Noted actress Shabana Azmi, reads a short-story ‘River of No Return‘ written by Tabish Khair.

In words of the author,

“The story she reads out here is a story of violence and despair, but the fact that she found the time to make this brilliant recording is also illustrative of the other side of our human crisis: we are not just prisoners in the cells of our devastation. Not during the pandemic, and not afterward. There are ways to connect. There are ways to organize. There are ways to hope.

It is not until we lose something, do we realize the true significance of it. It is not until we make mistakes do we realize where we went wrong. Human nature is such, we can’t help but make mistakes. And some people are fortunate enough to discipline those mistakes and better themselves. However, some people are arrogant enough to acknowledge their mistakes. They think of themselves as superior to the rest. And these are the kinds of people who never learn anything in life. Because if we believe that we are right all the time, what do we learn? We are just mere human beings in this journey of life. Along the way, we might get distracted by the beauty of this world. Us human beings, we are uncanny, aren’t we?

by Amrita De

Anita Ahluwalia, along with her husband, diamond merchant Aditya Ahluwalia was the co-founder of Magic Moments. When I walked into their Colaba office in South Mumbai a month back— about a hundred feet from the iconic Taj Mahal Palace, which had been in the news two years earlier in 2008 for being the epicentre of a deadly terrorist attack — I had the distinct feeling of having arrived somewhere important.

When I was walking alongside the seaside promenade that day, looking away from the lovers and their interlocked fingers, away from the balloon sellers and the haggling street children, away from the midday office goers by the tea stalls, I felt invisible and completely at peace. I remembered my father in the afternoon sun back in Kolkata, weaving grand tales about how, when he was in Bombay, he had met superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who’d promised to hear his script. Of course, that never happened, and my father had never written a complete script in his life. Yet here I was, hoping to read my own script to art-house directors, who I had heard, believed in the edgy rawness that came from unpolished manuscripts written by amateurs. 

A lot has been happening around the world. With the global pandemic locking us down in our houses, we are fighting new battles everyday. We struggle with day to day activities and wonder if all this is a nightmare which will end once we wake up only to find ourselves staring at the ceilings at night, sleepless and hopeless.

“This virus will leave us entirely newborn people. We will all be different, none of us will ever be the same again. We will have deeper roots, be made of denser soil, and our eyes will have seen things.”

C. JoyBell C

 By Sohana Manzoor

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It was just a dialogue from a movie that Shimana was watching unmindfully. She was worried over her little girl in the ICU. On the screen, a young woman was whimpering, “But I don’t know how to be a mother. You know everything—words, hurt, every pain and joy in your child’s life.”

The other character, a slightly elderly woman, answered with glowing eyes and just the hint of a smile, “You’ll learn.”

She suddenly felt she had no air in her lungs. Mother? Who? She was no mother. She had left behind her child long, long ago. And she had never regretted the decision she had taken as a young girl. Now she had everything– perfect children, a loving husband, a good job. What was she thinking? Was she thinking of that small make-shift operation theatre? The smirking nurse and the grim doctor who warned her that she might have complications later? She was two-and-a-half months pregnant. She was eighteen and unmarried.

Shimana shivered, and Nibir turned to her immediately. “Are you okay, Shimu?”

Yes, of course. She was fine. Only her daughter, Nrita was at the hospital diagnosed with pneumonia. It was quite severe and Shimana blamed herself for not noticing it sooner. She gave a wobbly smile at the tall man bending toward her with a frown of concern on his brows. It took years for her to build up the confidence with which she walks beside him. In the initial days of her marriage, she did not know what to make of her husband who was handsome, had a very good job and was too busy to give her time. Shimana could not really complain because he provided her with every material need, gave her a handsome allowance and encouraged her to study further. But he barely stayed at home and she felt that his heart was elsewhere. Shimana struggled with her own problems and did not have the courage to tell him anything about herself. After a year into her marriage, she decided to enrol in an interior designing program.

By Mallika Bhaumik

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It was an October morning when the call came from the hospital. Anwesha’s Puja vacation was not yet over. Her eyes were glued to the laptop screen when her phone rang. She heard and quietly went and stood near the kitchen door where Bina di was cutting vegetables. Though the news was not at all unexpected, yet Anwesha could not find the words to express it. Bina di, who had worked in the house for the last fifteen years, looked up and saw Anwesha standing.
The stillness of the moment conveyed the loss. She pulled her anchal (loose end of a saree) over her mouth to stifle a sob.
Anwesha changed into her jeans and shirt, took her handbag and went out. She called two of her colleagues who had always been with her through thick and thin.
Anwesha wished Kuhu mashi (maternal aunt) was by her side but she was visiting her daughter in Sydney. She was her mother’s childhood friend and had stood behind their family like a rock.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“Do you want to play with us?”

He looked at them warily. He was used to being ignored. This was one of those playgrounds for rich kids after all. The ones who came in fancy limousines and who carried their own smartphones and credit cards even before they had sprouted pimples on their faces.

And yet, here they were. Three of them, two boys and a girl, staring at him with frank, appraising eyes. The girl was pretty. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old, exactly his own age, with strawberry curls and dimpled cheeks. The boys were similarly good looking, blond, fine boned with firm jaws. They would grow up to be dashing young men. Arrogant and entitled.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Maharathi Debdutt saw the hennaed foot, dainty, as the passenger stepped off the palanquin. Then the wheel went over it. His deed was done. He did not hear the shrieks that rent the air. From the beautiful princess who was to be wed, she became the hobbling one, the unwanted one.

Ever since Maharathi Debdutt had set eyes on the little one, Rajkumari Heeramoti, she had fascinated him. Her absolute milk white skin, the fragility of her limbs, her big black eyes and tumbling black curls, were a delight. He would watch her at play from a distance. He was a horse rider and a charioteer, and he was not allowed within the palace.