Thursday, December 04, 2003


Alice Walker's The Colour Purple, published in 1982, tells the story of Celie, a Black woman in the South. Celie writes letters to God in which she tells about her life--her roles as daughter, wife, sister, and mother. In the course of her story, Celie meets a series of other Black women who shape her life: Nettie, Celie's sister, who becomes a missionary teacher in Africa; Shug Avery, the Blues singer her husband Mr. ______ is in love with, and who becomes Celie's salvation; Sofia, the strong-willed daughter-in-law whose strength and courage inspire Celie; and Squeak, who goes through awakenings of her own. Throughout the story, though, Celie is the center of this community of women, the one who knows how to survive.

Alice Walker's The Color Purple is an example of a "woman's novel." This means not just that it was written by a woman, but that it carries on an identified tradition of women's writing, in terms of narrative strategies, themes addressed, and voice. This is not to say that all women write about the same things; but there is a tradition known as women's literature, which has developed with a consciousness of women's traditions of writing as distinct from mens' ways of writing. The African-American theorist and writer bell hooks (Gloria Watkins) has argued in an essay,"Writing the Subject: Reading The Color Purple" (in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., Reading Black, Reading Feminist, 1990), that >strongThe Color Purple is a parody of the tradition of the "slave narrative"--stories written by male and female former slaves about their experiences under slavery.

As you can see the book can be read on several levels (we studied not only the feminist angle but also the issue of the Blacks, slavery and the attitude towards Africans) and I strongly recommend it. It's a MUST READ, and if possible try and see the movie as well, but the book is infinitely better than the movie (but obviously!)

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Ode to the West Wind

O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes! O thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingàd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill;

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!


Thou on whose stream, ’mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning! there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Mæand, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision—I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither’d leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

By Percy B Shelley

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

By John Keats

Monday, September 15, 2003

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

GR-R-R--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!

At the meal we sit together;
Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather,
Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork-crop: scarcely
Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt:
What's the Latin name for "parsley"?
What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"?

Whew! We'll have our platter burnished,
Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we're furnished,
And a goblet for ourself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
Ere 'tis fit to touch our chaps--
Marked with L. for our initial!
(He-he! There his lily snaps!)

Saint, forsooth! While Brown Dolores
Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
--Can't I see his dead eye glow,
Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's?
(That is, if he'd let it show!)

When he finishes refection,
Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection,
As I do, in Jesu's praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
Drinking watered orange-pulp--
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
While he drains his at one gulp!

Oh, those melons! if he's able
We're to have a feast; so nice!
One goes to the Abbot's table,
All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange!--And I, too, at such trouble,
Keep them close-nipped on the sly!

There's a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
Off to hell, a Manichee?

Or, my scrofulous French novel
On gray paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
Hand and foot in Belial's gripe;
If I double down the pages
At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
Ope a sieve and slip it in't?

Or, there's Satan!--one might venture
Pledge one's soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
As he'd miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
We're so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine . . . .
'St, there's Vespers! Plena gratia
Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r--you swine!

By Robert Browning
*This was a 'hot-favourite' with all of us in FYBA - I love it for its sheer vitality, wit and honesty of expression! Check out the line : He-he There his lily snaps! - Isn't the sheer malice in the sentence completely delightful? One malicious poem I absolutely admire!

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

By William Wordsworth


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare

By W.H.Davies
*A note of Thanks to Deepak, who reminded me of the poem! I'd forgotten about it - we did it in school!

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Feminist Fables

Bird Woman

Once there was a child who sprouted wings. They sprang from her shoulder blades, and at first they were vestigial. But they grew rapidly, and in no time at all she had a sizeable wing span. The neighbours were horrified. 'You must have them cut,' they said to her parents. 'Why?' said the parents. 'Well it's obvious,' said the neighbours. 'No,' said the parents, and this seemed so final that the neighbours left. But a few weeks later the neigbours were back. 'If you won't have them cut, atleast have them clipped.' 'Why?' said the parents. 'Well atleast it shows that you are doing something.' 'No,' said the parents and the neighbours left. Then for the third time, the neighbours appeared. 'On atleast two occasions you have sent us away,' they informed the parents, 'but think of that child. What are you doing to the poor little thing?' 'We are teaching her to fly,' said the parents quietly.

The Gods

In their extreme old age a childless couple was granted a daughter. This made them very happy, and they prayed to the gods every morning and evening to bless their child. They prayer was granted. As their daughter grew up it soon became obvious that she was a remarkable child. She could run further and faster than anyone in the village, her manners were good, she sang rather well, and she excelled in her studies. There was only one thing wrong, which spoilt everything. This was not a defect. The gods hadn't cheated. She was indeed blessed with great ability. But everyone in the village was critical of her. 'To be so damned good,' they said, 'is not womanly.'

Whore, Bitch, Slut, Sow

Once upon a time there was a wicked woman who was generally known as Whore, Bitch, Slut, Sow. Being a strong-minded woman and totally unashamed of being herself, she made a petition to the Chief Judge. She asked that the labels she bore be changed to some others that would more accurately express her wickedness as a person, rather than as they did at present, merely as a woman. The judge, as it happened was bored at the time. 'Very well,' he said, 'you can have a hearing, and the learned of the city will be asked to submit an alternative label.' The day came for alternative label, but the Eldest Scholar looked embarrassed, 'The fact is, Your Honour, we have not been able to reach agreement.' 'Really?' said the Judge, 'Well I should have expected as much. I suppose you got lost in philosophical discussion?Never mind. Sit down. I'll do the job.' 'How about "thief"?' he said turning to the woman. 'May it please you, Your Honour,' said the Eldest Scholar, '"thief" is excellent, but this woman renders service for moneys received, so unfortunately , Your Honour, that particular term is not applicable.' 'Well, how about "beggar"?' said the Chief Judge. But the Learned Scholar interpolated again, 'It is not clear, Your Honour, that being a beggar is in itself a sign of wickedness. Moreover this unfortunate woman does not beg.' 'Oh', said the Judge 'how about "bastard"? No I suppose you will find some other objection. Well, what is the problem? Why are we having so much trouble?' 'The truth is, Your Honour,' the scholar replied, ' that her wickedness consists in the fact that she is a woman.' 'Ah!' said the Learned Judge, 'That is the answer. Go away Woman, That is you name and your new label.'

By Suniti Namjoshi.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lighting they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

By Dylan Thomas


Fear death?---to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form;
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so---one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that Death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
And made me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers,
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave.
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain.
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!

By Robert Browning


Looking for Maya, Atima Srivastava's second novel, is the story of Mira, a young woman fresh out of university and set to embark on a brilliant career. She is bright, ambitious, hungry for life and dangerously naive. When her boyfriend takes off for the summer Mira is left alone in London where she falls into the orbit of Amrit,older,sophisticated,a man accustomed to calling the tune. Both have a great deal to learn and to lose. Exploring themes of love, passion, friendship and the ambiguities of cultural identity,this is an acutely observed and moving novel.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Champa Bavdi

(this is a story narrated by a champa tree, my biggest muse and inspiration. If the word romance were to take a physical form, I am convinced that it would be that of a champa tree, my champa tree.)

Mandu, at this time of the year tends to get chilly. Early November. The evenings are so beautiful; I feel that Roopmati will walk down the Jahaj-Mahal steps any minute. Not that I have been around long enough to have ever seen her. Now that would have really been something. But everyone, and i mean everyone, keeps talking about her. Raajan even wrote about her, sitting right here, by the pool. But how I wish he would get a hair cut, that Raajan. He might come here, one of these days, by the way. Raajan always comes down to Mandu, to Jahaj-Mahal, to me, every winter. He makes love to Roopmati every winter, on parchment; at least that is what one of his women had said, repeatedly. And he comes here with different women, firangs mostly; or those artsy damsels from Bombay or Kolkata. But I like Naahid the best. The kohl below her eyes… The evenings are so beautiful; I feel that Roopmati will walk down the Jahaj-Mahal steps any minute.

I generally like to see through one of the numerous baaris, it is almost like taking pictures. Raajan also takes a lot of pictures, but never of his women. I wonder if my baaris are like his lens…the vista are rather ambiguous. The frames provide a kind of definition, context. It is very important to provide a context, unless you are talking to Freud. And anyways, if that is the case, then Freud would be doing the talking, not you. His libido astounds me, though. Not that Raajan’s does not, if Naahid is to be believed.

But I don’t think Naahid is the sort to lie, unlike Sarup. And Sarup does not even answer if you call her that. You have to call her Sarup Rani. The cheek of the thing. But Sarup Rani is not from Bombay or Kolkata. She probably does not even know that she is lying. She sold Raajan nimbu- paani for one rupee in front of people whom she had sold the same for four rupees. But then she claims to love Raajan. And selling the paani at that price is a sure sign of love, you know. The urbane streak appeals to her. And the juvenile girl keeps singing to him. I wonder why Raajan sometimes puts up with her. Not that I don’t. But when she signs those songs from umrao- jaan, trying to play the sultry courtesan, you really cannot help but wonder. And Sarup Rani is always applying kohl to her eyes if she knows that Raajan is coming. But, … the evenings are not so beautiful; I never feel that Roopmati will walk down the Jahaj-Mahal steps any minute. Her naiveté is touching, but only for about three minutes, and then Rani starts singing her song. Always the same song, dil cheez kya hai aap mere jaan leejiye…but we never interrupt her, not Naahid, not Raajan, not me.

Mandu, at this time of the year tends to get chilly. Raajan always puts his arms around Naahid, or whomever the object of his affection may be, and reads his poem. But the poem is about him making love to Roopmati, then I wonder why the women get so touched. . Their naiveté is touching, but only for about three minutes. The poem never fails to touch me, though. Raajan, I must tell you, that every time you have recited that poem; all I have felt like telling you -… dil cheez kya hai aap mere jaan leejiye…. But I never interrupt him, not Naahid, not the other women. . But how I wish he would get a hair cut, that Raajan. Sarup Rani has the best hair in Mandu, by the way. And she knows it. So well, too.
Her naiveté is touching. The gait and the swishing of those tresses. The frayed frocks, the inane looks she gives Raajan.

Sarup had dropped a glass-full of her nimbu-paani, the other day. On my roots, while she was busy gaping at Raajan, while he was doing what he does best. Raajan noticed her and gave her an indulging smile. Her heart must have skipped a beat. And then he mentioned me. But to Sarup. “Oh silly girl, are you selling the paani to trees now? Haha, not that you shouldn’t, the champa looks like it could do with a drink of tangy lemon juice”. My heart skipped a beat. A shiver ran down my branches. Mandu, at this time of the year tends to get chilly. Then Sarup scooped up her skirt and gave him a doleful look. But raajan was busy with his lens. He would not like to be bothered now. He had indulged in inane conversation with Sarup, now he would work. Suddenly he turned around, away from the bavdi, the mahal, and looked at me. At strange look crossed his face. He called to Sarup, much to my chagrin. I mean, here he was, my Raajan, looking at me, in his intense way. But calling that rag. Nevertheless, he was looking at me. I think I must ignore the fact that he called out to her. All I remember is that he looked at me. And then, without once pulling his eyes away from me, he asked Sarup Rani to go and sit by me. I can live with that. He talked about the light being just right. I don’t know, right for what. But i can live with that too. I don’t know why, but I knew that I must do something for him, and at that very moment, what with the light being just right too. He was looking at me through his lenses; I could feel Sarup at my feet. I let a flower fall. At that very instance he clicked. I could see, what effect the flower had on him. His eyes were moist. Sarup was untouched by the whole affair. But, her naiveté is touching.

He picked up my offering to him, looked at me. Came close to me, and murmured one magical word,’geetanjali’.

I know now, what it is to be Roopmati. She was queen. But for that day, she was a backdrop; the bavdis and the Mahals of Mandu was a backdrop. I was being celebrated; he was celebrating me. Raajan walked away after that, and I have not seen him since. It has been fourteen years now. But I am content. He murmured to me, and that for me, is enough. My naiveté is touching, even to me. But then I think Roopmati would understand, maybe Naahid would too. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I am content that he whispered. The sun is setting now, it is getting real dark. Maybe Raajan wont come this year too. I don’t know. Mandu, at this time of the year tends to get chilly.

By Kunal. K.Shah (a very dear friend of mine)

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Quotes on Literary Critics (Very Funny!)

* Critics are a dissembling, dishonest, contempable race of men. Asking a working writer what he thinks of critics is like asking a lampost what it feels about dogs. *
By John Osborne

* Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves. *
By Brendan Behan

Thursday, July 03, 2003


The Sweetest Dream - By Doris Lessing (2001)

From the Book Jacket
This story of a family, spanning most of the twentieth century, has its fulcrum in the Sixties, that contradictory and embattled decade about which argument becomes louder every day. The young of that time, bursting old bonds and demanding freedom, were seen by some of their elders not at all as they saw themselves, as romantic idealists, but as deeply damaged people. Old Julia, the clan's matriarch, knows why. 'You can't have two dreadful wars and then say "That's it, and now everything will go back to normal." They're screwed up, our children, they are children of war.'
Remarkable women, Julia and Frances, grandmother and mother, fight for 'the kids' against obstacles, the worst being Comrade Johnny. Here is an unforgettable picture of a character only recently departed from our scene. 'The revolution comes before personal matters' is his dictum, as he deposits discarded wives and hurt children in the accommodating house whose emotional center is always the extendable kitchen table, that essential prop of the Sixties, where they all sit around through the evenings, eating, joking, boasting about their shoplifting, debating the violent ideologies of the time, which take some of them out to the Third World, one to a south African village dying of AIDS.

This novel reflects our recent history like a many-faceted mirror, and is full of people you are not likely to forget, every one of them, for worse or for better, directly or indirectly, made by war.

In The Sweetest Dream, Doris Lessing, one of the outstanding writers of our time, returns to the world of her own experience, that of London in the Sixties and the Africa of today.

Sunday, June 29, 2003


Be slow in choosing a friend but slower in changing him.

Friend, frend ,n . One loving or attached to another; an intimate acquaintance: a favourer, well-wisher: one of a society so named; a relative.

Friends, to me, are the most important people in life. One might think, but isn’t that position of utmost importance in life accorded to one’s family? Yes, certainly. But in an era of complex relationships where grays are often shadowing the whites, family often doesn’t gain that level of intimacy. Relations within a family may fluctuate between that of love and of animosity. The bottom line is that a friend, be it among one’s kin, or not, is the one you rely on, grow up with, gain strength from.

As I begin what is perhaps a maiden venture into the realm of fiction, I dither between striking an impression of great depth and complexity, or one that is simple and pleasant. It is a rainy morning there is a nice breeze wafting through my windows, the curtains billowing gently. I choose the latter. It suits the weather, it suits my mood.

A story of four friends. How simplistic! And, such an obvious theme for an amateur. But everyone needs to make a start with the juvenile and then move to grander things in life. So I chose this theme – one of the simplest, but yet significant relationships; that between friends.
It’s really quite short. An episode really, that built in my mind one idle afternoon, not so long ago. I decided to build it further, and see what I can make of it.


Poovar Island. That was the destination this year. Debashish sat back as the vehicle wound its way through the tiny lanes from Thiruvananthapuram Airport to Poovar Village. He absorbed the sounds of the market places, the hustle-bustle of the people, and smiled in content. It was a good choice. This frenzied chaos, just minutes before the divine retreat, would definitely increase their appreciation of the resort.

Minutes later, he was seated in a motorboat headed for Poovar Island, where the resort was situated. It was a quaint place, with floating cottages at the riverfront, connected to each other and the reception by a bridge. He had heard of the place through a colleague and decided that they must meet here this year. Since it was his turn to pick the place, it just made things all the more easier. The receptionist escorted him to his cottage and asked if he would like to check the other three cottages. He had been lucky to get adjacent cottages. A last minute cancellation. Manna from heaven? Well what ever it was, his gut feelings had been right. Again. This idyllic place would definitely calm their jangled nerves, and provide that peace and quiet they all thought was a priority for this rendezvous every year.

He had the day to himself. Anahita would be arriving by the evening flight and would join him for dinner. Zoya and Raoul would fly in the next morning, and wait for Riya who came in by the afternoon flight. They would be here by teatime.

He reached out for the telephone and ordered a glass of iced tea. Would Mr. Choudhary, like to try out our bar later this evening? It boasted the best of the world’s wines. Not today, thank you.
Once the drink arrived (Immediate service. He must remember to tip well when he left!), he relaxed in his private balcony. It was beautiful. The river stretched out, flanked on both sides by tall trees that gave the entire region a mysterious green glow. It was silent, except for the sound of the birds twittering at the edges of the river. He felt his nerves beginning to relax and slipped into a contented reverie.

They had all come a long way.

Anahita Oberoi, nerd, introvert, wall flower. Now working as a translator with the Indian Embassy in Paris. The quintessence of style, élan and composure.

Raoul Walter, junkie, drub addict, heading nowhere. Today he had a promising career with the Swiss Bank. Climbing the corporate ladder in leaps and bounds. Married to Zoya, a violinist, they lived on the outskirts of Zurich.

Riya Sharma, spilt brat, wanna-be socialite. A successful artist, she now lived in a sprawling apartment in Manhattan with her multi-millionaire husband and numerous domestic helpers. Dark secrets shadowed all her work, but her life had the smooth sophisticated veneer of the rich and famous.

Debashish Choudhary, pessimistic, bourgeoisie lad with big dreams. Fought his way up the social and corporate ladder to become the head of a successful Advertising Agency in Mumbai, still a dreamer…

Deb, you rat, how on earth did you manage to discover this place?

He looked up in surprise. Was it already evening? Time sure had flown past, and he hadn’t even had lunch!! He got up just as Anahita reached his chair, and enveloped her in a bear hug. It feels good to see you again babe!

Don’t you ‘babe’ me, I’m just the wallflower, remember? Laughter filled the air. Seriously, Deb this is a paradise. How did you find out about it?

Well a colleague of mine read about it in some magazine, and he honeymooned here a month back. He raved about it on his return, and I knew this had to be the place. It’s perfect isn’t it?

Oh yeah…. ideal.
She smiled. Remember our first ‘rendezvous’? Back in Goa? Raoul’s ancestral bungalow?

How can I not? The shock of seeing Raoul party like he did, his dopey pals…and then that pact we signed!!

In blood no less…to ensure it lasted. What a cliché!

Well it sure proved to be effective. Didn’t it? We are still here, a decade later, meeting up every year in November, as we promised we would. Gosh I look forward to this one week, almost as soon as we part!

You too? I thought I was the only nostalgic idiot around! …So what did you all day? Uh-oh, seeing that sheepish look, Deb darling was lost in his world again! But, you know what, this time you’re justified! This place is so peaceful one would want to just sit back and relax, just do nothing but idly let thoughts slip through the mind. Like clouds flitting by or something? Hey why are you smiling?

Poetic as ever, eh Anna?
He reached out and ruffled her hair affectionately. Why don’t you go change or do whatever you women do, and let’s meet up in an hour for dinner? We’ll talk then….

Getting rid of me? No, I’m just kidding. Yeah that sounds like a good plan. I’ve taken the adjacent cottage. Wait for me here at 7.30? We’ll hit the bar, or rather I still don’t drink, do you?


I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why Deb doesn’t drink. This is, I believe, a creative license, where the omniscient narrator steps in to explain some unexplained idiosyncrasies of the characters. So, as I was saying, Deb doesn’t drink. It all goes back to when his elder brother died in a hit and run accident. Pedestrians noted the license number and later it was revealed that the driver was stone drunk. Apparently he was an alcoholic and this wasn’t his first offence at the wheel. It was his first murder though. He died of cirrhosis of liver before the case could come to court. So in a melodramatic twist, Deb decided he would never touch alcohol in his life. Then he grew up, and went to Goa with Raoul and the gang; and did drink. But its not a habit and he sticks to wines. No hard liquors for him.

While I’m at it, let me also tell you ignorant readers about how these people became friends.

The four of them had bonded in the first year of college. Anahita and Riya knew each other from school days. Debashish and Anahita were lab partners for Physics, and even dated each other for a while before they realized that they weren’t exactly Romeo and Juliet. Raoul was the wild boy of the class, and a big attraction for Riya. A spoilt-brat to the core, she knew she had to have him, more so once Deb and Anna starting dating. It wouldn’t do to be the stag in their group. So she chased Raoul with all her feminine wiles. And Raoul? Well, he ran in the opposite direction. Riya was everything he didn’t want in a woman. And she got on his nerves faster than his mother. After several months of playing cat and mouse, Riya met a Mamma’s Boy more suited to her lifestyle and decided that Raoul and she could only be friends. Of course her relationship with Mamma’s Boy didn’t even survive the year. Neither did Anna and Deb’s. But the four of them had remained the best of friends ever since.

When their two years together, at college had ended they decided to take a trip to Goa. They stayed at Raoul’s ancestral bungalow and that’s when they decided that, they would stay in touch and continue to meet every year. Since that year it had been Raoul who had suggested Goa, they decided that they would choose the destinations by turn. So it was that they met up in different places for one week each year, even though they chose different paths and separated the very same year.

Debashish realized he wasn’t a scientist at heart, nor an engineer or doctor. So he switched fields and took up Literature. After graduating, he worked with an Advertising Agency for two years. He knew he had to work since his parents had taken the blow of his brother’s death hard. His father had taken voluntary retirement and now their only income was the pension they received from Air India. So he worked and saved up so that he could pursue his dreams of becoming a Graphic Designer. Once he had enough saved up, he gave the entrance exams and then, he did his Masters in Graphic Design from NID.

Anahita, too, decided that she wasn’t cut out for Science. She took up management studies, along with Raoul. After working for a year with a corporate firm, she realized that the corporate world was simply not her cup of tea. So, she decided to go with her gut instinct and began honing her language skills. She had always been excellent at picking up languages and could speak flawless English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati. She had also learnt French and German, and could speak fluently in the former. She was obviously very good, for she got into the Zurich School for Translation and Interpretation, on a full scholarship. That’s where she met Zoya.

Zoya was her roommate and a student of music. When Raoul came to Zurich, for his job with Swiss Bank, the two of them fell head over heels in love. If there ever was a case of opposites attracting, it was this. Though Raoul had given up his wild ways and had sobered down a lot while studying management, he still had that uncontrollable streak. Zoya with her soothing music, fine tastes in the Arts, attracted him like a bee to honey (If I may use the cliché!), and before the year was out the two of them were engaged to be married. That was a big shock to all of them, for they had not expected Raoul to be the first one to be married. They hadn’t expected him to get married at all. But he did. He also stuck with the Swiss Bank job, working his way up. And was still in Zurich.

Riya. She was never sure of what she wanted to do. Her parents hadn’t expected her to do anything but be a socialite. But her friendship with the other three made her realize, that she wanted to do something else besides painting her nails and organizing parties. She continued with Science, taking up Biology. But when she failed in her second year, she decided to take a break from studies for a year. She could afford it. All along she had nurtured her talents in painting. When her mother’s friend, a renowned artist herself, praised some of her works, Riya decided that she would pursue art as a career. So she took up a yearlong course at the Ecole de Beaux Arts at Lyon, and went on to becoming an artist. She had recently married a businessman from Manhattan. Obviously, her parents had arranged the alliance.


The sun had just set and the whole river was shimmering in brilliant hues of orange, shadows of the trees dancing across the edges of the riverbanks. The birds were racing across the skies, back to their nests and the atmosphere was alive with their cries and calls. Anahita and Debashish sat back in relaxing lounge chairs, sipping their drinks, content now in just soaking in the atmosphere. Conversation wasn’t necessary when nature set out in front of you such a beautiful and awe-inspiring play of colours and sounds.

Dinner for the two of them was a mouth-watering affair. Succulent prawns and Egg Appams. Later as they lounged outside Debashish’s cottage, their conversation drifted back to the past.

Remember last year, in the tea gardens of Tezpur? Riya’s choice and boy was it delightful. That wonderful British bungalow, the lush green hills all around…

Riya! Little Miss Perfect. She would choose a British bungalow wouldn’t she?
scoffed Deb.

Oh come on, Deb. Stop it! It was heavenly and you also enjoyed it. If the two of you hadn’t had that stupid spat in the end, it would have been just as idyllic as all our rendezvous over the years.

It had been quite a big showdown. Debashish, who had lost his brother when he was in school, had seen his father crumble and his mother struggle to keep a front of normalcy. Seeing Riya’s plush and comfortable life, the way doors just magically opened for her, opportunities just landed in her lap, made him feel that she was nothing but a spoilt brat. Though he now had a good job and could by no standards be classified as one who was still struggling to make a mark, the years of living in a stagnant atmosphere at home, trying not to let what seemed as a bad hand of fate pull him down had made him somewhat of a cynic. He disapproved of the rich, who had it easy, who never had to really work for what they had. Like most people he thought their acts of ‘charity’ was just a way of avoiding income tax! Or in a more sympathetic mood, a way of salving their guilty consciences!

Riya had been talking about a new charity school she was helping set-up in Mumbai. It was for the slum children and she had asked if Debashish’s advertising agency could come up with a campaign to boost their organization. They didn’t have the funds though to pay the agency. It all started with that. A small argument on charity led to Debashish calling Riya a spoilt brat and saying she didn’t fit into the group. That he tolerated her only because they had all known each other for a decade now. He had left the very next day for Mumbai, even though they were booked for two more days at the bungalow. The rendezvous had lost its flavour that year and they hadn’t even been sure if they should continue. It seemed as though things were going to unravel.

But Anahita hadn’t given up. She had a ‘never-say-die’ attitude and wouldn’t let the years of friendship go down the drain. So as soon as they all got busy with their work, she started her ‘propaganda’ – talking to each one of them, most of all to Debashish. In a few months time she had convinced everyone that friends fight and this was just one of those. There was no reason to stop their annual rendezvous! And so the bomb was temporarily defused. But obviously there was still a spark, for Debashish still carried a grudge.

You know, I’ve never understood why you always support her. You act like she’s had it as tough as the rest of us, who had to literally prove ourselves and fight our way up. Whether it was the social ladder, economic positions or our choice of careers.

With a sigh, Anna retorted, Deb, just because she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth doesn’t mean that she’s had it easy.

Oh my, the poor little rich girl? Let’s not indulge in clichés shall we?

You know what? I think it’s about time you know. Riya was dyslexic. Is dyslexic, actually. All through school and college she has struggled with the disorder. It was very bad in school and she had to undergo therapy for it. Infact it’s why she never did well academically and eventually failed in college.

You’re kidding me!

Do I look like I am? Honey this isn’t it. If you and I think we have had family problems, then I do not know what Riya’s family has. Sure you had to go through the gruesome death of your brother and your family falling apart like it did. And I had my sister-in-law who created havoc at home. But on the whole we come from pretty regular families, that function as a unit.

What are you saying? Riya’s family couldn’t get more perfect! Successful father, a mother who is pretty as a painting, two kids, those month long annual vacations in Italy! What more could one want?

Well how about parents that loved each other, as well as their kids? How about being the legitimate child of those parents?


You know why there isn’t a single of Riya’s paintings in her parent’s house? Because Riya is actually the result of an affair her father had with his secretary. The woman had a nervous breakdown when Mr. Sharma refused to marry her, and died a few years later in an asylum somewhere. Mr. Sharma was married to Riya’s ‘mother’ and they had a non-existent conjugal relation. They adopted Riya. As for her brother, he was ‘created’ in a tube. How’s that for perfection, Deb?

Oh my god. I had no idea.

Well no one does. I’m the only one who knows outside her family. And now you do. I hope you will never mention this to her, but Deb, that attitude of yours towards her has to change. I think each of us has struggled with our own demons in our own way, and reached where we are. Let’s just enjoy it? And let’s just preserve this friendship?

Reaching across to take her hand and squeeze it apologetically, Deb replied, You are right. I’m sorry. Hey, my lips are sealed on this. And I promise, I’ll make it up to her once she arrives. I’ve hardly spoken to her this past year, but it’s going to go back to the way it was once again. You have my word.

Well on that note, I’m going to go crash. It’s been a long day, what with flying in from Paris last night, then to Thiruvananthapuram and the drive up to Poovar. See you at breakfast?

Yeah. 8 am, fine with you?

Sure. Goodnight Deb. Sweet dreams!


The two of them spent the next day lazing around and unwinding. They took a leisurely trip down the river in a boat, and had yet another sumptuous meal, before a siesta! When Raoul, Zoya and Riya arrived at the resort, Anahita and Debashish were waiting for them at the reception. A round of hugs and greetings followed.

There was an awkward moment as they all hugged each other, except for Debashish and Riya. Riya looked at him with questioning eyes. Did he still think of her as the spoilt brat who didn’t fit into their group?

Then Debashish smiled and extended his arms, Hey Riya what’s the cold shoulder for? Don’t I deserve a hug too? With a smile Riya reached over and hugged him, It’s so good to see you again Deb!

There was a flurry of activity after that. Quite chaotic, really! Picking up bags, they set off towards to cottages, exclaiming with delight over the location, catching up since their last e-mails to each other… Once the new arrivals were settled into their cottages, they decided they would meet at the Bar before dinner at 8 pm.

Later, over a bottle of Chardonnay, courtesy Raoul and Zoya, there was a teasing banter about their silly frolics back in college days.

Suddenly Raoul remembered, Hey Anna, remember that silly crush you had on the Math professor?

Oh god! Will you EVER forget that?

he said tongue-in-cheek. Let’s see now, what all did you do to impress him? I remember those huge spectacles you insisted on wearing just because he wore them too!

They all laughed, when Anahita threw water at him. Then Raoul asked curiously, Seriously, yaar, that was a crush – a temporary diversion. But after that there hasn’t been ANYONE in your life. NO romantic interest at all, and it’s not like we are getting younger! Don’t you get lonely Anna? Who was it that made you like this? Was it that guy you were so crazy about…what was his name?

We don’t need his name Raoul; it’s history. He hurt me, and I really don’t feel like rehashing a love story that went sour. And what do you mean by “this”? How am I?

Well you know – shy of love…

Oh really? Then the same applies to Deb too, doesn’t it?
She smiled mischievously, as attention shifted to Debashish, who shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

Hey, wicked! Then when they all looked at him expectantly, he revealed, there is a woman actually, that I love.

Anna yelled, you’ve never mentioned this to any of us! Who is she?

Well you never know I might be nursing an itch for my first love!
He winked wickedly at Anna who threw him a nasty look and stuck her tongue out…

Moving away from this nonsense, Deb continued, Riya, you know I just realised that I don’t have any of your paintings gracing my home. All of these guys do; hell I think Raoul’s office has two and their home has several. Same applies to Anna. I think it’s about time you gave me one, don’t you? So, you think you could come up with a masterpiece for my foyer?

Riya shot him a smile of undiluted happiness and got up to give him a hug. Of course. Infact I have had one in mind for ages, but was so afraid you didn’t like my work and thought it was very elitist or snobbish. That’s why I never suggested it! Infact I had got one for you last year, but after that fight we had….

Yes, that’s another thing. I think I behaved very rashly that day Riya. Truly it was very immature. I called you a snob but behaved like one myself! Forgive me? apologies. Water off a duck’s back! I’ve spent years with you guys. You think I’ll bear a grudge for something as silly as that? We all know that you had had more than two glasses of wine that day…it was too much for you to handle!

Raoul let out a whoop of delight at that. GO Riya!!!

Debashish shrugged in good humour and then to Riya, So now that we’ve buried that corpse. When should I expect my painting?

Oh! Well I have two waiting back in my apartment. I made them when I thought of you. I’ll call up and have my assistant send them across tomorrow itself. I’ll give him your address. They should reach by the time you are back home. Deb, I’m so glad you like my paintings after all.

As she hugged him again, Deb’s eyes met Anna’s, who too was smiling.

She had a feeling that Debashish wasn’t done for the night. There was something in his eyes.

He turned to her then, Speaking of my itch…

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a box. It was very obviously a diamond ring. So Anna, what say? I have an offer with an Ad-agency in Paris. Think you could live with me? It would have to be legal, of course. You know what bourgeoisie middle-class values I have. It makes perfect sense too – we are still single and not really seeing anyone. We don’t really want to retire with just a cat for company, do we?

Anahita shook her head. Deb, could you have sounded any more un-romantic?

Would you marry me, if I bring the stars down and add a dash of romance?

She smiled and stretched her hand out for the ring, No. I’d marry you anyway. Not because you are offering the stars, but because I do love you. Not the passionate way I loved Neel or the silly way I loved my professor. She looked at Raoul for a second before turning her attention to Debashish once again, but the steady, warm, permanent way that ever-lasting relationships are made of…

They had more to talk about, but that could wait until they were alone. For now they had to celebrate. Debashish slipped the ring onto her finger and kissed her hand tenderly, as a waiter brought in a tray of glasses filled with and discretely placed it on the table.

Zoya clinked her glass with a spoon, This calls for a toast, don’t you think so?

Raoul echoing her sentiments, added, To Deb and Anna!

Anna added, To All of Us!

To Our Circle Of Friendship!

To Life!

By Geetanjali Shrivastava

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

By Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Daffodils (1804)

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850)