’ve always enjoyed long walks, particularly in the hills. My love for the mountains has always been evident, and anyone who has been visiting the blog regularly would know how I always pine for them. My stay in Gangtok, in the lap of the Himalayas, was almost three-years long. The roads in the capital town were serpentine and steep. Walking on them was like riding on the back of a huge python. The low clouds would make the valley appear misty, especially because I chose to go out in the evenings.  

Another place where I spent a little less than a year was Wellington, Coonoor- a tiny, little town of sublime beauty tucked in the Nilgiris. Walks in Wellington were different from those in Gangtok. Covered by pines and the jacaranda trees, the roads would lovingly run into the arms of forests, as if besotted by them.

Pines always remind me of my own hill town, Shimla. Unlike Gangtok and Wellington, where I liked to venture out in the evenings, it was always an early morning walk in Shimla. I was lucky to stay closer to the lonely jungle roads that made me swoon over them. But that wasn’t always the case. There was also a time when Shimla hills made me feel sick and caged. I felt as if the mountains were always closing in on me. Maybe that’s how I got the claustrophobia.

My husband came visiting two months prior to our marriage and we decided to go for a stroll one evening. As we climbed a slope close to the house that overlooked a valley, the sky appeared drenched in an orange light as the sun went down behind the mountains on the other end. We turned to catch a glimpse of the setting sun, when he said to me, “Enjoy this. You are going to miss it.”

His words sounded almost sacrilegious. “Never!” I replied.

As I look back on that day, I think the mountains heard me and vowed to prove me wrong. For they ensured that I longed for their company after feasting on the plains of the subcontinent. The party was great but not great enough to hold me for long. Soon, I felt no more than being in a “rats’ alley/ Where the dead men lost their bones”. (T S Eliot)

I have been fortunate to visit my hometown once or twice a year to see my parents. The mountains don’t close in on me anymore. Instead my first impulse is to gulp down a fistful of air rushing down their slopes.

2020 hasn’t allowed me a visit home. The pain is piercing. And to my rescue come the morning walks along with the Delhi trees. No, I don’t see the mountains here but the relative quiet of an otherwise humdrum life is helpful. There are barely people on the roads just after sunrise and that is great by the standards of this city. I try moving through the lanes lined up with these trees─ a semblance of peace, quiet and maybe landscape in an otherwise disorderly world. I also take the liberty to remove the mask and take in my fistful of air.

It’s hard for me to tear myself apart from the sights of the mountains I behold in my heart. But for now, these Dilli trees are doing fine by me. They help me listen to the stillness I crave for. I think they will also help me sustain longer than I had hoped!

How about you? Are you lucky enough to be living in the lap of the natural world? Or, just like me, do you miss the company of nature? How do you make up for it?

बड़े शहरों में मेरा मन नही लगता

Image: Unsplash

बड़े शहरों की ऊँची इमारतों में
मेरा मन नही लगता
यहाँ जगमगाते बल्ब
दफ़्न करते हैं पहाड़ों की धाम
चटकनियों के सहारे
खिड़की और दरवाज़े
सलामत रखते हैं
बहुतायत, दिखावा और मायूसी
ठंडी बयारें पंखे का टेक लगाए
दबे पाँव ही आती हैं
बाग़ी हवाओं को यहाँ
आशियाँ नही मिलता
बड़े शहरों की ऊँची इमारतों में
मेरा मन नही लगता
उठती है टीस रोज़ ही
इनके बाज़ारों में
जहाँ बिकते हैं मख़मली कुर्ते
और मुफ़लिसी है विचारों मे
शक-ओ-शुबह की गिरफतें यहाँ
चाहो भी तो भरोसेमंद नही दिखता
मुझे बड़े शहरों में अपनापन नही मिलता
इनकी ऊँची इमारतों में
मेरा मन नही लगता

Tinted Glasses

Image: Unsplash

I see the green of jealousy
walk into the room surreptitiously,
glinting malevolence rumbles her insides;
wary and leery I steal away,
to bump into a melancholic grey.

‘Hello there!’ it smiles wistfully
‘I’m called melancholy!’
Long alleys of despondency writ on its face,
a phantasm of drudgery
methinks has overstayed.

So, I move on to yet another avenue,
to be ushered in by a serene and quiet blue.
Sitting gingerly atop a snowy mountain,
like a buoyant cloud dappled with silence,
it trickles like Zen.

That’s when I squint to catch a glimpse
of a spunk and fiery red;
the eager-beaver, I tell you, isn’t here to rest.
It dances with rapture and wheedles its way,
‘lub-dub-lub-dub’ crooning away!

I also sift from the rubble of cliché
incandescent yellows and orange glows,
piggytails in pink, affluence in mink
Satan in black and purgation in white;
pigeonholed dulls, labelled brights!

Blinkers I wear, blinkers I receive,
when through tinted glasses this world I perceive.

-Sonia Dogra

{This poem was written as part of a prompt on Poetry Parlour at ArtoonsInn}

IWSG September- The name’s Ruskin Bond!

It’s the IWSG day and what a time I had answering this month’s question. But before I move on to the answer, here is all about the IWSG.

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.

The Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.   
The next posting day is September 2nd. 
Sign up here.

The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, J Lenni Dorner, Deniz Bevan, Kim Lajevardi, Natalie Aguirre, and Louise – Fundy Blue! Do visit them and show some love.

Now for this month’s question. If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

Well, for me it would be none other than Ruskin Bond.Of all the things that draw me to the hills, it is the simplicity of life in a hill town that is most endearing. When I watched the series ‘Ek tha Rusty’ several years ago, I knew Ruskin Bond only as an odd writer who appeared in my English book, ‘The Gulmohar Reader’ once in a while. The simple charm of ‘Ek tha Rusty’ was enough to make me keen to read more from him. However, it wasn’t ‘Rusty’ but ‘The Room on the Roof’, the story of a seventeen-year-old boy (Rusty again) who makes his home in a tiny room on the roof of a house, that first made its way into my personal library. Finding Bond wasn’t that easy back then. You couldn’t order books at random. There was no Amazon, you see! I still managed to read some of his work. ‘The Night Train at Deoli’ hooked me to him like never before. Even some of his macabre ghost stories were as good as fairy tales for me, having grown up in Shimla where every single corner of a dilapidated house had a hundred strange tales to tell. ‘The Blue Umbrella’ made me see how an ordinary happening in life can turn into an extraordinary story- all you need is the right emotion to carry it forward.

Some of Ruskin Bond’s stories even spoke of my own little town. He was an alumnus of one of the schools there. But was it only this bond with Mr Bond that drew me to his stories? Yes, the familiarisation did play its role, but I think it was an instant connect with his simple, everyday stories that made me want to read him more. His characters have always been real. And so have been their struggles. Whether Hassan or Ram Bharose, I am sure I can meet them just about anywhere. They are like me or the people I know and see each day who talk to me!

I haven’t consciously tried to emulate Ruskin Bond in my writing but I would say he is there, very much there! I have been inspired by every bit of his writing and he would definitely be my choice for a beta partner. And here is a little secret of mine… I did think of the author once and even wrote a story of my failed attempt to visit him along with my children (great fans again) and a half-finished manuscript! Yes, I dared. If you would like to know what happened, read the story by clicking on the link below.

https://soniadogra.com/2019/08/08/to-the-writers-house/

As I type this piece, ‘A Book of Simple Living’ stares at me from the bedside. Do you think all this is enough to woo him to be the beta partner for my WIP? Who is that one writer you would choose? Let me know in the comments section right below!

WEP August- Encouragement Award

Hi everyone

It gives me great pleasure to share with you all the wonderful news that my flash fiction piece for WEP August based on the prompt ‘Long Shadow’ has been selected for the Encouragement Award. [Read the post here]. This is so gratifying as all those who read my post on how the story came about would know.

Says the judge Nick Wilford about my story, “Beautiful and exotic, I really like the introduction of the myth and accompanying intrigue.”

Visit the link below to read other wonderful winning entries. The prompt for October is also right there and it would be great if you join in.

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/08/wepff-winners-post-long-shadow.html?m=1

Thank you for your interest. Keep visiting!

A Hundred Quills- Behind the Scenes & The Journey Ahead

(free image, pixabay)

“If you chase anything in life chase the things that get you excited about living…”                                                                ─ Shannon L. Alder

A Hundred Quills is turning two next week. And this one is a huge personal milestone for me. From just about two readers (or followers as they are popularly called) to almost four hundred (394 at the time of writing this post) and more than two hundred posts, I think I can be kind on myself and call this a decent leap. I have also, during these years, penned my thoughts for a few online portals making several friends in the blogging world along the way. The blogging journey has opened countless new vistas for me. It has been a realm of learning and growth.

On this occasion I feel happy to share the story behind the nomenclature of this blog. Afterall, I owe it to my readers to share some details of the ‘behind the scenes’. Maybe my story resonates with you and you find a tiny bit of inspiration in there! Why I choose to do it after two long years is both special and intriguing, as you will soon discover.

Two years ago, I sent a short story titled, ‘A Hundred Quills’ for a writing competition. I had just started taking baby steps into the world of writing and was experimenting with e-magazines and their likes. The story failed to make the cut. To add a little note, it was my fifth attempt at the competition and I was already disillusioned. I thought it was time to get some expert help about my writing. After a bit of research and at the behest of a friend, I sent the story and a handful of poems for a review to someone with decent writing experience. I was warned- ‘Brace yourself, I do not mince words.’ Well, that is exactly what I was looking for. An honest opinion.

 After three days I received a message for a scheduled video call to discuss my writing. I wondered why a video call! As I look back now, I think it’s always wonderful to begin in an extraordinary way.

The following Sunday at 11, I was on Skype, meeting my first ever beta reader, if I may call him so. The call went on for over two hours. While the poems received passing marks, the story didn’t quite make it. I was categorically told that there is no dearth of writers in the world and it is up to me how I choose to present my writing. I was definitely disillusioned by the ‘honest feedback’. I didn’t want to become Tagore or Dickens. Why was my writing being compared to them? It took me a few days to look at the entire episode more rationally and positively. But once there, I decided to meet the roadblocks head-on and immediately moved over to WordPress to have a place of my own where I could just write and be myself. It was then, while deciding upon a name, that I thought of ‘A Hundred Quills’, a gentle reminder to myself of how the journey began.

I often thought of sharing this part of my writing adventure on the blog but wanted the original story to accompany it. However, the story simply kept eluding me. Initially the plan was to make it the hundredth post on the blog but it took me long to be convinced about what I had written and the time didn’t seem ripe enough to present it to the world. In between I wrote several pieces of flash and went on to win writing contests, although few and far between.

 I joined the IWSG in October last year and wrote my first WEP entry (Footprints) in December 2019 which was a piece of flash. It turned out to be a winning entry and since I’ve been very active and regular with the WEP submissions. I see them as an important part of my learning. I had a long desire to edit my story ‘A Hundred Quills’ for a WEP entry. This month’s prompt ‘Long Shadow’ seemed suitable for just that. Of course, several rounds of editing went into turning a 4000-word story into a flash piece of 1000 words, but should I say it was worth the effort. Fellow writers had some really kind things to say about the story, and naturally no other piece of writing in the past two years made me happier. I would love for you to visit the story here.

Coming back to milestones. I always feel that we each reach our milestones at a different time. And once there, we no longer wish to stay. At least I don’t! I wish to move on to newer destinations, explore other worlds. I have had my share of awards and claps…even jeers and failure. Reached all of those milestones pretty early in life. Maybe that is the reason for my equanimity. I’m more interested in trying out new avenues or ventures or something more… the ‘what next’ type!

 And now I look at extending this approach to my writing as well. After all, we must keep on reinventing ourselves. It is time to venture out, maybe try new places for the poetry and the flash. But that isn’t to say that the blog is going anywhere. This is the place I call home and be sure to find my SOL stories or musings, the books I read, the life-lessons, even rants right here. And every time a poem makes the cut, watch out for a link in this very corner (fingers crossed). Who knows! You might discover a place for your verse as well.

Thank you for being a part of ‘A Hundred Quills’ and for patiently reading me once again. I hope you will not give up on the blog and it will continue to receive your love and support as I work to refurbish it for you.  

Cheers to many more novel years of writing!

Some of my earlier and raw poetry is available on Juggernaut. If you are looking to find out more about my poetry, click on the link below. Don’t forget to leave a short review if you enjoy reading the poems!

https://www.juggernaut.in/books/52454518356a4e9d

LONG SHADOW (WEP AUGUST, 2020)

Hola friends. This piece of flash is part of the WEP August 2020 Challenge, the prompt for which is ‘Long Shadow’. If you would like to be a part of this challenge and more in future visit here. Thank you to all the wonderful hosts of WEP. I love being a part of WEP!

Before I begin, just a little note. The setting of the story is a small village in Himachal. While names of places have been retained, the legend mentioned in the story is a piece of the writer’s imagination. I hope you will enjoy this take on the prompt.

LONG SHADOW

“This feather… where do you think she may have found it? I thought the birds had bid goodbye to this valley long ago!”

“My concern isn’t that Rimjhim discovered a brilliant plumage but that she looked for one… you do know what that means, don’t you?” Nirmala’s eyes drifted to the deodars outside the window.

“Don’t you worry! Do you see the Deo Tibba* out there?” Nikka Ram waved to the ranges perched behind the wooden walls of his tiny shack. “It guards our tiny village Rumsu, and nobody can ever escape its dome shaped peak. That is where the congregation of our Gods meets…”

“Your Gods couldn’t hold my son back,” Nirmala hit the ladle on the edge of the karahi.

“Woman, you need to get your facts right. The mountains can never be left behind. Those who dare leave their fold, must return. Now, I need to go and let the elders know that we have a jujurana** feather back home. I’m not giving away any of this without being rewarded.” Nikka Ram slipped his foot into a worn out rubber chappal. “And while I’m away, get hold of your girl and ask her!”

“Ask her what? Should I ask her where she found a useless feather belonging to an endangered bird, or should I ask her if she is all set to run away just like her brother and leave her old parents to lament all their life? You know collecting these rare plumages is symbolic of a new life she may be on the lookout for! Why don’t you care?”

Nirmala stood at the door, the ladle ranting and raving in her hand as her voice rose to a crescendo. Nikka Ram was already out of earshot . He was a tall man and it took him barely a few steps to reach the next bend. He would demand a good price for the plumage and maybe someday he would find the bird too! That would mean at least a year’s ration and of course, his name would appear in the papers for having added to that miniscule number of jujuranas in the state. Or at least, to the rare collection of their feathers.

‘But only if that stupid woman would mind her own business. What a mess she had made of it last time. Running helter-skelter like a lunatic, blaming it on a mere bird… “The bird’s taken my son away, the bird’s taken him away!” Crap. Young boys always want to move out of a chit of a village and find a life for themselves. But the mountains…they make sure to bring them home. A year, two, ten, fifteen- nobody ever escapes the rugged ranges. It’s for the very reason that the Gods parley on the top of the Tibba. They pull you back to the verdant meadows and imposing oaks… this time I am making no mistake. Neither am I going to let a crazy woman spoil it for me. I will get my due for this unusual find.’

Nirmala’s gaze was fixed on the door when Nikka Ram returned.

“Rimjhim isn’t back. I tell you it is the plumage. The jujurana doesn’t forgive those who secretly nurture the desire to own the bird. Legend says it follows them like the long shadow of late afternoons until they become endangered…or extinct. The bird’s taken my daughter away, the bird’s taken her away!” she said, looking at him with her bloodshot eyes. Her face was blotchy and red. Was it because of the onions in the karahi that had turned to ashes? She bent down, falling to the ground.

“That is no more than your imagination woman. Your girl will be back. If not today, then tomorrow, day after or may be ten years later. But the plumage, we won’t get this opportunity again. They are paying me good money. The last time you had your way. I am not letting you throw away that feather in a god forsaken place this time.”

Nikka Ram turned over the only chest in the house. “Now tell me where is it? The fellows are waiting for me and I must take it to them. I’m going to ask the Gods to get your children home. Just help me get done with this.”

He had overturned the cauldrons and emptied the rice canister. The clatter of utensils pricked through Nirmala’s cochlear membrane. Before she could react, Nikka Ram pulled her up, pushing her tiny frame against the wall.

“Look woman, you threw away the plumage last time. It’s been three years and your son isn’t back. I tell you, there is no truth in the legend. The mountains are going to bring them home. Their shadow hangs over all of us… over all of Rumsu, over your children. The Tibba will never desert them…just tell me once…”

“Yes, the shadow hangs over them,” a sob tore through Nirmala’s throat. “But it isn’t your Gods, it’s the jujurana. Trust me, it’s the bird.”  Nirmala looked up at the lone bulb hanging from the ceiling of the shack.

 The fog rolled into the night outside as the shivering pine needles glided in the wind.

One of those trees held an exotic orange plumage, buried in the hope that it might return to its owner. An invisible jujurana flew past the hut, casting its shadow over the heart of a lonely woman.

   The old shack was home to a noisy riot that night. A striking contrast to the silence of the Tibba, where the Gods whispered to each other only to be heard by an angry, battered man.

*********************

*Deo Tibba – a mountain range in the Pir Panjal in Himachal, India

** jujurana- The Western Tragopan, called jujurana in local language. An endangered bird that is also the state bird of Himachal Pradesh.

Total words – 975

FCA

IWSG- AUGUST 2020 (Did the form find me?)

It’s the IWSG day once again! Time’s a Bugatti, isn’t it? I love the IWSG. It’s an awesome place to learn and grow; a support group where you can reach out to better your craft.

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!

If you wish to join sign up here

The awesome co-hosts for August are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey! Do visit them and show some love!

Now for this month’s question. I love answering these questions.

August 5 question – Quote: “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.”
Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

Here is my response:

Did I find writing

Or did writing find me?

I often keep wondering

About the genesis of this story

On a plodding Sunday

As I lay about

My mind wandered to

A lonely, forsaken cloud

Wordsworth then made way

Into the room stealthily

And before I knew I had

Created some poetry!

Believe you me

Intention I had none

I am a story-teller

Don’t care for rhyme or pun

It must’ve been serendipity

That turned my prose into poetry!

So, the very next day

I decided not to go astray

And pulled out a tale

Called ‘Shards from a Decade’

Intense, stirring and savvy

The yarn was read by many

Who inadvertently chose

To call the piece ‘poetic’ prose.

Thereupon for days and weeks

And several months and years

I ordered myself by decree

To solely pen stories

Do you now wish to know

If that’s the form I choose?

Well, yes, I am watchful

By verses I shall certainly not be noosed

Now, don’t you ask me how then

This response turned into poetry

I guess I’ll have to confess

The form wilfully always chooses me!

*******************************************************

I just thought I will turn this into fun this month. Hope you enjoyed visiting the blog. Until we meet again!

अतरंगी प्रेम कहानी – तुम तक

साधारण सी लगने वाली प्रेम कहानियाँ क्या ख़ास होती हैं ? मुझे याद है किशोरावस्था के वो दिन | ’९० के दशक की बात है |वो प्रेम कहानियों का दौर था ─ चाहे फिल्में हो या किताबें | या फिर शायद ऐसा तो नहीं था, कि हमें ही और कोई कहानी नज़र नहीं आती थी!

यूँ तो सच कहें, तो  हर प्रेम कहानी एक सी होती थी | आपको किसी भी गली-नुक्कड़ पर मिल सकती थी | बिलकुल आम, तू-तू, मैं-मैं से शुरू होती हुई, लुक्का-छुप्पी में पलती बढती और असीम किस्से बुनती हुई | फिर भी हर कहानी की अपनी एक अलग आत्मा थी | कुछ ख़ास था हर साधारण सी कहानी में | और जब सुनने बैठो तो लगता था, अरे ! यह तो मेरी कहानी जैसी ही है!

सच पूछिए तो प्यार का स्वरुप है ही ऐसा| अनजान और फिर भी जाना पहचाना | यूँ तो प्यार हमेशा, हर उम्र में और हर बार नायाब होता है, लेकिन वो बीसवां दशा भुलाते नहीं भूलता | मेरी एक मित्र थी जिसने उन्नीसवें साल में आते ही कहना शुरू कर दिया था, ” बस अब हम सब अपनी ज़िन्दगी के सबसे महत्वपूर्ण दशक में कदम रखने वाले हैं | इसी दशक में हम पढाई के अंतिम चरण से गुजरेंगे, नौकरी लगेगी और प्यार भी हमारा इसी दशक में परवान चढ़ेगा |” मुझे उसकी बातों पर बहुत हंसी आती थी | लेकिन सच ही तो कहती थी वो | वो बीसवां दशा अतरंगी था | और उसका सबसे खूबसूरत रंग प्रेम का लाल था |

समय के साथ प्यार ने अपनी परिभाषा और पहनावा दोनों ही बदल लिए | इसका तात्पर्य यह नहीं है कि वो प्यार नहीं रहा | मगर सच यह है कि हम जानी – पहचानी गलियों से बार-बार गुज़रने की गलती दोहराने में हिचकिचाते कम हैं | मैं अब भी रोमांस पढ़ना और देखना पसंद करती हूँ, मगर आजकल के इन किस्सों में अपनी कहानी की झलक बस ढूंढती रह जाती हूँ |

ऐसे में मैंने हेमा बिष्ट की किताब ‘ तुम तक’ जो हाल ही में अमेज़न पर रिलीज़ हुई पढ़ी | प्यार की वो आम कहानी जो ख़ास है | शुक्रिया हेमा का मुझे मेरा बीसवां दशा याद दिलाने के लिए | यह कहानी पढ़ना जैसे प्यार की पुरानी गलियों से गुज़ारना |

‘ तुम तक’ का लिंक यहाँ शेयर कर रही हूँ | उस ओर मुख करें और इस भागती दौड़ती ज़िन्दगी में चुरा लें प्यार के कुछ बेहद अनमोल पल |

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Niksen- About Doing Nothing

John Milton’s words, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait,’ have enticed me for years. Every time I begin to wonder about the worthiness of my existence, I am drawn to Milton’s words. When he turned blind at the mere age of forty-three, the poet was filled with self-doubt and wondered whether he would be able to do justice to the talents bestowed upon him by God! Would he be productive in any way? But more than his cynicism, it is the reconciliation towards the end of the poem that has always fascinated me. Those who do not ‘do’ also hold a place of significance in the scheme of this universe.

Have you ever heard of Niksen- the Dutch art of doing nothing? Read more about it in my post here…

“Niksen- Doing Nothing!” by Sonia Dogra https://link.medium.com/69G8pjNjx8

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