For Charulata and The Broken Home: A Roseate Sonnet

Note: A roseate sonnet, dedicated to the beautiful, lonely, vulnerable and literary soul of Charulata, the heroine of Rabindranath Tagore’s magnum opus novella ‘Nastanirh’ (which had been filmed by Satyajit Ray, the Oscar-winning filmmaker as ‘Charulata’), the lovelorn soul who seeks love, acceptance and validation from both her husband Bhupati, and realizes the irony of her twisted fate towards the end, when both she and her husband seek a closure.

Every time I have let loose, I went flopping, I drifted ashore,

My pain, lopsided anguish charring me with the embers of my torn poetry.

The silver swirl of my words, my unquenched thirst you had never known, my husband,

Voices floating inside my lovelorn being, in your brother’s bonhomie, had found delightful symmetry.

For you, beneath your spectacles and uninviting cool, had never known how

While I chewed on betel leaves, I scraped inside like crimson paint, pummeling my raw pages like dough.

Did even Amal know, when we wove our silken dreams of our clandestine garden, our little lake, idyllic ducks,

How I craved to be princess of yore for you both, slithering in your mediocre love, every then and now?

A damned, accursed princess, seated unaware, beneath the shady canopy of the hog plum tree,

Burning my untainted silence of moments, dreaming of rampant, inconsequential poesy that was never to be.

Running away, surreptitious, from my frayed edges, Amal, didn’t you trip over our shadowed world, for once?

Only if I had known before, our twilight hill would be crushed, trampled, our rhythmic melody broken down, thus.

Silent, ebbing and swelling inside, my domesticated footsteps censured me, “Charu, be the cloudburst, but never the rain.

Enter my wet, plundered earth, my husband, let us take each other in our lost catharsis, let me be your loving wife, the adulteress.

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. March 27, 2017.

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Charulata_(The_Lonely_Wife)_pic_4.jpg

Charulata (Filmed by Satyajit Ray, India 1964)

P.S. The novella in Bengali has been translated by me as ‘The Broken Home’ (available in Amazon Kindle) and fetched me the International Reuel Prize for translation in 2016, instituted by The Significant League, a literary group in Facebook and The Autism Village Project Trust.

An Ode to ‘Ijaazat’: The Final Approval

Note: My poetic tribute to the haunting, melancholic, yet the beautifully touching saga of love gone awry in the hands of destiny, the irresistibly deep and unforgettable chemistry between Mahinder, Maaya and Sudha in Gulzar’s timeless love saga ‘Ijaazat’, based on the Bengali story ‘Jatugriha’, by Subodh Ghosh.  The film, unforgettable till today for the tenderly crafted lyrics of Gulzar Saab composed with finesse by the phenomenal R.D. Burman,  followed the story of couple who are separated and who accidentally meet in a small waiting room of a railway station and discover some truths about their lives without each other.

ijaazat_movie

 

Like weary travelers, lost in the waxy orbit of time

We lose our shores, and then, keep coming back

To where our stories began, the Ground Zero

Where you slouched against my caramel skin,

Lost in the deep, blinding maze of a past, passionate, drunk

With the lyrics and heartbeats of Maaya, the wandering girl,

Her eyelashes, soaked with the salt and oil

of the forbidden randomness of your wants.

“Ek akeli chhatri mein jab aandhe aandhe bheeg rahe they

Aadhey sookhey aandhey gile, sookha to main le aayee thi…”

The raindrops pelting on the window where she stood,

Forlorn, dreamy still, asking you to return the cloudbursts

Of your memories in spurts, were mine too, the clouds which I stared at

Like forbidden turrets of your leftover dreams overlooking

Our half-baked love songs, yawning with an emptiness

As I had rinsed off their remnants from our rooms, our plates,

Our cups and dishes, our breaths, entwined, yet not whole.

I did look for you and long to hear the syrupy strains

Of those lovelorn lyrics, which you had once hummed to me.

I did look in the hand-delivered letters of the postman

For the silhouettes of those sullied memories and burnt out poems

Which never reached me, as I settled down, colder, less rippling

And more permissive, in a new mooring.

Forgive me, today, as I dried off your wet hairs, drenched in

Our once-familiar raindrops in an unfamiliar station,

Waking up to dig in the dust of our forgotten, forsaken days

Waking up to your frostbitten face, bursting wide, crooning

In the smoked mirror of this tiny, clumsy waiting room.

Forgive me, like Maaya, the sad, wandering girl who gagged herself

And was washed away in the crossroads of your tyrannical trails,

The sky, drunk, sunken, taking in both our salty waters, and crackling.

Forgive me, today, as I seek your approval, for one last time

To drive off to my moorings now, as you will drive off to your own,

The smudged lines of our story, hanging loose, askance,

In this Ground Zero where we had stumbled upon, and burnt.

 

All Rights Reserved. Lopa Banerjee. February 17, 2017

 

Watch the full movie here:

An Ode to Silsila: The Star-Crossed Lovers’ Tale

Note: My poetic tribute to the passionate, all-consuming love between the two star-crossed lovers in Yash Chopra’s blockbuster romance Silsila, which had put the silver screen on fire in the early 1980’s.

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The poster of ‘Silsila’, released by Yash Raj Films in 1981.

Betwixt the twists and turns of life’s uncertain miles

The pastures of love had tempted with a painterly vision.

‘Love’, the oft-committed, dazzling sin testifying in its fullness,

‘Love’, the beguiling light, irresistible, blinding,

One that soon engulfs in its maddening darkness.

 

The scent of their silken touch, the frantic movements of pleasure

In their entwined bodies, unraveling, squirting, unabashed,

Out of their neatly packed matrimonial boxes, to whisper

The esoteric lyrics of a seductive, silken reunion that lingers,

Tears to shreds, burns to ashes the salt and pepper of domestic bliss.

A pair of star-crossed lovers, seeking a pound of solace in

The lyrical ferocity of their swan songs.

 

The mad refrain of the desperate artist lover,

Sucking the moonbeam of her jingling bangles,

Nibbling on the wafting fragrance of his paramour’s body,

A scorching story of the boundless seduction of old flames

While estranging domestic ties, and the sad, silent tears

Of a demure, resilient bride, waiting to reclaim him,

Sowing his seed of a once vowed proximity.

 

And she, on her turn, carrying those lovelorn songs still

In her bone and sinew and blood, pan-seared in the surging lust

And love, melting, like the old, familiar salt in his luscious wants.

Her other man, bonded in vows of a holy matrimony waited,

For he too knew, the smell of her lover would wane away

From her chiffon drape, in the inevitable downhill climb,

The destiny of this perfume-soaked, transient saga of love.

 

‘Love’, the salt that perhaps had stung in their lips still

Would strive to settle in its familiar homely mooring,

From where there would be no leading astray, after all.

 

Lopa Banerjee.  February 8, 2017

 

 

Amor Mio: Short Story

man-and-woman

Man and woman. Image source: 

litttle-princess.deviantart.com 

 

A naughty sip of sunshine kissed her pouted lips as her eyes looked far, far below at the sun-kissed dome, the long, defiant tower with its crane-like neck housing curious visitors of the city in its esophageal tract. The voluptuous sculptures, the fountains yet to squirt their orgasmic waters, seen from afar, filled her with a desire to open up with spurts of gushing, forbidden rain. The streets of San Antonio, Texas bore the remnants of the last night’s copulation with the Christmas lights, everywhere the happy star dusts of a faded, died out light of the earth blinked, as if inviting her enormous trailing memories and yearnings. The throngs of passion broiled, dying till their finishing embers as she woke up, disembodied, groggy from sleep and the night’s own coercion into a practiced, empathized, mutual intimacy.

Slowly, diligently, she shoved herself away from the crumpled bed and stood up to walk a few feet to reach the giant, wall-to-wall transparent glass door of their hotel room that overlooked the city’s bustling downtown. There, the illuminating Christmas lights and music had created a heady concoction the previous night as they came back from their indolent strolls from the Market Square, the quaint Mexican market and the tourist’s hub, the cascading Riverwalk.

“Let’s raise a toast to our new beginnings, my wife, and a happy new year to be merry and blessed.” Neil had touched his glass of margarita to hers and made a clinking sound, which converged with the music being played in the local pub-cum-restaurant, the symphony spilling over the place.

In the fresh morning sun, Shalini looked down at the floor right next to the bed where her flip-flops, her silk blouse, her red, flowing skirt, her silken lingerie lay scattered since the wee hours of the night. She couldn’t remember if it was Neil who undressed her, layer after layer, as he would often do, or if she had done it herself. All she could remember, following the hangover of the previous night was that he had untied her hair and caressed its strands, each stroke of his finger awakening a bruised, pent up libido within her as the tears in her eyes eclipsed everything around her in the silhouetted darkness of the room like a thick, unforgiving mist.

Was it a tiny flickering of a being, a struggling embryo that died in its mother’s inviting womb yet again, gushing out in clotted blood and crushed, maimed flesh?

Was it a soft, rainy dream, trampled yet again from the ruthless remembrance of a life she had lived, as if in a previous birth?

Was it that dangerous liaison of years back, rearing its ugly face, when all that she had brought along with her as she ran away from it relentlessly was a breathless, deadening terror? Was it the terror of being slashed, the terror of kicking feet and abusive fists, the terror of the bulging walls of a dream that came crashing down, yet again?

What was she thinking in the waning moonlight that glimmered in the languid waters of the Riverwalk as she sat at the patio of the restaurant? What did she say to Neil, looking unmindful at the other tourists who came to dine out, holding a lobster tail dipped in garlic butter in one hand, while with her other hand, she grabbed the glass of Margarita, wishing to crush the glass to shards till her palms bled to death? She didn’t remember. She only remembered that a loose, waxy dribble hung from her mouth as she chewed on the food, one that housed memories, slanted truths, all drowning under the bottomless pit of her mouth.
Threadbare, barely out of the clumsy wraps, she wandered amid the ruffled skin of the clowns on the streets she has stalked the previous evening in her little pursuit of happiness. She thought of spooning out the thick cream out of the pie with the fork dangling in her cold hands that she remembered with queer, practiced clarity as she roamed amid the humming semblance of the relics she might have visited in some previous birth. And as she sat in the ferry amid unknown faces, relishing the placid waters of the Riverwalk, she hummed the lyrics of a dead singer-composer’s songs, reverberating in the air bustling with conceited human cacophony and charbroiled animal meat.
In the deadly quiet of her hotel room in the twentieth floor, it was all about silence and waiting–a long, silhouetted wait to sleep sublime under the cocoon of thousand unknown stars in a faraway galaxy, stars who do not know the tainted flesh of the humans. Late into the night, the game of thrones between two bodies had scoured the arid air inside the room, the body of an Adam and Eve of the spoiled, betrayed earth.

For once, she longed to tumble down, far, far below the wall-to-wall stained-glass door and see her naked, unbound soul go out to hug her nemesis, to touch and grip the utmost rim of her life. For once, she longed to plant a long, wet, last undying kiss on the dribbling mouth of her man fumbling with the used bedsheets in his sleep. She glanced at him with the corner of her kohl-smeared eyes, as she longed to smash open the stained-glass door with a gash of her bleeding wrists, to slide down the expanse of the building, falling down, violent, headlong, in the vortex, waiting with sure, steadfast arms, waiting to engulf her in an avalanche of sleep.

*****************************************************************

As always, Neil did not sense the first changes that sprouted in Shalini’s mind. As a norm, he should have been the first to notice them. But his pretty, ‘eccentric’ wife moved through her days in an unperturbed stance, her hair dangling in loose, dark brown curls on both sides of her shoulders as he came back from work, wishing in his mind to love her some more, but ending up not displaying his affection. He didn’t always know how her mind was cutting through, traversing in dangerous directions. Neil, on his part, lovingly relished the affectionate licks and hugs of their pet dog Bruno, the moment he would fling open the door. He would see only her frantic, squirrel-like movements all around the house, quietly inhaling the steam from the coffee being brewed on the cooktop, and the wafting aroma of her strong feminine essence that he recognized as he entered their domestic domain.

Did he know since the first year of their wedded life in the quiet, suburban town of Texas which became their home, that she was strumming her obsessive thoughts in the deep, innermost recesses of her mind? Did he know the dormant volcano inside her when she peeled potatoes or onions in their kitchen, worked on simple dinners of chicken and rice, when she vacuumed the carpets, or bought home her choicest vegetables from the farmers’ market? Or did he care less? Because when the two bodies brushed against each other, exploding, contracting, towering above each other in the dark, frenzied bed as they made love to each other in the messiest, yet most delicately loving way, and he savored all her feminine juices, all he thought then was that there was a glimmering, inviting light at the end of the tunnel, one that would suck away the most debilitating abyss that she sometimes surrendered to?

…… “So, for how long would you say such things have been going on with her?”

At the psychiatrist Dr. Jones’ plush office cabin, Neil sat, suddenly cautious of the urgency of his visit, woken from the stupor of his momentary daze following the long wait.

“I told you already, she had an abusive past, and she had a really hard time, struggling with it, and breaking herself free from it…I should have…I should have noticed it a bit earlier, I think.” Neil replied.

“Hmm, I see some of that in the case study my assistant had prepared, and it is quite common too, to have a history of this sort, for manic depressive patients that we see on a regular basis…but yes, in your wife’s case, she seems to be acutely sensitive.”

“First thing, can you tell me how is her equation with her family? Anyone in her family except you, with whom she has had a painful history? What do you think?”

“Shalini, my wife is the only child of her parents, born in Delhi, India. Her mother had succumbed to kidney failure in India quite some years back, and life was difficult back there with her alcoholic father. She had a godmother in Delhi, an entrepreneur woman named Ms. Padamsee who had introduced her to Rajesh, her first husband in a local jalsah, a poetry reading and musical event of sorts, in Delhi.  After a few meetings in regular intervals, she had thought of Rajesh as the antidote to all her pain at home. He appeared to be a sweet-talker, and had his ways with women. Also, he owned a corporate event management company in Houston, so he was quite well-off, financially. They didn’t wait for much long after the courtship. Her godmother arranged for a quick registry marriage and she flew away to the US as soon as she arranged for her visa in the country.”

“I can understand…I bet she was lured, and why not! So, do you know if she tried to get in touch with her family, or her father in India after her husband started abusing her?”

“It was of no use, actually. In fact, her father is in this country now, for the past four years, and seldom visits her. He married Ms. Padamsee, her fairy Godmother, who was no more a fairy now, and they both moved to Connecticut soon after. The last time I had got in touch with them was to invite them both for our wedding, and a Thank You card reached my home, along with a gift card from Macy’s. That was the end of it all.”

“That is sad….Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to ask you if you think something in the recent past might have triggered her sudden neurotic phase?”

Neil paused a bit. “Ummmm, not very recent though, but she had a miscarriage, quite a traumatic one, before she separated from her first husband, and she….she remarried…me.”

“Hmmm, I see….so does she speak of it to you? Or get hyper-sensitive?”

Neil nodded his head in assertion, gulping a steady influx of unsaid words, words which he would perhaps gather and break, construct and deconstruct, striving to know the rumbling, pent up thunder that was Shalini’s world.

“And also, may I ask, have you both as a couple thought of having a baby after all this? Now that you have been married for over two years?”

“Yes, we have…we have discussed this, quite a number of times….” He stammered a bit.

Some weeks back, when he had parked his car in their garage in a rather quiet, chilly winter evening, the loud, erratic barks from Bruno echoing from a distance seemed a tad bit unfamiliar. As he walked into the passage leading to the family room, the dog was in tatters, distressed and lost, literally dragging him to the far end of the passage which led to the main bedroom. There, in the hardwood floor, between the space of the dresser and the bed, she lay, her long tresses disheveled, her eyes loosely shut, with crystal drops of tears coating the corners of her eyes, streaming down her cheekbones. She sweated profusely in her sleepwear, which was the first thing which struck Neil as he stooped down to touch her, and then, discovered the whitish, semi-liquid discharges spilling from her mouth, all the way to the nape of her neck.

“Oh God, she must have thrown up a bit, just a while back”, he said to himself as Bruno started to scratch on some sticky remnants scattered on the floor where she lay.

“Shalu, sweetheart, wake up! What did you do to yourself, you crazy girl? See, I am back home! Look at me for once, damn it!” He had blurted out.

In the wooden dresser to their left, the container of her blood pressure medicines and a number of other medicines she took lay, angled, the lids opened. He looked at the remaining number of the pills, mocking the tumbled down promises of trust, love and the life-long companionship with which they had vowed to each other the day Shalini had come to his two-bedroom apartment in Sugar Lane, Houston, burying her face in his inviting chest, desperately pleading him to arrange for her divorce, so that she could free herself from that scumbag of a husband, Rajesh.  He had felt an inexplicable chill climb up his spine with her tight, cozy embrace, sweetly teasing him before the torrents broke open in that deep, sultry July evening almost three years back.

“It doesn’t rain in Delhi, the way it does here.” She said.

“Well, it doesn’t rain in Durgapur, my hometown too, the way it does here.” He replied. An alien rain with a familiar promise would unite them some day soon, they prayed together.

He knew in his heart of hearts, since the night they had met each other in the news year’s eve party at Rajesh’s furnished condo where Shalini moved around, awkward, with submissive, cat-like steps following her husband’s commands, that she was a lost soul, stuck in that quagmire of a home that was not really hers. He would whisper in her ears months later, in one of their passionate, clandestine weekly meetings that one day, if he could claim her absolutely, they would set their new house built together, brick by brick, on fire. The fire that would consume both of them on a high tide night, when they would drown in each other’s essence.

….He raced up to dial 911 and call the emergency. “There has been a medicine overdose…yes, my wife. We need to save her, quick.”

******************************************************

“You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault
Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.
They’ve changed all that. Traveling
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two,
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard. . .
I don’t know a thing.”

Gazing at the pages of her favorite Sylvia Plath’s book of poems, she lay in her bed, beneath the bland linoleum ceiling, the lonely, cryptic walls of her room in the hospital engulfing her, tearing her into shards and bits…Did her story begin in the night of her nuptial bed four years back on that grey, permissive December night in that lodge in Noida where, in between the rough, unburdening crests of sex, she thought she had been one with her man, Rajesh? Her man, who would revere her, nurture her like the sacred touch of the wine he had made her sip from his glass?

“This is the best birthday present I could have ever asked for, Minal masi!” She had splashed her long, curly hair around Ms. Padamsee’s gleeful cheeks and bid her goodbye, along with the handful of other wedding guests and slid under the plush cocoon of the lemon-froth curtains of the hotel room where the man, her new husband watched her peeling away, bit by bit, pouncing at her, laughing.

Did her story begin in the following spring of the next year, when she flew all the way to the United States, crossing the anonymous crowd, grasping in her palm the frothy bubbles of the promise of a new light inside her that was flickering inside her queasy stomach?

Inside the banquet hall of a very posh convention center at Herman Park, Houston, where the classy corporate guests of Rajesh were busy raising toasts to their own symphony, she had turned down the glass of Bloody Mary.

“You know, I am six weeks pregnant. I was dying to tell you, but checked myself. If I did, you wouldn’t have allowed me to fly all alone from India.” She had said, wrapping her arms around Rajesh’s neck as he started to crouch on the bed beside her.

“What? So soon? Are you sure it’s ours, and do you want to keep it?” She remembered him frowning, irritation flickering over his face as she tried hard to gobble the first hard chunks of the truths surrounding him and her moorings in the pale, yellow light of the room.

He had crushed her, trampled over her night-gown, tearing it apart, as her petit frame lay in the middle of all his cussing, temperamental, hysteric bouts, pleading to him in the obscure dark of the bedroom where his kinks, his fetishism spilled all over her. She wondered if her story began when he would suddenly come home early in the evenings, with pink and white roses and a resplendent diamond ring for her, looking at her middle finger with awe as they splurged on exotic seafood in that new restaurant in town. Those were also the dimly lit evenings when she waited for him to come back, drunk, stroking her nape and digging his fingernails deep in her skin. “Bitch…one hell of a bitch. You’re only my bitch.”He would shout, vain, irrelevant.

What were the people that surrounded him in his whims, she wondered, when he bent over to kiss her hair, and then, burst open in a sudden fury?

“Who is it that your hair smells of? Having fun, you whore, when I am not home?”

“You know it’s not true, Rajesh. I work from home and do not go anywhere without you.”

The deep beige walls, the milky white of the window blinds and the murky red of the designer curtains creaked with her hollow shrieks. She had been a doll of his twisted desires, a doll with the perfect pout and the thick, mascara-laden eyelashes which housed her burnt-out days, days when she woke up to his obsessive compulsive wants, days when her limbs, her torso, her abdomen and her loins strained with the pain of bearing the seed of his obsessive wants that he had fostered inside her, in the name of matrimony and the sweet seduction of a sanctioned love. Then one day, in a violent daybreak, the seed, almost a half-grown fruit inside her, spilled out of her in bursts of blood.

“It cannot be mine, it is never mine, you bitch! In every party I take you to, in every party I host at home, you have to catch the eyes of a man and flirt with him, eh? You just used me as your easy ticket to fly away from your filthy, middle-class home, didn’t you?”

His vehement kicks and rash shoving, slapping hard at the lyrics she had woven with him in the narrow alleyways of suburban Delhi, had sliced through the half-formed body of a cursed embryo, breaking it into splinters and shards.

The next day, Rajesh had come to visit her in the hospital. He held her pale, fragile hand and kissed the diamond on her middle finger again, convincing her that it was he who had admitted her, after all, begging of her to forgive his drunk, disastrous aberrations, give her one last chance. She lay there, groggy, scraped off, not knowing how long she would have to grit her teeth and hold on to whatever semblance of sanity she still had within her.

…………….Was it the smell of the fresh beige paint of the walls yet again, two years later, in the quiet suburban home that Shalini had built with Neil in Plano, Texas, as she discovered, working with her books piled up, working with the soapy bubble of the dishwater, that yet another seed was sprouting in her body? Would it be the true token of her deep, basal yearning to live, shedding her morbidity aside, she wondered. Bruno, the pet dog wagged his tail and smelled her belly, as if sensing an omen, while she washed him clean in the bathroom, craving for some fleeting moments to dance to the music being played amid the sweet household mess.

************************************************

“You are finally mine, Shalu. What would be the first thing that you would wish for, in our new life together, tell me?” Neil has asked as they had roamed, carefree, hand-in-hand amid the gentle sea breeze in Galveston island near Houston, guilt-free, elevated with the dream of their togetherness for the first time since Neil had met her in the presence of Rajesh as one of his ex-clients.

“To get the hell out of this city, and make a home in another part of this state, or a different state, for that matter.”

“You know what, I just had this surprise for you! I had applied in a few places since the court proceedings of your separation was going on, and just got an offer from an insurance company in Plano, near Dallas. What do you think, we should move there?”

“Yes, it’s about time we do that, maybe.” She said, with a sweet, lingering sigh.

“Okay, your highness.” He had replied.

Shalini still felt the sweet tug of that moment, with the sea purring like a naughty pet cat, the music, the pull of the sand beneath her toes, as the salt still stung in her eyes. She had never again visited the island after this. Her divorce with Rajesh, obtained with the help of one of Neil’s friends in Houston, now a thing of her past, choked her at times like a sudden siren rushing on in the distance. But Neil had often, in the bed and in the other rooms and beyond, spoken about, wanted to usher in new beginnings, despite being shut out from his orthodox Bengali family in Durgapur, India for marrying a divorced north-Indian woman, almost two years older to him. A new beginning, a luminous oasis in the midst of a desert, a new child implanted in her womb again, at the zenith of the consummation of a love affair that made her change her moorings all over again.

“It’s ours.” Her deep, resonant voice cut through the musky scent of his bare breast. A He, or a She, doesn’t matter, she thought to herself. Since its inception, Neil had kissed the welcoming spring in her tummy, and flaunted in its ownership. The thought of the new being inside her had engulfed her like a thick, rolling fog, like the shoulders of the lovers who had switched roles in her life. The antidepressants that their family care practitioner had prescribed for her during her tremendous trying times went off her shelves, and the hypertension symptoms she had, emerged at times like a secret tide, then slowly dipped underground again.

“Can I talk to Indraneil Sengupta? This is the nurse from Dr. Rogers’ office, it’s regarding your wife’s pregnancy.”

“Yes, speaking. What is it, please?” Neil’s voice shook as he received the call during the first hour in his office.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, the preliminary ultrasound of the baby your wife is carrying was fairly good, with a steady heartbeat and all. But the recent prenatal screening she was scheduled for last week came out with some…some findings…and we would…”

“What do you mean? What happened to our baby?” He shouted, cutting the caller mid-sentence.

“Well, Mr. Sengupta, I am afraid there are good chances of the baby having a genetic birth defect, or a chromosomal disorder. The test results indicate a type of down syndrome, but there can be more specific findings…”

“And can I ask, what are the chances?”

“Well, as of now, the tests indicate a good 80% chance of the fetus growing with the disorder…”

As he stood in his cubicle, gripping the cell phone, his feet staggered. “I am sorry again, Mr. Sengupta, for…for having to tell you this…” the nurse stammered. “We know the medical and psychological condition of your wife already, so we decided to contact you first, regarding this. But you both have to come and visit Dr. Rogers to discuss the condition in details, and your wife has to go for some further tests, so that the diagnosis is confirmed further. And then, we would discuss with you what options you can consider.” She added. The last part of her words, a blurry melange of words and sounds, failed to register in his senses. He flopped down on the floor, close to his desk.  …………………………………………………………………………………………………

The thin mist of the fall was rearing its head as Shalini looked up at the contours of the sky kissed by the skyscrapers and the evening lights which were just beginning to explode in the nightscape about to descend on them, a cool, gleaming red, blue and fluorescent yellow. At the topmost floor in the observation deck of the Reunion Tower, five hundred feet above the city of Dallas, an icy stillness settled in her heart as Neil caressed her shoulders lightly in the presence of other onlookers.

“Please try and understand, be a good girl and listen to me. We cannot keep the baby, it would be too risky for you to give birth to a genetically challenged baby, and too risky for us both to nurture it for life. Please, Shalu, not this time. We saw the videos and the slideshows of a baby with such conditions, didn’t we? How could we cope with the fetus developing abnormally, with a number of physical and mental problems? How would we battle with it all our lives, have you any idea?” Just a week back, he had pulled her towards him to let her thaw, melt in his arms in the blanketed warmth of their bed. He took some time off from work, to coax her into the termination of her pregnancy.

She walked straight towards one end of the geo-deck, brushing aside the other visitors immersed in the panoramic views of the cityscape, capturing the illuminating wonders of the Thanksgiving lights in their cameras and smartphones. “Happy Thanksgiving!” The couples and the families romancing around, taking pictures, were flashing cheesy smiles while bumping into each other, the way Neil had done with her too, in his attempt to pull her away from her pitch-dark private hell.

From the vantage point, she was seeing the city lights, the sleek glass layers of the urban buildings, the dark luster of the veil of the glass window, and wondered what to be thankful for at that moment. The doctor whose surgical instruments probed deep inside the far end of her cervix and ripped apart her half-formed embryo just three days back, the flesh parts and the blood, gushing out of her, controlled with the intervention of nameless nurse attendants? The icy, steely stare of Neil and the doctor while they discussed the procedure of this termination and signed the paperwork? Or the litany of his monosyllables with which he bulged into her wound on their way back home? Their hands that moved together, seeming out of sync now, the practiced curves of their bodies reunited in bed again, with hopes woven again, much against the diktats of their ruthless times?

The journey back from the loose mirth of San Antonio to the plain, unswerving sameness of their everyday lives in Plano, Texas plagued him like an invisible, surreptitious wound. In between his staccato bouts of making love, and journeying together, they both fumbled for words, knowing they could rip their hearts out while their car raced past the long, stretching sameness of the interstate.

Words, in all their littered ambiguity as he called his parents, his younger brother in India on the way, curtly wishing them a happy new year, wishing the foamy bubbles of their estrangement would disappear at the long stroke of the night. Words, the silky rain and their drip-drop delight which he ardently wished and prayed, would come to their only sister Lily in their old, cobwebbed Durgapur home, washing down the tags of an ‘abnormal’ girl that their neighbors, their relatives, the people surrounding them had hurled on her. Lily, the dim, twisted smile, the dribbling mouth, the frog-like croaks that never became songs as she sat, wraith-like in her pale grey wheelchair amid the din and bustle of the everyday paraphernalia around her, etched in his soul’s canvas like an unresolved story. Lily, who comes back, by and by, to haunt him in the faraway land, the fourteen-year-old, the brainless, ‘spastic’ girl at the threshold of her puberty who had curled up, cold, motionless in her wheelchair one summer evening, years back, with her eyelids shut, the dark, red river of her menstruating cycle splashing the floor as it did sometimes. Only, that day was the finale to the grin painted with her crooked teeth, the finale to the questions in her life’s uncharted miles, questions which she could anyway never ask, burnt to ashes along with her in the crematorium.

“Oh God, did she die, just like that or did they end her life?”

A forced finale, the neighborhood gossiped, something his family might have wanted all along, while Neil, her eldest brother packed his bags and flew away from them all to attend an MBA program in a University in Houston, in search of greener pastures.

Why couldn’t he tear open and show his gashes to Shalini in all these days they had been man and wife? What stopped him as he clasped her hands and strove hard to kill her pain, one stroke at a time as he promised he would tend to her wounds? What stopped him from shouting out, as she sprung up in his arms and wished with all her might that their baby, the conjoined flesh emerging out of both of them must be given a chance to be born, whatever the odds might be? Could he open up to her now, peeling himself in the layers unknown to Shalu, once they reach home, and tell her there was still a bountiful rain waiting for them both at the end of this jagged road they had trudged? A welcoming rain which might usher in, once he confesses, squeezing her tight that he has also been a betrayer in her life, swallowing his own share of thorns.

“Don’t forget the appointment with Dr. Jones, the psychiatrist, coming up on Friday, Shalu.” He said, stroking her shoulders with one hand while driving. The rain might plunder the streets, their home, and their beings, any moment now.

dark rain

Jinxed Interlude: Short Story

(1)

Tireless, she meandered. The city, a painted whore with her chipped off nail polish, her smudged kohl that seeped into the burst of the echoing calls, her smashed lips, gnawing. The cars cruised their way into the zigzagging highways. The numbness burnt her, as she shrunk, slowly, surreptitiously, into a shadow of dark circles, seething, lingering in columns of smoke, burnt out conversations and the stinking froth of forgotten kisses.

dark rain

Enter a caption

Image Source: imgarcade.com

The mist and the sporadic orphaned tears that stung in Amrita’s eyes, appeared known, all over again. But why? Hadn’t the grief that had birthed it, long been murdered? There, she had emerged under the same flyover, five years later, looking with her intent, yet distant eyes at the people swarming out of tunnels and chaos, sweating, swearing cuss words, waving hands, smoking.

“Was it here that I discovered Joydeep first, in that dainty little coffee shop, where the chaos of unknown voices spiraled out of control?”

“Was it here that my curls went flying with the unrestrained peals of laughter when we celebrated our first year of dating each other?”

“Was it here that we left our entwined skins in a wreck of washed out memories, amputating our existential texts?”

“Was it here that our differences and distances soared, sinister, dark, between the burst of our growing silences?” She asked herself in between the abrupt halts of traffic signals, shuddering, as she tried holding on to the embers, long frozen.

“What was the silk rope that tied me to him and his professed love?” She thought. It did bruise when she wrote her last love letter in a plea before splitting up; it did bruise when their fingers and lips slipped into each other, into the metric lines of the poem of their thwarted union.

Back at home, the relationship wasn’t a secret anymore, where every single soul asked her if she was really ‘committed’ to that wayward, bohemian indie musician guy who refused to have a career apart from his touring rock band.

“Have you ever thought if it is a momentary whim without a sound future for any of you? Have you gone nuts, thinking you can walk out any time with a worthless, aimless boy while you don’t even know if he is capable of providing for you? …Well, so you are going to provide for him, is that the idea? How do you think it can work?”

She gulped in all of it, occasionally creating a havoc, shouting her heart out, occasionally choosing to brush it all aside, till the last day they met at their most frequented park.

“Joy, Can you please return all the letters I had written you in the mad haze of these years? I don’t think you will need those thousand stupid lines anymore. Lines about our future summer rental in a virgin, Gothic island with an ochre pool where kingfishers swim, where granules of strawberry and pink roses swim in the tranquil water. Lines about our future twins, a boy and a girl who appear and vanish with swift switchboard clicks, whose cherubic bodies sway, wax and wane on a leafy swing, the boy and the girl carved in our mashed up images, in our bones, blood and the palette of my primal wants….”

She handed him another letter, this, the last one.

“I do not know what to say if you insist on breaking up today, right now. Only let me take your hand in mine, for one last time before you let me blow away in smithereens.”

“Do let me go.” She had pleaded, her mind scrubbing hard to wipe out their censured years of being together.

At the New Year’s Eve party, in the heady concoction of cocktail drinks and enthused friends lurking in between smudged teardrops that she rubbed off, vigorously, she covered up with fake grins and smiles. Her throat exploded as she gulped the thorny pain. Those were the friends, the faces who had conjoined both their fates, those were the ones who watched them twittering, chirping in the magic spell of the silhouetted evenings. Those were the faces, voices who engaged and disengaged themselves in various phases of their turbulent love song of three years.

“….Ah, look at them, don’t they look snugly fit in each other’s arms, aren’t they just made for each other, a picture-postcard couple?”

“…..A very happy three years’ anniversary of being together, Joy and Amrita, officially, as a couple. When are the marriage bells ringing? When do we get to have the big fat treat?”

“….Look, don’t you think you should take charge of things and move on? When is this guy going to talk to your parents and ask for your hand in marriage? Or, are you guys going to just live together without legal encumbrances?”

“….You know, just cry your heart out, today, for one last time, and leave it all behind you.” The voice of an old friend, a bestie, for that matter, and the pale crimson light of the large, dark room emerged in her eyes, and the words, bulging, buoyant, choked her. Those were the several voices, distant, near, playful, indolent, soppy, withering, swimming across the dark undercurrents of the ocean she plunged into, half-forgotten names, faces fermenting in the restless undulations.

*****************************************

To be continued…

A Thousand Unspoken Words: A Seething Saga of Love

Book Review

Title: A Thousand Unspoken Words

Author: Paulami Dutta Gupta
Publisher: Readomania
ISBN: 978-81-929975-9-9
Genre: Fiction / Romance

unspoken word final curve

Cover image of ATUW, published by Readomania

Love, the oft-used and abused four-letter word, especially in the context of a man-woman relationship often has nuances and layers in it, that can be both intimidating and incisive, as it can be enlightening and transcending to a new realm altogether. While being part of Tilottama and Musafir’s jagged journey to explore their seething, heart-rending chemistry, we the readers of ‘A Thousand Unspoken Words’ are tossed and turned over a thousand times, while looking into the meaning and essence of their mutual yearning, their drifting apart, the crescendo of their acceptance of each other. The book, authored by the national award-winning writer/screenplay writer of ‘Ri: Homeland of Uncertainty’ and the recently acclaimed and award-winning ‘Onatah’, Paulami Dattagupta, and published by Readomania is a rare treat for those discerning readers of romance and drama who love to read unique, psychologically gratifying journeys of the protagonists. ‘A Thousand Unspoken Words’ is undoubtedly such a journey that will make them yearn for more.

Musafir, the unrelenting, the fiercely anti-establishment author and later, the grave opportunist and ambitious writer, entrepreneur one day walks into Tilottama’s wet, ardent world in a crisis situation in Kolkata (which will always remind me of how Captain Bluntschli entered the mushy, private world of Raina Petkoff’s bedroom in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ and becomes her endearing ‘chocolate-cream soldier’). As the ‘fateful’ night subsides, he tears her apart when he leaves her with a letter professing his situation and his identity. Later, when they meet years after, and Tilottama is tormented to see her Musafir transforming from the idealist, crusader and hero to the failed, yet humane Riddhiman, it is the strength of the fervent passion and emotions inside her (at times too obsessive to be true), which ultimately leads both Musafir/Riddhiman and his love Tilottama to their catharsis/culmination.

Tilottama’s love for her Musafir and the ideologies that he represented as a crusader is at times dreamy, verdant and too good to be true, while at other times her palpable, raw and multi-dimensional feelings for her fire-brand hero who has failed both himself and her becomes an intense, moving inner quest for her self-discovery. Together, as they meet and estrange, only to be reunited later, they twist, sparkle and burn, and Paulami’s deft narration of both their inner and their outer worlds, comprising of the other minor characters in the narrative, wins hands-down. The various strands of the narrative are woven so seamlessly and so effortlessly that one wonders if it is all a movie being played in front of his eyes, portraying a saga of emotionally burdened, yet soulful characters. In the end, when both Musafir and Tilottama solidify their bond, yet their ‘thousand unspoken words’ still hover in the arid air between them, the reader is left with both the music of spoken words and the music of inexplicable silence that lends a scintillating aroma to the story.

As a reader, I would highly recommend this page-turner of a novel to all those who love intense, substantial storytelling and real-life depictions of the protagonists rather than mushy, implausible and feel-good romances.

Available in Amazon India, Amazon worldwide and at leading bookstores in India.

http://www.amazon.in/Thousand-Unspoken-Words-Paulami-DuttaGupta/dp/8192997596?ie=UTF8&keywords=A%20Thousand%20Unspoken%20Words&qid=1464727008&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1 (Amazon India)

https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Unspoken-Words-story-fallen-ebook/dp/B0189NOKW8?ie=UTF8&keywords=A%20Thousand%20Unspoken%20Words&qid=1464727675&ref_=sr_1_2&sr=8-2  (Amazon worldwide)

 

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Short Story, first published in my blog in B’Khush, dated January 5, 2015

(1)

She was a new bride, draped in the vermilion light of the day.  The crimson red scattered in  shreds in her hair, locked in a bun, all the way to her forehead and nose, breathed of a newly forged, sanctioned communion of love. Love was solidified by the family priest with the burning embers of fire and the rigorously uttered Hindu wedding mantras. Her hands, holding on to the grains of the puffed rice shivered as they were held by the groom’s, standing erect, eager, behind her.

marriage_love

Image source:

tribune.com.pk 

Aguner poroshmoni chh(n)owaao praaney

E jeebon punyo koro, e jeebon punyo koro dohon daane

(Let the flames of the holy fire touch our souls/Let us be sacred in the fire, let us be beautiful, complete in burning).

She breathed, shallow, forlorn, trying to chase the intangible bubbles that she could see, sprouting out of time’s indelible conspiracy. Her hands, tied around the groom’s hands with a sacred red thread were squeezed, grabbed by a pair of arduous male hands inside the transient dark of the movie theaters; the snug comfort of the cabs after dusk sheathed the city and its desperate lovers in its silhouetted beauty. Her hands grasped his and spoke volumes to him while she would board the train back home, the whistle blowing as the young lovers would take in the dense breeze of departure. “Wish you a safe journey. Call me once you reach home”.

Together with the groom, she melted in the fire and the cacophony of the Vedic chants, as her uncle offered the bride to the groom in the ritual of Sampradan. “Bor khub shundor dekhte, Sukanya (The groom is really handsome, Sukanya). Lucky you, and see, the sindoor spilled over your nose too.” An elderly aunt, holding in her arms a truant toddler boy, came close to her, trying to fix her tilted topor (crown).

She watched the noisy children, the guests gathered in clusters, the austerity of the priest and the earnestness of the groom, a stealthy drop of tear or two pushing past her rouged cheekbones. Sukanya Bakshi chewed on the last slices of her maiden identity, her first real date in the old, nameless alleys of College Street, the fruitlessness of nibbling on the secretly scribbled pages of her life with Aniruddha, the notes of togetherness, intimate, unguarded moments, promises wincing at her in the solemnity of the rituals.

“Ki korchhish ki? (What are you doing, you crazy girl?) Don’t rub it off your nose! You know it’s the testimony to long-lasting love!”

Ayan, the groom, gave her stealthy glances of unbridled desire, an anxious, yet rehearsed one filled with a sense of urgency and a surge of newfound love, admiration and promises of a conjugal life that he had waited for, all these months of this neatly arranged, telephonic courtship. The marriage registrar was there in time, the affidavit and the legalities solemnized with immediate, extended family members, an array of people of various ages and sizes, munching on delectable food, the aroma and festivities of the night.

(2)

Across the crowded room of Ayan Mitra’s ancestral north Kolkata house, her fate stumbled. Sukanya Mitra, a brighter moon with the aanchal of her pink Benarasi sari tangled with her new husband’s wedding attire, scurried through the unfamiliar faces, the claustrophobic walls, the alleys, the forlorn shrubs and the narrow verandah. Her kohl-laden eyes, taking in the pandemonium, the nascent constellation of relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, settled in the ground beneath her feet, where the women of the house prepared a rectangular wooden ‘jalchauki’. Her alta-clad, crimson feet followed every minute gesture, every miniscule ritual they were immersed in, as they welcomed her to the house with paddy, durba and a pan of simmering, boiling milk. She watched the night in its dancing shadows, the whirlpool of revelries, the series of the rituals performed on her, while Ayan pried over her, died to hold her, touch her amidst the strictures and the never-ending customary occurrences.

“Just one more night, and you will, fully, completely be mine”, he had whispered in Sukanya’s ears, aching with the weight of the heavy, vintage gold earrings.

“Do you think, I will ever be able to completely belong to Ayan?” She had asked her best friend Soma over a cup of coffee, the day they went to shop for her wedding.

“Well, you know, you can’t absolutely belong to anybody, no matter how close you are in the relationship.” Soma smiled, looking at her furtive, questioning eyes. “But you will surely bond, over time. Just give that much time to him, to yourself and you will be fine.”

“You know, I’ve asked myself the same questions about Ani. Was he ever mine? If any part of me truly belongs to him, how could he let me go?”

“May be, yes, may be a part of him really belongs to you, Sukanya.” Soma replied, as both friends walked hand-in-hand amid the din and clatter, the evening rush of the Gariahat market. Soma had seen the lovers ebb and flow in their five years of togetherness. She had seen it all happen as both of them met, for a beat, a fleeting thought, a happenstance, a chained turn of events spurred on by serendipity, which looked like a lifetime of dreams.

They knew all along, this had to happen. Somewhere, down the line, he didn’t think marriage would necessarily solidify the belonging. She had cursed him for months, refused to speak to him, discarded him as a bohemian, as a coward, got herself strips of sleeping pills, promised herself their paths would never cross again, but none of that worked to ease her pain one bit. For some journeys, like this, she knew the cessation may remain undefined.

Years back, on a gleaming Diwali evening, Sukanya had fluttered in her pink chiffon salwar suit, her hands sweated as they held Ani’s in an act of complete, unquestioned surrender inside the cozy confines of his two bedroom apartment in Ballygunge. The smell of the house and its walls, the indoor plants, the aroma of food and of Ani’s lips, thrusting within hers, the world of Paulo Coelho, Neruda, Marquez, Che Guevara, Ravi Shankar, Jimmy Hendrix, which inhabited her dream for days before she set her first footsteps in the house, were all hers. The moments, at once spare and lush, the faint promise of rain inside her, were all hers.

“What’s your name again?” Aniruddha’s mother had asked her, curtly, as they both raced up the stairs leading to the terrace.

“Sukanya Bakshi.”  She had answered, coyly.

“It’s a crazy night outside, Sukanya. It won’t be safe for you to stay here for long. Babu will go with you and see you off at the station.” His mother replied.

“What happened to you, Su? Why such a sorry face? Didn’t you like our house much?”

“Ki pagol-er moton bokchhish (You talk crazy, man)!” She had retorted, her face buried in Aniruddha’s chest in a secret nook of their terrace. “I was thinking if your mom even liked me one bit. She didn’t seem to talk to me much.”

“Who? My Ma? Don’t you bother about that. Ma is bindaas, she likes all my friends, tokeo bhalobashbe (will love you too).”

“But am I only a ‘friend’, Ani? Can’t I even think of a future, of a life with you, in this house?”

“Of course you can, Su, but if I would ever have to build a nest with us anywhere, it would be in the hills. I had told you before too.”

“But I want to get real now, Ani. I would want to ask you today, after almost three years of seeing you, when will you be prepared to take me in your life?”

“But you are there in my life, in every possible way, aren’t you?”

“I am asking you to really take me in your life, to marry me, damn it! I can’t get clearer than that,

can I?”

“You can surely ask that, the way you all are conditioned and brainwashed to think of a relation culminated in the institution of marriage. I have told you over and over again that my love for you is greater than these pre-conceived ideas of conformity.”

“It is finally going to be over between us, then. From now, from today. I’ve tried to call it a day so many time before, Ani, but couldn’t. In all these years, I couldn’t”….In between incessant tears, her voice muffled. “It’s useless now Ani. All these years I’ve fooled myself to think, maybe you’ll change, but you won’t!”

“Listen, don’t do this to me, Su. It pains me as much as it does you, believe me if you can.” His hands usurped her, took her in the pulsating warmth of his chest, as she tried, vainly, to move away. “Now, listen to me. You know I have been working freelance for a couple of non-profits in the North East. I will be off and on, shuttling between both places for some time now. And you’ve got to believe that your love will be the anchor, wherever I will sail.”

“In a way, it will be good for both of us. This distance will teach me to yearn less for you, to live my life without you.”

“Do you really think it is that easy? Is it all conditioned?”

“Listen, Su. I understand what you are going through, every day. It is not easy for you to tolerate your parents’ abuse every time we try to meet, or talk over the phone. But I know I can’t be acceptable, by their standards.”

Once again, under the asphalt sky, amid the fire crackers and the lit-up houses, love breathed, wrenching and restoring, the pulsating heartbeats in sync, in tune with the cryptic music of the night. “I want you to remember that ours is a sacred journey, whether or not we continue to walk, hand-in-hand, through it.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It was not the forbidden apple that Eve had tasted when her world changed forever. There, in the soiree of fragrant flowers meticulously decorated in their nuptial bed, she was weightless, surrendering. “There’s a sense of salvation in this sanctioned intimacy, no heartbreak, no obligation”, Sukanya thought to herself in between the relentless, smothering lovemaking. Ayan had a past of his own, his girlfriend at IIT had ditched him for another batch mate. “We will work together as man and wife to get over our losses”, he promised, the day they became formally engaged. “Who was Aniruddha?” She asked herself that day. A non-conformist, confused writer, photographer, crusader who never got himself a regular job, never really ‘left’ her, an impatient beau who really never wanted anything permanent with her, an old scar she unconsciously kept scratching, a dark fog of memories, threatening to cover her? In all these months leading up to this marriage, she knew everything she believed about love, everything that really mattered, was falling apart. And yet, in the complete faith and surrender in the pitch dark of the room, something was building up inside her. Something constant, palpable, ineffable.

(3)

The years rolled by. Sukanya and Ayan, trapped in the perpetual calling of domesticity, forgot to  sit together, smile back at old times and ponder about pining and loss, about existential questions of desire and yearning. The young girl who had once dreamed of a love nest with her unconventional lover had happily traded the old, mossy North Kolkata house cluttered with conservative in-laws’ with a new furnished flat in a greener neighborhood in Salt Lake. She cooked, hosted parties for family and friends, smiled coyly when they said it was high time for the couple to have a child now.

Thoughts of Ani became an occasional remembrance of her first massive adrenaline rush, her blood racing at the strumming of his guitar, at his recitations of Pablo Neruda’s poems. She stumbled, paused, took in the gusty wind, nestling in her frosted breaths. Five winters passed since the last time she let him know, they would never meet again. Five winters since her wayward mind, desperate to settle down, let the self-pitying dribble slip over her, implored on her to court and marry in haste. In a foggy December morning, precisely five years after their last meeting, Sukanya, weary from the strain of the first trimester of her pregnancy, opened her old email folder in an attempt to get rid of old, forgotten exchanges between Ani and her, no longer worth saving. An unread message, four years back in time, waited for her in the inbox, a blip in her brain, a lump in her throat.

She opened the message, lines hanging in the opaque stillness of the desktop screen, as she read on:

Dearest Su, it’s been a year that we last met, my happiness dwindling in the evening you bade adieu. Did we fight that day? 

In our university days, when we came together, our worlds collided perfectly in symphony, like the dance of swans. I know you wanted a home with me, to be with me in the most traditional of bonds, that of a man and his wife. You know how I had evaded it. I know with my life, marriage would be a man-made necessity germinating in barren soil, nothing would have grown out of us. 

I had seen marriage stink in crumpled bed sheets and slaps, in shadows lurking in dark corners of 5’ by 7’ rooms. I had told you how my mother succumbed to this necessity twice, ending up in two biological baggages, me and my half-sister from Ma’s previous marriage, for her lifetime. Ki dorkar chhilo, bol (What was the need, tell me)? I have given it a thought for a number of times. 

For me, mutual love was enough to sustain me, and even if I would succumb to tradition, would I remain true to my own complete foundation, my own being? Could you gift me a life free of slavery in the name of a secured, routine job? Could you gift me a life, a bliss, even a child, freed from this vicious cycle of traditions?

And then I met her, months after your last meeting, in one of my sudden, unplanned North East trips, a child of Mother Earth, grazing the hills with her numinous silence. A girl of six or seven, biting her nails frantically, shuddering as I tried to touch her, gazing at me blankly, as I asked her name, where she came from and who accompanied her. Her speechless mouth, her quiet presence and intent eyes hovered around me for days, and then I took her to an expert counsellor. 

Severe violence and sexual abuse resulting in a trauma was confirmed. I named her Flora. Flora inhabited my room, my backpacking trips, my world with wordless love. Back in Kolkata with her, I had tried to accommodate her in institutions, but her hands, tangled in mine, refused to let go. Can you tell me if not here in this nameless bounty of love, where else can I find beauty and purity, which will fill my soul, make me whole? 

Till the last day we had met, you had wanted to know if I could marry you. In my mind, I was split, harrowed, and had only one answer, our favorite sonnet, which I used to recite to you often, back then: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments. Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds/ Or bends with the remover to remove”. I wanted us to come together in an act of union, not in an institution.  

Today, every moment I am reliving my life with Flora, my old thoughts, questions burning to their finishing embers. I am craving your presence, a mundane life, together with you and her, back in the hills, like I would vainly dream with you in our university days. A life you had once craved with me, that was too ordinary, too brittle for my thinking, back then. Will you come back to me, be a part of this world? 

 P.S. Because I have loved you so, will you reply? 

Yours truly, 

Ani. 

She checked the date of the e-mail, drafted four years back, uninvited and unanswered, on the day she was celebrating her first wedding anniversary with Ayan.  She drafted a reply.

Dearest Ani,

Your letter reached me today, in the hushed fog of the years of our distance. I know, with the green pasture of your soul, you are beautiful, whole and free now, and Flora is with you, a part of your heart’s melody, liberation and dream, a dream that I cannot own now. But do remember that whenever I will return to our unfinished story, I will seek you and Flora, be a part of your pure, unbound selves, and be in love with ‘love’, yet again. 

Yours’ ever, Su.”

It was a reply that she couldn’t send her long-lost love, a reply that she saved in a folder, in the recesses of her mind, a letter that she would now bury in the slippery sands of time.

————————————————————————–

 

Book Review of ‘The Madras Affair’ by Sundari Venkatraman

The Madras Affair_cover

Cover page of The Madras Affair, published by Readomania

In the novel ‘The Madras Affair’, published by Readomania, the author Sundari Venkatraman transports the readers to a world of romance that blossoms, flourishes, then dwindles and again rises in the denouement, much like the mills and boon series we had been addicted to in our teenage years, only here the romance hovers much to the chagrin, the turmoil and haplessness of the world where the lovers find themselves in. And instead of the carefree western characters of the M&B romance, here the lovers, especially the heroine, the young widow Sangita and her family carry the baggage of Indian traditional sensibilities, threatening to nip the romance in the bud, right when it comes to sweep her off her feet.

This tug and pull of mindless orthodoxy versus sensuous, unhindered expression of love continues almost till the end of the novel. Also, this conflict constitutes much of the dramatic tension that almost overpowers the romance at places, as the heroine Sangita braces herself for an uphill battle not only against archaic societal norms, but also against the demons at play in her own psyche.

Through the pages, we are led to the mysterious, wayward trajectories of Sangita’s mind, oscillating between traditions and sensuous expressions, between her harrowing past and the glittering promises and sweet seduction of love that beckons her. On one hand, the tormenting memories of her dead husband Giridhar and his abuses, both sexual, physical and verbal, make her yearn for the fulfilment of passionate love she finds in the arms of Gautam, the hero. On the other hand,  she seems to be at the receiving end of false, preconceived notions of her own self-assessed frigidity, which, at the end, is proven to be false, baseless in the arms of Gautam. The frigidity and apathy towards sexual attraction, which Sangita embraces as her inherent attributes, works mostly to thwart the passionate demeanor of Gautam, but as the romance wins over, the readers realize passion lies at the core of Sangita’s own being too, only the memories of the loathsome groping of her body by her dead husband Giridhar haunts her and conditions her to believe that she is incapable of expressing her love physically.

The transformation of Sangita from the tormented, docile widow and mother of a young kid, always at the receiving end of her apathetic parents’ whims and patriarchal diktats to the dynamic, confident woman spearheading an NGO for battered woman, is traced in the narrative through flashbacks. The narrative shuttling between the past and the present,  dissects the issue of widow remarriage and also indulges in the sizzling romance destined to throw away prevalent social customs. The depiction of the scenes and settings serve to present the emotional world of Sangita and Gautam, smitten by love, lust, spice and charm, yet fraught with questions, indictments and startling revelations that only bring them closer to each other in the long run.

The desperate, despondent romantic in me started reading the novel in the month of February, which happens to be the month celebrating romance, trying to get some fodder for writing breezy romantic stuff of my own. However, towards the end, I found myself curled up in an orthodox south Indian woman’s struggles to get rid of her own inhibitions. I also found myself cursing the ridiculously regressive cultural traditions and the dreadful objectification that Sangita is trapped into, not only by her husband’s sick sexual advances, but also by her own family who thrusts the label of a sexless, celibate, frigid widowhood on her, trying to push her in a bottomless pit of self-destruction. In the end, with the union of Sangita and Gautam as a couple in body and spirits, especially in the bold, steamy lovemaking scene, it all came full circle, in a complex, intriguing and alluring tapestry of human emotions where love became the all-consuming and omnipotent force, sweeping everything else away.

As a reader, I would recommend the book to lovers of breezy, whirlwind romances, who are also looking for a gripping, tight storyline and an underlying social message.

About the Author:

Sundari

Sundari Venkatraman

Growing up on a heavy dose of fairy tales and comic books, Sundari fell in love with the ‘lived happily ever after’ syndrome. It was always about good triumphing over evil and a happy end. 
     
Soon, into her teens, Sundari graduated to Mills & Boon romances. And that got her thinking – how about such breezy romances in Indian settings? Her imagination took flight and she always lived in a rosy cocoon of romance over the years. 
     
Then came the writing – a true bolt out of the blue! Sundari had just quit her job as a school admin and was taking a break. She was saturated with reading books. That’s when she returned home one evening after her walk, took some sheets of paper and began writing. It was like watching a movie that was running in her head – all those years of visualising a perfect Indian romance had to be put into words. The dormant romantic storyteller in her finally found its calling and The Malhotra Bride was born. While she felt disheartened when publishing didn’t happen, it was her husband who encouraged her to keep writing. 
   
 In the meanwhile, she landed a job as copy editor with Mumbai Mirror. After working there for two years, she moved to the Network 18 Group and worked with two of their websites over the next six years, as content editor. 
    
 Despite her work schedule, she continued writing novels and short stories and had them published in her blogs. She also started blogging voraciously, writing on many different topics – travel, book reviews, film reviews, restaurant reviews, spirituality, alternative health and more. 
    
Her first eBook Double Jeopardy – a romance novella – was published by Indireads and has been very well received by readers of romance.  
    
In 2014, Sundari published The Malhotra Bride (2nd Edition); Meghna; The Runaway Bridegroom; Flaming Sun Collection 1: Happily Ever Afters From India (Box Set) and Matches Made In Heaven (a collection of romantic short stories) in form of ebooks.
The Madras Affair is available in Amazon and Goodreads.

 

 

A Fistful of Want: Short Story Published in Readomania

My short story ‘A Fistful of Want’ published at Readomania, encompasses the emotional journey of the protagonist Anupama and her husband Aurko in a time span of twenty years. Sharing a short excerpt from the story here:

“She was astonished by the clarity, the sure, unwavering, relentless urgency in his voice which played against the stings of her emotions as she decided to meet him that day. The city was a bejeweled crown of torn memories. In every street, shop or station, her smoky eyes had looked into her drifting shadow trudging in the pursuit of a soulmate, dissolving like a short-lived dream. Where would she meet him in the endless labyrinths of torment that the city streets had led to?”

“Give me your choices. Near Esplanade metro? Inside Rabindra Sadan? Or, what about Park Street?”

None of the places, which had once engrossed her like a child, had any thin semblance of nostalgia and beauty left for her. They pinched her with further pain, like salt in the wound. He waited for her outside one of the less frequented, new cafes in Salt Lake, which he took enough pains to locate, following her curt directions over the phone. Like two carefree children, they stuffed each other’s mouths with imported chocolates to celebrate their first face-to-face meeting.”kolkata city image

To read the full short story published at Readomania.com, do visit:

http://www.readomania.com/story/a-fistful-of-want

The Ripples of Life

lovers

Image Source: Lovers in Love-Viewing Gallery. Galleryhip.com

 

“The ripples of life

As they ebb and flow,

The beauty of my strife

As I let it go.

With open hearts, let me bleed and rain.

Sink into my soul, you’ll forget the pain….”

 

Life is full of stumbling blocks, and also pleasant little surprises packed, boxed and shipped by the wayward and irresistible forces of destiny. This Valentine’s day, I humbly present ‘The Ripples of Life’, a short fiction published at ‘Cafe Dissensus’. This is my full-length short story of two star-crossed lovers, Nina and Thomas, a Caucasian girl and a Keralite guy, who meet each other in a little town in upstate New York and fall in love, and grip each other tight till the end of the end.

I am delighted to present the tangled world of love between the man and his wife, and also honored to let you know that the Editor of Cafe Dissensus, Mosarrap Hossain Khan has written another love story based in rural Bengal, India, titled ‘Mehru’s Dream’ that is published here around the same time today. Hope some of you will read and comment.

http://cafedissensusblog.com/2015/02/13/the-ripples-of-life/