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05 October 2013 Dear Reader, Hi there! As the weather changes to give way to the chills, Spark is happy to give you some warmth with its October issue titled 'Attachment.' Read on for heartwarming fiction, interesting poetry and nonfiction accounts of what people could get attached to, all topped up with some beautiful photography. We've got our dose of non-thematic non-fiction on The Lounge too. We hope you enjoy this edition and as always, we look forward to hearing from you on what you thought about Spark this month. Do send us your comments to feedback@sparkthemagazine.com.

Contributors Andy Paula Ankitha Venkataram Anupama Krishnakumar Bindu John Kalpanaa Misra Maheswaran Sathiamoorthy

Until we see you again next month, Goodbye and God bless!

M.Mohankumar

- Editorial team

Priya Gopal Revelle

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.

Saranyan BV Sanjay Gopinath Shom Biswas Sudha Nair

Spark October 2013 © Spark 2013

Vani Viswanathan

Individual contributions © Author

Vinita Agrawal

CC licensed pictures attribution available at www.sparkthemagazine.com Published by Viswanathan

Anupama

Parth Pandya

Concept, Editing and Design

Krishnakumar/Vani

Anupama Krishnakumar Vani Viswanathan

editors@sparkthemagazine.com Powered by Pothi.com

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Inside this Issue POETRY Last Call by M. Mohankumar Silver Fish by Vinita Agrawal Love in Degrees by Revelle Contradictions by BV Saranyan My Darling Nicotine by Parth Pandya The Night He Read Keats’ Lamia by M. Mohankumar FICTION The Gramophone by Sudha Nair Joba’s Journey by Andy Paula Two Lads in a Bar by Shom Biswas Too Grown Up by Ankita Venkataram Pitter Patter Raindrops by Sanjay Gopinath NON-FICTION Attachment to Rape Culture by Kalpanaa Misra Packaged Sunshine by Vani Viswanathan Room for Joy by Bindu John THE LOUNGE TURN OF THE PAGE| A Review of ’Em and the Big Hoom’ by Priya Gopal THE MUSIC CAFÉ | The Charm of the Radio by Anupama Krishnakumar PHOTOGRAPHY Addictions by Maheswaran Sathiamoorthy

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Poetry Last Call by M.Mohankumar When someone dear doesn’t respond to your call repeatedly, you realise that the thread of attachment is gone. M.Mohankumar’s poem brings out this disconnect subtly. It wasn’t the usual satin-soft voice that I heard. There was brusqueness in it, and distance. ‘I’ll call you back,’ you said. I waited the whole day, sorely vexed. And, unable to stand it any longer, pressed your number, only to hear the busy tone, then an alien voice: The number is busy, try after sometime. I tried not once, but many times, each time put off by the busy tone. Then silence. And that voice, again: The number has been switched off. Now, an hour later, you are ‘not reachable'. For no understandable reason. 4

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Fiction The Gramophone by Sudha Nair Sudha Nair tells the story of an ageing patriarch, Shankar, who fondly remembers the gramophone that was gifted by his wife.

Raag Bhupali is playing on the gramophone in Shankar's room as he lies outstretched on his lounge chair, inhaling the fragrance of the incense sticks that he lights every day, the ash-coloured, jasmine-scented smoke pervading the room and relaxing his mind. His thoughts wander to the day he had first met Rama, at the bride seeing ceremony at which she had sung, mesmerising him with her enchanting voice. He recalls their wedding, Rama looking resplendent in a crimson bridal saree bordered with gold zari. As he thinks about her, he remembers his utter surprise at her gift to him on the day of their wedding: a shiny new gramophone in a box wrapped with tissue, something that he had never considered acquiring in spite of his love of music. It was a surprise because it was so unexpectedly eloquent like a

rabbit pulled out from a magician's hat, and so much more meaningful than the gold chain he gifted her. Such a perfect gift for a stressed out accountant, he smiles in retrospect. Such thoughtful gestures were typical of her. The first record he had purchased, he still remembers, was an album by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi that he would play in the evenings when he got home from work. The records he bought subsequently were all associated to some phase in his life, like the Marathi bhavgeet he was addicted to during his posting in Mumbai, and the Meera bhajans he played for months after his son's birth. There were months during his son's school years when he played M.S. Subbalakshmi in the mornings and Begum Parveen Sultana in the evenings. He loved to play Raag Yaman on weekends when the mood at home was relaxed and Rama pot5

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tered around in the kitchen making him his favourite biryani dish with raita for lunch or pakodas with tea for the evenings. She could be heard humming along sometimes; even now he remembers the beautiful, controlled vibrato in her singing. He is seventy years old now, living in a forty-year-old house in Bangalore that has four bedrooms, a terrace, a car porch, a backyard with a decent vegetable patch, and a small flower garden in the front. His son, Arun, daughter-in-law, Abha and grand-daughter, Matangi live with him. It was six years since Rama’s demise and Arun's job had a serious setback around the same time, forcing him to consider moving in with him, if only as a temporary consolation to his ageing father. Shankar accepted Arun's moving in just as naturally as he accepted Rama's death despite the sudden circumstances in which she had died. Her brain tumour, detected late, left her suddenly incapacitated, hospitalised, and both of them in shock. She was gone in a few months leaving him to confront her loss stoically. "She was a wonderful person; it was hard to see her go," he muttered to those who came on the day of her cremation. "There was nothing I could do," he added to his friends.

After that day, he planned his days meticulously, reading or working in his garden or going for a walk every evening, and listening to the gramophone for most part of the day. It was the least he could do to ensure the smooth flow of time, making his days seem effortlessly full just like it used to be when Rama was alive. She was the exuberant one, pulling him along to meet up with old friends on an impulse or inviting neighbours home for bhajans and tea. He mostly went along with whatever Rama wanted to do, and he admired her energy and enthusiasm. Now all of that was in the past. Now he visited no one and invited no one home. His gramophone gave him company all the time. The only people who ever came to his room regularly, where he spent a large part of his days now, were the cleaning lady, and Matangi. Matangi used to spend her summers with Rama and Shankar even before they all moved in. She was a quiet child who liked to watch or help Rama in the kitchen, or sit beside Shankar in the evenings to be told a story. Matangi was the most upset when Rama died. She was six then. "How come she is never coming back?" she kept asking. "Why did she go?" She was inconsolable. She took to sleeping in Shankar's room at night, thinking that Rama would perhaps 6

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miraculously reappear. Then one day, he couldn't remember how many months later, she was convinced otherwise and she moved out. She is now twelve and is, in a way, the one who reminds him of Rama because of her responsible and caring nature. She still runs straight into Shankar's room after school. If Shankar is asleep on his lounge chair, she carefully takes off his glasses and keeps them aside, and replaces the needle of the gramophone if the record has finished playing, then softly tiptoes out of his room without waking him up. On days that Shankar isn't tired and sleeping, she tells him all about her day at school, and when she leaves to change and have her snack, she puts on another record for him. She knows how he loves to listen to his records all day. Shankar's hearing though is getting weaker now. He no longer can listen so well to the songs on the gramophone despite being

played at the highest volume. Abha comes into his room more often now than before to ask him not to play his music so loudly. She says politely that it disturbs her or Matangi when she studies or Arun when he returns tired from work. He misses Rama now, wishing she were here to soothe the sadness he feels. Arun offers to get him hearing aids, and buy him a new Walkman. The gramophone is so outdated now, he claims. Hearing aids are a good idea, Shankar thinks; he cannot imagine a life in which he cannot listen to music. The gramophone is in a precarious state too, and some of the records are irreparably damaged, but he cannot give up his gramophone, unless it gives up on him, like Rama did. But Rama did leave behind a reminder of their life, of all the good times - this piece of junk to some, dated 40 years. Even if there was nothing he could do to save her life, he holds dearly the one thing that he knows will preserve the beautiful memories spent with her.

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. 7

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Non-fiction Attachment to Rape Culture by Kalpanaa Misra Discussing the highly controversial (and yet extremely popular) ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke, Kalpanaa Misra believes the culprit could be our attachment to the age-old misogynist belief that men have rights over women’s bodies. Such songs only promote rape culture, she writes. Attachment to the age-old misogynist belief that men have rights over women’s bodies could be what’s behind Robin Thicke’s lyrics of his summer hit Blurred Lines. The song is hugely popular perhaps because of the shock value inherent in the nudity (of women of course) in the uncensored version of the song. The chorus reiterates, with sickening regularity and tinny insistence, “I know you want it” – referring to sex, with the implication that a woman saying “no” to sex is just a part of the courtship game. Bollywood is an ongoing offender in this category with the latest offering being Ranjhaana, which is hardly the cute love story it has been portrayed as and more a reiteration of the belief that stalking a girl who says ”no” is normal and a rite of pas-

sage before the hero wins the the heroine. Blurred Lines goes on to call the woman a “good girl,” implying that she’s just acting coy when she says no. It’s an ancient mindset that Thicke seems to have difficulty shaking off. He would do well to realize that “ No means no” and that women know their minds. The crass “compliments” continue: “You the hottest bitch in this place. I feel so lucky…” – if a woman looks hot, or converses with you, it doesn’t follow automatically that she wants to have sex with you. You don’t have to read between the “Blurred Lines” and come up with your own interpretation based on your attachment to sexist ideals. 8

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The song gets more and more graphic with lines to the tune of “Do it like it hurt…” Indeed! Is this the male fantasy of what women want from a sexual encounter? Pain? It gets worse. (Graphic alert: some people may be offended by the following lines) “I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two,” a casual reference to nonconsensual anal sex, apparently a wonderful way for a man to show a woman who is in charge. Absolutely delightful!

as the song itself with its repetitive idiotic rhythm you can’t but have noticed the nudity, the objectification of the women and the sexualized positions and gestures. It’s hardly art if it reduces women to mere sex objects, and nowhere does the song indicate that it’s parodying an attitude that needs to be questioned. An attitude that violence, sexual or otherwise, against women, is the norm and is cool.

Feminists have not been quiet about this assault on Thicke responds to the women. There are a number outrage this song has of rejoinders to this song. unleashed in a manner One of them, Defined Lines true to his name, by The Law Revue Girls, is “What a pleasure it is sexy and funny and has to degrade a woman,” three semi-nude men cavorthe joked, using the ing in a ridiculous fashion argument that since made popular for young he’s happily married he girls in semi-pornographic has to be the perfect person to use his art to videos and interestingly, in the style of get people talking about consensual sex. I Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines. don’t know. I think the song came first and The lines of Defined Lines are brilliant rethe clever argument about how it’s political- joinders: “What you seen on TV doesn’t ly correct came later. What's worse is that speak equality, it’s straight up misogyny”. there are far too many men out there at- The response to being called “good girl” – tached to the thoughts the song voices. “We ain’t good girls – we are scholastic, They don’t see Blurred Lines as an oppor- smart and sarcastic, not fuc*ing plastic…” tunity to discuss the rightness or wrongness ending with, “Tell me how it feels to get of rape and sexual harassment but rather as verbally harassed.” an indictment of their actions. They see it as Another parody is by Melinda Hughes, a validation of their stance. Lame Lines which starts with the lines If you watched the video, which is as boring 9

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“Baby I can hear what you’re trying to say, dragging me back to the Stone Age. Maybe I want respect, maybe you want some sex…” is fun too. Much more fun than Blurred Lines. Before we get to the old argument that men are attached to, that feminists don’t enjoy sex therefore the brouhaha, let me ask you – is Burred Lines about sexuality? Is it sensual in any way? Let’s lose our attachment to the need for disempowering women by telling them, “We know you want it.” That’s what rapists say to justify their actions as has been well analysed on Sociological Images in Out of the Mouths of Rapists.

Singh’s Main Hoo Balatkaari got his New Year’s Eve concert cancelled after the December 16th rape, many naysayers talked about Yo Yo’s freedom of expression which the protestors had apparently violated. A man’s freedom of expression cannot be violated but a woman’s body can be violated with rape culture? Let’s not get attached to violent degrading songs sung for shock value. Let's not believe that these lyrics are cool. Rape is never cool. Let’s not propagate rape culture by quietly accepting songs such as these.

When the outrage against Yo Yo Honey

Kalpanaa Misra is a writer. She blogs at http://kalpanawrites.blogspot.in. Her twitter handle is @kalpanapster.

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Poetry Silver Fish by Vinita Agrawal Vinita Agrawal’s poem is a humorous piece on her attachment to physical books as opposed to digital editions and electronic versions. Read on. I miss the silver fish I miss the mouldy smell I miss the delicate ageing That crumbling pages tell

The golden ochre hue Of a book that's very old May look unexciting To me it's precious gold

The dog-eared tender edges At the corner of every page Are endearing measures Of glorious reading days

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The covers! Ah! The covers

A book’s softly rustling form

They settle in my heart

Will fan your gentle dreams

When days are rough and misty

You'll forget neon panes

They play the sunny part

In the world of paper reams.

I am in love with wormholes And the squiggly little tracks They add so much history Of insects to my racks

Let me tell you now The thing about a book You pick one up and trust me For life you are hooked

How can you even compare A screen of gorilla glass To crisp and robust pages That don't need electricity to last Vinita Agrawal is a Delhi-based writer and poet and has been published in international print and online journals.

You really should take Your favourite book to bed Cuddle it and cherish it Get digital out of your head

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Fiction Joba’s Journey by Andy Paula Andy Paula’s work of fiction talks about a strong-willed mother and her resolute daughter, Joba, and the intricacies of the relationship that they share. “Ma, give him money!”

death. She wore a composed air like all was “How many people do I give to? Give to under control, that no storm had blown over their heads and taken the roof with it. one, ten others come by!” “My bag is jangling with change, let’s hope “No, GIVE ! Give this one at least.” some more beggars come by,” Mother And Mother took out her purse yet again to smiled. give the beggar woman a coin. She was a single parent, and was prudent with money. “Are you making fun of me?” Her husband died of a cardiac arrest last “Joba phool, do I ever do that darling?” summer and it was left to her to raise their Joba smiled and her eyes lit up. “I love Joba three children. ‘Three fatherless teenagers phool,” she looked at Mother. She had under one roof!’ the world clucked in sym- grown as tall as her. “Did I tell you about pathy. One unsuspecting moment had con- Collin, the exchange student from Nebrasferred their flourishing home a broken epi- ka?” thet. She collected the pieces with a stoic dignity and went about giving her children “Yes, that he’ll stay in India and finish his the best. Her boisterous boys mellowed Class XII with you all.” overnight and her daughter displayed a ma- “Collin asked me what my name meant, I turity beyond her years. Mother only hoped told him China Rose, the flower. And in Joba had cried more openly at her father’s Bio practicals when we were dissecting a 13

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china rose he said, ‘Joba that’s you under When her peers lamented about their empty the scalpel!’” nest, Mother sent a silent prayer about her Mother laughed. These were moments Joba near-full house. Her children were her anchor, and while her husband was irreplacealived for. ble, she was grateful for what was still hers. “Ma, I want to be a research scholar,” Joba told her family in the second year of colAfter the XII Boards, her classmates went lege. away to colleges in dif“I thought you wanted a ferent cities and Joba career, Joba?” was left alone. Mother insisted she go to “I’ll get a good stipend Banasthali Vidyapeeth during my research years, and stay in the hostel. don’t worry,” she asShe could complete her sured. B.Sc., learn horse“I’m not worried about riding, participate in money,” Ma was emphatcollege activities and ic. “Just voicing what come back as a confiyou’d always said you dent graduate. wanted.” *****

“I want to stay at home “Oh, Ma,” Joba came and do my B.Sc.,” she and hugged Mother. declared. Something Demonstrations of affecabout this child made tion were rare for her. further discussion unnecessary. She had in- Ma held her back tightly, her eyes moist. herited her father’s resoluteness. “Do whatever makes you happy, darling.” So when the rest from her batch saw the “I’m taking up Microbiology and my reworld, Joba stayed in her cocoon. Rocco search topic is decided. You remember Coland Mithun, her brothers, one and two lin?” Mother nodded. “He’s helped me with years her senior, were at home too completit Ma; he’s taking up a related topic in the ing their education. The family followed an U.S. and if our research gets patented, nothunspoken ethic of never leaving Mother ing like it. But that’s only after I complete alone. Baba had bonded them in death. my final year here in India.” 14

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Mother was jolted when she heard the last sentence. She had almost thought her children would stay home for ever. And for a girl who did not want to leave her side to go to another town, the mention of another country spoken decisively reminded Mother of a palpable void. Not the one to clip her children’s wings, she put up a brave façade and urged Joba to tell her more. The daughter confided in her closest aide about her dreams, her career and her fears. “We’ll talk on Skype every day, Ma. You’ll not feel that I’m away. When Collin was in India, he spoke to his parents daily. ”

children, about how she wanted them to be close to her and yet be independent? Such paradoxes from a mother were not acceptable. For the children, she was a brave, sorted-out woman who would stand by them throughout their life. Only with a husband could she discuss her insecurities and be pacified in his warm embrace. “Hello, Joba, can you hear me?” Despite the time zone differences, she called Mother at a time that suited the latter. “Yes, Ma. Can you?” “Yes. You sound low, are you alright?”

“Yes, Ma, just a little tired. I’ve been feeling ***** nauseous from the morning. ” Mother It was a year that Joba was in the U.S. She froze. Early morning nausea? This was a had been well –received at the University nightmare. and her professors declared her a promising Just then there was a call for alms from outstudent Having a friend there helped her side and Mother excused herself. adjust faster and his friends became hers. “How many people will you give money to? Mother’s only fear was a well- guarded seGive to one and ten more will come,” Joba cret, one that she did not share even with said from her research scholar’s studio her children. Such is the fear of ridicule. apartment. “Ma, please, she’s gone there to study, don’t “I’ll give to just this one and come back in a you trust her?” Rocco asked when Ma wonminute,” Mother said. dered who the other friends were because Collin was the only one she had heard Joba She came back to see Joba reclining on her talk about. “And you are asking this for the couch, looking pale. “Joba, are you…err… what exactly are you feeling?” third time this week!” These were times a wife needed her hus- “Aah, feel like vomiting, feeling giddy,” band the most. Who else could she talk to Joba said weakly. Mother’s head was spinabout her fears, about her concerns for her ning; her worst fear a brutal reality. A 15

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young, fatherless girl in a foreign land was an easy target. She should have found out more about her other friends, talked to her daughter’s professors, called that basta...fellow Collin, Joba was always raving about. She should have been a more responsible mother. She missed her husband so much.

Joba was still talking, her voice wafted into Mother’s ears from a distant, alien continent. “Overate in the party last night, I guess. Collin and his partner, David, moved in together so they threw a party for friends. Had I ever told you about them, aaagh, I’ll talk to you later Ma, I feel like puking... ”

“Ma, relax, it’s nothing serious,” Joba was her usual composed self. She was always the girl, the woman, in control. Even when Father died, she was quiet patiently waiting for the disturbance to settle. When others indulged in chest-thumping mourning, she would look at them with the wisdom of a fifty-year-old woman. Woman, the word jolted Mother back to the present.

Andy Paula is a corporate trainer, an avid reader, a passionate blogger, and now, a writer. Her favourite hat though, remains the Thinker’s. Her debut novella, Love’s Labor was published by Indireads this June and her short stories and articles have appeared in Love Across Borders - An Anthology of Short Stories, eFiction India and Life Beyond Numbers among others.

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Non-fiction Packaged Sunshine by Vani Viswanathan Vani Viswanathan discusses her attachment to what she considers sunshine in a bottle – beer.

I can only imagine my mother’s expression if she ever manages to read through this. Her lips would be pursed, and she would ask, “What’s your design?” as she asked when I had earlier written for Spark about a lesbian couple, and a live-in relationship. But nothing is going to stop me from eulogising that which I’m so fond of. I wonder if it’s just a phase I’ll get over in some time, but just the thought of that makes me sad, so I’ll simply focus on how it makes me happy for now.

five years ago, beer entered my life in a fruity flavour when one frustrated evening after work, I decided to abuse Happy Hour to buy a light, fruity beer that my colleague was having. Why, this tasted – or smelled – nothing like that obscene-smelling stuff I’d snorted the previous year! Even so, the taste was something to get used to. But that beer, the golden brown, filled-with-sunlight wonder, remains my favourite to date. Kronenbourg Blanc. I fervently hunt for it in India, but without luck.

I’m talking about beer.

Once I managed to get used to the taste of the beer – grew into it – I gave others a shot. Tiger beer, can lah. Brewerkz, the popular brewery in Singapore, a couple of times. Another favourite was the German restaurant Brotzeit, which brought some special flavours. I particularly liked one

Ten years ago, I never thought I’d drink. You know, alcohol. Six years ago, I’d smelled a friend’s can of beer as I tried drinking it, and returned it with a snort – so much so that he cleverly said I was snorting, not drinking, beer. And then suddenly,

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fruity weissbier with a hint of banana in it – this I especially remember because it wasn’t until I started taking anti-histamines for my troublesome sinus that I could even taste the mild banana flavour! I was overjoyed to find this in Beer Café in Delhi, even at the ridiculous premium you have to pay in India for these. Coming back to student life in India, I relied entirely on the large, green Kingfisher bottles for the occasional kicks. It was cheap, and suited the purpose just fine. A happy buzz, a general ability to push worrisome thoughts behind. Or sometimes, call and confront someone with those worries. Back to earning now, and exploring the Delhi restaurant scene, nothing has still replaced beer for me. A Mojito doesn’t cut it, and wine simply feels way too staid and boring. Cocktails as a whole don’t get much of my alcohol time, because they make me feel cheated – a cocktail’s neither juice nor straightforward alcohol. Rum is too sweet, whisky stinks, forget the other things. Vod-

ka and Tequila are only fit to be had as shots. Beer, to me, symbolises fun. Fun, like running across a traffic-ridden, rain-drenched road in Phuket with my friend just for kicks, just because he dared me to do it. Fun, like marking out specific parts of the bottle to ‘chug’. Bonding. Bonding in Mumbai with college-mates. Bonding over a horrid week on a Friday evening with colleagues. People. At times, it reminds me of people who seemed close to making it as important in my life. And of the people who finally did make it.

Much as I guiltily gulp down pints, worried about all the calories I willingly inject into my system, nothing can replace the joy beer brings me. Nothing else I eat or drink – except, maybe, rasam and rava laddoo – can bring the same grin to my face as I have when I take my first sip of beer. Golden brown elixir, you are my packaged dose of sunshine. Fermented barley and hops, I am thy slave.

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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

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Poetry Love in Degrees by Revelle Revelle writes a poem on the attachment to love.

Hearts and damnation shout burdens and recipes for disturbed vibrations disturb me.

I cling to the couches of solitude and brisk lunches churning the butter that relishes the sauce. But there in my mired glib, I come to conclusions of worth - in the shallows of rigger and loss

Forgive me for running and cunning of deeds because shedding futility is as cumbersome as grief and sometimes we people just take what we need

So when your heart shouts damnation so loud that you fall to your knees remember my disturbed burdens in solitude begging for love in degrees.

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Revelle is a writer, poet and music producer based in Los Angeles. He has several shows and musicals to his credit. His new book Tantric Tales of Mahamudra is due for release soon. He also has a poetry collection titled 365 Days of Poetry.

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Fiction Two Lads in a Bar by Shom Biswas Krish meets Chris, a boxer like himself, in Vegas. The encounter makes Krish reminisce about a different life in a different place – Shom Biswas writes the story about one’s attachment to a small town.

“Lost again, Krish?” “You wish! Made eighty bucks today.” “Okay! The booze is on you then.”

In response, he would look at the computer screen in front of him and press a few keys. “Aha, so you are Krishnendu. Long Indian name for a little Indian boy”.

“Aren’t you forbidden to drink at work, Touché! bartender?” ----Snarl. “Bah! Go away, flyweight!”

I laugh. And walk up to the elevators. Chris is about five-feet-ten. He has a neatly trimmed beard, broad shoulders, large foreRound One to me. arms and close-cropped hair. If I were four ---inches taller, we would have been exactly Chris is the barman at the Marriott Court- the same built. But that’s not surprising; yard, Las Vegas. I have been staying here Chris was a boxer in his youth, as was I. for the past two weeks, and due in no small It’s easy for us boxers to connect. We unmeasures to the identicalness of our names, derstand one another. What you see as viowe have got friendly. lence, we see as science. It is the most tech“Aha, so you are Christos. There you go, nical of sports, boxing. And you will never know if you haven’t trained as one. nice Greek name for a nice Greek boy.” 22

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Of course, it helps that Chris loves banter, --can take a joke and can give back in kind. “Hey Chris, you don’t go gambling at all, Chris always has time for a chat. When in eh? And women?” Vegas, nobody drinks at the Marriott Court- “Naah, mate. Stopped all that. No gamyard. Nobody, except for people with a bling, no lap dances for me anymore. Here, gambling problem, and less-than-infinite see…” money. People like me. He takes off his wallet and shows me a I have promised myself that I will only carry photograph. a hundred-and-fifty dollars to the casinos every day, and catch a taxi and return to my A smiling Chris, with a gorgeous brunette hotel at 10PM; regardless of a winning and two little girls. streak or a stretch “Oh she is pretty!” of bad luck. I have As is the mandatory been good. I have reciprocal action in kept to the promsuch a case, I disise. Religiously so. I play the photoam nothing if not graph in my wallet. disciplined. We look up. And Considering the stare at each other eighty I have won for a second or today, I am in artwo. rears by a mere two -hundred-and-seventy-five dollars. Apart And then he slowly extends a clenched fist from that one day at a Gentlemen’s Club at my direction. with colleagues (disgusting! I am too old for “We boxers always get the prettiest girls, strip bars…) and the couple of visits to the don’t we?” he exclaims. Cirque du Soleil (Mystère was amazing, I touch his fist with mine. Beatles’ Love was tolerable), I have played “Hell yeah we do!” every day. I am doing well, I think.

---

The house will win anyway, and I am far The CEO at my company does not trust me enough to allow me to stay at a hotel with a from broke yet. casino. He was with me last year when I 23

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blew nearly a thousand dollars in one night at Atlantic City. So he has ordered the Director of Sales to ensure that I am at a fair distance from casinos. Our CEO thinks of himself as a bit of an office-daddy for me.

its more glamorous cousin the roulette wheel. They have a few at the airport; they have them in hotel lobbies, and nearly everywhere else. Even the “What happens in Vegas…” magnetic stickers are in the form of casino chips, the black-and-white $1, the It’s not a bad thing. Promotions happen red $5, the green $25 and even the mother quicker. of them all, the orange $1000. Ergo, Marriott Courtyard. The room rents I am tempted. Often. This is the city of are lower too. temptations. I don’t complain much. I like these smaller --Marriott hotels, the Courtyards and the Residence Inns; quiet, clean, comfortable, “Mayweather’s got great technique, sure. good breakfast spread… what else can a Technique-wise, he is probably the best in man want? And the reward points are all the world. Even the Mexicans guys, Morales adding up. and Barrera and Marquez cannot touch It’s about four blocks from Mandalay Bay, a Floyd on technique.” beautiful but rather less-feted casino, and about three miles from the MGM Grand and the New York New York, the ones you see more often on Vegas-themed movies and television shows.

We were discussing the rumoured boxing match between the two best welterweights in the world, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

I am a salesman. I sell my company and its technology services to hospitals across the US. And yes, Sin City has hospitals indeed, a lot of them. And they don’t have slot machines in those hospitals.

fighter. “

“So if they fight, you think Manny will lose, What am I doing in Vegas? As our Sales eh?” I ask. Director says, you would still need hospitals “Not necessarily. In fact, if you ask me, I in Sin City. And hospitals would need tech- think Manny will win. Floyd is definitely the nology. better boxer, but Pacquiao is the better He thumps his chest with a clenched fist. “Heart! Manny has heart.”

He continues, “Like you have heart, Krish. The slot machine, though, is otherwise You are a flyweight. I have twenty pounds ubiquitous in Vegas; the slot machine and on you, maybe twenty-five, but if I ask you 24

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to spar with me now, you will not hesitate I worked hard. for a second.” I had no footwork. I had short, stubby I lighten it up: “Oh no, I will hesitate al- arms. Taller, longer boxers would always right. I wouldn’t want to beat your ass. You get to my chin with jabs and crosses. are a friend.” But I promised to myself that I will never “Ha ha. I really should fight you some- get knocked out. time.” Chris guffaws. I never got knocked out. Chris is a much more pedigreed boxer than “Bhombol-da, that’s it. I cannot stand up I have ever been; he had won the Golden any more. Let me go today.” Gloves while in the army, he says. I have no “You weak middle-class boys. Go home reason to disbelieve him. and study. Be a doctor. Be an engineer. Plus, he is probably a super-middleweight, Why do you even come here? Go home.” or at least a middleweight. I had fought a couple of middleweights during my time, I would get up, and continue on the skipbut I have never been heavier that a super- ping rope. And then on to the punching lightweight myself. That’s sixty-four kilos. bag. As for flyweight, flyweight is fifty kilos. I “Hurts?” Bhombol-da would ask. have not been a flyweight for a long, long “It does. Yes.” time. “Just a hundred sets more, beta. You can ---do it. Maar, Keshto!” Bhombol-da’s gym comes to mind.

And I would do it. I would do a hundredBhombol-da was my boxing coach. He used and-fifty. I would do two hundred. to say the same thing. I would never back down... I never would, I “Keshto, you have heart. Jigar! Work hard. promised to Bhombol-da…. One day, you will be at the Asian Games, at I shiver slightly in this Vegas cold. the Olympics.” This man is not that boy. My knuckles cracked a thousand times. My Krish is not Keshto. fists bled so much that many a day, I had to go to school wearing a bandage on my --hand.

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“Yeah. Not much money in it though.”

You pound away the miles, you push yourself that little bit more. Each tomorrow “So you would leave tomorrow morning, should find you farther than today. eh?” I have been running for the last fifteen “Yep.” years. Running to get there. And running to “Back to Dallas?” run away. “Back to Dallas.” There was a town once. A small town. A “Was good knowing you, Pacquiao.”

small life. Small victories and small defeats.

“Good knowing you too, Golden Gloves.”

This place is miles and miles from that place.

“Maker’s Mark and Diet Coke?”

5AM, though, smells the same in any city, in any town.

“Yeah.”

“This one’s on me. And I’ll have one too. Simon and Garfunkel’s boxer carried the To hell with it.” reminder of every glove that laid him down. --And somewhere in some corner of the uni5AM is always the best time for a run. In verse, a road warrior will put on his suit, any city in the world. You start your run pick up his laptop bag, and hail a taxi to the when it is night, and end when it is day. By airport. the time the world is waking up, you are already on your way.

Soumyadipta ‘Shom’ Biswas is an engineer-MBA and works as a marketer in Bangalore. His work has been published in Out of Print. He is a collector of antique sports books; and is consistently one of the best EPL fantasy football managers in the world.

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Non-fiction Making Room for Joy by Bindu John Could a few square feet of space mean the world to someone? Bindu John talks about her attachment to her room: her pillar of strength, the place where she truly belonged.

They say that being detached is the key to happiness in life – from people, things and habits. It saves you the heart-wrenching pain of separation and other nasty surprises that life hands out to you. A detached mind knows no disappointment, sorrow or regret. There’s just one question to be answered here. Is that really living?

bandh, sneaking in story books and hiding them inside text books while pretending to study, banging the door shut and falling onto the bed because my parents wouldn’t allow me to go to the local fair with my friends, proudly displaying the medals and trophies I’d won on the window-sill, hoarding my pocket-money in a shoe box stashed away at the back of the almirah, to buy that very special hair clip for my mother on her birthday. Fighting with my brother over which cricketer’s poster would go up on the wall was an everyday event. Eventually he got kicked out into another bedroom upstairs!

My father told me long ago that as long as I lived, I would have a room in our home that I could always go back to. Even if the world fell apart, I could hold on to that room, my pillar of strength. To say that I am attached to this room would be an understatement. It was where I spent most of my childhood, doing last minute homework It was where I had heart-to-hearts with my by the light of the table lamp while fervent- friends about all those irresistibly charming ly hoping that the next day would be a boys in the senior classes who wouldn’t give 27

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us a second glance (we found the boys in our own class quite boring). Where I wrote long letters and made birthday cards for friends with chart paper. Where I looked out of the window and fantasized about reaching for the stars. The nights were peaceful and sleep was sweet, rain drops pitter pattering on the window panes often.

ble! I would shriek at it in glee no less than if I had seen Mickey Mouse himself sitting on my table.

And soon, I went off to college to conquer a whole new world that was scary at its best. “Don’t worry, everything will be alright, you will anyway come back here for holidays”, my father reassured me. And that gave me hope. Hope that I could come back even if I screwed up, that my room was waiting for me back here. On the last day of my exams, I would catch a train home and run into my parents’ arms. I would fling my heavy text book-laden traveling bag on to the bed that gleamed with a crisp floral bedspread that my mother had laid out. I would quickly run my eyes around the room to see if anything had changed. There it was, a new vase with freshly cut flowers resting on the study ta-

And that night I would sleep well. I was back where I belonged.

The top drawer of my dressing table would have the letters and cards that my friends had sent me. I changed hostels so often that it didn’t make sense to give those addresses to them. Moreover, the nuns read all our mail before handing them over to us.

Over the years, the room has changed quite a bit, an extra painting hung on the wall where it once had the poster of Rahul Dravid giving a shy smile, colorful magnets stuck on to the steel almirah, school text books making way for bestsellers. The humble table-lamp has retired from a life well-lived and has gracefully exited before having to face a fancy bed lamp. The trophies and medals now have a wooden home of their own and don’t have to fall down every time someone dusts the window sill. It’s as if their glory has been sealed and framed for posterity. The hair brushes and clips on the dressing table have now been replaced by photo frames of all sizes

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and shapes with smiling moments held captive. It seems like the room has grown with me, into the trials and pleasures of adult life. As I spend lesser and lesser time in the room, I become more and more possessive of it. When my mother calls to tell me about guests coming home, I wait patiently to let her finish talking about what they have been served for lunch and dinner. And then I ask hesitatingly, “So, where did they sleep?” My mother laughs and reassures me that it wasn’t in my room. “Well, not that it matters much”, I add sheepishly. And I am relieved for now. News of my strange attachment and possessiveness has now reached far and wide; I am told that I am very silly. Well, what’s life without the satisfaction from a little silliness? We are humans after all and not robots that are pro-

grammed to live a sensible and perfect life. Sometimes I wake up all sweaty and frightened in the middle of the night in places I grudgingly call home. There are a million things on my mind and a constant battle with myself and the world. Belying logic and reason, the battles are forgotten when I enter the magic room. Better still, I realize that they are not worth fighting. The blue walls of the room embrace the memories of an innocent childhood, resounding echoes of guileless laughter, hopes and dreams from a simpler time. It beckons me to enter an uncertain future, giving promises of content and fulfillment. “Come on, it’s just a room!” you say? Yes, it’s just a small, square room. One that exudes pure joy.

Bindu works as a Marketing Professional with an IT giant. She likes dabbling with words and dreams of becoming a hot-shot writer.

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Poetry Contradictions by BV Saranyan The different symbols associated with Lord Shiva is something that helps one manage the contradictions in his attachments, says Saranyan, through a poem.

Behind the panwallah hangs the picture of blue Shiva, blue Shiva smiles, red Shiva is the angry portrayal of the same Shiva;

He sits on the depleted tiger-hide mat; in front of Him the round face of incensed tiger, dead; as if alive;

Around the Lord’s neck quaint, knotted, and searching the air is the serpent with flat head.

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I fondle, the ears of my spaniel are soft, he passes under my legs I pet him again and roll up my sleeves,

get organized to do the red crabs brought from Vashi gliding without fret inside the kitchen sink.

I have no love of Shiva, He helps me manage the contradictions in my attachments, that’s about all.

Saranyan BV is a Mumbai-based writer who came into the realm of literature by mistake but loves dwelling here. His poems and short stories have been published in many magazines in India and abroad.

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Fiction Too Grown Up by Ankita Venkataram Days before she turns 18, a young woman finds herself unable to come to terms with the kind of responsibilites that 18 loaded on people. She looks to escape into her carefree days through a Barbie. Ankitha tells the story.

She sat there, her eyes vacant, or full of life; it depended on how you perceived her. I hadn’t seen her in years but her confidence and beautiful blonde hair had remained with me long after I’d coldly cut off ties with her in my early teen years.

plastic doll. She would never fit in with my collection. They were all buried in a bag and tucked away safely in some corner of my home. I thought my little cousin could experience the joy when she visited but she never did. She had a pink Nintendo in her When I looked at her on the supermarket hand instead, and lived Barbie through shelf now, just four days away from my game levels. 18th birthday, I felt like a little girl again, I needed to speak to Barbie like I did bewanting to cling to her effortless confidence fore. I was at the onset of adulthood. I had and take shelter in it. Who even decided 18 four days left. It was a stupid thing to do was a good number to load a huge deal of but this was the only way I could make crap on someone and strip them of their sense of things. Eighteen is supposed to be title of being a child? the time to be naïve but let’s not kid ourThe quality had come down. The Barbie selves, which eighteen year old of this genwith the purple summer dress on the shelf eration is naïve and idealistic? Nowadays, looked pretty enough, but she was still too everyone has been taught to live with their plain. Her smile was too fake, even for a feet firmly on the ground. Study hard; get 32

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into a good university and make good money. Dreams are for people like Barbie who live in a land where you can do whatever you want, and I wanted to do that for a little while.

It was really disappointing to see that all the dolls had been modified. They weren’t soft and feminine anymore. The marketers seemed to be going for an almost blinding brightness. A majority of the ones I found I wanted to buy the perfect Barbie, one that were those Idol Barbies with the tacky mioutshone the others. I wasn’t 18 yet. On crophones and hideous clothes. paper, I could still behave as I liked. As I was sulking over this, I received a call I eliminated all the fancy malls from my from a friend. search, because I knew they would all con- “Hey, where are you? I wanted to ask you if tain tacky Barbies in you wanted to hang out purple dresses like tomorrow. You can the one I’d seen. I even sleep over and we decided the best locan celebrate your 18th cation for me to get getting wasted! What do my doll would be you say?” from the big toy Although I liked alcoshop coincidentally hol, the last thing I named “Big Toy wanted to do now was Shop” where I’d gotget drunk on my eightten my last Barbie eenth birthday. Alcohol was too grown-up when I was nine or ten. for me at the moment. Why was I even Two days before my birthday, I scanned the turning 18? I guess I was going through place to check out which one I wanted, and something like a mid-life crisis but instead which one would fit the price I had in of evaluating what my life had amounted to mind. Even though it was a birthday pre- so far, I didn’t know how to start anything. sent, I didn’t want to binge over a doll. I Why didn’t anyone talk about things like suppose my parents had succeeded in keep- this? ing my feet placed firmly on the ground. I “No, thanks, I’m not in the mood for getstill didn’t see what was good about the ting drunk. Maybe next week? I’m busy toground though; the sky seemed endless, a morrow anyway.” place only birds and children could inhabit; After receiving groans of disapproval from it was banished for adults. my friend, I wondered what I was doing. 33

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I was ending my childhood, not entering into a second one. After all, I’d been yearning for so long to turn18 and experience the much-talked about freedom that adulthood supposedly brought. Yet, now that I had the chance, why did I feel so suffocated? As if in answer to my question, a Barbie fell off the top row of the shelf I was standing under. When I picked up the Barbie, I felt like I’d grasped something tangible in a black hole.

childhood should have come back to me naturally. Why then wasn’t I able to play with her? It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Childhood was easy. Why couldn’t I slip back in?

It was strange. I had no real aspirations to travel but I liked her more than all the other Barbies. I scrutinized others in the hope of finding one that would relate to my life more. I couldn’t find any Barbie that I wanted more.

It was then that the knowledge that had been so hard to come to terms with for the past few weeks, finally saw the light of comprehension. I would never be her. The fact that I didn’t want to be her didn’t matter. It was the same while I was young. My favourite “dreams” were always out of my reach; I was a princess, a movie star, a queen. They weren’t dreams; they were easy delusions of a little girl. From now on, delusions were answerable. It was nice and fun to be Barbie, nice to always be up in the sky, but along the way there are certain things that weigh you down until you reach the ground. No matter how hard it is to admit, delusions must stay delusions. From now on I was legally bound to reality, and reality felt so boring.

I bought it immediately. When I went home and removed her from the box, I wondered how exactly I was supposed to play with her now. I wanted to be a child, I’d gotten a piece of my childhood back, and technically, considering my affection for her, my

It was all so depressing and irritating. I could go out, get drunk and not think about any of this. I could start playing with her, but everything seemed so pointless now. Why was I being philosophical about a Barbie of all things anyway?

She was Barbie: the Explorer. She came with several different outfits and there were cute little photos of her in each place doing lots of adventurous things. I knew I had to have her, and luckily, her price was within my budget.

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It was stupid of me to expect to play with her like I did 10 years ago. The 8-year-old me and the 18-year-old me were different. I wish I could say I didn’t feel stupid at all while I was attempting to talk to her and play with her, but no, I could only take half an hour of it before realizing it was futile. But still, just for having an 18-year-old girl as her owner, this Barbie was special. I would still make mistakes, behave like a child sometimes but I would try not to be so immature about it. It was time to stop thinking so much and finally have some fun. It was time to put a rest to a period of my life that had been awkward and clumsy but happy and fun at the same time.

“Hey, I was wondering if that offer was still open. I’m totally free in the evening and would love to stay over. The business I had in the morning is done. So I want to have a bit of fun tonight. I’m not really in the mood for getting smashed, but I don’t mind a drink or two. Is that cool with you?”

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. Only recently has she started submitting her work to magazines, and she remains relatively optimistic about her prospects.

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Photography Addictions by Maheswaran Sathiamoorthy

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Poetry My Darling Nicotine by Parth Pandya Inspired by the song ‘My Darling Clementine’ and its tune, Parth Pandya elucidates the addiction to nicotine through a poem.

In a jiffy, I whip out one That piece of beauty is mine And inside it, lying softly Is my favorite Nicotine Chorus: Oh my darling, oh my darling, Oh my darling, Nicotine! When I light up, you light me up I love you, Nicotine Those fried lungs, those chaffed lips, Those stained teeth are mine What is mine, by now is yours As I am too, Nicotine

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Chorus:

Chorus:

Oh my darling, oh my darling,

Oh my darling, oh my darling,

Oh my darling, Nicotine!

Oh my darling, Nicotine!

When I light up, you light me up

When I light up, you light me up

I love you, Nicotine

I love you, Nicotine

When I meet you, always with me

How I miss her! How I miss her,

Is your best friend Listerine,

How I miss my Nicotine,

Your smell lingers, even when you are gone

But I kissed my little children,

Always with me, Nicotine

Chorus:

Chorus:

Oh my darling, oh my darling,

Oh my darling, oh my darling,

Oh my darling, Nicotine!

Oh my darling, Nicotine!

When I light up, you light me up

When I light up, you light me up

I love you, Nicotine

I forgot my Nicotine

I love you, Nicotine I love you, but you kill me Why the loathing Nicotine? I need to patch up, it’s time to break up

Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at http://parthp.blogspot.com, selfconfessed 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.

Let’s part ways Nicotine When I light up, you light me up I love you, Nicotine

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Fiction Pitter Patter Raindrops by Sanjay Gopinath A man reminisces the relationship he has had with rain through his years, from a point when rain changed from being ‘it’ to ‘she.’ Sanjay Gopinath pens the story. I knelt down near the gate and picked up some soil. It smelt pristine – the unmistakable smell of fresh earth after the first rain. I looked up. The clouds were gathering again. I hastened towards home.

I have felt attached to rains; well, almost always.

My earliest memory of the rains was my first day in first standard. That day I realized that on the first day in every new acaIt has been a practice for me not to miss demic year, the rainy season set in. the first rain of the season. With the mete- My Amma used to get me ready with the orological predictions getting more accurate armour to fight the monsoon – the raincoat every day, it is easy for me to make sure I with a cap and a black umbrella. In every was there to receive her. house a stream of instructions were given The apartment is on the 9th floor. I always wanted it to overlook the green expanse, but it was never to be. Instead the staid look of concrete is what I get.

on why one should not get out in the rain and what should not be done. ‘Don’t get wet in the rain.’ ‘Don’t get into the puddles.’ ‘Watch each step, you may slip.’ ‘This I pulled my chair to the balcony. The rain is that time when all the diseases poke their was lashing on to the chair and a few potted heads out so beware.’. plants. My feet were getting wet. I think a But I loved the rains. few drops managed to get into my tea cup. I would eagerly wait for the first showers But I was fine. and the many showers that followed. The 40

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open umbrella would be turned upside down to collect water. The rain drops were to be felt on my body, rather than splash out from the umbrella. The frogs were to be chased in the fields; heads were to be swayed in unison with the palm tops. My brother and I used to race in the small channels that carried water to the fields. We named our paper boats after the great characters in Amarchitrakatha and raced them along these streams. The not-so-tall rose apple tree was a perfect bait to trick an unsuspecting friend. We shook the branches when someone stood under the tree in an attempt to not get wet.

It became she. I grew more attached to her. I studied her subtleties. I felt the rhythm in the downpour, walked barefoot on the grass after the rains. I stopped at the puddles to wet my feet again. I carefully plucked the leaf that caught just one drop of the rain and was playing in the light wind with her. I bent down to observe the drop that precariously held on to the end of the grass-blade. I ran my hands over the green carpet on the fence walls. She lingered on even after she left.

I wrote about her secretly in my personal The fun was worth risking ‘where-the-hell- diaries. you-have-been’ looks from my Amma. Any friendship has its own share of highs The burden of studies kept me away from and lows. Our low was soon to come. The the rains in the later teen years. I watched villainess was my job, albeit for some time. the rains from behind the windows while A couple of missed meetings with clients calculus and dynamics formulae muddled because of the weather, and I grew angry. I my brain. The science of rain managed to blamed her. limit my imagination. Sanity returned soon. Our friendship furAt professional college, I got back right in ther matured when we started understandwith the monsoons. I read, saw and experi- ing each other better; rather, I understood enced some great authors who character- her emotions better! ized the rains. I read their nostalgic articles, Sometimes, I longed for her even in the watched the movies and the plays. 41

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summer. During summers she has a special charm. I talked to her incessantly as she lashed on the aluminum sheets. She knew everything now – from my smallest joys to my greatest sorrows. We grew our companionship during our long drives in the car. The wipers danced to her tunes. Every time it wiped across the glass, she created a different design.

times together.

The demands of worldly life put pressures on me. I am no more that little boy who can run around in the rain and splash the puddles around. To conform to the ‘civilized’ society, I carry an umbrella, I stay indoors.

My spectacles are getting wet. I remove them and wipe them with a handkerchief. A little bird drenched in rain is sitting on the balcony railings. He looks at me and then turns his head the other way.

But our conversation continues. I have dedicated for her a couple of days every year. I run away from city life in the middle of monsoon to a place where we can both be together. I sever my electronic and tele-connections with the world. I sit in the balcony or walk around in grasslands to enjoy her company. We reminisce our old

Uttarkhand happens. Dam999 happens. The television shows some parched lands and scrolls give some news on farmer suicides. People on air talk about the havoc she has created by being there and by not being there. I try to decipher her further. Is she the same to all? Do others see the same emotions that I see? But I have no answers.

I see my son playing in the rain down below. There is no one around. I see his friends comfortably standing at the covered car park. They are calling him back from the rain. I look at him and smile. Coincidentally, he looks up, sees me and smiles back.

Sanjay Gopinath loves the written word and spends time reading and writing. When not doing this, he works with an IT MNC doing marketing. He tweets @sanjugopi and writes at http://vagabondmind.blogspot.in. Sanjay is based in Bangalore.

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Poetry The Night He Read Keats’ Lamia

by M.Mohankumar

It’s a dream in which he sees his desired one tenderly express love. M.Mohankumar’s poem captures the dream.

The night he read Keats’ Lamia, he saw her in a dream: she who was long elusive, tip-toeing into his room, leaning over him, her streaming, fragrant hair caressing his face. And with her thin, moist lips, she kissed him on his burning cheek, Mohankumar has published seven volumes of poetry in English. His poems have appeared in almost all reputed literary magazines in print in India. His first collection of short stories in English will be brought out by Authorspress, Delhi shortly. Mohankumar retired as Chief secretary to Government of Kerala.

and walked away without a word. Next morning, as he stood gazing into the mirror, he thought he saw two tooth- marks on his cheek; but, no, they were just smudges on the smooth face of the mirror. 43

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The Lounge

October 2013 44

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The Music CafĂŠ

The Charm of the Radio by Anupama Krishnakumar In a nostalgic piece, Anupama Krishnakumar reminisces about the role that the radio has played in her life.

My earliest memories of the radio in its physical form is that of a rectangular box about two and a half feet wide and a little over half a feet high with a big fat circular projection which I now understand as the tuner and a smaller one that was the volume control. The panel of numbers was almost as wide as the radio set itself and I remember enjoying the silent thrill of turning the tuner and watching the needle move over the numbers indicating various frequencies. It was a Philips radio. My paternal grandmother used to be an AIR Tirucharapalli Carnatic vocal artiste and would also take part in talk shows on radio. Both my grandfathers would listen to cricket

commentaries and news bulletins with their ears glued to the little transistors or pocket radios that they treasured. The sight of my grandfathers lying down on their easy chairs and relaxing with a radio whose antenna stood high is a rather poetic image that has found its place in some of my stories. Even today, the radio is the primary source of classical music for my grandparents. Given my parents’ inclination towards music, it is hardly surprising that they also were typical radio addicts who listened to old Hindi and Tamil songs (and occasionally Malayalam songs too) through popular programmes in the radio. The Binaca Geetmala used to be a favourite. A radio, big or small,

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was an inevitable presence in our house and pretty much the source of music around which much of our mornings revolved. In the early 90s, when I was still in school, I remember that our breakfast was never complete without listening to Tamil film hits off the little Philips transistor that stood at the centre of the dining table. The introductory music to that 8 AM programme that we would regularly listen to is still glued to my memory. However, once I moved out of home to graduate and later work, the radio did disappear from my life. Cassettes, CDs and much later, the Ipod dominated my listening hours except for a brief while when the radio found its way back during my post-graduation days. And now after all these years, with the birth of my daughter, the radio has slowly regained its presence in my life. And how! My threemonth-old daughter is ready to fall asleep only when the radio is on in the nights! She just wouldn’t listen to anything else. And thanks to this habit that she has got into, I get to listen to some really good old Hindi hits and of course favourites for a good three hours on the Sony transistor.

There’s something absolutely relaxing about listening to the radio in the nights. I am often taken back to the times when I would fall asleep with the radio next to me playing soothing numbers, during my days as a postgraduation student. I am not quite sure why this is the case, but, despite having almost all of my favourite compositions in different languages as playlists on various devices (as opposed to the fact that the radio used to be the only source of music many years ago), the radio has its unique charm. This is perhaps due to that small element of surprise that a radio list throws into your listening time. They may be songs you know but still there’s someone else sitting there deciding what you will get to hear; or the fact that you share your love for those songs with a bunch of strangers albeit music lovers. And night programmes being virtually ad free, the joy is unbounded. And so my tryst with the radio continues despite several technological advances that make the experience of enjoying music close to your heart, sheer pleasure. With so many FM stations springing up and many youngsters choosing a career in the radio space, there are reasons to believe that the radio,

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despite the several alterations in the music listening landscape, is here to stay – as a reminder of good old music listening ways.

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, singing lullabies to her little daughter, 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! Tomatoes send her into a delightful tizzy, be it in soup or rasam or ketchup or atop a pizza!

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

Order it now at http://pothi.com/pothi/book/anupamakrishnakumar-sparkling-thoughts 47

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Turn of the Page

Review of Jerry Pinto’s ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by Priya Gopal

Em and the Big Hoom inspires you to celebrate every moment of your life. It inspires you to reach within yourself. Em connects you to your true self, says Priya Gopal and insists that it is a must-read.

Very often, we tend to take the presence of our parents, siblings and friends in our lives for granted. This, despite knowing that Death stakes its claim on us someday. But what if life throws a different challenge at us?

reveals the anguish of a son who watched his mother oscillate from funny to caring, from daring to suicidal, from irreverent to melancholic as he was growing up. Em, as Imelda is known in the book, and as she is called by her children, is one of the protago‘Em and the Big Hoom’ tries to answer just nists of this book. The story tries to docuthis question. A touching and poignant ment her life through the eyes of her son, semi- autobiographical novel by Jerry Pinto, the narrator. the book deals with the loss that the un- She begins her tryst with mental instability named narrator, his sister Susan and his fa- when the narrator is born and she inadvertther Augustine face when his mother, ently reminds him of it when she says , ‘“I Imelda, turns suicidal and bipolar. don’t know ,Baba ,I don’t know why. It’s a ‘We snatched at her during the intervals’, tap somewhere .It opened when you were born.” 48

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A son attempts to understand his mother - books, in letters she never posted, in little who she really is, before, during and after bits of paper, on any surface that could be the spells of madness. As he traversers the written upon, but was never encouraged to path of life with her, we be a writer. Societal attitudes get varied glimpses into towards the mentally ill that Em. Who is the Em that stopped even their loved ones Augustine, his father from exploring anything differ(known as the Big Hoom) ent for them is a high point in fell in love with, wooed, the novel. courted, married and reThe narrator so frequently mained with in joy and prays for a ‘whole mother, a sorrow? The one who is complete family and with it the delirious and happy and ability to turn and look away’. talks about anything form Praying for what we do not her sex life to her friendhave is human and the emoships or the one who retions of a little boy, even inside peatedly tries to commit a grown up man is heart suicide? wrenching. For both the chilThe story swings seamlessly between the dren, the mother is not a regular fixture in present and the past and brings out the in- their lives. She wanders in and out of it. The herent pain of a little boy who grew up with point of narration where Em tells her chila mentally unstable mother. As the book dren that she never wanted them as they tries to reach into the pain and pleasures of turn a perfectly strong woman into a Em and her family, you cannot miss the ‘muddha’ (mother!) is not only humorous subtle humour that underlies the pain. Em’s but equally hard hitting. She possibly brings ability to see things in a different perspective out what every woman feels but never has and usually with a tinge of sarcastic humour the guts to say. Societal norms of motheris the silver lining in the cloud. hood ensure women keep mum about what Her attitude inspires us to live each day to they actually feel. But in her moments of the fullest. She smokes her beedis, doesn’t madness, Em brings out many vital strands think twice before discussing her sex life of truth that speak not just for herself but with her own children and gives brilliant for so many others. pieces of advice even when not asked for. Em and her children are held together by Em loved to write. She wrote everywhere, in the Big Hoom. His place in their lives is 49

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very special. An anchor to this chaotic ship that he captains, his children adore him while Em loves him truly. The Big Hoom is an important part of Em’s life. Their relationship begins as an office romance where he flirts around with the secretary who later on goes ahead to become his life partner. Hoom is not just Em’s husband, but her soul mate. She may tease him and taunt him, but she adores him and values his presence in her life.

The tumultuous journey through the lives of four people cooped in a Mahim chawl in Mumbai is a rollercoaster ride. The book navigates through the dark crowded parts of Em’s mind and while trying to dust the cobwebs in there, turns around and asks very unsettling questions. It makes us look at a ‘mad’ person with a whole new perspective.

Susan, the narrator’s sister is in an equally passionate relationship with her mother. She is however, the more pragmatic of the two siblings. She provides the necessary emotional support for the narrator time and again by bringing a very practical perspective to many a situation. She is able to see her mother and the condition that she suffers from as two entities. Susan consoles her crying brother with ‘that’s not her, it’s her problem.’

The novel questions societal norms. It makes you take another look at your perceptions about people who are not like us. With minimal melodrama in it, the story ambles away like a river only to suddenly gurgle and rush into a waterfall, roaring and kicking and then settling into a calm that may just be waiting for another turn.

The ability to see beauty in the mundane is something Em teaches all through this novel. She calls ‘The Big Hoom’ ‘angel ears’ as she feels they look like pieces of fried bacon! She teaches Susan and the narrator to differentiate a person from the personality. How often do we look beyond the personality and figure out why the person does what she or she is doing?

Who is mad? Em? Or the rest of the world? Who needs help? Em? Or the family?

The book pulls heartstrings in a very beautiful way. It compels you to get back to it over and over again just to see if you missed anything beautiful and trust me when I say that each time I read it, I feel differently about it. It brings in emotions that range from joy at Em’s victories to indulgence at her idiosyncrasies to sorrow and pain at her suffering. At no point, however, does it want you to pity Em or her family. It inspires to celebrate every moment of your life. It inspires you to reach within yourself. Em connects you to your true self.

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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

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