Preview of eFiction India Vol 02 issue 09

Page 1


Nikhil Sharda

Editor & Production Manager

Richa Mehta

Copy Editor

Namitha Varma-Rajesh

Workshop Manager

Deepti Razdan

Content Editors

Ananya Dhawan (Features) Shifani Reffai (Stories) Ananya Guha (Poems) Sushmita Jha (Assistant Editor)

Public Relations

Aanchal Sethi, Pune

Cover Illustration

Barbara Bedoni

eFiction India is a monthly fiction publication. The editors accept manuscripts online on the website. Visit us at To review our guidelines and submit a manuscript, please visit Any other correspondence may be sent to eFiction India is available both online and in print. For other formats, please visit our website.

ISBN: 978-1490927121 ASIN: B00KU7KN3C Copyright Š Write Right Publishing. All rights reserved

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A miserable collection of little secrets, that’s all any of us is. ” ~ Guillaume Musso An astute observation, but one that I cannot wholly agree with. Behind every relationship stands a scaffolding of secrets and stories, holding it together, keeping it steady as we add newer layers. Privacy and deception are but two sides of the same coin; one makes it acceptable to conceal things about yourself, but the other puts you at a moral disadvantage if you do. But what would we be if not for our secret lives? Our interactions are built not just on the foundations of who we are, but also on the notions of who we think we are. The secrets that build us also build our world. We are products of our own imagination, as is the art that enriches our lives. We live and laugh amidst our creations—taking chances and playing out fantasies that would have remained unborn were it not for the web of secrets we weave around us like a cocoon. We are all indeed a collection of secrets, but we are not miserable. We are a colourful patchwork of fancy and fantasy, hiding what we consider too dear to share, and concealing what we deem too unclear to bare. We dance on the edge of the coin, playing hide and seek with morality. But artists have a way of blurring the lines and turning that coin into an amalgamated mess where deception and candour mate and give us their lovechild: creativity. They tell us their truth, their visions, and their secrets, and leave us guessing at how much of it is their own and how much borrowed from the world around them. Never has this realization been more evident to me than when I took a stroll through the secrets that you shared with us this month. Each story I read showed me a little bit of its author’s secret garden—that wonderful place where they can be completely themselves, where they go to rejuvenate and recharge, readying themselves to face the mundane again. Each word, each picture is a window into a secret world we are shown, the story a personal key that the authors give their readers… each reader having their own unique key. Because the secret stories that we perceive are not the same for each of us. So tell me, what secrets are you going to unlock today?

Richa Mehta Editor

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15 PUDDLES »» p.9




23 THE TEACHER »» p.15





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42 NIGHT MAID »» p.54




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Photo Courtesy: thenikonkid, flickr


VER SINCE I regained consciousness of my existence, I knew something was wrong with it. Although life had always been pretty generous to me, I was never truly happy. I had a wonderful set of highly intelligent parents, who reserved a perfectly secure, luxurious life for me, even before I was born. They were both highly loved, highly sought after Professors of English Literature at one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Their passion for the subject made sure they always excelled at their job. My father was the youngest Head of the Department at his university, while my mother had published over thirty books even before her age reached that glorious number. Needless to say, their friends were all fellow academics who were as crazy about literature and philosophy as my parents. They even formed a formally informal club together, which they pompously called ‘The Bloomsbury Group’, inspired by the group of Modernist writers they ardently admired. So, I believe you can imagine the kind of life I was exposed to since childhood. Obviously, I was never really a child. I was expected to march straight from infancy to adulthood, on the red carpet strewn with pages of Modernist literature carefully picked by my parents, without any stops in between. My sister and I were always asked to sit and witness The Bloomsbury Group’s gatherings, to receive the right kind of ‘conditioning’. Usually I just sat there as a silent audience as all the literature ‘connoisseurs’ bored me with their monologues all night long. I don’t know why, but I could never connect with literature the way


Deepti Razdan is a Ph.D Scholar at the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia. She completed her M.Phil in English Literature from the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia and M.A (English) from Delhi University. She has taught English language and literature to undergraduates at Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia. She is currently based in Toronto.


my parents wanted me to. I guess I just had mutated genes. I was always drawn towards Mathematics and Science instead. It was fascinating how they succeeded in explaining the intricacies of everything that was happening in the visible world around us, as opposed to Literature’s endless discourses that desperately searched the hidden recesses of seemingly troubled minds, only to resurface without any verifiable solutions. As a result, I was always a huge disappointment to my parents. Whenever their friends visited, they would instantly call out my sister to come and recite the impossibly long stanzas of incomprehensible poetry, desperately trying to conceal my discomforting trophies won at Inter-school Science Quizzes or National Mathematics Olympiads. I can’t say how they never realised that the more they forced me to become inclined towards fiction, the more I hated it. After all, they had always loved it much more than me. They were more proud of their publications and literary accomplishments than they were (or ever could be) of me. I was just an embarrassment to them. They were ashamed of my interest in Science and Mathematics, subjects that they had always considered their nemesis. They were like the arch angels supporting God in his battle against Sin, and I was just a soldier in the army of the Fallen Angels led by Satan. They were always trying to ‘convert’ me against my will, gifting me literary classics on every important occasion like birthdays, or Christmas. On my 12th birthday, they finally killed, rather destroyed, any chances of my ever liking literature by gifting me a copy of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I didn’t understand a single word of the book, and the day I discarded it, I knew I was also throwing away the last strands of even a feigned interest in my parents’ obsession. Since then, days dragged on rather unpleasantly, with the tussle between my parents and me getting more and more disastrous with each passing day. Coming home every day was like a nightmare. I was losing interest in everything around – school, music, sports, movies, books, people – and life seemed little more than a painful burden. Then, one fine Saturday, a few weeks after my seventeenth birthday, life surprised me. The Bloomsbury Group decided to hold a carnival-of-sorts at our place to commemorate something supposedly special that I obviously had no concern for. All of us were required to dress up like Authors/Poets and enact one scene either inspired by their biography, or of any popular piece of fiction they had written. Our parts were decided through a (un)lucky draw, which was carefully carried out on that fateful Saturday. When my turn came, I nonchalantly picked up a chit from the huge bowl, to humour my parents – well actually, to avoid creating a scene in front of all their friends, for once. My chit said ‘Sylvia Plath’. I clearly had no clue who she was, but somehow, I found her name extremely enigmatic. It sounded absolutely beautiful. Why didn’t my parents name me Sylvia? I wondered, as I carefully folded the piece of paper and kept it in the pocket of my blazer. We left the party cordially, as usual, and reached home at three in the morning, after surviving immensely dense traffic, and another wave of heated arguments with my family. I was completely exhausted, and my body and mind felt completely drained out by the ordeal of communicating with my parents. I hit my bed, literally, and as I threw my blazer on the floor, the tiny piece of paper containing the name Sylvia, caught my attention. I swiftly picked it up, and driven purely by a strange curiosity, turned on my computer to Google the intriguing name. I carefully read through all the Wikipedia information about her. Her life was fairly different from what I had expected. I couldn’t figure out why I had felt so drawn towards her name. Her biography seemed pretty bland, except the fact that her father was into Science. Go figure! Perhaps I can show this to my parents. They should be consoled with the possibility of my child being naturally inclined towards literature. I continued to go through the page slowly, indulgently, but it was so lengthy that I gradually started feeling bored and sleepy. How am I ever going to choose what part of her life to enact – was the only question ringing in my head as I impatiently browsed through the major events of her life. And then, just like that, I found my answer. I could enact her Death. No, I will enact her DEATH! It eFiction India | June 2014



was absolutely brilliant. Tragic, but brilliant. Supposedly, she had died of carbon-monoxide poisoning as she had put her head in the oven and blocked the rooms between her and her kids with wet towels. Her end was as absorbing as her name, and surely as unfathomable. It was a complete mystery. Did she commit suicide? If so, why? Or did she want to be saved? What in the world was she trying to do as she stuck her head in the oven, with the gas turned on? If she didn’t mean to die, why did she go through the trouble of sealing the rooms between her and her kids? Whoa, this is mind-boggling! I thought, as I suddenly found myself empathising with and completely enamoured of her. She must have been so sad, so desperate to have done this to herself. Just like me. Anyway, as sad as I felt, I also felt excited (and guilty about feeling so) about playing Sylvia Plath; about being Sylvia Plath. The entire week before the carnival, I shocked everyone (and myself ) with my cheerful disposition and unusually high spirits in anticipation of the carnival. I enacted the scene a million times in my head, even drawing on my love for Maths cleverly to time the whole thing right, so that I didn’t end up being Sylvia literally, if you know what I mean. I triple checked the time everyone was expected to arrive, the time we were supposed to have dinner, my position in the lineup of performances, how much time I had for prep, and the myriads of details that would make the Act perfect. The performances were not supposed to start until after dinner, and my performance was right after my sister’s who was playing everyone’s favourite Virginia Woolf, so people would be too engrossed to come barging in on me as I prepped. Moreover, our kitchen was at a considerable distance from the living room and the rest room, so once dinner was through, no one ever really went there anyway until it was time to put the leftovers away and load the dishwasher after everybody had left. During the last minutes of my sister’s performance, I would politely excuse myself. I would let my mother know I was going into the kitchen to rehearse, so once my sister’s performance was through, and I didn’t appear on stage, she would know where to come looking for me. My plan was flawless. Finally, after seven nights of endless doubts, extreme anxiety and a stinging rush of adrenaline apropos its execution, the day of the carnival arrived.

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My nerves were on edge the whole day, and in the evening, I was the first one to get ready. I greeted everyone with a smile, and for the first time in the history of The Bloomsbury Group, received compliments for my costume. The rest of the evening passed through in a daze, as I hopped between the living room and the kitchen, mentally replaying the particulars over and over again. Finally, my moment of truth stared me in the face. My sister started performing. I rushed to the kitchen nervously when I felt she was about to conclude. I carefully shut all the doors to the kitchen and sealed them with wet kitchen towels. I gently turned the gas on, and placed my head in the oven. Just as I was beginning to get comfortable in the position, it struck me that I forgot to tell my mother where I was going. Shoot! What do I do? It was too late to go back and rectify my mistake. It would ruin the impact of my performance. I couldn’t risk that. This was the first time I was so genuinely involved in something that it made me feel alive. I couldn’t let one tiny error jeopardise it. I’m sure everyone would figure out where I am... Eventually. Well, they would come looking for me when my name is called out and I don’t appear, wouldn’t they? At least, my parents would... But what if they didn’t? What if they asked my sister for an encore performance, like they always do? What if they asked someone else to perform, mistaking my disappearance for one of the many tantrums I was notorious for throwing? All of a sudden, amidst the panic at the mere thought of not being discovered till it was too late, and the dizziness of having my head inside the oven for too long, setting in simultaneously, I found myself thinking about Sylvia again. Was this how she felt, as she placed her head inside the oven on the portentous morning of February 11, 1963 – scared, lonely, and unloved? Did she believe someone would come and rescue her in time? Did she even care if someone did? What were her last thoughts before she passed on? And so, all of a sudden, without warning, I stopped worrying. I just continued to sit there, with my head lying motionless in the oven, as my mind crept out to wander freely in a vast limbo, finally choosing to set itself free, finally hopeful of being itself, finally being Sylvia...




ebleena Roy is a Strategy and Analytics professional and writes short stories, non-fiction articles and poetry. Her work has been published in the Deccan Herald, selected as part of Lituminati anthology on Hope, Spark magazine, Chillibreeze, eZine Articles. She blogs at


Society cannot change with one individual. Not in India.”

Not that it mattered to her or to me or to our parents.

My sister and I would sit rapt, our love for knowledge and keenness for questions never satiated with the large and full Sunday dinners.

HAT’S WORSE THAN having your elder sister at school? Having a brilliant elder sister at school, of course. I was in that unfortunate position. I was infamous for asking endless questions. She was famous for answering questions, correctly, in her exam sheets.

In a family where quirky professions were more the norm than exception, exam marks could never stand up to the twin pillars of individuality and creativity. Principles that our parents swore by and worshipped and which we uttered at alarmingly early ages, even in our dreams – A for apple, C for creativity, I for individuality. Our usual Sunday evening dinner table conversations would feature a generous sprinkling of them following over substantial portions of mutton curry, fish masala and rice. Sample this: Artist cousin waving her hands expressively in the air: “Who said Bangalore does not have old art history? See the cartoons by Paul Fernandes. That’s pure genius and history.” Professor Uncle stroking his beard: “Show me one big private social initiative that worked. You need government intervention.

Musician auntie, drumming her fingers on the table: “Ok, I’ll play my new recital after dinner. Raga Multani. Have you children heard Kumar Gandharv?”

Our art historian mother and cartoonist father played the usual balancing role, balancing humour and creativity, history and dreams. But then, it did matter to one person. To Mrs. Globe. Our none-too fondly named Geography teacher in school. That she was a tad rotund with a fondness for sweets and all things deep fried and buttery and that she hurried through her lectures before you could even spin a globe around, was of course, quite secondary in importance. Mrs. Globe hated me, every inch of the three feet, two inches; thin as a latest-sleeknew-phone me that I used to be in those days. Why did Mrs. Globe hate me, you ask? She can tell you better, of course. That discussion might take hours or even days for she does have a photographic memory of each insult that I seemingly heaped on her. The instances were countless.

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My endless questions which threatened to interrupt her express-train flow of thought when she wanted to finish her self-laid quota of completing fifteen pages for every class. I usually never let her go beyond page five – on the rare days when I was not thrown out of class, that is.

Class eight, class nine, class ten. My elder sister got heaps of medals from the school and warm, beaming smiles from Mrs. Globe. I joined the debating society and the quiz club and got heaps of jibes from Mrs. Globe. My sister knew the jibes I faced. “Don’t let it get to you,” she would say.

The day I drew a cartoon on the Map of England. The Queen was still a royal figure for her.

My sister’s path was clear. A love for biology, a childhood love for dreaming up imaginary diseases for me and a quest for healing mankind; all meant that she would soon don the white coat and cure me of my real, future illnesses.

The day I got caught mimicking her – “Makes sense girls? This is really impotent.” My friends and I couldn’t pronounce “important” normally for a week after that. The day I wrote a poem on the last page of her favourite atlas. She had no dearth of reasons to send me out of class. I had no reason to say in her class after she finished her usual dose of ridiculing me. Maybe that was part of her morning ritual – brush her teeth, eat her buttery paratha, all six of them, in her usual jet-engine speed, bash me up, verbally at least. All in a morning’s work. She never hit me, which I have to admit. The mind was her weapon and her victim. So she reminded unfailingly almost every class before politely showing me out of the door: “How can you be Sujatha’s sister? She is so focused, and you – look at you, completely clueless.” “Why are you always just asking questions?” “No more questions, just copy that map like I said.”

I had no such grand plans. I just wanted to roam the world till my questions were answered. My school-leaving prank on Mrs. Globe? Well, that’s a story for another time. My sadness at leaving school and my friends was tempered in no mean measure with the happiness of leaving the memories of Globe behind forever; and hopes of forgetting the jibes that would haunt me for years. And I had had enough of Geography for my life. Or, so I thought. *** Till I started college, miles away from home, in a completely different geography and till I started actually questioning what was my real dream. New country, new friends, new journey. Faces and voices all around me. “What’s up, bud?” “Up for drinks tonight?”

“You’ll never do anything good. And never even dream of studying geography.”

“Joining for the Linkin Park gig this Saturday?”

Did I say I hated geography? Of course, you know that. My notebook was always ready in my hand, at the start of every Geography class, in anticipation of the hour I would have to spend alone in the corridor, banished from class. The notebook that got filled with my childish observations about life, poems and essays that I never showed anyone else.

“Hey, there’s this great Greek food place. Let’s stake it out.”

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Drinks and life flowed free, from one party to the next, from one lecture hall to the next, from one subject in one semester for me to the next subject in the following semester.

But back in my room, alone, at night when my new friends slept and my old friends just started their day, I couldn’t sleep for hours. Couldn’t sleep without hearing the relentless honk of the cars outside our home, couldn’t sleep without mentally adding to the endless arguments on all topics with my sister from the origins of Sufi music to who deserved more greatness – Goscinny and Uderzo or Herge – couldn’t sleep without smelling my mother’s mouth-watering Thai chicken soup, couldn’t sleep without basking in the lazy Sunday morning sun over steaming hot cups of coffee and spicy dosa and leisurely adda with friends at Chamrajpet. And then I woke up again, groggy, sleepless, to slide into another usual day. Party, class, party. Each shared drink, each endless party ended in more questions for me. What was I doing? Was I just really drifting through life, never taking decisions or responsibility, clueless, doomed to be the failure that Mrs. Globe had predicted I would be? Why couldn’t I even choose one subject? In three semesters, I had tried Psychology, Sociology and English. I was still not satisfied. I could not choose. Mark Twain’s quote that my sister had written for me on the top of the first page of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” as my parting gift became my friend during those dark nights. “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.” And then I dragged myself back to another new class. Professor Martin was as different from Mrs. Globe as the hot alu paratha in the college canteen was from the steaming hot waffles and pancakes at the local deli. “I am not here to answer; I am here to encourage questions.” Prof. Martin’s first line had me hooked, quite literally. Much later, as we went fishing together in his small boat, his flowing hair flying as free in the ocean wind as our thoughts and existential questions on life and school, the demons of Mrs. Globe’s jibes seemed to drown forever in the untold fury of the dark and endless ocean.


Prof. Martin seemed to live to answer questions and to fuel more questions. And our best discussions happened while hiking or fishing, his students providing Prof. Martin with the family he never had himself. His door and his heart were always open for us. “Questions, guys, don’t tell me that’s enough.” He could turn each class into a debate between what was already written and what needed to be written, between the old answers in the textbooks and the new questions that research sought to find. And have you guessed what he taught? Yes, oceanography. After experimenting with Psychology, Sociology and English, I finally found my calling in the study of oceans. Despite my hatred for Geography. Despite the fast receding memories of Mrs. Globe.


for helping me find my twin pillars – individualism and creativity. After all, those frequent punishments outside class had started me off on my writing journey. And the questions she had never answered fuelled me through my long, gruelling hours of self-search and research. Would she recognise me now, after all these years? No, not likely. I am no longer threefeet-two-inches, no longer thin-as-the-latest-sleek-new phone.

But maybe, she will, when she reaches home. For instead of signing the book for her, I drew a cartoon on the map of England again. Just like old times. Call it my signature.

I found poetry in the ocean currents and felt the rage of oceans in poetry. And Prof. Martin showed me the power of questions in the field of research. *** Five years later, I was back in Bangalore for a month. My full, quirky family packed into a car, dissecting my sister’s last big medical case. As usual. We were on our way to a book launch. Mine. It would be my second published book – this one was a travelogue that demystified oceanography.

Illustration: Namitha Varma Rajesh

And that’s when I met her again. She was in line to get a signed copy from the author. Me. One look at her and I recognised her. Though Universe might be a better name for her these days; she has left her Globe days far behind. But then, I should not be unkind to her. I am eternally grateful to her

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