Page 1

Page

1


The Four Quarters Magazine, August 2012. 2012 ISSN - 2250 - 074X Only the copyright for this collection is reserved with the editors of The Four Quarters Magazine. Individual copyright for artwork, prose, poetry, fiction and extracts of novels and other volumes published in this issue of the magazine rests solely with the the authors. The magazine does not claim any of those for its own. No part of this publication may be copied without express written permission from the copyright holders in each case. The magazine is freely circulated on the World Wide Web. It may not be sold sold or hired out in its digital form to anybody by any agency whatsoever. All disputes are subject to jurisdiction of the courts of the Republic of India. © The Four Quarters Magazine 2012 Cover art - “Golden Empire”, Cathy Colborn Illustrations - Arjun Choudhuri

Page

Editorial board - Arjun Choudhuri, Arjun Rajendran, Vasundhara Chandra, Shuvasish Sharma.

2

Page settings - Vasundhara Chandra


in this issue poetry Abhimanyu Bishnu, Aditi Rao, Arjun Rajendran, Avishek Parui, Carney James, Changming Yuan, Christy Caballero, Deborshi Brahmachari, Gargi Talapatra, Geralyn Pinto, Jessica Tyner, John W. May, Kenny Knight, Kevin M. Hibshman, Peycho Kanev, Prerana Choudhury, Rafiul Alom Rahman, Rimas Uzgiris, Rohith, Samartha Vashishtha, Semeen Ali, Subhadeep Paul, Subhankar Das, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Syed Mirza Ahmed, Tabasom, Urvashi Bahuguna, Vivekanand Jha, Vivekanand Selvaraj

prose (fiction and non-fiction) Ashok Banker, Bhaswati Ghosh, Chandni Singh, Charu Nivedita, Gaurav Kumar, Jose Varghese, Marten Weber, Nabina Das, Robin Leigh Anderson, Seb Doubinsky, Shijo Varghese, Sweta Srivastava Vikram, Umber Ranjana Pandey

artwork Arjun Choudhuri, Cathy Colborn

peers for this issue Seb Doubinsky, Ananya S. Guha, Nabina Das

Page

Arjun Rajendran, Arjun Choudhuri

3

editors for this issue


Dear reader, After months of poring over submissions, soliciting stories, poems and articles from writers around the world and disgraceful intakes of coffee, we herald another issue of The Four Quarters Magazine. As editors, a challenge we continually face centers around the question of readership, for all said and done, it is you, the discerning reader in your corner of the globe, who will react to these words, who will dip a toe into these waters to decide if it’s inviting. With this in mind, we strive again; to meet our standards of excellence, to publish works that enthrall, recreate meanings, question dogmas, works that push the boundaries of conventionality and grammar to transport the reader into terrain, both familiar and foreign. We leave you once more with our writers, voices established and fledgling, to explore. Literature, over the ages, has resisted oppression. Often, the power of writing is the only power human beings can exercise against their oppressors; and this isn’t truer than in the poems of Tabasom, killed in Afghanistan earlier this year. For providing her fine poems a home with us, we express our gratitude to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP). We are also very fortunate to be able to feature a selection of poems from Kenny Knight’s collection, “The Honicknowle Book of the Dead”. Sometimes, the best writing is a reflection of cultural upheaval. In this regard, Marten Weber’s award winning short story, “Obsession” comes as a pertinent response to the taboo surrounding homosexuality in our societies. Also in the fiction section, we are privileged to host excerpts from Robin Leigh Anderson’s novel, “Accept the Broken Heart” and from Ashok Banker’s upcoming series “Kali Quartet”. Other than these, delectable morsels of flash fiction grace our pages for the first time. In our translation section, we are thrilled to feature the English translation of Charu Nivedita’s short story “Nano” from the Tamil. “Nano”, written in Nivedita’s signature style, employs autofictive elements, punning and a narrative that is as fluid as it is mad; “Muniyandi”, easily one of the most original characters in literature, is also in “Nano” as is “vasugi”, the anonymous lady reader from his novel, “Zero Degree” (BLAFT). On a concluding note, we wish to thank Cathy Colborn, for permitting us to use her dazzling art on our cover, our peer reviewers, for their expertise and dedication, our writers, for their invaluable contributions and our readers, for all their encouragement and support; we hope you enjoy the issue.

Page

4

Editors, The Four Quarters Magazine.


the four quarters magazine

Page

5

august 2012


POEMS Samartha Vashishtha

(Translated from the original Hindi by the poet.) GRAVITY Just like both the ant and the elephant go sleepy on a full stomach Just like the T Rex carries the peril of collapsing on its own legs any moment Imploding in the brilliance of that last dazzle just like the red giant becomes a black hole All of us are lead-heavy somewhere within light like helium in general.

REREADING The physics that I read I read just like one reads facts On the last day of examination emptied the fountain pen on textbooks for good omen

Page

If only I had realized sooner that happiness is just a positive likelihood of receiving what you desire

6

Studied probability but not that what I am is that whose probability was marginally higher than the probability of what I could not become.


the probability of my eternal sadness would be a lot lower The physics that I read I read just like one reads facts not how it really asked whether to be or not to be In any case much of what is read just like that is understood only years after it is read just like that.

Carney James

#42 You know how this is, my love the truth cannot be spoken. I’ll look to foreign lands when lost in my own; when lost in your infinite eyes. My words are empty shadows, and you are the streetlights. Hold me like you used to, amongst the fluttering winds of twilight where the dew falls upon the leaves and the night sails on without us. All is fallen but for this.

Page

7

A shattered tear on empty veneer; nothing kills me here.


MEMORY #152 I found a scarf drenched in your stench; you must have left it behind. Day by day it smells less and less like you and more and more like them.

FICTION Nabina Das

Page

Her feet measured the sidewalks. The sidewalks in turn twisted their bodies into myriad lanes of memories. Memories of little mud holes that never were granite slabs or cement blocks, but horse hooves and panicked heels. The rhythm of her feet was not of any ancient musical bells, nor of the sandstorms roaring or the ice-cream man tinkling along her forgotten alley. Anandi’s initial ramblings were incoherent to taxi drivers, those yellow bees buzzing along New York’s city roads. They were incoherent to the police man of a bunch of sturdy dogs or to the flower man at one of the corners where she has later come back to order a stalk for someone she remembers till this day. The walls were there, so were the windows. She remembered that when her feet spanned the map of an unknown city, state or a country that had evaded its alphabets to her for several years. The city spoke in gurgles and garbles while she swallowed her tongue. Grief and sigh. Anandi’s speech. When she walked where tourists now throng, there was still light and color, but of another hue and intensity. For the first time on Time Square she had seen women with honey-red hair and curdled milk skin. She hadn’t read any poetry about champaka flowers or jewels because she could not read very well earlier. She had no idea how jewels could glitter like human eyes or teeth because she had seen none. Those women smiled wide with luscious mouths and twirled easily on their toes. She had never seen such clinging clothes and never heard such moist voices. She was here because a man brought her to this country for a nanny’s job. She had no one at home when she rode that train from her Midnapore village to Calcutta – cashless, friendless. Too many things happened too soon. She just saw and wondered. Anandi’s amazement. Some lives are layered. Anandi would rather peel an onion and not be able to explain how her life went through phases, each starkly different from the other. Not nanny, she realized quite soon, she was to be a companion. Not to an infant, but to a grown man, an oldish man. And when she managed to sneak out, the roads were rapids, the traffic was a bull race, men were hunters, and her own days and nights were emaciated fog on the East River.

8

ASKING ANANDI


9 Page

Anandi’s moments. The city changed, like she did. Her tall, dark frame copied the shadows of inert statues and memorials. Her pear-shaped face and thick black hair fanned the city breeze, a gaunt leather puppet. The women in shiny leotards and ruby-red lipstick made sure although she hurtled, she did not fall. Every evening she’d watch them powder their noses and speak to her in those sing-song syllables. “Oh baby, Oh baby, Oh baby!” One would go. “Jajajajaja!” Another would wink. “Cool it girl, cool it!” A third would chime in. The gaudy glutinous women never forced her to follow their example. No mamita, no honey pie, no leopard-print tights for you. Or Chinese silk low-cut tops. No standing next to the posts and neon-red shops. She didn’t have to wink and smile and pout. But someone told her: “Stay back here, you stupid rabbit. Or else they’ll eat ya in two minutes.” And she had stayed back. She stayed like the water jug on the counter, like the flimsy vinyl curtain with a bit of hem fraying, like her own voice a spring bird chirping after the thaw she had learnt to decipher. And then she met Bilal. Anandi’s bard. Of course the Time Square women cried to let her go. Even the pimps sniffled just once or twice. The ‘made guys’ who were also shopkeepers raised their toast silently. She was not for this place, they knew. She was of a separate dust, woollier lint. She would need a home where feet shuffled before and after sleep. Also, she would finally grow a tongue from the seed of her new happiness. They understood that. In my meeting with Anandi who was an oldish woman in December of 2002, she narrated very simply about how she lost Bilal in the 9/11 attacks. Her cheeks were sunken but her back was straight and talking about Bilal made her stretch tall even while sitting down. She had a little shop alongside myriad others in this Jackson Heights neighborhood. “Where did Bilal go? What happened, Anandi?” A janitor in a building at that famous spot, Bilal was walking off to start the day after greeting a fellow worker that morning. And then the planes came or that’s what some people saw. Bilal must have run out somewhere in the melee to jump over the billowing smoke, the noise and the screams. She did not know much about what exactly happened. Perhaps Bilal had rushed through the mass of panicking people. He did not come back home for dinner. “I’d made fish for him, something he just learnt to eat. He had asked me to make it for dinner.” And she, who did not have a television and therefore, had heard about the terrible tragedy sitting at a neighborhood grocery shop, sang an old song from her Midnapore days, all night long. “You sang a song, Anandi?” “Yes, a Baram Puja song.” “Was that Bilal’s favourite too?” “He knew nothing about Baram Puja. They don’t know about it in his village.” “Where was his village, Anandi?” “Where a big river played with the fish that no one caught or ate. He said it could be in Pakistan or in Hindustan.” “You can’t tell?”


“How can I? They were fighting over it all the time… Even when Bilal left his village and came here.” But nothing was known about Bilal after the aircrafts had taken the towers down. She didn’t remember anything. Anandi’s amnesia. So she went out again, her migrant corridors of silent streets yawning in the sun. She left her home and roamed about those streets for days. She had in fact forgotten her own name for a while, the street people said. Government people had asked her to come and do paperwork so they could make sure Bilal’s whereabouts were known. She didn’t go, for she remembered nothing. “How do you remember it all now, Anandi? How can you tell me the story now?” “You didn’t come to me with a pen and paper, did you?” Her hands arranged and re-arranged the shop things. Little things. She could read the labels by staring at the alphabets. She said she looked for B. It came right after A. “Do you ever go to see that place where it all happened, Anandi? Where Bilal might have been that day?” Yes, she does. Street groceries and baubles are laid out at the same spot where police dogs huff now and then; shopping carts stand askew in disbelief of any tragedy on this continent or anywhere, and Anandi’s hands are thick brick-skin. Building up a story block by block.

POEMS Jessica Tyner

Page

In patchwork Spanish I bought us two bus tickets to Puerto Viejo. For five hours a woman’s dreadlocks sketched elaborate maps into sweat that buttered my forearm every time she slipped her baby upside down to change a diaper with the grace and instinct of a dancer. The black sand burned through my feet while you told me how to catch a wave. You have to wait for the perfect one, swelling like leaking breasts, diving into the underbelly and slicing through to the calm. I’ve never been good at waiting or ducking, what a heartbreak to miss the crash. The ocean floor devoured my face, ate into a cheek, and filled my throat

10

HOLY WEEK AT PLAYA NEGRA


with burning salt water. On the way back to the hotel, you held my hand and I wished that it was his, oversized and hungry. A sinewy man carved a coconut with a machete as carefully as a skilled lover undresses their young darling. Sand is made from defeated rocks, bones of fish and I wanted nothing more than to drink down my shame with that bowed-back man’s sun warm milk. THINGS MAHAVIRA DOESN’T KNOW As a child I saw a cartoon of a devout man endlessly whisking a broom before his steps so that he would not crush an insect never thinking, that the man was real or that the broom wouldn’t save me. Your lips weren’t made to know flesh but they memorized my body, every flaw and spark. Gujarati prayers slipped over nimble tongue and crowded teeth night after stumbling night before you whispered that my thighs were as fair as the milk you boiled and spooned into my mouth.

Kevin M. Hibshman

Page

Hermes fastidious as always, left me a message for you. Unraveling the scroll in a dream unraveling, I saw etched in gold and framed in ash a true course set to the heart of the sun. We long to emulate the path; the falling star, the shining ones who plotted and planned before us,

11

THROWN FROM THE SKY OR TORN FROM THE SEA


who rose from boiling seas to grip the shore before us. They knew. A drop is what you leave. A pearl if one is lucky. A petal. A poem. GHOST DANCE Given the time we have All-agog agog with sweaty hands Your name was carved in sand Play on Rage against oblivion Let's dance Ghost will dance Given the lives we share Nautilus pink to midnight blue You look best in black Beauty and shadow both your wounds

Page

12

Come on dance Ghost will dance I am only here to go with you


TRANSLATED FICTION Charu Nivedita NANO

Page

(fill up the empty space vasugi) in a hut of a red-light area nano emerged from the silvery sperm emanating from the testicular artery of the first customer this is the ninth day after the three day periods stopped the first person the birth of nano in itself is contextual it is true that the birth of all the human beings is contextual but the birth of nano is contextually contextual when nanos mother woke up with a completely sodden body and bed (ohzuthalan had written its a pool of blood but I have edited it since its a clichÊ – clicker) from the heavy bleeding in her vagina due to the her copper t she got startled and fainted when she failed to get up her thirty six year old body had lost the lenience of her mechanical magical maniacal

13

if you presume there is a similarity in the creation of muniyandi and christoballs and in doing so are going to declare there is plagiarism involved foolish vasugi do you know that the creation of christoballs muniyandi you and carlos fuentes and everybody else has been in similar manner and that we have been created as a single chromosome out of a lakh of chromosomes was it the creation of muniyandi or nano the idea of ozhuthalan is to create muniyandi the creation of muniyandi commences at nine hours and thirty six minutes in the night of march twenty fifth one thousand nine hundred and ninety one on a white paper but nano says this is not the true creation muniyandi is but a shadow of nano ozhuthalan cannot create nanos but can create only a shadow thousands of nanos get destroyed in masturbations and fall in to the cups of shit they get dribbled in pillows too even without washing your pillows you had starched it the remark of the dead brain of the twentieth century a d comes in to the mind the nanos who get destroyed in the condoms can only be termed as infinite the place of copulation of the male and female who created the nano was not the rest room of a government school or the bedroom of a middle class apartment or a vehicle parked in a highway or the toilet of a deserted street during the late hours of the night or the mango grove on the outskirts of a town or the heavily crowded bus in the evening or


Page

14

logical phenomenological hard work and the doctor had removed the copper t and had said that the body will never endure this kind of work the young customer without knowing the fact that from then on nanos mother put a full stop to her profession and instead was eating bun and tea and was sending the customers back had approached nedhaay (since her existence had got its meaning solely due to nano she has had the first letter of nano as her own first letter) she rejected him citing the reason and he said you have taken me for a very cheap customer who flings five or ten bucks for inserting and removing the penis you dont know about me i belong to the esteemed league who think over in terms of the penis alone and i will remove the penis whenever you ask me to i swear on my penis not to worry as i have read embryology we can prevent pregnancy the hideous journey of the chromosomes will never commence inside your scrotum and he sobbed in poems yoni yoni anthoni yoni and nedhaay changed her mind and having forgot to take contraceptives leaned on him and kissed anthony his penis was erect the blood vessels inside the penis expanded the blood flow increased nine times the superficial dorsal vein of the penis got expanded anthony sucked the shrunken breasts of nedhaay for nine minutes nedhaay attained the orgasm which she last experienced on top of her fathers back in her ninth month when she played the elephant game and so she hugged him tightly and bit his neck and sucked his blood functioning of the bartholin gland was quickened anthony rubbed his penis in her vagina in the beginning there was vagina and vagina was the end the receptors in the vagina were incited in that time when the ida and pingala nadis were in tandem the vagina expanded and the penis entered it anthony entered into the vagina and at the same time due to the shrinking of the scrotum and vas deferens the sperm cells which got mixed with the secretion from the cowper harmon prostate gland and scrotum came out through the hole in his penis and the one crore ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine daedalus’ which were searching the facets of the alternate world and were probing to be alive were wanting to explore the egg inside the dark caverns of the fallopian got released from their source and were swimming in the deluge of the dark tunnel (please note that the daedulus’ can swim well since they have the shape of the number 9) pounding themselves on the walls of the fallopian and died a suffocating death this is a war out of the one crore ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine daedalus’ since only one can catch its female pair this is the struggle for the survival of one crore ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine daedalus’ a war where one crore ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine daedalus’ die in search of their salvage ozhuthali you talk about lived experience about existence about literature about religion about affection about love about grace about philosophy about cause and effect about servitude have you ever contemplated about the storm brewing inside the uterus and the infusion of the male and female semen if the lakhs and lakhs of chromosomes squeezed from the penis get infused with all the eggs do you know how many lakhs of muniyandis will be formed the sperm capable of creating four hundred and fifty crore Muniyandis which is the population of the world was squeezed on that coition the uterus moved and had a direct contact with the vagina and the nanos entering the vagina were destroyed in the big bang of the cosmic void and the lone estranged nano coupled with the egg which was waiting for it in the fallopian after jutting out with the other cells subsequent to the zygote inside the graafian follicle burst nano a he a she or an it was created.


this is acheron the river which was perceived by homer and vergil the river where nine crore ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine dead nanos float which struggled to live the black river of milton in which thousands of cadavers float which were brought by charon by circling around dantes hell a river of sorrows was the anger of zeus the reason for this deluge or is it anthonys lust are sex and lust just names is this deucalions deluge or ogygian deluge who is my noa would i alone be able to escape through deucalions boat or am i deucalion himself who is my pyrrha is she waiting in the womb of nedhaay for her xisuthros are deucalion and xisuthros one and the same or are they different or are they mere names are creation and destruction the same the lust of anthony destroyed one crore ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine nanos was the rage of zeus responsible for safeguarding the mankind deucalion entered a vagina after getting warned by his father ozhuthalan it was the storm of the womb cities and towns got destroyed the oceanic waves submerged the shores and the cities thunderstorms raged and lightning struck deucalion and pyrrha were the sole survivors the boat with them floated for nine days and then the water subsided but nano was floating for nine months vasugi since the number nine would not justify your tamil chastity even if you make it ten the fact that nine is nine and ten is ten

1

Vasagi in Tamil denotes a female reader. Va sugi is inviting a female to take part in the art of sex.

Page

15

have you seen the gas chamber of hitler va sugi1 mountainous piles of heaps and heaps heaps and heaps and heaps and heaps of ninety lakh human cadavers the frozen water was blitzed with bombs and the dead bodies were pushed in to the currents beneath the ice mankind is one and the same va sugi you have read in the history books about lakhs of people murdered by afucksander who came close to the region of the five rivers with the opinion that the mankind divided under various countries into many ethnic multitudes should never fight within themselves and that the world must be united under a single governance ruled under a single reign and returned but do you know how to break the silence and the dark territories which have been frozen between the lines of the history books if a drop contains one crore and ninety nine lakh ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine nanos then how many will be present in the sperm a man ejaculates in his lifetime nano was thinking about her crores and crores of friends she also thought about the existence before getting a life and infinity and quantum and consiousness and the inseparable nature and the nucleus of an atom and leucippus and democritus who ass fucked the god and fuckretius who wrote de rerum natura and stabbed the butt of god what would be my fathers name it is not anthony


is known to nano along with it becoming one among the numerous lies of ozhuthalan it was a false name to justify the sentence formation (thoni – yoni) the true name is unknown which is okay if the cause of fuckretius death itself was unknown then the yoni thoni matter was not important nano believed the young man is her father since it has always been written as the father copulated with the mother but she understood that the father here is her mothers father in that case am i nano or adonis ozhuthalan: the names are not significant in the infinite flow of the river of time you are nano you are adonis and your venus is muniyandi nano: infinite flow of time then what is my aeon nano was invited to talk in the monthly meeting of a literary magazine called life the topic was me and my poem at the end of his speech a vasugi asked him when did you write your first poem nano answered i wrote my first poem inside my mothers womb if the first poem was not published i would like to hear it said vasugi nano answered that he remembers a few lines from the poem and the other lines are clandestine to him even now and he started the recital with an abnormal voice i was born a eunuch there were nine hundred and ninety nine eunuchs with me as my friends and sisters we were the slaves who can do any work inside the palace our father the king of the nation fetched the women of the other countries as slaves during his conquests and he copulated with ninety nine of them a day he killed the women after the children were born eunuchs were born to these women slaves and were filling up the palace as slaves one day when my friends surrounded the bedchamber of the king i entered inside held the balls of the king on my left hand and severed the penis of the king using my right hand vasugi who heard these lines asked me nine questions how can this story be termed as a poem how can the king kill the women slaves when it is the women slaves of the other countries who would usually kill or eat their own children is it not true that the king who comes in the story is but a queen is it not customary for a queen to capture the slaves from the other countries and to eat them after copulating with them

Page

nano who responded that he cannot answer all the nine questions and can instead reply to only one question among the nine stated that I have killed the poem on the very day I killed the king the poem is dead vasugi said during her frenzied homosexual copulation with nano one day she

16

under such a context how can nano severe the penis of her queen mother with the sword clutching the balls in her left hand what happened to the chopped off penis


dreamt about the other parts of the story and wanting to share it with the observers began briefing the story a spectator interrupted questioning the mystery behind her posing only six questions instead of nine to which vasugi angrily responded asking him to read a novel named the hermit of the 69th street and continued her presumption of nano mentioning that vasugi had forgotten many parts of the story is a lie since how possibly could he transfer the dreams to her during the homosexual copulation and that the true reason would make nano to undergo grave problems and criticisms and in to a quest which would lead to the question of who am i and what is my name and identity and so she began the story nano who held the balls of her father who was the king in her left hand and severed the penis using the sword with her right hand did not throw it in to the ocean but ate it nanos penis began to grow from that day and nano transformed into muniyandi from that day the eunuch slaves who were muniyandis friends and sisters were imprisoned by him he married his mother and when one child each was born for the next nine years he ate all of them (the king had cursed him that he will die because of his son) but muniyandis wife who had vowed to kill him during each pregnancy named the ninth baby as nano and she transformed the baby in to a snake and hid him in an island nine seas and nine mountains apart and she praised him and decreed him hey son hear this you will beget your actual form after eighteen years from now and you will travel across the mountains and seas and would drink the elixir of life from your father and she left for the hospital she feared the arrival of muniyandi and hence bundled out her vaginal embellishment named sanitary napkin which she used throughout the journey of her pregnancy and threw it with remarkable strength on muniyandi saying here is your baby when he asked her muniyandis baby and muniyandi who was fascinated towards the bloody stench began eating the bundle eighteen years passed surpassing nano who got his form back crossing the mountains and oceans running towards the palace to kill muniyandi the language used in the story had itself killed muniyandi and the cadaver being the only leftover for nano to witness was another story concluded vasugi Translated from the original Tamil by Rajesh.

Page

Is it possible to scribe the naked thought flow inside the mind? That was my predicament when I sat to translate the short story of Charu Nivedita titled ‘Nano’ which was originally published in Tamil in the year 1991. I was in my sixth grade then. Now, a short story, according to me is a series of lines, beautifully written with all the quotes and the punctuations, and which tells me a story with a few characters in it. That was until I met Charu Nivedita. I started to read his works after the meeting, which happened in early 2009. When I read his work, I was in a

17

__________________________________________ Translator’s Note


Page

18

world of shock. All the inhibitions I had were thrown out by his writings. His works didn’t fit in to the ‘decent’ benchmark which I had set in my mind after reading a few literary works in Tamil. For the first time ever, I felt embarrassed to read something, as it reflected the thoughts I had hidden deeply inside the trenches of my mind. Gradually, all my inhibitions left me. Well, that’s what a mediocre reader like me would feel after venturing in to the ‘tabooed’ territory of Charu Nivedita. Coming back to the translation of Nano, I have read the original Tamil version during the initial days of my meeting with Charu. At that time, since I found it difficult to stomach it, I had skipped a few lines and paragraphs. But after getting in to translating his works, I repeatedly read Nano word by word, all the while getting more skeptical about the translation. Why is it difficult to translate Nano? The first point would be that there are no periods or punctuations in the Tamil original, and the entire short story is quite similar to the flow of thoughts in our mind, which are very difficult to capture on paper, in their original form. While translating the story in English, I found it impossible not to use any punctuation marks, and so had used them. The second point is the language he had used. Biblical. The Tamil original, if read aloud, has the rhythm of the biblical language which is quite popular in Tamil. The biblical verses in Tamil have their own language and nuances. Again, I found it impossible to capture the unique biblical tone of the Tamil story. Thirdly, the pun Charu Nivedita is famous for. He plays with his language, coining new phrases, idioms and names, which are otherwise non-existent. For example, consider the name he uses in the English translation – Ozhuthalan. In Tamil, a writer is generally called ‘Ezhuthalan’ – the one who writes. Out of this word, Charu creates the word Ozhuthalan – the one who fucks. How can I bring this phrase in English and quantify it? Hence, I have used the same term ‘Ozhuthalan’ and have indeed given a footnote. These were the major challenges towards translating the story in English. Charu Nivedita often quotes the schizophrenic frame of mind when he writes, which is quite evident in this particular story. While translating it, I too attained that frame of mind as I felt like a mad man running through a dark forest in the night. At certain points, I was totally clueless so as to where I was in this translation. Nevertheless, I had completed the story somehow. Yes, ‘somehow’ is the word. I had sent this translation to few of my close friends who would comment about the work, and as expected, they all had the same thing to say – they were able to read only a part of the story, as they too, after going deep in to the story felt like they had become crazy. Such are his stories. To conclude, the period when the short story was written – twenty one years ago- was a time when writers like Charu would publish their works in small literary magazines which again, would be read only by them. The writer was the reader in such times, and the circulation would not even cross 100. This is one such story which got lost years ago, and I am quite joyous to translate such a story.


Subhankar Das BACK BONE Out on the streets in search of a back bone Cigarettes running low turning to smoke so fast that I lost all track. Just called this young lovers who were searching for a place to fuck. at least let them enjoy life which is making me impotent. The refrigerator is near empty no beers, no wine, no whisky only five bottles of plain water and 20 cigarettes to go with. I even gave them free condoms You need guts to be a pimp You need guts to jump from a 10 storied building as your friend did. I am just a coward trying hard to hang on.

Page

All your boyfriends like you but you are still sitting all alone at a cafĂŠ and I am looking at you from a far corner and feeling lonely. It is so tough to make you understand this madness. It is so tough to make you understand the pleasure I get out of your well used unwashed bra on my face and your smell engulfing me slowly and I play with myself alone in my cave stark naked.

19

LIVELIVE-IN


Geralyn Pinto CIRCA 2007 A.D. Oh, funny world in times of pax, We strove to fight the anthrax. Then, lately, in a time of war, We lovingly grew its tiny spore, In a culture rich with hate, With violence as the agar plate. Oh, funny thing the nation-state That trades in coin of minted hate, And pays to see the enemy dead, While citizens go unclothed, unfed, And in the flame of sacrifice, Makes fuel of a million lives. We funny folk, from History’s birth, Found common mother in the Earth, But blurred the while our brotherhood And smudged our maps with bright red blood, So what’s left for the human race? Why Man, let’s go and conquer space!

Page

Less is more, of course That’s why we’ve shown them how Bright, bounded bamboo thickets Are better than sprawling, untidy rain forests. The zoo workers have even crafted a salt lick Painstakingly patting sodium chloride Onto the side of a gash in the earth Which has municipal water flowing through it And pretends to be a forest stream. (The real river that loitered around Splendid, aimless and occasionally wild Was long ago domesticated to factory use So that a distant CEO with greasy charm Could declare dividends to a grateful public). Rock surfaces were carefully constructed, Neat little dens built for delicate young cubs And a deep ravine dug all around. Just so. The only thing they did which you probably Never saw in raw tiger country

20

LESS IS MORE


Page

21

Was to erect a bright red board Warning Homo sapien visitors to the park That this was the lair of Panthera tigris, Ruthless, lone hunter with a predilection, (sometimes) For human blood. Whoever did it hadn’t reckoned that two legs Are better than four; Two hands cleverer, faster than paws Furnished with pads and claws; One well-organized organized brain superior to Brute muscle, olfactory sense and night vision. So there’s no real need to worry Because in ourselves we’ve proved, haven’t we, Beyond a niggle of doubt that Less is more?


Jose Varghese

Page

The taxi driver seemed reluctant to take his right hand out of his trousers’ pocket to receive the fare I gave him. It was when I tried to put the money in his hand that I realized there were two fingers missing in his hand – the thumb and the index finger. I wondered why I failed to notice it during the one hour drive to the college. I could sense his embarrassment from the way he held the currency notes for an odd moment between the existing fingers and the palm. Then he put that hastily in his pocket and asked me whether he should come to fetch me in the evening. I was just joining as a lecturer at the college and was not sure whether I should take a taxi in the evening as well or learn about the new place as fast as I could and start traveling by bus. But I said “Yes” to him in a reflex action. My first day at college went eventless except for the fifteen minutes I spent in the cabin of the Head of the English Department. I was asked by the graying, bespectacled, gentlemanly HoD to go through the syllabus of the college’s bachelors program and identify the areas of teaching I am comfortable with. I took the task seriously and told him that there was nothing unfamiliar to me in it except Victorian Poetry. Almost suddenly, he handed me over a few booklets with a mischievous smile: “So, you better start preparing the Victorian Poetry modules. I need the newcomers here to work. You see, we oldies prefer to sit back and relax for a while now, until we retire. “ Though this came a little unexpected, I took it in a sportive manner and managed to say “Of course sir, thank you” before I walked back to my room in the department. I spent most of the morning reading the booklets and befriending the colleagues who came in to say hello to me. I had lunch in the canteen where I saw students of many kinds, some digging their nose into their books while they gulped down food inattentively, some taking time to flirt a bit, and some talking away the dry moments of a cold day. I went to the library in the afternoon to borrow a few books that I thought would be useful to prepare for my first class the next day. I was a bit listless when I walked to the college gate in the evening, but was greeted by the familiar face of my taxi driver there. “Hello sir, I reached here just in time. My daughter studies here, and if you don’t mind it, I could drop her home as well, which is just two blocks from your residence.” “Of course”, I said, glancing sideways at the sheepish young girl standing next to the door doubtfully. She took the cue from me and quietly opened the front door to sit next to her father. As we moved out into the street, the driver told me that I had to pay only half the fare if I chose to travel in his cab every day, since he needs to fetch his daughter to and from the college. I agreed to the proposition, without thinking much. As I started to shuffle the pages of the books I took from the library, he introduced himself. “I am Benjamin. I had been a taxi driver much before I married her mother. Well, my daughter’s name is Susan.” “Hello, Susan. I am John. I have just joined your college as a lecturer in English.”

22

THE LOST FINGERS


Page

My first class was a lame affair, since the students seemed tired of the Victorian sentiments and poetry in general. I wondered why they chose to punish themselves with a course which they disliked. I gave them a few written assignments, hoping to assess their proficiency and aptitude eventually. The arrangement with Benjamin went on smooth for a month, and I never even thought of traveling by bus. I took my own time to get familiarized with the place and my profession. The written assignments turned out to be just above average, except a very few that seemed promising to me. Susan’s writing belonged to the latter category. She was a quiet creature and never made any attempt to talk to me unless I asked her something. However, I mentioned to Benjamin accordingly that Susan’s creative and critical writing showed some real talent. “She takes after her mother.” Benjamin sighed, as Susan looked out blankly at the traffic. “She used to paint as well. She wanted to be a writer, but folks like us never get a chance to have a career like that, you know.” “It was you who were not willing to give her a chance”, Susan retorted, quite uncharacteristically, and resumed her blank stare outwards. Benjamin was taken aback, but he tried to ignore this statement and went on talking about other neutral subjects. My days at the college began to feel so dry and eventless as I must have remained an ineffectual gentleman for the students and a hopeless bookworm for my colleagues. I took to the profession mainly as a means of support for my research studies, and was glad that I could manage things without causing trouble to others. I did try to do my work sincerely and fade away quietly from the lives I came in touch with. After the end of the month, Susan was absent in class for a couple days, and I was forced to enquire about this to Benjamin. “She has left home”. It seemed he was not going to say anything further. “But why?” I asked.

23

“Hello John. I am doing my Bachelors in English.” Susan said in a husky voice, looking back at me. “So, we will meet tomorrow in class”, I said, giving her a smile. She smiled back. Benjamin tried to give her a paternal pat on the shoulder, but I could see her shrugging away from his touch. I could see her staring indifferently at his right palm clung to the steering wheel. Somehow, I felt that he had lost his fingers in the not too distant past, but I restrained from queries on that, out of civility. Benjamin seemed to be in a talkative mood, though. “Her mother passed away last year. I have a son too, but he has left us after her mother’s death.” There was a moment’s pause as he waited for the green signal at a traffic joint. Then he continued his talk. “You know, he was kind of too close to her, and I guess he couldn’t stay in the same house afterwards. I’ve heard that he is working in some restaurant in the city”. Susan remained silent for the rest of the drive, as Benjamin kept talking about the place and the initial days of struggle for him as a taxi driver. He dropped me near my residence and bid farewell, assuring me that he will turn up the next morning.


24 Page

“I have no idea. I try everything to make my children’s life better, and they just treat me like this”. His eyes glistened. I felt any further interrogation would hurt his feelings and remained silent about the matter. It was during my weekend visit to a restaurant in the city that I met Susan again. She was sitting in a corner talking with a waiter. When she saw me enter the place, she smiled at me and stood up, so that I had to walk to her. “Hello Susan, how are you? I was wondering what happened to you.” “Hello John. This is my brother Shane.” She introduced the waiter to me. “Hi Shane, I have heard about you from your father”. “Hi John. He is not my father, by the way.” He excused himself to rush towards a newly occupied table. “Please do sit down John, if you don’t mind. I would like to have a word with you”. I sat down to have a coffee with her and Susan told me that Shane was her mother’s son out of her first marriage. She told me more about her family, while Shane could only throw helpless glances towards us amidst his busy schedule at the peak hour. Their mother’s name was Elizabeth, and she belonged to the rich class. She got married at a very young age to the famous artist Julian Fernandez, whose surrealist paintings adorned our college library. He left her for an elderly actress, old enough to be his grandmother. This shook Elizabeth’s very foundations, beyond repair. She was a smalltime writer, with some publications in national journals and newspapers. She used to paint, and was hoping to hone up her skills to make career out of it, with the help of Julian. But when Julian left her, she ended up a wreck in her early twenties, with the two year old Shane who was the only reason for her to live. Elizabeth tried in vain to get her writings published and to find sponsors to exhibit her paintings. When the going got really tough, she did resort to drugs and drinking. Benjamin found her unconscious on the sidewalk close to his home one day, and took her to the hospital. When she gained consciousness, she talked about Shane. Benjamin took her back to her home, where he found Shane locked up, hungry and scared. It did not take Benjamin long to propose to her, and Elizabeth accepted it in her state of confusion. After a year of blissful marriage, problems began to set in. Susan was born, and Elizabeth found it difficult to stay at home and look after the kids all by herself. Benjamin was not in a position to stay away from his work, which offered a meager earning. Elizabeth tried to protest, by ignoring Susan and trying to indulge in painting, writing and socializing. This upset Benjamin and there were quarrels on a daily basis for a while. Then Elizabeth became silent and inactive altogether. She was diagnosed clinically depressed and remained a complete recluse for the rest of her life. “She died last year”, Susan summed up the story. “She had violent bouts in the final stage and tried many times to harm Benjamin, accusing him of ruining her life. She attacked him with a knife once and that’s how he lost his fingers. She was locked up in an asylum for a few months where she refused to eat anything and died eventually of a cardiac arrest.” I was not sure how to console Susan, but she seemed unshaken. When I asked her about the long absence from college, she told me that she had dropped out of the course and is


25 Page

planning go to the USA to stay with Julian Fernandez who has offered to guide her with her painting. “I hate my father touching me with that hand”. She said unemotionally. “Julian is a great artist. Shane hates him, but I get along well with him. I was completely neglected by my mother, and I never liked my father.” She bid farewell to me after getting some money from Shane. I wondered why she told me all this if she had already decided to forsake her studies. I tried to convince myself that I had perhaps made an impact to her as a teacher. I came home that day with a heavy heart. I tried to philosophize on the futile attempts of us human beings to get a meaning out of life. The Victorian poets did not offer a satisfactory answer to my doubts on such a general condition of life. They seemed to make it sound more complicated, especially the old chap Browning. Benjamin remained silent about Susan for the next week. I started paying the full fare to him, but did not think of disappointing him by choosing to travel by bus. He seemed dejected, despite everything. I met Shane at the restaurant on Sunday and he told me that Susan had left for the USA. He said he was close to Susan, but she had a very complex character that he failed to comprehend. “She lives in an imaginary world created for her own sake. She should have completed her studies”, he said. “She was a very good student”, I was obliged to say. “I am ashamed to say this, but she is in love with Julian, my father. And it’s he who ruined her. She is living with him as his wife now”. I managed to ask him how he was doing, and he said he was sorry about Benjamin. He said he found it difficult to accept Benjamin for some strange reason. “But it was entirely my own fault. I was spoilt by my mother. He gave her a very good life, and she deceived him.” I did resist the temptation to ask how, but he continued. “She died by jumping from the terrace of our home, without provocation. After all these long years of happy life… I left the house because I could not stand the memories of our happy times there.” I was perplexed, since what he said seemed like an entirely different version of the story Susan told me. I kept my strategic silence, and tried to suppress my curiosity. “It is true that she had some disappointment about not becoming a writer or an artist, but she was always grateful to Benjamin for saving us at a crucial time. I am at times ashamed of myself, because I could not explain my behavior. I could never connect with Benjamin. We never talked to each other.” At this point, Shane had to attend a customer. I was sipping my coffee and contemplating on leaving the place when he came back to me. “I did hate his right hand. I was afraid of him touching me with it. He lost the fingers during work, when he was young. I hate the way he uses it as if it is normal.” I bid farewell to Shane in a hurry. I wondered who among Susan and Shane could be considered to have a character more complex! I did not try to find answers to any of my queries in the Victorian poets, and tried to sleep. But the image of Benjamin’s right hand did haunt me in my dreams. I could see how he missed the invisible extensions of the stumps that remained.


Page

26

No matter how and when he lost them, he was definitely still carrying the ghost of his missing fingers with him. Did he realize that his ‘touch’ was an offense to both his children? Had it been the same for Elizabeth? Was he after all an innocent man, or did he hide his dark shades the way he tried to hide his hand in his trousers’ pocket? I never even imagined that the loss of a couple of fingers can make a man’s personality so mysterious. I was a lot troubled the next morning when I got into Benjamin’s car. His face was swollen as if he spent an entire night crying or drinking. I looked at his right hand to make sure that the entire re issue of the missing fingers was not an illusion. It seemed that with time, the stumps have got used to their fate that they were willing to take extra pain to make up for the missing parts. “I’m afraid this is going to be our last ride in this car”. B Benjamin enjamin spoke at last, as we neared the college. “What happened, Benjamin?’ I asked “I have to sell this car. I am leaving this place. I’ve made a mess of my life here. I need to escape.” Escape from what? I wondered so, but did not ask him that. B But ut I mustered courage to ask another question. “Benjamin, I would like to ask you a question if you wouldn’t mind it. How did you lose your fingers?” “Oh, I didn't lose them. I was born without them.” He said. The car stopped in front of the gate an and d I got out. Benjamin got out of the car as well, like he did on the first day. I gave him the fare. His right hand took it and went back to the trousers pocket. “Let us hope to meet again somewhere”. I extended my right hand towards him. He took his right ht hand out of the pocket to shake my hand. As I shook hands with him, I wondered whether I just touched his deepest hurt.


POEMS Urvashi Bahuguna TERRACE RAIN In a city without rain. children do not learn how to make paperboats. A man from such a city moved to our town. Our town of drained terraces and never-empty potholes. She floated paperboats on her terrace rivulets, watched them plunge into the drain like real boats when they meet waterfalls. The memory of How to make a paperboat was coded into her fingers. She could not teach him the body code. In a city without rain, children do not learn how to make paper boats.

Rafiul Alom Rahman

Page

A stray dog scours the leftovers in front of a temple, while the Pandit recites Vedic hymns -

27

A TEMPLE SONG


testimony to the mysticism of time. A harlot, weary of trying Vatsyayana's postures, seeks lodging at the door-step of Shiva. Not far away, a hoarding displays a near-clad model, a feminist. A eunuch shakes that contagious body to charm visitors, their pockets. A flock of crows fight over the remains of a hare, that died the previous day. Beggars rest in their eternal home, the street side, a fate for two paise. Swindlers play a game of cards over country beer; the black whore, a sumptuous meal for the night.

A LONG DRIVE Raindrops Trickling down the window-pane, return me to a time, when Hillsides draped themselves with Sweet monsoon dreams that nestled On pine leaves and pearls dribbled From the heavens, in a deluge that flushed The windscreen of the car, up and down The hilly roads, while the wiper danced Its blades to the music that played inside To live up the moment fondled by them.

Page

28

Two lovers on a long-drive.


FICTION Chandni Singh

Page

They loved each other. A little too much if you ask me. But you wouldn’t know it if you saw them. They always sat a little apart, the way new lovers do, the kind who have yet to touch, yet to learn how intoxicating a lover’s body can be. I have no patience for people who don’t explore. Bodies of course. In company, they never really even spoke to each other when around other people. Oh she chattered of course, saying the right things at the right time. But not to him, if you know what I mean. He’d often frown at her words, staring into the distance or the immediate, whichever caught his fancy, sometimes switching off to listen to the turmoil in his mind. He rarely looked at her which is why I wondered whether they were in love at all. I mean, she often glanced his way. At times it made me pity her. Perhaps she thought he would smile back. Come to think of it, I’d never seen them smile at each other. They’d sit there prim and proper and I’d wonder at their love. Oh but don’t get me wrong. In spite of outward appearances, they loved. Their silent divergences were mere facades, clever routines they acted out to fool onlookers into believing theirs was a story less than ordinary. Mundane on the verge of being tedious. But I was a seasoned observer, a connoisseur of the human charade. And I saw through their masquerade. Oh how they loved. Their souls reeked of it. So proud were they of their experience of love that they didn’t expect mere mortals to comprehend it. As if their version was a superior cryptogram of love, that they alone had managed to decipher. And so, basking in the glory of it, they carefully kept it away from greedy eyes, lest it should get tainted by that most feared species: an unworthy spectator. Her, I’d known since long. She was one of those girls who’d come to your place and just plop herself right next to you, sighing in an aggravatingly adorable manner. She’d have thrown off her shoes, wiggled her way into the cushions and then once satisfied she’d found the most comfortable spot, ask in an utterly serious voice, “Did you see the moon last night?” Who asked a person like me a question like that? She did and of course it didn’t sound queer. Then she’d stretch in that way. I guess you could call it abandon. You know, the way people do when they are completely comfortable around you, or the way they do when they are alone. One day she questioned, “Why should one fall in love? I’d like to just liquefy into love.” Oh the things she said. In the afternoons, she’d always be slightly sleepy, ready for a nap, she said she liked the feeling of approaching somnolence. Then she’d be her malleable best, purring out her responses, oozing lethargy in a particularly feline manner. She was also the most easily excitable person I knew. Once she called me and breathlessly said, “I just got these shoes and they are smiling.” She hung up before I could question such an impossibility. But behind the gaiety, the flippant banter, there was an intangible barrier she fought to hide. And when I saw him, I knew he had accomplished the unattainable. He’d found a way through. Him, I’d heard of quite late. She never mentioned people she really cared about in her multi-coloured conversations. So it was only much later that she gently whispered his name to me. Carefully, as if fearful of powdering butterfly wings, superstitious of dampening the

29

OVERKILL


perfection of her story. You know, he was the cloud to her silver lining, but I could see why that was what she liked about him. Most of his face was hidden by a bush of beard. Too much hair for my taste, but then she had a thing for beards. And glasses. He went around with this halo of profound tragedy that he thought became him. She said not even a poet wore pain so beautifully. In the early days, I’d once called them over for drinks. He was silent, nursing, of all things, a glass of tea! While she drank too much, her words stilted with the embarrassment of watching her lover’s discomfort, making her as ugly as a beautiful girl can get. I was the passive observer, uncomfortable in my own house. As I walked them to the door, I pulled him aside, “Take care of her.” His reply left me furious and slightly jealous, “Love is quite mediocre without pain.” Two years ago I heard he’d moved on. Don’t you detest the term? Moved on. As if relationships were houses one changed, love relegated to the rung of real estate. He’d had enough I heard. Of deceiving himself that he could be her man. His love had always waxed and waned, as capricious as his other muse, the moon. He had raged a constant battle against his insufficiencies and her pitiful attempts at reproach, till he’d snapped. In the end, it was his strengths, disguised as uncertainties that had allowed him to walk away. Overshadowed by her languid loveliness, her terrifying resolve to love him, he, the one who deserved it the least, waltzed out of her life. Today, as I was writing out a postcard to her, no one loved colourful paper like she did, I heard she’d snapped. No wonder I am talking this loopy today. Mixing up memories with perceptions. Biases with weaknesses. She went and drowned herself. Oh how she used to fear water. I wonder if she thought of him as she gasped. I know she did. She would’ve cried into the water as she drowned in it. She liked that kind of melodrama. And he would have appreciated the irony. Her journals, each one of them splattered with her spirited stories, belonged to him now. That would be his gift and his curse. I told you, they loved each other too much.

POEMS Vivekanand Jha FOOL He can be without food, not without folly. Sitting in silence he is supposedly a scholar all he needs is to open his mouth only once there begins all the glory of his idiocy:

Page

The doctrine he defines, unfolds tragedies not of less magnitude than tsunami, quake or nuclear explosion. The name he is baptized

30

Words he spat stinking and reeking like rotten eggs and decayed carcass.


is not less than a legendary figure. It’s not too difficult to single him out positioning blatantly in the huge crowds: He begins, when all else finish their laughing, he applauds, when all else end their clapping, he cuts only those trees leaning towards him, he smacks the flies sitting over his face.

Syed Miraz Ahmed

1. waves ebb... the calm seabed storms like my desire 2. this end of the ravaged paddy lives hope 3.

Page

31

travels by night to find morning again my soul


FLASH FICTION Sweta Srivastava Vikram

SOLSTICE Rita wanted to join the crochet club in her neighborhood. They turned her down. It was an exclusive club for mothers only. Rita brought an envelope containing pictures of sonograms of her three babies she had lost. The director granted Rita the membership. POSSIBILITIES

Page

32

Anna and I were the only two students in class who had confessed. It made sense that we got together to discuss scuss the “how “how-to” to” and maybe become friends. It was decided that we would meet at Starbucks close to the Empire State Building. Getting together on hump day, when leaves had just begun to change colors, sounded perfect perfect—autumn autumn has a hold on secrets. As I stood ood in line, ordering a cup of coffee and some snacks, I asked Anna if I could get her anything. With icicle in her eyes and brevity on her tongue, she said, “No. Thank you.” She got her own food but stared at mine. When we sat down to discuss the next ste steps, ps, I offered her a bite of my fat free, blueberry coffee cake and extra napkins. Anna looked at me in shock—like shock I had desecrated the shrine. She pursed her lips so tight that neither a morsel nor a word could enter or leave her mouth. At that very instan instantt I knew I couldn’t be friends with someone who didn’t know how to share—even even if we had shared that one thing in common.


Umber Ranjana Pandey A TALE OTHER THAN HAKIM MAHZOON QAZALBASH AND HIS PATIENT LUKMAN ALI'S TALE Introduction: Introduction

Page

Jehangir, an emperor of Hindostan in those times gave Khalwatganj jagir to Khoobroo Bux. Khoobroo Bux proved a consummate practitioner of statecraft and under his rule, Khalwatganj grew into a rambunctious commercial town known particularly for its forty day long mela where merchants from all over India and Arabia used to come to sell and purchase horses; Kings bought horses for their army and Polo matches; Parsi merchants, for racing and still others came to buy horses for theirs buggys and tongas. In a few centuries, the town's name changed from Khalwatganj to Ghudganj. A mela was held every year during urs of Badroo Bux in basant-the Indian spring. A long fulvous silk chador with peacocks, parrots and mynahs embroidered in ornate hand used to be taken from Naya Topekhana to Patang Menar on Juni Dagar near which Badroo Bux's mazar was built in sand stone under a Brobdingnagian Kadamb tree. There, as mentioned by an Englishman Roger Charles Crook {then deputy collector of district Khalwatganj}, according to the legend of that time, there were seven thousand windows and ventilators in the mausoleum. Numerous sparrows had their nestles among those windows and branches of the Kadamb tree but Badroo Bux's tomb was in a roofless space between the palatial structure where due to myriad birds, the heavens were too crowded to see. The mela used to start after the chador ceremony and horse merchants, camel thieves, gamblers, swindlers, sorcerers, and wenches populated the marge of Ghudganj's local brook, Gangsangini. Sexual dalliances, true amour, murders, pregnancies, crossed scimitars, dacoities and thefts were as common as horses in the mela. After 1857, the East India compト]y replaced Khoobroo Bux's great grandson's nephew, then the nabob Kharsang Bux. Kharsang Bux was a large man who weighed two hundred stones and had a mouth as big as Surasa of Lanka. He was used to eating twenty-eight pounds of mutton and one and half kilograms of ghee everyday. Though a stouthearted soldier; he failed in strategy as he was illiterate and slightly touched in the head. He took East India co.'s warnings merely as the braying of some miles gloriosus. Raja Duchand Singh Kathait, a smalltime zamindar was made the ruler. The countrymen boasted that he sold his three wives Champabai, Sarojinibai and Hathinibai for Khalwatganj. Raja Duchand Singh Kathait changed the town's name from khalwatganj to Ghudganj and ordered Bux baba's mazar to be knocked down, for he wanted Ghudganj to be remembered for

33

Khoobroo Bux in the sixteenth century CE was a sepoy. His elder brother Badroo Bux was a tall man in his early forties with rough-hewn features when one evening, he suddenly attained Pirhood. Doubling the tola of opium he consumed everyday, he went to cogitate in seclusion. Folklore says that he sat there for seven years and a town developed around him named Khalwatganj; a town of solitude though like all other towns in Bundelkhund, it too was noisy, nosey and full of nosheries.


him and not for the Bux clan but the Raja died within a year before the work of demolition completed. As the people of Ghudganj were so artful in weaving mendacity and facts together, many fish tales were spun around Raja Duchand Singh Kathait's death. Amongst all these tales, the one I find to be the most curious involves the Raja's gujarati physician, Pt. Narmadaprasad Joshi.

Page

***** Close to Patang Menar, on a street called Bajajon ka bazar, descendants of Pāndit Narmadaprasad Joshi found themselves living in a three-storied building made with seven hanging balconies on fifteen hundred and sixty square feet of land. Although in shambles, the building was occupied by Vaidya Udhdawprasad Joshi, known as Baidji in Ghudganj and his sixteen year old daughter, Subhadra. Baidji was an ailing, blind man in his sixty-sixth year. He wore a rumpled, oily dhoti whereas Subhadra always used to be in maroon saris and backless mustard blouses. Pāndit Udhdawprasad practiced traditional medicines {actually a quack} and in keeping to his ancestral tradition, prepared passion potions, attars and various Ayurvedic mixtures. Once on a night of lunar eclipse, somebody knocked on their door when Baidji bewitched a few herbs and roots in his puja-room. Subhadra hastened to unlatch the door as she felt lonely and bored during nocturnal hours. A large man with henna-dyed hair in crimson caftan and red boots stood there. His eyes were tow-coloured in surma made of gold and almonds and face highly made up with turmeric, saffron and sandal powder; his mouth was all cochineal due to an age old habit of chewing pān. The stranger asked for Baidji in Urdu, but in an accent Subhadra had never heard before. He asked again and walked inside in a gait that matched that of a syphilis patient. His spine hunched forwards and he had a chain of emeralds tied around his large waist. He now entered the house, removed a magnifying glass, placed it on his right eye and raised his sight to see Subhadra. In an instant, he fell in love.

34

Raja Duchand Singh Kathait brought Pt. Narmadaprasad Joshi from Kathiawad to Ghudganj because he found himself unable to get his organ up with anyone except his three missing wives - Champabai, Sarojinibai and Hathinibai. Pāndit Narmadaprasad was celebrated all over the Indian subcontinent for his passion potions. After forty days from his arrival in Ghudganj and payment of seventy-four thousand rupees, he concocted a potion for the Raja. He took a ratti of nutmeg and cooked it in black cow's milk for three hours and fifteen minutes; when it turned cold he added a drop of Katkhora's venom. Katkhora, now an extinct specie of a Gujarati venomous snake, was then a legendary reptile known for its aphrodisiac venom. Pāndit Narmadaprasad used to barter it for salt, grains and ivory with the kutchi tribe to later sell it to kings, seths and dacoits. After reading a few mantras, the pāndit gave it in a pawn to the Raja. In a trice, the Raja's organ grew to a horse's size and granite's hardness but alas, this only gave him more grief than pleasure. The Raja died within a week out of interminable rigidity of the penis. Hakeems of Bux clan claimed that the Raja's erection was not eternal; he died because he ejaculated a snake (which now seems too far fetched to believe). The Raja's brotherin-law, Nidar Singh, took the crown and was a lame-duck to rouse any lore among the Ghudganjis.


Baidji took the man to a narrow alley where he used to examine his patients. It contained innumerable glass bottles in green, blue, pale and white full of essences of various roots, barks and flowers, spleens of animals, different insects and dried testicles of goats. The space smelt of oud. Baidji took that man's frail wrist in his hand and said, 'Mossulman, name Chamaan chal Ali.' The man staggered, 'Yes yes, I am Muhammadan and my name is Chamaan Chal Ali.' 'Age forty-six, ailment Raj-yakshma.' Baidji's assertion grew. The man's eyes, fixated on Baidji's hand, did not respond. Baidji faltered and left his wrist. It fell like a gashed banana tree. Chamaan Chal Ali said,'I am afraid it is imbalance of blood and sable bile.' Baidji tried to decrypt such an English statement which he had never heard about in traditional medicines. He tried to read his nerve which had the gait of a toad and sometimes, of a lion. Chamaan Chal Ali who sat restively all this while, suddenly stood up. Baidji, confirmed about his foundering, remained in inertia. Chamaan Chal Ali closed the solitary window in the room and went close to Baidji. He mumbled in Baidji's left ear, 'I suffer Izyut.' Meanwhile, Subhadra passed by the door and Chamaan Chal Ali collapsed not out of his malady but because of a malignant gusto for Subhadra which afflicted not merely his heart but his nerves as well. Baidji kept mušk under Chamaan chal Ali's nostrils. Subhadra, who'd never seen any other man except her father, stood transfixed near Chamaan Chal ali and breathed heavily. Pale blood surged out of Chamaan Chal Ali's nostrils and he woke up in haste as if somebody caught him naked on the street. Baidji called him after three days for he said he needed a couple of days to find the right medicaments to prepare Chamaan Chal Ali's remedy.

Page

Once during an afternoon, when Baidji was asleep, Chamaan Chal Ali brought an army costume comprising a hat, a stick and a pair of boots in Subhadra's size. She wore jodphurs tucked in boots, jerkin and hat, and all the badges of honour hung on her abundant bosoms. Chamaan Chal donned a horse mask over his head and tied a tail between his buttocks to become a horse. Subhadra rode him throughout her home and was uproarious. She fought Kharsang Bux, Tipu

35

Baidji wrote an epistle in green ink on a rough scarlet paper to Hakeem Mahzoon who practiced Unani medicine in Aadhi-masjid Street, Chanderi (on his eternal patient Lukmaan Ali), asking him about Izyut. Two and a half days passed, Subhadra did not sleep and secretly smelt the neckerchief soused in Chamaan Chal Ali's pale blood which reeked of blood, mušk and her own sweat as she clenched it tightly over and over again. Baidji too did not sleep and smoked Hummi tobacco behind the gate in inquietude. Later that evening, a message came from Hakeem Mahzoon written in Lukmaan Ali's twitching hand, with ink blots all over the page. Hakeem Mahzoon stated in a letter that izyut is a disease of involuntary defecation during sexual intercourse. If it occurs during every ejaculation, whether through masturbation, nocturnal emission or sexual intercourse, it is untreatable but if it takes place only during sexual intercourse with another person; it can be treated with excreta of goat fed on asafetida and babool gum. Though Chamaan Chal Ali's illness showed all the symptoms of the first kind of izyut, Baidji, in exchange for money, treated him with goat's excreta.


Sultan, Rani Laxmi bai and Tatya Tope, and won! Her horse, though hunchbacked was valourous and turbocharged. Chamaan Chal Ali deflowered Subhadra's pudendum and defecated between her derrières. Subhadra, unschooled in matters of the flesh, accepted his defecation as men's wont. One and half months passed and on a noon during a solar eclipse, somebody knocked on their door when Baidji awoke, and bewitched few herbs and roots in his puja-room. Subhadra hastened to unlatch the door as she awaited Chamaan Chal Ali. The man who stood before her wore a turquoise-hued Kurta and pale-blue pyjamas, measured six feet tall and had a swarthy complexion resembling a sheesham sawlog. His long and beauteous ears were pierced with diamonds and he walked in the gait of a cheetah. He asked for Baidji, in a refined Lucknow Urdu. Baidji took that man's muscular wrist in his hand and said, 'Sachora Brahman. NameRashiklal Trivedi'. The man staggered, 'Yes yes, I am Brahman and my name is Rashiklal Trivedi.' 'Age twenty-nine, ailment vata-vyadhi.' Baidji's assertion grew. While Subhadra slunk around the alley, Rashiklal stood, trod along the space and closed the window. Dejected, Subhadra walked away, dismissing Rashiklal as an ill-bred prole.

Page

That was Chaitra, a month of aged spring. A troop of crows twittered on the only Nagchampa tree in Baidji's house. Sometimes, very rarely, a cuckoo warbled far away on an abloom mango tree and Subhadra stood on a staircase for long and longed for Rashiklal to return at once. Luna swelled adagio. On Ram-Navami, Chamaan Chal Ali came with a peacock-feather fan and an ivory coffer full of pāns and saffron treated paste of tobacco and betel-nuts. He learned many shai'rs and thumris and recited these every once in a while. He still suffered Izyut but his spirits were in airs like spirits of turpentine. As Subhadra was not used to chewing pāns, Chamaan Chal Ali threw all the pāns to cats and said to Subhadra, ''Haukyai jurva bhara bilahra pānon ka thuns gai'' (that greedy woman ate up my box full of pāns.) Subhadra showed him the box intact and said,''Hum nahar na ke hathi-dant khaye'' (I am not a lion to eat ivory.) They both laughed when suddenly, somebody knocked on the door. Chamaan Chal Ali tied the knots of her backless blouse and she ran towards the door. Rashiklal stood there with a garland in his brawny hands. Subhadra covered her head with her pale-blue sari striped in maroon and said, 'this is not a temple Rashik Babu that you brought all these flowers'' and saw Rashiklal in sideway glances. Rashiklal blinked or winked at Subhadra and said, 'these are not flowers but a ban-mal (garland of wild flora) I made for you with tulsi (ooymum sanctum), Kunda (jasminum multiforum), mandar (asclepias gigantea), parijat (Erythrina fulgens), and kamal (lotus).' Chamaan Chal Ali thought the washerwoman had come and he in a feudalistic manner ignored such a low-class female. To Subhadra, whose breasts were in his plain sight covered in light hue of a purple colour blouse, he said 'Us ras-tapkati angya men ek umda joban tanta hai, Us joban pe woh joban hai jo bin banae banta hai.' (that luscious bodice folds a bursting bosom's swell, unmade the glowing charms that 'neath it bloom and swell.)

36

'I suffer impotence, viryalpta.' Rasiklal answered.


Page

Rashiklal came late that day, it was late afternoon when he knocked on the door. Subhadra parroted Rashiklal's voice and asked before unlatching, 'who's there?' Rashiklal answered, 'I am Subhadra, please let me enter'. Subhadra laughed, 'Wait, let my other mistresses leave and then you enter' Rashiklal showed counterfeit anger, 'Bastard, scoundrel go to hell.' They both laughed and Subhadra forgot to open the door. When she wiped her watered eyes, she saw Rashiklal jumped from the wall in the courtyard. He took Subhadra by the waist and walked towards her boudoir. In this love squabble, a few locks of Subhadra's hair fell outside her turban. She ran towards the mirror and tried setting it again. Rashiklal too came there and for a moment, they both stood like in an oil-painting. Four Rashiklals saw each other. Four Rashiklals kissed each other. Four Rashiklals scratched each other's backs and breasts. During this time, Subhadra bawled upon smelling musk, 'Shai'r Shai'r.' Rashiklal tied his pyjama and removed his knife, Subhadra too tied the strings of her pyjama and said, 'No. let me face him, I know him.' Rashiklal hid inside a trunk and Subhadra sat on it. Chamaan Chal Ali entered; he brought with him a pot of rabdi and khaaja. Upon seeing him, Subhadra laughed and said, 'salaam'. Chamaan Chal, angered at finding another man in Subhadra's boudoir, screamed, 'That day you had a knife but today I have a revolver' and removed a revolver. Subhadra, pale and shuddering, said, 'I am Subhadra, Huzoor'. Chamaan Chal Ali, unconvinced, said, 'why do you look like another of Baidji's patients?' Rashiklal wanting to come out of the trunk, kicked inside. Subhadra said, 'I assumed his appearance' and started untying her turban and stripping her pyjama and other clothes. Crestfallen, Chamaan Chal Ali fell on the floor and cried, 'you don't love me, you love that proletariat, that eunuch! You never assumed my appearance'. Subhadra, approaching him, kissed all his ten nails, and the tip of his revolver's barrel. Chamaan Chal Ali untied a red thread wound around Khaaja and offered one to Subhadra. She said, 'it's very hard'. Chamaan Chal Ali took it from her, chewed it for some time and again offered it to Subhadra when suddenly, Rashiklal broke the trunk and came out with a knife in his hand. Chamaan Chal Ali disappeared like camphor but a faint bouquet of his musk lingered in the boudoir for long. Rashiklal saw the pot of rabdi in pieces and the khajas lying untied when the naked Subhadra fell into a swoon. He fanned her with his magenta turban as a juvenile monsoon thundered and the late evening darkened. Rashiklal brought and illuminated a

37

Rashiklal, who heard the couplet while tying the ban-mal around Subhadra's neck, got angry and went inside brandishing his knife, 'kaun gandu bhiter gata hai?' (Who is the catamite singing inside?) Later, Rashiklal told everybody that a Shai'r's (an Urdu poet) ghost lived in Baidji's home and he disappeared like camphor when Rashiklal entered Subhadra's boudoir to kill him as he recited an obscene couplet to her bosoms. However, the Shai'r's musk was very slow to disappear and remained in the boudoir for days and nights. Those were the last days of Jyeshtha; a month of aged summer and monsoon hit Ghudganj with dust, wind and water. Subhadra wore a turquoise-hued Kurta, pale-blue pyjamas, and imitation diamonds in her ears. She tied a knife on the left side of her waist and a cucumber on her crotch. She practiced walking in a cheetah's gait. She wore a Gujarati turban, just as Rashiklal had been wearing for the last few days. She trickled a few alcohol drops on her neck, dredged oud-powder on her collar-bones and ate a couple of onions to emulate Rashiklal's odour.


Page

Chamaan Chal Ali's gait assumed that of a cheetah's and his vigor, that of bull's. He bit Subhadra's chin until she cried out in pain and Chamaan Chal Ali's lower lips filled with blood. He stripped Subhadra of all her mannish attire but insisted on her effeminate clothing. Subhadra

38

gooseneck lamp. He saw Subhadra searching for her clothes, her hair tangled and kohl strewn all around her eyes. 'Who was he?' Subhadra seeing herself in the mirror and swabbing sweat drops from her temples, answered, 'shai'r's ghost.' Rashiklal sashayed towards her, seized her tresses and pulled, 'is he your lover?' Subhadra stared at Rashiklal as if trying to cover his pupils with his; she answered, 'I was hoodwinked but now I got my nazar(eyesight) back, Rashik Babu' and retied her turban. 'Tell that gandu not to ever step into this house again' said Rashiklal and licked the backside of her right ear. Subhadra grasped Rashiklal's fingers and said, 'katkhora's venom.' Two and a half months later, at eleven thirty during the night, Chamaan Chal Ali knocked at Baidji's house. He wore a leather raincoat in heavy downpour and brought a pot full of rabdi. Subhadra, dressed like Chamaan Chal Ali in crimson caftan and red boots, unlatched the door. Her eyes were tow-coloured with surma(liquid kohl) made of gold and almonds and face highly made up with turmeric, saffron and sandal powder; her mouth was all cochineal from chewing pト]. Chamaan Chal Ali came inside the boudoir and took off his coat. He wore a backless blouse, one of Subhadra's saris, vermillion on his forehead and several silver bangles around his wrists. He tied an elaborate headgear made of gold and coral on his wig. He also wore seven strings of Basra pearls around his neck and tinkling toe-rings on all his ten toes. His lips were coloured red and his mouth was crimson; his eyes were scarlet due to insomnia, alcohol and love for Subhadra. He took out a mouthful of rabdi from the pot, helped by the four fingers on his right hand and offered it to Subhadra. Subhadra said, 'Chamaan Chal Ali does not eat Rabdi, he will eat Subhadra--uncut, complete and uncooked' and Chamaan Chal Ali laughed uproariously. Chamaan Chal Ali ran after Subhadra. Subhadra screamed, ' Subhadra don't run after me, you can never catch Chamaan Chal Ali'. In response, Chamaan chal Ali answered, 'Huzur, I want to return his heart. He gave it to me days ago and now does not take it back' and took Subhadra by his hand. Subhadra said,'You don't know Chamaan Chal, he will rip Subhadra apart. He is a cheetah.' Chamaan Chal Ali suddenly sat on the edge of the bed and regretted, 'I was a cheetah but now I am merely a shadow'. Subhadra, moving closer to Chamaan Chal Ali said, 'Katkhora's venom is the most famous thing in my family. It is an extremely potent aphrodisiac. Baidji keeps it under lock in his room. You are dressed as me. Go and drink the whole potion'. Chamaan Chal Ali, aroused even by the imagination of such a potent aphrodisiac, asked amazed, 'the whole potion in one go?' Subhadra laughed. Chamaan Chal Ali took out the key from under Baidji's oiled pillow. Baidji mumbled in somnolence, 'Subhadra. You haven't slept till now. Aadhsisi(one-side temporal headache) came again. I need to find a groom for you, beti.' Chamaan Chal Ali read Katkhora labelled in Nasta'aliq on a blue glass bottle, with a cap made of heavy gold and the size of attar's karaba and drank the whole bottle in one go. When he went outside, he saw a man in a horse's mask standing behind the door. Subhadra said, 'Darling, the horse head mask I made out of the puppet you brought that noon, we both shall ride it.'


brought the horse and rode it. The puppet hollered in Rashiklal's voice. Chamaan Chal Ali had sexual intercourse with Subhadra on the puppet which moved all along the boudoir. The puppet stood for a while in front of the mirror; now there were four Subhadras making love to each other on a couple of horse-puppets. Chamaan Chal Ali ejaculated inside Subhadra and defecated on the puppet's spine several times that night but the erection did not subside. By four forty-five in the morning, he died of priapism, nervous fatigue and dehydration. Rashiklal, in his horse's head, took the naked corpse of Chamaan Chal Ali to fling into the Gangsangini. His jewels and wig, Subhadra kept in her cupboard for a future use. Subhadra discovered a crumpled leaf of paper in Chamaan Chal Ali' blouse, where, 'Tu ne chhattisa-pト] kiya mujhse, ghar men bulva ke ki daga mujhse' (You have been deceiving me, inviting me to your home) was written. Subhadra tried to sing it in a doleful tune, the way nautch girls of those times intoned in. When Subhadra did not have her menstruations for two consecutive months and after violent bouts of vomiting in the morning, Baidji took her wrist; Subhadra was pregnant. Terrified and sad; she said, 'I used to perfume my nether regions with the smoke of ambergris and this is the only substance i.e. the smoke of ambergris which ever entered my virginity' and started howling. Baidji went inside his alley where he used to see his patients and took out his Ayurvedic texts. Ambergris is said to be the sperm of a whale. Baidji instantly wrote an epistle in green ink on rough scarlet paper to Hakeem Mahzoon who practiced Unani medicine in Aadhimasjid Street, Chanderi (on his eternal patient Lukmaan Ali) and asked about a woman of sixteen getting pregnant with the smoke of ambergris. Two and a half weeks passed, Subhadra did not sleep. Baidji too did not sleep and smoked Hummi tobacco behind the gate in inquietude. Later that evening, a message from Hakeem Mahzoon arrived, written in Lukmaan Ali's twitched hand with ink blots all over the page. Hakeem Mahzoon stated in a letter that Baidji, without further delay, should come to Chanderi as Baidji has a Brahm-keet (a germ which creates psychosis) in his head and the girl suffers nymphomania and is a genius in her excuse. Baidji, being blind, was unable to read the letter and thus Rashiklal read him the following: 'Dear Udhdawprasad Joshi, Salaam.

Page

Hakim Mahzoon Qazalbash

39

Cases of extremely fertile women being impregnated at a very young age with the smoke of ambergris has been recorded several times in the history of Unani medicine and I myself have encountered such unfortunate incidents in my life. After nine months, the women while delivering the gargantuan whale, die due to laceration of the vulva. Therefore, I suggest that you abort the pregnancy as soon as possible. Forever Yours'


POEMS Rimas Uzgiris WHAT SHE SAID TO ME ONE NIGHT IN MANDARIN

(with my not knowing any Mandarin) Tonight, as autumn comes, the bus runs late. A cold slop wind has emptied the streets, leaving a broken umbrella like a twisted smile. My apartment is wet with rain—windows open, curtains stained. The sheets lie ruffled like scattered petals from last night's dream. I can't wake up—partly there. Home is empty, and the bus won't come. This harvest moon lights my way as the city rises like cliffs from Song landscapes. I shiver and walk on. ONE One towhee in a tree sings for another one summer gives way to another one country for another one woman for one step down one road searching the dust for one word that stays.

Abhimanyu Bishnu Bishnu

Page

The clock strikes eight; Ready-time, Eating bathing dressing running time. Rush hour,

40

ENTROPY


Driving talking breathing cussing hour. Days go by, The silent spite of distressed souls; Madness punctuated by Moments of sanity. Fires inside the heart and outside, And the endless screams From silent minds. Verse is my anaesthetic That somehow dulls the pain.

Christy Caballero LEAF DANCE Ah, breath of spring, Your pulse Deep in the cold heart of the ground awakens leaves The leaves yet to come The leaves come To paint the wind’s magical dance so it can be seen And wind, your dance Gives all the leaves their voices.

THE PERFECT SNOWFLAKE

Page

But instead, love sent me a snowflake And you can’t hold a snowflake too long

41

Romance could’ve dealt with me gently, And the “why’s” come as time marches on Could’ve easily sent me a poet, To capture my heart with his song Could’ve given me someone forever Tucked me safely in love’s gentle bonds


Some gifts are not meant for forever And good-bye bye som sometimes follows hello But I still see your face in the firelight Or the flickering candle’s warm glow Life’s a book that we live, one page at a time And fate decrees where the finish belongs But I once held a beautiful snowflake, And you can’t hold a snowflake too long A painter can capture a likeness Or a fragrance remain in a room Or a rose’s soft petals be pressed in a book A memory of summer’s sweet bloom But for me, when it’s still… there is snowfall In my heart, where my best best-loved belongs.

Page

42

For I once held the most perfect snowflake, And you can’t hold a snowflake too long.


Shijo Varghese NISHAGANDHI

Page

There was a nishagandhi plant in our backyard. My sister had planted and nourished it with great care. Since I used to piss around the plants she had earlier planted (only because she had asked me to water them), she never let me come near this precious thing. She fenced around the plant with long dry coconut leaves; therefore, I never had a good look at the plant. I was so curious about the plant. However, I was sure that, if she found me peeping through the coconut leaves, she would skin my buttocks and pluck my ears- or at least she threatened to do so. I knew she would do this, because she was twelve years older than me and had long sharp polished nails on her fingers. Once her nails chased me and I ran for my life and fell in to an abyss of darkness in my dream. I had no chance to see this priceless plant until one day she solemnly declared that the plant was going to blossom. She removed the fence around the plant. I saw the plant so different from other plants she had planted before. It had long leaves and they were so thick. It was for the first time that I saw a plant, which had a bud on its leaf. “How dare you touch my plant?” That startled me. I did not know she stood behind me. “I didn’t touch your plant. I was just looking at the bud.” “You touched. And do not stare at the bud like that. Your stare is as deadly as your piss.” “Ho, I never pissed on your plants. I watered them.” I was not lying, because I had forgotten then that I had pissed around her plants. “Oh! Did you? Now on you shall neither water my plant, nor come near it. If you want to see it, stand there.” She showed me a spot about three metres away from the plant. I did not dare to say anything. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth she would legitimately pounce up on me and scratch all over. I squinted at her fingers and saw her threatening weapons blazed in pink polish. She used them when she tutored me in mathematics. She pinched my ear lobes until my eyes welled up with tears. When I sobbed in helplessness, she said, “Why don’t you do this simple problem?” “…” “I heard you tore Shalini’s notebook in school… I will report that to appa.” “…” “I pinched you very softly. I know to pinch hard and your ears will come off.” “…” “You are a girl. Boys don’t weep like this.” Her hands were like a cat’s paw. Only when she wanted to pinch me she drew out her nails. They did not exist otherwise. Once when she was in high spirits, she spoke about nishagandhi. She said that its bud would grow longer, and the flower would be big and beautiful. It smelt so sweet. Nishagandhi blossomed only in the midnight, because nobody must see it blossom.

43

1.


“I would keep awake till midnight and see it blossom.” “No, you can’t.” “I will not disturb anybody.” “Not that.” “Do you think I am afraid of darkness? I am not. I am not even afraid of snakes. Do you remember I killed…” “That was an earth worm!” I was humiliated. I used to boast about my heroics of killing a small snake to everyone. It was a real snake, not an earth worm- a real snake. And she calls it an earth worm. I felt helpless again. I began to sob. “You can’t see it blossom anyway.” “…” “Nobody can. Even I can’t.” I looked at her face through my tears. Is she trying to bluff me? “If you weep like girls I will not say a word about it.” I rubbed my cheek. “I tell you the truth. If you try to see nishagandhi blossoming, it is dangerous!” When she pronounced the word ‘dangerous’, her tone became very grave as if she were going to disclose some terrible truths. I became attentive. “When the bud opens up, a frightening monster will come out…” I looked at her eyes agape. What is a monster? It might be something really frightening. “…as big as an elephant...” As big as an elephant? I have seen elephants; once one passed through the road in front of our house. It was so big. Gosh! So big? “…not that big. But certainly as big as a bear.” I have not seen a bear. However, it cannot be small. “It is green with pink eyes, red lips and sharp white teeth.” “Is it a devil?” I have seen devils. In the Illustrated Bible for Children. They are not green, but black, with big wings- like the wings of bats. They certainly have pink eyes, red lips and long sharp white teeth. “It has the green wand with which it would turn children into toads”.

Page

It is not as easy to get up at 4 O’clock in a cold morning, as one would think of it when going to bed at 11 O’clock. Somewhere from the lower part of my body, consciousness creeps in so suddenly that with a quiver I become aware of the cold breeze blowing through the open window and warmth of the quilt threatening to slip off my bosom. Then it probes through my muscles, veins and skin and I open my eyes with aching limbs or a sore back. Sleep passes me like a meteor through the clear, dark, starless night. It short-circuits my dilapidated brain cells and time runs amok juggling past and future, from youth to childhood, and from adolescence to the age of dying. When I sit for my breakfast, I gradually reorganize everything, steel plate, steamed

44

2.


45 Page

rice flour, curry, tea, warmth, heat, hunger. Then, wife, children- one aged twenty two, the other, nine or ten, my shovel, sieve-pole, sand and river. She is going to sleep now. She gets up before me and makes breakfast. I do not know when she gets up. I do not know when she sleeps. When I wake up, I see the dent she made on the bed and pillow. Like a hare, she lives in that hollow when she sleeps. The impression is so shapely unlike her. At some nights, when she goes to her sister, it comes to life. Then I speak to her, hug and make love. When she comes back from her sister’s house, she talks about the American doctor who is her sister’s eldest daughter. She talks about her American husband and their golden haired child. She goes on to describe the delicacies she had there and discloses some, which she pilfered from her own plate, as if in a magic, from her blouse, and gives them to the young boy. He treasures them until the ants come for their share. His sister never eats anything from her mother’s shabby blouse. However, she listens to her with great interest when she talks about the American doctor and her golden haired child. When mother strays away from the subject, she turns to her brother who would be licking the American candies and gets at him. She frightens him with her long pretty nails. However, mother goes on talking. She always prattles about everything. For her it is like breathing. At night, she talks on until I fall asleep; may be even after that, I do not know. Her dreams must be full of words. Or she might be seeing images in words. An ELEPHANT with E as its head and trunk, and T as its cumbersome buttocks and bushy tail. A CAT’s C may be its round face. How does a snake go? There is a ten-minute walk to the river. I must reach there before the siren goes off in the distillery on the opposite bank. The alley leading to the river at an early hour of dawn can be dangerous. I have seen many scorpions here. Once one stung me, and I lost that day. I could not balance myself on the boat. When I tried to push down the sieve-pole in to the underwater sand bed, a shooting pain passed through my veins and I fell to the water. I saw Jomi diving to the water and then saw nothing. The next day itself, I bought a pair of slippers. The wound, in fact, did not heal. It festered. My daughter nursed me every day. She would wake up at 4 O’clock, wash my wound and apply Betadin. She makes a good nurse in fact. I wanted to send her for nursing after her pre-degree. But I was short of money then. Unlike her mother, she talks carefully; smartly too. She is a charming girl. After her B Com, she wanted to work in a finance company in the town. Her mother also supported the cause. “It bores me to death.” She used to say. “Why don’t you help your mother at kitchen?” “We just four of us live here; mother alone can manage that.” “Look at our back yard; it’s so bare. Why don’t you plan a flower garden there?” “You always want me to be around you, don’t you?” She always gets cross with me for silly matters. However, she is not bird-brained like her mother. Probably she thought about it and never raised the issue again. Her mother used to mumble about it for a long time. I never found it necessary to reconsider my conclusions. But she disrupted my sleep enumerating the details of her age and why she should be married off at the earliest. The river looks so calm today. It always is, unperturbed by the breeze and the wavelets it begets. Sun takes birth and dies on its surface. So do clouds. Sky paints red, yellow, blue and


sometimes green on its body. But, river lives beneath its surface. It breathes hard its dark currents through slimy waterweeds. The currents drive boulders in to a combat. “Poohoy…” Sand grains are born in the war. I trap them in my sieve. “Turn the boat eastward.” Sieve carries them in to boats. I heap them with my shovel in to trucks. “Anchor!” I love my daughter. She grew in my hands. She grew fast; from a little lump in her mother’s tummy to a baby, a toddler, an adolescent and now a woman. “Drop the sieve.” A woman! And I shudder when I think of her. “Hey look, there is a fish in the sieve!”

Page

The next two more days are not going to be different. I will feel sticky and filthy. Head and tummy will go on to ache. It is as if something pulls my innards down with a pair of pliers. And I feel guilty. I feel that I must weep and wash away all my discomfort. Therefore, I go to the toilet and sob my heart out. Then I feel pure but not for long. When I weep, I feel that I grow young. I grow as young as my brother, or even younger. Soon I grow back in to normalcy and I feel guilty again. Mother looks at my pink eyes and sighs. She knits her brows and mumbles about how she felt when she was as young as me and that she gave it no more significance than a flee-bite. She says that I have all gone pale and must eat well. My father brings apples from Pappy’s shop. Though I like its soreness, I do not eat apples because I feel guilty, and do not know why. Now my mother warns me that if I did not wash the cloths soaked in soap water, or attend to the fireplace, she would not let me go to Rosey’s house in the evening. Therefore, I obey what she says. When my father sees me lifting up a bundle of firewood, he scolds my mother and carries it himself to the kitchen. He does not like my going to Rosey’s house every day. He says that Rosey’s father is a drunkard and he may frighten me. However, when he goes to the teashop in the junction, I steal to their compound. Mother shouts after me, but I do not stop. When Rosey’s father sees me he greets me with a smile or a ‘ha!’ and directs me to Rosey’s room. When I get in to her room, she latches the door from inside and gives me sweets. I, in turn, hands her over an apple from our kitchen cupboard. She winks at me nibbling the apple and tells me about him. She teases me so much that my bosom heaves with heavy sighs and choked giggles. Then I no longer listen to her and think only about him. Since I still carry my discomfort, I go to their toilet. If her father sees me, he grins broadly at me and says, ‘ha!’ Two days ago, Rosey brought me a letter from him. She brings me letters because she works in the town where he stays. It was a short letter, which said that he wanted to meet me. He would write again and tell me when, later. I treasured the letter inside my blouse for the whole day and then hid it in my old economics text. I have not met him since I last went to college for collecting my marks-card and other papers. Rosey was with me then. He treated us to coffee and bonda. He then slipped a folded paper in to my book. When he was leaving, he flew a kiss from a distance and I smiled back.

46

3.


Rosey’s room is filled with various pleasant odours. Her father buys her ‘Fair and Lovely’ and ‘Cuticura’ because she is not as fair as other girls of her neighbourhood. She also has a bottle of jasmine scent and another bottle whose smell I could not recognise. Her cousin working in Musket brought them when he last came a year ago. Her father sometimes knocks at the door and comes in. he greets me with a ‘ha!’ Whenever he says something, there is ‘ha!’ before it; like “Ha! How are you?” or, “Ha! Did she serve you coffee?” or, “Ha! Is your father home?” etc. Once he spoke about the marriage proposals for Rosey and how he was unable to procure enough money for her dowry. There was a proposal from a party who demanded two lakh rupees because the boy was working in Saudi Arabia. It was the seventh successive unsuccessful proposal. I thought of my father and wondered why he did not even think of my marriage. He then talked about the sum he had borrowed from my father and how barely he has been paying back the interest every month. He said that my father was a good man because he readily gave him money when Rosey’s mother was ill. Then his eyes became moist and said that it was when she died that he started drinking. I felt sorry for him even though I had seen him many times beating his wife. When I come home, my mother scolds me for not sweeping the yard or not attending to the fireplace. I then go to the Nishagandhi and water it. It has some buds on it and will blossom in a week or so. The plant is so special to me because, he had presented it to me. He sent it through Rosey along with the letter. When my brother comes home after horsing around in the neighbourhood, I help him with his maths. He always makes mistakes and I pinch his earlobes for every mistake. I love pinching. But then, I feel guilty when he sobs. Father scolds him for not paying enough attention to his studies and asks him to learn from me (because I had secured a first class in all my exams). He then pats on my back and puts his hands on my shoulders and presses me against his chest. I do not resist because I like the salty odour of his sweat. He does it at every opportunity. During the prayer mother nods off gibbering ‘Hail Mary.’ Father slaps on the floor to wake her up and she stares at him as if she never dozed. My brother giggles at it and I pinch the inside of his thigh. After some time father also sleeps keeping his mouth open and nodding rhythmically for every ejaculation. When I go to sleep, I think of him and his next letter.

Page

It was a Sunday. And I spent a lot of time in the church. I came early to the church so that I could make my confession before the Holy Qurbana. But I did not do it, because it was the old priest who was in the confessional. I do it only if the young assistant parish priest is present. I do not like the old one because he talks loud in the confessional. Once in his sermon, he mentioned something I had said in my confession (of course without my name) and said that people doing such sins would end up in hell fire. I hated him that day on.

47

4.


48 Page

But I love the songs during the Holy Qurbana. I sing them so heartily. I love one song especially, which is sung during the time of Holy Communion. The choir sings it on almost every Sunday. “Oh! The oppressed and the miserable, you are blessed, The abode of the Risen awaits you Peace be with you, peace be with you”. A strong feeling of self-pity and sympathy would make my eyes sore. They would well up and I would look at the blue eyes of Christ hanging from his cross through the blurring teardrops. Were Christ’s eyes open when he died? But each time I looked at his eyes, I underwent an inexplicable orgasmic bliss deep down my belly. And I felt like looking on at his eyes for ages. I saw heaven in them. During my adolescence, I used to think of heaven leaning against the bathroom walls, all wet and naked. I used to understand it so well then. Thresia and I talked in the church for a long time. She is my best friend. She is seven years younger than me. It was not long she started to coming to church. How do people turn pious and prayerful when they become old? I never thought she would ever come to church so regularly. She quickly got compromised with her adultery with her neighbour. And she looks as pure as an angel now. When did I start coming to church? “Did your husband not come to church today?” She whispered during offertory. “He comes for the second mass, with my son”. “Where is your daughter?” “She must be somewhere in the middle rows”. “It’s sad to hear ill of her”. I fumbled for a two-rupee coin in my purse seeing the sexton nearing me with the offertory box. The coin’s clinking sound made me uneasy and I thought of stealing a five-rupee note next time from my husband’s drawer. “Why did she…” “It’s all a lie”. My voice went hard and clear and two women in the front row turned back to see who disturbed their silence. She is nothing but an old gossip. She might have blabbed about it to at least twenty people, before asking me this. And she teases calling me a blabber-mouth and says that I will close my mouth only when I am taken to my grave. “It’s a lie”. I whispered to her ear. It was not a lie. I had seen the letter- of that boy. He too saw it- my husband. He took it from my hand and stared at it for some minutes. He knit his brows in anguish and looked at me helplessly. Then his eyes widened and as they became red, he swore at me loudly. When I drew back my eyes from his face and went towards kitchen, he ran after me and stopped me in front of the kitchen door. The red colour of the eyes had spread to his cheeks and his chin. His moustache started to shiver and I wanted to laugh. He drew out a cleaver from the kitchen cupboard and brandished it against me. He spat out oaths and swore that he would kill him. I feared that the laughter boiling in me would escape tearing away my sealed lips. I knew that he would kill him because he had a desire for her. I had seen it in his eyes when he talked to her or embraced her.


Later I saw him sharpening the cleaver on the washing stone behind the house. He never spoke a word about his mind to the girl. He behaved as if nothing had happened. Once he asked her whether she really wanted to work in the town. I could not hear what she replied. It was Sunday and she and I had just returned from the church. I was changing in my bedroom and she in hers. When she came to lunch, she was so happy and cheerful. I saw her talking to the boy about the nishagandhi she had planted in our back yard. In the midnight, I woke up to see him getting out of the bed like a cat and groping about in the dark room, streaked with silver moonlight that had seeped in through the slits of the ventilator. When he opened the door, he had the cleaver in his hand.

Page

The first one came slowly, swiftly turning its head from left to right inspecting its way. It suddenly appeared in my sight like a droplet of darkness falling in to the squarish moonlight spread on the floor. Then there was a short interval. The next one came at a slightly faster pace, its head bent to the floor and its chunky abdomen hoisted up in the air. It surveyed the area quickly, pausing sometimes as if to take breath, and hastily departed and lost in darkness. Then two or three more came one after another with their antennae, nervous and erect. Then began the procession, uninterrupted- one followed the other fixing the gaze at its rear. They partitioned the moonlight square and zigzagged in to darkness. I feared they would march in to my mat, tie me down like the Lilliputians and tickle me all over. Like tiny rolling black pearl-beads of a necklace, they moved and I started counting the beads. I did not want to sleep, because nishagandhi buds had grown enough to blossom this night. I did not know when I broke the counting and slipped in to a doze, but my eyes had been open. Then suddenly a bigger and thicker bead emerged in the procession from darkness and I remembered the green monster. My sister turned in her bed and it creaked. My sister and I sleep in the same room but I sleep on the floor in a straw mat. I slowly turned to the other side. Against the flooding moonlight sifting through the open window, she lay silhouetted. I thought of the green monster again and I wanted to crawl on to her bed. Then I decided against it for fear of her nails. The ant-procession had turned thin and the moonlight square had moved closer to my mat. How could a bud of such size hold a big monster in it? It must be a genie; like the genie that my mother had told me about in the genie-and-the-fisherman story- hiding inside as a puff of smoke. I heard something tumbling down in the next room, and a door faintly squeaked. When the petals open up, the green puff will unfurl and grow in to a big green cloud; then slowly solidify in to the green monster- with pink eyes and‌ The bed creaked behind me again. This time a bit longer. A shadow disfigured the moonlight that by then had crept in to my mat and my sister tiptoed across to the door. Carefully pulling it open, she disappeared over the door. The old wall-clock wearily chimed. Half past eleven or half past twelve?

49

5.


Page

50

I got up from the mat. As I slowly stepped in to the backyard, I wondered where my sister had gone. Moon had risen to the mid mid-sky. sky. I saw the nishagandhi plant partly under the shadow of the nearby mango-tree. tree. It was all glistening in the moo moonlight nlight and I could not make out the buds. I stopped some distance away from the plant. I was afraid. I feared that if I went too near, the buds would burst open and the monster would pounce up on me. Wind had started to blow and each time the leaves swayed in the wind, I was startled. On one of such occasions, I saw the plant shaking violently. My heart missed a beat. Then the buds opened up. From them green locks of smoke began to emit. They flooded the courtyard; a deep green mist engulfed the house. The Then n I saw it. It had the green wand sparkling in the moonlight. I woke up late in the morning. I ran to the backyard and saw the nishagandhi uprooted and ravaged. Bruised flowers had been strewn over the yard. Father had gone to river and mother to church.


POEMS Deborshi Brahmachari OF MANY DELHIS THAT I HAVE LIVED Summer rain brings memories of many Delhis I have lived in. How the colours slowly faded away into a more tranquil greyscale. How the noise, and the noise makers, with all their exuberance, seemed to fade into an Alexi Murdoch song. How the scorching hate and parched indifference gave away to shaded green alleys of hope and deserted corners of memories, memories I want to treasure now. Safe. How in those stories of rapes, in broken homes and with brokers and landlords, in quarrels and endless money sucking machines, amidst all of it, there was still a reason to smile. How in love, lust and pursuit and in drunk, dead nights of self inflicted pain and in lonesome travels across the country, there was a joy untold every time I returned. How illusions of loneliness, magic and failed sessions of Robert Johnson's marijuana ended with realisations and definitions of a life I wanted to live. How in rain, in hunger, in insomniac hours of work, bitch-craft and warfare, in flyovers with David Grey, there always was this hope breezing into my face. How July kept raining down the empty, pensive streets of C. R Park. How every place had a story, every face had a tale to tell. How every December had a new song to sing, every Autumn another new poem. How the people around me gently morphed into a hazy portrait of a thousand passers-by and how, in spite of so much busyness, there was still so much space to breathe in. And Delhi, with all its wistful mornings, in silence and with falling leaves, in time, became my very own.

JULY July is when it rains down my soul Memories ripple, rain. Rain-souls. Rain-songs. Rain-children. Innocent rain games. Droplets. Sounds, drenched in Rain.

Page

Rain-stories, Rain-lands. Rain-windows.

51

Rain-soaked. Rain-roads. Rain-fields. Rain-leaves drenched green Flowers. Colours, wet in the rain.


Poems. Lovers, lost in the rain. July is when it rains down my soul. July is when it rains.

ANOTHER POEM Now dreams don't break anymore. They change shape Lazy. Dry. Yellow. They wearily age. Inside a cold room, all seasons turn Fall Time sits empty beside a window staring at distant paddy fields. A wise tree with saffron shades A decade of afternoon, A tranquil sage. A withdrawn pyre, flames in rage. A thousand white horses hallucinate. They never run. They drench in the rain.

Rohith BUS STAND IN ZENZEN-MODE

Page

With strange excitement I turned to the lady who wore a long Sari. Much to my surprise

52

In the bus-stand, that afternoon the gentleman reading the newspaper was burning, fire bursting out of his coat and shoes, turning to ash.


she was shivering with cold, biting her teeth, curling up, wrapping the sari around herself. I thought of warning them and tried to raise my feet but only then I realized that I was drowning.

POEMS OF TEA 1 Morning tea sipped me winds fluttered as curtains blew the bird in my ribcage sang sky withered. Cross-legged on chair a punctuation mark waited for me to continue yesterday's story

Page

53

2 tea-bag dipped in milk spread like fire in jungle stirring a silence within as I soaked memories in tea and ate them as biscuits during my conversation with loneliness.


FICTION Gaurav Kumar

SILHOUETTE

Page

When the first drop of drizzle hit Subrato, he almost couldn't feel it. His thoughts were muddled up and hazy like the eddies swirling and crossing each other in the deep, dark waters of River Hooghly flowing and extending endlessly in front of him. If only he knew how to understand the language the river spoke or why he wanted it to speak to him, perhaps the empty, crushing feeling in his stomach would go away. The river had always been his escape, his last refuge from reality; sometimes from himself. Through all the forty winters he had seen or an equal number of autumns he had hated religiously, this river was the single most stable element of constancy, of sanity. It never stopped enchanting him by its mundane maneuvers like its gushing, bickering passage through the overgrown mangroves and algae along the eastern bank or the submergence of all the surrounding fields and chawrs when the monsoons would come rushing down with the vigour of a child at his favourite game and wash away what had been another year of memories, lives and stories. The earthy aroma emanating from the shores when summer was about to kiss the land or the miniature paper dinghies which the kids would put down the flow with heavenly smiles and surreal glow on their rain-drenched faces did something to Subrato. They made him feel alive, and like a crucial link in the grand scheme of things, a part of all that existed and all that would. The heat from the hand-charki or the aarti flowing back on his face during Kali Pujo and the reflection of million such lights in the river was a memory which never faded in his mind; neither did the ulu, the chants, the Gulal and the bitter sweet ambience on the day of Bishawrjawn after the Durga Pujo. And then that one Pujo night which changed who he was and how he saw the world or bizarrely, the other way around. As he sat down on one of the steps leading down to the agitated river, he closed his eyes. A cold, oddly familiar gust of wind whipped the rain against his face and reminded him of the absurdity of asking her to meet him here in the first place. He wasn't exactly getting any younger and the river was not going to do what he had to anyway. The cold rain, the stinging wind and the ache within him were too much for a man his age. Or maybe he just didn't have it in him anymore. But if there was one thing in him which was a fossil of his former self, it was his perseverance. Misplaced stubbornness, his heart pointed out. Say something for Subrato, say he never wavered from going for what he wanted and believed in. Even as the elder son of a family without a father or the brother to a sister whose dreams were larger than all their lives, he never gave up for a minute of his austere existence. But sway he did, after all. In retrospect, Subrato would mostly blame it on her eyes. Sadly, a fact that meant that she was only her ocean blue eyes to him because even after all his futile and excruciatingly taxing tries, he could not and did not see her as someone mortal, someone like him or Shyamoli, or Maa. But if she were one, wouldn't she be here now in his arms; her tender touches benumbing his face to the sensation of the raindrops? He could remember the exact degree of glimmer in her eyes when she had first blurted out something about his detached beauty, a charm that was not

54

SUBRATO


Page

Zara did a twirl, hugged the mulberry tree she had come to know like her own self and made a dash for the door, crushing the particularly juicy mulberries fallen down from the tree. A tangy, fruity smell wafting on the gentle breeze punctuated the serene and vaguely nostalgic silence pervading her being. "Naaz! Khaala!!Sam!! Sammie!!" She knocked the door relentlessly until she could hear Naaz shouting back in her cranky, shrill and simultaneously cute voice. She allowed herself a grin before Naaz came down and opened the door. “Where is Khaalajaan? Are my bags ready? Did Kabir call ?And, why, for the love of all that is serene, are you dressed in my Kurti??" , Zara rushed through shooting queries as she grabbed a glass from the dining table and filled it with water.

55

to be touched when he was teaching Shyamoli how to fly kites just so that he could observe her closely. That was the closest they got, until that night of the Bishawrjawn. Subrato tasted bile in his throat as he recalled the gloom and sourness which had shadowed his being that wretched night- Shyamoli had openly called him a failure, a pathetic sorry figure who was just trying to make all their lives miserable because he had none of his own left. Worse still, Maa had kept mum all along. So, basically, all his life devoted to his family was the only source of their misery. Fair enough! Rage and shattered pieces of his identity and purpose were keeping him restless and in an agony which he had only felt at the demise of his father or his subsequent dropping out from his college. Never in his worst nightmares had he seen that or this night coming to him. And then he saw what he thought was his only hope of sanity and survival - She had come down to ask if he had had his dinner or not as Maa and Shyamoli were out for the Bishawrjawn. Like a soul demented and tortured for eternities, he ran for his escape. And in a flash, he pinned her down on his bed. She was flabbergasted, raw fear, disgust and confusion replacing each other on her face in a dance of harmony. He never got to the rage in her eyes or her bewildered, pleading screams because he could not, did not look at her eyes. That would have made it impossible. In some alternate version of reality, he saw her coming to him and meeting his animalistic and ardent cravings to perfection. As he lowered his body on hers, and she hit him with the lampshade for his bed, his eyes met her eyes. The pain, the trauma, the madness in there was haunting and he wanted to end it. He wanted to take her in his strong, able arms and comfort her; to tell her that it would be okay. But that was not to be- he was gone far beyond that. She was struggling underneath him with diminishing strength but exponentially increasing hate and energy. He did not want that from her- he was there to give her all the love he could and to have someone who would actually need and love him back precisely like he wanted. As the chants outside increased in intensity and frenzy, his entire being was overtaken by the desire to possess her, to have her right there and then. So he continued until she was drained of all her resolve and strength, and he of his fury and rage like that of a serpent. And minutes later as he looked at her torn and traumatized body, he felt the demons of that irresistible anger returning to him, like stones projected into a wasp's nest. Totally at his wit's end, afterwards he took her outside in his arms and cried for help. Then came the sobbing and shaking, until he fell down beside her, dizzy and nauseous. Subrato was feeling sick again, exactly as he did that night. Sick to the core and overwhelmed by a searing sense of hopelessness. Was she even coming?


Naaz made a face."There's no more Rooh-Afzah in the bottle. And I took the Kurti because you still owe me five takas, not that anyone as fat as you should care about it. Also, don't you ever presume that i am sitting here to answer your silly questions, unless you have a mind to pay me double of what you are to." "Sweetheart, that's exactly what you are doing - sitting here and answering my questions", Zara winked at her half-sister."And we both know that this is the highlight of your otherwise boring, cramped days. So you might as well drop the pretence of hating it." “You are dumber than I thought, Zara, and of course I hate you and your stupid questions, and your stupid trip." Naaz retorted but hung her head down. "Aww....my princess is sad because I am going away for a while? Come on, tsk tsk bachche, i will be back before you know it and the next time it happens, you will come with me." Zara smiled. “Oooh, like I care!” Naaz rolled her eyes, now rummaging through Zara's purse for loose change or candies. “I know you don’t. So come on here and run this errand for me", Zara took out a book from her bookshelf and handed it to Naaz, "Go and give it to Azaan bhaijaan. And tell him that I will be back for the rehearsals from the next week. Take care not to die on the way or to drop the book. Neither is interesting enough, take my word on that." “Why ? Gone..with...the....",Naaz was trying to read the name of the book aloud when she stumbled upon a nail clipper tucked neatly between two median pages." Zara! You forgot your clipper in the book." Zara turned back from her shelf and smiled again “No, I didn't. Now go!! " When Naaz was gone after giving her a weird look like she was more insane than her sister gave her credit for, Zara closed her eyes and tried to visualize the disarming cuteness on Azaan's face when he came down to her in the middle of the rehearsals for Shylock: The Other Side of Venice, asking her if she could clip his nails. On being probed, he blushed and admitted that it was his Ammi who still clipped his nails at home. Zara had a hard time trying not to smile for hours afterwards at this adorable facet of his personality which he kept concealed beneath his handsome, rugged face and rough, isolated exterior. It was actually funny to see him writing the fabulous, deep-meaning scripts and helping the actors in acting their parts out but running away on the very suggestion of being a part of the act himself. Zara was the only person he opened himself to or at least that's how she liked to think it was. And if she was right about her speculations, Zara had to do her part in making him say what both of them wanted him to say. But that could wait, she reminded herself! She had to be at the railway station by 8.And that was when she got the panic attack about packing and leaving which she was waiting for since morning, making her run to look out for Tamreen khaala.

Page

Zara was always wary of these little crafty and sinister looking boats dotting the immense, endless expanse of River Hooghly ever since she was a child. All the physics and logic put apart, why do these heavy, dilapidated and oddly shaped blocks of wood even float on water? What if they suddenly refused to follow the rules and decided to go down the mind-boggling depths of the river just to see what it is like inside? Can they do that? And what is it really like inside,

56

******


beneath this facade of an infinite watery wall? Trying to picture the answers gave her goose bumps even as she took her first step forward to get on the boat and she had to chide herself mentally to stop doing that. Once she had settled down she tried to divert her thoughts and let the mental blockage of a different part of her brain go down. The countless hide and seek games she had played during the long-drawn and lazy summer evenings, running, hiding and seeking across the entire Basu Lane; the guffaws and giggles, and the furious screams on her part which ensued when one of the aunties gave her hiding place away to the "it" in the game ; the sweet and heavenly Malpuas which Bannerji Da got especially prepared for her on Sundays, the mirth and bliss in the street when Durga Pujo came along and Maasimaa would come down with Shyamoli Di to invite them for the celebrations; the fishing trips she and her classmates undertook after bunking their half-day classes on Saturdays, the fierce yet friendly feuds which commenced when the children came out with and compared each other’s Idi on the sun-kissed days of Id, and the colourful kite-flying contests on the first day of the new year where she did nothing but shout and hoot for others but was thrilled to the core nevertheless......so many years, so many faces, so many colours......and the sadness which eclipsed all of them when she had to leave the only world she belonged to and go to Dhaka. Zara sighed and shifted in her seat as the raindrops started to make the river shimmer and glisten. Subrato could see the boat from a distance through the mist of the torrent and uncertainty, and found himself restless as the bow touched and backed off a bit from the bank. He almost ran down the steps, or at least ran as fast as his age and grace would permit. When the tall, shapely and majorly soaking girl got out of the boat, all smiles and beauty in the moonlight, he knew it was all worth it. Zara stood a few steps away from him for seconds, observing him closely and then ran for a hug. He embraced her with open arms and heart and warmth he never had for his own self. A hug is all it takes then, to be alive; to be human again, however transiently, he pondered. “Eki, Dada ? Why did you have to age for both of us? "Zara chuckled. “Bas-bas, tumi nijeke bawdlatey okkhom! Ask anyone in the Basu Lane and they will tell you who is fit enough to play the mother to me or Maa even!” Subrato gave her a gentle pat on the back." And how did you cover the entire stretch of your journey on this dinghy without jumping into the river or stabbing the majhi?" “I have grown up, over and beyond your shoulder and imagination, dada." " Well, I guess that explains these thirty or so knots in your stole, which must point out, you work on only when you are studying or something and NOT nervous ! " Subrato felt a vaguely familiar sensation rushing through his face. Was it a smile? "I would have said that the jibe was funny if only it were not a) targeted at me and, b) made while I stand in the rain, welcoming cold and fever like I am to meet them after ages as well!" Zara took hold of his hand and dragged him along." Will we get an auto on the road? How are the people at home? Maasimaa? Shyamoli-di? Hori-da? "

Page

57

******


58 Page

Next morning, when Subrato went to her room to give Zara tea and breakfast, it was raining again. He hesitated and lingered. Finally, he sat down on the bed near her as she was trying to drive the final vestiges of sleep away from her eyes, sipping the tea contentedly. “Zara, let me ask you something straight away. Do you really know why are you here?" He asked her pointedly after a minute or two of absolute calm. "It's about my fees and scholarships, isn’t it? Now that my graduation is almost done, I won't be getting any of them from you." She was slightly surprised at the dummy question. “Actually, I'm afraid it's more than that." Subrato mustered all the courage he could and looked straight into her precisely identical blue eyes." Zara, you do know what these people say about me and your Ammi, don't you?" Zara held her breath and waited, suddenly tense and uncomfortable in the small, moribund room. “Ambiguous morality is a slippery slope, bachche. And no one can attest to the validity of that more than me. No matter how base a crime or people's perception of it is, one can always justify it at the end of the day. That's how humanity survives and evolves. They will condemn what they can't or need not do, but will slay their own kind and morality the moment they see the slightest sign of the act serving any purpose for them. And then they have their own system of comparing and rating crimes and punishments as if the reins of reality and righteousness have been bestowed unto them because they are in a time-warp where they have never fallen themselves. Our follies and instincts, however, unlike people, are not biased. To say, a rain of fire-and-brimstone falls alike on the just and such of the unjust as have not procured shelter." Subrato was gazing outside the window, in an increasingly obvious attempt to make them both less ill at ease. “They teach you to shoot for the stars, but will rip your heart out the instant they know that the stars in question lie beyond the frame of social convention and decree. I never denied what transpired between your Ammi and me, but to you. For you. Through all these years of my miserable existence, I have clung onto that single, painfully fragile thread of hope that Aafreen would have forgiven me someday and that I would be half the father I wanted to be to you. God knows I do not claim myself victim of the accusation and guilt which is my life now. I chose that path willingly and they are but the shadows of the temptation I consorted with. But if there's one explanation I want you to understand it would be love. Love that, as far as I see, never fell from its grace, before and after. I never stopped loving her, and I refuse to give one moment of weakness the power to do that to me. I cannot let that happen; that would be the death of me. And I don't want to leave you alone and bitter in the world. The humiliating, onerous ordeal which has been the last nine years of your life has taught you to hide everything behind your smile, and that's the worst I could have done to my daughter. I cannot let that be.” He turned his gaze to Zara, who had suddenly developed an acute interest in the concentric circles drawn on the bed-sheet, with a lost, intense expression on her face, a single teardrop punctuating it. He continued," These people whom you call family and who think they really have got your best interests at heart did not think twice before talking in whispers what could have torn you apart, and in fact making sure you came across those whispers every now and then. Tell me Zara, do you really feel at home there when these people treat you like a freak, broken deity or call your father a rapist behind his back? Does Mohseen even know the colour of his step-


daughter's eyes or hair? Don’t you feel like you are always treading the edge of a sword, which might trip on the slightest provocation and take you down with it?" Zara did not answer. “It all ends here. You will not return to Dhaka. I will arrange for your belongings to be delivered here. You are my daughter and I will have you so; in the family, where you belong." No answer. Subrato got up to leave. "I never heard Ammi say anything bad about you. And she would not have ha been ashamed of me, if she were alive. I can feel it, dada ! " Zara finally looked at him. Subrato, taken aback for a moment, composed himself, smiled and left the room. *****

Page

59

Zara dropped the coin into the slot, and dialed a number. Naaz's sullen face flashed in her mind, anxiously waiting for her call. "The number you have dialed does not exist. Please check the number and dial again." A modulated voice declared after a beep. Zara looked at the keypad again. She had promised Naaz that she would be b back within a week, had she not? "Close pent-up up guilt, rive your concealing continents, and cry this dreadful summoner’s grace. I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning..."


POEMS Prerana Choudhury IF OCTAVE WAS WHITE (I always desire the other way) Shaven grasslands, pockmarked wildberries, the old swing we hung upon two betelnut trees; one late-afternoon my satchel smelt of squashed orange, it never left my books. I minced at the thought of squashing centipedes under my shoes by mistake. I chose to shut my ears, close tight my eyes when I did, I’d think forcefully of an icecream cone. That chunk of mud full of flat grassblades, I carried to plant on a dry deserted fourcornered marshland. There we scattered the stillness of time with a shocking brown hollyhock from mother’s garden. That, and many purple brinjal flowers. I tip-toed, suddenly a child, (wearing a wig of long brown hair. I long to wear a string of woodpearls) when the sun goes down in a jolt, like a pony riding, we would throw a party on the rooftop. Garden tea, sunflower seeds, roasted rice kernels, We shall toast to the moon.

THE BIRD WITH GREEN BEAK I bow low and smear your feet with vermillion. The tip of your toes, the curve of the ankle, it makes your muscles flex We can bless each other, I say. If you do it, I would be wearing a red anklet today Then there was water from the sky, from leaf-ends and torn dusk. Only a bamboo can shed you under that happiness. That mynahs can follow your gaze and fly up to the hanging bulb on the treehouse, I would not have discovered. We shall go fishing when floods swim into our rooms, I say

Page

When it is that time of the year, the time of bordoichila’s arrival, there is a strange beating of my heart Like the trance induced by nagara… I like to wear the reeha in such weather, the orange and the gold of threads that turn brass in your eyes

60

He does not meet my eyes. He picks gooseberries and stores some in his pocket.


I could blame you for the storm blazing in the kitchen I stitch the loose button on your creased shirt smelling of soap The yellow of the lantern reminds me of garlic cooked in mustard oil Your smile throws out laughter from me Against the limestone sand of the shore your silhouette looks like a dove I sit back on a rickety swing and look into the morning, longingly Your hair, tousled by the breeze, the gait of something everlasting, like the birth of a raag… Walking barefoot to you, I leave behind the faintness of red. The river dances.

John W. May END TIMES The vultures, circling and soaring, Marveled at how God was warring Brutal on the sons of man Whose mortal blood kept pouring, pouring. That northern king, blood-thirsting, killingDrunk from blood he kept on spillingSacked the sacred temple stones … The sight was something chilling, chilling. When one third fell by heavy brawling Blood soaked grounds to God came calling: Will you turn a deafened ear? … Jerusalem is falling, falling!

Peycho Kanev

Page

Sometimes it’s really hard to see how time flies. The wrinkles around my father’s eyes extend, the veins on my mom’s hands thicken even more, while they sit silent by the window in my grandfather’s house and watch the rain pouring over the little

61

WHITE AND BLACK


garden outside. This black and white movie has a beginning and an end! But after the rain – the scent of flowers is stronger. The roses smell of eternity! OUR SKY My daughter (if I have one) will watch the stars from the window on the second floor and then will fall asleep contented and appeased while Pegasus slowly is moving upon the grey rooftop.

Page

62

My wife (when I have one) will tuck her in and will come downstairs to see what took me so long. Her glasses will fall off, with bated breath she will see me caressing the wall, waiting for the word.


Sukrita Paul Kumar THE WOMAN WITH A BABY Lilacs and tulips sprouting From the slants of her eyes Her yellow face shimmering in white sunlight Her body, a luminescent garden Life within life dancing on Feather feet The rising belly, a tight sponge Puffed into lightness Her hands going in circles Caressing the baby inside, On the cozy pathway Whispering history in Portuguese, Lingering pasts In the ruins of the fortress at Macau, Pasts hanging with roots from old branches of Banyan trees; Whiffs of future blowing from the citadel of the present, Singing the song of her body The woman walked Through smoke and dust

Page

Tiny movements rising in our bellies, fish churning in the ocean, birds flapping wings through the skies and eyelids, drooping and batting heavy, to enter

63

Our eyes met, Chinese with Indian, Entwined in maternity Not mediated by English;


or exit the bliss of sleep. HOW TO BEGIN This way That way It has to Surface on this paper From the wilderness Of the forest and its stinging nettles, Knotted bushes and twigs It has to emerge On this vacancy From the black holes Of the universes, seen and unseen, Through meteor storms and Somersaulting planets The hand has to appear with The finger pointing

Page

64

This way That way


FICTION Marten Weber

Page

—It’s amazing you are still here, after all these years. You have always been here, you know. It feels that way. Marion looked at the man in the tweed suit, smiled, and took his hand. —From the day we met, I mean Frank and I, I always remember you being there for us. —It was just coincidence I guess. You and Frank living in the same area. —He always said you had an awful crush on me. Is it true? Did you always have a crush on me? They stopped, watching the now empty hearse pull away. —It’s been a very nice funeral. —Do you think so, really? I did my best. I had Vivian take care of the flowers. Did you like the flowers? You didn’t say anything. I didn’t expect… —The flowers were very nice, Marion, very. The whole funeral. Frank would have liked it. —I think so, yes. I think he would have liked the whole affair. Would you mind awfully taking me home? Only, I don’t want to be alone, not just now. Marion took his hand again, and pulled him towards the parking lot. She let him drive her home to the city, park the car, and help her up the stairs to the ground floor. Marion was a frail woman, and stairs had been a problem for her for quite some time. —Why don’t you move, now that Frank… The sentence hung in the air. —Why should I move? —Well look at you Marion, you can barely manage these seven, eight stairs. How are you going to manage alone? —I wasn’t planning on being alone, not for long. —You’re going to have somebody move in with you? Is Vivian moving in with you? But she has… —No, Vivian isn’t moving in. I can’t do that to her. I mean… she has her whole life ahead, even… —What then? He opened the elevator door for her, pulled the iron grill shut, and pressed the button. —At least move to a lower floor, and somewhere without stairs! —I am not moving anywhere. —How will you cope then? —I won’t be alone for long, trust me. —Well… what have you planned then? —Nothing. Not that I… —You are not going to kill yourself, are you?

65

OBSESSION


He finished the sentence when the elevator came to an abrupt halt at the fourth floor. She was already looking for her keys in her handbag. —I don’t have my glasses. Can you get my keys out please? He took the bag from her and dug deep for a bunch of keys, the largest of which fitted into the lock on the double-winged door. Even for him, pushing it open was an effort. —How on earth do you manage to open that door every day? He said, more to himself than to her.

Page

He had met Frank in the army, all those years ago. A strapping young lad, ever so tall, a face full of freckles. Good-humored, down-to-earth, a friend to rely on. They had done their duty in the war, fought Jerry and got wounded, both on the same day, returned to the States the same day, met Marion the same day. It was a Welcome Home the Troops dance. They had smoked with her behind the shed, and taken her to the pictures, always together, always laughing. —Do you take sugar? —Yes! —It’s funny, I have known you all my life and I don’t even know if you take sugar or not. I wanted to talk to you about it. —About sugar? Just one lump please. —No, not about sugar you silly duffer. About… wait. The kettle is boiling. He stared out the window into the wintery sky: somewhere behind these rooftops used to be his house, the farm he had grown up on, next to Frank’s home, only a mile or so away. It was all housing estates now, block after block of concrete monsters, full of immigrant families and disgruntled old men. Back then, after the war, it had been beautiful, before the shopping malls and the industrial park. It had all been green, with the arm of a large forest leading to where the packing plant stood today. Nothing is left, he thought, —Nothing is left. —I beg your pardon? —Oh, did I speak out loud again? —Yes. But I couldn’t hear what you said. I am really getting deaf now.

66

Inside the luxuriously furnished apartment, Marion suddenly came to life. She took off her coat and hat, kicked off her black shoes and in a child-like dance waltzed towards the kitchen. —Would you like some tea. Will you sit down. Neither sounded like a question. He hung up his hat and overcoat and took a chair. —You still got these Thonet replicas. Amazing! They must be half a century old. —They are. You know how Frank loved them. —Yes he did. He loved beautiful things, didn’t he? Noises came from the kitchen, of drawers opened and metal upon metal, of a pot and its cover rattling, the sound of tea spooned out of a can, and a sigh; and then a pause. He took it all in, looking towards the large windows: the thick carpet, the beautiful little paintings on the Tudor-lilied wallpaper, the crystal decanter on the sideboard.


67 Page

—I think I said: nothing is left! —Of what? Here, have some tea. Sugar is in the cup already. And milk. You do take milk don’t you? I didn’t ask you. —Yes, sure. I mean, nothing is left of the old… the neighborhood where we grew up. The farm, and the grassland. Remember the old oak tree where he first kissed you? —Of course. Cut down long ago. That year, that miraculous year, they had spent every day together. Frank’s arm was healing quickly, but neither of them was called up again. The war had been almost over anyway. The free world had won, and Hitler was defeated. Everyone was celebrating that spring, everywhere. They went to Philly on a whim and spent a night gambling in a smoke-filled den, he, Frank and Marion, and the week after drove to New York, and Frank promised to get him a girl, finally, Marion scolding him for being so awkward with women. They had come back on Sunday morning, still the three of them, and by noon sat under the tree, the enormous round oak tree, and Frank had put an arm around Marion and kissed her. He had just sat there, alone, but happy. Safe in the knowledge that… —It’s such a shame the whole thing, she interrupted his thoughts. —What is? —The way it’s all gone to pieces around here. —Well. It’s progress, he said, taking a sip from his cup. —It’s Earl Grey, she said, smiling at him. Frank’s favorite. —I know. —I wanted to ask you, she said, putting down her cup. —Yes? What? —I wanted to ask you why you really stayed. —Stayed where? —Around. With Frank and me. And single. He did not speak, just looked at her quietly. —You were always around. When I had the baby, you were waiting at the hospital. —Frank couldn’t get off work, you know that. —I know. But you didn’t need to be there. And when we moved… —I moved too. Frank got me the apartment. It was cheap. —I know, I know. But why? You were always so nice to me. When Frank went on this training course in Europe, do you remember that? He was gone three months, and you came by every day, with the shopping, and told me not to worry, that he wouldn’t do anything stupid. God was I jealous! I was such a fool, you know? I was always jealous, so jealous! My whole life! I always thought he had… affairs behind my back. He reached for her hand, her old, wrinkled hand and took it between his palms. —I know. Sweet, innocent, and jealous. —Yes…! Tears came to her eyes, too few to run off: her eyes sparkled with the wetness. —And then… then, she said, rubbing her eyes red with the back of her hands, then you… you were so great with Frank junior. When I had my bad back, and Frank was always working, I wanted to ask you, why you did it, why you helped us so much. You taught him


68 Page

everything… you helped with the homework, I couldn’t… a disabled child… I mean… God forgive me! The tears she had just wiped away were back in her eyes, finally rolling down her dry skin, and onto the table cloth. She tried to wipe them away before they disappeared, soaked up by the fabric, and the more she cried, the more furiously she wiped, until he grabbed her hands, and held them still. —God forgive me! she shouted, and her voice broke. —You would have managed alone just as well, you know that. You were always a strong woman. —Nonsense! she protested vehemently, and color rushed into her face. —Nonsense, I was useless! I would never have been able to raise that child, that hopeless, feckless little child, destined to… to… I mean… we knew he could not grow very old. —Nobody knew back then, he said. And with his measured voice, and the soft strokes on the back of her hand, she too calmed down. They both drank their tea in silence, until her eyes were dry once more, and only slightly red. She stared at her wrinkled hands, counting the liver spots. —Anyway. I am sorry. You helped me with a husband who was always away, and a child that wouldn’t even be born nowadays and… —Don’t say that. —It’s the truth. Nowadays they wouldn’t… enough. It isn’t what I wanted to ask you. —I know what you want to ask me. —Then tell me. Tell me! —I have a question first. She looked at him, startled. Every since Frank’s death, the only thing on her mind had been to ask him why he had stayed with them, with her, was always there for her, in bad and in good times, was like a brother for Frank, a second father, part of their family. He was always the good uncle, and she pitied him so much, had pitied him all those years, for being so nice, and so helpful, and, she assumed, so alone. —Why do you want to know? Do you want me to move in with you, is that it? I’ll tell you right away, I can’t do that. —What? Oh no, no, you… no that’s not it at all. —What then? Why do you want to ask it so badly? —I don’t know. I need to know. After all these years, I need to know. —Are you sure you want to hear it? —I do. Now that he is dead, there is no one… I mean. We don’t have to hide. She looked at him sternly. Marion had always assumed that he was in love with her. She had known from his furtive glances, from all the little gestures, his friendship with Frank, which was more than a normal friendship. They had, she had long suspected, fought over her, all those years ago in New York, and under the tree, after the kiss. They had been alone for two hours, sitting there, talking. From where she had been watching, it had looked at first like they were fighting, then, as if they were cuddling, as if one of them was weeping leaning against the other’s shoulder. They had fought over her, that day, she was certain, and Frank had won.


69 Page

He, on the other hand, and she looked at him now with pity, he had been defeated, had given her up, all those years back. But unlike many other men who lost a woman to someone, he had not run away. He had wanted to be close, she assumed, had assumed for all these years. He couldn’t bear… —You could not bear to be without me. You had to stay close. I know. I know it all. I have known for all these years, and I… She was almost sobbing again, but with a great effort stemmed the tears, folded her hands in her lap, and looked straight at him. —I know you were always in love with me. And I loved you too. I have… I couldn’t admit it. Not to myself, not to Frank of course, and I… I was so afraid you know to break the silence, to destroy this wonderful… what was it… agreement. You must have had an agreement, I mean you gave me up and he married me and you stayed friends, all these years, you, loving me from afar, and he, trying to make it easier for you. He spent a lot of time with you, I guess, for that reason. The fishing trips, the cabin at Lake Saranac, that was always you and he, and he did it for you, you know, he wanted you to feel better. He liked you a lot, you know that, and he respected you, but… in a way… She broke the flow of her speech to drink from her tea. She was composed now, ready to hear it all let out. Her hands were steady. —In a way, I mean. But there it ended. The interruption had broken her train of thought, and now she stared vacantly at him. Outside it had started to rain. They heard a siren far away, before the patter of the raindrops on the big copper windowsill got too loud. —I’d better go now, he said, and got up from his seat. —In this rain? —It’s not far. I’ll get a cab. Thank you for the tea. —You haven’t answered my question. —You haven’t asked it. —You know what I mean… do I have to spell it out? Why didn’t you leave? Why didn’t you find yourself a wife, have children, move to California for God’s sake, why did you have to stay and make my life a misery? He sat down again, and stared at her in surprise. —Your life… a misery? —YES! she shouted wildly. Don’t you get it? All that self-sacrifice for me! All that spineless… that… that… I couldn’t bear to look at you most of the time. I felt so guilty all these years. Every time I saw you with Frank junior, when you lifted him in the car, or out of the pram, when you wheeled him around… I wanted to kill you! You made me feel like… like… oh I don’t know. Why didn’t you just leave us be and get a life of your own, instead of always being here, near, being good, and wholesome, and helpful and loving, and adoring me… always adoring me from afar, your little stares, oh, how I got to know them, I was glad when you were up with him at the cabin for a few days and left me alone, when I could be my own woman, and what people said, didn’t you know how they always fawned around you… what a handsome young man, and how glad we should be to have you help us, until you turned thirty and forty and they thought you were a bit queer, and then they caught on and even Vivian when she was old


Page

—You stupid old cow! He shouted at her but had the presence to push her hand away from the door and shut it so that they wouldn’t be heard in the staircase, —You stupid old cow! You ungrateful old hag! You think this was all about you? It was always about you, you, you! You thought YOU had us wrapped around your finger, you thought you were playing games with us. You thought I stayed for you and loved you and adored you, you stupid, selfish, bitch! She took a step back, suddenly terribly afraid of the usually soft-spoken, quiet man, with his glowing eyes, his red face, and violent gestures.

70

enough, she said, to me, one night, Mum, Uncle Jack is in love with you, isn’t he, that’s why he is always around, and I had to make her promise never to speak about it, never to… embarrass you. Even the neighbors knew and how everybody… remember that odd Missus Brayer who brought you cakes and beer every Sunday and told you to come to her parties to meet a nice girl, even she, she was here at the house and told me that I should tell you off, that it was my duty to save you and tell you to go away, and find your own luck somewhere, that you couldn’t spend your whole life playing the scorned lover and still be so nice and helpful and with every nice gesture make me even more ashamed, and incomplete, and unworthy, and ashamed. I spent my whole life feeling ashamed, YOU BASTARD! The tears flowed freely now, not only hers, but his too. He had never heard her use that language, never become angry, never shout at him. He saw a lifetime of frustration exposed there on that table. He wanted to hold her and pat her on the back and tell her it was alright, everything was alright, but then, when he moved in her direction, and she pulled away, he knew that that would be exactly what she meant, him being nice, comforting, helpful and there for her when she needed comforting. He got up, quietly, and took his hat from the stand, put his coat on, and opened the door of the apartment, the heavy, high doors with the elegant brass sign and knob and the beautiful letterbox outside. He had pulled it open, when she was suddenly standing next to him, tears still running down her cheeks. She put a hand on the door so it wouldn’t open further. He thought of pushing the old woman aside. —Why then? Tell me why! They stared at each other for a long time. He thought of kissing her, and leaving. He thought of telling her ‘I simply couldn’t leave, Marion, I loved you too much.’ Lie and be done with it, walk away slamming the door, but he wasn’t sure if one could slam such a heavy door. —Well? she asked, now all cool again, and then she said the wrong thing. With a dismissive gesture, and an arrogant nod of the chin, she looked up to him, into his gray old face and tired, red eyes, and said, —Well then! I am waiting! Like a command. Like an old school mistress, like his teacher of so many years ago, what had been her name, Slimoth or something ridiculous, who had made him walk to the front of the class, asked him about homework or some math question, put a piece of chalk in his hand and told him to write the answer on the blackboard and when he couldn’t, she had stood up, stamped her fat little feet and stared at him, that viscous stare, and said, well, Jack, I am waiting, or, we are all waiting, Jack! That image rushed back, that bloated face from so long ago, and he felt again the anger he had felt as a boy, that uncontrollable rage.


Page

71

—You You think we fought over you? You think we had it out and your precious Frank won? I’ll tell you what we had out… I’ll tell you! He took a breath, and a threat threatening ening step towards her, watching her tremble, steadying her frail frame on the wardrobe. —II WILL TELL YOU WHAT WE HAD OUT! Are you ready? Are you listening? We had our cocks out! Our dicks out together, that’s what we had! It wasn’t about you, silly woman.. It never was! I was in love with him! And he with me, you ignorant cow! We didn’t fish at Lake Saranac! We FUCKED! Her face twitched when the rude word hit it. —Frank Frank fucked me, at least when we were young, he had his fat little cock up my ass all the time! We were lovers, only we couldn’t be lovers, and he wanted a family, and I wanted him, so I stayed. I didn’t stay for you Marion. I stayed for him! She fell back on the chair. —That That time, under the oak, when I… when you fought… —Fought? Fought? Who fought? We fucked! We had sex! He got his fat ugly cock out the moment you were gone! We had wild, passionate sex under that tree! He turned round when he felt his own tears rushing back, opened the door and pulled it close behind him, tried, in fact, to slam it, but the spring was too strong and the door too heavy, and it fell shut with an almost inaudible tiny ‘click’ as he ran down the stairs.


POEMS Tabasom2 IF YOU KILL ME I won’t come back I won’t come back It makes no difference if I die It makes no difference if all of you forget me I won’t come back to you I remember your bad works Insult me Beat me Hate me You taught me that I deserved worse I will forget you and all the insults, beatings and hatred I won’t come to you If you kill me If you kill me I WISH MY COUNTRY WAS NOT MY LOVE I wish Afghanistan was not a country But instead a dry land And no one lived in it. I wish my country was not my love I suffer from its pains. Every problem grows in my country Economy Social Terror Bomb I wish my country was only mountains Without people

Page

Tabasom lived in a Taliban-held province in eastern Afghanistan. She wanted to go to college, but her family would not allow it. Despite the limitations put on her, she taught herself to write in English. In her family, only one of her brothers knew that she wrote for the AWWP (Afghan Women’s Writing Project), and he encouraged her to do so—no matter, as she said, “if it is good or not.” She used to walk four hours to reach an Internet Cafe so that she could send AWWP her poems. Eventually, AWWP supplied Tabasom with a laptop and she responded: “I am happy. I think I am a mother and the laptop is my child whom I love very much. I do take care of it well.” Perhaps even more importantly, AWWP provided Tabasom with a critical link to the outside world. “I see the cows can go out, but I am a girl and cannot go out. If I go and Talibs kill me, no one will ask why.” She was killed in 2012 in a suicide bomb attack. (Source: AWWP. The Four Quarters Magazine is grateful to the AWWP for their kind permission to publish Tabasom’s poetry in this issue.)

72

2


Or that it had a magic border So I could close the doors So terrorists could not come For suicide attacks. GOLD HIDDEN IN THE RIVER I wish I wrote my destiny With silver colors of happiness That shined in my life If I wrote my destiny There would be no violence No war No fights or conflicts I wish I wrote my destiny I’d have no grief in my heart I would never be a sad human, A piece of gold hidden in the river I would be happy and free. WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?

Page

73

There is something to share… There is something to tell… but always a wall in front of me. I want to talk, I want to talk and tell about you. Thinking of you but there is always a wall. I want to break the walls I want to fight. I want to reach you I love you I want you I love you


FIRST WORDS

Page

74

Sweetheart! Kind sun, I cannot forget your first words, melting with love, passion spoken to me in colors and with flowers. As I swear to God, I swear to you that I cannot be without you. Without you, I cannot be.


FICTION Seb Doubinsky GOODBYE BABYLON3 WAR The explosion blossomed in the distance. A huge fireball rolled over the dark trees in yellow fury. Steve hid his eyes behind his hand. A gust of wind enveloped the men, filled with dry heat and the scent of gasoline. He wondered how many they had killed this time -- he meant a true number, not the absurd figures announced every evening in the propaganda bulletins. He wanted to know whether they were winning or losing this goddamned war... He would try to count the bodies when he got there -- what was left of them, at least. Another group of planes zoomed over their heads, shaking the ground with their dark laughter. Some of the men applauded. Everybody had lost a good buddy since the beginning. Everybody. Two of his best friends had died. Little Joe had gone to non-commissioned officers' school with him. They had the same grades; they were in the same regiment; the same platoon... After the mortar shell hit his manhole, all that was left of him were his stripes. He found them hanging on the twisted branch of a burnt-down tree, some thirty feet away. He told himself that when he came back, he'd give them to Little Joe's mother, or to his girlfriend -- there wasn't enough left of him for both. And then they had gotten Stu... Great sense of humour, always ready for a pun when things were looking bad. He never let gloom seize anyone. A bullet in the throat was the punch line to his last joke. God had no sense of humour. Or a very dark one. Go figure. The captain barked an order. They all got up, wearily picking up their bags and weapons, dragging their feet towards the towering flowers of fire and destruction.

3

This novel extract has been published here with due permission from the author. © Seb Doubinsky.

Page

Bill reached his orgasm the very moment the phone began to ring. His sperm turned into sparkling electric stars as it sprayed inside the girl. "Shit" he grunted between clenched teeth, "shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” The girl moved over to the side as he made his way out of the sheets. "Sorry...” he mumbled, putting the receiver to his ear. The girl said something in response, but it was covered by Sheryl's crackling voice. “Yes... yes... where? Okay... yes... in fifteen minutes? But I... I... what? Okay, fifteen minutes... OKAY!... I said okay... Oh, one last thing, Sheryl... I hate your guts...” “Who was that?” the girl whined, watching him get out of the devastated bed. “My boss. A real bitch.” He had trouble putting his right arm through his left sleeve, so she helped him. “Sorry, baby, but I've got to run. You can fix yourself breakfast, if you feel like it..." “At three thirty in the morning?" He shrugged, and picked up the heavy strap-bag full of video equipment.

75

COITUS INTERRUPTUS


“I'll see you later,” he managed to say before she slammed the door behind him. HIS door. Shit! He shook his head as he waited for the elevator. Maybe she would still be home when he came back... Wishful thinking. How many girlfriends had he lost since he began working with Sheryl? Too many already. Sometimes, he really did hate her guts. And then again, sometimes he didn't. REJECTION SLIP Lee reread the short letter for the fifth time. It was typed, impersonal -- and it hurt like hell. But there wasn't anything he could do about it: his name wouldn't be in print this year. He pinned the letter on the wall, next to the 57 others already hanging there like dead bugs, some of them yellowing with the years. Marian walked into the room, her wet hair hidden in a snail-like towel. He sat down on a chair, and contemplated his “conceptualist" wall, as he liked to call it. “Don't worry, darling,” she said from the kitchen she had just stepped into, “you'll make it someday. You're the best.” He let his head hang down. It weighed a ton. Nobody could understand him. Nobody at all. He felt empty and blank. He had been so sure about that one... He had had such a positive feeling... Marian walked back into the room in splendid nakedness, holding a glass of juice in her hand. She put the glass down on the little bed-table, and began to rummage in her drawer, looking for some clothes. He glanced at the bed. Maybe some animal sex would help heal the wound. It usually did. Marian caught his peculiar look, and swiftly pulled her panties up. “Sorry, Lee, but today I have my period...” He sighed and looked back at the wall. When things went wrong... DOG “You’re a dog!” she said, and suddenly Waldo realized that it was true. He fell on his four legs and began to chase her out of the apartment, barking, drooling and growling. When she was gone, he curled up on the carpet and got ready for a nap. Right before falling asleep, he wearily looked up and saw that the world was much better when you looked at it from underneath.

Page

The village was empty. Or rather, there wasn't much left of the village. The Air Force had done a pretty good job. Acrid smoke filled the air. Large holes poked the ground, surrounded by scattered bodies, torn and black like strange trees. Steve began to count them mentally. One, two, three. The captain moved cautiously in front of the column, gun in hand. Four, five, six, seven, eight. He told Steve to check a ruined hut. Nine, ten, eleven. Then another ruined hut. Twelve. And another. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. “How many did you find?” the captain asked a soldier who was coming from the other side of the village. “About twenty, Sir.” About twenty, Sir. About? What in the hell did he mean by “about?" Steve felt a rage napalm his heart. What was the point in counting when he was the only one doing it seriously? “Very well, then” the captain said, “Let’s plant the goddamned flag and let's get out of here. The mission is over, guys. We've won.”

76

BODIES


Steve felt tears of frustration swell up in his eyes. How did he know they had won? How many enemies had they killed so far; did he know that? “About enough" was the captain's favourite answer. Was it really? Then how come they were still here, fighting, uh? When would they know FOR SURE? When would all this nonsense have its meaning finally revealed? He felt the captain's hand on his shoulder. “That's it, sergeant. We're going back now. Everything is going to be alright.” Sure. He nodded through his tears, flowing like quicksilver on his cheeks. Everything was going to be alright, and this war would have no end. If only there had been a way to count... CRIME SCENE The blue and red lights gave an eerie look to the building. Electric voices crackled all around. Bill cut through the thick crowd and showed his pass to the policeman standing guard. Sheryl was already there. Her cellular phone hung under her left armpit like a science-fiction gun. She waved at him as he made his way through the scattered black-and-white cars. “Glad you could make it so fast. The ultimatum is almost over.” He began to unpack the heavy videocamera. “Who is it? What does he want?” An inspector Bill hadn't noticed answered for her. “The bastard says he’s the famous Cartoon Killer, and we have reasons to believe him. We finally managed to corner him in there... This time, he's disguised as the Wild Coyote, from the Roadrunner cartoons -- you know them, don't you? He's up in some apartment, hopefully empty. That's what we think, but he says he's got a hostage. Go figure... We can't take chances...” He paused and lit a cigarette. The flame flickered under his nose like a small explosion. “Anyway, he won't surrender. He's still up there, disguised and all, with a gun. We know that because the janitor got shot. The only thing he wants, he says, is to be interviewed on TV by this woman here -- your boss, I gather. We asked her to cooperate with us, to see if we can get him out of the place, and she said ok. So that's what we're at. Good luck to both of you. You can wear one of our bulletproof jackets if you want, although they're not much against an Uzi...” Bill thanked him politely, although he wasn't exactly sure for what. They were the bait for the shark, the goat for the wolf. He only hoped the hunters wouldn't miss their target. “Let's go,” Sheryl finally said, opening the door to the back stairs, “we're on a mission for BTV.” Following her, he wondered if she was ever scared of anything. Then, suddenly, he smiled to himself. Yes, there was one thing, one little thing that could scare the woman to hell: an unexpected drop in BTV's ratings. Especially during the news.

Page

YELLOW: colour of the sun, of blindness and summer. Colour attached to the meaning of fear and fire. Too much yellow in a room can lead to mental confusion, schizophrenia or worse. On the other hand, it is said that if you dress up a baby in yellow clothes three days after he is born, luck will be with him all his life. Yellow is the colour of the East and South. It is one of the three primary colours. It is only justice to start with it then.

77

COLOR N° 1


DOG DREAMS Waldo is dreaming now, sleeping on his favourite carpet. He is in a street, trotting along and sniffing his way through the city. The smells tell him beautiful stories that make him long and ache inside, wonderfully. The sidewalk is full of clues. No more riddles. No more labyrinths. No more fears of getting lost. Waldo is a good dog now, attached to his master -- that is, to himself. Waldo smiles in his sleep and grunts with pleasure. He is holding his leash in his mouth. DOUBTS He would never make it. He would never see his name in print. He would never be able to get beautiful young actresses in his bed, just because “they loved the book...” He hated his own name, typed in small shameful letters on the first page of the rejected monster. Lee Jones. What a stupid, stupid name. At twenty-seven, he was already a failure. Marian walked by, getting ready to go to work. He watched her move with growing self-pity. She worked as a secretary in a local bank, making barely enough money for the two of them. He had tried to get a job a couple of times, but it had always ended in disaster. His mind wasn't made for trivia. And yet... Wasn't getting published the most trivial thing in the world? Of course, you could argue that no, it was important, especially if you had a message to deliver. But he had no message. Nothing at all. His stories were like the rain, car fumes and elevator music. In a word: trivial. It had to end, somehow. He had to be courageous. He had to face the facts, and come to the one and only conclusion. He got up from the chair and wearily walked into the room where Marian was brushing her hair. A decision had to be made. He scratched his head and cleared his voice, trying to avoid her interrogating eyes. “I... I think I'm going to quit writing...” He paused, waiting for the effect of this melodramatic announcement. Marian gently pushed him aside as she walked out to the bathroom, and gave him a Speck on the cheek. “Oh, cut the crap, dear. I've heard that one before. Go out, get drunk, and tomorrow you'll feel better.” WEATHER FORECAST Ernest Hemingway put the gun in his mouth and cocked the trigger. “Looks like we're in for some rain..." he mumbled, smiling to himself.

Page

They were standing at the beginning of a long corridor, dimly lit by a shady white glass globe. Large and dirty bay-windows gaping on the left-hand side completed the bleakness of the decor. “Do you think we'll have enough light?” Sheryl asked.

78

WILE E. COYOTE


79 Page

Bill shrugged. “I brought an extra lamp, just in case. But it should be okay" He lifted his free hand, and showed her the object. She smiled. “Okay, let's go, then.” They resumed their careful walk, and stopped right under the yellowish globe. The door was only a few feet away. It was a normal looking door, with paint in large patches. A cold film of sweat glittered on Bill's cheeks. What wasn't he ready to do for Sheryl... The bulletproof jacket squeezed his ribs reassuringly, in spite of what the officer had said. “Mister Coyote!" Sheryl's shout made him almost jump through the ceiling. “Mister Coyote, it's us -- I mean, it's me, Sheryl Boncoeur, from BTV ! You're going to be on television!" She turned to Bill as somebody rummaged behind the door, and winked. “Start rolling,” she said. The door opened slowly. The shadow of a face made a careful appearance through the opening, followed by the rest of the body. The man was indeed dressed as the Wile E. Coyote of the cartoon series, and his eyes were as yellow and mean. Bill remembered how much the Coyote used to scare him when he was a little kid. The man hesitated then walked a couple of steps towards them. Bill suddenly felt his stomach press against his teeth. The man was holding a woman's head in his left hand. The grotesque costume was splattered with blood. “You alone?” he growled suspiciously. Sheryl nodded. “Mister Coyote, could you spare a few words for our viewers?" Her voice was firm. Not a single sign of emotion -- completely professional, Bill thought, admiringly. The man nodded proudly. “You can ask me whatever you want. I'm on TV now. That's all I ever wanted, really. To be on TV, you know. I can remember, when I was a little boy, and I used to watch all those cartoons and..." Bill hoped there wasn't going to be too much trembling in the image. He didn't want to film the woman's head, but he kept returning to it, again and again. She was blonde. She had blue eyes. Wide open, now. Disbelieving. Blood was still oozing from the wound in the neck, shining softly in the dirty light. He zoomed in for a close-up. If they wanted blood, they were going to have plenty of it. “I always wanted to be on TV. I wanted to be as famous as those cartoon guys, I wanted to live like them, do the things they did, like this, you know..." He briefly lifted the head to eye-level. “I went to the TV studios a couple of times, but they didn't want me. They said they didn't hire cartoon characters anymore. That they were all dead. That they didn't even exist, can you believe that? It made me sad. Real sad. So I decided to avenge them. And here I..." A window suddenly exploded, sending glass fragments all around, like a blinding galaxy. The Wile E. Coyote was thrown backwards against the door, repainting it with his own blood. A gun Bill hadn't noticed fell to the ground with a dull sound. But the head was still in the man's hand. He clung to it frantically as he slowly slouched to the ground, his yellow eyes flickering with life's last gleams. Shouts and sirens burst outside. The wounded man began to vomit blood.


Sheryl ran up to him, picking little pieces of glass out of her forehead and hair. Bill followed reluctantly, the wire of the microphone being attached to the camera. He almost slipped in the fast-growing blood puddle. “One last thing, Mister Coyote, for our viewers... Why did you choose to kill all those women? I mean -- only women?" The Wile E. Coyote lifted a weak eyelid. “I could never stand to see an animal suffer..." He smiled, coughed up a couple more times, and passed away. Two policemen from the Special Forces rushed into the corridor, guns in hand. They pushed the journalists aside and handcuffed the body, who was still holding tightly to the golden hair of his victim. FIRECRACKERS “Watch out!” somebody screamed, as hell's fireworks began to fall in a deadly shower, suddenly turning the jungle into a tragic Chinese New Year’s party. The soldiers began to run in every direction, except the right one. The captain fell on the ground, holding his belly. Steve bent over to help him, but a violent shock on his back threw him to the ground. The wet earth felt sweet under his cheek. Little by little, chaos began to fade, and the world whirled slowly out of sight. Everything was peaceful and turning black. So black he couldn't even see his hands. So black he couldn't remember his own name. So black he had forgotten to count. COLOR N° 2 RED could be colour number two. Red is the colour of memories and the days gone by. Red is the colour of happiness, on the edge of madness and comfort. Red is an important colour in Buddhist China and in orthodox Jewish religion. It is the colour of women, for obvious reasons. It's a good colour to have on one's side. Never underestimate red. THE NARRATOR

Page

80

Don’t worry, please -- this story will finally make sense, I promise. Well, at least, some sense. Nothing is for certain, nowadays. It wasn't always like that. I will tell you the whole story someday, but not now. This is kind of a mistake. I shouldn't have appeared so soon, although I was here all the time. But you hadn't noticed me, had you? Next time, be a little more careful. You never know who can be reading over your shoulder. You have to remember that. It is very important. No, actually, it is much more than that: it is essential. But let me trouble you no more. Go on with this story. Until we meet again.


POEMS Gargi Talapatra REMINISCENCE as she lies semi-living on the dirty sheets of the hospital under the nose of the ayah chattering and yawning, spectators come with conversion charts to gaze and calculate the percentage of carcass in the still-alive remains of what used to be a woman, recognizably human until sometime ago. seventy years have passed, they say, since she was for the last time selflessly caressed, and called by a name, exclusively hers. having borne children one short of a cricket team she lies all alone there facing the last bowling over of the oppressive antagonist named Life. her fingers swollen with saline running through bear no traces of the artist who carefully washed and painted the scales of a large fish secretly in the kitchen to re-create the Tajmahal, or the pianist who without official training in music imitated the mynah or the kokila with the going down of the sun or the pattering of raindrops.

Page

penetrated multiple times with or without will or knowledge

81

seventy years have passed, they say, since she was for the last time selflessly caressed, and called by a name, exclusively hers.


the cave of creation now silently lodges the catheter – engaged and committed in sincerity till the last breath, while the breasts have shied away leaving no scope for outward determination of sex any longer. the breath which nourished lullabies now rattles doubtfully between being and non-being and the lips tightly shut themselves up from within as if determined after almost a century of all that has been to silence the voice having failed to voice the silence. seventy years have passed, they say, since she was for the last time selflessly caressed, and called by a name, exclusively hers. DROPLETS The last droplets of the last pour had a strange story to share with the roof concrete pretense could not bar determined droplets of the dripping being… what face was that you showed last time that greenish tinge on soft brown muscles was that the green you filched somehow… from the peepal on the damp concrete wall…

Page

when fury died down and golden rays soothed the sodden solitary feather they shirked responsibility, they did…

82

and why wouldn’t the mizzle subside even after the footsteps ceased… leaves merged through frenzied eyes was it you…was it me…


‌the stained dusty window panes Semeen Ali A PARALLEL WORLD WILL CONTAIN US A parallel world will contain us Where we would be together A roll of tissue wraps itself around a rose An artificial rose White all over Concealing every inch of the flower A piece of wood contains beads of music Tilt it and hear the ocean That ocean conceals us In a parallel world that ocean will reveal us A squirrel cracks open a nut The shell falls The kernel shines for a moment in the bright sun. BIRTH OF LANGUAGE

Page

83

A black elongated branch Words hang from it Like roots of a banyan tree Green closes in The words continue to grow Trying to find their feet In a magnetized world Wind tries to dissuade them Twisting and turning They feel the pull Dropping silently on the dew drenched earth They scatter in different directions Each creating a home.


Subhadeep Paul WHAT ENDS TONIGHT The world will not end tonight Its vain horoscope reads continuity But this is the end-night night of the tainted knight Whose grandest dream is driven to drowning In the fiendish Atlantic antic funded by the fiercest tears. The world will sustain its superannuated spin Weeping heroes and clichĂŠd grief are not marked In its upper-crust crust register of priorities This is a world of dogged ships that are programmed To drift away from terror terror-zones of tears diabolic.

Page

84

Dame Hope damns the estranged lachrymose The fittest would survive with the worst convictions The austere world’s a draconian cradle cradle-rocker With a flinty lullaby attuned for the unfeeling Haunting the insomniac knight forever.


FICTION Ashok Banker THE KALI QUARTET BOOK 2: BURNT SAFFRON SKY4 ONE

4

This extract from Ashok Banker’s upcoming series The Kali Quartet has been published here with due permission from the author. © Ashok Banker.

Page

Anita knew trouble had arrived as soon as she heard the engines. Those weren’t high-end saloons and sedans, good German engineering purring luxuriantly. They were trucks, vans, jeeps, four-wheel drives running on diesel, badly maintained engines protesting almost as loudly as the worn-out brakes. The sound of the engines turning off was followed by footfalls, plenty of footfalls and men’s voices. Men, she thought through the haze of pain and anger that was eating her senses away. Men with guns. There was an acronym for it, she knew and it eluded her for a moment, warning her how close she was to passing out. No, she admonished herself fiercely, The First Commandment of Anita B: Thou Shalt Survive. Dr Jayawardhane was near her bed, administering to a patient. Father Francis had left for a moment, taking the schedule Anita had found in the rear pocket of her jeans. She had lost track of him because there were four doors in this place and people were coming and going through all of them at once. She saw nuns in habits speaking urgently to one another, eyes round and very white in their faces, heard the sound of a cellphone beeping with text messages and knew that the attacks had begun, were on at this very minute, the bastards were having at it and there was nothing she could do about it, strapped to a hospital bed. Lalima sent that package to me so I could help, but instead all I did was bring it back here into the lion’s den. I’m so sorry, Lalima, I screwed it up. I should have done better. I should have figured it out. For God’s sake, I’m supposed to be a detective! She saw Dr Jayawardhane looking up at her, frowning. It occurred to her that she might have said the last part aloud instead of to herself. He rose and came over to her bed. “You should rest.” “Dr, you need to give me something to wake up.” He took her wrist to check her pulse. “The painkiller I administered is a strong dose. You need to sleep until it wears off. Otherwise—” He broke off, startled as she grasped his wrist and yanked him hard enough to bring his face crashing down to her own. She caught him with her other hand, holding his chest when he was an inch from their noses smashing together. “Adrenaline, maybe. Something to counteract the effect of the sedative.” He stared at her, blinking. She could smell his cologne. It was vaguely familiar. “The sedative…”

85

1.1


86 Page

The sounds of male voices from outside grew louder, angrier. There were other sounds too, things falling, glass smashing, cutlery clattered to the ground, doors were slammed open, women’s voice raised in Malayalam and American accents. “Men are coming here to kill me,” she said. “To kill us all. I need to get out of here! Give me something. Now!” He started to turn his head, to listen to the ruckus outside. Just then a loud bang sounded from what seemed like just outside the window. He reacted. “What—?” he started. She kept him held close, to stop him from leaving, from getting himself killed. “We’re all going to die. I might be able to do something to stop it. Shoot me up. Give me something. Anyfuckingthing. Please!” The effort was making her head spin. She lost her breath for a moment and let go, feeling the room start to whirl. He caught her then, holding her and lowering her back to the bed. Another gun shot rang out, followed by several more. Each a short, sharp crack, the gaps between the shots telling her they were calmly aimed and professionally fired. They were getting closer, coming through the door to her extreme right…or was it her extreme left? The room whirled. She found a framed portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus looming over her upside down, and then it gave way to a freshly painted ceiling. A robin’s egg blue ceiling. “Please,” she heard herself murmur. She blacked out for a moment. Somewhere in the darkness, there was her father, drunk and maniacal, in one of his raging furies, stropping Philip and the others with his belt, lashing out wildly as he chased them through the living room into the courtyard, not caring if the lion’s head buckle caught them in the eye or left a gouge. She remembered her mother grasping her hand tight enough to leave a mark for several minutes after she let go, saying, “See? See? That’s what happens to bad boys.” Yeah, maa. Bad boys get belted. And good girls? Oh wait. There aren’t any good girls. We’re all bad. At least the boys come in two flavors. We’re just plain old Whore-Chocolate Nutty, every last one of us. Does the Bible say so? Someone kicked her in the head. Light exploded in her skull. Brilliant explosions flared from her mouth and eyes and ears and nostrils, like a special effect in a bad Bollywood movie— oh wait, they’re all bad—and she returned gasping to the hospital ward in the Catholic retreat. Dr Jayawardhane was beside her, holding a needle in his hand, staring at her. Gunshots were all around, and screams and that same cell phone with the irritating message tone kept going off. “It will counteract the—” “Thanks, doc,” she said brightly, “now let’s go.” Her foot felt…wrong…when she tried to step on it. To say it hurt would be saying too little. It was a world of pain and hurt, even through the powerful painkiller, because of course he had just given her something that counteracted the painkiller. But mostly it just felt wrong. Fuck it, she said. That’s why God gave me two of them. She leaned on the Doctor’s shoulder. “Move,” she said into his ear, “keep moving whatever happens. If you freeze, they’ll kill us.” Nuns were screaming everywhere, gun fire cutting the screams short. She saw men and movement through the windows. What the fuck? They were killing everybody. Why? Because they didn’t know who knew and who didn’t know about the package and the schedule and they didn’t want to take any chances. Simpler that way. Besides, it occurred to her, if these people


were staging a series of terrorist attacks across the country, what was one more target? That was the point of shooting everyone at random. Even her body, when it was found, would be assumed to be just another patient. They reached the door just as Father Francis burst in, his white face two shades paler. He saw her and said, “Praise the Lord!” then “Men with guns.” “MWGs,” she said. “I know those bastards well. We have to get out of here now, padre. We can’t save all these people but we might be able to survive to fight another day.” He looked at her a fraction of a second, time slowed down into that ‘bullet time’ zone it always did at such moments, and she saw him make his decision. “This way,” he said. “The chapel.” Anita followed him, still limping with the help of the Doctor from the Zoo.

Page

Nachiketa came to her senses to find herself lying in the back seat of a convertible with a very heavy shawl wrapped around her. It took her several moments to work out that the “convertible” was the same Honda Civic in which she had been seated when the blast occurred, that the blast had shoved her into the back seat while it ripped off the top of the car, and that the “very heavy shawl” wrapped around her was most of what remained of the vehicle’s front windshield, shattered to particles of tinted glass held together by the tint screen. There was also blood everywhere, a lot of it and it was harder for her to acknowledge that since she appeared to be relatively whole and unmaimed—or not maimed any more than she had been before the blast—that it could only be Rajendra Powar’s blood. After struggling with the windshield, she managed to shove it off her and into the space between the rear seats and the back of the front seats, a space that had somehow been altered in dimension and proportions by the force of the blast. Somehow, she got the glass shawl off her and gave herself a moment to tick another one off the bucket list: Stay Alive. These days it seemed that was her entire bucket list. Perhaps when she returned to normal life she would select Staying Alive as her ring tone. Yes, that would nice, wouldn’t it? Normal Life. Whatever that meant in these post-apocalyptic hours. She sat up, aware of the smoke and particulate matter falling all around her like dirty snowflakes in a blizzard. And saw the ugly metal thing sticking out the back of the driver’s seat. It had flanges and sharp edges and was oddly shaped. She could not for the life of her figure out what purpose it served in the world at large, or what device, machine, contraption or system it belonged to. All that mattered was that it had obviously been flung across a distance by the force of the blast and that it had embedded itself in the driver’s seat of the Civic like some oversized Ninja throwing thing, what-the-eff-were-they-called? Flechettes? No, those were something else, darts or somesuch. Well, whatever. Those Ninja thingies. She was aware that she was probably in shock and not thinking coherently. But it was after working hours and she was off duty and all dressed up with nowhere to go so she thought what the hey she might as well take a look at the damage before they asked her to pay the bill. She used her upper body strength, courtesy of four years of being a wheelchair addict, to grab hold of the two front seats and haul herself between them, just far enough so she could see over the top of the driver’s seat and check on Powar’s condition. She froze for a moment.

87

1.2


88 Page

Then she felt her arms turn to jelly and had to almost throw herself back into the rear seat to avoid falling between the seats and onto the mangled mass of windshield that now lived there. She fell back roughly, feeling the familiar numb sensation in her hip that reminded her that even though she was paralyzed from the waist down, certain yoga postures were still not advisable. She turned her head into the seat, resting her forehead on the calf leather upholstery— this was a fully loaded top-of-the-line model—and felt herself heave. Nothing came out though which was merciful because she would have vomited all over herself. And here I am in my best party frock, she thought hysterically. Wouldn’t want to mess up my mascara, would I? She thought she would have a total meltdown then but after several moments passed and neither tears nor puke made an appearance onstage, it appeared that she was made of stronger stuff after all. Nothing that a good stiff whiskey-soda couldn’t dissolve but still, she was good for now. Poor bastard. The phrase was one she heard used a dozen times a day. In South Delhi lingo, bastard was a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘chap’ or whatever you wished it to be. But coupled with the word ‘poor’ it always implied a certain snobbery. Those higher than you on the social escalator were never called that term. It was reserved for those less fortunate in some way, or those who had been above but had now slipped down to a lower level. The feminine of course was ‘Poor Thing’. Both phrases were delivered with a certain gloating satisfaction that the individual in question had finally got his comeuppance. Rajendra Powar was much more than a poor bastard. But right now, with some unidentifiable metal Ninja-like thingie that was not a giant flechette sticking through his belly, chest, part of one arm, neck and even part of his face—the shattered jawbone sticking through raw flesh was the sight that had grossed her out the most, almost as much as his open staring eyes—he was the poorest bastard she knew. What was really, truly, unutterably sad was the fact that he had died for her, basically. If not for him, she would have died back in the shambles of her burning office, beside the naked ravaged corpse of poor Shonali, the ripped-open carcass of Justicebitch and her unfortunate pups, or in the hospital with Advaita, or… Aamir Khan was dancing. She looked around, disoriented and dazed. Something wet and sticky was on her face. She dabbed at her cheek and was horrified at the grimy mess that came off on her fingertips. She was crying apparently. And filthy. And suffering from minor cuts and lacerations all over her exposed areas. Nearby, she sensed movement as people began regaining consciousness or arriving, she couldn’t make out which, and the deathly pallor of silence that had enshrouded her since she awoke after the blast was now cracked and speared with a smorgasbord of different sounds—voices, distant crying, howling sirens, something that might have been a chopper overhead, a strange ringing sound that might be tinnitus or feedback from an open mike on a public address system. And somewhere in this car, Aamir Khan was dancing. It was that song, that Bollywood song she had heard earlier, the one from the Aamir Khan movie that was airing on all the channels. That was why it was filling her head with images of Aamir Khan dancing. It was a caller tune. On a cellphone. Somewhere in the Civic. She wanted to ignore it, to just curl up and keep crying, now that the tears had come at last, better late than never, wrap herself in a shawl of self-pity and misery and try to forget all the


horrible things that had happened in the past day and part of this night. But some instinct told her that ringing cellphone might mean something. It could be useful to her, maybe more than useful. Because, if she remembered correctly, that was Powar’s cell phone’s caller tune. And maybe the person at the other end might be able to help her too. As Powar had done. It was a long shot, but the only one she had right now. Besides, her whole life was one endless series of long shots. She found the cellphone on the floor of the Civic beneath the driver’s seat. It was only a little sticky from the pool of blood down there. She held it to her ear with shaking hands and clicked the button to answer.

Page

A screaming fills the burnt saffron sky; it has happened before and it will happen again, we know. There is so much to compare it with now yet it shall always defy comparison. Each death is a new death, each life unique, irreplaceable. Yet when one person dies, all humanity dies. Such is the bond of life on earth: everyone is connected. Everyone matters. Or nothing matters. Except, perhaps, to a privileged few: corporate profit is the only thing that does matter. By any means necessary. After all, a corporation was a person now in the eyes of the law. And by the ‘civilized’ ethics of that same self-entitled one percent that controlled 99% of the world’s wealth and resources, life was not about co-existence, it was a war of attrition. And when one group so powerful and endlessly resourceful went to war against an impoverished and largely peaceable population, the wages could be nothing except bloody. These were the thoughts that burned through her brain on the taxi journey back to Biddhanagar, accomplished by a furious race through deserted streets. Even the Bangladeshi had driven in stunned silence: she saw the tears rolling off his face as he took turns at screeching speed. Sheila wandered the ruined despair that was the city of her birth. Only hours earlier she had been here, in Biddhanagar, the glass-fronted buildings gleaming with hope and youthful promise. Now, it was a wasteland of ravaged lives. Gunter Grass had been updated and spellchecked: Kolkata was no longer a pile of shit dropped on earth by God, it was a mangled corpse blown to pieces by the forces that sought to profit from pain. Bodies lay everywhere, across the streets, in the shattered windows of buildings, half falling out, splayed across cars and street dividers. Smoke billowed out from the blasted stadium, darkening the sky. The air had the quality of intense silence, like a chamber emptied by a vacuum pump, the absence of sound was macabre. Not a scream, not a shout, not a cry of pain, only the blaring of distant car alarms set off by the explosion, faintly heard sirens, and the sense of the city beyond—and the country at large—holding its breath and staring in shocked dismay. But all those were distant background. Here, up close and on the ground, there was a giant bubble of shock enclosing those who stumbled in dazed horror, blinking uncomprehendingly, unable to process the sheer scale of death and suffering. Sets in apocalyptic EOW disaster films could use this as a reference: this is how the end of the world comes, not with a whimper but with a bang and then the silence after the bang, more terrible than the bang itself. Because we

89

1.3


Page

90

have to live in this now, she thought, tears squelching from her eyes involuntarily and flicking off her face to splash on grimy blood-coated concrete. The bomb lives for a fleeting second, raises its arms in orange celebration, but we have to endure the blackness that follows afterward. We have to live with the aftermath. She lost track of where she was and where she was going. She no longer knew which street she was on, where the Bangladeshi’s cab had let her off, or where she would land up. She just kept walking and crying, talking to herself at times. Once, she found herself standing before a lamp post, leaning on it, a pasted bill advertising something or other, and vomiting. Later, she heard gunfire elsewhere in the city and glimpsed other fires. Riots? She didn’t know or care. Her empathy was on Overload. Function malfunction. Imminent breakdown. She wandered, raving like a storm cloud, rained and poured, subsided, and drifted on. Each person is entitled to some portion of madness: induced by alcohol, controlled substances, euphoria or shock, the result is the same: the mind protests when it needs a break, switches off, goes offline, flashes a 404 notice, and takes a coffee break. Sheila came back to her senses to find herself standing on Lenin Sarani, looking at the door that led onto the green stairway. It was open. She had no idea how long she had been standing there. She glanced right and left, checking the street, rubbing her face to try to clear her senses. She smelled vomit and snot and bile and beneath that, the sweeter perfume of sex. The memory of the Hakkadi’s touch on her nipples was like a flashback to some alternate reality. But it took her back to the 85th floor looking out the window as the explosions began and that reconnected her mind to the yellow manila envelope with the documents, one of which had listed the date and time and place of the Kolkata attacks as well as the others across India, and that rebooted her system, brought her back down with jarring but necessary thud to the ground, and her website source code began to load again, slowly but steadily. It was her thing: her survival instinct. It was how she got through shit and kept going. It was what had kept her alive all this while through all that happened. She went on. And then she went on venting on. She still had the gun. She slipped it out of the waistband of her jeans and clicked off the safety without even needing to think about it. Training, practice, survival: her father’s voice rang in her ears. She could see the door had been broken off one hinge, the latch hanging from one precarious nail. The silence of the street whispered to her and told her the rest. She pushed open the broken door slowly and entered. The explosions are over; but the ones who planted those bombs are still around, among us. She hoped like hell some of them were still here in Matula Mama’s house. She had some ass-kicking she wanted to dole out to suitable candidates. All those interested please apply. She went up the green stairway, quick but cautious.


Page

Aadila and the Syedani kids were climbing Chotte Miyan when they heard the gunshot. At first, nobody even thought it was a gun shot. Just a loud bang that echoed through the valley and sent birds rising indignantly from trees. A flock of partridge flew northwards then swung around as if coming back to make sure they had heard right. Somewhere in the brush several yards to her left, Aadila heard something scurrying away and caught a glimpse of a shadow that she was pretty sure was a cheetal but might have been a mouse deer. There was scrabbling in the underbrush too. The forest didn’t approve of loud noises. Everybody paused and looked back, their city brains still assuming it was some kind of car backfiring or something equally innocuous. The kids went on chattering in exaggerated whispers, ostensibly obeying the no-talking rule but actually making enough noise to wake a sloth bear in hibernation. Every head rose to follow the flight of the birds as they crisscrossed the patch of blue sky visible above the tree line. A long line of thin necks craned as the flocks wheeled. Aadila used the chance to do a headcount yet again. The moment dragged on without nothing further happening. She was just thinking of using the opportunity to point out Quails and a variety of fowls that had been flushed out, intending to show the kids the subtle differences between spur fowl, pea fowl, jungle fowl—also the huge flock of Imperial Pigeons that now majestically added their number to the exodus— when the second shot rang out. This time, realization caught up with their Twin City brains that there were no cars here. Nor was there anything else several miles around capable of producing such a loud, obviously man-made sound. Everybody paused and glanced at each other. The kids stopped chattering. The sound of the birds above grew very loud in the ensuing silence. It sounded like the bleating of goats for some reason. There was nothing for several moments. Aadila held out a hand to indicate to the girls to stay where they were while she walked a few steps to the right, hoping to spot the camp site from the ridge. But the tree growth was too dense and all she could see were silvery flecks of sunshine reflecting off the lake, not even the lake itself, just those glinting sparkles in the dimness of the tree cover. If this was Bade Miyan they would have a clear view but Chotta Miyan prided himself in his luxuriant beard of tree cover, making it impossible to see anything. She turned her head and cupped her ear, trying to enhance her hearing, but that was a #fail too. Behind her, she sensed everyone waiting, the girls not yet nervous or anxious. They were all orphans and as such expected life to have a few rough edges which was why she had convinced Khadijah to let her bring them on this trip: Aadila was tired of guiding Cyberabad types who spent their Deccani Adventure weekends bitching about their colleagues and bosses or raving over some new tech innovation that would be passé by next week. These kids were totally in touch with the real world: they knew it was big and brutal and yet they intended to find their place in it and stake it out, without needing to stamp a corporate brand logo with every footfall. She enjoyed the conversations even if the questions got a bit much at times and was quite proud of how they had managed on the first two treks yesterday and the day before. Today they seemed a bit over-confident, acting like three days in the wild made them winners of a reality TV show, but that was all right so long as they remained alert and cautious. The wilderness could be harsh and unforgiving of even the smallest mistakes. She didn’t want a repetition of the cobra incident.

91

1.4


92 Page

She didn’t even want to think of that again. The poor systems analyst. Well, not really poor-poor but still. The fact that she had thought of the cobra incident itself made her aware that her instincts were warning her. Aadila respected nature and the the natural way of things enough to respect her own instincts. They had never failed her yet, though they had saved her life and the lives of others more than once. She knew that she was sensing something bad going down and that was enough for her to take precautions. “Girls,” she began—and stopped. Another gun shot. This one unmistakable. Nobody who had seen Bollywood movies or even a Republic Day Parade on television could have any doubt. That was a gun shot. A sharp cracking sound, loud enough to send echoes ringing through the valley and birds rising in protest again. Several somethings scurried in the underbrush and this time she distinctly heard thudding hooves and glimpsed antlers and dark chocolate flanks rippling at the periphery of her vision: a black buck. Magnificent in his winter coat. But there was no time to dwell on natural beauty. Then a volley of gun shots. Bang bang bang bang bang. Bang-bang. Was that the sound of more than one gun firing? Hadn’t the sound of the shots overlapped? Now she was beyond the lessons of Bollywood and television. This was India after all. Even the police rarely used their weapons except to fire on minority crowds. Dilshad and Maryamma were following her lead, but she could sense their tension without needing to look at them directly. They were waiting for her to say what to do next. Commands inspired confidence and kept groups calm. “Girls,” she said clearly and calmly, “Sit down exactly where you are right now, and be very quiet, please.” They did as she asked, dropping down cross-legged at once, back packs thudding. Some of them had grumbled about carrying the full load the third day in a row but she had been firm about it: “First survive,” she had reminded them. That was Rule#1 of wilderness camping. They had shrugged and made faces but they loved her too much to protest further. She knew this was the most fun they had had in their 12-year lifespans and while the backpacks were a pain to lug around, after one got used to them, they weren’t so bad. Besides, there was no alternative: they could hardly use mules or llamas to lug all their tuck around, as one bright IT geek had once suggested. She didn’t need to ask if he had read too many Tintins. He had a tee shirt on with an image of the little curly tufted fellow running, Snowy at heel: the sequel movie, not the books. She sat with them, to encourage them but also as a precaution. If there were bullets flying around, the best place to be was on the ground. Bad enough they were on high ground. She estimated they were no more than a kilometer from the campsite. The tree cover might protect them from any bullets that strayed in this direction, but was it really worth taking a risk? 24 young lives depended on her. She glanced back at them and saw those two dozen faces now watching her anxiously. The acceptance had been replaced by concern: this was not a flat tyre on the bus or an injured student needing to be rushed to the Emergency Ward. Gun shots were flying. Something was happening and it was obviously not good. D and M were round-eyed, exchanging glances but keeping silent as they were trained to do in an emergency. But even those glances were being noticed by the girls and it was evident to everyone that something seriously bad was happening. She smiled to reassure everyone and was about to tell them that it would be all right, that there was probably some explanation for the sounds, when the screaming began.


Aditi Rao THEY SAY THE EARTH FEELS DIFFERENT WHEN ONE HAS STOOD AT ITS EDGE, WATCHING SHIPS DISAPPEAR He is beautiful, with a soft “t” – I imagine your voice long after you've lost it. You lie in bed, the sickness in your bones pinning you, eyelid to toenail, hair-tip to heel-bone. Your mother writes to say you think of me daily. I share a heartbroken cup of coffee with the man I am falling in love with. The barista calls tall white chocolate mocha. I jerk my head, expect you to walk in, weighed down by groceries and textbooks. Then, I remember the ocean between us, grow angry at the woman drinking your drink. I tell him how I sent you all my prayers, how you returned half, covering them first in smiley faces and sketches of baby hippos, attaching a note: I have enough. You need these too. I love you. He asks if I need to be held. I am not sure if comfort is disloyal (can a bucket full of grief still have room for gladness?). Your hand is far away; I hold on to his. He is a sculptor. I want you to meet him. Please live. NOVEMBER IN NEW YORK The ten headed demon god I have known since childhood is hiding. I have searched everywhere, island to island, but he has not been slain here. A friend reminds me

of his birthday, the reminder that he is still here,

Page

other lives we have been searching for, other people who did not find roads back. He is surprised by the city across the river – that it exists – rides the ferry to and fro, afraid

93

of video games he played as a child, shooting monsters who found roads leading back from death. They were bad, they deserved to die. It used to be simple. We remember


unhidden. We decorate our floors with candles, bread flour, and orange flowers -- vain attempts to attract the gods or bring back the dead, just for a day, just for today. In a garland of marigolds, I can string three homes across my front door but the florist's daughter tells me the flower is out of season. RUBBER, PLASTIC, AND GAUZE As he tapes your eye shut, as he clips your eye open, as he trims your eyelash, waiting as he asks if you are comfortable; shrugging, nodding, waiting for the light to scatter into a million lights, coming together, flying apart; waiting as that cool drop in your eye flows out, a hot streak across your cheek; waiting for the numbness; watching a scalpel move back and forth, asking, learning he is scraping your eye; hanging between wonder and disgust--I can see you scraping my eye--listening, a crackling, a new smell, a silence, a crackling, a room filling with an odor stronger than iodine, a room that smells of burning flesh; growing used to the smell of your flesh burning, the smell filtering through your pores, working into your brain, settling into crevices; you, leaving the room, the building, the city, the country, the medicines, the pain, carrying the smell in your brain; washing, unable to wash, learning to be afraid of a smell; learning that no one else you know knows the smell you grew up with; learning that no one makes love to the smell of burning flesh, learning to mask the smell, learning not to want to mask it; learning not to apologize; wanting not to want to apologize; learning to smell beyond the smell; learning the joy of night-time brushing in the dark, getting used to the joy of day-time brushing in the dark, to nights and days that merge and flow and cling; getting used to speaking softly when noise becomes violence; getting used to waiting; getting used to learning;

Page

Over morning coffee, you feel a stranger's tears trickle down your windpipe, you choke on grief to which you have no right. You want to massage between his lungs and his ribs, those hollowed out muscles that ache after a nightful of tears. You read obituary after obituary, unsure why you find comfort in poorly spelled condolences. You remember the flutter of a butterfly's wings can prevent a tornado, and you long for that kind of power. You remember butterflies cause tornadoes,

94

SOMEONE ELSE'S GRIEF


freeze. When your wings no longer hold the weight of newspapers, you let them flap, hoping to balance the stranger's world on the back they grow from, hoping to prevent a storm in a place you have never heard of. You feel your own griefs jump through your skin – frogs after first rain. You understand the stranger's grief and yours hang at different ends of the same rope. You learn to love the smell of wet jute bruising your palm where you hold it too tightly. UNDERRIVER Look: there, under that rock, is the rangoli I made, grinding brick against stone. And there, where the current slows, my brother found frogs to throw at me on rainy nights. By the boulder split in two, was my parents' room. And here, directly under us, is the last of the matchboxes I fashioned into playing cards. And this rushing white you hear, this is the language of my sleep. Listen. I need you to fall in love with this underriver. REINCARNATION

Page

Her body was a map littered with pins to keep track of where her friends had been.

95

I come from a long line of dreams like sand-dunes.


They are redrawing the boundaries on my body – it will be the same continental mass with new lines. Her ashes live in four continents.

They've hacked me to pieces many times. She loved a lizard once. It taught her she could be friends with her fears.

Am I giving a good gift to the woman who will bear this child next? We give birth to ourselves, the rest is coincidence.

Sometimes you hang by a handrail or a footrest. Sometimes the best you can do is grab someone's shirt, pray the fabric is strong. Sometimes, the bus leaves without you

My mother taught me what I forget in this life, I can re-learn in the next. Will you still have children?

Page

96

I will say goodbye to the lizard.


FICTION Robin Leigh Anderson

5

This is an extract from the author’s soon to be published novel Accept the Broken Heart. ©Robin Leigh Anderson

Page

Irene looked furtively around the small Vietnamese village. “I’m not at all comfortable in leaving you here,” she said. “There has to be a way…” “But there isn’t,” I interrupted. I tightened down the straps which held the stretcher onto the back seat of the Jeep. “Look, these people are nice, more than willing to put me up until someone can come back for me. Unless you want to handle this boy’s hot appendix right here, right now,” I added. “C’mon,” Kate said, jumping in behind the steering wheel. “We’ll barely get back to the compound by dark. Sissy, you behave yourself.” “What’m I gonna do?” I said with an exaggerated shrug. “Go, go.” I waved them off and watched as the Jeep disappeared down the track. “He’ll be fine,” I said in Vietnamese to the very worried young mother standing next to me. She looked up at me, her chin trembling. I put my arm around her shoulders and we walked into her simple low hut. She hesitated a moment, then started to prepare the evening meal. I sat down on the low wooden bench and picked up a basket of greens. She gave me an unsteady smile and returned to washing the bowl of rice before her. A May sunset in any hills can be breathtaking. Standing on the edge of the upper deep green terrace next to the village my heart ached for home. This was the first year of my young life that I’d lived without several feet of snow, gale-force Hellgate winds that made the chill factor plummet to double digits below zero, the startling warm Chinook winds that melted everything to slush by day which then froze to perilous ice after sundown. I smiled. I didn’t miss black ice. Give me acres of mud over something so dangerous that can’t even be seen. The sun disappeared behind the far hill. I stepped back up onto the level of the village in the gray dusk. The people were retiring to their homes for the night. I returned to the hut of the young mother whose child would be in surgery in the valley far below. She was praying quietly in one corner, a simple wood bead rosary in one hand. I sat down on the packed dirt next to her and joined her in prayer. I’d only kept a sleeping bag and a few personal toiletries. After prayer, there was little else to do but turn in for the night. We had left the IR compound early that morning and I was tired. The quiet young woman blew out the few candles and we settled down. I was dozing off when I heard a familiar whistling sound, followed immediately by a resounding explosion. It created the maximum amount of terror for the VC and NVA to shell at night in civilian areas, when everyone was supposedly safe and secure in their own homes. People clamored out of their little dwellings, women screaming, babies and children crying. This was what the VC wanted, fear. A little old woman ran up to me and asked me in a trembling voice if I knew how big the shells were. I couldn’t think of a comforting reply. A bullet from a handgun, a shell from a howitzer, they could both kill.

97

ALL GODS SMILE5


98 Page

A clear voice from the edge of the village called everyone to attention. I recognized the quiet old man that the others had nodded to as they passed, in deference and respect, the one they had called the native word that meant a combination of Elder and Leader. Screaming stopped, children quieted, and everyone hurried toward him. I picked up two small children stumbling along and followed the man. I hadn’t noticed much of the surrounding area during the day, because we’d been so busy with sick call and the boy’s prep and transport. I was startled when we rounded the side of the last hut and before us in the pale moonlight stood a huge stone structure set into the hillside, overgrown with tangled vines. The man led us into the interior of the old temple and busied himself getting everyone settled in family groups against the back wall. He took the first child from me and handed her off to her grandmother. The second child scrambled down and into the waiting arms of his older sister. The wizened old man took my arm and gently led me to where the frightened mother of the ailing boy sat. He gave me a warm smile and touched his heart with one leathered hand. There was such peace in this man, exuding from those soft brown eyes directly into my soul. I sat down and joined several women in prayer. Every time I looked up throughout the tense night, the little old man was seated in the same stone niche, carving slowly and deliberately on a small block of dark wood in the pale light of the few candles we had with us. It was impossible to tell from how far away the shells were being fired or how close to the village they were striking, or even who the intended target really was. For some reason I felt safe, as if the old man had known what he was doing sheltering us here. No one could sleep, not even the littlest ones, because the explosions came just often enough that none of us could relax before the next one hit. Sometimes the ground shook and dust rained down from between the large stone blocks. Other strikes were farther away, a muffled roar. There was no apparent pattern, no regular intervals, but not an hour went by that night that there were fewer than five shells flying overhead and landing somewhere in the vicinity. And the old man carved on, paying rapt attention to the form that only he saw within the grain of the wood. The entrance to the temple faced due east, and the first rays of the morning sun gave us all hope that the frightening night was over. I considered the VC cowards, hitting under cover of night, targeting innocents, creating chaos in non-combat areas. In the morning light they would slither back to their holes, leaving everyone to rebuild after senseless violence. The old man sat up straight, closed his knife, and put it and the carving in the pouch at his waist. He rose from his stone perch, dusted himself off, and walked toward the light. The villagers got up and followed him, slowly, hesitantly, until everyone stood together in the bright morning sunshine in the center of the village. Miraculously none of the structures of the village were destroyed, but there was collateral damage from shrapnel and concussion. Without words everyone started picking up and cleaning up and straightening up. Some of the women paused long enough to gather food for everyone. We ate the simple meal while we continued our efforts. I was glad I alone had spent such a frightening night. The other girls could never have kept this from Patty, but I learned from the master how to both lie and tell the truth with a straight face. No harm had come to any of us, so there was no real reason for her to know, to have one more burden of worry.


Page

99

I should have known Fate would not be that kind to me. We had no sooner finished our labors than a familiar Jeep came roaring up the track. I sighed heavily as Patty threw the parking brake and jumped out. “What the fuck happened here!” Patty demanded as she strode over to me. “The whole damned side of the mountain is peppered with pock marks from shelling, fresh shelling,” shel she emphasized. “Interesting night,” I said as casually as I could manage. “How’s the boy, it was appendix, wasn’t it.” “Got it right before it would’ve burst,” Patty said, “and don’t change the subject.” “That is the subject, ma’am,” I said eve evenly, nly, “the health and care of these people. We spent the night in an old temple over there.” I nodded toward the hillside. “It was… interesting,” I said again. “Please, don’t come unglued, we all came through just fine.” “You shouldn’t have stayed behi behind,” Patty frowned. “Any of us could have been here overnight,” I said. “We couldn’t leave the boy behind. There wasn’t room for all of us. It’s over, I’m OK, we’re all OK. Go tell the woman about her son.” “Then we’ll go home,” Patty said firmly. “Home,” Home,” I echoed. “You know what I mean,” Patty snapped. “That I do,” I agreed. “I’ll go get my stuff.” I gathered my things together and rose with difficulty from the floor of the hut, only to stop short at the sight of the figure before me. The littl littlee old man stood only a foot from me, that gentle smile on his sweet face. He reached into the pouch under his shirt and pulled out a small figure of dark wood. He handed it to me. I turned it over in my palm and examined the uplifted arms, the smooth round und belly, the gleeful grin. “A happy Buddha?” I chuckled. “He name Tao,” the wizened old man said. “You not know, all gods smile?” I smiled for the entire trip back down the mountain to the compound, the wooden figure bulging in my jacket pocket.


NON FICTION Bhaswati Ghosh TALKING TREES AND LITERARY PATHS

This felt nice, this dance of light on leaves The wild shalbon storm makes my heart quiver. Haat commuters dart through the auburn road, A little girl sits alone on the dust and spreads her toys Witnessing all this strikes the cords of my heart’s veena.

Page

I grew up listening to that song. Later I started singing it. Experiencing the shalbon or Shorea Rubusta forests for real, however, remained an intangible dream for me. Now a chance to witness these forests appeared, as I and my mother headed to a shalbon repository and Rabindranath Tagore’s gift to learners of all denominations—Santiniketan. As the train sped past uncompromising tracts of green towards West Bengal’s Bolpur station, the prospect of living the poet’s rhapsody made me ecstatic. A heavy downpour received us at the station. “It’s been raining non-stop for the past two days, Didibhai,” Anwar, our rickshaw-puller told me. I sighed. We still had two more days to spend in this green abode, though. Anwar promised to return to our lodge at 4 p.m. to take us on a rickshaw jaunt. Shortly after we finished lunch—rice, lentils, finely fried potato juliennes, and fish curry—the clock struck four. The rain had stopped. On climbing climbed down our second-floor room, we found Anwar waiting for us with his frail rickshaw and curved smile. “Come, Didibhai, I will show you a few things around here today. You have come such a long way, from Delhi. How can you miss Gramchhara oi ranga matir pawth, Khoai, or a Santhal village?” The deal sounded more than inviting, if somewhat amusing. Graamchhara oi ranga matir pawth, aamar mon bhulaye rey is the first line of a Tagore song, loosely translating to “That ruddy road down the village makes my heart stray.” Past visits to this place had revealed almost every road in this terrain to be reddish brown; what was the big deal in witnessing such a road? The Santhal village beckoned me though. I jumped up to the rickshaw. Born in Bolpur, Anwar had taken up his father’s trade and pulled his jittery rickshaw along the red roads for thirty years. Although his sun-stained skin had wrinkled, he looked fit enough for his daily ten-hour shift of rickshaw ride through often steep and narrow roads. He knew every nook and bend in and around Santiniketan. His facile guide-like manner of introducing the spots, soft speech, and a knowing smile made him a pro. Soon we were past the main precincts of Tagore’s university and its scattered department buildings. The tranquil isolation of the place coupled with the see-saw rhythm of the rickshaw ride had an intoxicating effect. The joy to wander through a dirt road carelessly bracketed by unspoilt, haphazard vegetation, had a raw quality to it, too organic to translate into language. At one point, Anwar stopped his rickshaw. “Step down for a moment, Didibhai, and look nicely at

100

(Rabindranath Tagore)


this road. It was while walking here that Gurudeb got the inspiration to write Graamchhara oi ranga matir pawth.” I capered off the rickshaw, almost tripping over, not wanting to miss my moment of standing on such a historic path. Only when we had extensively traveled with him did I know better than to take Anwar’s stock of Gurudeb’s—as Tagore is reverently called— writing trivia as facts. But the lack of authenticity didn’t make them any less engaging. Just a few steps down the road, some more literary “history” had taken roots. Anwar brought us to a giant banyan tree, which appeared like three trees merging into one. Twisted roots embraced the branches like a thousand gnarled snakes, even as the azure specks off a setting sun danced through the gaps in the branches. This wasn’t an ordinary banyan tree, Anwar told us. “You may want to take some photographs of this one. Once when Gurudeb was walking by this tree, he came across a potter carrying his ware on a bullock cart.” What followed from Anwar’s lips was the story of how Tagore elicited some family history from the potter, scribbling it all into a rhymed verse for children, moments later.

A bullock cart from the potter’s quarters goes laden with pots and pitchers Bongshibadan drives the cart With him is his nephew, Madan, smart. (Rabindranath Tagore)

Page

The farmlands carved out of forests in the west Merge with the indigo mist across the green horizon; In between stands a Santhal village, Enveloped with mango, tal, tamarind, and jam trees; A long shadow-less path curves out by the side Like the intricate red border of a green sari. …

101

According to Anwar, Tagore had met Bongshibadan and Madan right by the landmark banyan tree. Given the recurrence of the lives of ordinary people in Tagore’s writings, this story seemed plausible. I couldn’t help imagining that had he lived in our times, the bearded bard might even have put Anwar’s character in a short story or a poem. As the tale of Tagore’s foray into genealogical verse-making ended, the promise of Khoai, a special spot dear to the poet’s muse, began alluring us. I had become familiar with this place through Tagore’s poems and letters as well as Ma’s reminiscences of her student days in Viswabharati, the university Tagore set up in Santiniketan. When Anwar’s rickshaw paused a little later, I thought he wanted to catch his breath. Instead it turned out Khoai had arrived. On looking around I just saw more green vegetation and ruddy dirt road. What could be so special about this place? As my eyes searched for the answer, Ma and Anwar called my attention to a massive indentation in the ground. Tagore himself had named the area around this spectacular land formation “Khoai” because of the undulating laterite patterns.


There’s a fissure at the northern end of this path, The earth has eroded, A silent upheaval of red stone— Rusty black soil peeks out in places like Mahishasur’s head. In one corner, the earth has created many a small play hills with rain hammerings, Beneath them flows a nameless river of play.

Page

Apart from being a tourist attraction, this unusual geological formation is today the site of crafts and controversies. Every Saturday, local craftsmen bring their products for sale at a weekly fair organized by Shyamali-di (Shyamali Khastagir, who passed away last year), an exstudent of Viswabharati. Shyamali-di would express to us her concerns about the fair’s longevity. Government backed efforts to build upscale heritage sites and housing complexes around Khoai were gaining ground. Not only would this become a roadblock in the way of artisans selling their crafts directly to customers, it would also disturb the area’s ecological balance. Santiniketan, as envisaged and laid down by Tagore, was a center of learning pivoted on freedom, individual expression, and harmony. In a celebration of nature and its bonding with humans, classes, to this day, are held under the shade of trees spread across the campus premises. The Nobel laureate remained close to the land and its people all through his life. Yet, most of the visionary writer’s ideas are becoming as historic as his belongings preserved at the Santiniketan museum. Or rather disappearing, just like the vanishing of the original Nobel Prize medal awarded to the poet. Anwar winded his rickshaw towards the promised tribal village. The sun had begun retreating, and the rising cricket noise stirred the air. On the way were a couple of forests. Eucalyptus and Shonajhuri trees crowded the first one. Not far from it stood another forest. Finally, the song of my childhood had manifested itself into verdant reality. An expansive shalbon—tall trees with wide, spread-out leaves—surrounded us. The surrealism of poetryinduced imagination mingled with real flora overtook me for a while. Even though no “wild storm” blew, the delicate brushing of shal leaves against my face as I tried to capture them in my camera felt rapturous. The members of this massive green congregation appeared to whisper to each other. These forests were part of the West Bengal forest department’s aforestation drive, Anwar told us. Ironic, I thought, when the same government was pushing efforts to turn big chunks of this green reserve into commercial wasteland. A thin film of daylight clung about as we approached the Santhal village. As dusk overpowered that film, we walked into the village. The setting felt more phantasmagoric than any place I had seen. This was almost a model, straight out of a film set. Built entirely of mud and hay, the village was spotless except for instant nature-call-disseminations by roosters, hens, and goats. Emphatic clucking and bleating had replaced cricket noises. At a distance, two cows were busy cuddling fodder. The Santhals are a hard-working tribe and the largest indigenous community in the Indian subcontinent. Close-knit and peace loving, they rely on agriculture for subsistence.

102

(Rabindranath Tagore)


Peeking inside a hut in the village, I saw some basic utensils, aluminum pots to cook rice, a few plates and glasses, and earthen stoves. The walls had been plastered with cow dung cakes, to be used as fuel. Outside the thatched huts, groups of men smoked tobacco from hookahs and gossiped over card games. The womenfolk tended to house chores—drawing water from the well, gathering firewood, taking off the dung cakes. Santhals speak both Bengali and their indigenous language. Ma asked a couple of women if we could enter the huts to see how they look. They didn’t reply, just smiled shyly. Anwar pleaded with them, but without any luck.

My mud hut is getting built, Many laborers have gathered. Laying down their backs to the sun, They build the foundation. At times a distant train whistle is heard The day wears down, the hours go by, The gong of bells rings across the endless sky. I cast a glance and think, a little ashamed, This young girl has nurtured in her body and soul A woman’s innate self-dedication with tender care. And here I am, employing her For paid labor— Stealing the power that money insults with a wage. The Santhal girl brings over a soil-heaped basket. (Rabindranath Tagore)

Page

103

When Anwar pulled his rickshaw out of the village, darkness made it hard to see the surroundings. Once every few hundred meters, light would gleam through houses built right in the middle of woods. Most of these mud-concrete structures—stark yet creatively carved out— had been erected by ex-students and teachers of Kala Bhavan, Viswabharati’s art department. How could artists not turn to such quiet, unpolluted environs to sustain their spirits? I wondered how Anwar rode the rickshaw through such pitch darkness. When I asked him how he managed it through these uneven roads, he laughed and said, “Been at it for thirty years, Didibhai. Darkness is our friend, never does us any harm.” The rickshaw sped past, and where students astride bicycles broke the stillness, the spark of fireflies brought a warm interruption to the night’s envelope. The fantastical trip ended in a few hours. Or did it? The Santhal girl’s shy grin, the smell of burning firewood mingling with earthy cow dung odor, the shadow of the talking shal trees, and Anwar’s toothless smile still flicker about me, interrupting the rush of city madness with a firefly’s sudden cadence.


POEMS Vivekanand Selvaraj THE GOD'S NEW MANGY COAT Mom told me the god is the focus of our prayers even if there was no god , our thoughts in their resonance would create one.. I took that for a fact The other day in temple, in the middle of puja a stray dog entered the temple porch and the minds of devotees..... Armed with brooms, sticks, belief and disgust, they threw the dog out and again it returned like before, like a fastidious epidemic... in that strange night of role reversal, I saw a new god------I saw Him just ' as I see you here , in a much intenser sense'... and he kept them all together in his stray manginess and brooms became his puja lamps

Page

his day was the sun's shadow over jantar mantar

104

THE GUIDE


same place, same time everyday "he show you jaipur in the best possibel manner" he was not foolish forgive the pronunciation but he gave the bourgeoisie crowd what it wanted.. a touch of patriotism giving them the right to nostalgia of a royalty they never were... for some time, he was the shaman and we responded to his call everytime.. gathered and hunted , devoured like pitiable hyenas, what was left of a decaying grandeur and the forgotten sweat of a thousand other slaves In the evening, he drove us all to the amber palace, where, like a true son of the princely house he visited everyday, the hall of the public audience and the 12 secret stairways to the 12 favourite wives with unflinching fidelity and inspected the polo grounds his highness had loved

Page

in the dusk, we dropped him in the vegetable market for his bus home

105

in the water palace, he slowly became melancholy and withdrawn.. his booming voice a whisper now...


He had hidden his fake ray-ban glasses by then

Avishek Parui ON THE SHORES Suppose this is the last song before the lights go out before the waxwings melt away across the greedy clouds... Would you still look away turn on the radio Would you weave a whisper aloud so that the sirens don't get to know? Suppose this is the last draft before they tear it away before the meanings turn to words again till all the whites grow grey.. Suppose this is the last voice before they bury it deep before the moonskin ripens it all for the poison seeds... Would you still look away till all the blood grew cold till all the birds had flown away and all the lies were told?

When I was nine someone told me

Page

PARADIGMPARADIGM-SHIFTS

106

They'll come in droves they'll take you too and you'll never get to know how right was the pain you left many shrieks ago...


that all straight lines are really parts of circles somewhere hidden or too huge to see or scale… I thought it would be nice if all lines merged into their circles someday spreading through my game of counting cars from my little window that turned to blue balloons across the slanting afternoons when the hairy hands would be away… As I grew through the cold smokes and scary stains screams, dreams, acid rains and the inadequate idioms of many men along the pockets of flinches and falls I never could quite forget those hairy hands and the loneliness of lines cut down from the blue balloons of sweeter circles somewhere above…

Page

And the shocks they send through me twice every month whisper to my nerves their stories of pain which merge with mine

107

Now at twenty-nine I am a straight line in a woman’s body lain down to learn that there’s a formula forced for everything except that which is bred by the moments between clock-ticks when the guards change shifts and your special circle appears in liquid lights across fire drills…


in cold glass rooms with wires and masked men trained to read the laws of loss between high windows where no lights cross‌

Changming Yuan

NATURAL CONFRONTATIONS 1/ Lotus From foul, decayed silt At the very bottom Of a big lake of dirty murk You shoot clean Against the morning sun Always pure Crystal Unpollutable 2/ Seagull With its sharp wings Feathered with The light of thunder The seabird is cutting open The curtain of a whole season Along the borderline Between the seas and the sky

Page

Turning, twirling In ever smaller circles A vortex in the stream Seems to be sucking in All the waters on earth Like the black hole Trying to swallow The whole universe

108

3/ Vortex


JANUARY 2: FOR YUAN HONGQI That was the day when my father died Before finishing the longevity noodles Mom’s trying to feed him below our feet On the other face of the planet, where He had persisted long enough to allow Us to celebrate another new year’s day In Jingzhou as well as in Vancouver When my brother’s only son managed to Travel all the way to Grandpa’s dying bed To report how he was doing in New York This was also the time when I and Hengxiang Felt like making love again after another Cold war, when Iran successfully test fired Two long-range range missiles in the Persian Gulf To deter the invasion to be led by Uncle Sam And his running dogs, when the ver very first Plymouth Neon was made in 2000, when JFK Became a senator in 1960, when a stamped Took 66 human lives after a soccer game At the Ibrox Park Stadium in Scotland Even earlier and when God was taking A long overdue nap, since he knew All was well with this wild wild world

Page

109

On that day, I became the oldest male In my entire family, ready to take my turn To deal with death in a masculine manner


Kenny Knight THE HONICKNOWLE BOOK OF THE DEAD6 I'm waiting for the arrival of the pit I'm standing outside a telephone box on the comer of Parade and Crownhill Road. I'm waiting for the newsagents on my favourite street corner to become Easterbrooks again. Waiting for Dewhurst and Liptons to make their long-awaited comebacks like Dr Who and the Daleks.

6

These extracts from the author’s 2009 poem collection The Honicknowle Book of the Dead have been published here with his due permission. ŠKenny Knight.

Page

The patriots in the crowd are waving flags. Royalists take photographs for the mantelpiece and someone in the crowd thinks this is a fairytale and someone in the crowd thinks she'd like to a princess in a party dress of royal blue. And I remember thinking I'd never in so many people gathered together in one place, never realised there were so many people living in the world, never saw so many hands, waving, furiously waving, on both sides of the Crownhill Road, and the Queen Mother waves back, don't even stop for fish and chips.

110

I'm standing aged ten or eleven years old, midway between the bus shelter and the fish and chip shop. There's crowds of people, packed four or five deep on both sides of the Crownhill Road, as the Queen Mother passes through West Park on her way to the Tamar Bridge with a pair of pink scissors and a bottle of Plymouth Gin.


I'm waiting for the arrival of the past, glancing back over my shoulder down the badly lit tunnel of the last forty years to the lost online of Coronation Street and the Crossroads Motel, where the real life of television. migrated into the living room. So at age sixteen I go into exile and walk under the bright lights of adolescence down an infinity of Crownhill Roads where The Royal Family will never live, and I begin to fall in love with the poetry of street corners and I begin to save my paper boy money for Catherine wheels, and I begin to save for Christmas. And I don't want a bicycle, I don't want a train set, I want a garden shed which I'll call Buckingham Shed, I'll make this shed a centre of popular entertainment a night club in the back garden for nocturnal readings from The Honicknowle Book Of The Dead I'm waiting for the arrival of my knighthood, waiting for a member of The Royal Family to officially open Buckingham Shed, to step inside onto bright red lino only to discover it's really a Tardis, decked out in bunting from across the vast empires of time and space.

Page

111

I'm waiting for the arrival of the past, waiting to win the Nobel Prize for being your plaything, waiting for The Honicknowle Book Of The Dead to be published, waiting for the fourteenth Dalai Lama to buy it from the shop next door to the shop next door.


THE HOUSE ON HONICKNOWLE LANE The house is where the birds have come to land and live from above and beneath the ceiling they sleep and fly. The house was built for stories to be collected and read. From cover to undercover, the sperm of archaeology in the eyes of the architect. The house is dark. We make movies in our slap. The scripts never make sense come the sequel of morning. The house is five miles from the sea and its gangs of pirates, who bob about, ship-lift and salvage with pre Industrial Revolution tools of sword and flintlock. The bed and the sea bed are twinned with the Earth and the sky. The house has two bedrooms with brown and blue windows. At night I walk through the lands of the house, thinking about an horizon of flesh, thinking about the coven of the bed. I'm an owl in the dark my skin is invisible. This is my tree, in the neighbourhood of others, my home in the sky, above the bungalows by the river. Every night inside the house I emigrate to the land of sleep, to my second home under the duvet free of the street corner until morning finds me homesick. I know my bedtime movies will never be shown on bedtime television my bedtime stories will never be told, but who will write down and record the minutes of sleep?

I'm reading Cormac McCarthy and thinking about eating

Page

Inside the house the television dominates with twenty four hour small talk.

112

Inside the house, the radio talks to itself and I talk to myself, and talk to myself. a language shared with others not included in this conversation.


a bar of Galaxy from the underground supermarket. All the pretty lights are galloping across the room. The cowboy movie is wild but the television is a domestic appliance. The house is in orbit around the stun and back, like walking hand in hand around the block we rise with the sun for breakfast and set the table for tea. I take your hand and fall asleep gazing into your brown eyes. When you're away from home I write love poems and sleep with them, in the aftermath of your arms. Late at night I walk through the quiet rooms of the house. While I'm yours I'll never know love in a bungalow. Some nights I snore like a foghorn and mermaids grow feet to reach me. Tomorrow I may wake to find you crocheting a hat in the bright colours of a flowered I lay on a quilt in the back garden. I'm a happily married man. I've been happily married for two weeks now. Celebrating the anniversary of a fortnight of bliss. The house we live in is in the constellation of romance. The house we live in is on Honicknowle Lane. I'm in the greenhouse with the bumble bee queen. We're just come back from our honeymoon in Buckingham Shed. We're eating dinner and organising an exhibition of wedding memorabilia.

Page

113

The future's looking bright for double egg and chips, but the past never invites you back for lunch.


Arjun Rajendran OVER A CUP OF COFFEE

After Stephen Dobyns Over a cup of coffee, he remembers strangers—some girl in a train who’d dozed off on his shoulder; the morning had whisked her away, past cries of tea vendors and into the lap of obscurity. Over a cup of coffee, he forgets his body at the table, facing the early snowfall, and is seven again, pedaling away on his bicycle with such speed, the postman stares agog as flies breach his mouth. Over a cup of coffee, he is under the stars; her hair blowing across his face, lovesick coyotes punctuating the silence, and he wishing they were tethered to the moment, and not inching towards dawn. Half-way through his cup, a voice in his head is urging

But he just sits over his cup of coffee reminiscing lost worlds,

Page

himself again, become once more, a member of the living.

114

him to leave, pack his bags and travel so far, he might find


Page

115

letting the steam escape like a fleeting chance at happiness.

August 2012  

August 2012, The Four Quarters Magazine