Tuesday, November 24, 2009


By popular request, I'm posting the marks here. Please supply me with your roll numbers. The classification is not exact for soem of the stories, especially the late submissions.

Writing in Practice






Anomitra Biswas






Anway Mukhopadhyay






Agnibho Chakraborty




Pallabi Gupta





Monidipa Mondal





Sharad Saumya Majumdar





Shayeari Datta





Malini Bhattacharya





Arijeet Mondal





Rituparna Sengupta




Pujarini Sen





Sristi Ghimiray





Promit Basu




Mrinalini Sen




Soham Bose




Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FINAL Story: Lily House

Lily House

Even after three weeks, Shalini was still getting used to her new home. They had finally taken a loan from the bank and bought a cozy two-bedroom flat near the Behala Chowrasta. Although the building was called “Lily House” there were no lilies to be had. It was instead a pile of bricks and cement, in a rather noisy locality, and the power failed for an hour or two everyday; but Shalini found the markets cheap and the neighbours friendly. Besides, it was a blessed relief from their old home in Survey Park, a cramped and stifling affair they had shared with her in-laws. Here, she and Ajay, her husband, could live as they pleased, and little Anurag, their six-year old bundle of joy had his own room.

“Lily, ami berolam. I’ll be back at the usual time,” said Ajay, briefcase in hand. Lily was the nickname her husband always used for her, ever since they had dated back in college. “Lily shall stay in Lily House,” her husband often said before bursting into giggles, and the joke was getting pretty old. “Alright, take care,” Shalini, or Lily, replied as she came out of the kitchen, gave him a little smile and closed the door after he had waved her goodbye from the bottom of the staircase. As she was about to shut the door however, she felt, rather saw, a flash of movement, something small and black between the gap of the door and its frame. Startled, Shalini flung open the door and looked around until she spotted it: it was just a cat. A jet-black cat with a black tail and black paws and vivid yellow eyes was sitting near the banister, gazing directly into her soul, or so it seemed to her. “Shoo, shoo, you stupid cat!” she said agitatedly, jerking her hand in its direction. The cat remained immobile and stared back. Shalini made a face and shut the door with a thud. She didn’t believe in omens, but a black cat was definitely not a lucky thing!

Shalini, or Lily, did not give it any thought for the rest of the day. She was far too busy for that. After she had put Anurag on the school bus, she had done the day’s shopping, washed the dishes, swept the floor and finished her laundry. It was only at noon that she could take a little break, before it was time to fix her lunch. Shalini didn’t know it when she fell asleep on the couch. She imagined that black cat’s impassive face, its piercing yellow slits of eyes. She drew her anchal over her face and turned on her side, but the face followed her, growing into a monstrous size, opening its maw with its small white teeth to swallow her face…Shalini was jolted out of her sleep by the sound of scratching, a faint and ugly sound that seemed to be coming from the door. She got up and walked hurriedly to the door. As she approached, the scratching stopped. There was nothing in the peephole, but when Shalini opened the door, there it was: the black cat with the yellow eyes, which was now standing on the steps leading upstairs, it’s back arched away from Shalini. Intrigued, she watched the cat’s movements. The cat was bobbing its head up and down, climbing a few steps, and then retracing its steps back, all the time looking at her, as though begging her to follow. Shalini had once read a romance novel where a man’s dog once led him to the grave of his fiancée. That passage had brought tears to Shalini’s eyes, so was eager to forgive the cat. She began following it upstairs. They had climbed three flights, and just when Shalini, now less than eager, thought the cat was climbing to the roof, it stopped in front of a large door and looked back toward Shalini. It was Mr Majumdar’s flat. Although he was the original owner of the plot on which the apartment building was built, Lily had seen very little of him. He was a retired gentleman in his seventies, very dour and reserved. She had only seen him twice or thrice these past few weeks, and every time they met, Mr Majumdar would stare at her a while, as if willing himself to say something, and then turn away wordlessly. Shalini was wondering whether she should knock when the door opened by itself. The cat shot in and disappeared, and was replaced by Mr Majumdar’s worn and wrinkled face. Lily was about to make some excuse for disturbing him, when he gave her a wan smile and spoke to her for the first time. He had a rather hoarse voice, but still quite strong. “Ah, Lily, what a surprise. I thought I heard something scratching. Please do come in.”

‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to trouble you, Majumdar-babu—

“Oh, that’s quite alright. I’ll make us some tea. I’m opening a fresh packet today.”

Despite herself, Lily stepped over the threshold to find herself in a very neatly kept room, beautifully appointed with old wooden furniture. The walls were simply plastered with old photos, some in colour and some black-and-white. There were several pictures of Mr Majumdar, younger, less wrinkled, and happier, with a young woman with a very sweet smile. Suddenly, she saw it: the black cat, gazing at her from one of the photos. It was a portrait of the woman, and she was cradling the cat in the crook of her arm!

Mr Majumdar came back with the tea. A little flustered, Lily asked, “If I may, who is the young woman in that picture?”

“That is a picture of my late wife. She passed away thirty years ago. In fact...how very surprising!—today would be her thirty death anniversary. What a coincidence!” he replied with the preoccupied expression people sometimes get when thinking fondly of the past.

“I’m so sorry. But, why is it a coincidence?”

Mr Majumdar replied with a sad laugh, “It’s a coincidence, my dear, because here you are, sitting in the very armchair my wife used to sit in, and she was called Lily too!”

Shalini almost spat out her tea. “What? I mean, how…really…?”

Mr Majumdar was genuinely smiling now. “Yes, he relied, “she too was called Lily. Her real name was Lilavati, so Lily for short. That’s why I named this building Lily House, you know.”

Shalini was looking at the portrait again. Another Lily, just like her. “I see. She really loved that cat, didn’t she?”

“Yes she did. When our neighbour’s pussycat had kittens, no-one wanted the black one. So she felt sorry for it and took it in. They were together till the day she died.”

“That’s such a sweet story. May I know how she died?”

Here Mr Majumdar made a pained expression and said, “I don’t really like talking about it, but I’d rather you heard it from me than someone else. You see, when she died here thirty years ago this building wasn’t yet quite finished. The roof was completely open, without any railing or anything. So she… fell.” Shalini could see tears welling up in the old man’s eyes. “Some people might tell you she committed suicide, under her black cat’s influence, but that’s just something people have cooked up. I can tell you, you can take it from me, Lily would never do something like that. She was a wonderful woman, full of love and joy…” Here, the old man gave up and began sobbing, his frame shaking gently.

“Oh, Mr Majumdar, I’m so sorry to have upset. Please, lets not talk about it anymore!” exclaimed Shalini as she got up to pat his shoulders comfortingly.

“It’s alright, my dear. I’m getting old, and old people sometimes have no self-control…” Mr Majumdar was back to his composed self, wiping away his tears with his handkerchief.

When Lily thought it safe to sit down again, she said:

Well, at least you have the cat to keep her memory alive. It must be quite old now.”

“That just the strangest thing! You know the day she died, from that day the cat couldn’t be found anywhere! It had simply vanished! That’s another reason why some people say the cat bewitched her, I suppose. But it’s alright, no need to look so pale, its all superstition, you know. Here, drink up your tea. Would you like a cream cracker with that?’


That night Lily started up from her sleep. She wiped her forehead and her palm came back moist with sweat. The fan wasn’t running: it was a load-shedding. Lily swung her feet onto the floor and was feeling for her slippers in the darkness when she saw it again. It was looking into the room from the window ledge, its sleek feline body bathed in moonlight. It gave a low purr and melted away into the silvery light. Its brilliant gem-like eyes seemed to linger for a second and then they too were gone. Something told her that she would be seeing it again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

final story

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?

Over his land was Aldwyn lord, and kissed the ring of no gold-giver save the King of the West-Saxons, for proud was he in his strength, who had so mightily striven with King Egbert at Charmouth, where there was a great slaughter, and though victory had gone to the Danes, had gained honour. At Hengeston, too, he had fought, where the Danes were put to flight. At Egbert’s death, he had kissed, too, the ring of Ethelwulf, Egbert’s son, and to his lands gone, to live in his age, thinking to find peace, bowed down under the gifts of his kings.

Summer ripened to autumn, and peace silvered his beard as his fields turned gold and the harvest was brought in, and the windows of his hall held lit the darkness of night, and the laughter of braves mingled with the songs of the bards. Many came to Aldwyn’s lands, to kiss his ring of twisted gold, for his renown was known well, and news of his gifts of gold, and the good cheer of his table were spread far in the mouths of those who had tasted his hospitality. His warriors in their armour were as bright as their swords—shining death—and as straight as the ash spears they bore, and swift were their horses, and skilful the riders. Foremost among them shone the swords of his sons, and in the light their fair hair shone, for in Beorn’s face shone his mother’s, and in Alden’s, her eyes.

Many feasts there were, as winter silvered the land, and the wolves howled hunger in the shadows of the forest. With the new grass came gladness, for as the flowers to the trees, a child had come to Aldwyn’s home, daughter of his son, and Eadignes they named her, and Edyth they called her, for happiness she brought to that home, and her laughter sounded like a silver bell through the halls, and the cuckoo mourned that some other song was sweeter than its. And Beomia, her aunt, Aldwyn’s daughter, looked at the child and the soft smile on the face of its mother Eldrida, and the gentleness in Alden’s hands as he held her, and her dreams of horses and swords left her, and no longer did she clamour to hunt with her brothers.

In the summer they went to watch for the Danes, and to defend their coasts against the wolves of the sea, and Beomia bid them a sad farewell, and Aldwyn. Eadignes no longer was bliss, for the house resounded now with silence, and the steps of the women, and Aldwyn, grown unwillingly old. The fruit in the orchards was yet unripe when they returned, joyous though not triumphant, for no Danes had they found, but only good company, and hunting instead of war.

With them came Eadgard, come from his father’s lands in Kent, to kiss Aldwyn’s ring and fight his battles and share his feasts. All shining was he, eyes the silver of his sword—bright death—and hair the shine of sun on copper. And Beomia’s eyes sought Eadgard out, and held them as the days darkened. On All Hallows’ Even he asked for her, and on midwinter wed her, day of the longest night. With candles they lit the night, and with laughter the days after, and with songs they sent her to be peace-weaver in his home, and with gold, and with tears. Her brothers rode with her, and their laughter drowned the howling of wolves. Eadignes’ crying was loud in the ears of her mother, and Aldwyn’s hidden in his beard—his only daughter, she, and born in her mother’s death, and her mother’s image in a silver mirror.

Days they strained their eyes against the sun on the snow, waiting to see it churned up by horse-hooves, and see the smiles on her brothers’ faces, come home to tell them how she was loved in her husband’s home, how cherished. The snows weighing down the dead boughs dropped to the ground and a new burden grew and met it, and yet no riders approached, no horses. The dread in Eldrida’s heart grew as she watched, and often it seemed to her that the wind bore her husband’s last breath to her, and she longed to tell the lord of her house to shut his aged ears against the screams of his daughter. And into the house she went from her lonely watch, and sang to her daughter in a voice grown soft with unknown sorrow.

The riders that came were not those who had ridden away, and Eldrida had never seen their faces save at feasts to honour the father of her husband. Grave were they, and grim-faced, and armoured as for war. They drew rein at the gates of her house, and spoke in sombre voices with Aldwyn, her husband's father and now hers. Their words were not for her ears, but she heard their speech, and pulled her daughter far away, ere she heard as well. The Danes had come, sea-wolves, hunting in winter hunger, and her husband and his brother were perished, and their sister, and her husband, and all that kin were dead, and burnt in the great pyre of their hall in flames, like the great heroes of earlier times.

Yet the world went on, and there were guests in the halls. She shut her tears away, to be brought out in the dark of night, and savoured with her jewels and her husband’s memories, and brought mead to the friends of her father—she as his only child, now, sons and daughter and all—and let Eadignes charm them with her babble and be passed from lap to lap, till gnarled soldiers strove with each other to make her laughter sound out. And yet her heart beat time to the flurry of their horses’ hooves, and yet was Aldwyn gone. She waited till the sky had darkened, and beds had been found for all the riders, and her table greatly praised, and when the house was silent went softly to his room.

The candle’s light threw shadows on the walls, and gleamed redly on the armour pulled from its oaken chests, and the sword, still-sharp, in Aldwyn’s hands. All night she argued with him, but words could not dissuade nor pleading persuade him, and his life was as unlived were his sons unavenged, and his daughter, and her daughter who would grow without knowing a father’s face, or a brother’s. With dawn the riders rode out, and Aldwyn with them grey as the sky in visage and armour, and all his warriors still in his halls, and Eldrida waited with the babe in her arms and showed it the sunlight on snow, and on the tears freezing on her face. This, too, would pass.

All day the chargers rode, and old songs of war came easily to mouth and memory, and almost was this pleasure to Aldwyn, even in his sorrow, to again feel the horse lithe beneath him, and know himself a warrior riding to battle and enemies’ death. At eventide the Danes came upon them, and they fought on the icy road, till their horses were killed beneath them, and then on foot and in field and ditch they fought, and many Danes were sent forth under the bright death of gleaming swords turned dull. And yet did Aldwyn perish, and those he had ridden with, for the Danes were brave, and many, and they, though brave, but few.

He died under the westering sun, and no burial was found, nor stele built for him, for his sons were dead, and all his kin with him. The snow built him a burial mound, and in spring the mourning cuckoo wove his hair into its nest, and insects burrowed into his flesh to find homes for their young. His death went untold, for there were none remaining to speak of it, and none left to remember Aldwyn, and his sons and their sister, save the widow mourning in the empty home, and the child who knew only her mother’s name. Woods took on blossoms, dwellings grew fair, meadows grew beautiful, the world hastened on.


Title from "The Wanderer" (where has the horse gone? Where the rider/young man?). References to "Deor" and "The Seafarer". Historical events of the years 836-842 taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entries for those years; Egbert and Ethelwulf are historical figures.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Final Story. Shayeari Dutta

“ There was a time, many a thousand light years ago…there was a time when I used to have wings. Brick-red wings of recycled newspaper, put together with tedious concentration, unflinching dedication. And by the time this task had been completed, the entire stretch of Kumortuli would reek of Dendrite, soggy paper, and divine sweat!”
“What happened to the wings Baba?”
Rudra Pal looked down into the mesmerized eyes of little Krishna and winked.
“Oh! Nothing…the curious scribbling on my wings attracted too much of an attention…God knows what charm a few insipid black letters hold, but the entire world lunged for them. I am an old man. Too old to sustain a fight, don’t you think? So I let them go…the wings.”
Krishna shifted his gaze from his father’s watery eyes. From where he sat upon the squeaky upturned crater, the street went winding forth, its murky surface glazed by previous night’s shower; polythene packets, coconut shells, cigarette-boxes- all flattened out nicely by the merciless march of wheels. The tiny expanse of Krishna’s head served as the black tuning disk of a table; tip top tip top fell the water drops from the shed above. The shed of hay, soggy hay, like the unkempt, untrimmed hair falling over the brows of the hundreds of foreigners who visited Kumortuli at this time of the year. For as far as one could see, both sides of the narrow lane are flanked by these haphazardly positioned shacks. And, from every such shed peeked a dozen clay arms, arms glowing various shades of peacock blue and black, fingers bunched, wrists resolute…arms that would stretch themselves out any moment now and ravage the patchwork of wires above.
“ And the foreigners, fascinated, stupefied, clicking away at their cameras with the frenzy of a madman? Why do they come here Baba?”
Baba smiled, accentuating the mystery, and then he whispered-
“They come for the gold…and the silver!”

It was an oppressive afternoon…the afternoon of provocative clouds edging with baby-steps towards each other, and just when the hope of man had shuttled all the way to his throat, moon walking gracefully back…
It was one of those afternoons…
“Krishna-a-a-a? Krishna-a-a-a?”
“what is it Baba?”
“Listen, do you think you are old enough to travel?”
“Haan Baba…”
“No! Why this tone of doubt? Tell me confidently.”
“Haan Baba!”
“Good! Now listen. All my workers and delivery boys are busy with the preparations for Kali pujo, and this man…this spice trader from Burrobazar….ki jeno naam ta? Ananda….Anand Jain I think. Well, he wants a Ganesh idol delivered to this new store that he is opening. He wants it delivered by tomorrow. Do you think you would be able to do the job? It’s just a tiny idol…not too much of a weight to carry really…er…now listen, your mother detests those Marwaris, and Burrobazar is like their breeding-spot! So…er…”
In his helpless groping for words, the father failed to see the tiny firecrackers erupting silently in his son’s eyes. Eight year old Krishna would finally visit a world other than his own! Burrabazar! Marwaris! Words that were familiar, and yet, eluded the irritating shackles of definition…. It filled Krishna with the joy of a newborn.
“Ma-ke bolo na”, he assured his father.

“Er! Excuse me Mr.Roy, but would you kindly explain the relevance of this nice little account…and no doubt it is er…quite a delightful little story…but what’s the relevance of this to your research paper?”
“Sir, this is my research paper!”
“What? What do you mean by…”
“Sir! Sir! Please….if you would kindly allow me to continue…..”

Krishna was dizzy with the simultaneous rocketing between familiarity and unfamiliarity- the dinghy streets, crooked lanes, garbage-strewn corners, tinkling hand-pulled rickshaws….it was all uncannily similar to his area. But, the rush of people on the road, the road that donned the multiple cloaks of showroom, warehouse, parking lot, his anxious search for the calming grey of the concrete pavement…the concrete pavement that had been veiled completely by the millions of odd shoes and sandals…all these made him sweat profusely as his inexperienced eyes tried making out the meaning on the sign-boards hanging above the hundreds of shops.
“Oye! Lost kya?”
Krishna looked behind him to see a boy, not much older than him, hands akimbo, smugness imprinted in graceful italics on his square face.
“You must be delivering that idol for my father, Anand Jain, is it not?”
Krishna followed the boy up the stairs to the room above the garage. It had a low ceiling, no ceiling fans, but a single pedestal fan churning out dollops of hot air from within its rusty bowels. There was a plywood table with lots of files upon it, a plush rotating navy blue chair, rather out-of-place in that shabby place.
“I am Rupesh Jain. And these are my friends!”
It was then that Krishna noticed the two other boys hunched over a computer at another end of the room.
“Aye Rupesh! What luck boy! You just entered, and we won the bet!”
And then, their eyes fell on the Ganesh idol in Krishna’s hands. Terror struck at little Krishna’s heart as both the boys pounced upon him. It all seemed to happen in painful slow motion, as the two pair of limbs came descending upon him, clawing savagely at the hot air…but, they continued to fall….and finally, fell prostrate on the ground, at Krishna’s feet.
“Ganesh ji brought us luck! Jai Ganesh ji! Who is this angel Rupesh? We must make him play for us! He is our lucky mascot!”
Rupesh nudged Krishna forward.
“Would you like to play?”
Before Krishna could say a word, Rupesh replied- “Of course he will. That is why he has been sent here.”

“Now! Now! Now! Mr.Roy! are you trying to suggest that Mr.Holwell had any vulgar acquisitive intentions that might have instigated him to….you know….assuming of course that the man is not entirely without errors… are you trying to say that the largest empire in the world built itself on the foundations of ….of….as you call it….base gold and silver?”
“I am extremely sorry sir…but that wasn’t my intention at all. and I am sorry of I have unknowingly caused any untoward emotional turmoil in you…but if you would please allow me to continue sir…?”

“Oye Krishna? It is the rule of betting that we all put up something on offer, anything that we have….what do you have to offer?”
Santosh, one of the other boys, glanced doubtfully at Krishna’s slipshod appearance.
“Er, Rupesh yaar, don’t you think he is rather inappropriate to bet for himself. I mean, he comes from Kumortuli…not the kind of place where you would expect riches. You have never been there, so you wouldn’t know…and, er…look at him…he is just not the sort…”
He is just not the sort….
What sort am I, he wondered.
Buckets of bamboo strips, blackish clay, rice husks, garish shades of pink and red paint….what did he have to offer?
He comes from Kumortuli…not the kind of place where you would expect riches.
Baba, why do the foreigners come here?
They come for the gold…and the silver.

“gold and silver? Now that is too much Krishna. We are not joking here. this is serious business.”
The naked incredulity on Rupesh’s face pained Krishna.
“no Rupesh! Believe me. Im not lying. This is my father’s secret. Nobody knows! People from far and wide throng our place just for this. I am telling you!”
Rupesh thought hard…as hard as a twelve year old brain could think. Gold and silver were fine things…this was a fine magical place too. So why not? Maybe this boy is telling the truth. Maybe this would be Rupesh Jain’s opportunity to shine…

That night Krishna floated into the shabby lanes of Kumortuli, his feet twitching in the warm air. In the dim glow of a singular light bulb, his world seemed to glow a clandestine gold….like the whispered words of his Baba- “they come for the gold…and the siver!”
“Baba! Baba!”
Rudra Pal was mixing rice husks in a pail of water. The urgent screams of his son brought him to the entrance of the shed.
“What is it Krishna? Is something wrong?”
“Baba! There is no time to waste! Give me the gold and the silver…the ones that you said we have….the ones that those foreigners come seeking! Baba, quick! Tell me where they are?”
The old idol-maker broke into a loud laugh, his shoulders slumped further, his head threatened to touch the ground as he continued to laugh.
“Gold? Silver? Bas? Just that?”
Krishna nodded his head in confusion.
“Wait….wait here…”
The old man returned a few minutes later with a bulging red bundle.

“Here you go! Here is your gold and silver!”
A triumphant Krishna held out the bundle before an incredulous Rupesh’s nose.
The others in the room stared hard at the red bundle, each trying to somehow to read its mind.
“Rupesh! It better not be a joke. Dinesh bhai has been promised the money. He won’t forgive us this time. You are new in this place, but we have a mounting debt. We are counting on your words here…remember.”
The bundle was vibrating in anticipation now…the blood-red spilling down its sides…
“Go on…open it!”
Rupesh started untying the knot.
The bundle lay on the table…untied.

“There was no need to kill him Rupesh! What have you done? Now where will you dispose of the body? The police will get to know. There will be a hell lot of trouble. Why did you do this?”
The strips of gold foil and flashy filigree ornaments lay splattered in blood on their blood-red cloth bed. Krishna was splattered in blood. His own blood. An iron rod lay on the ground.
“Rupesh? Rupesh, do you hear us? What was the use of killing him? Now anyway Dinesh bhai will kill us! As if this pauper’s death would buy us our lives! Kya kia bhai?”
Rupesh was thinking hard again….as hard as a twelve year old brain can think.
“Santosh? Where exactly is this Kumortuli? Can you give me the address to that place?”
“Now what are you going to do? Don’t do anything more Rupesh! Rupesh?”

Gold breeds in darkness…..in darkness, where oil wicks are stamped underfoot….willingly.
Silver is the moon…where black clouds spread themselves out …readily.
“Krishna was not lying….he was fooling us. There is gold here…and silver….”
Rupesh staggered his way into the lane….Kumortuli stood bathed in obscurity. The lights had been muted, the day’s work done. The familiar bumping and brushing of shoulders didn’t challenge him here.
“Hell! Now where do I find this treasure? And what happened to the bloody moon? Why is it so dark out here?”
The moon must have heard his curses then….and so, out it came…in full bloom.
The moon revealing an army in menacing black and blue, disheveled black hair, fiery red eyes of intoxication, lolling tongues hanging out like fangs of venom, garlands of beheaded humans dangling victoriously at their necks….
And then, his scream….the scream of disrobed fear.
The blood-curdling piercing scream of a terrified little boy.

“Mr.Roy! Is this story true?”
“Of course it is! It has become a legend down there at that impoverished idol-maker’s haven. They cite it as a rallying point against the Marwaris…they cite it to light trembling lamps of hope in the hearts of their fellows whenever business is threatened by oblivion. They also cite it to infuse their deities with a kind of supernatural aura. I know, it’s hard to believe...but that is how things are!”
“and the spice trader….he had to close down the shop?”
“of course….it’s hard to have your only son lose his mind….and not just that, he lost his speech that night too. The last time they heard him, they say, was when his scream could be heard all the way to the other side of the Ganga!”
“But Mr.Roy, what about this photograph that you have clicked? This garment store with ‘Rupesh and Krishna pvt.ltd’ sprawled across its walls? What does this mean?”
Mr.Roy gave a smile, tapped the butt of his cigarette gently on the edge of his ash-tray.
“You know Sir, there are so many arguments listed against Holwell’s account of the controversial Black Hole tragedy. Some say there is no independent confirmation apart from Holwell’s own account, some say Holwell exaggerated the exact number of people by about three times its actual amount, a Bengali landlord opined that a floor area of 267 square feet could not contain 146 European adults…so on and so forth….”
“So? What’s the connection Roy? Will Krishna’s story save you from the wrath of the external Board of Council next week? You did not go to Kolkata to scout for folklore and legends, did you?”
A smile peeked out of the corner of Roy’s mouth. He buried the remains of his cigarette deep into the ashes of the ash-tray……

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2008 question paper

I think I forgot to put this up. For your delectation:

Writing in Practice

Answer any one question. All questions carry equal marks.

1. Here is a character’s biodata. Using all of these facts, make up additional details, personal quirks and life events to create a backstory for the character.

Name: Radha Karmakar, Age: 33, Height: 5’4”, Weight: 55kg, Distinguishing marks: scar on right hand. Education: History honours, diploma in textile design. Marital status: divorced, one child. Income, 2.5 lakhs per year. Occupation: sales executive in a small jewelry manufacturing firm. Residence: near Shyambazar Metro station. Place of birth: Cooch Behar. Ex-husband: Army officer.

2. Create a plot outline choosing one character, location, mood and object from the lists below. You may add other elements and characters, but the four things you choose must figure prominently. State your four choices at the head of your answer.

  • Characters: Stone mason, Railway engine driver, teenage drama queen, werewolf,
  • Locations: Roof of skyscraper, river gorge, flower market, bedroom
  • Moods: Tranquil, frustrated, curious, despairing
  • Objects: Loaf of bread, shoe, rubber duck, tractor
3. Complete this piece of dialogue:

‘So,’ he said, looking not at her but at the road outside the window, ‘we finally meet.’

‘Finally,’ she agreed, fidgeting with the menu. ‘Do you like tandoori?’

‘Can’t stand it.’

‘Well, that’s one thing we have in common. Let’s order Chinese.’

His Blackberry beeped. She caught her breath, but he waved a hand. ‘I can’t turn it off because my boss will yell, but it’ll keep for an hour or so. So tell me, how long have you been living in this city?’

The waiter arrived to take their orders. When he left, she said, ‘Look, there’s no need to pretend. We both know why we’re here. Let’s skip the small talk.’

‘Agreed,’ he said, and looked her in the face for the first time.

4. Rewrite this passage, giving the scene emotional colour. Invent the details you need to add, such as colours, sounds, sights, objects, activity, people and animals, smells, etc, but do NOT introduce a plot or principal characters.

The stalls are being set up for the fair. Bundles of merchandise lie around. People are hurrying to get ready. The fair is to be held on a low hill outside the town. The Ferris wheel is being set up. Many musicians, dancers and entertainers come to the town for the fair. A magician is pitching his tent. Kids lounge around watching. It has rained the night before, but today is sunny. Winter is coming and there is a nip in the air.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


PLEASE NOTE: These presentations are open to everyone to come and listen. Please join us and listen to some corking stories.

Yes, now we come to the final chop: who will present on which day?
So far this is the list:
Additions and alterations in red

Day 1: Wednesday 11 November 3-5pm
Anomitra Biswas
Anway Mukhpadhyay
Arijeet Mondal
Sristi Ghimiray
Pallabi Gupta

Day 2: Friday 13 November 3-5pm
Promit Basu
Sharad Saumya Majumdar
Shayeari Datta
Monidipa Mondal
Malini Bhattacharya

Day 3: Wednesday 18 November 2009 3-4pm
Mrinalini Sen
Pujarini Sen

Your name will only be on this list if you have completed your quota of class assignments. I'm not taking any more submissions, so please don't come and beg and plead. There is NO WAY you can write three class assignments and a final story by tomorrow. Seriously.

If there are any problems with the time, please tell me NOW.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crime Prompt


Around Bhawanipur, an old man got on the bus, stumbling slightly against the people pouring out, and looked around in a slightly helpless manner, dripping gently on the wood. Amol, who had been looking blankly out at the rain-washed, hazy streets, looked around and found himself raising a hand to get the man’s attention and vacating his seat when he was close enough to ensure it wouldn’t get taken by someone else.

He missed what the man said, what with Mir babbling in his ears, and assumed it a generic thank you. “No problem.” The man gestured imperiously, and he took the earphones out. “What?”

“Bag-ta dao,” he said. “Least I can do.”

“It’s no problem.”

“It isn’t a problem for me to stand, either. Come on, give it.” And he tugged the bag off and down. “Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m feeble.”

“I hadn’t meant…” But of course he had, and flushed at the ears and the nape of the neck.

“I’m not complaining,” he said, settling the bag in front of his own, “simply pointing it out to you. These small ways in which they discriminate against the old quite fail to register with even the most well-meaning of the youth.” The bus jolted over a speed bump, and he clutched at the bags. “Discrimination is a strange thing,” he said, then, “have you noticed, for instance, that it’s rarely the elderly that are accused of crime?”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Amol grinned. Clearly the man is obsessed with being discriminated against. “Aren’t mafia masterminds often old, though?” Don Corleone and such, he thought and didn’t say. No point aggravating him further. Doubtless that’d be discrimination, too.

“No, you tell me, if someone in this bus suddenly says that their wallet has been lifted, who would you suspect? A well-pressed, neatly-combed old man,” he gestured to himself, “or an untidy young ruffian who looks unemployed?” the long finger jabbed at two boys around Amol’s age standing nearer the ladies’ seats than they needed to. “Well?”

He shrugged, nodded. “Fair enough.”

The old man smiled up at him. “Discrimination, I tell you. It’s not as though someone my age couldn’t have done it. But,” he stopped to gently push away the man beside him, who had been dozing since Amol got on the bus at Dharmatala, and possibly since before that. “As I was saying, this is possibly a useful sort of discrimination.” He paused as for some sort of response.

Amol twitched a grin back, and leant forward in not-entirely-pretended interest. “Why, sir?”

“Were they to search the old gentleman’s shabbily genteel valise and find a variety of purses and wallets, he’d possibly not survive the lynching that would follow, right? Whereas you young people…” He paused to shift the bags again. “It isn’t as though I don’t feel bad, you know, about them. Last month, one died before he could be taken to the hospital. Bad business. Quite put me off for days, weeks, actually.”

Amol twisted his grip on the overhanging handle, and changed hands—his left was beginning to itch. “First day back, huh?” It’s amusing to think of this rather imperious man—who looks like a retired officer—as a pickpocket. Discrimination again.

“Needs must and getting back in the saddle and that,” he allowed. “Besides, the weather is so opportune.” He stopped again, like he had earlier, and Amol, now playing this strange game quite wholeheartedly, lifted an eyebrow in inquiry. “Well, they’re all too wet and miserable to notice when they’re being robbed, of course.” He paused again, this time to rub at his nose. “Of course, I’m rather wet and miserable myself.”

“Necessary price.”

“Quite. Koshto na korle Krishn melena, ei aar ki.” He sneezed. “I’d better go home, I think, before I catch pneumonia. Or a cold. Terrible hassle to nurse oneself through it, either way.” Nurse oneself. Not married, then. Or widowed. “And that’s my stop coming, too.”

He got up, letting Amol slip into the slightly-damp space and take the weight of his dozing neighbour. “Thanks for taking my bag.”

“Not at all, not at all.” He settled it on Amol’s lap, gently, as though it contained breakable things. “Thank you for the seat.” He smiled, swaying lightly. “You don’t believe a word I’ve said, do you?” Amol shrugged. “Quite right.”

The bus screeched to a stop in front of EEDF, and the man moved towards the entrance, bumping against a knot of others getting on and off, and disappeared, somewhat unsteadily, into the rain. Amol’s sleeping neighbour opened his eyes, very alert. “Are you mad?”

“Excuse me?”

“Letting a pickpocket hold your bag, really.”

“There’s nothing in the bag worth stealing,” he said. “You were awake?”

“Yes, yes. I was feigning sleep, you know, to see whether he would try and steal from me.”

“”Really?” Given that he’d heard snores around Rabindra Sadan, Amol felt his scepticism justifiable. “Did he?”

“No,” answered Sleepy, completely unflustered. “Must’ve realised I was pretending.”

“Of course.” The men who had got on at EEDF paid their fares, and Amol relaxed infinitesimally. Just a story, then. “He got scared of you and got off the bus.”

“You think so?” He puffed up a little. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

The bus coasted near Anwar Shah. “Me? No.” Amol said, swinging up. “Not at all.” The bag swung the other way and he had to grab a handle with his left hand, now itching furiously. “You’ve saved us all from being robbed.”

The bus stopped at the red light, engine still roaring, and Amol scrambled to get off. It took fifteen minutes to negotiate autos to the right one, and only the auto-wallah asking for the fare beforehand saved him worse than a long wet walk home in the steady drizzle.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


NAME- Esther Rozarrio (maiden name- Esther de Silva)

AGE- 34 Years

Esther’s family, the de Silvas, are fifth generation immigrants to India from Portugal.
The Rozarrios are also immigrants from Portugal. Esther’s husband is the fourth generation immigrant.

The de Silvas and Rozarrios live in the town of Maldovi in Old Goa, situated about 9 km away from Panaji. The defining feature of this town is the world heritage monument of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, built in 1695.
Both the Rozarrios and the de Silvas live in what is known as a typical ‘old style’ Goan house. The roof is constructed with red "Manglorean" tiles. There is a long winding stairway leading to a balcony also known as a "balcao" in Konkani and Portuguese.
However, even though the Rozarrios continue to have their estate well looked after, painting it at least twice a year, and having original materials brought in from Mangalore and Panaji, the de Silvas have long relinquished any efforts to reflect their social status in the houses they keep. It is atrociously beyond their means.
As for the town, the only thing that can be said, is that, it resonates with the glory of Old Goa, but like Old Goa itself, it is struggling to brush away the cobwebs from a nearly dead heritage.

There is not much to talk about regarding Esther’s formal education. She never got much of an opportunity to explore that territory. She studied at the government school, a decrepit sickeningly yellow building that threatened to crumble under the weight of about a hundred students, and did crumble a year after Esther passed out of it. As for her higher studies, she had just started doing her Bachelors in Philosophy from St.Paul’s College. However, she could not even complete the first year. She got married off before that.

Esther teaches music to the choir at the Se Cathedral.

Esther has very scant hair on her head, that’s probably the most striking feature about her appearance. She has a slightly elongated face, with deep-set eyes, of a deep brown colour, very pale skin, and a snub nose. Another interesting fact about her physical appearance is, her sixth finger, growing from a stub at the end of the root of her thumb. Her body is a bit flaccid, almost formless, but she is not obese. However, the single inconsequential mark of beauty on this frame, is her chin. It has a beauty spot right at its tip which gives her face an air of gentleness.

The back stories of the two families merges with the history of the Goa Inquisition, established in the year 1560, abolished in 1812. (This office of the Inquisition acting in the Indian state of Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia, was executed by the Portuguese Catholic Church. It was established to punish relapsed New Christians- Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, as well as their descendants- who were now suspected of practicing their ancestral religion in secret. However, while its ostensible aim was to preserve the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was often used against these people as an instrument of social control, as also, to confiscate the victim’s property and enrich the Inquisitors.)
The tribunal of the first Inquisition had as its Deputies of the Holy Office, the two de Silva brothers, Diego and Aleixo de Silva. That is how the de Silvas sailed to India and became settlers in Goa. The de Silvas brothers were known for their highhandedness. They were largely feared and abhorred. Their opulence was a further marker of their gluttony. Then in 1812, when the British put pressure on the Portuguese to put an end to the terror of the Inquisition, along with the palace of the Inquisition, (known as the Big House) the sprawling estate of the de Silvas was also demolished. However, nobody was killed.
In a such a situation then, to revive oneself, something more than an unflinching faith in one’s pedigree is needed. It was then that the Rozarrios extended the olive branch of friendship to the de Sivas. The Rozarrios were among the first fleet of merchants to arrive in Goa with their precious and semi-precious stones. They profited from their enterprise and now desired to climb the social ladder as well. They felt that the only way to achieve this, would be to attach themselves to some church in Goa. The Se Cathedral in Old Goa, originally built in 1510, housing the Golden Bell (the bell of Inquisition whose tolling heralded the start of ‘auto da fes’, or, the brutal part of the Inquisition process) was the Church to which they desired to be attached in some way. The aim was to be one of its prime patrons.
The Rozzarios could be described as a family with no ethical or moral scruples, solely driven by a blind ambition for social respectability. For them, the Church is not a seat of worship, but a rite of passage, whereby, they would become members of a society of the privileged. The deepest fears of these people was, the fear of extermination, and they had a strange belief that by signing themselves into some hallowed establishment, like the church, they could be saved.
Thus, it was a sort of symbiotic relationship between the two families. The de Silvas had by then found a tiny space for themselves in the church (where the women took up the job of the mistress of the choir, and the men helped about in little duties of the priests and clergy), but they needed the money to get back to their earlier mode of existence, (for old habits die hard) and the Rozarrios helped them by making them shareholders in their shipping business. The Rozzarios in turn, helped by a particular smooth-talking de Silva, managed to be one of the patrons of the said church, i.e. the Se Cathedral.

Esther de Silva is born into a family that proclaims its dubious high status, but economically, they are almost impoverished. Esther’s father was not interested in the proceedings of the Church, so he worked as a master gardener in the estate of the Church. This is not to say however, that he was not a believer in Christianity like the rest, but he was definitely not of the orthodox nature. He passed away quietly in his sleep when Esther was twelve years old, and his brother David, six. Esther’s mother worked as the mistress of the choir till the day she retired and Esther took over from her. Esther’s mother is a dominating woman, a woman of determination and has a remarkable capacity for sustaining an argument. She was almost a kind of menacing disciplinarian to Esther’s father and the two children. Esther’s father on the other hand, was a man of few words.
The mother brought up the two children in an atmosphere of piety and discipline. ‘The Grand Cane’ was the great instrument of torture at their house, and its services were employed even on the day that Esther’s marriage was finalized when Esther coughed out the words- “I don’t want to.”
Though the two families had begun a sort of partnership, the losses slowly started loading up upon the de Silvas. The de Silvas were not able to understand the intricacies of business, and started suffering losses. The Rozarrios had then struck a deal- marry the de Silva daughter to our forty year old son, and we would settle all the accounts. The prospective groom, Peter Rozarrio had one damaged kidney (nobody knew the reason behind this) and had found it difficult to find a wife for himself among the wealthy Christian families. So now, because of their family lineage and the long history of a bond that the two families shared, the marriage between Esther and Peter was finalized.
Esther was twenty when she got married off. She was just in the first year of her college, doing her Bachelors in Philosophy from St.Paul’s College. Another important fact to be mentioned is that, at around the time that Esther’s marriage plans were being chalked out by her mother and the Rozzarios, (and Esther was weeping copiously in her room) David, her brother, had a final rather violent row with his mother (and he had had many such rows before) and left the house. He has never returned, and at present, no one knows where he is or what he does.

Esther has always lived a cloistered life, so there has never been much of an opportunity to make friends. However, her closest companion (and the dearest) had her brother, David. She has always adored him, but had fallen short when it came to the duty of standing up for and protecting her little brother. Esther lacks the personality to do that. But that had never created any strain between the two. In fact, David had shown stupendous courage by walking out on his mother. He had always been a boy of determination, and this had extended to his attempts to save Esther’s life from the clutches of their mother and the Rozarrios. However, when he could not do that, he left the house.
Apart from the brother, Esther had another friend- a grizzly looking cat. But that was finally removed by her mother to some other part of the town because Mrs. De Silva despises cats.
Therefore, in a nutshell, it could be said that, Esther had just two close friends in her life, and was separated from both very early in her life.
Now she has no friends or confidantes.

Esther hardly ever looks up at the world when she walks. And then again, she has never walked far into the world of strangers and chance opportunities. So, the chance of getting romantically entangled with anyone is beyond the question. Also, she has never really been the romantic sort. But not practical either.
As for her relationship with her mother, Esther shares a formal relation with the woman, and hardly ever speaks to her. She speaks only when spoken to. There was a time when she was mortally terrified of the woman, but now, after her marriage, since she doesn’t see too much of her mother, the fear is slowly dissipating, and drops of anger entering to fill that void.

After her marriage into the Rozarrio family, Esther has to make quite a number of formal appearances. There are occasional social gatherings, charities organized by the Church, where she has the role of a silent smiling attentive spectator, the wife of Peter Rozarrio. At these gatherings, she hardly makes an effort. She goes about it as though it is a duty. Her chief aim (and that has always been the case) is to do the duty\chore assigned to her deftly, indifferently, silently and then to fade with the background. She excels at this self-constructed game of ‘fading out’.
Her husband never takes her out anywhere. She does not feel the urge to complain or request either. In fact, she is swept by a wave of relief when her husband leaves for his work.

Emotionally, Esther is as fragile as a glass, but this glass is insulated from outside (and this process of insulation had begun the day her father died) so that whatever might pass in her heart, might not be reflected on her face.
She despises tears, but only when the urge to cry overwhelms her. Every time David had broken down, she had supported him with a warm hug, if not with anything else.
Esther might not have any great capacity for cultivating anger or hatred, but when she has a grudge against anyone or anything, she tries to fade out that person or thing from her sight and memory. It is a very conscious effort on her part, but she is perfecting it, just as she is perfecting the art of ‘fading’ out herself. However, what Esther is not conscious of, is the great cauldron of anger and wrath bubbling within her for quite some time now. She is still not conscious of it, though the symptoms are starting to show of late- sudden spurts of impatience, a violent combing of the scant hair on her head, talking to herself, slashing down beautiful blooming roses and petunias with her garden scissors when nobody is watching.
Esther does not love her husband, or any member in her husband’s family. She does not know the names of a few of them , and the rest are just as insignificant to her as they. For her husband, she tries to muster respect at least, but cannot.
Esther has often contemplating leaving all and running away somewhere, but years of servitude and acceptance of her mother’s orders, has washed away any traces of determination in her. She lacks confidence. The one thought that keeps haunting her is, of being forced to beg at street corners. By far, the fear of not being able to feed herself, is the greatest fear of all. This fear is the product of her insufficient qualifications, of the fact that, if let loose in the world, she won’t be able to fend for herself.

Esther’s father’s death is by far, the single greatest life-altering event of her life. The sudden feeling of being unprotected in the world, was a tremendously difficult feeling to cope with for the young girl.
Esther and brother had at one point (when Esther was thirteen) started putting together a sort of mystery story, largely a juvenile attempt at recreating a Secret Seven or a Famous Five. They got completely immersed in the project. They had just been introduced to the world of Enid Blyton by a friend of David of his school, (who had established a kind of personal library and was making a huge profit out of it) and were mesmerized. At this time, the dream of the duo had been, to get really famous by writing these books, and then, with the money, to run away somewhere and live life the way these British children did. However, one day their mother came across these diaries filled with fantastic stories, and she set them on fire and caned the children hard. This single incident of having their work burnt to ashes, affected Esther deeply. It was at this time that she became a complete recluse. And the feeling of being unprotected in the world, heightened.
Esther’s brother’s estrangement from the family was another event which affected her. It all went on adding up to her feeling of being a cornered beast and losing all the people and things that might have protected her.
The day Esther’s mother got rid of the grizzly cat, Esther dreamt of her father. It was not a symbolic dream or something, but when she woke up, she had felt a sudden blaze of anger, (not directed towards anybody particular) which had almost immediately died down.
After her marriage, she started suffering from insomnia. She has never been able to sleep at night since then.

Esther has suddenly, in the dead of the night, started writing again. It happened without any forewarning. Her insomnia probably drove her to it, but even though there are significant traces of the earlier threads of thought that David and Esther had put together in their childhood exercise, this time, her writings are more graphic, with lengthy (and completely inappropriate for the story) gruesome descriptions of rotten corpses and men murdering men. Also, there is slowly, a suspension of the storyline altogether. Now, it is more of an exercise, a kind of catharsis. Esther feels a sense of relief after these violent sessions. Often, she simply spills a huge drop of ink right in the centre of her paper, and starts describing a murder perhaps by dragging the tip of her pen from within that gleaming pool of ink, outwards, like words spilling out of a drop of blood.
Esther has been appointed the mistress of the choir at the Church, but she simply abhors the sound of the organ. She hates the touch of the cold hard keys against her skin.
Esther is probably the only non-superstitious person in the family of the Rozarrios. Her mother is highly superstitious too (which is why she got rid of the cat.)
Esther has no favourites- colour, music, sports, etc. One of the reasons could be that, in the kind of environment where she has been born and brought up, (and continues to live) one has never had the opportunity to develop one’s finer tastes, or concentrate upon one’s personal choices in matters of art, literature, music. Such things are not encouraged in her kind of an environment. Here, the idea of ‘duty’ dominates, and Esther has as of yet, not accumulated sufficient courage to break out of this tradition.
However, it should be noted that she absolutely loves the sea.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Character: Midori

Who is she?

• Midori Yamazaki (山崎 緑)


• 26 years old (born 20th March, 1983)


• Japanese

What’s her family background?

• Midori belongs to a middle-class family in Osaka. Her father Shoichi Yamazaki (b. 1950), grew up in a new, post-nuclear, pacifist Japan. Brought up the single child of his war-widowed mother, he learnt self-reliance at her knee. He completed his B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from Osaka University, and is today a well-paid supervisor of a car factory, working for a company he joined more that 30 years ago. A serious and hardworking man, he is a pillar of the local community. His mother died ten years ago, having enjoyed a full and happy life.

• Midori's mother, Tomoe Yamazaki nee Kusano (b. 1952), is a typical Japanese housewife: mild-mannered, supportive and accommodating. She gave up a career in nursing to marry, and eventually gave birth to two daughters: Aki (1980) and Midori (1983). After her third pregnancy miscarried, she was advised not to have any more children. She has one younger brother, Yusuke, in the Osaka Metropolitan Police Department.

• Midori's sister Aki is a jolly and fun-loving girl, a bit on the plump side, who currently works as a hair stylist in an upmarket Tokyo salon. She has a fiancé (Minoru) of three years whom she plans to marry (just waiting for him to propose any day now!). He works in the creative department of an ad agency whom she met on the job.

What’s her story?

• Midori was a good student in school, and also played volleyball at the inter-school level. She is a natural-born leader and is used to taking control of a situation. Admired and popular in school, she sometimes abused her wit and beauty to bully others. After school, she studied Physics at Osaka University. However, she felt she could do better in the business world and took a job as a bank clerk in Sumitomo Bank, Tokyo. Midori completed a part-time MBA from Waseda University while working.

• Midori met her ex-boyfriend in college. Ken was studying history and wanted "to become a star". He and Midori moved to Tokyo together, she to hunt for a job and he to hunt for acting roles. While she got her clerk's job, Ken continued to struggle as an actor, often depending upon her income to survive. This continued for almost a year, and it was pure bliss for her. Never mind that Ken doesn’t provide for the rent, or that he refuses to help around in the house. One day, she returned home early to find him sleeping with some female studio executive. Someone used to being in charge, this betrayal came as a shock to her. Midori threw them both out, with screams and fisticuffs… she had never cried so hard that night before she went to bed. That was three years ago.

• A few weeks after this, Midori moved in with her sister. Her behaviour has become colder and more aloof as a result of this experience, her mouth curling into an unpleasant snarl when she sees anything that reminds her of Ken. However, she still believes in true love, and hopes to find "Mr Right" someday: she has a marked weakness for romances with a happy ending. Midori lived with her sister till a few months ago, when she moved into the company dormitory to give Aki and her fiancé more privacy.

What’s she like?

• In a word, Midori is pretty. Not glamorous, or sexy in an obvious way. She has a full, expressive face (what in Japan would be called a tanuki-gao, or raccoon-face –don’t worry, it’s not as insulting as it sounds) with elegant features framed by a chic boy-cut with an asymmetric fringe (thank you, Aki). She has a tattoo of a blue dragonfly on her left shoulder-blade, which she got on her eighteenth birthday, much to the mortification of her father. She is outgoing, decisive and opinionated, a subtle contrast to her mother, as well as a discreet revolt against the highly patriarchal Japanese society in which she exists. Like most any girl, Midori is unhappy with her looks. The more her judo buddies tell her how cute she looks, the more she thinks she’s got a fat ass. Yes, she learns judo; for about two years now.

What about right now?

• Midori is by-and-large content with her lot in life. She still regrets dumping Ken; she was truly in love with him. After Ken, her longest relationship has been for less than a year. But then again she’s still young, independent and sociable. Settling down with a husband is a distant prospect for her. Her favourite pastime right now is going out shopping with her sister. Remember that MBA she did? Well, it finally got her promoted to a management job at the bank last year. But when Midori returns to her empty apartment, and says "Tadaima [I’m home]" to no-one in particular, she can’t help wondering, "What happened to my life?" That’s when she reaches for her cigarettes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Image Prompt.


The blue boy’s blue lotus eyes beckon,
And the sweet, sword-sharp smile,
And the dark nails on the dark fingers
Play with flute and heart-strings.

The boy slips out into the courtyard, and stands sun-dappled, blue pyjamas tinted purple in the setting sun’s scarlet light, yellow kurta gilded. “Come,” he calls.

“Wait,” you murmur, still within the corridor, still in shadow—you cannot move as fast as he does.

“Play for me,” he says, spinning on one spot, arms outstretched—you are afraid for a moment that he will hit one of the tourists, but he does not; he never does.

“I will,” you say, setting down a bundle to free one hand, tucking in your waistband again—it has been a good day, crowded with tourists, and your waistband is sagging with coins and your lips are chapped and throat dry.

“Now,” he demands, coming out of his spin abruptly, dark curls askew, and stalks close, makes to pull your flute from your hand.

“Wait,” you say again—you say it often, to try and get him to stop, to stand, to slow his wind-swift pace to yours. He listens, sometimes.

Now he frowns, forehead creasing, lips turning down, and pushes past you, back into the corridor, hair and skin and eyes and clothes fading into its greys and blues, even the bright yellow swallowed in the gloom.

You shift your bundle with your foot and sit, tailor-wise, knees creaking as you fold them, and put your flute to your lips, taking a moment to stop smiling before you begin to play. The sun, though setting, has yet enough heat to warm your bones, and you peer through the red-gold light into the shadows—you always peer into the shadows, when he leaves your side. He might yet leave, all these years later; depart as abruptly as he’d arrived.

Might, but has not. Not today, not yet. You make out the shape of him leaning slightly out, one hand braced against the dark red walls, weight on one hip, garments shadowed—all of him shadowed, like shadow made solid. He shakes his head, once, curls flying haphazard, and pulls himself back to lean against the outer wall and listen to the tendrils of music you send snaking towards him.

You cannot see the smile on his face, but his joy shows in the easy slump of the broad shoulders, the tipped-back head, the arms flopping loosely at his side—total abandonment. This is why you give in, creaking knees, and dry throat and all. This is why you play for him. You smile, the tune skipping a second before your lips resume the proper shape, and close your eyes. And still feel his joy, wrapping him warm—it will soon be cold, and he still shivers in the desert night. Just now, though, it is perfect, and you abandon your tune mid-way—it is only something you play to please tourists, or to warm up—and revert to the first tune you learnt—the first tune he taught you—and let the plaintive, unearthly strains change you—nothing changes him but he himself.

There is grass beneath you—you can feel, still, the flagstones heated in the long day’s sun, as the song quivers, and then they disappear under—transform into—soft lush grass as you gather breath and the flute volume. The sun is still a setting sun, but holds none of the harshness it should—even the westering sun is a cruel master in your land—almost its rays cradle you. There is perfume around you—the air is redolent with the scents of wet earth and new-bloomed flowers—and in the distance is the laughter of women, and closer, there is the lowing of a herd of contented cattle. When you open your eyes, there will be your god, too, his hand on a tasselled horn, his back against the trunk of a peepul tree green with spring. His bare body shall be tinted evening-dark, and his black curls will be adorned with a peacock’s fallen plumage. His free hand will hover over the flute in his yellow waistband. And when you open your eyes, he will smile at you, as though he is father, brother, friend, beloved, child.

He will, but not yet. It is not yet time to open your eyes and look upon him—the peepul is yet but brown shadow and green smoke, the tune must serpentine some little while longer—you must play him into being, pull him by the flute-enfolding hand into this green grove you have never seen with your eyes open—Vrindavan, where you have never been save in dreams and like this—and make him into the god your village temple hosted. You see him thus but once a day—less, when you truly lack the fortitude to worship him—it is a dusty, dusky boy that walks with you every hour, all these many years. Only at times, only like this, is your boy your god.

A rough hand shakes you, and the tune skips and falls silent. The grass browns and withers, and you open your eyes. The man before you is coal-dark, his face unfinished—nose flat, eyes staring—like the Jagannath you have seen only pictures of, and for a moment your heart stutters. And then you mark his clothes and the camera slung ’round his neck, and as the last plaint of the flute vanishes from your ears, you see Vikram squatting in front of you.

“He says you’re very good,” Vikram offers.

“Thank him,” you answer, bone-weary, eyes closed against the horror—you have never been so interrupted, where has he gone?

“He wants you to pose.” The man, when you look at him, hefts his camera. “He’ll pay you.” You look away from Vikram, look into the gathering dark for a glimpse of yellow, of blue, of tangled curls and laughing, impatient eyes. You can see nothing of him, he has melted so swiftly into the deepening shadows. “A lot, kaka.”

Today has been a good day. You are tired, bone-weary and throat aching, and your god has disappeared because others interfered with his worship. You look at your flute in your hand, at Vikram beside you, at the tourist with his camera, at the pillar where you last saw him, and you nod. You take up the flute, and you begin playing. Today has been a good day, and a busy one, and your waistband is sagging under the weight of coins thrown in Indian visitors and foreign tourists. Tomorrow might not be so kind.

This is not that first of tunes you were taught—there is a shine in this that speaks of coins, of gold—of Lakshmi and not her spouse—but it catches the tourist’s attention, and it comes easily to you. Easier, at least, than what you have played all day for tourists, for money. You fix your eyes upon the walls as the camera flashes, and when you reach the end of Lakshmi’s tune, you let the man put a crisp hundred rupee note in your outstretched palm. You even manage a smile.

You gather up your bundle and walk slowly from the fortress—it is closing time—eyes searching every shadow, every dark-skinned boy. Outside you slump by the road and put your flute to your lips and slip into your interrupted worship. The grass grows slowly, sparse and yellow, and the trees are stunted. There are no flowers, no women, no laughter. You are at the end of your tune, at the end of tolerance, when he walks into the withered grove, and loops an arm ’round the shrivelled branch of a tree.

You open your eyes and see him before you—hair limp curls, the yellow of his kurta faded to brick, blue pyjamas to grey. “Come,” he says, and you follow him into the dusk.
My image was an old Rajasthani man playing the flute.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nonsense Word Exercise

Queen Bee

I wake, slowly, limbs trying to unfold, wings trying to spread, confined, constrained in a shell that tastes like food. I push at the walls and they creak but hold. I push again, feel something give. I prod at the minute tear with my…my something, my sting? It passes through easily. I shift, trying to push my head down, to see what I am causing. The wall tears more, in a swift, smooth movement. Tears off, when I shift again, and I emerge from my shell, and spread my wings.

I have been in this place before. Without wings or legs or this body, but I have been here—the shell smelt familiar, and this place smells like the shell, though it is covered smooth, and the shell was torn when I left it. The floor is the colour of the walls of my shell, and the walls are the same. There is sound coming from within one of the walls.

It is a sound that sounds familiar, as though I have made it. It is a sound of joy—it is the sound I made shifting, trying to come out of the shell. There is a me in that shell. I watch as she stabs through the wall of the shell, as it comes off and hangs to one side, as she emerges. She is large, my eyes are staring, and her wings are spread. There are others, too, standing at a distance, some above, and some at the place as, me. But they are different. Only one other and I are me. The other me moves towards me, and I move towards the other me. My wings shiver and shift and I rise above her. I fly behind her and I open skin like I opened shell, but this does not tear as easily. The me I am tearing shifts, makes the sound again that she and I made, though this sounds nothing joyous. I pull myself from her, push in again. The other me makes a different sound and stops moving. I pull out again. She lies still. I repeat the sound I made earlier—the sound she made.

One of the others—one of the workers, I remember, I know—moves towards me, and then many others. They move around me, and take up the dead me, and move away, speaking amongst themselves, ignoring me. “Trepindesu,” one says, and the others bob in the air. Those not carrying the still me stop, move away from the crowd, dropping in mid-flight. I look into the torn shells—they are the same—that housed me and me.

I hear the sound again, this time from a distance, and I move to it. Workers move away from me, move together past me, and all mutter “trepindesu”. The shells with me in them shiver, and they sound. I stop in front of one, and I turn and stab into it. Something shifts inside, and I stab again. It stills. I pull out, stab a last time, then tear the shell open. What falls out is not me, is nothing like me—its eyes are larger, and it has nothing to stab it me with. Drone—I know this like I knew the workers. Drone and not me. But the sounds are still going on, higher and louder, and the shell beside the drone’s quivers, shifts. Something stabs out of it, and I stab in, keep stabbing till all movement stops. The shell rips and the me inside it falls out. She is still, like the me whose shell was beside mine. Two of me are still. I shift, spread my wings, rise and hover. Two of me are still, but I am not. There is still a sound. More of me are waking, trying to push out of their shells. They will try to keep me still. I will make them lie still.

The next me is already still when I find her—another me has made her lie still outside her torn shell, made her silent. The sound starts, stops—the other me has stilled another me.

The sound starts again, and I fly to it. This me is looking away from me, spreading her wings, and I stab her before she turns. Workers pass, carrying the drone; three stop to pick up the me who is lying still. I fly behind them. “Trepindesu,” one says. Another asks, “how long?” The first, holding the drone’s head, says, “Till all but one are still.”

I fly away from them. The shells carry only workers. I fly further, and see drones emerging. And then again I hear the sound—joyous, triumphant, the sound I made when I emerged, the sound I made when the other me lay still and I did not. There is a me lying still on the ground, and, hovering above her, a me in the air. I rise into the air and she flies at me, and I shift, move, stab at her wing. She falls and I hover over her, stabbing repeatedly till she stills.

I fly away from the me I have stilled and the me she stilled. I fly between the walls and above the floor that look like my torn shell, and I wait for sound. There is no sound, though all is quiet save the whirr of the workers’ wings. I see me lying still, outside and inside torn and pierced shells. I am the only me flying. I sound my joy, and no other me replies. I am the only me not silent. The workers carry away all the others—I have made some still, some have stilled each other. “Any more?” asks one. “It is ended,” another answers, shifts the thorax of a me I have not stilled. “Trepindesu is over.”

I am the only me left. I sound my triumph.
My word, as is obvious, was 'trepindesu'. All my knowledge of bees comes from this article and PTerry