VULQHKV1V9

by Sindhu Rajasekaran

It is said that our river Namida was once a woman. When her husband, the river Sompura, touched her for the first time on their wedding day, the turmeric that covered her body fell to the earth and made the colour of our forest mud yellow.

I rub some wet mud on my cheek, then on my legs. ‘What are you doing?’ Lado’s last words coil around me like a snake, hissing: ‘Stories are lies.’

He is right. The paste is not as soft as turmeric. But this is what I do. I search the forest for stories. Imagine their colours and paint them on our walls.

Our tribe has always respected the painters, because our paintings are messages to the god of our mountain. We weave our prayers into our paintings, hoping the stars will turn in our favour.

But Lado doesn’t believe in the gods and says there is no secret magic in the skies. He and I have known each other all our lives; when did we start to think different?

I thought we were one since the day he gave me a chipna in front of the elders. I wore the hairclip everyday and never did I take a gift from another. I tried to see life through his eyes. Although, untrue to his word, he has strayed away from my arms.

I pull out Lado’s chipna and let my long hair hang loose. Our women aren’t supposed to let their tresses hang this way. It’s only done when there is a reason to mourn, or when evil spirits possess.

‘Mahua!’ I hear Pitti Pusika call my name.

by Sophia  Ali Pandeya

Sunderbans1
©Kitaab

Dhaka, East Pakistan, 1970

Even now, after all these years have passed, rivers, all rivers, hold a certain fascination and dread for her. Back then before rivers of blood had been shed, when there was not even a ruby blood drop, not even the tiniest nipple dot to prick the endless flow of a day, it was Nubia herself who was the river.

Theirs was the last house at the phallic tip of the cantonment cul-de-sac, lined with rows of colonial era brick and limestone bungalows. Beyond their back garden lay the great glimmering eye of the lake, Moti Jheel, where Nubia was forbidden to go by herself. Under Ayah’s watchful eye, she would play for hours with Anmol in their garden full of banana trees, where the siblings would go goose-stepping round and round the lawn, “Left right! Left right! Pajama dheela, topi tight! Aagey husband peechay wife!” until they collapsed in dizzy heaps of giggles on the grass. When she got up, Nubia was thirsty. She stuck her tongue out and caught the drip of recent rain from the glistening elephant ear banana leaves in whose lap sat fat yellow fingers of fruit plush with beckoning. Ayah mashing up the bananas, putting salt, pepper and sugar in them. The butter-yellow disks sweating until they swam in their own spiced up juice. Banana chaat was yet another one of Ayah’s delicious creations. There is nothing, however, that Ayah could do to milk to make it palatable to Nubia’s six-year-old tongue.

“Every morning she throws the milk down the sink when I’m not looking! Begum Sahib I strained this milk with muslin twice and she still didn’t drink! Ayyo! My bones are too old for this. Look at Anmol Baba. Every day he drinks down two glasses of milk. Gut gut gut. Drinks it down. See how fair he is? You will be as black as coal if you don’t drink milk and then no one will marry you!”

by Anupa Mehta

st-pauliCaring for the soles of people is an art. Anna Bauer—she is of German origin but was born in Latvia—trained to be a foot technician when she moved to Hamburg. Initially, it was a way to pay the bills. Over the years, though, she has come to love what she does. To people who ask for her qualifications, she says, “It wasn’t a very extensive course—just seventy-two hours. But it’s a service that I enjoy. I like making feet look beautiful. I especially like working with old people as the skin on their feet is so fragile. One wrong move and you could burst a blood vessel. It is said that the soles of our feet are like little souls. They have sensing abilities. But, of course, you can’t walk barefoot in cities like Hamburg, where young people think nothing of smashing glass bottles on the pavement in fits of rage or when inebriated.”

Anna is prone to having longish monologues, mostly as she lives alone in her fifth floor apartment in an unholy by-lane in St. Pauli, which is actually a semi-stylish area of Hamburg filled with chic cafés, little boutiques selling handmade curios and shops selling expensive, well-packaged organic produce. She has lived alone in this building for nearly fourteen years. She was once married to a man who didn’t do any work but preferred to stay at home and raise their children.

With him she has a son, now grown up and who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder; and a daughter, who is in her teens, loves black lipstick and nail paint, and who has several piercings on her body. Her son Damon, twenty-two, is, as she puts it, ‘a difficult one’. When Anna separated from her husband, it was decided that the boy would live with her and the girl would live with her father till she turned fourteen, after which the parents would swap the kids.

Only, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The boy, Damon, is six years older than the girl. In his teens he was already in trouble with the school authorities and, badly enough for Anna, with the law. By eighteen he had done a stint in jail. Now he no longer wanted to live with his strict mother who couldn’t understand the speed at which his mind raced around in never-ending circles. And who tried her best to discipline him in much the way parents discipline errant toddlers.

Her girl, who had just turned fourteen, told her mother in no uncertain words that she did not want

to come and live with her as she was well–looked after by her over-indulgent father, who often took her to pubs where his cronies lavished attention on the pretty little girl. So Anna is left to live by herself in the rented apartment.

In her spare time, Anna paints. She also bakes, cooks, cleans and gardens. At night, she watches a bit of TV and plays computer poker. On Tuesday evenings, she sings in a chorus of six people who sing all kinds of songs, including gospel and, occasionally, an upbeat rock number. Her favourite musician is Eric Clapton. She sings ditties in a very low pitch, her head bent downwards such that her long greasy hair falls across her old guitar.

On alternate weekends, she takes the metro and makes her way to a special house for aging, handicapped people where she gives all the inhabitants a quick pedicure followed by a foot bath with sea salt and aroma oils. “People’s feet tell you things about their constitution. For instance, the leathery feel of some soles is a sign of internal dryness. As if they no longer enjoy the juice of life. Ingrown toe nails tell a story about stubbornness, and smelly feet are a reflection of the person’s disconnectedness from their surroundings, their deep fear of the world.”

On the weekends when she goes to the home, she earns about 200 euros for the day’s labour.

Fragments of RiversongWhen I read the stories in Fragments of Riversong, a collection of 12 short stories by Bangladeshi author Farah Ghuznavi, I was very happy to see lively descriptions of old properties and sprawling houses. Having grown up in two sprawling bungalows in my hometown, Ghatsila, in the state of Jharkhand in India, a description—or even a mere mention—of old bungalows fills me with a certain thrill. I begin to connect with the setting and I have this feeling that the author is speaking/writing of something that I have known and experienced. Reading Fragments of Riversong was a bonus, for there were not only old properties and sprawling bungalows, but also a lot of village life in its stories. A part of my family still lives in our ancestral village that I visit regularly, and, at present, I am working in a rural setting. The stories in Fragments of Riversong were more familiar than I had expected them to be. Also, another remarkable thing I noticed in these stories were children. There are children—young girls, young boys—in nearly all the stories. Most stories are either about children or have—despite the third person narrative—a child guiding the reader through the narrative.

In “Escaping the Mirror”, her parents’ big house becomes a sort of a jail for seven-year-old Dia as she tries to escape the advances made by their driver, Minhas. The feeling of frustration of the little child upon realising that her parents trust that abusive man more than they trust their own daughter has been brought out in harrowing detail.