It was a quiet locality, the one we lived in. Rows of houses looking exactly like one another were lined up in four parallel lines with roads running in between and beyond. At the corner of the last row was a small park. It was built by the government years ago and then sold to people on the basis of a lottery. Quite a bargain in those days, my father always said. The market was not far off, there was a bus stand nearby too. It was just a short walk to board the school bus. School was a bit far for us, but I never complained. I enjoyed the bus ride. We had great fun. In the evenings, after school, we played in the park. We also played hide and seek out in the streets, hiding here and there, all over the locality – in someone’s backyard, behind a door. It used to get difficult as there were so many houses and roads, so we started to demarcate a specific zone that would be the place where we could run off and hide. During holidays, we played during the day too, but indoors. Carrom board was our favourite. We also played hide and seek at home but soon ran out of places to hide. During one such vacation, Dida taught us a number of card games too.Read more
Category Archives: Fiction
The scorching heat of the afternoon followed by the sudden downpour had made it difficult for the people to fly kites on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan. But now that the deluge had stopped, the people emerged on their roofs as ants emerged from their castle. The downpour had cooled the evening and cleared the sky and brought some relief to the people. The Trikuta hills and several other hills and mountains that surrounded the plain region betrayed their dominance. As far as one could see from the rooftops, the silhouette of the giant mountains didn’t fail to mark their presence. The beautiful sunset had created an ambient atmosphere of trance. Streaks of pink golden rays ran parallel above the stretched silhouettes of mountains. Everyone was taking in the cold breeze of August evening, conscious of the rhythmic movements of inhalation and exhalation. The various plants and trees surrounding the houses had not dried yet. Drops of water remained present on the leaves as morning dew. Just as a snail glides along the path slowly, the dewdrops on the leaves glided and merged into each other and eventually fell off the leaves into the soil beneath. The aroma of the earth that arose from the merging of aqua and soil stimulated the olfactory pleasures of the beings. The people had started coming to their rooftops from every house. Some people were here to play the sport; some were to help, and others were the spectators.
Two brown sparrows perched on the parapet undisturbed took note of their surroundings, contributing their part as spectators from different species. A purple sunbird perched on a high bough of a tree sang a song to summon his comrades to witness the once-in-a-year moment. The initiation of the event started with loud music on the loudspeakers. Pieces of electrical tape were being cut and wound on the fingers lest these get severed by the ‘pucca dor'(a string of either plastic or cotton covered by powered glass) which they had specially ordered. The people made sure that the triangle of the thread (kite knots) was perfectly aligned and anchored and they rubbed the dorsal side of the kite on their head and looked assertive as if their weapon of choice was ready to hunt others’ down. When the people were immersed in tying the kite knots, a tailor bird referred to as ‘darzi’ by the locals paid a brief visit to the lawns, and gardens of the neighborhood and retreated to its niche stitching leaves to make its nest. The helpers of the kite flyers held the kite from its horizontally opposite corners in their hand hiding their face and traced some steps back making the length of string between them tighten and on the count of three, gave a little push up which was then maneuvered by the kite flyers.Read more
15 Books to Look Forward to in 2020/2021 from Kitaab
Kitaab celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2020. What started as a literary blog in 2005 has now grown to a credible indie publishing house, connecting Asian writers with global readers.
To mark this milestone in the journey of Kitaab’s life, we are announcing 15 titles that we are very excited about–they will be launched this year and next year. A few of them have just been released, and some will be released at the virtual Singapore Writers’ Festival this year.
- Dreams in Moonless Night by Hussain Ul Haque (Eng. translation by Syed Sarwar Hussain)
This much-appreciated multilayered novel spans the traumatic years of the aftermath of Indian Independence to the current apocalyptical state of affairs. It tells the story of Ismael Merchant who even after losing his whole family in a communal carnage represents the intrinsic Indian passion for love and brotherhood.
This title will be virtually launched at the Singapore Writers Festival 2020.
A glimpse from Anuja Chandramouli’s Mohini – The Enchantress (Published by Rupa Publications India, 2020)
Prelude: A Hint of Hope Borne on a Dream
The storytellers tended to go into raptures describing her sublime, flawless beauty, waxing eloquent about the perfection of her form and features, not to mention the heaviness of her bosom, supported as it was by an impossibly narrow waist. Captivating eyes with so much depth that most wanted nothing better than to plunge into those twin orbs, exploring the secrets within for the rest of time; lustrous tresses that cascaded in waves of silk, nearly caressing the earth over which she glided with effortless grace; luscious lips that mischievously promised endless delights and so on and so forth.
Though they were mostly males who could not or did not want to look beyond the sumptuous perfection of her physical attributes, none of it was an exaggeration. For she was bewitching and her beauty had a power of its own, which could simply not be discounted. And yet, when it came right down to it, her beauty was almost beside the point.Read more
Playing at an agonizing volume, our neighbour’s music-system jarred me from my sleep. I opened my eyes into the direct glare of an angry sun, punishing me for daring to paint all night. Keeping my curse under my breath, I could hear grandmother climbing up to my bedroom on the first floor. My almost bedridden Dada, and Dadi lived on the ground floor. I knew I was about to receive a lecture. She was currently gathering steam, so I muffled my cursing to save my skin from a lashing tongue.
“Arif, are you awake?”
“Yes Grandmother, good morning.”
“The morning is over, come down for lunch. Made your favourite Qeema (minced meat) and Aloo Stuffed Parathas.”
Her heavy-footed gait retreated down the stairs before I followed. She waited for the meal to be over to launch in. As I poured tea from the pot, she said, “Arif, you slept late again? What were you up to, all night?”Read more
I have to dress myself in red today. Sorry Somesh, for being unfaithful to you. I could have fought them all but for our children. They say I must agree to their plan. They are both so grown up now – Jia and Sahil! They advise me on everything as if I am a little child. But marriage? No! No! That cannot be! Everyone tells me that I have been married to Pratik for years. But why do I draw a blank at that? Pratik is nice, familiar, comfortable; we even share the same house! Just the other day I had to chase him out of my room – he was lazing around as if he belonged there! And then there is that wedding album! They carry a hundred of our wedding pictures – happy moments frozen in four by six glossy papers. Such vibrant colours – if only my memory was as sharp as these. But memory fails me. It becomes as fuzzy as a Delhi winter morning, unfocussed, blurred yet somewhere just within reach. Only I have no access to it. By the way, have you ever known anyone who forgets her own wedding? All of them forget that I am a widow, Somesh’s widow. It is not for me to marry. I remember pishi, my father was so protective about her, yet could he save her from a heartbreak? She left eating fish, gave away all her ornaments, wore only white and remained buried under the weight of various rituals and customs. She looked like a ghost biding her time in this world. Wasn’t this the fate of all widows? Wasn’t this what grandfather told her, she being the apple of his eyes? I remember feeling so sad for her. I wanted to find a prince charming to take her away from this repressive world. When I said that to her once, she smiled – a smile of such sadness that my heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I never repeated it to her again. But look at my own children – harping about their own mother’s wedding in which they too claim to have participated! Disgusting, yet I cannot bring myself to be angry with them for a long time. If they are mistaken, it is my duty to lead them to the truth.Read more
The thought of home is imbued with bliss and pain, comfort and guilt. In all its manifestations— whether it makes us or breaks us—home nurtures a tender, heartbreaking beauty. A lived space, it shapes our life experience. But more importantly, the people we share our home with transform the meaning we seek in a place that is hopefully our refuge. Read more
Chennai, July 2020
Our eyes met. His shifted away. I forced him to look at me, and my persistence won. He did. They were blank. No answer to the dreaded question: am I about to depart?
I smiled. He didn’t. It aggravated me.
I looked around the place. The corridors were crowded with young doctors and nurses out of medical school, risking their lives to save us. Two young nurses were competing for my husband’s attention. I couldn’t help feeling jealous. I wanted to scream at the nurses: I’m not gone as yet. Leave my husband alone.Read more
The incessant screams of the sparrows alighted on their coffer under my slanted roofing ceased my sleep. I lay awake watching the petite chicks persistently growling in hunger while their mother was endearingly feeding them one by one with soggy stems, perforated leaves and slyly hoarded worms. How lucky these fledglings are to have a parent who wouldn’t probably abandon them before teaching them the necessary survival skills of foraging and feasting. I sprang out of my bed hastily hearing the whistle of the garbage collector and wormed my way through the living room with the overflowing dustbin on my left hand to find the main door with withering green paint and rusty knob, wide open, like every other morning. The waste picker rummaged through the discarded materials with bare hands and flung the scrap iron, half-broken toy pieces, segregated shards of glass into a plastic bag dangling from the handle of his van. Without exchanging a word I tossed the contents of my dustbin, littering the eco-warriors van, and stayed back for a few minutes to see him salvage through the newly gathered waste. The elements in the plastic bag were going to get a new lease of life, but unfortunately, not all frayed edges can be sewed.Read more
We play often in public, my husband and I, as we walk through shopping malls, in private as we stroll through empty garden parks, or stand by the sea at the beach or at the harbor’s front. I play and joke and tease him with my words. I like to remind him of past events, either a mistake or a funny joke, and make him take responsibility for his foolishness. One of our most repetitive banters is about Alexa, the Amazon machine that enables you to control many connected devices, such as bedroom lights and stereo music. When he mentions Alexa to my friends, or his, I would dramatize a head-shaking-sigh and say, “So jealous. His mistress. Even in our bedroom he calls for her.”
One day when we were alone on a walk, I said, “Don’t talk about her, Alexa. Makes me jealous.” His reply, which came quite spontaneously was, “If tech is your enemy, then food is mine.” I did not have a response. I was caught with my hand in my panties and, once again, had been painfully and loudly reminded of the fact that I played and joked and teased him with my words because I did not know how to do so with my body.Read more