Friday, December 17, 2004

Of Silver Linings and Rainbows

She kicked into the castle, smiling bitterly as it collapsed. Its walls breached, the waves rushed into its courtyards, flooding it, destroying its foundations. She stood there watching it dissolve…

“Anahita, jeez woman what’s gotten into you today? You can’t just get up and walk out on me in the middle of the conversation – that too, at Mocha! You know how bloody slow they are to reacting and producing the bill, don’t you? I was just beginning to think my instincts were wrong and that you’ve probably headed home and was just about to turn on my heels, when my eyes caught those ghastly ear-rings of yours twinkling away…that’s about the only colour you have on you today anyway! And what is this – why in god’s name did you go and kick that castle? Some kids probably spent hours building and fortifying it…imagine how disappointed they will be when they return tomorrow morning to see that it met with an unknown enemy and gave way to the onslaught of the waves?”

Anahita turned around, her eyes glistening with unshed tears, “That’s what happens when you try building castles without sinking foundations first and stabilizing them. A lesson learnt early in life will go a long way.” She laughed bitterly and turned away, starting to walk down the beach once again.

“Hey come on, chill out. Where’s my babe – the one who approached everything with enough joie de vivre to fill a room? Where’s all this cynical talk coming out of?” He reached for her hand, only to have it moved out of his reach. “Anna? Jaan, kya ho gaya? I thought after that sumptuous dinner polished off with your favourite Kahlua mousse cake, we’d head down to your place for that talk you’ve been pestering me for. I guess I’ll just have to hear it down here, won’t I?”

Her raucous laughter fell like brittle crystals on his ears. “Yeah right, we’d talk at my place alright. I haven’t spent the last decade of my life with you, without knowing what going back to my place after being fed like a pig being fatted for slaughter means. Talk! Ha! Right! And the cow just jumped over the moon didn’t it?”

“Anna, for chrissake you make it sound like some sordid coupling! What’s gotten into you? All this evening you’ve been taunting me and calling yourself a loser. Look, either I failed you or you failed yourself – you can’t have it both ways. I’m getting fed-up of this whole routine now – can we just cut through the bull and get down to what’s eating you?”

She turned on him her look slicing through him, making him cringe even before she opened her mouth. There was bleakness in that look, disguised by the anger that made her voice tremble as she spoke.

“So you want to know what’s eating me huh? Let’s start with unfulfilled ambitions. Rejection from all the Universities I applied to, despite the excellent grades in college and in masters, not to mention a 1380 GRE score. Having to teach uninterested college students a language they think is ‘cool’ only because they can use it to make the vernies look LS in the canteen, or perhaps to patao their latest crush, so that I can pay off the loans I took to fund my application fees. Having my thesis rejected by our esteemed University, because it was considered too radical…radical my foot. And to think I allowed myself to be persuaded not to report him for sexual harassment, out of fear that he’d wreck my academic career later. Like it helped…I should have reported him and requested for my guide to be changed. At least my self-respect would have still been intact.”

“Anna, hey, I thought it was all water under the bridge now – jaan, you can’t let yourself be bogged down such vermins. It is a bad world out there, but it’s not all bad. Come on cheer up. I mean look, you’ve got an envious job with Penguin Publishing now, working your way up…I’m sure it’s not going to be long before you’ll be occupying the position of…”

“I’m not finished yet,” she cut him mid-sentence. “That job sucks, and you know it. I’m not doing anything useful there. It’s a job, it pays. Enough for me to pay my rent and get me through the month. Fullstop. Job satisfaction? Accomplishment of goals? Not a hint of it.”

“It got you the contacts you needed to get your manuscript noticed didn’t it? There’s always a silver lining to every cloud…what is it you used to say? Apres le beau temps la pluie?”

“It’s apres la pluie, le beau temps. And I don’t see the silver lining or the rainbows. They rejected my manuscript. I got their letter today. Too many clichés, they said. And the characters weren’t real. No one likes happy endings any more. Nor happy people. Inject some sadness into your tale, and we might reconsider. Fuck them.”

“Anna, I’m sorry,” he made to reach out for her hand. “Look you can approach some other publishers…Penguin isn’t the only one in the market. There are others willing to support new talent…”

“Please! I don’t want any fake sympathy. You’d said pretty much the same thing when you read it – too happy for me jaan, but give it a shot if you wish. You’ve got nothing to lose. Well I did, and I have. I’ve lost the willpower to go on.

28 years of breathing, eating, digesting, shitting. That’s all I’ve done. Not a single accomplishment to boast of. Rien! Nada! Damn I couldn’t even manage to convince the guy who’s the center of my life, that I’m the one for him. He still needs time. The least I could have done is to win his heart…” She laughed sending a chill down his spine.

This time he did manage to get hold of her wrist, forcing her to turn around. “Stop talking like that. You have accomplished a lot. There are people out there who admire you, admire the way you’ve kept yourself going even after the rug was pulled out from under you, at your parent’s sudden unexpected death in the train crash 6 years back. You didn’t let that defeat picked up the pieces and built your life all over again. Single-handedly. Without an iota of help from your relatives or even from me. And what’s this about not winning my heart? I don’t dance at your isharas for nothing, jaan. I am yours. If I’ve been asking you to wait before we tie the knot, it’s only because I wanted to settle down in my own field, start climbing that corporate ladder, before I asked....”

“Let it be. I don’t want to hear the excuses anymore. There’s no point anymore...”

“What do you mean there’s no point? Anna, look at me damn it...what are you saying?” She shook her hand free and started to walk off. “Damn it, woman, I’m talking to you. Don’t you walk out on me again! You can’t let 10 years just go down the drain! Anna, damn it, stop!”

“Please, just leave me alone. I’ll find myself a rick and go home...don’t follow me. And don’t bother me. Please. Just do this one last thing for me...”

“Last thing...what the hell are you talking about? Look, go home right now, if you want. Sleep over it. You need to do that. We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll come around with some croissants and we’ll have breakfast together, ok?”

She didn’t reply. He wondered if she’d even heard him and stared helplessly at her back as walked away from him into the inky blackness of the night.

A year later, he walked down from the dais to a thundering applause. He’d just been telling an apt audience about his Anna, the love of his life, who had once filled life with the myriad colours of a rainbow and taught him to never give up. Of Silver Linings and Rainbows was a bestseller, winning critical acclaim all over the world. The publishers had milked the unfortunate early demise of the author for all it was worth and were smiling as the counters rang with each new purchase and fresh demands for the book poured in everyday.

An hour later, he stood at the shore, his right hand in his trouser pocket, staring out at the horizon, lost in his thoughts. His fingers wrapped around the hard, brittle object in his pocket, sending him back to that fateful night. The last time he’d seen his Anna. She’d walked out of his life that night. Never to return. The next morning when she didn’t answer to repeated calls and a continuous ringing of the doorbell, he’d had the door broken down. She wasn’t in the apartment. The bed hadn’t been slept in. His heart had frozen then and it hadn’t thawed since. He’d rushed to the police station to report her missing. “Kab se?” they asked. When he said he hadn’t seen her since last night, they laughed him away, telling him to come back after 24 hours. “Silly lovers tiff,” wasn’t that what they’d said? 24 hours later when he went back, they asked him to identify a body that had been washed ashore the previous morning. It was his Anna.

A month after her funeral Penguin India changed their mind about her manuscript. “It had a gripping tale. A story of unsung courage. A beacon of light in an otherwise bleak world. They would publish.” The author’s death in an unfortunate drowning accident, pushed the book to the fore. The readers’ curiosity was piqued. The first edition sold out within weeks. They hadn’t stopped printing since then. It had broken all records.

He pulled his hand out of his pocket and turned the object over in his hand. A 24 carat diamond caught the dying rays of the sun, flashing its brilliance, blinding him for a moment. For his Anna. He’d promised himself that the day he went down on his knees and asked her for her hand, he’d present her with nothing less. She deserved no less. Tears, unheeded, slid down his face. He should have never let her go that night. He should have pursued her. He should have...

What was the point now? It was too late. Anna had gone, leaving his life plain, colourless. It had been a year since he’d seen a rainbow after a shower. He turned the ring over in his hand once more, raised it to his lips, kissed it. “For you Anna. I’m not going to let you walk out on me in the next lifetime. It’s a promise...” With one last longing look at the twinkling diamond, he threw the ring into the sea.

Dec '04

Monday, December 06, 2004


"Hang your head Tom Dooley, Hang your head and cry,
You killed Poor Laura, Poor boy you’re bound to die."

The lines were stuck in her head like an unending refrain. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the words out of her mind. Hardly had it faded away, that it started all over again. Perhaps it was good that there was music in her head. It meant she still had the fighting spirit in her. She was still alive. And then, music had always been the essence of her being. It filled her heart with joy, spreading light in the dark corners of her soul, making her steps lighter, her eyes shine with suppressed glee, her mouth curve into the hint of a smile. Just as it did now.

"So he thought he had her beaten and subdued did he? Crushed her wings like he had crushed that fragile butterfly last week? He wished."

She’d spent her lifetime, dedicated to serving him. She met his every whim and fancy, toiled all day to keep his house clean so he could entertain his guests with pride and they could comment on his beautiful “home” and his good taste. Ironed his shirts, laundered his trousers, and ensured his tie was knotted perfectly for that important meeting with the German Chancellor. Gave him his vitamins every morning with the glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, poached eggs, bacon and warm toast, just the way he liked it. . Cooked and served him gourmet meals night after night. And then she lay back, like a dutiful handmaid, praying it would end quickly tonight. Praying fervently throughout that she’d conceive and get the excuse to avoid this nightly torture for at least a few months. But it didn’t. It went on and on and on…

It had been fifteen years now. Fifteen years of negating her identity and preserving his. Fifteen years of servitude. Of broken dreams. Of dissatisfaction. Of unfulfilled yearnings. She’d accepted it as her fate, plodding on listlessly through life, doing what he told her to do, dressing as he told her to dress, seeing the world through his eyes, seeing herself through his eyes. What had he said before he left for work today?

"Look at you. You look like a whore with that disheveled hair. You could have combed it back into your usual chignon. And those crimson lips? Didn’t you wipe that blood off, before doing the eggs?"

He left a few minutes later, leaving his breakfast unfinished. He’d grab a Subway on his way to work. The eggs were cold. And the toast was not crisp enough.

"I thought you’d have learnt by now. Such ineptitude won’t do. You better not screw up tonight. These people are important. I can’t have them thinking I married a useless bimbo who can’t even look good, leave alone prepare a decent meal."

She’d listened quietly, her head bowed down. Cleared up the remnants of breakfast after he left, then gone to wash the blood her face, rub some ice on her lips to reduce the swelling and improve her appearance before the maid came. He’d never beaten her before this. But then, she’d never refused him before this either. could she have agreed? What he had asked her to do…a cold chill ran down her spine as she remembered. Shaking her self, she shut her eyes and focused on emptying her mind of the pain. She was good at that.

She slid in her favourite CD into the Sony Music system and started wiping the Swarvoski crystals. After the maid left, she entered the kitchen, having planned the menu while she worked. Quickly removing the vegetables from the refrigerator, she started slicing the onions finely to prepare the gravy for the chicken. Chop, grind, mix, sauté…soon the aroma of spices filled the air. She reached over and switched on the exhaust, continuing to stir the Kheer with one hand, lifting the lid of the other saucepan to check if the gravy was ready.

As she chopped the coriander for the chutney to go with the Shaami Kebabs she planned to serve with the drinks, she remembered this song she’d heard a few years ago. It sang the tale of a woman, much like her, who worked without pay for thirty years, negating herself for him and his children, and then one day, she met him at the door with her bags. She had a job now. One, that paid more than the current job of being a wife. "He thinks he’ll keep her, wasn’t that the refrain? Perhaps she too, could…"

The acrid smell of spices burning wafted to her nose and she abandoned the coriander, running over to turn of the stove. The gravy had burnt a little while she was lost in her thoughts. She’d have to make it all over again. He wouldn’t leave her in peace if there was even a hint of the burnt smell in the gravy. She picked up the knife and began slicing the onions again…

"Hang your head Tom Dooley, Hang your head and cry,
You killed Poor Laura, Poor boy you’re bound to die.


Friday, December 03, 2004

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood, author of twenty-five books including fictions, poetry and essays, has written a classic that deserves to be placed next to Orwell’s 1984. Critics say it’s no less than Huxley’s Brave New World and Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, but since I’ve not read either of them, I can’t comment. (I tried reading the second since it was prescribed for the Novel Paper in MA-I, but I couldn’t get past the first 10 pages)

Coming to us in first-person, The Handmaid's Tale is an account of a handmaid’s life in the Republic of Gilead in the United States of America. Offred is handmaid to a Commander and her value is marked on the functioning of her ovaries. Handmaid’s according to this tale, were women who served the function of bearing children for the elite, those who’s wives could not conceive children themselves due to various reasons. They were, women who had not yet been married, or were second wives or mistresses, in the era before the Republic, now with no rights and no hope of any life. They go to a school, where they are trained to prepare for their lives as Handmaids, knowing that if they fail, they could face execution and hung at the “Wall” as a lesson to others, or shipped off to the Colonies, declared “Unwoman” where they would spend the remaining years of their lives, cleaning up junk, as the radiations from the nuclear waste slowly ate away at their system.

Offred lay down on their back once a month and prayed that the Commander would make her pregnant this time, so that she could give them what they wanted - a baby in this time of non-fertility and reproductive systems gone askew, when babies were dying in wombs before full-term or being born with numerous defects as a ramification of years of chemical pollution of the elements, nuclear warfare, and strain of mutable diseases that ran through the human system, a by-product of the “loose” sexual morals of the yester-years. Interpolated with flashbacks of her life before the Republic, when she lived with Luke and had a job of her own, an independent bank account and a lovely daughter whom she cherishes till this day, the novel is a horrifying and scathing account of a dystopia that could be.

Atwood, claims that “this is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions. For example, I explore a number of conservative opinions held by many – such as a woman’s place is in the home. And also certain feminist pronouncements – women prefer the company of other women, for example. Take these beliefs to their logical ends and see what happens.”

Powerful and gripping, I could feel a chilling sense of fear and menace grip me as I turned the pages to reach the denouement of the novel. This wasn’t magic realism, this wasn’t science-fiction; it was a warning to the human race, a warning against our excesses, a warning against the increasing use of nuclear warfare and chemical products, a warning against totalitarianism.

It’s a MUST READ!! (Thanks Madusa!)