A Walk to Remember

 
It gave Sashank such a strange feeling to stay overnight at a hospital neither as a patient nor as a visitor. He was there to sell a scanner machine. Dr. Ramani, Sarala’s sister who had signed the MOU after so much deliberation was also kind enough to let him be the hospital’s guest for that night.
The next morning he had to catch a train to the next city, to another hospital, to see another doctor.
It was by chance that he had enlisted this hospital in this remote town in south India as a potential customer. He often forgot the hard learned lesson that there are no potential customers but only customers. One never knows.
Sitting in the dining hall, he looked around. Everything was either white or gray. The beetroot curry someone had spilled on one of the tables stood out in dark pink. The nurses around him were all in white and the walls were off white above the eye level and gray below that. There was nothing to catch one’s eyes except the pretty faces and cute smiles of the nurses. How did they manage to maintain their pleasant bearing even this late at night? Most of them would have got into that uniform before sunrise, he was sure.
One of the nurses came over to him and said Dr. Ramani was waiting for him on the ground floor. He suddenly recalled his appointment with her. She had told him they could meet after dinner and go for a walk around the campus.
“It is not as charming as your Kerala, but still it has its own beauty,” she had told him that morning.
He doubted whether she was trying to imply something. The comment sounded strange to him at that time. Now that he had toyed with it much in his mind, it was no more interesting or intriguing.
Down below, on the ground floor, Ramani was waiting for him, browsing though a magazine. He could see that she was no more in her doctor’s drab uniform but in a kind of party wear. Was she returning from a function or something, he wondered.
As they walked down the steps into the moonlight, he asked her whether she was returning from somewhere.
“No, I am here to see you. There were no other engagements anyway.”
That was interesting.
“How long do you know my sister?”
That wasn’t a question he had expected.
“Not long. We don’t even know much about each other. We met at a railway station two years ago. It was a long wait for the train and so we got to know each other. I found her an interesting person and connected with her on FB. I put up a post asking whether anyone could help we with finding some clients for that machine and she was the first one to comment.”
“You’re right, she is an interesting character. People generally think she is my younger sister but I am the younger one. Four years younger to her”
Now that was an interesting fact. He too had made that mistake and now he corrected it in his mind.
“She was not an academic person, more into dance and stuff. I was only academic. Top scorer in every class. But that is all about me. She..she has gone to become the pride of our family. Almost a celebrity by now, right?”
“More than a celebrity. She is considered a scholar in her own field. Many dance and very few know why. She know how and why.”
Ramani laughed at that. He didn’t think it was proper to stare at her who couldn’t be called an acquaintance.
He looked up at the sky. It was a full moon. The fare away hill to the east and the north looked like they had gone to sleep under a think burnt brown blanket. Around him, the plains lay washed in gold and silver.
“She is actually a blessed soul.”
“I know,” he agreed. “But she fought for all that. It can’t be called blessing. She told me how she suffered when her man left her.”
“Still, it is blessing. Many fight and lose out to fate. She strong-armed her fate.”
An ambulance went past them, its siren freezing them for a moment.
“At any moment now, I may be wanted back at the hospital. Shall we walk back.”
“Yes, yes, sure, duty first.”
“I am sorry, we had to cut short our walk. Such is a surgeon’s life.”
“I know, I understand.”
But did I, he wondered. He could go back to his room, read something or watch a movie on Netflix or jut go to sleep. But this lady would have to keep herself awake, probably the whole night and pray for the life of a patient, a stranger to her.
He looked at her. She was more beautiful now than when he first met her.
They walked back and as they were close to the hospital, her phone rang again. She moved away and talked hurriedly over the phone. She was warm but firm in her tone.
“No need to hurry now,” she said. “She is gone. Brought dead, says the duty doctor.”
He didn’t know what to say. Dead for how long, he wanted to know. Was ti a dead body that went past them a few minutes back? What was the point in all this commotion then? But who knew? Every minute of life is also a life long enough. Same dynamics, same principles, and mysterious the same way.
“When is your train?”
“Five thirty.”
He found himself rather reticent now.
“I have asked the caretaker to arrange some vehicle for you. The railway station is three kilometers from here.”
He still didn’t know what to say. This was all knew to him. People falling off like flies. He was sure that it would have been the same way for Sarala too.
Suddenly, he felt an awe for the person walking with him. He walked a little bit away from her. He senses that he was not getting the smell of the sanitizer on her. A doctor smells like mothers. A fragrance that cannot be washed away.
At the entrance to the hospital, she stopped to say bye to him.
And then she gracefully walked up the steps towards her office to sign a death certificate.
He waiter till the door closed behind her and then turned around to walk back to his room.
The moon was still shining bright.
Somewhere else some would not have finished their walk.

Games at Twilight

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Anita Desai

Sreekumar K                                                                                                              Facilitator,  L’ecole Chempaka International,  Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Games at Twilight by Anita Desai describes a simple ordinary evening game in the life of some boys and makes it into a metaphor of life. However, the story does not stoop down to the level of a moral lesson or philosophic discourse. The writer achieves this by focusing more on the details about this story
Ravi plays a game of ‘hide and seek’ with his friends. He finds an old shed and hides in it for a long time so that he will be the only one whom no one can find. Being in the dark shed among insects and other potential dangers is excruciating for him. But he stands all that to get appreciation and acknowledgement. On the contrary when he comes out he finds that he was not much and that his friends are already into a new game. They ask him to join in but he is too hurt for anything.
The story also features a good number of events that happen around the kids. The effect of their nose that disturb the birds, people sleeping undisturbed, and the various quarrels and conflicts among the children. The internal conflicts of Ravi, the central character, are also well depicted.
The title itself gives a clue to the metaphorical layer of the story. The children are playing the game late in the evening and darkness engulf s them during the game. Darkness, when taken as death, and children as adults, the twilight becomes the evening in any one’s life. Thus the story is a comment on our activities towards the evening of our life.
We all tend to live in the minds of other people and we want approval and attention from them. Our whole life pivots on that. We even try to be inconspicuous (hide) to be conspicuous or to be missed. We think that after our death, we will be missed much. If we have a chance to stay around after our death we are sure to be disappointed. Life goes on and we are not missed as thought we would be.
On another level, since we have carved a niche in other people’s hearts and love to live there more than anywhere else, not to be missed or go unacknowledged is like death for us. We want others to feel that we exist. Unless they comment on our existence and the quality of our existence we feel ill at ease.
The specific detailed description of the story is supposed to make it more realistic so that it won’t read like an allegory. But life has fractal structures and any single incident in our life is an image of the whole life itself. Thus a game at twilight symbolizes almost like in an allegory, life itself. We live a life of ‘hide and seek’ and like a game we hide to be sought out. We stay away to be acknowledged. We disagree when someone points this out us but get shattered when our hiding goes unacknowledged.
Even if we see this as a story of the interaction among children during a game, this qualifies as a good story. It becomes a great story when we look at it from a figurative point of view. The twilight, the boy lying on the grass and the children going on with their games and the nature functioning on its own are all clues that there is more to this story (life) than meets the eye.

Ming’s Biggest Prey

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Patricia Highsmith

Sreekumar K                                                                                                              Facilitator,  L’ecole Chempaka International,  Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Ming’s Biggest Prey by Patricia Highsmith is a story of relationships across species and genders. The story reads like thriller but it has deeper connotations too. The writer creates a special kind of atmosphere like those seen in Film Noir to enhance the chilling effect of the story. The writer has avoided first person point of view but the narration is very close to that. Telling the story from first person point of view wouldn’t’ have been an option since a lot of the story is set aside for descriptions and thoughts that can rise only in a human mind.

The central plot is very clear and transparent, even if it is unbelievable and defies out logical concept about consciousness in animals. Language is the vehicle of scheming and planning and so animals are not supposed to scheme and plan. They act on instinct. But Ming, the central character in the story feels, reacts, plans and executes just like a being endowed with consciousness. Teddie and Ellaine in the story have a very strained relationship which makes the man all the more jealous of her pet cat.

In first two paragraphs itself the writer makes the cat look like more human without being humane. He is depicted as able to foresee things thinking logically about time and space. He even compares his present stature with his past. This might have given the story a fairy tale like atmosphere had it not been for the description of places, the fast life the human beings are living and the subtle way the man and the woman display their emotions. Separated from his family, brought up among hostile animals and sold for a good sum, Ming reminds us of the typical street smart hero in thrillers. Subtle hints can be found all over the story about the potential evil that lurks in the animal. He has climbed trees to get to the nest of birds. The relation between him and Ellaine is proved when we are told that she had dismissed a maid who was not in good terms with Ming. The cat can even understand human language

His mistress kissed his cheek, and said something with the word ‘hungry’ in it. …He was supposed to tell her when he was hungry.

As the story moves forward we realize that Ming, the cat’s suspicions about the man were not totally ill founded. He may kill. The violence that he shows Ming smacks of the violence he shows the woman. The source of his violence is the same. There are other people in Ellaine’s life. They are all moving around her and the man feels left out and he takes it out on the cat. He even tries tot kill it.

As the story moves over to another locale, Teddie has the upper hand. The people there belong to him and he dares to steal a gold necklace that belongs to Ellaine. Ming irritates him and the man gets drunk. He then chases the cat with a chair but he has not idea how evil the cat is. Ming runs up the stairs and waits for the man to come up exactly where the rails are missing and jumps on him. Falling the second storey is not a big thing for a cat but for the man it is fatal. He dies. Ellaine recovers the necklace from the man’s pocket before his body is sent away. She then comes to the cat which is in bed and hugs it calling its name in loving tones. Everyone gets what they deserved and some kind of a poetic justice is served. Only that a murdered gets away with no punishment and is rewarded with love.

The story’s effect comes from the atmosphere created. The story happens partly in the sea and partly on land at night. A lot of the story is left unexplained. For example who are Ellaine and Teddie to each other? Who are the people in their homes? This lack of explanation shrouds the whole story in mystery thereby enhancing it effect.

 

 

Tiger in the Menagerie

 

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Emma Jones

Sreekumar K                                                                                                                   Facilitator, L’ecole Chempaka International, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Tiger in the Menagerie by Emma Jones is more like a collage of images than a poem. It catches in very few words the ferocious nature of a Tiger enclosed in a small and oppressive place. There is also a fine play of words as the poet uses one part of speech for another deliberately to create a great impact on the reader. The end result is that the poem can be read several times and each time our mind responds differently to the poem.

The poem is also an example of how real poetry will defy any kind of rephrasing or translation. It is generally said that poetry is what is lost in translation. It can be said about simplification or explanation. Poetry works on the limitations of language. It goes beyond the limitation and any attempt to bring it back to the confines of language is bound to fail.

Literature is, in general understood by most people as allegorical in nature. Those who are not well trained in literature will always try to figure out what each line and phrase is ‘trying to tell’ them. This leads to lot of far fetching. Since we don’t do this for an abstract painting, breaking it down to the colours or lines, we should not do this to poetry either breaking it down to its fine elements. Like an impressionist painting this poem gets written on our mind and each time in a different way.

However, a close look at the structure, content and style might help the ordinary reader. First of all the poem has an interesting structure. On the page the lines look like those on the flanks of a tiger. Two three-line stanzas in the beginning, middle and end and two two-line stanzas in between them, together, give us the image of something seen through the bars of cage. The lines resemble the stripes on the tiger too.

On the content side, the basic elements in the nature and appearance of the animal are brought to the front. The poet plays with time and space to effect a certain universality to her theme. The narrative strain has an obscure beginning.

No one could say how the tiger got into the menagerie.

But what was encased and shown around was not as real as a tiger. It was like the painting of a tiger, not comprehensive or complete but only what was needed by the painter or the artist was there. It was too brilliant to look like a dirty predator.

too much like the painting of a tiger.

But at night the captured and the capturer were one and the same. At an unguarded moment, the alertness drops off and so does the distinction. That which is caught and that which caught it became one and the same.

when it was time for those eyes to rock shut

That which inhibited or prevented the tiger’s movements merged itself into the tiger giving it total freedom.

the bars were the lashes of the stripes
the stripes were the lashes of the bars

Aggression, unashamed of itself, with no eyes whatsoever to see itself, walked the world especially the Indian subcontinent.

and they walked together in their dreams so long
through the long colonnade
that shed its fretwork to the Indian main

But when the sun rose, all was made bare and the great tiger had become nothing but an image in someone’s eye or mind. An eye seeking the tiger saw it wherever it looked.

that when the sun rose they’d gone and the tiger was
one clear orange eye that walked into the menagerie.

But eventually at some point in history the tiger lose its ‘tigerness’ and it was not something worth looking at, let alone looking up to.

No one could say how the tiger got out in the menagerie.
It was too bright, too bare.

Even the menagerie wanted to ‘cry tiger’ just to scare people since there was no tiger there at all.

If the menagerie could, it would say ‘tiger’.

But the cautious but weak birds were careful. They would have locked the door of the menagerie and let the tiger spend its life as a ‘exhibition item’.

If the aviary could, it would lock its door.

They fluttered their wings and warned one another whenever the tiger came inside.

Its heart began to beat in rows of rising birds
when the tiger came inside to wait.

Thus a very simple imagist poem uses its own obscurity to lend itself to political readings against imperialism. History is written by the victors and so the tiger was held high above the birds and the menagerie above the aviary. But as light was shed on them, and as the darkness of ignorance came to an end all idols were found to have feet of clay.

However, it is not necessary to analyze the poem for its political connotations to appreciate its beauty. The poem lends itself to several readings right from a focus on animals to the light shed on human nature. The best way to understand the poem is to avoid tearing it to pieces but going for a holistic appreciation like going back to a painting over and over.

 

 

 

 

 

Proverbs Reloaded

Are you in on it?

It is said that during the industrial revolution, in Britain, the life style changed 50% in one’s life time and today in what we call the post industrial Asia it changes by 10,000%. This means, in your own life time, the things that you see people around you use when you are born are replaced hundred times before you die. This will account for and demand a lot of additions and deletions in your beliefs, concepts, mindset and other mental gymnastics. Are you in on it? It is said that during the industrial revolution, in Britain, the life style changed 50% in one’s life time and today in what we call the post industrial Asia it changes by 10,000%. This means, in your own life time, the things that you see people around you use when you are born are replaced hundred times before you die. This will account for and demand a lot of additions and deletions in your beliefs, concepts, mindset and other mental gymnastics. Here is what happened to a few old faithful proverbs. Hunt is on for more……..

(Thanks to the computers) The keyboard is mightier than the sword.

(Thanks to the Internet) Good firewalls make good e-mates.

(Thanks to the metric system) A miss is as good as 1.609 km.

(Thanks to the Wright Brothers) Don’t change your flights in midair.

(Thanks to the sun set in the British Empire) Cent wise, dollar foolish

(Thanks to the corporate world) A man is known by the firm that keeps him.

(Thanks to political correctness) All work and no play makes Jack a mentally challenged boy.

(Thanks to feminist movements) Like be-getter, like offspring.

(Thanks to fashion industry) All the world is a ramp.

(Thanks again to the metric system) Give him 2.54 centimeters, he will take 0.9144 meters.

(Thanks to the discotheques) They that dance must pay the DJ.

(Thanks to medical insurance coverages) To err is human, to forgive is insane.

(Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg) Two is a company, three is a social network.

(Thanks to the Civil Courts) Where there is a will, there is a law suit.

(Thanks to Residential Schools) Charity ends in the dorm.

(Thanks again to political correctness) Love is visually challenged.

(Thanks again to political correctness) Never speak ill of the biologically challenged.

(Thanks to unsolicited business promotions) Opportunity seldom spams twice.

Getting Caught in Road Blocks

There is no point in sitting in this bus. I will be stuck here for another two or three hours.

I cursed the vice president, I cursed the traffic, I cursed the narrow roads and then I became more sensible and cursed myself.

Then I got off the bus.

When it comes to taking a short cut, I always mess up. I have lived in this city a full three decades and I know all the lanes, bye lanes and dead ends. I know which route is crowded and on which day, which time.

Still, all my knowledge is of no use when there is a traffic restriction in the city. Recently, those from the top at the north have taken a fancy to this city. And I have missed several appointments and received so much of shouting from not only those above me, from those around me as well.

They don’t wait for donkeys, so we do, old joke.

I got out of the bus and hailed an autorikshaw but had second thoughts the way its driver dodged through the thick traffic, abusing those who were on his way and halted near me, with the rattling thing almost upending.

He gave me a glaring look and I got into the torn and oily back seat unwillingly and told him I want to reach the railway station in half an hour, expecting him to shower abuses at me. No one can do it.

But, he changed his gear and took a sharp turn. I closed my eyes and thought he would have done the same too.

We entered a narrow road and then I lost all my sense of direction. Like he was prompted by telepathy, the driver turned back and told me his plan of action. He sounded like the waiter in some cheap vegetarian hotel repeating the menu. I did what I had done on all those occasions. I shook my head.

The ride was really bumpy and he was focused on the curvy road. I tried to relax.

From some narrow lane I was not familiar with we emerged into the main road. God, we won’t make it in time.

Reading my thoughts he asked me not to worry. I don’t believe in prayers. Still I prayed.

We were close to the foot path and I saw a couple, a young man and an old girl walking a few feet in front of us. The driver turned around suddenly and caught my eye. I felt a little nervous.

We caught up with them. They stopped on the foot path and we stopped at the signal. I focused on the numbers on the LCD board.

18, 17, 16, 15, 14

“They are married. At least the girl is married.”
“What did you say?”
“Those ones over there are married.”
5,4,3,2,1

We zipped forward.

Without turning back much, he went on.

“There is a difference the way girls walk when they grow from childhood to womanhood. When girls are young they walk, you know, like dancing. Then after puberty, they walk like they are holding something between their thighs. After marriage, they are not bothered. They just walk. Especially when they are with their husbands. You know what they think? Anyway it is obvious I am with my man, then why should I pretend. Hahahhah”

I thought about it. As youngsters we had our own theories of how to tell between a married couple and those who are just in love. If they are looking at each other when they talk, they are not yet married. If they don’t look at each other when they talk, they are recently married and if they are looking around, they have been married a long time and had enough of it.

“But I don’t think she is married to him.”
O, God he is not going to stop. I don’t have a problem with his banter so long as he is not careless in his driving.

But the fact was he was completely careless. He overtook any vehicle from any side of his choice and abused every other driver on his path. Sometimes he abused the pedestrians also.

A lady tried to cross and he waited for her.

“These ones won’t look at us and will do whatever they feel like. They will move forward and backward and then stand still right on our way.”

The lady, for no reason, hurled an abuse towards us and crossed safely to the other side. We moved forward. If no miracles happen, I am going to miss my train. And there is no other way to reach Kollam by eight and keep my appointment.

“She is in for a fling.”

I had a hard time figuring out which woman he was talking about. He was referring to the one with that young man.

“These days the girls are bolder than the boys. Not like our times, sir.”

I looked at him. He is much younger than me. Probably married with at least three children, all attending some poor state schools. Not much age difference between them. I smiled at my own wild imagination.

“You don’t know, sir, what kind of life they lead. I hear these things everyday from people who ride with me.”
“The boys are fine. They study well and become engineers and doctors and collectors.”

That was quite contradictory to many generalizations I had heard so far. I didn’t mention it.

I didn’t want to argue with him. That might encourage him and I may have to listen to dirtier stuff.

I looked at my watch. I visualized my train leaving the platform. I slapped myself when I recalled that was exactly what I should not do.

I tried to imagine the train waiting there for me. Ha, ha!
“Did you hear that one third of those who watch dirty movies are girls. Some one told me. I am sure they are looking for their own clippings. Don’t laugh sir, it is true.

“This autorikshaw is like facebook or whatsapp, sir. You get to know whatever happens in the world by just being on this seat. You can’t get information like that sitting in some office. Sir, do you work in an office?”
“I work at the techno park.”

“Really? Then you know the world. Those from north India. What do you think about them, sir?”
“Beautiful, more beautiful than our girls.”
“No, sir. It is all make up. But I was asking about their behaviour.”
“They are bold and more free with people, if that is what they mean.”
“Yes sir, exactly. But do you know what makes them bold. Nothing to lose. What our girls consider sacred they have already lost. For what? To get money for drinks and grass.”

“Grass?”

“Ganja, sir. It is very common now. I have seen girls exchanging it sitting where you are sitting right now.”
I shifted in my seat and looked around as if its traces could be still there.

The traffic had thinned out and now I have a very thin chance of making it if this idiot stops talking and goes faster. But I can’t blame him. In spite of his banter, he is racing ahead of all the other vehicles in the fray. Every one seems to have some train to catch. Hope it is the same train and some lucky ones in those other vehicles might make the miracle happen.

I have selected the wrong man. It is not so good to listen to this kind of talk. I too have a daughter of the same age. If he is going to make more generalizations about girls, I may feel hurt.

Nothing could stop him. He went on talking about the problems with this generation. Most of it was against girls. I can’t say I was not interested at all. A little small talk warms one up.

“There is no need to send girls to college. Any way it is the husband who runs the family. We can’t say these things now but girls get spoiled when they go to college. And they don’t learn what they need to learn. For example how many of them can cook a full meal?”

I lost my interest. He is an uneducated male chauvinist. There are educated people who say such things. So this is only pardonable in this uncouth uneducated autorikshaw driver.

But I still thought how unfair it is to rubbish all girls like this. I have heard many men do this. Some women also entertain such thoughts.

“Sir, there is a hospital I know. They have made a lot of money through illegal secret abortion. Everyone knows that. But isn’t that a necessity? What can we do if these idiots come home pregnant?”

I could understand the anxieties of a parent who has daughters. What all stories do we get to read in the newspapers every day? When that incident happened in Delhi, I didn’t sleep for three days.

The autorikshaw entered a new lane and he was silent for some time. He is surely getting ready for the next blast. I looked out. God, it is very close to the railway station. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

“The olden days were much better. This new western culture has spoiled it all.”
Nothing new. This is what everyone says. Mostly those whose English is weak.

“Some people say it is a curse to be born as a girl. Some others say girls come as a curse to the parents.”
“We can’t say that.”
“True sir, even our mother is a woman,” he said with a chuckle.

We took a sharp turn and we were on the main road. I looked at my watch. Five more minutes. I should give him something extra. He doesn’t look poor. But then I thought about his three children. I again smiled at my wild imagination. It is possible for him to have a large family. How much do these people make nowadays? A thousand? Not bad considering that he hasn’t got a boss.

He stopped right at the entrance and shouted at a porter for not moving away.

The meter showed forty-five and I gave him sixty. He gave ten rupee back and opened his purse to give me five rupees.

“No, no, it is all right. Keep it.”

I returned the ten rupee to him.

“Buy some sweets for your children.”
He showed me his purse. There was a tiny photograph. It showed a mother and a little girl.

“Which class?”
“Dead sir. Died in an accident. Both of them. Four years back.”

That was the least I expected. I didn’t know what to say. He was smiling.

“Hurry sir, you may still get a comfortable seat.”
I moved away and when I was at he gate, I turned back to look at him.

He was still waving at me.

Veils, Halos and Shackles

One of my poems got anthologized in this book which is to be released in April, 2016 in Israel. Sharing my happiness here and thanking all of you for your encouragement.

 

Veils, Halos & Shackles
International Poetry on the Oppression
and Empowerment of Women
Editors: Charles Adès Fishman & Smita Sahay
Kasva Press
ISBN: 978-0-9910584-5-7
Publisher website:
http://www.kasvapress.com

Nun’s Tale

A candle praying alone in the dark

Water mislead down a tiny whirlpool

A chunk of ice in saltless tears

Melts in my forehead, flows down my cheeks

This is my world, my heaven, my hell

Uninvited night lingers behind me

An unknown ocean swims before me

Hungry and cold, I munch on my rosary

Too many footsteps on the wet beach

Don’t know which one is mine

Sifted by the waves moping the floor,

The heavier ones do survive

Thirst tugs at my tongue

Wringing out its dry wetness

I am not floating about here

Only my feet have gone numb

Tied to the bottom of this discarded cross

I spend my life in this whitewashed sepulcher

While nerves, veins, tendons and tiny tissues

Wriggle inside me, effecting a caving in