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Working title: “Invisible Worlds”

I soak the knife and the long blade in the hot boiling water, I count till 30, slowly, like Baba had told me to do – he said that boiling water can kill germs, and if I forget to count or count wrong, then the children will get infected. Then I count 10 more just in case, and hand over the knife and blade over to Baba. He grunts and takes the blade, leaving the knife in my hands. I take a step back into the darkness of the tiny dank room. Only the bench in the middle in which the child is lying with her hands and legs tied, is lit by a low hanging bulb. The screaming is about to begin.

The knife feels heavy. The blade is lighter, it would have been easier to hold onto. But I like “blade-days” better, when Baba takes the red hot blade and makes slits all over the body of the child. When he is at the task, he looks like a monster – he is a big burly man, and the effort makes his muscles bulge out of his yellowing singlet, torn and smeared with the blood of children – not one, but probably three or four children before it gets its weekly wash. You would think that the leader of the biggest beggar ring in Mumbai could afford better clothes, or at least a more frequent rinse.

“AAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH…….,” I jump at the sound. The scream of the first slice. That is always the loudest.

“Stand still, you idiot!” Baba glares at me. “Every day the same thing, and he still can’t stand still. I have great hopes for you, and this is how you act. Come closer and learn!” His eyes are blood-shot, round, large and bulging; his nostrils open and shut so heavily that you could almost feel the short gusts of wind. Red sticky paan dribbles down the corners of his mouth – when I was new here, I thought it was the blood he drank from the children he cut.

Every time I hear the screams, even though I have lost count of them by now, it is as if a shot pierces through my heart. I start even when I try very hard not to and my hair stands on end. They scream so long and so loud, even on the blade-days. I wish I could tell them that they are the lucky ones, because they didn’t come in on the days when Baba chooses the knife instead. When he takes the knife first, it is usually to gouge out the eyes.

I cower further back into the darkness. Baba won’t notice, he is already onto the second cut. The second scream is a little less loud, but more frantic and they start to try and flail their arms and legs. Once I forgot to tighten the ropes well, the boy was strong and he punched Baba on his face. I still remember the force of Baba’s kick when he turned around and kicked me. I lay crumbled on the floor for hours after. But today the ropes are tight.

I move forward and stuff the dirty linen into her mouth. Baba says it is good for them to scream a little bit. I suppose it helps to deal with the pain and shock. But two is enough for the cuts, that’s what he says, and he allows three for the eyes. I don’t know whether I was grateful he let me scream thrice. Or maybe he allowed me just two and a half screams; after all he only took out one of my eyes, as he never tires of reminding me. I don’t remember, it was nearly two summers ago.

I try not to look at her eyes, but she is shaking her head so hard. I hesitate to touch her golden curls, but I have to hold her head down and it takes all my strength to stuff down the dirty linen. I catch a glimpse of the eyes. I had never seen blue eyes before. They are the blue of the ocean, and look just as deep.

When I met her this morning, Amy was playing on the beach with her little brother. I could see her mother and father, drinking beer and sitting at a table slightly away. I figured she must be around eight or so, about the same age I was when I got here. I put on my Mickey Mouse sun glasses, my ticket to the happy world. The darkness of the shade and the whimsy of the design hides the maimed eye behind them, and I could almost pass off as normal. I walked up to Amy, opened my palms and showed her a sea shell – it was white, flawless and beautiful.

“Is it for me?” She asked me politely.
“Yes.” I moved carefully towards her, and held the sea shell gently up to her ear. Her head grazed my shoulders. “Listen…do you hear?”
“The sea…” her eyes lit up. I smiled.
[to be continued]


This was my submission for last week’s assignment at the Writer’s Studio workshop. The assignment was to write a first person persona narrator, who introduces a bizarre world to us in a matter-of-fact tone. For inspiration, we read George Saunder’s “The 400-Pound CEO

About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade. 300,000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg every day, in what has become a multi million rupee industry. For true stories, visit EqualityNow or CNN’s Freedom Project.

Posted in Fiction on January 21, 2017


We, the millennials

Neither a hare nor a tortoise be,
Rather the child that meanders free.

Our destination is a mirage to which we float,
Not a mountain to climb with disasters fraught.

We don’t lay claim to the things we own;
Pride is for the experiences we have borne.

Let’s not just smell the roses, let’s plant a few;
Organic and fair-traded, even the coffee we brew.

A playful child – we laugh and we cry,
Often it seems to you that we don’t try.

We want to feel the pain and the pleasure,
No shields for us, it’s the feelings we treasure.

On a screen to zoom, we are a billion pixels,
Each a new life; look to see but not to rush.

If you were to paint us, it’s at your own peril;
If you decide to choose just one broad brush.

We are all different, not peas in a pod;
Not grains of sand, with one boot to trod.

We want to love, to share and to see,
To be the playful child that meanders free.

Posted in Musings, Society on January 3, 2017


10 years

Darn. I forgot the blog’s 10 year birthday. It was on 26 Aug 2014.
If I had time, would have posted the sequel to this Remembering a journey. Watch this space for the part II. Coming Soon.

Posted in Catch-all on September 18, 2014


Fall

Kill me before I die
For the rose petals are more beautiful in bloom
Than fallen and trampled beneath our feet.

Posted in Musings on September 7, 2014


Mother

Part of the reason I started my blog was that I would stop leaving random pieces of writing everywhere…when I was a kid, and before we had computers, my mother would clean up my room after I had gone back to the hostel after my summer vacation and she would find shreds of writing everywhere – under the bed, in the drawers, behind the cupboards. Now I leave them on different devices.

This morning, in my random browsing, I chanced upon this half-written draft from 2012. I rarely write about motherhood- I suppose I am so engrossed being one that the moment to stop, reflect and write never comes. This is a rare one, about motherhood:

2012 was a wonderful wonderful year. It will always be, for me, the year in which my second daughter was born. The year in which, I feel, I finally grew up!

When does one become a grown up, really? Is it when you turn eighteen? If the right to vote is your yardstick, perhaps it is. I am way past eighteen, but I have never voted in my life. Could it be when you move out of your parents’ house? Could it be when you fall in love? When you earn your own living? When someone calls you mom (or dad)?

I don’t quite know. Perhaps it is different for everyone.

I had five months of a break – a break is the wrong word – no one should call a maternity break a “break”. A break from work, sure, but unless you have oodles of support, it feels like anything but a break. But nevertheless, I have reflected a lot.

I think I am grown up because I feel centered. I feel finally as if I am beginning to know who I am, who I will be and to be happy with it (to some extent). I accept finally that you really cannot control things, you just have to let go sometimes, and hope for the best.

My daughter is sleeping in my arms as I type this post. Every once in a while, I glance at her eyes; her eyelashes, already very long, remind me of how she is so mine. I see my husband in her slightly curved nose. I gently close her half-open lips, she stirs a bit, but is back to sleep and within a span of a sentence, opens her lips again ever so slightly – in that stubbornness, I see my eldest daughter. She stretches and she smiles – I live and die for that smile.

When my first daughter was born, I was a nervous over-excited first time mother. I must have scoured every book and every website on motherhood and infant development. Every move was meticulously recorded, every smile was photographed and filed. I had moments of intense highs and intense lows, lows where I was convinced that I must be the most clueless mother on earth. I look at her now – a spirited three year old, and I beam with pride. That silly old me, who knew not much, somehow stumbled through the first years of motherhood, and my daughter still loves me.

With my second, I am more quietly confident. Of course, I display every nervousness at the slightest cough, and even at a change of routine, but I realise motherhood is just that – a constant avalanche of emotions. Often I sit by the play-mat, dangling a bright toy and singing utter nonsense to my daughter. I am startled by a force of nature jumping on my back. As I wrestle playfully with my first-born on the carpet, I want my baby to grow up ever so quickly and join us in our games. Yet when I go back to watching her sweet innocent smile, I can’t shake off the feeling that this is the last time my baby would be this small. I will never again be the mother of a one-day old baby. Each passing moment is intensely felt, I want to hold on to each one of them.

From the milestone chasing mother of one, I have become the clutching-on-to-each-moment, mother of two.

When my baby is at my breast, I think of how this is the last child I would ever breast feed. She bites me once in a while to tell me that she is done, I let out a short cry of pain, yet I cherish it. After five months of feeding her, I am nowhere near ready to stop it. It is our small moment, a shared experience that no one else has access to. When she has had a full feed, she purrs so happily, almost like a happy kitten. She smiles at me as if I am the only one in this world that matters. Never again will I be so indispensable to anybody again, not even to her.

If I had to describe myself in a word, I have often chosen the word Nomad. Now I choose the word, Mother.

Posted in Musings, Personal on August 6, 2014


A promise from six months ago

Six months ago, I promised myself that I won’t write.

Six months ago, I promised myself that I won’t write. If left to my own devices, I scribble a lot, in random places usually – the most frequently used is the draft folder of my email client, which is an absolutely nightmare to search. I also use way too many notes programs on my iPad, and just text files on my desktop. In the end, they never add up. The random notes come to nothing – I often have the urge to re-read a piece I wrote, to add something to it, but I can never find it back. The random scribblings can’t be shared with anyone because they are truly the regurgitations of an incoherent mind. The blog used to help me sort my thoughts in one place, and instilled the discipline to edit my incoherent spit ups into semi-coherent pieces. But then I got too serious about it – I forgot why I started writing. I started writing what I thought would be useful, what I thought was important enough, what I thought others may enjoy – I published pieces which I had to struggle to keep myself awake while writing, while the outpourings of my heart that made me jump out of the bed got relegated to random draft folders again. I don’t know why, but it happened. The promise was supposed to help me remember why I write.

Six months ago, I promised myself that I won’t write. Because I just had too much to do. You might say everyone has too much to do these days. Probably yes. But I don’t usually. Usually I live a full life, but a well-managed life with room to spare, well, a little room to spare. But at the time I made my promise to myself, I felt I was just about to step into a roller coaster that would throw me upside down and downside up, make me twist and turn and scream my lungs out, and trying to hold on to a pen seemed to be stupid while you could be using that hand to hold onto the seat bars, and thus to dear life. Life goes through phases, you can never predict when the next curve ball will hit you, but I am not about to enter into a roller coaster ride, I am on it and loving it. I did not know that six months ago. The promise was an attempt to force myself to pare down my life, spare some time to do the things that had to be done.

Six months ago, I promised myself that I won’t write. It was because I live by the motto, “do it well or not at all”. And that is difficult when you have a public forum that needs constant attention. I can’t write well all the time, hell, I don’t write well most of the time. But then I have those moments when no matter what I am doing I have to let go and hit the keyboard, hard and fast. In the exhilaration that follows after the act, I have the urge to share, the urge to put it on my homepage – what an appropriate name, this does feel like home – and push “publish”. But the blog doesn’t work that way, it needs constant nurture – regular posts, comments on other blogs, and replies to the comments on yours, and in general, just being available. I thought I should follow the rules – write and engage regularly, and well. The promise was meant to keep me from breaking the rules of this game.

Six months later, I want to write.

Six months later, I miss my blog. I miss my home in this wide wide web. I want to write. I want to write even if it amounts to nothing. I want to write even if it is frivolous and has no value or meaning to anyone except me. I want to write even if that means I have to sleep an hour or two less. I want to write even if it means holding onto a laptop when whooping down a roller coaster. I want to write even if I don’t follow any rules – even if I write sporadically and not well at all. I want to write because it is time to let go, to be free from a promise from six months ago. I want to write because I want a place in this space, however abstract it may be, that I feel at home. I want to write, just because I want to.

Posted in Musings on May 3, 2011


Travel Book list

For someone who loves traveling and who loves reading, I read surprisingly few travel books – its sort of like the way I love chocolate and I love ice cream, but I don’t like chocolate ice cream – however, I am always in search of good travel books, in the hope that some day, one great book, which I am yet to find, will convert me into a travel literature aficionado.

Here is an interesting list of 100 books from the Travel site WorldHum (via Nathan Bransford)
1) A Dragon Apparent, by Norman Lewis
2) A House in Bali, by Colin McPhee
3) A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
4) A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
5) A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermo

Read the rest here

Posted in Books, Travel on June 18, 2010


Three ways of writing a short story

R.L.Stevenson says:

There are, so far as I know, three ways and three only of writing a story. You may take a plot and fit characters to it, or you may take a character and choose incidents and situations to develop it, or, lastly, you may take a certain atmosphere and get actions and persons to express and realize it.” When to this clear conception of his limitations and privileges the author adds an imagination that clearly visualizes events and the “verbal magic” by which good style is secured, he produces the short story that is a masterpiece

Posted in Short Story Month on June 15, 2010


The modern audience – have we lost our patience?

I am sitting at the most comfortable spot in our sofa, playing with Bolano’s 2666 in my hands. It was a birthday gift from six months ago and I still haven’t got to it. I want to read it, oh! I have wanted to read it for so long – but I am thinking of all the other smaller books I would be giving up while I tackle this 900 page tome – Almost without thinking, I pick up my laptop and skit over to some book reviews to justify the time I will be spending. I come across this at Amazon:

“Definitely written for a modern audience, as, unlike past authors, Bolano doesn’t stretch anything beyond necessity, doesn’t linger on any side story unless it’s something the reader will inevitably feel to be vital. He keeps up a swift pace.”

My mind digresses. What is a modern audience?

The reviewer hints at impatience; we are people who need swift pace. Have we, the general reading population, collectively lost the ability to appreciate a lyrical, measured book that does not succumb to the pressures of being a page-turner?

I think back to the last “slow” book I read – I can’t really remember any. Goa Xingjian’s Soul Mountain – the book that won him the Nobel Prize in 2000 – comes to mind as the last slow book I attempted. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t really get through it. Speaking of books we abandon, check out Sonya Chung’s essay over at the Millions. Interesting topic, I will dwell on it another day.

But then, pace is subjective. Many of my favourite authors – Lessing, Hesse, Camus – they are not famous for their scorching pace. I would, any day, pick Jhumpa Lahiri over Dan Brown. But then, I finished Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music not because I couldn’t put it down, but because I resolved not to. I guess I don’t really have as much patience as I would like to believe that I have.

Have we changed? Were the audiences of yore particularly patient? Or was it just a result of lack of alternatives – less books to turn to, less distractions of technology? Or did they truly have a better appreciation for the finer aspects of a well-cooked, well-crafted, albeit slower paced, book? Are we – the modern audience – giving up all other qualities of a book in pursuit of just the dimension of pace?

Is the abundance of choice really a detriment to the overall development of literary quality? I hope not, but I can’t help but wonder.

Posted in Books, Musings on June 3, 2010


Excerpt: The Picture of Dorian Gray

It is not easy to find good travel writing – most of the time, they read like an itinerary of “I did this, and then that, and that” and you are left wondering whether you picked up a brochure rather than a travelogue. Sometimes, the writers go overboard and describe each little stone on the pavement and you feel the same impatience as when your car has a breakdown and you are waiting for the AA folks.

Even while I complain as a reader, I know as a writer, that it is hard to strike the right balance. But once in a while, a writer just gives you the perfect description – enough to make you feel as if you are standing right there with him, yet leaves out enough so that you can add your own flavour to the journey. And then you have to just read it over and over again, lapping up the beauty of the unique path they are leading us on.

I leave you with such a description of London’s Covent Garden from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, observed from Dorian’s perspective as he walks listlessly after being disappointed in his first love:

As the dawn was just breaking he found himself close to Covent Garden. The darkness lifted, and, flushed with faint fires, the sky hollowed itself into a perfect pearl. Huge carts filled with nodding lilies rumbled slowly down the polished empty street. The air was heavy with the perfume of the flowers, and their beauty seemed to bring him an anodyne for his pain.

He followed into the market, and watched the men unloading their waggons. A white-smocked carter offered him some cherries. He thanked him, and wondered why he refused to accept any money for them, and began to eat them listlessly. They had been plucked at midnight, and the coldness of the moon had entered into them. A long line of boys carrying crates of striped tulips, and of yellow and red roses, defiled in front of him, threading their way through the huge jade-green piles of vegetables.

Under the portico, with its grey sun-bleached pillars, loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls, waiting for the auction to be over. Others crowded round the swinging doors of the coffee-house in the Piazza. The heavy cart-horses slipped and stamped upon the rough stones, shaking their bells and trappings. Some of the drivers were lying asleep on a pile of sacks. Iris-necked, and pink-footed, the pigeons ran about picking up seeds

Are there any good travel books or blogs you recommend?

Posted in Books, Writing on May 26, 2010