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.

Book Review by Rakhi Dalal

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Title: My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories

 Author: Sumana Roy

Publisher: Bloomsbury India, 2019

Sumana Roy’s book How I Became a Tree, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Sahitya Academy Award (Non-fiction) for the year 2019. Her novel Missing was published in 2018 and poetry collection Out of Syllabus in March 2019. My Mother’s Lover and Other Stories, a collection of fourteen stories, is her fourth published work.

The blurb of the book describes this collection as stories about people suffering from curious ailments. Interestingly, the book starts with this quote by Roland Barthes:

‘I have a disease; I see language.’

This makes it seem as if the author at the start of the collection confides to the reader her own ailment. Perhaps her observations and thoughts translate into words compulsively and take the form of language. Perhaps it is the inevitable metamorphosis of images, definite and indefinite, into words in her mind, which eventually shapes into stories, essays and poems. Through these stories, she seems to contemplate ordinary people’s peculiar ailments, which do not draw much consideration in the conundrum of conventional continuance.

By Tamizh Ponni

“Hey, don’t go too far,” yelled Rekha, adjusting her hat. The popsicle in her other hand was melting with all possible haste not letting Rekha relish it at her own pace.

“I am good. Jeez! I am a grown-up now! Stop being nannyish!”replied Madhu as she carefully collected the sea urchin shells. They fascinated her for some reason. With an enclosed dome-like structure and a muricated exterior, they resembled Madhu’s actual persona.

“You get back here now. It’s not safe in there,” Rekha yelled not paying any heed to her daughter’s backtalk.

“Ma! I am 35. Treat me like an adult. Pleaaaase…,” Madhu begged with a babyish pout. Now that her hands were almost full with the precious collection, Madhu was frantically looking for a place to unload.

“Age isn’t going to magically instil maturity in you or stop me from protecting you,” Rekha replied dryly, biting her popsicle.

“Protect me from what? Ocean waves?” asked Madhu jokingly and chuckled.

“From your own silliness. Now come back. Let’s enjoy the view and the waves from here,” said Rekha patting on a spot next to her on the beach mat.

“Alright, Alright,” Madhu sighed and returned. She wanted to sit for a while too. The cool, salty breeze calmed her mind and helped her take her mind off the previous week’s madness. She wanted to discuss it particularly with her mother but didn’t know how to begin.

As Rekha opened the box containing egg Samosas, the aroma of its filling fuelled Madhu’s hunger. She gladly took one and took a sizeable bite. Munching on the lunch, the duo were devouring the fresh sea breeze with their legs stretched.

“Is something bothering you?” Rekha asked without looking at her daughter.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

They said the fog was made of the tears of the old soldiers, those who left the town to make long journeys to god-knew-where. The soldiers grieved, those who stayed back said, for the homes they had left behind, and for the memories that were forced to linger. After all, if you left the fog behind you, there was nothing left of your past. You left your memories at the brink of the cliff, and started anew.

The fog covered the town in its entirety. There were days the thumb-shaped hill across the river would disappear in the mist, then there were days when the fog sneaked into bedrooms. It had a peculiar taste which everybody said was the taste of longing—a taste of the tears of the men who had left.

Husbands and wives had learnt to use their other senses than their sight. The children would play with the mist, sometimes twirling it around their fingers as they did with fireflies that ventured into the town, drawing shapes as one would on a fogged-out glass pane. Or they would play hide and seek in the fog, even though everybody warned them not to trust it as they would their dogs, or their cows, or the goats. The fog was not a pet, the women whose faces had wrinkles of sadness said, it had been here since forever, even before they settled in this bowl near the river.

by Padmini Krishnan

 

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I felt an intense pain at the pit of my stomach as if someone had stabbed me. It moved up my intestine, making me giddy and incoherent. I struggled to keep my hands on the handle-bar, trying to get past St. Paul’s boys’ hostel. However, I staggered and my scooter toppled over. I fell but was able to collect myself almost immediately.

I dragged myself to the neem tree and stood in the shades, trying to catch my breath.

The tree branches cast their shadow on the streets and so did the bridge above. Why did the bridge look old? Had it not been built recently? I felt incoherent thoughts surfacing once again and sat down under the tree.

How did I recall the appearance of the newly-built bridge? You see, I am new to the city. I had just joined St. Mary’s college a couple of days ago. To reach my college, I had to pass St. Paul’s College. There were no shortcuts. I shared a service apartment with three girls, a few kilometres away. I had been cocooned as a child and this was the first time I was away from home. My mom did not want me to leave my hometown, but dad and I persisted. After all, St. Mary’s was one of the few institutions offering the Shell Borne Scholarships.

By now, I was feeling better. I stood up and my leg bumped into something solid. It was a black box. I examined it and found out that it was a camera, a very old one. The kind of camera I had seen in movies made 20-25 years ago. I did not know what made me do it, but I put it in my bag and drove to college, now feeling fine.

I sat nervously at the photo studio while the photographer developed the film. He looked at me strangely when I showed him the camera. I knew that I should have turned in the old camera or left it where it was. But, it was connected to me. I was sure it was.

I did not open the photos until I reached home. There was nobody home and I was glad. The first photo showed four men in their graduation robes.

I felt giddy, the pain in my stomach back.

 

I was the one in the corner. The one next to me was Sid, my roommate and best friend, the one who had stabbed me fatally. It had happened after our graduation ceremony. I was on a high; he was down and depressed. I remember feeling scornful as I made fun of his misfortune.

Now, I fell down with pain as I remembered him stabbing me multiple times.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Tia’s eyes fluttered open. She looked about herself— blinking at the bright blue sky. Where was she?

A town square of some sort. The landscaped roundabout at the centre had a marble fountain that spouted water energetically in the air, and wrought iron benches arranged just out of spraying range, but there was nobody around. There were shops all around, their awnings fluttering gently. An ice-cream shop, a café, a tattoo studio, a garments shop, a salon and spa, a gym … all empty and shuttered.

Even as she took it all in, she felt a growing sense of familiarity. The other question in her mind—where had she been all this time?—began to fade. She had a vague sense of a long incarceration, but where, by whom, and for what, evinced no ready recall in her consciousness. She looked down at herself. Did she imagine it, or had the pale grey of her incarceration changed before her very eyes to the red top and embroidered denim cut-offs that were familiar and comforting so that she knew immediately that they had always been hers? Had that bracelet on her wrist with those particular charms, the red polish on her nails, the auburn highlights in her hair and the sequined heels on her feet appeared just now, or had they always been there? With every passing moment it was getting harder to know. Or to care.