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Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


Vol 4 Issue 5| May 2013 05 May 2013 Hi there! Are you enjoying (?!) the full blast of the summer? A scorching sun making you wish you could stay away from the streets during the day? Well, Spark's May issue is sure to give you a treat in terms of what the street means to our lives: 'Life on the Street' is what we have on offer for you this month. This issue is a fiction special with several stories on the ways of life on the street, but there are some beautiful poems, non-fiction, photography and art to savour too. We are especially proud to feature poetry by some widely-published writers. And of course, we have our usual fare from The Lounge. We hope you enjoy this issue! Send us your feedback to feedback@sparkthemagazine.com. Until we see you next month, goodbye and God bless! - Editorial team

Contributors Ankitha Venkataram Anupama Krishnakumar Anuradha C Anuradha Majumdar Deepa Venkatraghvan Divya Ananth Gauri Trivedi Loreto M Parth Pandya Priya Gopal Raju Rhee Rini Barman

All rights of print edition reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Spark editorial team.

RK Biswas Rohit Sharma Shirani Rajapakse Sudha Nair

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Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


Inside this Issue POETRY From My Kitchen Window by RK Biswas She, The Red Light by Rini Barman Doomed (Three Poems) by Vinita Agrawal Kolkata Anecdotes (Two Poems) by Anuradha Majumdar Wednesday Afternoon by Shirani Rajapakse FICTION Gopu’s Initiation by Loreto M Holy Cow! by Ankita Venkataram Sex and the City by Anuradha C The Azhagu (Charm) of Alagirisamy Salai by Divya Ananth The Road to Nowhere by Rohit Sharma Ramu’s Tea Stall by Sudha Nair A Day in the Life of a Street by Parth Pandya NON-FICTION Going Home by Gauri Trivedi Mumbai Street Food, Ahoy! by Deepa Venkatraghvan Colours Of a Street by Vani Viswanathan THE LOUNGE TURN OF THE PAGE | Review of Rajat Chaudhuri’s ‘Hotel Calcutta’ by RK Biswas SLICE OF LIFE| What Does it Mean to be Old? by Anupama Krishnakumar ART | Street Life by Priya Gopal PHOTOGRAPHY The Streets of Mumbai by Raju Rhee

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Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


Poetry From My Kitchen Window by RK Biswas In a poem that captures the happenings of yet another day in the street, RK Biswas constructs a picture of the not-so-closely-watched yet interesting things that fill the street – a picture that is framed by the kitchen window. Beyond my miniature herb garden on the sill, at ease and out of reach of all commonalities, my dutiful day tick-tocks. Details with excruciating precision what I seek each day to diligently gloss over.

An old man in a pair of khaki shorts, newspaper rolled beneath an arm, another holding a plastic bag, urinating against the “No Nuisance Please” sign of a compound wall;

a stout garden lizard’s splotched dodge 4

Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


Erstwhile ad person, Rumjhum Biswas or RK Biswas as she is increasingly known has been widely published in all five continents. In 2012 she won the first prize for her flash fiction in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest. Lifi Publications India is publishing her novel "Culling Mynahs and Crows” and a book of her short stories “The Vanishing man and Other Imperfect men” in 2013. Her poem “Cleavage” was in the long list of the Bridport Poetry Competition 2006 and also a finalist in the 2010 Aesthetica Creative Arts Contest. Her poem in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal was nominated for a Pushcart (2011) and also for the Best of Net Anthology. One of her stories – "Ahalya’s Valhalla”- was among the notable stories of 2007 in Story South’s Million Writers’ Award (USA). She has been featured in an exclusive a n t h o l o g y e d i t e d b y Ja y a n t a Mahapatra. She guest-edited the April 2013 issue of The Four Quarters Magazine. She blogs at http:// www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com

in the path of a school boy’s determined bicycle; two united mongrels fox-trotting – now on the concrete, now among the long grass and garbage; and

an abandoned old woman lying dead right there among the lot, a bottle on its belly draining away beside her, with rigor mortis already set in; nothing special.

No, nothing special. This is just me and my diligently indifferent day clocking, ticking-tocking all the details within details of a world rolling on, endlessly ahead, searching for everything and finding naught, on its inexhaustible, incomprehensible wheels.

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Fiction Gopu’s Initiation by Loreto M Gopu doesn’t understand or trust rich people in cars, and somehow, within a short span of two days some of them have a large role to play in his life. Loreto M pens a story about Gopu’s initiation into rich people behaviour. He picked up a stone and flung it at the retreating car’s boot. He was feeling angry, indignant and frustrated. As he stomped his bare feet on the tarred street, a strange guttural noise rose from his throat. He wanted to scream but couldn’t. He never understood these rich people in cars. What was their problem? Didn’t they have more than enough for themselves? Then why this stinginess with alms? But these weren’t the only thoughts running through Gopu’s head. He was also thinking of how much his mother would whack him for coming home empty handed once again. And how his father would arrive later, drunk, glass bottle in hand, and intent on bludgeoning him half to death. He couldn’t decide whom he hated more: his mother or his father. What was he to do?

tion, a friendly figure came bounding down the street, happy and excited, tail wagging maybe a thousand times a second. Even though he was on the verge of tears, he smiled. It was Pinky, the dog from his street: his only true friend. Pinky was a male dog, all of 11 months. He had lived under a broken footpath slab till Gopu found him and ever since, the two were inseparable. He now nudged Gopu with his nose playfully and started licking his face. With his best friend next to him, Gopu didn’t want to run away anymore. He knew that his mother would still beat him and his father would still try to kill him. But he had Pinky. And so the matter was settled. He wouldn’t run away. Not tonight at least.

With a clear vision of what would become of “Maybe I won’t go home,” he thought. “Maybe him, Gopu absentmindedly patted Pinky’s head I’ll get on a truck and run away.” As he tried and started walking in the general direction of contemplating on what would be the best soluhome. Pinky, like always, followed suit. 6

Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


The next morning, Gopu awoke feeling extremely sore and hungry. His eyes were red from crying and his head ached. He could hear his mother mumbling in her sleep. His father had mercifully decided not to come home, which was why his mother had let him off after just five minutes of thrashing. She had, however, remembered not to give him any food.

a trail of dust in its wake. Blinded by rage and tears, Gopu ran to where Pinky lay howling. The poor dog tried to jump up, but his left front limb gave way. It was broken. He howled louder than ever. Gopu didn’t know what to do. He just sat down next to him and tried unsuccessfully to help him.

A car stopped nearby and from it two people rushed out towards H e them, talking rubbed his excitedly to eyes with each other in the back English. One of his of them was a f i l t h y young woman hands, who quickly blackened knelt down and greasy beside Pinky with dirt, and, murmurand walked out looking for Pinky. Pinky always ing soothingly, took a look at the broken limb. slept under the traffic light diagonally opposite She shot an instruction to her friend, a young Gopu’s house. It wasn’t a house as much as a man, and he sped off with the car. sheet of plastic thrown over a wall. “Is this your dog?” she asked Gopu gently in Since it was already morning, Pinky was busy Hindi. He nodded. “Get some water for him,” playing with his other doggy companions. They she said. Gopu rushed off immediately and relooked a happy bunch, playfully growling and turned with a small steel container filled with baring their teeth. He thought of calling out to water. By now, the occupants of the entire street Pinky but changed his mind seeing how much were awake and everyone, including his mother, fun they were having. He decided to go back looked on curiously at what was happening. The inside and look for a glass of water instead. lady poured the water over Pinky’s mouth, That is when it happened. A loud screech, fol- which he gratefully licked. She squatted beside lowed by a dog’s bitter howling. Gopu’s heart him, taking his head onto her lap. Gopu’s head jumped to his mouth. Pinky had been run over was whirring. He had no idea what was happenby a car which was now speeding away, leaving ing. 7

Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


A few moments later, the young man returned with bandages, a stick, and a bed sheet. The lady got busy tying the stick around Pinky’s broken limb with the bandage. The poor dog had no energy to protest. “What’s his name?” she asked as she deftly tied a knot. “Pinky,” Gopu responded. “We are taking him to the doctor,” she explained, unsure whether to smile in reassurance or not. He blinked away tears as he nodded.

“Here, take this,” she said, handing over two hundred rupees notes to Gopu. “Buy biscuits for Pinky and also for yourself. And,” she added, before letting him grab the money, “make sure he takes rest and doesn’t run around.” She then patted Pinky who responded with a grateful wag, and smiling at Gopu, got back on her car and drove away. This was the happiest day of Gopu’s life: his friend had been saved by unknown angels who had emerged from a “rich people’s car” (who would have imagined?) and now he had enough money to buy anything that he liked to eat! Leaving Pinky with his other doggy companions who were now curiously sniffing at his bandage, Gopu went off to buy the biscuits. For the first time in his life, Gopu was relieved; because, for the first time, he wouldn’t have to beg.

By now the young man had slipped the bed sheet under Pinky and with the lady’s help, hauled him onto the car. As the car drove away, Gopu’s heart sank. What if Pinky never came back? He didn’t trust rich people in cars anyway. And to think that he had let them take his precious Pinky away! Another wave of tears flooded his eyes. That whole morning, Gopu sat on the road looking at the direction in which the car had left. He didn’t even register watching some people in brown uniforms come and take his mother away with them around mid-day. They had left in a hurry. His mother had dropped the plastic water pitcher that she had been carrying and hadn’t even bothered to pick it up.

After buying five packets of the cheapest biscuits he could find, Gopu trotted home happily. Dusk was already descending as he spotted Pinky under his usual street lamp, licking his bandage. As he walked closer, he realized that many people had gathered around his “house”. He could also hear his mother wailing. Afraid and curious at the same time, he craned his neck to see what the commotion was all about. He Finally at around mid-afternoon, the car apsaw his father’s body on the footpath, covered peared and in it, his beloved Pinky, all patched with a white sheet. His mother was tearing at up and greatly subdued. The lady came alone her hair and beating her chest. this time and carefully helped Pinky get off the car. In a beat, Gopu was next to Pinky. Pinky For a moment, Gopu froze. “He’s dead,” he tried to hop around him as was their tradition, thought. Nothing else occurred to him. He didbut the bandages and the pain restricted his n’t know whether he was relieved or sad. At the movements. Gopu more than made up for it. other side of the road, he saw Pinky and his ever He danced around his beloved Pinky and wagging tail. He quietly slinked away to sit next squeaked like a little mouse. The lady laughed. to him. 8

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Two old-ish looking men came to stand near man, as he shook his head. the street lamp within earshot of Gopu, smokAs this news sunk in, Gopu turned to look at ing bidis. He heard one of them say, “He was Pinky. He was still licking his bandage. run down by a speeding car. They say he would have survived, but help came too late.” “These rich people in cars, I tell you…” said the other

Picture by Jim Elliman

Loreto is a performing poet, a singer, and a kathak novice. She used to be an MBA student, and before that a Botanist at an orthodox Christian college. Thankfully, neither could break nor contain her odd streak. She is part of a performance poetry band called The Rickshaw Muse (https://www.facebook.com/TheRickshawMuse).

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Non-fiction Going Home by Gauri Trivedi The transition from staying in a joint family to living in a nuclear family is often not as simple and joyous for children, as it is for adults. Gauri Trivedi shares an incident from her own life when she didn’t return home from school one day, much to the panic and dismay of her mother. “Mali-kaka, take me to the old home, mom said so,” I lied through my teeth, just when he was about to take a left turn and change direction. He must have been tired or gullible or careless – probably a bit of each – to give in to my demand without a counter question. Or maybe he loved me enough to sense the desperation. ‘Mali’ is a Hindi word for gardener and ‘kaka’ is uncle. Till date, I do not know his real name; we called him ‘Mali-kaka’ for as longed as he lived. And by profession, he was a gardener indeed! Paddling kids to and from school was his overtime, a hard way of earning those extra bucks, considering that he was built thinner than one of his sixth grade riders. He hailed from a remote village in Bengal and like many others, had come to the city looking for work as a young adult. Ours was a government colony consisting of bungalows for senior officials. His polite demeanour and hardworking

attitude soon earned him the upkeep of lush green gardens of all the bungalows and he could be seen all day in the community, going from one yard to another always carrying a tool or a plant. A few years later, one family offered him some money to drop and pick up their son from the neighbouring school and since then, he could be spotted on his bicycle at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. with a couple of kids taking a ride as he paddled away furiously, making a couple of rounds. Parents trusted him and kids like me saw him in and out of the house long before they started going to school. Up until last month, he used to drop me in front of the red brick bungalow along with the other two kids of the adjoining houses. Grandma would be standing at the door, waiting for me. I would jump off the small seat fitted on the center rod of the bicycle and rush into her arms.

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Many years later, when I mentioned it, Mom said it wasn’t only grandma, she also stood at the door a little behind grandma, but I never saw her. It was as if I was content to be in grandma’s arms and had no need to look any further. When we moved and left the extended family behind, a lot of things other than just my address changed. They say children are highly adaptable and that they have superior abilities to welcome change. I guess I just wasn’t one of those blessed children. From a huge bungalow and a big joint family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, we moved half a mile away into a modest but an adequate accommodation for our family of three, Mom, Dad and me. For the adults in question, it is perhaps a very natural phenomenon that happens in the course of time: staying in the joint family and slowly moving out to reside in their own space just like the birds who fly out of the nests to find their place in the sky. When I was a kid, for some adults, it never happened, and for those who got the opportunity, it was probably after a decade or two of communal living. For them, the changeover to being a nuclear family brought freedom, privacy and perhaps more happiness. But if you

asked the kids, they would beg to differ; I would. The change in homes hit me hard. The very first day, it felt strange going to school from a different route. When Mali-kaka came to pick me up last, I felt singled out. The other kids rode the bicycle from the same old place and by the time he tinkled the small bell of his bicycle in front of our new home, my favorite seat was already occupied. More than the going part, it was the coming back part I dreaded. The familiarity and comfort of going back home via the same road and ending the ride with all the kids were missing now. After we moved, I would be the first one to be dropped off by Mali-kaka and the others would keep on with their chatter and giggles, till they reached home, all together, but me. And since Mali-kaka had nowhere to go once he dropped them, I felt like the only one left behind. He would go to his small room constructed at the farthest end of one of the bungalows, take rest and resume with his gardening duties by the time the kids came out to play in the evening. It was as if by changing roads, everything altered drastically for me. Mali-kaka and the rest of the riders seemed like one team, while I was suddenly on the opposite side. And more than anything, I missed my grandma at the door. Every

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late afternoon when I returned from school, the ladies in the house had their tea, sitting around the kitchen in a circle. I would sit next to grandma and she would keep a separate saucer for me beside her tea cup. She would then pour tea from the cup into two saucers, raise one of them to my lips for me to drink the tea and once I was done, she would drink hers from the other saucer. I was allowed two saucers of tea, while she had three. It was only after this tea routine that I changed out of my school uniform and did anything else like having a snack or sit at the desk to finish the homework for that day. The first few days in the new home, I felt miserable but kept it to myself. I thought, if I felt so lonely, the grownups who had stayed together longer than me, would conclusively figure out that this wasn’t working. But when neither of them showed any signs of reconsideration or gloom, I voiced my misery by whining. But of course, nobody took me seriously. They acknowledged it, even talked about it with neighbors and visitors, “Yes, it is hard on the kids; she misses her old home and her cousins.” But that’s about it. It wasn’t an issue that needed to be addressed or taken care of. It was an expected emotion, a child’s reaction of feeling separated, a memory that would fade away with time, they assumed. When nobody came to my rescue, I decided to help myself. “Mali-kaka, take me to the old home, mom said so.” I lied through my teeth, on the way back from school this Monday. And as my heart stopped a beat in anticipation, he turned the bicycle in the desired direction. Thank god, it

was the 80s and so written permission notes or emails or submission of prior-pick up plans from school weren’t a norm. Grandma was surprised to see me at the door and happily so, I could see. She had questions for me, but she put them on hold, I think. Now, grandma or ‘Jiji’ as I called her, really wasn’t my grandma. She was my aunt, my dad’s oldest brother’s wife. But since my uncle and she had raised my Dad since he was 10 years old, they had been automatically bestowed the status of being my grandparents. Not that it mattered to either of us, for they had a special place for me in their hearts and I adored them. I sat down in the kitchen and got ready for a sip from the saucer like the afternoons before we moved out. My other aunt who still lived there, was quick to ask if my mother knew about this adventure. I refused to raise my eyes and kept drinking away from the saucer making a sound that may have sounded like a yes or no, depending on what you wanted the other person to hear. The subsequent portion of tea was already in the saucer and on its way to reach me when the bell rang a couple of times, loud and impatient. Somebody opened the door and even today, the rest of that afternoon is a blur except for this one sequence of events. My mother stormed inside the kitchen, put the saucer down, slapped me across the face on my right cheek and dragged me out of the house, into the waiting Auto Rickshaw. She was shaking with rage and fear (which I NOW know, after being a mother). At that moment, she looked like the meanest mom in this world to me and I even told her so in between sobs.

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Strict instructions were given to Mali-kaka that day on and so none of my future attempts to return to where I thought I belonged were successful. Today, my daughter is of the same age as I was when I ran away to ‘home’ from school. And when I reflect on that particular incident etched in my memory forever, I see it in newer light. I smile at the sweet innocence of childhood when I thought going back the same road from school would take me to the same place and time forever again. I feel the warmth of grandma’s arms around me and the joyous surprise in her eyes on seeing me at the door, even today, thousands

of miles away. I shudder at the mere thought of my daughter not arriving back home from school at the scheduled time. I wince at the horror of what could have been had Mali-kaka not been as trustworthy. And I feel guilty about putting Mom through so much panic and stress that day. I wish I could take back my words for calling her the meanest Mom in the world and am thankful that she doesn’t remember it today, for I don’t know if I could myself be as forgiving as a mother. And I hope my daughter never attempts to do what I did back then, because she is definitely going to get into more trouble than just one tight slap.

Picture by theoelliot

Gauri Trivedi is a former business law professional who makes the law at home these days. A mom to two lovely daughters, her days are filled with constant learning and non -stop fun. All of her “mommy time” goes into writing and finds itself on her blog pages http://messyhomelovelykids.blogspot.com/ and http:// pastaandparatha.blogspot.com/ and if she is not writing she is definitely reading something!

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Poetry She, The Red Light by Rini Barman This is the tale of an anonymous lady who waits in the green-lit streets, the one who has lived and re-lived in the red womb that has subjected her to unfair violence and has filled her life with irony. Rini Barman’s poem brings to light the characteristics of the lady’s lackluster life and her companion in the street, a stray bitch that lies among the day garbage. This anonymous lady is a masquerade of sorts, You and I excavate her every day This anonymous lady Swims in the layers You and I undress every night;

She waits in the green-lit streets, Only shortsighted strangers lie down there She trembles at man-made stories, Some have footpaths as the storytellers, Where, A fairy would thrust drops of elixir, Impassive her claims remain, “Serve the emperor with 14

Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


The malevolence of your dreams..." Overcast at the longitude of time Many would leave false footprints And boulevards would weep At the orchids her ugly hands held;

From the gutter, a maiden star Would whisper, “The echoes must end here, For, if trespassed, can breach your wings, Here take this greasy fabric It will soak your brutally honest stains You will be a lady with a name." (What a bait that was!)

She fondles with leisure The barricades of her two pockets, All at the mercy of memory The red womb is her testimony, It scratches the un-trodden fallopian streets, She has lived and re-lived there. The infernal thunder shatters the light With which, You and I undress This anonymous lady Every night...

She sings the ballad of her best friend, 15

Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


“Here we go round the mulberry bush, The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, This is the way we brush our teeth, Early in a frosty morning.” Crawling with a wicked visage He spits on a painful lump of flesh The greatest whore of them all;

A stray bitch lying in the midst of day garbage Cuddles her envious lap, “Do you see the cadence of moon, Just beside the litter of flecked planets ..?” She would blot The fallen skies, As one blue conundrum over the other,

Before the rain would flow back Into the gutters again, They would both learn, To sketch out semicircles Made out of speckled rainbows In the dark…

Rini Barman is pursuing her M.A in English Literature at the Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. She has published articles and poetry in journals like Muse India, The Four Quarters Magazine, Enajori.com, The Eclectic and in local dailies from the North-East like The Assam Tribune, The Sentinel and The Seven Sister’s Post.

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Fiction Holy Cow! by Ankitha Venkataram Life on the street is filled with varied experiences and everyone who occupies this space has an interesting story to share from their perspective. In her work of fiction that has an interesting narrator, Ankitha Venkataram brings a different dimension to the theme ‘Life on the Street’. Read on. What a strange land I’ve been born in, I reiterate once again in my mind. After my mother gave birth to me in the shed a few years ago, I’d been well taken care of by Bholu and his wife who owned the sparse yet homely farm located just a bit away from the city. They’d lovingly christened me Rani after my mother, and they were happy to receive their usual bounty from her after my birth. Life on the farm was more or less idyllic. I had nothing to complain about while I was growing up. I was told grand stories about the strange ways of the people here in India. Mother once told me, “These people treat us well; many a time, even like Gods, Rani. They worship us like we are sacred, milk us till we can offer no more because they think of our milk as pure, bathe us during festivals and even feed us coconuts and tulsi leaves. If times are good people

will be good too. Eat all the food Bholu gives you and work hard. You will lead a good life then.” I wanted to ask her what would happen if times were bad but I was too happy with the way life was going then that I didn’t bother. I wish I had really asked her that, for I would have been better prepared for harder times. Mother died shortly after that, and Bholu grew increasingly despondent. I worked hard like mother said, provided as much milk as I could and bore many babies - investing all that I could from my end, hoping to keep my good times going. But Bholu sold my children off as soon as they were born, so unfortunately I couldn’t see them. Soon there were talks around of times turning bad and just as I grew fearful of the storm coming and happiness drifting farther away , Ganesh Chaturthi arrived and I was treated like a queen, even better than the grand way

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Mother used to be treated. I was scrubbed clean, offered fresh leaves, fruits, coconuts and even carefully prepared dishes. In this land, where I am God, I thought, nothing bad can happen. Things took a turn for the worse though, afterwards, and Bholu and his wife decided to move to the city. I remember them washing me and giving me lots of good food at that time, and I was puzzled because times were supposed to be unpleasant. Bholu took me to many places and to meet many people, and I now understand that he wanted to sell me. Bad times affect everyone though, and no one could afford to buy me. I don’t know what happened to my friends but Bholu and his wife took me along, praying to me, crying and bowing in penitence along the w a y . W h e n people saw me, t h e y w o u l d k n e e l down and sometimes even give money to Bholu. When we finally reached the city, Bholu released me. He didn’t pray or repent or do anything of that sort. He left me all alone in the city where I roamed for ten years, the city I now die in. It was as Mother had said. My treatment was a result of the times. When times were good and things were going well for him, he was gentle.

When they weren’t, he drained the last drop of labour he could and abandoned me. I realised soon afterwards that that was how humans were. Still, a lingering attachment to him remains even now because my happiest times were spent with him, and I always wonder and hope that he felt a bit of regret for letting me go, not because I could no longer be of any use to him, but because he had a little bit of affection for me. I never had a home in this city. I suppose my home could be the streets I roamed in. People here aren’t as kind as Bholu, but then again, I wonder about Bholu’s “kindness”. The streets are an odd place. They are grey but they seem to always have colour in t h e m . They’re mostly dirty colo u r s though, that don’t do much favour to the streets. The first year was hard. I didn’t have enough food, and while there were some people who were kind, others weren’t. I faced many such unkind people but as M other used to say, it was better to stay here rather than somewhere else where they kill us in slaughterhouses and sell our meat.I’ve had many masters in the city, but no one who cared

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as genuinely as Bholu of course. I actually had a master for a whole year in my second year in the city. I don’t remember his name because no one mentioned it enough for me to remember it. He put a bright red cloth with sparkly gold at the edges on top of me and fixed a picture on my back. I don’t know whose picture it was but it must have been someone important, because everyday he would take me down the road, when the traffic lights turned red and all the vehicles stopped. It took me a while to learn that. In the beginning, I would wander, no matter what colour the light was and the other animals I met told me doing that was suicidal. Once I casually walked across the road without noticing a speeding two-wheeler zooming past. The poor fellow avoided me but crashed into a divider. They wanted to carry him to the hospital but he insisted on paying respects to me first. He was screaming and wailing. He said something about being scared of dying while almost committing a sin and pleaded forgiveness before being admitted. I knew he said that because they were a little wary of us because of our purported “supernatural powers” but I also knew the whole incident was obviously my fault. So my second master used to take me around these traffic lights chanting “Hare Krishna! Hare Om!” with a steel plate in his hand, and I must say he made quite a hefty sum. But eventually, he let me go too. I wasn’t really that sad. He didn’t give me good food despite making so much. He had a lot of those fancy metal things with lights. I still don’t know what they are. I never saw them on the farm, so it evidently cost a lot of money but for some reason, he wore the same shabby clothes everyday and didn’t even bother washing them.

After he abandoned me, I wandered street after street for six years. No vehicle hit me, and food was scarce but since I’d lived in the city for a while now, I’d taken notice of how people would throw leftovers in the same mounds around the city. The leftovers were stinky and smelly but it was still food. I would hate the humans for wasting food but I think it was also beneficial for creatures like us. I started reflecting more often on the irony that had become my life. I was worshipped by humans sometimes and humiliated by the same race at other times. On festivals, people would worship me more than usual and feed me. But my ‘city masters’ only used me to make money and many children would hit me with stones and I would bleed. During those occasions, I could still walk, but I would wish Bholu could be there to nurse my wounds. I had more of my own children in the city but I couldn’t take care of them here either. I was with my children for around three months before letting them go. They had to survive on their own now, eating garbage and being worshipped on the city’s innumerable streets – the irony extending to their lives as well. There are a lot of other animals here, some who are good and some who aren’t. Dogs are the worst, especially when they’re in a pack. They would look at me as if I was dinner, and I’ve had to run very far to escape them. One time though, one of them managed to tear off a piece of flesh from my leg, and I haven’t been able to recover since. It’s been hard to walk. My mother told me that if cows are taken care of well, they can live up to 25 years, but now as I lie down in a vague place, tired and unable to

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move, I sadly realise that I have to leave this kind and unkind world when I am just twelve. I wonder how the cows in other places are treated. I feel a bit angry and sad about how I was treated in this place, but then I think of Bholu and wonder what he’s doing with his wife, if his children have grown up and if he misses me too. I think of my mother and my family at the farm and wish I knew what eventually happened to them. Then I realise this wasn’t a terrible place after all and that I have had my memorable moments too. But the thought that dominates my mind now is this: I want to leave this world in peace.

it, my leg hurts more than ever and I can’t keep count of how many children I’ve had. People are surrounding me. Some of them are crying, one is kneeling down continuously and a few others are bringing fire on a plate. I wish they wouldn’t do that because I hate fire. I wish they would get me something to eat or a bucket of water to drink. But no, they just don’t do that. Most of them have their hands clasped. I want to tell them to leave me alone at least now but there’s no way they’ll do that. I contemplate mooing for the final time with my last ounce of strength. I wonder if people would consider it a curse or a blessing. Suddenly, I want to do what I want to do without thinking of anyone else. So It’s not on the street but there are a lot of peoI do – moo with all my energy and in a blur, I ple around me. I’m really tired. I haven’t eaten catch glimpses of their surprised visages before much except for what’s in those mounds, the my eyes close. water I drink here forever tastes funny for some reason and this time, things have taken a turn for the worse – I have fallen sick after drinking

Ankitha is an 18-year-old journalism student who loves writing. She has a penchant for writing poetry and short stories and fancies herself to be a novelist someday. She has many ideas for the novel and wants to start work on it but is constantly distracted by her battle with procrastination. With her head in the clouds most of the time, she adores fantasy novels and thrillers. Her favourite author is Sidney Sheldon because of his unbeaten ability to enslave readers to his world, characters and situations.

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Non-fiction Mumbai Street Food, Ahoy! by Deepa Venkatraghvan When you think of the bustling city of Mumbai, among the whole lot of things that come rushing to your mind about the place, one of the foremost is the absolutely mind-blowing variety of street food that the city is waiting to pile on your plate. Deepa Venkatraghvan shares her thoughts on the cultural phenomenon called ‘Mumbai street food’ while also listing some of the must-try fast food and desserts that you must check out in Mumbai streets on your next visit!

For two years I worked at the Times of India building in Fort, Mumbai. It was my first job and as a single, footloose Mumbaikar, I spent a fair bit of time and money on discovering Mumbai’s food. India’s financial capital offers an unbelievably great spread for your palate. You’ll find amazing variety, from fine dining to multicuisine specialty restaurants. But what really brings back memories at the thought of Mumbai food is the inexpensive and scrumptious street food. For the people of Mumbai, life is all about living in the fast lane. Everything needs to be quick and available on the go. And street food caters to just that. So whether you need a quick snack on your way home or a break from shopping, you’ll find a vendor or two conveniently located

at the railway platform or outside the mall. Street food joints are also popular ‘chai-break’ spots for office goers, so you’ll find clusters around office spaces too. Effectively, between your home, workplace and shopping area, which probably make up 80% of your daily outings, you’ll be well served. Of course, you must know what to eat and where. A lot of street food vendors are makeshift guys with little access to clean water or regular electricity. It’s not uncommon to experience a vendor abruptly abandoning his customers and packing his ware to flee if there’s a police patrol van circling the area. Of course, it probably just means he didn’t pay his ‘hafta’ to the cop. He’ll be back soon when his accounts are settled.

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The good news is that over a period of time, many vendors have realised the need to offer healthy food in a clean, hygienic environment. So today, you’ll find street food served in small restaurants at affordable prices. Whether it’s the famous Elco Pani Puri Center in Bandra or the Jumbo King Vada Pav chain in the city, there are cleaner and healthier options that you could look out for. Now I’ll list some of the must-try street food items, particularly fast food and desserts that you should check out during your next visit to the bustling city.

with garlic chutney, Vada Pav is native to Maharashtra. That’s also why it often becomes a tool among certain political outfits. Today, Vada Pav has adopted a much modern avatar, coming in varieties like Chole Vada Pav, Schezwan Vada Pav, Paneer Vada Pav and Cheese Vada Pav. Misal Pav: Among the healthier street food options, Misal is a gravy dish made from sprouts, usually moong or moth beans. It is served with pav and can be garnished with onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and sev. It tastes best when it’s most spicy. Dahi misal is a variant.

Bombay Sandwich: Nobody really knows Pav Bhaji: Mumbai’s why it’s called a Bombay most popular export, Sandwich. It’s perhaps Pav Bhaji is nothing but because you’ll find it on thick gravy of mashed every street in Mumbai, vegetables spiced up and made in almost the same eaten with buttered way everywhere. The buns, called pav. The Bombay Sandwich is dish was originally creatusually made with Wibs ed to cater to Mumbai’s bread, green chutney, mill-workers who needAmul butter, cucumber ed a lunch menu that and tomatoes. But the was quick to eat, yet fillreal show stealer is the ing and appetizing. Tounique sandwich maker in which the sandwich day, Pav Bhaji can be a much richer experience is toasted. In fact, Bombay Sandwich has bewith options like Cheese Pav Bhaji, Paneer Pav come a brand of sorts. I even saw it listed on Bhaji, Mushroom Pav Bhaji and the like. the menu of a fast food joint in New Jersey! Vada Pav: Also called the poor-man’s burger, Dabeli: Pav Bhaji’s close cousin, Dabeli, also Vada Pav is a simple, yet delicious dish. A deep has a gravy made from a medley of vegetables. fried potato patty stuffed inside a pav, served The only difference is that while the pav is

Fast food

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served on the side in Pav Bhaji, it is stuffed with the gravy in a Dabeli. You’ll find that a Dabeli has some unique toppings like pomegranate, roasted peanuts and sev. Dabeli finds its origins in the Kutch region of Gujarat and so is also referred to as Kutchi Dabeli.

Chaat, Samosa Dahi Chaat or Samosa Chola Chaat.

Dosa: The Dosas that you get in the city is the South Indian import with a Mumbai touch. So in addition to the regular Dosa, Masala Dosa and Mysore Masala Dosa, you’ll find Chinese Chaat: According to the entry in Wikipedia, Dosa, American Chop Suey Dosa, Paneer Dosa, chaat comes from the Hindi word chaatna (to Cheese Dosa et al. lick). Not entirely unbelievable, I’d say, considRagda Patties: Fried potato patties dipped in a ering that’s what you’ll stew-like gravy of cooked, be doing to your plate. spicy white peas, Ragda Paani Puri, Sev Puri, Patties is typical chaat Bhel Puri, Dahi Puri stuff. It’s served with a and Aloo Chaat are topping of chopped ononly the simpler varieions, tomatoes, mint and ties of chaat food. Todate chutneys and sev. day, you’ll find interFrankie: Frankies are varyesting versions like ing combinations of vegeVodka Pani Puri, Chitables, Paneer, mushrooms nese Bhel, Tofu Chaat and egg rolled in tortillas. and much more. Samosa: To me, this is the most guiltinducing item of street food. Samosas are essentially boiled potatoes rolled in and packed into a flour shell and deep fried in oil. Blissfully tasty but unhealthy as hell. Many years ago, Samosawalas (Samosa vendors) would roam the streets of Mumbai at tea-time, with piping hot samosas packed in aluminum containers. They would blow a unique horn and our entire household would rush to the balcony to beckon Mr Samosawala. And of course, you’ll also find Samosa

Desserts Fruit Plate: You’ll find this healthy and tasty dessert in every Mumbai street. As the name suggests, it’s a plate with sliced seasonal fruits, garnished with chaat masala on request. Gola: A must-have on your visit to a Mumbai beach, Gola is nothing but an ice candy. Crushed ice is compressed together onto a stick. The juice or flavour is served in a glass and all you need to do is dip the ice candy into the juice and slurp away. My favorite flavour of Gola Ice

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is Kala Khatta.

as a topping.

Kulfi: This is not traditionally a Mumbai dessert but thanks to its melting pot culture, Kulfi is very popular on Mumbai streets. It’s just like ice -cream but a little creamier. Popular flavours include malai, mango, pistachio, saffron and cardamom.

Of course, being a vegetarian, I cannot tell you a lot about the non-vegetarian street food. But I know my friends would swear by Kebabs, Kathi Rolls, Omelette Pav and Kheema Pav.

Ganne ka Ras: Simply sugarcane juice, this is one effective way to cool down in Mumbai streets during hot summers. Masala Milk: Cold, flavored milk sold in glass bottles, this is also a very popular dessert during Mumbai’s summers. Falooda: Yet another foreign inspired dish, Falooda is traditionally made by adding vermicelli to rose milk. The highlights of Falooda are the jelly pieces and tapioca pearls that are added to the milk shake and the ice-cream that is used

Now each of these dishes also has a hot-spot, that is, the most famous joint for that dish in Mumbai In addition to the few places that I mentioned in the beginning, you could also try the Pav Bhaji at Amar Juice Center near Capitol Cinema in Fort, the sandwiches at Haji Ali Juice Center or the Kulfi at Parsi Dairy Farm near Marine Drive. And, here are a few tips. While you can dine in, order out or get a delivery, Mumbai street food is best enjoyed on the streets! So look for one of those joints that has a view of the streets or better still, chairs on the pavement. One more tip – throw that diet out the window for a while.

Deepa Venkatraghvan, a chartered accountant, loves to write. She works in the media and when she is not writing about smart investing, she pens her thoughts about life’s experiences. You can check out her personal finance blog at http:// blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/moneyhappyreturns/

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Art Street Life by Priya Gopal

Priya Gopal is the Section Head (CBSE) at the Curriculum Department of Kangaroo Kids Education Ltd., Mumbai. An educator by choice, teaching and interacting with kids is something that has enthused her over the last 16 years. Priya lives in Mumbai with her husband and two children. She blogs at http://keepsmilinginlife.blogspot.com 25

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Fiction Sex and the City by Anuradha C Anuradha’s story follows the emotions of three people on a cold Bangalore night.

Mohan looked around the restaurant, and heaved a sigh of relief. “Just two more tables to clear up, and I can get out of here,” he mused to himself, with a wicked smile. He looked out of the window to see if she was still there on the footpath; she was. It was 10:45 in the night already; she wouldn’t be there for long, so he would have to hurry up.

restaurant was a huge mall, with blinding lights and jarring music being played by a live band in the mall corridors. Just a few metres away from the restaurant was a huge construction site, currently in limbo due to some litigation issues of yet another mall. Oh yes, young people don’t need schools, hospitals, libraries – they would rather have food and drink and merry making all around them. Mohan loved this locality precisely The restaurant that Mohan worked in was new. for this reason, though he was seldom left with It had opened just the previous weekend. It had enough money to make the most of the bounty an attached bar, and saw brisk business every around him. night. Tonight being a Friday night, the place was particularly buzzing with activity. This part It was a chilly winter night, in the middle of Deof Bangalore was inhabited by the neo-rich, the cember. But Mona was dressed in as little IT community. Young bachelors with plenty of clothes as she could possibly manage, the Vdisposable income found the locality perfect for neck line of her blouse plunging, her short skirt their indulgences – glitzy malls, multiplexes, with a deep cut in the centre. She sat on the lavish restaurants and pubs. Mohan had quit his pavement with her legs slightly apart, and her previous job as a waiter in a traditional vegetari- body drooping a little in front, to make sure that an hotel; he found the ambience too mundane, her cleavage was just about visible. She had too lifeless. He loved it here in Sunshine Pub, neatly shaved her face, her chest and legs, but on Outer Ring Road. On one side outside the the hair always grew back within a day, causing a 26

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severe itch and burning her skin. She sat there wondering how much longer she would have to wait in the biting cold before some customer would walk up to her. Mohan was attending to his last customer; he placed the bill and some saunf in a bowl on the customer’s table and walked away in a hurry to get changed. He wanted to get to Mona before she got picked up by someb o d y else. Mohan did not have enough money to approach a woman t h a t night; he would have to make do with Mona. Trans-genders charged one half of what women charged per night, and that was all he could afford. He was not new to Mona, nor was he unfamiliar with the routine. He would walk up to the pavement, start the bargain at 200 rupees and finally settle at 250 rupees. She would lead him to the basement of the site under construction. They would be out of the place in an hour, and he could get back to his room by two in the night. He glanced outside the window once again in the hope of signalling to Mona that she should wait for him. But she was facing the other way, towards the road.

Mona had a shawl wrapped around her wrist. She was desperate to cover herself up, as the nip in the air was making her shiver. She looked at the shawl, let out a sigh of despair and continued to gaze at the highway ahead of her. She was on the pavement on the service road of the highway. The mall was slowly calming down, the crowd was waning, fewer cars were exiting, lights in s o m e floors were dimming out. Her hopes began to build, it was her last chance. The last group of workers and waiters from the mall would be walking past her any minute now. She glanced at every passing motorbike, and even yelled out at a couple of familiar faces. But nobody seemed to be interested that day. She bit her lip and cursed her luck. It would be her second consecutive night out in the cold, with no business at all. After what seemed like eternity, a security guard from the mall walked past her. His ill-fitted uniform sat like a cloak on his lanky frame. His hands were in his pockets, and he was murmuring something to himself, as if chanting some magical words to beat the cold. Exasperated at not being noticed, Mona called

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out to him. “Eh, naam kya hai re tera?” (“Eh, what’s your name?”) The security guard turned around to see who was calling out to him. He was new in town, his job in the mall was just two days old, and he was plainly surprised to find Mona on the pavement waving to him. He went towards her and asked politely “Mera naam Shambhu hai, kya chahiye aapko?” (“My name is Shambhu, what did you want from me?”) Mona smirked at his seemingly polite words, and retorted “Itni raat ko yahaan baitke mein kya taare gin rahi hoon? 300 mein chalta hai to bol.” (“What you think I am sitting here for at this hour, to count stars? I can come along if you are ok with 300 rupees”) Shambhu scanned her from top to bottom, looking at her hair, her glittering white bindi, her deep neck line, her posture, and the tired look on her face. Her teeth chattered as she spoke, and her fingers were fidgeting with the shawl.

a perplexed look and gathered all the expletives she could think of. Before she rose to yell at him, he bent down to touch her palm that was huddled under the shawl. In a calm low voice, he said “Ab ghar jaake so jao, goodnight.” (“Just go home and sleep now, goodnight”), and walked away, putting his hand back into his pocket. Her eyes welled up as she held the hundred rupee note tightly, rose from the pavement, and started walking towards her home, in the nearby slum. She was weary, cold and slightly overwhelmed. Business could wait another day, she reasoned.

Mohan stood at the gate of his restaurant witnessing this whole episode, and gasped in disbelief. What a jerk, he thought, swearing at the security guard. He tried calling out to Mona but she was beyond earshot. ”I should get out of work on time at least tomorrow”, he said to himself and walked towards his room, gnashing his teeth, seething with anger, unable to control She prodded him for a quick response to her his aroused desire. offer, and told him she was ready to accept 250 rupees, but no lesser than that. Shambhu took his right hand out of his pant pocket, and with it came out a few half-folded hundred and ten rupee notes. He pulled one hundred rupee note out, and handed it over to Mona. She gave him

Anuradha C is an IT industry drop-out after 10 years of slogging and money-making.

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Poetry Doomed by Vinita Agrawal In three small poems, Vinita Agrawal conjures images of poverty that rules the streets, while also gently touching upon the economic disparity that exists within the society.

#1 They eat runny garbage or leftovers lying outside wedding grounds on which flies buzz. Sometimes their eyes follow the ice cream in your hand. You give it to them after a few licks. They flash a stunning smile. I dream of their hungry eyes at night.

#2 They wear tattered rags whose colours Picture by Wen-Yan-King

grime has erased. The scraps of clothes prey on the women's nudity; the children brave the sun naked-backed, the men simply blend into their sacks. 29

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In winters, one blanket stretches over a family of five. Silverfish run on the clothes and quilts piled in trunks or bed boxes at home.

#3 They live beneath flyovers or take refuge inside stone pipes. Their belongings lie scattered, like senses,

Vinita Agrawal is a Delhibased writer and poet and has been published in international print and online journals.

on the squalid streets. In the middle of busy roads they create homes with walls of air where their children stroke a street dog who also makes his home with them. The walls of our houses seem impenetrable.

Picture by Pranav

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Fiction The Azhagu (Charm) of Alagirisamy Salai

by Divya Ananth Much happens in Alagirisamy Salai, a road in a South Indian city. A far-away soul reminisces, and Divya Ananth pens the thoughts.

6 am – Sunlight streams in through the canopy of green on Alagirisamy Salai. Water splashed on entrances of homes adds swish – sweep, swish – sweep rhythm to the street. Filter coffee. Suprabatham. Kolams outside the gates. The street is at its beautiful best. The bustle is yet to begin. The hustle is waiting to be unleashed. 7.30 am – A couple of school vans arrive. Older children troop out, some with tennis racquets, some with charts in their hands for a school project, some holding a little sister or brother by the hand. The gates of the school open. The watchman is at his kindest best. “Good Morning,” he chirps as a fifth grader gets ready for cricket practice.

and more kids turn the corner, entering the Salai. Some get off a van, some alight from a two wheeler, some hurry to jump out of a car, braving the honks from behind. 9 am – The hustle and bustle is here and now. Wailing two footers, anxious parents peeking from a crevice in the wall on the street, watching fondly as the little one trudges along, angry drivers, squabbling for a square inch of space to park, harrowed office goer who cannot seem to reverse his car out of his own home on the other side of the street, school volunteers, trying to calm frayed nerves; students managing traffic, reasoning with an auto rickshaw that entered through the “one way” street. Amidst all the chaos, the watchman gently cajoles a wailing kindergartner into a whole new world.

8.30 am – Kids of all shapes and sizes – small, big, thin, stout, girls, boys, long-haired, ponytailed, bespectacled, curly-haired, gregarious, 9.30 am – All is calm, all is quiet. The entire sullen, gap - toothed, sleepy, grumpy, happy, street is recovering from the palpitation. The cycling, laughing, sulking, worrying – kids, kids 31

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stationery shop rolls open the shutters. The fruit vendor wheels his vehicle strategically outside the school gate. The vegetable vendor diligently sprinkles water on his fresh greens. Tailors enter the 10-by-10 room adorned with mounds of cloth, and take to the pedal. Yoga centres, day care centres, ice cream parlours, beauty salons, lending libraries, coffee shops – all tiny square feet of businesses open up one by one. As the children travel through the annals of history, experiment with hydrochloric acid, or listen to the drone of a botany class, the street outside practices commerce and economics. Hurried homemakers haggle with the vegetable

The massive wide green trees that have seen generations and generations of children get ready to be of special service. Under their shade, the balloon vendor cries hoarse, punctuated by the music he produces by rubbing his finger on the balloons. Gleeful children try climbing the branches; some swing, some are too afraid. As class by class is dispersed, the street gains more colour. Older children sit down at the coffee shop. A TV screen outside the shop playing a cricket match attracts a bunch of teenagers. High fives and excited shrieks puncture the air. There is joy, there is colour, there is youth bubbling and gurgling over the length and breadth

Picture by bronster

vendor, while exchanging notes on recipes, of the street. Friends walk, shoulder to shoulder, summer camps and the maid who hasn’t shown lost in discussion, about a lost match, a beautiful up. girl, an impending exam. 12 noon – The kindergartners walk out in a line. 4 pm – Teachers ride out. The street sees saree32

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clad, jasmine-adorned ladies taking to their two all-consuming silence. The tick tock of the clock wheelers, turning on the ignition of the cars, or seems so loud. Was it always this loud? He wonwalking wearily to the nearest bus stop. ders. Between the school where minds are moulded, lesson plans detailed, questions answered, and the home where family and a fresh set of chores await, the street gives them a much-longed-for respite. They gaze momentarily at the familiarity of the beloved Salai.

Back in Alagirisamy Salai, the laughter of the growing up years, the samosas with friends at Anand Bakery, the tree climbing activity every single day, the balloon vendor who was mom’s arch rival, were all so happily noisy, that the ticking of the clock was barely heard. Perhaps, it was all over all too soon.

The fruit vendor is counting the fruits of his labour. The watchman chats with the van driver He had walked the roads of Berlin, strolled over a cup of tea, under the tree. through the Champs Elysses, hurried to work every day in Canary Wharf and window Remains of tender coconuts that people lapped shopped till he dropped on Orchard Street. up earlier in the day lie in a heap on the street, waiting for the next day’s trash clearance. Yet, if there was a place on earth that was invaluable and deeply treasured, it was the heap of Another day comes to an end on the street. memories that one special street gave him for 14 Many years later, tucked away on the other side whole years – Alagirisamy Salai. of the globe, Ajai stares blankly at the snowed in street. The snow falls oh-so-softly. There is an

Divya Ananth is an advertising copywriter – a creative consultant. She simply loves to travel, and Carnatic music is her anchor in an otherwise crazy life. She’s also a busy mom of two adorable boys, and juggles cricket and tennis classes, organizes play dates and reads Geronimo Stilton with them. Writing, to her, is an intimately joyful experience.

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Poetry Kolkata Anecdotes by Anuradha Majumdar Through two poems, Anuradha Majumdar brings to life, the scenes from streets in the city of Kolkata. In both the poems, the daily tensions in a street are juxtaposed with lightness. The second poem, in particular, describes the daily anger, despair and hilarity that spread through pavements, people, traffic, animals and shops that fill a street.

#1

Picture by Dunnock_D

Late afternoon Tensions run high Overhead Crows watch the street From TV cables, jury-eyed Four white Labradors saunter Happy-tailed Through a Kolkata Traffic jam.

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#2

Get harder to synchronize—

Early morning sidewalk

She raises her eyes to challenge the sky

The cha-walla’s kettle steams,

But her mind is suddenly blank—

Morning walkers hasten their steps

A wide blue laughter spills across the pavement.

Papers are bought, babus read

Picture by Dey

That exams are delayed again, That the price of mustard oil And fish will rise— The sun climbs to midday heat The cha-walla dozes in his chair, Under his stall, two cats chorus Whiskers taut and blistering— Oblivious to passing protest marchers, To the hum of rabindra-sangeet, They leap out, in crescendo, Torpedoing Bose-ginni’s path— Mishti-doi flies out of her hand Spatters the sidewalk Trousers, bags,

Anuradha Majumdar’s books include ‘Refugees from Paradise’ and ‘The God Enchanter’ and two books of poetry, ‘Mobile Hour’ and ‘Light Matter’. She has contributed poetry for art installation and choreography projects and participated in the Prakriti poetry festival. She has published short stories and also writes for young adults. Anuradha has also participated in the Literature-Cinema conference at the Focus India event in Rome in 2007. Her website is www.anumajumdar.com

Pandemonium explodes The cats scat The TV salesman thinks He’s in a new detergent ad— Will Surf wash this whitest? Is it all a scam? Inside his shop headlines are flashing Bose-ginni looks at the screen, annoyed With each uncertain day, words and truth 35

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Fiction The Road to Nowhere by Rohit Sharma Some paths, no matter how many years have passed since you last walked on them, continue to evoke memories – both treasured and painful. Rohit Sharma’s story focuses on one such path, the memories associated with it and the tale of two brothers who trudged along that path to go to school. It has been long, perhaps too long since I left high school. Memories of those times are still entrenched, no more active, but alive enough to cause pain. Memories are all what are left, wrapped in my head; some make me smile, while others tear me apart.

menacing trees creating an aura of timelessness, and in a sense, it was true, for the trees were really old but seemed ageless. The only noise was a rustle of the leaves or a bird chirping, and the only commuters were young boys. The mornings were clearly uneventful, unlike the evenings, when someone was always the butt of our jokes. The short distance usually took an hour or so, for the power of random talk can surprise even the most taciturn soul. No, we never talked philosophy; most of our banter was useless or a tirade of abuse against the teacher who set an excruciating exam.

Assiduously, day after day for years, I took the same road to and from school. The makeshift road was once just a footpath, but no vehicles could ply on it for it was too steep. The road ran straight for a hundred meters, before turning swiftly to the right at the huge deodar tree, from where it rose gradually upto the hill top, providing a breath-taking view of the fair lawns below. During this time, the government had put up a guest house on the way. It made no sense, for In the chilly mornings when the sun shimmered the road was quite forlorn, but it's the way govthrough the leaves and the dew drops washed ernment works: mysterious and nonsensical are the leaves clean, it was time to head to school. its ways. And as expected, no one ever came to My brother and I-trudging slowly and silently. check-in. Now dilapidated, time's apathy had Hardly any noise could pierce through those tall, fallen on the forsaken structure. Only, God had 36

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planned, and it became the much-preferred semi-conscious state staring at the nearby trees hanging out spot for most of the school kids. for hours. My memories were those of a lost Soon enough the mischievous ones had found youth, of wasted hours, of cold nights, of abomsecret hideouts in the structure. inable smells and forgotten friends, Months later, it was here that but it's hard to imagine the sufferyoung boys shed their inhibition ings our body has to endure, if the to try out the cool stuff. Cigamind decides to rigidly stick to rettes soon became the norm, something. I took with me these which was followed by more memories, painful yet deeply treasserious substance abuse. ured because they taught me some valuable lessons in life. It is not we It was here I could not muster who decide which memories to enough courage to say "No", keep and which to discard, our only part is to after the innocuous, "Just once", experiment. It laugh at them when we've grown wiser. was here the innocent and the bullies mixed up, shared their pains and became one in that fleet- I have walked many a road since then, rested in ing moment. And, it was here I lost my friends, dark corners, but none left an indelible impresor they lost me. More time passed, seasons sion like the road where it all fell apart. changed and I became more lonely. The road Many years later, I took the same road and was more alien to me, or was I an alien to it for memories came rushing back. The trees were it had new companions? The world was rushing still majestic, the road still lonely, the house alby while I was barely hanging by the thread. most crumbling; but what struck me was that I was completely lost, with no sense of direc- they had each other for company, only I was tion, unexpected of a young man in this country. alone. And the most biting memory came rushHigh school was soon over, and I left the city ing back, as blood gushes out from a wound. behind, closing all doors and never looking When it did it caused unbearable pain. It was back. Somebody wrote, "..a few dozen hours the memory of that instance when he saw me can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes"; for using it for the first time; in that brief moment me, it was just a few minutes which trumped all when our eyes met, I think he understood my my existence until then: all my failures and all loneliness. Only then were we brothers more my victories. My past was the sound of my than ever, before or after, and I knew my life shoes chafing against the road or me lying in a had changed forever.

Rohit is a B Tech in Computer Science from IIIT, Hyderabad. When not wired in, he can be found reading or playing football. His music and movies collection is as eclectic as his taste. In a dream world, he would love to have the skills of a professional footballer. 37

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Poetry Wednesday Afternoon by Shirani Rajapakse From little hands that beg for money to vehicles that fill a street to pedestrians to pavement hawkers to stray dogs to dust to myriad shops to sweaty people, Shirani Rajapakse’s poem brings to life the various scenes in a street on a Wednesday afternoon. A small hand reaches out; cupped. Held

that’s emptied its contents

against the closed window

onto the street.

of the car at the head of the line.

The cacophony of pavement hawkers

An appeal for help but no one’s interested

trying to outdo each

in what goes on outside air conditioned spaces.

other for a few rupees. Clothes tied to hangers

The light turns green. Engines roar, exhaust

outside shops flutter in

fumes fly into the sky.

the breeze. Skirts, trousers,

Vehicles jump forward like marathon runners

T-shirts with peace signs. Che Guevara’s

trying to get to the finish line.

face stares out next to Bob Marley.

The child moves back and waits. People hurry

Both dead.

by, avoiding stray dogs fighting for a piece

Both eulogized on fabric.

of stale bread from the bin at the side

A riot of colour. Dust everywhere 38

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gets inside mouth, nostrils and pastes onto skin burned dark by the scorching sun, mingling with fumes and smells of frying vada

from the shop at the other end. The stench of the drain. Flies all around. I’m trying to walk to someplace

over there, potholes on the way like an obstacle race, left as they are to slow pedestrians’ progress. A pause in step

to enter a shop to buy or maybe just look, only look. No charge for gazing, only for purchases made, but purchases can be made through

much gazing and slight persuasion. Potholes hold treasures for children

to play. Old cigarette butts for boys to smoke and toffee wrappers for girls who try discerning tastes

they once held from the colours printed on plastic. The sun glares down. Faces, faces all around 39

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oily, shiny, sweaty, oozing like fried eggs. Shirani Rajapakse is a Sri Lankan poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013. Her collection of short stories, Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Shirani’s work appears, or is forthcoming in, Earthen Lamp Journal, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry Review, About Place Journal, Skylight 47, The Smoking Poet, New Verse News, The Occupy Poetry Project and anthologies Poems for Freedom, Voices Israel Poetry Anthology 2012, Song of Sahel, Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, World Healing World Peace and Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence. She blogs rather infrequently at http:// shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com.

Sweat pasting clothes to skin like a new skin. Sticky

hair on head, attracting dust, dirt, fumes. An umbrella jabs his face and the man screams

out obscenities. The fighting dogs look up at the intrusion, then sulk away to the shade at the corner

of the shop, as the child steps onto the street to the traffic waiting for the colours to change again.

Picture by Matthieu 40

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Fiction Ramu’s Tea Stall by Sudha Nair Sudha Nair's story depicts the insecurities and uncertainties of life on the street. A street vendor finds his life take an unexpected twist after a chance encounter. Stationed by the side of the street, Ramu's tea stall was a cart on wheels set up with two jars of rusk, a stove, a kettle, a pan, some ginger, milk, sugar, glasses, and other paraphernalia for making ginger tea, Ramu's isspecial cutting chai, as it was called. The cart also doubled up as Ramu's bed for the night, when all the things on top were cleared and locked up in the wooden compartment below. Ramu, a short and stocky man in his thirties, had come to the city a few years ago. From selling newspapers at traffic lights to selling vegetables door-to-door, Ramu had done several odd jobs in the city until one day a new business idea had struck him. He pawned his land in the village to buy a cart and other provisions and set up his tea business, which had been providing him with a steady income for the past three years. In the last three years, he had moved his ‘stall’ thrice, for reasons ranging from threats for higher hafta from local goons, to tougher competition, to the location being unprofitable for

business. This time, with a choice spot near the railway station, and his business flourishing, he was hoping that he would never have to move again. His new assistant, Deepu, was his sister's son, a thin, nimble boy who possessed a cheerful disposition and a willingness to work all day long. Deepu's job was to help with washing the glasses, refilling the water cans, delivering tea to nearby shops and offices, and manning the cash box for customers at the stall. Ramu's sister had begged him to bring Deepu along to the city so that he could earn a living rather than whiling away his time with his friends in the village. With Deepu to help him, Ramu dreamt of expanding his business to serve colas, samosas, chewing gum, cigarettes, and more items to attract more customers. He still didn't have a license but as long as he kept paying the local goons every week, he had nothing to fear. Last week, however, he had heard of an unexpected raid on street hawkers by a newly appointed

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police officer in the area, and he worried if he of a burden than an asset to his business. would have to move yet again. That morning was like any other. The blind begBut his biggest, most compelling concern was gar woman sat at her usual place not very far Deepu, whose attention was always getting dis- from Ramu's tea stall at the exit of the railway tracted by the happenings on the street. Here station, banging her metal begging bowl on the was a curious boy who was taken by the sights footpath, her palm outstretched for alms from of the city since the day he landed – the count- passers-by. less taxis, rickshaws and scooters in the city as Deepu was standing by the cash box when he they zoomed by, and the sight of red buses rumnoticed a tall man with a thick, striking mousbling past had mesmerised him. Never before tache standing near the beggar woman. For a had he seen such crowded streets, and so many brief moment the man dug in his pocket for a people thronging food stalls day and night. coin and dropped it into her bowl, a white card Months into working for his uncle, even as the slipping out of his pocket as he did so. Seemingtasks at the stall consumed his time all day, ly unaware of the loss, the man started to move Ramu would often find him observing the haptowards the bike stand. penings on the street. In a flash Deepu ran towards the beggar womNot only was Deepu a distracted helper, he also an, picked up the card, and bolted after the man, hardly paid any heed to Ramu's warnings and who had started driving his bike away. Deepu would often run off to help people cross the raced behind it, waving his hands wildly and street or lug their luggage onto the rickshaw. calling for the man to stop. “Saab, saab!” he kept Once he rescued a stray pup that had tottered calling out, but it was only at the traffic light into the middle of the street and almost missed that the man's bike came to a halt. Breathless being hit by a car. Several times Ramu admonand puffing, Deepu reached the bike, and ished him: “Learn the ways of the city. Here, it lunged at the man's arm. Handing over the card is every man for himself.” But it seemed that to the man, he managed to say, “This fell from Deepu could never learn the ways of the city. At your pocket, saab.” such times, Ramu worried if Deepu was more

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Rajat Singh recognised the card immediately. It contained the number of the tables and chairs supplier that he was supposed to call about a retirement party for one of the senior officials the following week. Having started only a week ago as a supervisor at the army officers' canteen, he was overly eager to organise a splendid affair. As if to add to his hustle, one of the cooks at the canteen had quit, and he had to do find another soon. Rajat Singh was already late for work but he decided to drop Deepu back at his spot as a way of thanking him.

son and new to the city, saab,”' he stuttered, hands clasped and shaking, and head bowed, wondering if he was going to get into trouble.

In the meantime, at the tea stall, Ramu hadn't noticed Deepu rushing off and began to fear the worst after Deepu's prolonged disappearance. Seeing Deepu arrive on a stranger's bike, he ran towards him scolding.

After dinner that night, Deepu had spread his rug and lay down on the cart, his chappals right on the cart beside his feet as usual from the fear of them being chewed up by street dogs.

"Do you cook?" Rajat Singh asked. Ramu was puzzled by the question. "I've cooked ever since I was a little boy, saab," he said. "But I only make tea here," he added quickly. Seeming satisfied with the answer, Rajat Singh left, leaving Ramu to wonder if there was any further reason to be worried about the encounter.

Ramu straightened out his camp cot. Just as he It was however the stranger’s tall frame that was getting ready to outstretch his tired limbs loomed over him. "Is this your son?" he asked and lie down, the sirens came shrieking. Jeeps Ramu. with blaring lights came screeching down the Ramu took in Rajat Singh's menacing profile: street. Dozens of policemen jumped out of their the white, starched shirt; the khaki pants; the jeeps, brandishing their canes, and started peltcrisp, short haircut; and the thick, black, promi- ing all the unlicensed hawkers on the street, nent moustache. Could he be a police officer? raining them with blows. Shrill whistles pierced Ramu felt a slight pang of anxiety within him. the air. Street vendors panicked and fled to "I'm a poor tea vendor, saab. He's my sister's avoid the beating without a thought to their

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possessions. Ramu hurled Deepu out of the cart, and dragged him along as they ran into the dark night, leaving behind all that they owned. The street was emptied rather quickly with belongings scattered all over. It was all over in a matter of minutes. Could the raid have been brought on by the chance encounter or was it a mere coincidence? Ramu did not know for certain. He had no desire to mull over his ruined business. He would send Deepu back to his village and strike it out on his own once again. Life on the street was tough, he knew. Here every man was for himself.

The next morning, Rajat Singh came to the spot near the railway station where he had seen the tea stall the previous day. He badly needed a replacement for a cook who had suddenly quit at the canteen, and his chance encounter with the tea-stall owner had made him wonder if that man might fit the bill. However, the stall had vanished. All that was left at the old spot was a broken camp cot and a few remnants of the cart; everything else was taken away to be sold by street urchins. No one knew where Ramu had gone.

Picture by Amre

Sudha, a mother of two, is constantly trying to pursue new avenues to push her creative boundaries. A chronic daydreamer, she is in awe of people who have followed their heart. Sudha is passionate about music, fitness, her family, and most recently, writing.

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Non-fiction Colours of the Street by Vani Viswanathan Led by her memories, experiences and travels, Vani recounts the many hues she has seen on the streets. Reading the entries for this month’s issue, I was faced with oxymoronic feelings: I was happy, as a development practitioner, that so many looked at poverty and at the underprivileged; I was also perturbed that few had chosen to look at some of the wonderful kinds of varieties the streets have to offer. Take, for instance, the variety of colours you’d find on the streets – colours from people, plants, vehicles, animals, things being sold, things being discarded, things being drawn… In this piece, I attempt to capture some of these colours on the streets from my memories across the cities in the world I have lived in or had the fortune to visit.

know if I actually remember it or it’s something I constructed. My mother however often recollects learning to ride a bicycle before she graduated to a moped; she claims that in that dusty little town we lived in at that point, she used to ride her big BSA SLR, my sister, her BSA Champ, and I, that little tricycle; all three of us riding cycles of varying sizes on a large brown playground. One of my favourite memories on a bicycle would be learning to ride one in the hilly slopes of Borivali, Bombay, on a tiny bicycle rented for an hour for a rupee, with training wheels, and my maternal grandfather jogging along to make sure I don’t fall badly.

***

Eventually, the BSA SLR went to my sister and of course came to me too, and my most daring act on it was to ride past the railway crossing separating T.Nagar and West Mambalam of Chennai, to get to my music classes. No happy memories with this one though: I distinctly remember my tee-shirt getting caught on the seat, and me jerking my head so violently to see what

I remember my tricycle – it wasn’t mine, actually; it first belonged to my cousin who is ten years older, then to my sister, and finally, to me. This tricycle was a deep blue with black polka dots. I have vague memories of riding it around the courtyard of our house, although I don’t

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kept me from moving, that I spent nearly a fort- distinctly remember one day of Pongal when I night with the worst sprain of my life, looking at was a child – the day when cows are decorated everyone stiff-necked. and their horns painted – when we walked past a temple close to our house and saw a boy drawing a kolam. My mother was surprised, and exclaimed so encouragingly, at which the boy smiled, embarrassed, and ran into the temple with his bowl of rice flour.

Picture by Mckaysavage

*** I’ve never got the hang of kolam, the South Indian version of Rangoli minus the colour, drawn with powdered rice flour. Beautiful street art. I love watching my mother deftly draw the patterns with a pinch of flour between her three fingers: dots evenly spaced, correctly numbered; lines drawn in one swoosh!, curves drawn so easily as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Voila! Suddenly there are chariots, lotuses, straight lines that just converge into a pattern. For the festivals, there are special kolams: sugarcanes and a pot overflowing with a mixture of rice and milk for Pongal or firecrackers and their funky sparks for Diwali. The most I’ve managed is a six-lined Star of David-like design where each line is of a different thickness, or whenever I’m around, painting outlines with a red mixture using a paint brush around the white lines my mother’s drawn. I wonder if I’ll manage to retain this tradition, though its relevance in these days I know not (apparently it was started as a way to feed birds and insects). I

*** I love looking at the walls on the roads when I move from one place to another. As a child growing up in Chennai, there was much to see: movies’ names written in big, block Tamil letters; innumerable ‘P James Magic Show’s followed by a phone number, painted in black; announcements of rallies by political parties, and how could I forget, movie posters, which I think are a dying trend today. Over the last decade, I think I’ve seen quite a lot of ‘cultural’ paintings: temples, wildlife, proud proclamations of the Tamil language, grotesquely shaped Thiruvalluvars, Bharathiyars and other characters from Tamil literature I don’t really know. They do add some colour to the city walls! My favourites though would be the lovely graffiti I have

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seen on walls in Athens, Greece. They were beautiful! Colourful, whacky, and everywhere – even on trains that travel from one city to another! The centuries-old monuments, however, have been spared. In Singapore, the cleanlinessfreak city, obviously, there is nothing unsanctioned on the walls; I remember a ‘Youth Park’ around shopper-haven Orchard Road as one of the few places where graffiti is ‘approved’. Arab Street, with its fabulous restaurants, shops selling carpets and other things of Middle Eastern origin, and some nice bars and sheesha places, has some graffiti too!

drenched much in the rain. Walkways covered most of the pavements and I used to love walking through the rains, watching, and feeling the drizzle when a particularly heavy wind blew. Of course, Chennai was not as forgiving. I remember wading through one clumsy street, kneedeep in water, my salwar rolled up to no avail, and canvas shoes soaking wet. G.N.Chetty Road, on the way to my school, was particularly nasty during the rains, and I remember looking on with a twang of guilt whenever my father’s scooter stopped mid-way and he would try to kick-start it just so many times.

Picture by Vani V

Picture by Aigle

*** Streets during the rains are something few Indians are privileged to be able to ignore. I had my fair share of flooded streets in Chennai that when I went to Singapore and found the streets clean even after hours of torrential rain, I gasped in wonder. All the water went into huge drains alongside each of those wide roads – such meticulous planning that I will always proudly defend the city whenever people call it the crazily organised city. The other thing about Singapore I discovered eventually – at least in my college campus – was that it was possible to walk a fairly long stretch without getting

Mumbai, the third city of my life, is just a whole other world when it comes to rains. One particular street that led to my apartment was so full of potholes that it was a nightmare to drive through that stretch in an auto-rickshaw. My friends and I would jostle about in the auto, jumping, wincing, and waiting for that oneminute-turned-three-minute-long stretch to end. The streets would be awash with all kinds of unimaginable and unnameable things; leaves, garbage, dog poo; and even in those rains, I’d carry along my tiny umbrella that would barely cover me, and walk. Shoes would get ruined, umbrellas would be broken, feet would get unbelievably dirty and would need vigorous scrubbing with Dettol, but I’d still insist on walking

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back often. During the rains, nonetheless, the vourite – get washed into the many streams runstreets take on hues that are just out of the ning the roads. world. Greens are greener, the tar of the roads drenched and darker, little drops drip off leaves, unfortunate flowers – tiny yellow ones my fa-

Vani Viswanathan is often lost in her world of books and A R Rahman, churning out lines in her head or humming a song. Her world is one of frivolity, optimism, quietude and general chilled-ness, where there is always place for outbursts of laughter, bouts of silence, chocolate, ice cream and lots of books and endless iTunes playlists from all over the world. Vani was a Public Relations consultant in Singapore and decided to come back to homeland after seven years away. Vani blogs at http:// chennaigalwrites.blogspot.in

Do you own a copy of our anthology, ‘Sparkling Thoughts’?

Order it now at http://pothi.com/pothi/book/anupamakrishnakumar-sparkling-thoughts 48

Spark—May 2013 | Life on the Street


Photography The Streets of Mumbai by Raju Rhee

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Raju Rhee is a Doctor by profession and loves travelling, music and photography. He is currently a Post-graduate student at the School of Management, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He likes street photography and taking candid shots of his friends.

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Fiction A Day in the Life of a Street by Parth Pandya What does the day look like for a busy street? Parth Pandya tells us the story of one of the hundred M.G.Roads in India. 5.30 am The first rays of sun seeped through the crevices of the buildings. Light was upon us. Life was upon us. The sins of the previous night were being eviscerated one by one from the face of the road. A small man with a wiry frame and an old broom was cleaning up the debris from the night. It was rebirth for a small section of the M.G. Road. M.G. of course stood for Mahatma Gandhi. Or at least that was the assumption, since Mohandas certainly doesn’t ring in the greatness of the man like Mahatma does. So great was the man that every city has a street named after him. If you were to be dropped blindfolded into an unidentified city in India and if you asked for directions to M.G. Road, some bystander would direct you to it. M.G., the patron saint of street names in India.

the emptiness of the road to test them at speeds that wouldn’t normally otherwise be possible. Life woke up with a start. Newspapers were piled up ready to be circulated, milkmen were racing around ringing the bells of their bicycles, a bunch of old retirees wearing pleasant smiles and sneakers that their kids possibly sent from abroad were heading towards the joggers’ park. The road was stretching its limbs and waking out of its slumber with an age-old weariness. 10.00 am

The road had breathed in the fresh air in the morning and decided that it was not good for its constitution. It had listened to the silent sounds of dawn and decided that it was too deafening. As the day broke in, the comfort settled in. The putrid smell of garbage being burnt, the unnecessary honking of cars in traffic that never had a As the dirt was wiped away to reveal a bumpy chance of moving at the speed that it wished it reality of the road underneath, the tar was put to could, the heat bouncing off the tar, all brought the test by motor vehicles screaming by, using to the road a succour it knew and liked. 52

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Somewhere between Laxmi Pharmaceuticals and Satyam grocery stores were lined up a bunch of vegetable sellers. These birds would have rather preferred the holding pattern, but the frequent visits of the municipal corporation truck to displace them made them migratory in nature. The freckled vegetable seller, who had made his way to this city such a long time ago that he could barely remember his life before it, sat on his elevated perch on the sidewalk, commandeering his vegetables like a general. The cauliflower sat in the middle ready to lead the charge, the cabbages gave him company on the left, brinjals shoring up his right. Picture by Charles Haynes The periphery was flanked by the green brigade – coriander, ladyfinger etc. His army was all that stood between him and a day filled with misery. 2.00 pm From its bird’s eye view of the world, the sun could see a thin culvert running through the heart of the city. A mass of white was emerging from one end of M.G. Road. If it were any closer to the ground, it could have heard a collective sound emerging from the mass of white. On the ground, the white parade was bringing about

worried looks on the faces of the business owners. They were hampering the hope of those preparing for a relatively peaceful afternoon where the only sound interfering with their siestas would be the collective sighs of drivers on the street, expressed as honks. That particular sound, to the nearby residents, was already filtered away like white noise. The bulging mass in white was a vociferous body. It was made up of limbs and vocal cords of a lot of members of a certain political party. They had chosen this particular day to protest against the rising prices of essential commodities in the market. Kerosene, they argued, was more expensive than the poor could afford. Rice was out of reach of those with meagre means. They were waving banners and shouting slogans, causing the fragile equilibrium of the afternoon to collapse. Traffic, that was already crawling, had now halted. People on foot quietly excused themselves from the path of the ongoing tsunami and found their way out of the morass. Some businesses, recognizing the threat of violence, promptly shut down. Others, recognizing the potential for sales, promptly seemed to roll the welcome mat.

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6.00 pm

they were dragged along by eager parents.

If morning was controlled chaos, evening felt like hell had broken loose. People returning from their busy lives to return to their wives and husbands and kids and parents battled the road. The frenzied warriors came to the same conclusion in their fights – you simply had to bow your head and move along at the pace that the road allowed you to. Dusk also brought out the voraciousness of the city. People headed to the street to consume. Food, clothing, experiences, all were sold at a price to an eager public. Men of all ages, grown wise by experiences and stories they heard, ensured that they shifted their wallets to the front pockets of their trousers. Women, dreading the risks that this freedom of movement brought about, withdrew into their old shell, careful to avoid unnecessary contact. Children, brought up on the constant of elevated noise and dust, took in some more smoke as

11.00 pm The day was finally getting to a close for many of these people, though you could still find that odd restaurant where college buddies were meeting up after a period of six months. The sound died down to a whisper as the hours progressed. As the virtuousness of the city retired to bed, the sins poured onto the street in a trickle. Deals were struck for those who wouldn’t find recourse on M.G. Road in the light of day. The street refused to go to sleep. The street had survived another day and had lived to tell a tale to the city. The morning after The first rays of sun seeped through the crevices of the buildings. Light was upon us. Life was upon us.

Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at http://parthp.blogspot.com, self-confessed Hindi movie geek, avid quizzer, awesome husband (for lack of a humbler adjective) and a thrilled father of two. He grew up in Mumbai and spent the last eleven years really growing up in the U.S. and is always looking to brighten up his day through good coffee and great puns.

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The Lounge

May 2013 55

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Turn of the Page

Review of Rajat Chaudhri’s ‘Hotel Calcutta’ by RK Biswas

Hotel Calcutta: Rajat Chaudhuri Publisher: Niyogi Books 222 pages Price: Rs 350

Rajat Chaudhuri is unafraid to tether his narratives to the realities that slide in between the comfort zones of our everyday world….He writes like a painter, says RK Biswas, in her review of Chaudhuri’s book, ‘Hotel Calcutta’ that revolves around a century-old hotel in Kolkata. hatch to grab property. The target is a centuryold hotel, a heritage site that is also a prime piece of real estate. The victims are the owner, an Englishman called Mr Stuart and his employees headed by the manager Peter Dutta, and also the guests, both resident and casual, of the hotel. Unlike The Decameron, in Chaudhuri’s book, his characters try to flee, not away from, but into the very place of pursuit; they escape into Hotel Calcutta itself, gathering at the bar, the lounge, the garden, seeking refuge in stories, just as the monk, who happened to be there at the bar, sipping Apple Soda, and listening to Peter’s tale of woe, told them, in fact urged them to do:

During the 14th century, seven women and three men sought refuge from the plague in a villa far away, and sanctuary in stories. That was Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and possibly the most well-known example of the “frame story”. In Rajat Chaudhuri’s book Hotel Calcutta, it is modern day Kolkata, where a similar fleeing is enacted, and a similar sanctuary is sought. This time round, the plague is not the Black Death borne by rats. This is a plague “Build a wall of stories around Hotel Calcutta and no brought on by land sharks – real estate dealers one will dare touch it. Stories will protect the past. Every whose appetite is as endless as the schemes they tale, like a mantra, will strengthen the foundation of 56

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memories on which you stand…Even if you get busy, tell a story. Tell it here or out in the garden or anywhere in the hotel. Get others to listen. Even if it has been a hard day, remember to tell one story. Remember – one story everyday.” Thus the premise of the book of tales within tales is set, with the first story being told by the mysterious painter. And then, with the passing of each day, with enthusiasm and faith rising, the band of storytellers and listeners alike begin to grow, luring in new guests along with the old. Chaudhuri is a writer with a keen eye and wideranging interests. It is obvious that he is a wellread writer. He takes his readers easily, and lucidly through places set wide, and also apart, from Amsterdam to unknown South Indian hill stations, from the by-lanes of Calcutta of yore to a corner of present day New Delhi, from the London of an era long gone to London now; and then he plunges his reader into the meandering streets of Calcutta-Kolkata. And, just as easily, his characters come and go, in a seemingly endless parade, a series of tableaus where ordinary people are thrown into strange situations, and extraordinary people exhibit their oddities with an élan that says it is business as usual. Chaudhuri entraps them all, the characters and stories in a web that is both classical and new. Classical because his style harks back to the days of robust, and at times Gothic, storytelling, when television had not been invented and the imagination of men was a trustworthy thing; new, because his narratives embrace modern day ethos and sociological structures wherever and whenever the stories require them to do so.

the comfort zones of our everyday world. It could be a chess player and his unorthodox opponent, a queen bee and her paramour, a book shop owner’s mysterious history, a man driven by his fetish for lingerie, a sleepy thief, a man’s gift of hearing (to put it mildly!), a scientist’s experiments with genetically modified narcotics, kleptomaniacs, or a writer so lost in the web of his own story, in the journey of his character, that time curves until both writer and character involuntarily step out of their individual zones. This last, is my personal favourite; in this story, I felt that Chaudhuri has surpassed himself by creating an atmosphere so compellingly surreal that when I emerged from the story, my threedimensional reality seemed as liquid as Dali’s What’s more, Chaudhuri is unafraid to tether his time pieces. narratives to the realities that slide in between 57

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Chaudhuri writes like a painter; it is difficult not There are however jerky moments in the book, to stop and admire the pictures that so many of where present, past and future tenses are left to his passages create. To cite an example or two – grapple with each other in a single sentence. These mar the flow of Hotel Calcutta in places. A The Life Cycle of Bees – The Tale of the Forbidden finer editorial eye would have ensured a seamLand: “Mist was already rising from the valleys lessly shimmering Hotel Calcutta. Apart from wrapping the silver oaks in a grim embrace. The that, this collection of stories captured with a smoke-white blankets curled around the silversteady hand, and panning disparate characters white trunks of the evergreens, slowly hiding and situations with dexterity against a common them away, as if there was a secret there which framework, makes for more than mere interestneeded to be kept away from curious eyes.” ing reading. The stories sway and hiss like carLongest Night – The Time Traveller’s Tale: nivorous plants when you’ve closed the book “Through the broken skylight, pale sunbeams and switched off the light, and you are just turnhad let themselves in, pushing back the walls of ing in to sleep, because it is after all a quiet and darkness.” ordinary night, except…Except for that unbidThe Night Watch – The Tale of Beauty and the Beast: den replay in your mind. “Empty beer cans and crushed cigarette packs lay scattered; memories of time fleeting by – conspiring endlessly against the imagination of man.”

Erstwhile ad person, Rumjhum Biswas or RK Biswas as she is increasingly known has been widely published in all five continents. In 2012 she won the first prize for her flash fiction in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest. Lifi Publications India is publishing her novel "Culling Mynahs and Crows” and a book of her short stories “The Vanishing man and Other Imperfect men” in 2013. Her poem “Cleavage” was in the long list of the Bridport Poetry Competition 2006 and also a finalist in the 2010 Aesthetica Creative Arts Contest. Her poem in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal was nominated for a Pushcart (2011) and also for the Best of Net Anthology. One of her stories – "Ahalya’s Valhalla”- was among the notable stories of 2007 in Story South’s Million Writers’ Award (USA). She has been featured in an exclusive anthology edited by Jayanta Mahapatra. She guest-edited the April 2013 issue of The Four Quarters Magazine. She blogs at http://www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com

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Slice of Life by Anupama Krishnakumar

What Does it Mean to be Old? In a reflective piece, Anupama Krishnakumar draws from her observations of old people, specifically those aged above 75 years and wonders what it means to go through old age. In the process, she shares what she has seen of their behavior and the thoughts that dominate their minds. Two days back, while I was doing my routine evening walk inside my apartment complex, there was this more-than-usual commotion in the senior citizens’ park. Now before I tell you more, let me describe this area of the complex referred to as the “senior citizens’ park”. This is that spot which is conveniently located at the corner of one of the four lanes that run across the complex; the place is characterised by two or three badam trees, plenty of green grass, and four blue benches that can seat about five people each – similar to the ones found in parks. This is the daily evening hangout zone for the senior citizens of the residential complex and to be more specific, this location belongs entirely to male senior citizens and again to be even more specific, almost all of them over the age of 75. The women too have their spaces but they are usually found sitting on benches elsewhere in-

side the complex or near the temple or just walking around in trendy-looking walking shoes, well, discussing cooking and daughters-in-law. Now to the commotion that I just told you about. I think I would call it a flurry of excitement. There were loud laughs, almost all of the men in the group were standing and as I narrowed my eyes and paid close attention, I realised that the spotlight was on one Mr.Natarajan or Nattu mama (a popular figure and a friend of the father-in-law). So the thing was – Nattu mama was plagued by various health issues typical of a man in his early 80s, had spent a good part of the last four months making his way in and out of the hospital and finally, after all the ordeal, coupled with the mental torture of missing his routine evening walk and chat sessions with his pals at the senior citizens’ park, was back.

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The hiatus would have been a rather painful one for him as well as his friends, I assume, as he himself sounded quite excited and relieved about being back, when I asked him how he was doing. Everytime I have passed through this area that is totally owned by the really old lot, I have always thought what a powerful space this is. The writer in me has been intrigued about the different stories that would do the rounds there and the different words and thoughts that would float about in the air surrounding the region. I would often wonder if the trees, grass and benches would absorb these thoughts and words of a generation that is well past its prime, the thoughts and words of a generation that often feels insecure, is filled with a longing to return to the past, is full of unpleasant opinion about the workings of today’s world and people, is craving to be held ‘important’ and is often filled with morbid fear of the inevitable – the rather sickening realisation that with every unavoidable tick of the clock, a day in the chapter of their lives close, never to return, and that they have taken one more step ahead towards the finishing line. Yes, this could be true for anyone, but when you are old, you just fall short of one more reason that keeps you going optimistically about life – biological ageing.

And soon that one question that I know I will never be able to find a complete answer to unless one experiences it personally, would creep slowly into my mind – what does it mean to be old? Especially when one has crossed the 75year mark? Much of my answer to this question has been gathered from my observations of such old people – the way they behave, the way they react to situations or just simply the way they approach every single day of their lives that in all worldy sense lacks a ‘specific purpose’. And this lack of ‘specific purpose’, I believe, moulds much of their behaviour and attitude towards the people around them. I believe this is true of both men and women. It’s just that the areas in which they try to streamline whatever is left of their energies and spirits are different. Men have a wider variety of things to indulge in while women, thanks to societal attitude that was even more conservative in the past, continue to restrict themselves to cooking, spirituality and sometimes, grandchildren and great grandchildren. My 94-year-old paternal grandfather is a perfect example – a great case-study for understanding how someone functions at such a ripe age. Quite contrary to old people of his age, who usually battle serious health issues, my grandfather is a rather healthy man, with all his basic health parameters such as BP, sugar and heart

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conditions certified as ‘absolutely normal’. This and his age, are his reasons for pride, and so is his past – he grew to be a teacher par excellence in a typical rags- to-riches story. And so, every single day now, he just needs a person or two, to listen to his life’s story, of his glorious years – a thread that would connect him with his ‘meaningful past’. Sometimes, much like a child, he would insist that he wants to eat ‘hotel food’ and worse, travel to Bangalore or Chennai, much to the anxiety of my parents! His key idea is to seek ways to be ‘active’ and elude the ultimate fear, keep it at bay, as much as possible. He constantly tries to divert his attention, resorting to watching cricket, news and teary soaps (shedding tears himself). Nights are his nightmarish times as he struggles to sleep with morbid thoughts plaguing his mind. Often, he breaks into a cold sweat and summons the entire family to his side, panting, speaking faintly, mumbling his gratitude to my parents and quite often and cinematically enough, divulging details of his ‘property will’. My 85-year-old paternal grandmother is a more withdrawn personality, always, like a “dutiful” wife, anxious about her 94-year-old husband and his health, that she considers it her life’s purpose to keep a watch over him all the time. She is often filled with remorse at the thought of not being useful to the family and just being a ‘burden’, feeling insecure and throwing a baggage of questions for the simplest of things. She is perpetually haunted by the fear of confronting the worst of situations during a brief period when she is left alone. Often times, she would fold the newspaper in such a way that she can focus on one section of it, which is the obituary column and peer intently through her glasses at

the tiny letters, moving her wrinkled, trembling fingers over the names of the deceased. I wonder what would run in her mind as she reads the names – would there be relief that there is no one that she knows up there? Or if there is someone, how firmly would the chilling fear of death would grip her weakening heart? I don’t know. Of the other old people I have met, I have seen how many of them resist change and insist on carrying on with life the way they have lived it, not willing to attempt a compromise; there are some who can’t stand the current crop of youngsters, shunning the ‘progress’ of the current generation as mere farce. There are many who rue the fact that people are slowly losing sight of cultural values. There are some who feel it utterly important to religiously attend association meetings, election meetings and stand in long queues for government-related work (a case in point being the Aadhar application process where many of the people who stood in the queue and complained incessantly in my apartment were the old ones). Well, these are also the ones who try hard not to get bogged down by feelings of neglect, uselessness and the lack of strength and will power of their younger days. They are also the ones who pray incessantly for the well-being of their off-springs, no matter the various grudges they nurse against them. There are also a few of them who have accepted ageing gracefully and carry on with life till the point it decides to take them. There are some who have lost their children while they continue to live on, facing the agony of losing a child at an age when they are readying themselves to bid goodbye to the world.

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It’s a strange phase, this one, this old age – not something that can be easily broken down into logical blocks of behaviour; it rather is a very fuzzy ball of a whole range of emotions. Living old age, perhaps, like any other phase of our life, is entirely in our hands, yet, never as easy and maybe the most difficult chapter of all – for,

when physical strength isn’t by our side, life can never be as energetic and normal and would demand quite a bit of effort, something honestly, that is now beyond my imagination, that unless I get there, I can never be sure of what it takes. Never.

Anupama Krishnakumar loves Physics and English and sort of managed to get degrees in both – studying Engineering and then Journalism. Yet, as she discovered a few years ago, it is the written word that delights her soul and so here she is, doing what she loves to do – spinning tales for her small audience and for her little son, bringing together a lovely team of creative people and spearheading Spark. She loves books, music, notebooks and colour pens and truly admires simplicity in anything!

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Spark - May 2013 Issue  

May 2013 Issue of Spark

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