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Jan-Feb 2015 Vol 5 Issue 1 64 pages

Editorial

short fiction essays verse reviews So, have you been naughty or nice? Whether one is a child writing to Santa or a grownup taking stock of the rights and wrongs in the year gone by, this is the time when most of us reflect on the achievements that have been and plan, ever hopefully, for those yet to be. Indeed, given the recent happenings around us and the sombre, introspective world mood, it feels almost irrelevant to plan anything at an individual level. The show, as they say, goes on. Every issue, we make a trip to the general post office with the subscriber copies. It is a pleasure - the GPO is a beautiful heritage building and the staff is enthusiastic. We don’t always get the new, high-tech franking machine but the process is super fast anyway and fraught with danger – sometimes the frank mark doesn’t quite fall on the sticker and sometimes the carefully sorted bundles get mixed up or the rubberbands around them snap! For those of you who love going to the post too, we’re delighted to present ‘The Story Of India Post’ in this issue, courtesy writer Sreelata Menon, who has a personal connection too, you will discover. In ‘Vinyl Days’ Anu Kumar describes her love for Hindustani classical music, and it is a love that is not purely for the art form itself but for all the memories associated with it. Cyrus Mistry, whose ‘chronicle of a Corpse Bearer’ won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014, chats with Reading Hour in this issue. We also feature an interview with popular watercolourist Milind Mullick, son of veteran illustrator Pratap Mullick who worked for Amar Chitra Katha. I was surpised some years ago, to recognise a childhood playmate in a TV advertisement, smiling about being married to a ‘cook’. This was the commercial featuring Mr and Mrs Sanjeev Kapoor. Recently we renewed contact, and she shares in this issue titbits of her life with a celebrity chef. And there is plenty of short fiction, and poetry too. Do write to us at readinghour@differsense.com with your feedback. Happy reading. ~ Editor

facebook.com/readinghour readinghour.in Published, owned, & printed by Vaishali Khandekar. Printed at National Printing Press, 580, KR Garden, Koramangala, Bangalore-560095. Published at 177-B, Classic Orchards, Bannerghatta Rd, Bangalore-560076. Editor: Vaishali Khandekar. Editing Support: Arun Kumar, Manjushree Hegde. Subscriptions, business enquiries, feedback: readinghour@differsense.com / Ph: +91 80 26595745 Subscription Details: Print (within India only) / Electronic (PDF): Annual subscription Rs. 300/- (6 issues), 2 years Rs. 600/- (12 issues). Payment by cheque / DD in favour of ‘Differsense Ventures LLP’ payable at Bangalore. Online subscription: readinghour.in. Submissions: editors@differsense.com Advertisers: Contact Arun Kumar at arunkumar@differsense.com / +91 98450 22991 Disclaimer: Matter published in Reading Hour magazine is the work of individual writers who guarantee it to be entirely their own, and original work. Contributions to Reading Hour are largely creative, while certain articles are the writer’s own experiences or observations. The publishers accept no liability for them. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of the publisher. The publishers intend no factual miscommunication, disrespect to, or incitement of any individual, community or enterprise through this publication. Copyright ©2014-2015 Differsense Ventures LLP. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any part of this issue in any manner without prior written permission of the publisher is prohibited.


CONTENTS FICTION 3

ESSAY

The Appraisal

Shruthi Rao

8

Orange Tree

21

The Foreteller’s Fate

27

The Worm Turns

39

The Banyan Tree

53

So Is Your Destiny

Jim Wungramyao Kasom Prarthana C

Neera Kashyap

The Story Of India Post 41

Adreyo Sen

Sreelata Menon

Divya Dubey

POETRY 7

Memories

7

The Myth Of Fair Price

19

Kaleidoscope

20

Dhruva

33

June

40

Brown Soldiers

24

LIGHT STUFF

Keshav Athreya

FIRST PERSON 36

Vinyl Days Anu Kumar

INTERVIEW

Yuan Changming

Poornima Laxmeshwar Pranjal K Arjun Rajendran

47

B A Varghese

Interview: Alyona Sanjeev Kapoor 34

REVIEWS

34

LAST PAGE

Cover Design: M P Mohan Cover Artwork: Milind Mullick Illustration: Raghupathi Sringeri

A Story To Tell: Milind Mullick 14 Devika Khandekar

Cyrus Mistry


FICTION Shruthi writes short fiction and nonfiction for adults and children. She lives in Bangalore.

The Appraisal Shruthi Rao

N

ingavva walked with unsteady steps down the road, scanning the houses on either side. Her worn slippers slapped the cracked soles of her feet in slow rhythm. It wasn’t dark yet, but the streetlights had already been turned on. The distant hum of peak-hour traffic formed a background to more domestic sounds – the clang of a steel vessel, the whistle of a pressure cooker. The road was lined on both sides with houses set close to each other. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where one house ended and another began. Ningavva hesitated in front of a house with a jasmine plant spilling over the compound. She walked up to the iron gate and rattled the hasp. A man came out of the house. “Yes?” “Is this Shekhar-daaktar’s house?” asked Ningavva.

“Yes. You want to see him?” Ningavva nodded. “You’re early. He sees patients only after eight.” “Yes, he told me, but if it is no trouble, perhaps I could wait here...” “Come in,” said the man, and opened the gate. “Are you Krishna?” she asked. “Yes.” “Daaktar said you’d let me in.” “Where did you meet the doctor?” “At the hospital,” said Ningavva, and came in through the gate. An unpaved path led from the gate to a garage that served as the clinic. Red plastic chairs were arranged on either side of the path. Ningavva sat down and wiped the exhaustion off her face with the edge of her saree. “Water, son,” she said, touching her thumb to her lips.


FICTION Orange Tree

Jim is a travel photographer and writer, with an M.A. in mass communication. He has written for many online magazines; his ‘The Homecoming’ won 2nd Prize at the Wordweavers Short Story Contest 2012.

Jim Wungramyao Kasom

T

he warm autumn evening wrought mayhem in my mind. It was the first time I felt a serious intent to slip into Mrs. Lyngdoh’s courtyard. The lawn sprawled beyond the gate, cool and inviting. The façade of the house was baronial, exuding a charm that wasn’t without effect on me, even though such grandeur was not familiar in my world. And in the middle of the lawn stood the

honeypot that lured us, an orange tree luxuriantly festooned with ripe oranges, looking like plump, zero-watt glow-bulbs sequined on a Christmas tree. “Come on,” Ban hollered, grabbing hold of my rucksack, rotund with school books. I threw his hands off. My mind was still preoccupied with scheming a way into the house.


Interview A STORY TO TELL

Milind Mullick The only child of an illustrious artist father, Milind’s earliest memories connected with art are of presuming drawing to be a basic medium of communication. He remembers studying the Marathi alphabet as a little boy, when his inability to draw a bullock-cart (‘Kha’ for ‘khatara’) rendered him miserable, as he believed it should come as naturally as speech! Later, he did well in his Art exams and also pursued an engineering degree, only to find that it wasn’t his cup of tea. Even while studying engineering, he worked at his father’s studio, and somewhere at the back of his mind was the conviction that this would be his way of life. He did commercial architectural illustrations from 1987 to 2006; this allowed him to continue developing his painting skills unburdened by livelihood worries, and he began holding exhibitions from the year 1995. He has been established as a painter since 2000, when his first book was published. Since then he has published several more. Here, he chats with Devika Khandekar about his painting and the artist’s life.


FICTION Prarthana has an M.B.A in Human Resources. Music and books are a passion, while writing is a hobby.

The Foreteller’s Fate Prarthana C

T

here was this man, one of the few countable people whose knowledge is not limited to a handful of familiar subjects but expands to all horizons. He was a person who could hold a meaningful discussion on any subject uninterrupted; he had his opinion on all issues and took immense pride in showcasing his knowledge. But sadly, he lacked the two important traits that would have made all the rest forgivable – humility, and a respect for human sentiment. George Lark was his name but people referred to him as ‘The-B**-Know-it-all’ behind his back. Well, George passed judgement on every big and small matter and was highly exhilarated when proved right. So, when his prediction regarding the outcome of a sporting event or his forecast for the weather or for a business venture was proved correct, he would say proudly, “Ah! Didn’t I say so?”

George wasn’t the kind who would enlighten others with his opinion only on being asked. He very liberally parted with his guidance, sought or unsought. He intervened even in the most intricate of matters. So, even as he involved himself in discussions about the crops and the rain, he would comment on matters of the heart with the same aplomb. For instance, when he learned that Berty, the grocer’s son, was tying the knot with his girlfriend of five years, George went to Berty and warned him, “Berty boy, don’t waste your life on that girl. She will make it a living hell for you.” Berty, the infatuated lover, paid no heed, and went ahead with the programme. A month later, when news ran wild around the town that Berty was having a terrible time with his over-possessive wife, George frantically chased Berty down and said to him, “Fool! Didn’t I tell you so?”


Two In The Kitchen Alyona Sanjeev Kapoor chats with Reading Hour about food, cooking, and life with India’s first celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. The middle one of three sisters, Alyona was a ‘services brat’. Today, she’s an integral part of the Sanjeev Kapoor brand, happily involved in all things food and family.

You met Sanjeev though your sister – what if she had not pursued hotel management… I believe in destiny when it comes to matters of the heart! I think Sanjeev and I were destined to meet, and we would have met anyway, one way or other… How did you adapt to the loss of ‘anonymity’ post marriage? In spite of Sanjeev being a highly recognised face, we’re usually lucky to have our privacy. There are times when we go out and he is mobbed, but that is the price of success. He takes it in his stride; people have made him who he is. I am proud of what he has achieved, so the trappings of fame don’t bother me. I remember once we were holidaying with family in Agra, and went to see the Taj Mahal. A group of students spotted Sanjeev and then they refused

to leave, asking for autographs, pictures, etc. My young niece, who was down from Australia couldn’t fathom what the fuss was about, and she asked, ‘... all this for a guy who cooks?!’


Neera worked as a newspaper journalist, later specialising in environmental research and social / health communication. She enjoys interpreting ancient Indian texts for modern readers.

T

hey’ll blow it again,” said Amrit, exhaling slowly. These were the strongest words I had heard my husband use to describe the business endeavours of his brother and father, the latest of which had yoked in my mother-in-law and sister-in-law as well. The new venture was a tiffin service, Yummy Enterprises, run from our family kitchen, supplying hot meals to new office complexes nearby. This was the second business in less than two years. The first was a security service agency, started by my brother-in-law, Hukam Bhai, on Papaji’s advice. That had folded and this one was floundering. Amrit and I had met at architecture school and married a year after getting jobs in established architecture firms. Before we married, he had

FICTION The Worm Turns

warned me that he needed to live with his family and contribute to the family income. I would be expected to do the same. Hukam Bhai had married out of love and wilfulness at the unripe age of twenty, and was not qualified enough to be a reliable earner. His wife, Preeti, even less so. So, while Papaji offered us a comfortable house which he had built on a piece of land purchased under a defence services allotment – he being a retired Army major – his depreciating pension was quite inadequate for running a joint household without a major supplementary contribution. As it turned out, this major supplement was calculated to be 70% of Amrit’s and my monthly salaries, after tax. Still, we had the rest for our personal expenses, which of course, meant little saving.


First Person Vinyl Days

Anu is in the MFA program in writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, USA. She is the author most recently of the young adult novel, Atisa and his Flying Machine : in Search of Kalidasa’ and a non fiction book called ‘How do the Harappans say Hello and 16 other mysteries of Indian history’.

Anu Kumar

H

industani Classical Music: A Google search invariably brings up an impressive catch. But memories and people and things we loved? Things like my father’s old classical recordings from a collection that once included long playing and the shorter 45 and 78 rpm discs. Black shellac discs, almost like frisbees with no lips, delicate in their thin paper covering, their grooved lines and the tiny writing at every disc centre. There was one record whose every detail I still recall. Its green and red cover, the cellophane over the writing and the letters that for a time made no deep sense – that is, in the way it takes for something to be loved. Two singers and their song, a thumri, that lasted just four minutes or maybe a bit more. But I know from the way I listened to this record time and again, that

the thin paper covering frayed in no time, the cellophane came to wear a blurry look. And the times I was over-eager to pull the disc out, so its paper cover tore a bit, I learnt to stick a piece of adhesive tape cleverly on the inside, in the hope it would not catch my father’s attention. But the older that 45 rpm record looked, the more meaning it acquired. Not just for its frayed look but for its music. And of course, the two are inseparable, even in memory, for I remember simultaneously that thumri and the record it came from. Many years later, I listened again to the thumri of my childhood as it played on a CD I just had to buy. And while my old memories were not written over, yet the raw pain of nostalgia was considerably diminished. Some things are best left as they are.


FICTION Adreyo lives in Kolkata. He is doing an MFA at StonyBrook, Southampton.

The Banyan Tree Adreyo Sen

W

hen I was a boy, my mother was the District Magistrate of a tiny corner of India. Magisterially disapproving of my tendency to disappear into my books and diaries, she’d take me with her on her week-long visits to the village she was surveying, a place called Anjaan. I was a sickly child, epileptic, and severely asthmatic. My mother was often impatient with me. Anjaan was the sort of village that had probably looked the same since eternity. It had cement houses now, but it was still guarded fiercely by its weeping banyan trees. And every evening, racing sandstorms tore up the little squares like dervishes, calming down only when the gypsies arrived with their colourful shawls and wooden owls and ravens. I loved to watch the gypsies

hawk their goods in their raucous voices, their sarees a swirl of yellows and reds. And I often stole into the houses to watch the girls play with their dolls. I was fascinated by their intricate games. Each of the dolls had a complex history, a glorious past as soldier or buccaneer. But the girls never had much time for me. And my mother would discover me and push me towards the boys playing under the banyan trees, an old scarf tucked under my arm for comfort. The boys would push me around and mock me as I failed miserably at their games. They were a terrifying, rowdy bunch.


A widely travelled freelance writer, Sreelata has authored ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’ and ‘Guru Nanak’ and ‘Indira Gandhi’ for Penguin-Puffin. Photos: Courtesy India Post

ESSAY The Story Of India Post Sreelata Menon

Without ‘tis autumn, the wind beats on the pane You take old letters from a crumpled heap, With heavy drops, the leaves high upwards sweep. And in one hour have lived your life again. ~Mihai Eminescu (1850–1889), translated from Romanian by Corneliu M. Popescu

I

n 1897, at the Amraoti session of the Congress Working Committee, my great grandfather, Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair, assumed the role of the President of the Indian National Congress. A legal luminary, he was one among the galaxy of stars that dominated the freedom struggle. A hundred years later, for its centennial celebration, of the many seminars and functions held to mark the occasion, was one by the Department of Posts, at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Dressed in our Sunday best, we presented ourselves before President K R Narayanan who unveiled a Chettur Sankaran Nair commemorative stamp along with those of Shyama

Prasad Mookherji, whose birth centenary it was, U. Kiang Nongbah of Meghalaya, and Krishna Nath Sarmah of Assam – all nationalists. At the glittering ceremony devised, organized and conducted by the Department of Posts, I remember being struck by the fact that the post and telegraph system, which we take so much for granted, must have a unique history of its own, a fascinating story that chronologically reflects India’s, dating back not only to our own British inheritance, but steeped in our medieval and ancient past.


Interview cyrus mistry

Cyrus Mistry had been a playwright, journalist and short-story writer before his first novel, The Radiance of Ashes (shortlisted for the Crossword Prize). His first full-length play, Doongaji House, written at 21, won the prestigious Sultan Padamsee Award. His second play, The Legacy of Rage also won an award; one of his short stories, Percy, was adapted to film and won Critics’ Award at Mannheim Film Festival. He wrote his second novel while suffering from a debilitating illness and has confessed to writing being, quite literally, the saving of him. His latest novel, chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Aleph, 2012), won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, 2014. Cyrus is married to Jill Misquitta, a documentary film-maker and FTII alumnus. They live in Kodaikanal.


POETRY Memories

The Myth Of Fair Price

Keshav Athreya

Yuan Changming

Keshav lives in Chennai, and reads and writes whenever he can.

Kaleidoscope

Yuan Changming, 8-time Pushcart nominee and author of 4 chapbooks, grew up in a remote village, began to learn English at 19, and published several monographs before leaving China. Currently, Yuan tutors and coedits Poetry Pacific and his poetry appears in several journals.

Poornima Laxmeshwar

Poornima is the author of poetry collection Anything but poetry. Her haiku and poems have appeared in several magazines and anthologies. She lives in Bangalore.

June

Dhruva Pranjal K

Pranjal is a writer and poet, a geek, and a science fiction and fantasy fan. He is a third year MA student at IIT-M.

Arjun Rajendran

Arjun’s first collection of poems, “Snake Wine”, was published by the Zaporogue Press earlier this year. His work has also recently appeared at Vayavya and Asian Cha.

Brown Soldiers B A Varghese

Varghese works in Information Technology. He is currently pursuing a degree in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida. His work has appeared in many literary journals.

REVIEWS

Reviewer: Shruti Rao Shruti is a poet and planning to pursue her Masters degree in creative writing and gender studies in the USA shortly.


Divya is the publisher of Earthen Lamp Journal (www.earthenlampjournal.com). She also runs Authorz Coracle, a resource for aspiring writers. Her work has appeared in several newspapers, magazines and online journals.

FICTION So Is Your Destiny Divya Dubey

You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV 4.5)

I

t would not have happened like that had Virat Vyas received the interview call from Lennox & Marley at 6.00 p.m. instead of 9.00 a.m. that day. Or perhaps if the minister of home affairs had not agreed to come down for the inauguration of the new Bhawani temple at Vanaspati Apartments, Noida, preceding Durga Puja. But the episode of Officer Sahiba’s son (‘Officer Sahiba’ since she had spent two years in police service when she was still in her mid-twenties) was often exhumed from the colony’s history whenever a sticky situation turned up. Idle tongues

would find new perspectives to dissect even though five years had slid past since then and it was election time all over again. Women’s empowerment. That had been the refrain that year. The refrain that rang in Virat’s head day in and day out, broadening his smile – and settling like snot in Officer Sahiba’s nostril. A kayast daughter-in-law? Really? Was her son serious? The girl was a bright student – one of the brightest Virat’s college had ever produced, but still….


last Page what did you learn today?

Inveterate traveller, avid book collector, and Sanskrit afficionado, Manjushree lives in Bangalore and spends much time outside it.

Manjushree Hegde

Of late, I find that I’m unable to retain new information. Between the daily papers, email inbox, subscriptions, RSS feeds, Google reader, class, work, television, billboards, social networking feeds, video sites, and the good ol’ grapevine, I find that I get to the end of most days without a sense of having learnt anything at all. Still, one daily habit, or game, that I have developed for myself is the ‘What is a new thing you learned today?’ game. The rules are simple: (1) At the end of the day, you need to demonstrate to yourself some new skill or piece of knowledge or anything that you think is worth knowing, and that will have made your day a good day. Remember, you set for yourself the standard of worth in this game. (2) This new thing cannot be

directly related to your regular activities. For example, if you are a lawyer, then it cannot be the new M&A guidelines that your team needs to work with, or if you are a professional chef, it cannot be the discovery that Thai yellow curry is flavoured better with wild honey. Again, the standard you set is your own, and if your work consumes you, then disregard rule (2) by all means, despite my protests of ‘not cool, man; not cool’. (3) Lastly, and optionally, you write an account of the thing somewhere, everyday. I do this. For example, today’s ‘What is a new thing you learned today?’ is the evolution of the peculiar phrase ‘I dream of cows’. I came across it in a book, and was immediately fascinated. What did it mean? …


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Reading Hour Jan 2015 Preview  

Selected short stories, essays, book reviews, poetry; interviews with DSC 2014 awardee Cyrus Mistry and watercolour artist Milind Mullick.

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