July 25, 2021

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Excerpt: The Firebird by Saikat Majumdar

2 min read

majumdar-firebirdThe theatre stood in the neighborhood where Beadon Street cut through Central Avenue, a place where the dust of the city mixed with something…a breezy fragrance, something strange and sweet. It was a place he passed daily on his way to school, a place barely off the main street and close to his home, less than five minutes on the school bus if the traffic flowed easily. Marking the streets were aged tracks along which doddering trams clanged their way west, all the way to Howrah station and the river at the edge of the city. But that was not why the neighborhood felt strange.

Evening hung over the place, though it was not yet six. The darkness did not scare him. He was eager to get to the theatre around the corner. This was, he knew, the evening for the full rehearsal, with costumes and music and everything. His mother never took him along to full rehearsals. But he had wandered from the park where he played in the evening. With quiet determination, he had drifted through the snarl of the traffic. He knew these lanes a little – once, he had come here with his mother and her friends in a car which had left them right in front of the theatre. Today, as he walked on, he caught a whiff of flowers.

He looked around and realized what was different about these roadside stalls selling cigarettes and paan leaves. They all sold flowers. Stems of roses and thin garlands of white evening bloomers, jasmine, tuberoses – cold, moist, exquisitely formed blossoms that one saw in weddings as well as funerals. Music played from the tiny transistor radios hidden under the stacks of flowers and chewing tobacco, love songs from Hindi movies, many of them from many, many years ago, crackling on the airwaves in slow, nasal tones.

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