by Tanima Das

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I wake up with a jolt as the bulky jeep screeches to a stop. Bhuto gestures at me to wait while he hurries out, slamming the door shut. I yawn, and try to stretch out my arms, but grimace to grab my shoulder instead. A sharp shooting pain is knotting up in my neck. Cursing Bhuto for choosing the bumpiest of all roads, I try to massage out the discomfort.

Bhuto is back soon with hot tea in a clay pot accompanied by toasted bread and questionable butter on a steel plate. He smiles at me revealing his stained buck-teeth. A stench from his unwashed mouth fills the air inside the jeep. I pass him a gum and proceed to get out.

“It’s not safe, babu,” protests Bhuto and extends his hands to block my way.

“Shut up,” I say and slap away his arms.

I sit down on a tree stub to have my breakfast while Bhuto, with his huge frame, tries to block me from view. Two men are visible at the eatery across the street but their worried faces seem to be enveloped by whatever issues fate has chosen to hurl at them. But Bhuto imagines that they might want to keep an eye on me.

The food would have tasted good actually, had it not been for the scratchy, fake moustache that Bhuto has pasted onto my upper lip. I look angrily at Bhuto. He looks back at me with devotion.

 

By Hanish Rahane

Dedicated to the Mission to Seafarers and Seamen’s Club Tilbury

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I

Back in the year 2011, I was 22 years old — a ‘soldier’. It was December when the following events transpired. At the age when boys struggle to find their place in the world, a time when all thoughts and opinions are either black or white, my ‘soldier’ had decided to leave his surroundings and venture out to the sea. I was a panch sahab (5th engineer) on the majestic ship- MV Red Fin.

The crew was of mixed nationality. Our Chief was from Bangladesh. The other engineers from China, the Captain was from Russia, and the crew, from the Philippines. The voyage was from Mumbai to London over the Arabian sea and through the scenic Suez Canal. It was a day in the month of December when we were calling at the port of Tilbury docks near London. It was the last port of our voyage. Tilbury, at the time was a small, shoddy town whose only claim to fame was the newly built port. Also, ours was the very first ship to enter this new port and, as most of it was still under construction, the area around it still seemed like a muddy wasteland.

Now, any young seafarer will tell you that the moment the ship touches the jetty there are certain frequencies of sounds and vibrations that completely disappear on account of being ‘damped’ by the solid bulk of land. There are numerous such unconscious sensory observations that get registered in the seafarers mind continuously — awake or asleep, in dreams or in reality.  I call it the sailor’s sixth sense. The fuel transfer pump stopping to draw suction due to a choked strainer, the auxiliary blowers cutting in as the speed was reduced during manoeuvring, the sound of the telegraph bell ringing or the customary series of a hundred alarms as soon as you turn the engines off — sounds like muffled air horns– these were events that were automatically registered in my mind while I was in a state of deep sleep. And, hence, what happened might seem strange to a normal person. But I woke up knowing that we had berthed, although I had not seen it happen.

An excited panch sahab rushed towards the gangway ladder, scribbled his name on the gangway register, hurriedly snatched the nearest walkie-talkie, informed the Captain of his departure, and was soon out and about, walking along the muddy road, in this strange new land which he had only dreamt of visiting. But the story is neither about me nor the ship nor the landscape. The story is about one person in particular. As I walked into The Seaman’s Club that evening, a small tavern littered with the obscene commentary of crass sailors and drunken blue collared port workers and crane operators, a peculiar looking gentleman caught my eye. It was just a matter of time before he came over and introduced himself as Herman.

II

Herman, the German, was not a very good-looking man. He was short, stalky and spoke with a very strange accent which was neither German nor English. Herman was born in Munich a few years after the war had ended. His mother was Sudanese and his father, a Roman Catholic German. Let’s call him Senior Herman. Not much of Senior Herman was disclosed to me during our interaction but from what I gathered, he worked with the Catholic Church in a big capacity and was sort of a public figure back in his hometown.

By Srinjoy Bhattacharjee

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I was axed a couple of days ago. I now lie on the bank of the muddy river that had swollen up a few days back, thanks to the rain. Dumped in the open in the wet weather with a pile of objects, all a part of the same thing – logs chopped off a parent tree. I was  part of a branch not too long ago and birds perched had on me. Now I am at the mercy of a drunk who might opt to reduce me to cinders when he pleases.

However, this is not about me, this is about the dead. Strictly speaking, I am dead too – inanimate so to say, but people don’t care much about trees – neither for the ones standing in the woods nor for those chopped. In fact, at times, rather most of the times, they don’t probably care for each other – even for the living ones, leave aside the dead. I don’t care about the dead either. Because I don’t see the point in caring for them, and besides, they don’t need your care — they are dead. But this is not about any random dead person, it is about the one that is about to be brought here in some time. Ah! There she comes.

There were leaves once that stemmed out of me. And from time to time they shed, giving way to new ones. On one such occasion a leaf drifted afloat from my branch down the aerial path to alight softly on her hair; that was when I first saw her. And I fell in love with her. Juvenile she was, probably thirteen, as old as the tree I presume. That made us coevals.

Translated by Abhisek Sarkar

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Chhabi has expired.

Chhabila died close to day break. She had been choked to death. Her one year old child Etim, following his usual morning practice, is trying quite hard to suck some milk out of one of her breasts.

Patuki has no inkling about who killed Chhabi. Although it is not unknown to him that this is not a natural death, he is yet to discover that the man he spotted approaching Chhabi’s house early in the morning was the killer. But the very next night Patuki would come to know who killed Chhabila. The one who would be his source of information is the most reliable of all. The rich and the poor, thieves and thugs, the good and the bad, all have respect for him. It is only Patuki who he speaks with. But the day is still young and he has to wait long for nightfall. How long will he have to cope with this hubble-bubble in his stomach, with this uncanny sensation running through his veins?

The man who visited Chhabila at dawn had also been seen coming out of her house late in the night. Patuki spends the whole of the night at the southern bank of the pond behind dense bushes, fishing pole in hand. Long aerial roots of a great banyan tree surround this place. These bushes entice him. The night has its own allure. Only Allah knows why people waste these hours sleeping. Patuki does not sleep; he cannot. The long fishing line of Patuki does not have a hook hence the float also is redundant. He has seen people climbing up his fishing thread from the water— many of them. They climb throughout the night and bless Patuki. Then they climb up those roots of the banyan tree. Now they turn into fireflies and fly around the Banyan pir.

By Supriya Rakesh

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By the River

Close to the city of Paithan, somewhere in the west of the Indian continent, flowed the great river Godavari. In a small village that lay along its banks, lived a girl named Ilaa.

It was the spring of 1818, as the British would come to document it.

Ilaa belonged to a family of simple cotton farmers. Harvest season was here; and it was time to pick cotton from the fields. Traders from Paithan would be here in just a few weeks; bringing goods for barter. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time. While Ilaa’s family toiled away in the fields, she was sitting by herself, on the banks of Godavari.

“This is terrible!”

Ilaa picked up a pebble and flung it into the hungry water-currents with some force.

She had been forbidden to come to the fields today. In the morning, she wasn’t allowed to enter the kitchen to talk to her mother, or even pass by the devghar where she offered flowers to the Devi every morning. Also, her legs hurt if she walked too fast or sat too slow.

Evading the prying eyes of her grand-mother, she had left her designated corner behind the house to sit by the river; her only friend in such times. She often confided her loneliness to the river, though the waters seldom replied. But at least the Godavari listened, without scolding; something that could not be said of the humans in Ilaa’s life.

A short story from Nepal by Sushant Thapa

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Recently, Fai had got more interested in her studies. She was a loner. Her mother used to do daily chores for neighbours against a sum of money. Her father had a small shop that sold  second hand goods and knick-knacks that he got from the dealer — some of them were antiques – more like trinkets. The merchandise in his shop fascinated Fai.

Her father narrated to her stories about these strange objects. He unraveled the mysteries of the town and wove stories around them to try and sell the objects to his clients.  The dealer provided him with goods sold in auctions by  museums and by abandoned high schools and tour groups. Rusty sleeping bags, mountaineering gears and all kinds of skiing stick– even golf clubs, a tiara discarded by someone who did not understand its value — such merchandise were the focal points of his stories.

Her father kissed her on her forehead and told her a story every night before she went to sleep. These stories were woven around the objects in his shop. They were not like the story of Big Fish in America. The story of the Big Fish was from the story book she got from the school library. It was a strange tale — the hero’s daddy would turn out to be the fish at last which had swallowed the ring of hero’s mommy. The library at Fai’s school would only allow them to borrow one book for the weekend.

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Title: The House of Twining Roses

Author: Nabina Das

Publisher: LiFi Publishers

Year of Publishing: 2014

Link: Amazon

 

 

About Aribam

Throughout the morning session, I couldn’t have him speak more than two sentences.

“My name is Aribam Ngangom. I work for Manipur Times.”

“Like Aribam Syam Sharma!” I quipped.

It was meant to be a compliment. Aribam Syam Sharma was a celebrity. A filmmaker and artiste from Manipur.

“I’m Nalini Datta,” I said.

His eyes were cold steel. Like the one he once held in his hands, he said much later. It was a cool March morning on the first day of our Annual North East Media Fellowship Seminar in the wood-scented north-eastern hill town of Shillong. We took in the view across the lawns of Hotel Pinewood, one of Shillong’s finest.

Of the twenty gathered, Mr. Sharma, Sumana and I were the organisers. We gorged on our English breakfast early. Plenty of bacon and ham, usually not a staple if the seminar were to be elsewhere in India. We North-easterners, often touted as omnivores, were pleased with the menu although there was aloo paratha and lassi too. The nine o’clock introductory session was where we all formally met. I delivered a small speech to the participating journalists after Mr. Sharma spoke. Our chief program coordinator, opened with a keynote address. About forty or forty-five and with a conical face, Mr. Sharma spoke with his characteristic tardiness. His lips pursed even the longer, rounder vowels but he made his point clearly. If he ever needed to raise his voice, he raised his thick eyebrows as well, elongating his conical face even more. He always dressed semi-formal.

My colleague Sumana was thirtyish, dusky, and pleasantly pixie-faced. While she smiled even during trying times, her black eyes sought out any problem before solving them quietly. She always wore cotton saris neatly pleated and loosely tied her shoulder-length hair, even while rushing to work. I was almost about her age, and could easily furrow my brows under pressure. But because she was a good one-arm taller than my five-one height, she treated me like a kid sister and advised me generously.

By Saurav Ranjan Datta

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The old timepiece struck eight right at the moment when Arpita was about to yank her mouth open for a long-drawn yawn. She started at the sudden commotion caused by the gong while waiting at the Doon Railway Station. On a public holiday, the place was deserted and the long shadows of the dark night created a mystical halo around the suspicious nooks and crannies of the colonial building. She was waiting for the Mussoorie Express that started at 10pm for Delhi. Passing the time was becoming a burden for her. She had got a free ride from her guest house at six in the evening and, hence, arrived at the station much earlier. She had not taken into consideration the long wait. Most of the passengers would probably arrive only around 9.30pm on that chilly December night.

Arpita wrapped her shawl tightly once again but the wind continued shivering through her bones. She was otherwise a strongly built girl, a regular visitor to the gym.  Arpita was wondering if she had securely locked all her belongings back in her room at the guest house. Of late, ever since the arrival of her new roommate, Satarupa, things had suddenly started disappearing. Small things — but even the smallest toiletries are frightfully expensive nowadays. At first, Arpita thought she had lost them at work. Being a media presenter, her life was an endless stream of hustle and bustle from one place to another. But soon, she realised that they went missing at home. However, it would be extremely rude to ask a two-month-old room-mate if she has taken any of her things.

On 16th December, Bangladesh celebrates Victory Day — a day when they gained sovereignty after a battle with Pakistan in 1971, a battle in which India backed Bangladesh. Here is a translation of a story by the acclaimed writer Sarder Jayenuddin set between pre and post-independent Bangladesh… a poignant story of sacrifice and heroism

Translated by Sohana Manzoor

It was the middle of the Bengali month of Ashwin*. The early nights were too warm, but the late nights were cool and sweet. It was difficult to get up from sleep. On such a night, I was in a deep slumber when there were quick and firm knocks on the door. Someone was urging us to open the door.

Even though I had been in deep sleep, I felt restless. It was not just me, but everybody felt uncomfortable during those days. How could we sleep in peace? The country was being plundered by the Pakistani Army shamelessly. They were killing people and burning homes. My situation was even worse as I had been absconding for quite some time. Basically, I had been on the run for four to five days. And then the boat I had taken was attacked by robbers. We had almost died. Even though we survived, we encountered some others who had jumped into the river to save themselves from the robbers. Actually, that was the main reason why the passengers of our boat were able to get away.

Okay, so we survived. But then, even after arriving at this remote village of Pabna, I felt scared stiff. The military could come here too. They might arrive any moment. The only hope was that they would not come at night. They were apparently terrified of the Mukti ( Mukti Bahini, the freedom fighters). So, who was knocking at the door? And it was quite loud by now. I sat upright and was sure that it would be robbers. Just as I had taken courage on the other day in the river, I took a deep breath and asked again, “Who is it? What do you want?”

A steady voice replied from the other side, “Be quiet. Where is the Professor? Call him.”

By Mehreen Ahmed

Blood oranges were endowed with a certain pigmentation. I called it the fruit’s pizzazz, because of its lustre, which defined it and gave it the distinctive characteristics of dark flesh. I wanted it to grow in mother’s orchard. But the gardener said it wouldn’t grow here, because the climate wouldn’t allow it. If the blood orange didn’t flourish in this soil, then neither did many things in this culture. All these nefarious old customs and habits that had become fossilised, resisting change, inhibiting growth.

One afternoon, I sat in the balcony of mother’s house. A brilliant midday sun shone yet another monsoon day. I took a sip of lemonade my mother made with the orchard’s freshly squeezed lemons. Lemons, which grew in our orchard. I was recovering at her place, from an illness. Lemons and limes were not the only citrus that grew in this orchard, oranges too. Except, the blood orange.

The monsoon winds whipped up my spirits. The orchard revitalised as the winds touched it to a new glow. The wet fern unfurled along the mossy edges on the orchard’s brick fence. Nature’s drama ensued. These were months of recapitulations. They always were. Recapping past events that happened not only in my life, but also in the lives of the others. A maid once worked in our house some years now. I don’t know, I found myself thinking about her without a reason. Her loyalty had far surpassed that of any other who worked for us then. Her name was Lily. She was our loving Lily of the Valley. She possessed an exceptional quality of gritty honesty.