Little Drops – 2

On a whim, I decided to join a writer’s workshop Anita’s Attic, run by author Anita Nair. It was a good experience and I met several absolutely amazing young authors, some of whom were less than half my age!

Late last year, a call came from Anita’s Attic for short stories. I quickly wrote a short story in a burst of inspiration, which I was quite happy with. I sent it off, and yesterday, it came up on Quillr, a new pay-and-read platform.

Here’s the link to the story Running, if you’re interested.

 

Little Drops

A few drops in a drought are always welcome, even if they make you hunger for pounding rain.

So, in the barren wasteland of my writing last year, there were a couple of fat drops that made me happy.

The children’s library we started is such a source of joy, even though I’m unable to do full justice to it in terms of my time, thanks to the various health crises that popped up regularly. It’s an oasis for me, a haven of peace and happiness, to be surrounded by books, fantastic partners, and the sweetest sight of all – kids deeply engrossed in books. It never fails to move me, and I feel so grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity.

Last year, for Karnataka Rajyotsava, we came up with an idea of writing a picture book that introduced some common Kannada words/sentences. I wrote the story itself in a very short time. However, I had the most fun with the illustrations. Not having Photoshop or any other appropriate software, and too lazy to sit and draw out everything, I used PowerPoint. I had such a blast doing the pictures, and it gave me such a high!

We printed one copy of the book, and read it out to the kids. It was a hit, and the best part was kids coming up and telling me – “Tumba chennagide!” (very nice in Kannada, which was one of the phrases introduced in the book). It was really such a wonderful experience!

Here’s the cover of the book Aane Mari’s Feast (Aane Mari meaning Little Elephant, though quite a few call it Anna Marie :D)

aanemari

New Beginnings

So, 2016 has been reviled enough for me not to add to it. However, I must note that it was a spectacularly shitty year health-wise.

I kicked it off with a particularly nasty bout of shingles, the remnants of which still haunt me every now and then with twinges and sporadic itching.My dad’s dementia grew worse, my mom was at the end of her tether, and then the Grim Reaper harvested his soul without so much as a by your leave. My sisters had horrible mysterious afflictions that saw them in and out of hospitals. One of them is still in so much pain that she, the strong one who can bear everything, actually breaks down and cries.

The final straw was my daughter, my darling D, who came down with severe abdominal pain. She is pretty strong, my D, and bore the numerous pricks for IV and blood samples and bodily intrusions and what not, with magnificent equanimity. But then, one terrible evening, she writhed in unbelievable agony, screaming for over an hour, and we stood by helpless even as she begged us to “do something”, while the doctors buzzed around. Those horrible moments are burnt into my memory. It’s most probably abdominal migraine (yeah, everyone reacts with “Never heard of it!”), and she’s back, albeit weakly, on her feet. But the holiday season and all her (and our) plans have been pretty much ruined.

So, if there’s one wish I could make for 2017, which is, as several people have opined, a rather arbitrary division of time, it would be for good health. 2017 has so far not showed any signs of respecting my wishes, but it’s early days. It’s just getting warmed up hopefully, and as the days go by, here’s hoping that good health shines down on us.

And you, of course. Good Health and Happiness to you too!

Century!

Setup a target of 100 books to be read this year on GoodReads. I found it quite fun. Every book had something to offer, so I’m not going to award best or worst.

So. here’s the list of the 100 I completed this year:

1. Not Just An Accountant – Vinod Rai
2. The Robots of Dawn – Isaac Asimov
3. The Wide Window – Lemony Snicket
4. Life Before Man – Margaret Atwood
5. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter – Mario Vargas Llosa
6. The Greatest Short Stories of Leo Tolstoy
7. The House that BJ Built – Anuja Chauhan
8. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
9. Menaka’s Choice – Kavita Kane
10. Personally I blame my Fairy Godmother – Claudia Carroll
11. My days in the underworld: Rise of the Bangalore mafia – Agni Sridhar
12. Finding Audrey – Sophie Kinsella
13. The Liar – Nora Roberts
14. Looking for Alaska – John Green
15. Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin
16. Gachar Gochar – Vivek Shanbhag
17. Wonder – R J Palacio
18. The Bad Girl – Mario Vargas Llosa
19. All the Light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
20. The Adventures of Stoob: Testing times – Samit Basu
21. The Reluctant Detective – Kiran Manral
22. Ponniyin Selvan: First Floods – Kalki
23. Personal (Jack Reacher) – Lee Child
24. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story – John Berendt
25. Holes – Louis Sachar
26. The One you cannot have – Preeti Shenoy
27. The Guardians of the Halahala – Shatrujeet Nath
28. The Mahabharata Quest: The Alexander Secret – Christopher C Doyle
29. Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story – Rebecca Coffey
30. The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
31. The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
32. An Outrageous Affair – Penny Vincenzi
33. Netherland – Joseph O’Neill
34. Belong to Me – Marisa de los Santos
35. A Pale View of the Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro
36. Ithaca – David Davidar
37. The Unfinished Clue – Georgette Heyer
38. Cut Like Wound – Anita Nair
39. Dear Mrs. Naidu – Mathangi Subramaniam
40. Little Bee – Chris Cleave
41. Untold Story – Monica Ali
42. Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window – Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
43. When Breath becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
44. Lajja – Taslima Nasrin
45. Love Virtually – Daniel Glattauer
46. Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
47. The Red Sari – Javier Moro
48. Sicilian Nights – Penny Jordan
49. Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust – Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar
50. The Karachi Deception – Shatrujeet Nath
51. H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
52. 13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson
53. Keep Quiet – Lisa Scottoline
54. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
55. Love Letters to the Dead – Ava Dellaira
56. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz
57. Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan
58. The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story – A Revathi
59. A Million Little Pieces – James J Frey
60. The Other End of the Corridor – Sujata Rajpal
61. Alphabet Soup for Lovers – Anita Nair
62. The First Love Cookie Club – Lori Wilde
63. Girl meets boy – Ali Smith
64. Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars – Sonia Faleiro
65. The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad
66. RSVP – Helen Warner
67. Ammi: Letters to a Democratic Mother – Saeed Mirza
68. Cry Wolf – Tami Hoag
69. Confessions of a Dememted Housewife: The Celebrity Year
70. Miss. Timmins’ School for Girls – Nayan Currimbhoy
71. An Autobiography – Agatha Christie
72. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie
73. Tales of Twilight and the Unseen – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
74. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
75. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
76. Closed Casket (Agatha Christie) – Sophie Hannah
77. One, Two, Buckly My Shoe – Agatha Christie
78. Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie
79. Dreams from my father – Barack Obama
80. Rain: A Survivor’s Tale: Sriram Subramaniam
81. Me Before You: Jojo Moyes
82. Five Little Pigs – Agatha Christie
83. 4:50 from Paddington – Agatha Christie
84. Gender Talk: Big Hero Size Zero – Anusha Hariharan, Sowmya Rajendran
85. A Most Peculiar Malyasian Murder (Inspector Singh Investigates) – Shamini Flint
86. Falling Off the Map – Pico Iyer
87. The 5th Horseman – James Patterson
88. Meridian – Alice Walker
89. A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
90. Britt-Marie was Here – Fredrik Backman
91. One Plus One – Jojo Moyes
92. The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata – Sudha Murty
93. A Strange and Sublime Address: Amit Chaudhuri
94. Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke
95. Red Leech (Young Sherlock Holmes) – Andrew Lane
96. Black Ice (Young Sherlock Holmes) – Andrew Lane
97. The Brain – David Eagleman
98. Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King
99. The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah
100. Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

Mohini

This story is for Roshni, who actually remembered this from ten years ago and asked for a link! Thanks Roshni, and hope it lives up to your memory.

 

Dear Prakash,

 

If you are reading this, I am hopeful. Hopeful because you have not torn up the letter. Hopeful that you have gotten over your anger against me. I know the turn of events was unexpected for you. I dreaded the day you would come to know the truth, because I feared precisely this sort of reaction from you. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part that you would come around, you would understand, and somehow you would find it in yourself to love me as I am. As once you loved me, even though it was for a brief moment, like the flash of a distant star in the sky that makes you wonder if you have really seen it.

 

Prakash, remember that day we went swimming in the village pond? I’m sure you remember. The cool waters were always our recourse during the hot summers. Remember the small fish that we tried to catch in the palms of our hands, and how they always got away? And the tadpoles we caught together and put in the pickle jar? I still wonder why they died, even though I know that captivity always kills: if not the body, at least the spirit. I know how it feels to be captive – how it feels to have your every move monitored, and even the freedom to laugh has a price attached. I was never under the impression that this was the perfect life, but I never could have imagined the pain it would drag along with it like a severed limb.

 

The perfect life was when we were children. When you and I ran in the fields, shouting and laughing, scaring the peacefully grazing cows, and making the birds flutter into the blue skies, alarmed by the accuracy of your catapult. When we shared sour mangoes under shady green canopies, hiding from our mothers when they came looking for us at sundown. When we stole coconut pieces and camphor from the temple, while the village priest snored during his siesta. When we flew kites together, I could see the excitement in your eyes, the passion in your lips. And my heart soared like the kite, quivering and trembling in response to every tug of your hand. My heart is heavy now. I am indeed like a kati patang – a kite with no mooring, a kite let loose to roam where the wind wills, a kite that gets more and more ragged with every rogue branch that snags and rips through its very soul.

 

Did it make sense to you then, Prakash? That brief moment of passion we shared as your eyes caressed my body and our lips spoke a language of their own? That moment I have preserved carefully, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book. The memory of that moment is what uplifted me, that’s what kept me going through all the bleakness that painted my walls with its grey misery. Every time I put my kajal, it was for you. Every time I reddened my lips, it was for you. Every sari I draped around my cursed body, it was for you. The perfume of the flowers in my hair faded into the scent of your body. Do you remember how it felt? Or have you tossed it like discarded flowers that are swept away so swiftly by the stream? I cannot write any more. I am crying.

 

I have resolved I must finish what I wanted to say. I must unburden myself, I have carried it too long with me.

 

It’s been a long time since I cried, Prakash. The tears that bled from my wounds have dried, but they have left behind a raw salt residue that burns and stings. I cried when I boarded the train from the village in the dark of the night. I was leaving behind my innocence, clutching onto the useless currency of my dreams. I was leaving behind a life that was familiar but stifling and painful, towards a vast unknown. I was leaving like a thief indeed, ostracized and shamed. But I cried above all because I had to part from you, the sweetest love of my life. You were that first love one ceaselessly seeks in all subsequent loves, an unattainable fantasy fed by hungry dreams, a shimmering mirage in an arid and aching memory.

 

I cried again when I saw you at the bar. Isn’t it strange that of all the bars in Mumbai, you should come to my bar? Perhaps it was the tears that shone in my eyes, perhaps it was Fate playing a cruel game with me. What did attract you to me? Was it some vestige of passion that reared its ugly head just when I had begun to give up my battle with life out of sheer fatigue? Was it some wicked instinct of self-destruction that made me come and sit by you, and initiate that age-old game of seduction?

 

You didn’t recognize me, and I was both glad and hurt. I thought I could start anew what we had left half-finished so many years ago, in the cool waters of the village pond. After all, I had reinvented myself. I was Mohini, the enchantress. So many men had succumbed to my charms, but most had been disgusted when they found out what I really was. Did I really think I could take up where I had left off with you? Indeed, where had I left off with you? My fantasies had so clouded the reality of my memories. That entire night I tossed and turned, wondering in feverish anticipation if you would come back.

 

You did. And the night after. And the night after. You seemed content just to talk to me, to look at me, to tuck my stray hair behind my ear in a caress that sent shivers down my spine. I dared not to long for more. I had rolled dice with Fate, and even a modest win was enough. We spent long hours in eloquent silence, you lost in the smoky haze of your thoughts, and I, sneaking glances in a vain attempt to capture and possess your every feature and make it mine. It was a strange happiness, almost a contentment, and I clung to it as desperately as a drowning man a straw. For the first time in my turbulent, topsy-turvy life, I felt I was floating, just letting go, just being.

 

It was too good to last, wasn’t it? That night, when you finally came to my room, I tried to hide my delirious joy behind a mask of boredom. I didn’t want to tempt Fate, I didn’t want to ruin what I had. But Fate is an expert at playing cat and mouse: just when you think you’ve managed to get away, she sinks her claws deep into you and relishes the blood-bath that follows.

 

There we are, enmeshed and eager, when your eyes fall upon the photo. A faded photo pressed into a cheap plastic frame. Your eyes widen with surprise. My mouth is suddenly dry, and I can feel my breath coming in short bursts. I try to turn you away, but you reach out and pick it up. How did you get this photo, you ask me, puzzled. I mumble something incoherent, while my thoughts fly to that morning. Our mothers smiling and asking us to stand together. The painted cardboard cutout with brightly coloured flowers as the backdrop. The photographer urging us to stand closer. You put your hand on my shoulder and I turn and look straight into your eyes. Something changes between us that instant, and I am immediately conscious of the warmth of your fingers pressing into my skin. I look away, disturbed, but not before I catch your half-smile. And that is the moment the camera clicks. The photo lies: it does not show your smile, but it catches my naked awkwardness. An awkwardness that remains when we jump into the pool later that afternoon, peeling off our clothes in a strange exhuberance. And when I run away, both exhilarated and ashamed, you look on, unfathomable.

 

I am jolted out of the past when the edge of the frame hits me on my lips and draws blood. Tears of a twisted anguish flow as I battle my demons. I try to calm you down, but you are as disgusted and horrified by me as countless others. Listen to me, I weep. Let me tell you what an agony my life has been. A life that is not a life; no hope of love, no hope of dreams; trapped, with no release. A life where Love is forced to walk fettered in narrow corridors that open no doors for the likes of me.

 

But you were so angry with what you considered my deceit. You are not the Mohini I thought I loved,but you are not the Mohan I once knew either, you shouted. What are you, you freak, you perversity of nature? My face, my body still bears the bruises of your beatings. I haven’t gone out since you left.

 

I began this letter on a conciliatory note. I wanted to beg your forgiveness for the hurt I caused you, for my perceived deceit. But now I just wish to thank you for opening my eyes, and for shattering the one dream I had. Unshackled from the ghosts of my past, I experience a tremendous sense of relief. I can now hope that my true love is still out there, waiting for me. A true love that loves me as I am. And for that, I thank you.

 

Regards,

Mohini/Mohan

 

It’s October already!

So many things have happened since I last came here.

This year will be forever marked. My father died in my arms. It feels so final to write that, but that’s how final it is. He will never be back in our lives again. I try to relive the moments again and again, but they slip away, like dreams you cannot remember, like dreams that dissolve in the bright liquid sunlight of the day.

I wish it had been like in the movies. I wish we had known, that we were ready, we were gathered around, serious and somber, waiting for that final moment. We didn’t know, we weren’t ready, we were running in and out, tired and frantic, trying to get him ready for the hospital from where we had brought him home just a couple of days before.

I was right there, and I didn’t know it. If I could change one thing, I would change that. I would sit by his side, stroking his wizened hand, and put on his favorite song. I did do all that, in fact I did just that in the morning. Just not during his last moments. A rolling eye, a single tear, and I did not put two and two together – I was never good at math.

So he’s gone now, and life goes on: merrily, pitiless, single-minded. I don’t think too far ahead nowadays, I take one day at a time. I am grateful I have such wonderful people in my life. My family – the strongest one could ever ask for. My friends – always willing, always helping, always there to share both laughter and tears. The entire universe – always going ahead, never looking back.

It’s hard to believe I’ve reached a half-century on this third rock from the sun. I barely knew the uphill struggle – it’s all faint memories. I trust the downhill slide will be just as smooth. There are so many things on the horizon, yet they don’t disturb me.

One day at a time. That’s the only thing given. And I’m ok with it. Years will go rolling by, and when the time comes, gathering moss will have its own charm.

Other Worlds

I recently read 4 books almost back to back that made me feel really low and upset. All of them were really very interesting and opened up worlds to me that I had just a faint idea about.
The first was The Truth about Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi. The title says it all. The high price you pay for breaking the rules, no matter what you are.
The second was A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Despite all the controversy surrounding this one, the writing itself packs a punch. Straight in the gut.
The third was Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro. It made me so, so sad inside.
The fourth was The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (accent on the author’s name missing). Distressing, especially the plight of the women.
These books have left little dark scars in me. However, to be fair, they have also made me count my blessings.