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.

twining COVER

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.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

But I won’t give this up for I have worked tirelessly for months to become a Patangi. Because I have come to believe in their war. Because I need the money.

Night after night I have scrubbed my Jashn with neem laced fireflies, said a prayer over her tiny head and bundled her off into the Sleep Shield which I smuggled in when we moved here—my secret within the whole secret of The Tower where anything with extreme cryogenics is forbidden. Our early days here were overwhelming. We found an empty flat in one extreme corner of the thirty-fourth floor. The windows were broken. I slept on the floor. Jashn slept inside the Shield. I kept her there for as long as possible, sometimes waking her up only for the sparse meals. What else was there to do? Other than wait and survive in this cold, torn up and seemingly hostile place. New refugees came in droves. The stench of homelessness grew. Yet in the thrum of humanity and suffering I kept warm. And there was hope in those early days. That he would come.

By Mohd Salman

 

Everyone was happy when the Thief died.

It was the postman who had found her, sitting in her armchair behind the unlatched main door, eyes closed as if asleep. In that peaceful tableau, a reign of terror had come to an end.

For sixty years, the Thief held sway over Bijliya, a little hamlet of barely a hundred houses. Over the greater part of three generations, shopkeepers learned to put locks on their cashboxes, dhaba (roadside eatery) owners chained their plates and tumblers to the tables, landlords prowled the orchards, and families took care to not let on that they had money and valuables to spare.

This was not easy. The Thief operated in broad daylight, her identity known to all. Secondly, you couldn’t keep her out. In a place as tiny as Bijliya, she was practically family.

Her name, though, was not thief-like. Shehzadi. Princess. But wasn’t it thieving, plunder, pillage and murder that made people kings, queens, princes and princesses in the first place?

Generations came and went as Shehzadi pilfered money, food and valuables. The world outside changed over those sixty years. So did the façade of the village and the interiors of the houses. But out on the street, the Thief was a constant. At the stroke of midnight on 15 August, 1947, as the world slept, Bijliya awoke to picked pockets. In 1962, when China crossed the border into India, the first sethh (rich businessman) of Independent Bijliya noticed a rupee missing from his day’s earnings. When Bangladesh was born in 1971, so too were new grudges for the travelling Kashmiri salesman who found a rug missing from his cart. When men, women and children in Bijliya cheered the World Cup win in 1983, they didn’t notice the vanishing cartons of mangoes from the local market, the mandi, as they huddled round the Seth’s radio. When the villagers tuned into the Indian version of ‘Who wants be a Millionaire?’ — Kaun Banega Crorepati — in 2000, Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone masked the sounds of chickens being stolen, umbrellas disappearing, and plates of drying chillies and papads vanishing into the night. Every few years, the clergy of every religion practised in the village would be at each other’s throats. But in their hatred of the Thief, they were all united.

By Dr Naina Dey

Lucy Villa was a beautiful house almost palatial in grandeur and standoffishness. Built on a large patch of sloping land it was surrounded by a once lush garden of myriad fruit trees and exotic flowering plants. Now with years of neglect, the fruit trees had gone wild and the plants that had managed to survive, were smothered by weeds and brambles. No shears trimmed the wayward shoots, no one watered the plants that stood under the scorching sun and waited for merciful rain. The only fountain had run dry, its water trough sickly yellow and green with slime, its stone fairy now decrepit. At night however, Lucy Villa was an elfin realm. Its colourless walls, broad balustrades, wide balconies and layered terraces, gleamed in the moonlight though its tall elegant windows looked dark and forbidding.

Lucy Villa was named after the wife of a sahib who had it built with the intention of enjoying the quiet of this far-flung town and to entertain the occasional guest. Unable to bear the death of his beloved collie and then of his childless wife, the sahib had returned to England leaving the house under the care of a friend who lived in the city. That was more than two decades ago. At present it was under the supervision of an attorney, a little bald sly-eyed man.

When we entered the house, it was still furnished with whatever Hamilton sahib had left behind. Moth-eaten carpets and teak furniture inlaid with delicate floral motifs in brass adorned the living room. The rest of the rooms were bare their dusty floors emanating a suffocating musty smell. The house itself was still in excellent condition despite the neglect barring a few damp patches. The walls had been white-washed for the new tenants. It was a pity that a house fit for a prince was in disuse for this long. It also became evident shortly after we had moved in that this was a house of disrepute.

As I stood one evening under the oleander tree just outside the walls, two Sikh boys on a scooty had screamed raucously – “Bhootiya Bungla (haunted bungalow)!” and sped away as fast as they could leaving me confused and angry. True, the house stood by itself, its high walls and garden isolating it from the rest of the neighbourhood. It was hardly unusual for houses which were once dwelling places of the rich, who preferred privacy, to be associated with strange stories once they had been abandoned.

By Sohana Manzoor

From her fifth-floor apartment window Neera could see the roof-top of the three-storied building that stood at some distance. She looked at the sun-drenched houses in the winter noon and wondered listlessly if people still used such gigantic mosquito-curtains like the one drying on the roof of the next-door. It looked like some green magic net big enough to catch a genie. And what were in those jars? Pickles, perhaps? Or maybe guava jelly? The child in her heart gave a shout of glee and, for a moment, she thought she had a whiff of her grandmother’s guava jelly emanating from the kitchen. But her grandmother had died years ago, and the house where she had lived was gone too.

IMG_0786The large pre-Pakistan era house that was her Nanabari, her maternal grandfather’s home, had been given to developers some years ago. While Neera could understand the practical reasons, her heart cried incessantly at the loss. The cluster of coconut trees standing at the bedroom-window of Neera’s apartment often made her sadder than ever even though she also considered herself luckier than most people of Dhaka where it was difficult indeed to get a breath of fresh air. But at her Nanabari, there were four such coconut trees. Images from her childhood when her uncles and aunts had made watches and spectacles for her with the tough and shiny dark green coconut leaves stood out fresh in her mind.