The final act of Rajkumar’s life opened to neither cheers nor applause. 

He looked down at the gentle, placid Rapti flowing fifty feet below. It should have been a raging torrent at this time of year, but the river had no sense of occasion. He held the bridge’s railing tight with his left hand, the other inspecting the iron weight tied to his ankle. 

He had no choice. All his life, Rajkumar had only wanted to be a jadugar. Unfortunately, he was a very bad one. He could never distract an audience, so his illusions never worked. Tea sets shattered when he pulled tablecloths from under them. His white pigeons defecated liberally into his turban. The rabbits bit him. Card decks flew out of his hand, prrrrrrr-uh! and scattered on the stage. 

She stares idly into the distance, an empty ceramic tumbler in front of her.

“The beach there is different…in my country.” She says lost in the reverie of the waves. 

Did she say bitch to me? No, No, it’s the beach, the beach of Mexico. I remind myself of the Mexican Spanish accent. People’s vowels and consonants, my own diction is my Achilles heel even after years of mac and cheese.  Why would she call her life-coach a bitch? Calming my heart, I try to concentrate. Usually, I am the focussed type, I can come to the point easily. A seasoned counselor,  I can anticipate in the first five minutes the story which has got the weary heart to my doorsteps.

Listening is my profession, my bread and peanut butter and what they call in Japan- the Ikigai. Okay, close to Ikigai.  Occasionally I get jolted, dismayed by a story, as and when a 15-year-old girl talked about being drugged at a party at a friend’s house and later found herself in the morning without clothes on her body.  She was suffering from herpes apart from the guilt that she was responsible for being sexually assaulted. I was worried for my teenage daughter.

The tall handsome man got down from the Jaguar convertible. His sunburnt face and bleached blond hair was as sleek and shining as the surface of the car he was driving. He bent his head to open the door on the passenger side of his car. His companion, a tall brunette with a mass of curly black hair, did not appear to think that a figure-hugging Dior dress teamed with blood-red stilettos was an incongruous selection of attire for the Australian outback.

The Jaguar, a flashy yellow, infused some color into the bleak vistas of land, which stretched to the horizon in all directions. Andrea, who had been busy feeding the horses, wiped her dirty hands on her jeans, smoothed her hair and started to contemplate how to get inside the farm without being seen.

I find myself awakened by a sudden jerk and the ratchet of a handbrake. I look around the dark to find my colleagues sound asleep, still, snuggled up in their leather seats serving as make-shift beds. From my periphery, I sense Lakmal’s silhouette navigating his way towards me, past the heaps of camera bags dumped along the narrow aisle, the nimbleness of his feet matching his dexterity on the wheel. Both of us gesture for a smoke. He grins – milky teeth illuminating in the darkness like saltwater pearls. 

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Delonix Regia or the royal Poinciana or what we popularly call the krishnachura is perhaps the only tropical tree that bears flowers and gives shade.” Parasuram looked around with an air of pride. The boys appeared bored. Only Sreeja pretended to be interested. She was the lone girl from her class who had travelled this far on a day-long educational excursion. “A tree lives for an average of five to ten years,” continued Parasuram unperturbed, “But this one has been here for over seventeen!” Parasuram was no student of botany. He taught Bengali in a renowned city college and had brought his students to see his native village, its hundred year old Shiva temple and the ruins of an adjoining haveli that belonged to an indigo planter. Sreeja had a crush on Parasuram and his thick hair and moustache. 

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. 

Today is Saadat Hasan Manto‘s birthday. Considered to be one of South Asia’s finest fiction writers, he is known for his candid and honest style of writing which was often considered provocative. There has been a lot of debate on his style of writing since time immemorial. While one may continue to argue on that but the fact still remains, that he is one of the greatest short story writers till date. Which leads us to the question: Why does Manto arouse antagonism amongst the intelligentsia?. Let’s try to decipher that.

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“Diana, can you hear me?”
There was no response.
“Diana?”
Stephanie’s voice echoed through the house. The little glass dome hanging in the corner of the kitchen glowed with pink light. Stephanie put the shopping bags on the marble countertop and sighed. Diana had been sluggish for about a month now, and whenever she was queried about her slow responses, would simply reply, “I recommend that you update my operating system. I assure you that it will greatly improve my ability to serve.”

As compelling as that argument was, Stephanie had been reluctant to comply. Yes, a fully upgraded Diana would provide her with more help, and some of her new features sounded good. Okay, she didn’t understand what they were exactly, as they had names like the Oneiric Satiation Module or the Phronesis Budget Calculator, but she had to admit that they literally sounded impressive. But there was a part of her that took a spiteful glee at saying “no” to Diana, which was odd considering how hard she had pushed Jason to purchase her when they first bought the house.

Lucia wondered how long the rain had been pouring and, with some urgency, edged off the bed and slipped her rain jacket over her duster. The throbbing rain dangled a curtain of mist outside her open window – the skies heft with the twining bodies of clouds. Outside it was already light.  She worried about the rice fields that could have turned waterlogged and, by now, caking with mud. She floated barefoot across the narrow partitions of the bamboo walls, and the gaps of the hallway, the slat floor squeaking as she whisked by.

Her nephew, Jimwell, who’d arrived at Madarag the day before for a visit, lay quietly asleep in the next room. A mobile phone vibrated next to him but Lucia did not want to wake him. She wanted to ask him last night why he came but there were other things to worry about. Her farm wasn’t making much and she feared he would ask for something she might not be able to afford or give. That was something she’d ache about like some flame being stoked in her gut. She paused when she reached the house’s small receiving area, only to see her son gone. His sleeping mat was already folded on top of a wooden bench. The radio beside it droned with static. She looked out of the window and found Arvin, sunburned skin glistening with rain, crouching by the pond fields, drilling holes between the canal walls of the paddies to drain water out of them. He no longer looked like a boy of nineteen but a man with his muscles straining around his neck, his shoulders rounded and chiselled. Valleys and wide flat-lands glinted behind him; the trees that stood on the edges of the rice fields were draped in rain water.

‘Are the rice plants flooded?’ Lucia called out when she reached the ladder of the house whose elevated foundations, abetted by sturdy culms of bamboo, sank into squares of concrete. Her feet landed on the soil, soft and wet – the crunching of her bones drowned out by the squawks of hens and roosters and the squeals of pigs penned behind the sty. The roosters and fowls and the dog and her puppies scrambled to circle her, their heads aloft and alert for an early meal. She felt the cold air circling pockets of mist toward her skin; the weight of humidity that blanketed them the night before had simmered out.

‘I got up as soon as the rain started,’ her son called back, pressing his fingers against the mud that surrounded the young, short stalks of rice. The soles of his feet and the corner of his ankles were buried in the swirl of muck.

‘I’ll cook for you some breakfast. Come and eat when you’re done.’ She wasn’t sure if he’d heard her. She got busy with the drenched firewood by the small stove on a concrete cubicle they had placed a few steps away from their stilted house. She stacked the firewood on top of each other and lit it with a match that she thumbed out of the side pocket of her dress.

She noticed her nephew yawning by the ladder when she turned to chase the hens and the chicks that occupied the table as well as the benches below the elevated house. Thick bellies of smoke from the firewood looped and wrung about them the odour of wet muddied boots and rotten leather.

‘Ah, you are awake. How was your sleep?’ She wondered if this time she should ask why he came but fought the urge to do so. He’d probably tell her in no time.

‘My sleep was good, Iyay. Where’s Arvin?’