Monday, September 26, 2005

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) - Selected Short Stories

Bengali poet, novelist, short-story writer, dramatist, painter, philospher and nationalist - Rabindranath Tagore is almost synonymous with the Indian Literature, being the first Indian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He is also known as the founder of the experimental school, Shanti Niketan, in which he tried to impart an education that was a blend of Indian and Western traditions. The school went on to become the Vishwa Bharati University in 1921.

His collection of verse, titled Geetanjali, Song Offerings, was hailed by W.B Yeats and André Gide, bringing him the much deserved attention from Western Critics and paving the way to his Nobel Prize.

I've read many of his poems, particularly from the collection Geetanjali and it won't take a genius to guess what motivated that choice ;-) I've also read a couple of plays. Recently I finished reading a volume of selected short stories.

Tagore, known best for having liberated Bengali literature from the shackles of traditional rules and models based on ancient Sanskrit literature, is said to have been greatly influenced by his contact with the "humble life and their small miseries" of the village folk he was in contact with, after taking up residence near the Padma river. His stories have a distinctive poetic lilt, poignantly capturing those elements of their lives, laced with a gentle irony at times. Most of them deal with life of the middle-class family man, and often with the position of the not-yet emancipated Bengali woman in a patriarchal society.

Despite his apparently supporting stance towards women, his stoires have a rather one-dimensional view of women classifying them under the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. Many of his stories seem to be attempting to lift the veil from the hypocrisies of Bengali (and thus, Indian) society, yet their rather simplistic and one-dimensional view, in my opinion, restricts the goal from being achieved. Yet, when I think of other short-stories I've read dating from the same era (or before) that attempt similar reforms in ways of thinking, I have to accept that the trend in short-story writing was rather simple and one-dimensional.

Another possible reason, for what I perceived as a rather soft-handed approach in exposing the evils of a class-ridde, superstitious society, is the fact I am reading a translated work, and it is a well-acknowledged fact that translation robs most, if not all, the essence of the original. You only need to compare the impact of Tagore's Amaar Sonaar Bangla in its original and in its translated English version to understand this - you don't need to understand Bangla to feel the difference in the rhythm, tempo and most importantly the soul of the song in its two version. (Having said that, let me add that I'm still glad to have access to the translation - and feel rather grouchy when denied access to such translations of other pieces of literature and thought in vernacular languages that I come across!)

Tagore's collection of short stories didn't exactly lift me to ecstacies of literary delight, but I'm glad to have finally read the volume that has been on my Must-Read list for as long as I can remember! I guess I can now move on to other such works on that ever-increasing list :-)

(You can read more about Tagore on Wikipedia Here's what Brittanica online has to say about him and what the Nobel society says about him. )

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

Lord of the Flies has been on my “To-Read” list ever since I first studied about it way back in FYBA…I went onto graduate, complete my Masters and a Diplome Superieur in French, before I finally picked it up. And once I did, I found it difficult to put it down unfinished. Deepak once remarked that it’s a book to be devoured in one go, a slim novel that has you engrossed in the twists and turns of its plot as soon as you have commenced reading it. With most books, it takes time to settle into the intricacies of the plot and familiarize yourself with the labyrinth of its plot – not so with this one. Golding didn’t have much time to waste with this slim novel and so he mesmerizes in the first page itself.

Golding had described the theme of the book as “an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” And so with Ralph, Piggy and Jack leading the way you enter the ravines of an isolated island where a plane carrying children has crashed. Left to survive on their own wits, the children choose their leader, divide themselves into groups (Biguns and Littluns, hunters, fire-protectors and so on) and struggle to survive on the island. Not surprising is the conflict between the strongest of them, the hunger and the eventual fight for power, that assumes greater importance once the initial charm of their adventure has flickered out.

The title, weaned from a Hebrew symbol for the Devil, and thus decay, demoralization, destruction, hysteria and panic, fits the theme perfectly. Apart from this symbol, the many allegories, in what seems at surface level an adventure story, reveal Golding’s supreme control over his form and matter.

Disturbing and terrifying at times, almost gruesome in certain portions, yet the novel is beautifully written and held me rapt till its climactic end.

Would I recommend it? Definitely – if it is already on your list, bump it up; if not, shove it in the top-ten!

P.S. My Penguin copy of the novel includes a critical note at the end, by E.L.Epstein that not only analyses the novel but also draws very interesting parallels with another classic “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. If you can lay your hands on that, then go for it.

Bluebeard's Egg - Margaret Atwood

Handmaid’s Tale was the first book by Margaret Atwood that I read, and as I posted in my review, I was a riveting work. As I resolutely put back a Peter Mayle and an André Gide I mentally crossed my prayers that I wouldn’t be disappointed by Bluebeard’s Egg. That this was a collection of short stories assured that I wouldn’t abandon the book mid-way, letting it languish uncompleted on my bookshelves because it failed to excite my literary palate.

I needn’t have worried, for I was hooked from the very first story and devoured the book quickly. The dozen short stories in the collection delivered in a distinctive Atwood style, captured my imagination, intellect (and yes, even feminist sensibility at times) with an easy élan. Themes ranged from childhood memories to the reality of the cruel adult world. Atwood successfully guides you along the journey of emotions that range from warm and nostalgic to faintly disturbing, from humorous to starkly horrifying.

As before, here is a random collection of excerpts from the collection, to tease your curiosity:-

“Some of these stories, it is understood are not to be passed onto my father, because they would upset him. It is well known that women can deal with this sort of thing better than men can. Men are not to be told anything they might find too painful; the secret depths of human nature, the sordid physicalities, might overwhelm or damage them…Men must be allowed to play in the sandbox of their choice, as happily as they can, without disturbance; otherwise they get cranky and won’t eat their dinners. There are all kinds of things that men are simply not equipped to understand, so why expect it of them?”

“She started out re-doing people’s closets, and has worked that up into her own interior design firm. She does the houses of the newly rich, those who lack ancestral furniture and the confidence to be shabby, and who wish their interiors to reflect a personal taste they do not in reality possess.

“What they want are mausoleums,” Marylynn says, “or hotels,” and she cheerfully supplies them. “Right down to the ash-trays. Imagine having someone else pick out your ash-trays for you.” ”

“Why an egg? From the night course in Comparative Folklore she took four years ago, she remembers that the egg can be a fertility symbol, or a necessary object in African spells, or something the word hatched out of. Maybe in this story it’s a symbol of virginity, and that why the wizard requires it unbloodied. Women with dirty eggs get murdered, those with clean ones get married” *

“Should civilization as we know it destroy itself, he informs us, ladling the gravy – as is likely, he adds – it will never be able to rebuild itself in its present form, since all available surface metals have long since been exhausted and the extraction of deeper ones is dependant upon metal technologies, which as you will remember, will have been demolished. There can never be another iron age, another bronze age; we will be stuck – if there is any we, which he doubts - with stone and bone, no good for aeroplanes and computers.”

The London Free Press says that this is “a book to be read and re-read, to be talked about and savoured.” I see no reason not to concur.

* Related reading to this statement, and ofcourse the Bluebeard fable - here

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie on Wikipedia

In his Defense of Poetry, Shelley emphasized the importance of the role of imagination in the discovery and direction of our lives. According to him, laws and conventions derived from ‘ethical science’ may be necessary for the conduct of ‘civil and domestic life’, but it the imagination that unlocks our full humanity.

At the end of the 20th century, many wars, revolutions and anathemas later, it is more evident than ever, that the active exercise of imagination is indispensable to the realization, establishment and defense of those values which define us and according to which we lead our lives. Salman Rushdie insists that the imagination, ‘the process by which we make pictures of the world…is one of the keys to our humanity.’

According to Rushdie, imagination liberates us from the crude ‘facts’ of history and may even absolve us from the unredeemed diary of our own lives. As a postmodern writer, Rushdie recognizes no unqualified fact or absolute fiction; the 2 categories overlap and leak into each other. To illustrate this, he quoted Graham Greene, in his Imaginary Homelands – ‘Novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.’

Midnight's Children won the Booker Prize the year I was born - and ever since I can remember it was an ambition of mine to read (and comprehend) the novel. Several aborted attempts later, I finally read it after having gotten a grip over the genre of magic realism. I also read The Moor's Last Sigh as a part of my masters course. Studying Rushdie is NOT easy. But it's also not boring. The palempsestic nature of his works, the constant blurring of boundaries between myth, fantasy and reality make it, if nothing else, an extremely interesting challenge. A sort of mental masturbation, if you prefer that analogy.

Ask me if I am a fan of Rushdie, and I'll most likely reply in the negative. Yet I can't refute his contribution to the literary world as we know it today. The fact that juries of literary prizes were inclined towards post-colonial authors in the 80s does not and can not belittle his achievement, nor can it belie the fact that his success turned the literary limelight towards India, in a way that even Tagore's Nobel Prize couldn't achieve. Let's face it, you can love him. You can hate him. But you can not ignore him. Naipaul with that gigantic chip on his shoulder, not to mention nose up in the air simply doesn't deserve the kind of warm embrace Indians extended towards him. Brilliant he is, but a bit too pompous for my liking.

And so I find myself rooting for Rushdie in the race towards the
Man Booker Prize 2005.

(Literary Trivia: In 2002 the Man Group became sponsor of the Booker Prize Foundation, and the prize is currently named the
Man Booker Prize for Fiction. It is in no way the same as the Man Booker International which was founded this year in U.S.A. and which will award outstanding literary achievement once in two years. )

Monday, June 27, 2005

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I don't want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together. I'm not sure where that is but I know what it is like. It's like Tiffany's. - Holly Golightly

Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's appeared in 1958, and is perhaps the most influential and well-known of hs works, second only to Cold Blood. Everybody knows about the film and Audrey Hepburn's brilliant interepretation of Holly Golightly - yet I've not yet seen the film. If what I've heard about the film is true, then this is one film I am now dying to own, for the book charmed me completely.

A short novel, it has been beautifully written with heart-warming characters that tend to linger in your memory long after you put the book down. The romantic notions of the narrator can't fail to appeal, nor can the nostalgic descriptions of New York in the 40s. Holly Golightly, a ground-breaking work in characterisation, is a woman who makes a holiday out of her life, treading through it lightly, breaking hearts as she flits from one scene to the other. Yet she can't be dismissed as a one-dimensional character. What makes her so lovable are the shades Capote has painted onto her personality - interestingly some contemporary critics even castigated Capote for sketching a character that was so obviously amoral and promiscuous. Despite that criticism Holly Golightly won hearts - and continues to do so! There is an interesting analysis of the book here.

The edition I picked up (Vintage International, 1993) also includes three of Capote's most famous short stories - House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory. Perhaps the most moving short stories I've read in a long time, they are wonderfully poignant, lyrical and beautiful. My favourite would have to be A Christmas Memory, the tale of a friendship that existed between a small boy and an old woman. It has a very strong flavour of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird - as does A Diamond Guitar, another tale of friendship.

As a last word, I quote Norman Mailer - "Truman Capote ... is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm. I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany’s which will become a small classic."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Bus Ride


Heat waves seemed to be rising from the tarmac as she made her way to the bus-stop. Weather reports on the Radio had said this was the hottest day that season and she couldn't help but agree. It had been excruciatingly hot the past few weeks, with no sign of relief but today the heat was simply unbearable. A droplet of sweat trickled its way from her scalp down her spine leaving an uncomfortably wet trail on her back. Her hair felt grimy and sticky and her clothes were sticking to her uncomfortably. She wiped her face and the back of her neck, for what seemed like the hundreth time that day and glanced down the road in vain. No bus in sight, just the road stretching out in front of her; all concrete with not a vestige of greenery. Praying fervently for a bus to come soon, she started pacing up and down, fanning herself with the day's Mid-Day. At least when she was in the bus and it was moving she would feel some breeze.

Fifteen interminable minutes later, no. 167, belching out thick dark carbon monoxide fumes, rolled to stop in front of her. It was packed like a tin of sardines with not much hope of getting a seat, but she consoled herself by thinking of the long shower she would take once back home. The bus would take her across the town to the apartment complex where she was sharing a two-bedroom unit with three other girls. Hanging on, she gingerly fished into her huge canvas bag for her wallet so she could pay for her ticket. As she tried to accomplish the juggling act and maintain her balance, a man got up and offered his seat to her. Smiling gratefully at him and murmuring a quick thanks she collapsed into the seat and waved at the conductor so he could come and give her the ticket.

The bus lurched to a stop and more people climbed in. A bunch of school kids from the municipality school who also travelled across town to attend school. She saw them daily on her way back home and marvelled at how cheerful and enthusiastic they seemed, despite their obvious poverty. Most of them were barefoot and wore clothes that were so old that they were almost threadbare at certain places. But they were all clean and when she asked them about what they studied, they happily told her all about the English miss and Maths sir. Today she didn't feel like talking to them. She was exhausted and her head was throbbing. She had been on her feet all day, running around getting work accomplished, with not even her usual hour-long lunch break. She had rolled her chapati and vegetables and hurriedly swallowed it, in between tasks. Leaning back she closed her eyes and before long she fell asleep.

He looked down at her and smiled to himself. He had been observing her for two months now. She was there in the bus everyday from Monday to Saturday at the same time. In the past few weeks, she seemed more tired and haggard and was always grateful to get a seat. He had offered her a seat several times before, but she never seemed to notice him. Today, she looked like she'd collapse if she didn't get a seat. Her thin cotton kurta was plastered to her body, making it easier for him to admire her full breasts today. As the bus turned around a corner, he swayed forward, his crotch brushing against her shoulder. He stiffened and tried to hold himself away, but when she didn't react, he looked down in surprise. She was fast asleep; her head had lolled down to the other side, her hands lay lax in her lap, loosely holding her ugly canvas bag. Her dupatta had slipped down and he could see the gentle curve of her breasts and her cleavage. She had a sexy body, this girl.

The bus turned around another corner, tires squealing in protest at the weight and speed they were being subjected to. This time when his body touched her, he didn't move away. Infact he moved closer and pressed his crotch harder against her shoulder. That felt good. For two months he had been looking at her, imagining how she'd feel against him and by the time she got down from the bus he would be in acute pain. It was a good thing he got down just two stops later and could rush home to find relief between his wife's legs. That fat, ugly bitch. She didn't know a thing about giving him pleasure. She just lay there inert while he grunted and shoved over her. He looked down at this girl's breasts and smiled again as his mind filled with erotic visions.


She woke up with a start when the lady next to her shook her. As she moved aside to let the woman pass, she noticed that the lady was pregnant. She looked up up to smile at her, instead she found herself looking into the beady eyes of the man who had offered her his seat. He had a wierd look in his eyes and his face was covered with a fine sheen of perspiration. When the pregnant lady had slid past her, the man gestured to her to move in. She slid down the seat so he could sit down. He slipped into the seat and relaxed back with his bag on his lap. He slipped one hand under his bag and spread his legs apart pressing them against hers.

Feeling a little uncomfortable she shrank further into the corner. Almost as if he took this as an invitation, he relaxed even more, spreading his legs further apart so his thighs continued to press against hers. He was smelling funny. When she asked him to move a little and give her some breathing space, he leered back at her with a smile, but didn't move much. Turning, she stared out of the window at the buildings, cow-sheds and fields that passed by.

A few minutes later, conscious of constant gaze she turned and looked at him. He was staring at her intently and that same wierd look was in his eyes. Thinking he must have been affected by the heat, she asked him if he was OK and if he would like some water. He just continued to stare. Feeling decidedly uncomfortable by now, she slipped her bag over her shoulder and got up, gesturing to him to be allowed space to move out. He didn't move, just stared back so she forced herself to move past him, conscious of his knees pressing against her thighs as she slipped out. Her kurta dragged over his legs and as she pulled it behind her quickly, she thought she felt something brush against her backside. She turned to look at him, only to turn away immediately because of the way he was staring at her.

As she walked down the length of the bus she shuddered mentally. She'd been taking this bus for two months now, and never had she come across such a wierd man. This was probably the kind of man her flatmates had warned her about when she had told them she'd be commuting to work everyday by bus. The bus screeched to a stop outside her apartment complex and she hurriedly climbed down. Crossing, she quickly made her way towards her apartment block. She couldn't wait to take that shower.
May '05

Saturday, April 30, 2005

One Sultry Summer Evening...

It was a sultry summer evening when the young girl emerged from her French class into the growing darkness of the city. Since she lived on the opposite corner of the city, rickshaws usually refused to go there unless she paid them double fare and public buses that she usually relied on, catered to the unsavoury sorts at that hour. So on days that she had classes in the evening, she usually had to ask either her father or brother to work a little late so one of them could pick her up on his way home. That day both of them were out of town, so she swallowed her pride and asked one of her nice-gentlemanly-sort-of-male-friends to do her a favour and drop her home...

Being the perfect gentleman, the man in question rose to the occasion and agreed to come to the rescue of this dainty damsel. He was there on time. Her professor, as usual, took his own sweet time in winding up the class, so she came out a few minutes late. The first one to leave the class she came out slightly out of breath from running down to meet him, feeling guilty about having made him wait. She shouldn't have bothered for she found him lounging on his powerful bike, admiring the pretty dames that emerged from the other class. Cheekily reminding him that he had a fiancee waiting for him in another city, she tapped him on his shoulder and gestured to him to start up his bike. Her friend grunted in response, revved his bike and then turned around slightly with one eyebrow cocked waiting for her to climb on behind him. Bracing herself with one hand on his shoulder, she swung one leg over his bike, and settled behind him, taking care to tuck in her gossamer fine white Lucknowi kurta underneath her, so it wouldn't get entangled in the bike's tyres.

The bike shot off like a rocket into the twilight zone. He took the longer route via the Cantonment, as he was prone to. This route allowed him to show off his skills on the bike, since it had wider, better laid roads and wasn't subject to heavy traffic. So he could zip from one side of the road to the other, revving his engine up when he wanted and letting it idly coast along the slope when he felt like that. Meanwhile, she leaned back in her seat and let herself get lost in the web of leaves that covered the roads like a canopy. She loved doing that. It filled her with a feeling of exhilaration and made her want to stretch out her arms and let the wind caress her body. She had to restrain from doing that, lest her friend promptly stop the bike and ask her to hop off. Apparently only he was allowed to indulge in histrionics of any sort! The stars twinkled back at her through the leaves and the breeze ruffled her hair into a tangled mess. She'd have to spend a long time brushing her hair out when she got home...

Lost in her own world, she was taken by surprise when her friend suddenly stopped in the middle of the road cursing heavily. She looked beyond him to see a road block and a traffic policeman steering all traffic through a gate stating "Defense Area. Trespassers shall be prosecuted." The policeman informed them that the bridge ahead was undergoing repair and so they would have to take this small deroute that would bring them out into the heart of the city. "Just one left turn and then one right turn, and you'll be out of this Defense locality." Her friend wanted to turn back and go via the main city. She reasoned that if he did so, they'd have a very long ride ahead of them and urged him to take the deroute. After all as the policeman said, it couldn't take them longer than a few minutes to get out of this region and back on their usual track!

Little did she know...the tiny lane that wound it's way through what seemed like a Research campus maintained by the Defense, stretched on for an eternity before finally showing them out into strange surroundings. Densely populated only by trees, there was no sign of human population for as far as they could see. Darkness had spread it's shroud over everything, and they peered into the inky blackness of the night trying to figure out what area of this was. The looked to the left, then right, but all they could see were trees. No sign of human inhabitation. He turned around and glared at her. "And what would the madam like me to do now?" Refusing to see any possible danger in the situation, she relied on her keen sense of direction and asked him to turn right...

They must have been riding down the long road that cut through the trees for nearly half an hour when they passed a bunch of old villagers. It looked like a funeral procession. "At this time? And why are there only old people in the procession?" she leaned forward and asked her friend. "Don't ask me," he shot back, "you were the one who wanted to come this way!" A little later they crossed some men lounging under a Banyan tree. Deciding to stop and ask for directions, they turned around and asked the men which direction was the main city. In response one of the men lurched over and asked her friend what he was doing with a pretty young girl in such an area, after sundown. He was reeking of alcohol. Before she could even understand the man's insinuation, her friend had revved up his engine and shot off again. She wondered if they should have turned back from that road block after all. As though he was reading her thoughts, her friend spoke up and told her in a terse note that this was reminding him of the time when he was driving down such a deserted area and a bunch of drunk hoodlums stopped his bike and beat him up. He turned his head slightly and added, "I was alone that time. This time I have you with me and I'm answerable to your parents..." A sudden vision of a bunch of drunk men beating up her friend, before turning to her, sent chills down her spine.

Surely this little deroute cum adventure to narrate at home wouldn't turn into something she'd regret for the rest of her life? Pulling her Bandhini dupatta tighter around her body, she squinted into the darkness looking desperately for some landmark that would guide them back to civilisation. She shut her eyes, praying fervently that they would approach civilisation soon. Someone up there must have heard her prayers, for suddenly her friend exclaimed in delight. A few metres ahead was a bridge beyond which there seemed to be a small village. As her friend made his way across a cobbled she cursed under her breath, for with every bump her back lightly hit the back of his bike. It was hurting her in the same spot as she'd hurt herself when she'd slipped down a flight of stairs five years ago. She'd have one hell of a sore back the next day.

As soon as the cobbled path got over, they stopped at a Paanwalla and asked him how to find their way back to the main city. He asked them to go straight ahead and turn right at the third crossing...10 minutes later, they saw a familiar building loom up at them! It was a church that lay in the Cantonment region. Had they not been derouted they would have crossed it just a few minutes after that road-block. Instead they had spent over an hour riding through unfamiliar territory, their imaginations subjected to all kinds of horrific incidences and their backs getting screwed on cobbled paths, that were definitely not made for two-wheeler traffic!

Half an hour later, he delivered her safely home, none the worse except for a slight bump on her penultimate vertrebra that would probably require a gentle massage and a heat-pad later that night. Exhausted, she trudged up to her house, while he turned back to make the long ride back, across town to his own pad....

April '05

Friday, April 08, 2005

Reaching for the Stars

(Bellowing out with all the strength in her lungs) HELLO!!!

(Aside) I seem to have mastered the art of becoming invisible. It took me several years to do this, but now that I’m there, its not nice being invisible. Why won’t anyone notice me?? Damn but you there, standing there with the smirk on your face...listen to me! YOU!!!
(Screeching with impatience) Guess there's no undoing it now is there. Invisibility sure sucks though...Christ what I wouldn’t do for a tad wee bit of visibility.... hey...I think that girl saw Hullo??? Yes, you in the red shirt...odd, she looks at me like she’s seen a ghost...a little inconsequential wisp of humanity-once-been. (Fades away into the crowd of humanity....)

Shaking herself consciously, she forced herself out of the reverie. She turned to sit by the wall, overlooking the horizon. But now, her back was turned resolutely to the waves breaking behind her on the beach. The sea – it represented a myriad of things to her. At daybreak, it held the promise of life. The motion of the waves crashing against rocks, on the beach, retreating, only to return again, represented the cyclic motion of life. She was a firm believer in “You reap what you sow”. It will always come back to you, so do unto others, as you would like them to do unto you. She repeated that often enough didn’t she?

At this hour, when the sun no longer shone on the water, making it glisten and shimmer as the light waves bounced off the waves, the sea held a dark, haunting quality. It was beautiful no doubt, but it no longer beckoned to her. Around her, her friends sighed at the beauty of the sea in moonlight. Not her. She was filled with a sense of emptiness. The sight of the blackness, stretching out endlessly, away from her, reminded her that life seemed to move away from her. It filled her with a loneliness that she couldn’t escape from. It made her feel empty. A hysterical laugh threatened to escape from her throat. She was beginning to think like one of those sappy women on those soaps she held in disdain.

She tried her best to restrain herself from treading that beaten path once again. But failed. Her thoughts seemed to have a mind of their own tonight. Before she knew it she was back…

Back in the classroom. Conversation swirled around her. Mrs. Sharma was late for English grammar II. The others were making the most of the free time – a paper plane flew across the class onto the lap of a girl. She heard the girls giggle over the new boy in Class IX-B. And she sunk in further, trying her best to blend into the woodwork, bent over book. A little nobody, she was good, but not good enough. She has potential, but not the drive to get what she wants. Hadn’t she heard that often enough?

Her friend shook her. She looked at her and smiled weakly. Sorry, I got lost there for a minute. Of course I was listening. The beauty just overwhelmed me…Liar, a voice inside her whispered. She ignored it, but she found herself growing increasingly listless. How many years had it been? She had worked so hard at not being noticed, at staying away from the glare of the spotlights, that no one paid any heed to her anymore. Well she’d gotten what she wanted. She no longer stuck out like a sore thumb. She had a reputation of being safe, dependable, efficient. But that’s it. She could be relied on to do the job, to finish it, but come up with a new idea? HER? All those years had conditioned her to stop just short of reaching for the stars. Today no one thought she wanted the stars – sensible people don’t have dreams do they?

She did. What did that make her? A dreamer? No, that wouldn’t do. She didn’t want to be a square peg trying to fit in a circular hole. Sensibility had always been her armour against the world. Stupid! To allow herself to look over her shoulder after all these years. The darkness was bound to try and drag her back.

Life moves on. The waves continue to come and break on the beach…and stars? They were just gaseous masses in the universe.

May 2003

Friday, March 18, 2005

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

“There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue.”

Thus begins the narrative of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a marvelously fantastic tale of far-away imaginary lands, full of allusions and sub-texts. At one level, it an adventure novel about Rashid, the story-teller and his son Haroun and how they find themselves in the city of Gup, where it is always light and from where originates to Ocean of Notions or all the stories we hear, at a time when the Ocean has been poisoned by their dark and evil neighbours, the Chup-wallas who live in the dark land of Chup. They have also kidnapped the princess Baatcheat, and so Haroun and Rashid find themselves embroiled in a rescue mission and battle to save both, Princess Baatcheat and the Ocean of Notions…

At another level, the novel can be read as a very witty retort to the forces of censorship that work to silence voices of dissent such as Rushdie’s. After he wrote The Satanic Verses (1988), the Ayatollah had placed a fatwah upon him, forcing him to adopt a life of seclusion and hiding. Rushdie broke out of the resultant writer’s block in 1990 with Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a children's book written as a means of explaining his situation to his son, largely through the use of allegory.

The numerous incidents in the story carry significant meanings depending on how you look at it – the page Blabbermouth, a girl in a man’s world is so obviously a comment on the increasing presence of women in previously male domain of work (remember we are talking about the late 80s and early 90s when this was still an emerging occurrence). The descriptions of the K country and the Dull Lake, seem to scream and drag our attention to Kashmir and its problems and the deterioration of the once beautiful Dal Lake.

Replete with such allusions and allegories, the book is a sheer delight to read – fantastic, cheeky, witty and brilliantly Rushdie, I’d so recommend it for everyone. If you know your ABCs and can read a novel, pick this one!

P.S I found interesting essays on the novel here, incase you feel like reading more about the novel! (ever the Literature student!) ;-)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

La Femme Fatale

Nicola let herself into her penthouse apartment and kicked the door shut behind her. Switching the lights on, as she walked down the length of the room, she kicked her high-heeled sandals off. With a flick of her wrist she flung the crimson red scarf that held back her hair, across the room. Floating lightly it came to rest on the back of her blood red couch. All the furniture in the room was the same blood red. Set against the stark black walls, it shocked the senses. The room enticed with its dark fury and passion and pulled you into its web of evilness. As the first strains of music filled the room, Nicola reached behind her and pulled down the zip of her dress. The black satin slithered down her body, revealing her lithe body covered with a light sheen of perspiration. Stretching herself with the sinuous grace of a cat, she walked down to the mahogany bar across the room and poured herself a glass of wine.

As the bouquet of the liquor filled her senses and warm liquid coated her throat, she closed her eyes and let the weight of her hair pull her head back. She smiled to herself and moved her body sensuously to the music. Her hand slid between her breasts, down to her navel and further down between her thighs. The music reached a crescendo and she snapped her head back up, opening her eyes. They were glittering with success and something else, something dark and mysterious. Her laughter filled the room and bounced off the walls. Reaching out for the bottle of wine, she twirled around and headed towards her bedroom.

Decadent in white, her bedroom was in stark contrast to the living room. Not a hint of colour could be perceived anywhere. Ignoring the four-poster bed covered with a white satin sheet, she moved towards the en-suite bathroom, and stepped straight into the shower. The sharp needles of water pounded her sensitized flesh mercilessly, but she liked it that way. It would soothe away that tender ache that racked her body right now. As she hung her head back letting the water run through her long hair, images from the past flashed in her mind.

A small one bedroom flat in a seedy locality. “Nikita Sharma, you’re next.” Innumerable auditions and waiting for the phone-calls. “I’m sorry we’ve already cast someone else.” Refusal after refusal finally forcing her to start accepting two-bit roles in small inconsequential productions. Endless days of tears and frustration. Auditioning for the leading role in Aurobindo Ghosh’s production – an adaptation of a Mahasweta Devi story. Limbs entwined, bodies covered with sweat, the air heavy with the aroma of scented candles, wine and sex. “You’re never going to make it baby.” Yet another failure. More wine and even more sex. Betrayal. Doors being shut in her face.

She turned around in the shower letting the water run down her face. “You’re never going to make it baby,” the words still haunted her, even though she was reigning supreme over the stage since the past three years. She had finally made her debut on stage in a Luciano Giliani production. It was an Indo-Italian venture. The leading woman with her enigmatic personality had captured the audience’s imagination immediately. There were hints of affairs with the leading man of the play, not to mention with the director. Her performances held them mesmerized. The play was a run-away success, and Nicola hadn’t looked back since then.

They knew her as Nicola. They called her Lady Nick. The feminine avatar of Old Nick – Nick the devil. She could reduce a man to a quivering mass of hormones ruled by his senses with a single slicing look of those sharp black eyes. All she had to do was set her eyes on the man and he was hers. “She’s had more lovers than I’ve had hot dinners,” was how they had introduced her in one talk-show. Lady Nick, they called her. Lady Nick, the home-breaker. You couldn’t cross her without regretting it. Lady Nick, they called her. Lady Nick, the ball breaker.

She was tired of that image now. Tired of performing night after night, on-stage, back-stage, off-stage. Tired of performing in bed and out of it. Tonight she’d finally signed the contract for a role that had been her dream for over five years now. Aurobindo Ghosh’s production – an adaptation of a Mahasweta Devi story. This, she had decided would be her last role. This was it. She’d retire from the stage after this one. The performance of her life, and it would be the last performance she gave.

Stepping out of the shower, she took a long deep swig from the bottle, and turned around to look at her naked body. She liked what she met her eyes. A drop of water rolled down from her shoulder over her breast down to her trim waist. Her long legs didn’t have a spare ounce of flesh on them and were perfectly formed. A lover had once said that having those legs wrapped around him, was all he needed to transport him to heaven. Cocking her head slightly, she raised her hand and smiled at her reflection. “The first day of the rest of your life. Congratulations Nicola!”


The next few months passed in a whirlwind of activities. There were innumerable read-meets at Aurobindo’s bachelor pad that he kept for such purposes. Often with the entire cast, but sometimes it was just Nicola and Aurobindo. It was obvious to everyone from the first day itself – the attraction between them was so strong, one could almost see the sparks flying. They were waiting with bated breath for Lady Nick to swing into action.

“Hi Nicola, it’s Auro here. Not disturbing you, am I?”
“Of course not darling, I was just lounging around. So tell me what can I do for you?”
“I called to discuss the scene in the forest. I think you should be wearing something in earthy tones in that scene. Should I get the designer to come in for the next session?”
“Earthy tones? Darling earthy tones don’t work for me. Black is my colour don’t you know that by now?”
“Nick, be reasonable. This isn’t your personal wardrobe we are discussing…”
“Can you see me in brown lingerie?”
“You won’t be wearing lingerie for that scene…”
“I asked you a question Auro. Answer it.”
“No I can’t,” Aurobindo replied after a nervous silence.
“Of course you can’t. It’s because I’m not wearing brown or anything earthy for that matter. Do you want to know what I’m wearing?”
There was a long silence. Aurobindo couldn’t get himself to say anything.
“I’m wearing a black peignoir. Black lace. Nothing else. You know there’s something undeniably sexy about walking around the house in black lingerie.”

It wasn’t long before Nicola started staying back after the rest of the cast left. Aurobindo would open a bottle of wine and two of them would argue over a section in the play that needed to be worked upon till late into the night. The battle would invariably move into the bedroom before they both left for their own apartments. Aurobindo, to his wife and children and Nicola to her pristine white bedroom, that had never been sullied by a lover’s presence.

Rehearsals started three months later at Prithvi, the hub of theatrical activity in Bombay. The who’s who of theatre was buzzing with rumours of Ghosh’s next production, not to mention his alleged affair with Lady Nick. Aurobindo wanted to keep it under the wraps, but that wasn’t how Nicola played the game.

“You had auditioned for this role before hadn’t you Nicola?”
“No I hadn’t. It was someone else. Someone named Nikita Sharma. She didn’t meet up to Aurobindo Ghosh’s standards.”
“What can you tell us about your role?”
“Hell hath no fury like a woman wronged…”
“We hear there’s a new man in your life Nicola…”
“You could hardly call him a new man…he’s been mine for a few months now. It’s almost time up for him darlings!”

“Nicola, these rumours are starting to create problems for me at home. You aren’t helping by going around making such statements”
She leaned down over him, letting her hair fall over his chest and ran a long nail down his body. “You know you have to let her go, don’t you?”
“Nicola, damn it stop that,” he caught hold of her wrist and pulled her around so she was facing him.
“Hmm…getting aggressive are we? I like that…”
“This isn’t a game Nick. We both know this isn’t love and you’re not in this for the long haul. So why are you trying to destroy my marriage?”
She smiled at him and moved back. Her peignoir slid down to the floor. Raising her leg she rested it on his thigh.
“I don’t like crowds Auro. And I don’t like sharing. It’s your choice…”
She turned around and walked into the bedroom, knowing he’d follow. He didn’t have a choice anymore.
A few days later he had the divorce papers drawn up. His wife hadn’t taken it well. She wanted full custody of the children and a sizeable alimony. Their flat would be hers. Aurobindo moved his belongings into his bachelor pad.

“Oh baby, you’re so good at this…don’t stop. Nicola? Nick?”
He looked around wildly to see her pulling on her clothes and walking out of the room.
“What’s wrong with you? You can’t leave me now – not like this…”
She looked down at him and smiled at him. “Watch me.”
She reveled in her power over him.
She enjoyed torturing him, playing with him till he could take no more, pushing him to the limit of his endurance, making him forget he wasn’t an animal.


Opening night. The play closed to a thunderous applause. The cast was called out thrice to take their bows. Nicola had a long queue of journalists waiting outside her dressing room. They had heard the rumour that she would be retiring from stage after this play.
“Nicola, are you planning to finally throw in the cards and settle down in life?”
“Surely you would continue to be a part of the theatre world once you’re married to Aurobindo Ghosh?”
“Nicola’s dashing debut as a director in a Ghosh’s production. Will that be the next headline?”

For the first time, Nicola didn’t reply to a single question, but walked past them into the car that was waiting for her. Tonight, for the first time, her house was being thrown open to people. She was throwing a party to celebrate the first night of the play.

The living room was crowded, people overflowing outside her house taking the party into the corridor, down the stairwell and the elevator. Everyone was in high spirits, alcohol flowing freely.
“Auro, where’s the hostess?”
“I have no idea. She said she had something to take care of before she came…just her way of ensuring she makes the grand entry even at her own party!”
“Not worried she’s found a replacement?”
He forced a smile as he tried to ignore the fact that he’d been wondering the same thing himself. “She can’t replace me buddy.”
“Looks like someone’s bubble is going to be hard to burst tonight!”
“Make that impossible…”
“I think you spoke too soon Auro. Look who just walked in…”

Aurobindo turned around. Nicola had just walked in with leading actor of the play. Clad in a black evening gown that left nothing to the imagination she had captured everyone’s attention the minute she walked in. As she moved, the material shifted against her skin and he knew instinctively that she was naked underneath. Just like she’d been the day she signed the contract for the play. Ignoring Aurobindo, she walked forward to congratulate the cast and crew for their success. Her presence filled the room taking the party to newer heights. Her laughter bounced off the walls as she threw herself into the party.

Tossing the remainder of his drink down his throat, Aurobindo poured himself another Scotch and turned around to look at her. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Nicola was dancing with her leading man, her body flush against his, one hand around his nape, the other somewhere between their bodies. As he looked at her, she raised her eyes and looked straight at him. Her mouth slid open to smile at him and then her tongue snaked out to circle around her partner’s ear.

Aurobindo closed his eyes in anguish. He should have seen this coming. She never stayed with any man, he knew that. They didn’t call her Lady Nick for nothing. Lady Nick, the home-breaker. He reached for the bottle of Scotch to pour himself another drink…

Hours later, the party had wrapped up. Nicola had just seen off her partner for the night. She shut the door behind him, kicked off her sandals and turned around to face Aurobindo. She walked up to him and looked down at him as he lay collapsed on the couch. He stared back with blood-shot eyes. Raising her leg, she ran her foot up his thigh, smiling when she saw him jerk in reaction.

“You’re never going to make it baby.” He squinted up at her confused.
“Come and get what you want,” she turned around and walked into the bedroom. Stunned, Aurobindo stared after her for a while, not sure if she’d just said what he’d heard.
“You don’t want me to start without you, do you?”

He scrambled off the couch and lurched towards the bedroom. She had goaded him all night with her glances and movements. Every time she had touched that other man, he had wanted to tear her clothes off and take her right there on the living room floor. And now she was letting him pay her back for the misery he’d put her through. She goaded him that night, like never before. She had pushed beyond his endurance and he took her without caring for the consequences, again and again till he collapsed in a drunken stupor.


The maid let herself in at 7am the next morning and immediately started picking up the remnants of the night’s party. She went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with a huge disposal bag and a broom. A few minutes later, she screamed and the broom fell unheeded from her hand. In front of her lay Nicola. She was dead. In the room, she found Aurobindo Ghosh. He was so drunk he didn’t understand what she was saying.

Aurobindo regained consciousness when a bucket of icy cold water was thrown into his face. He opened his eyes to find a police inspector standing in front of him.
“You will have to come with us for interrogation, sir,” the inspector informed Aurobindo. They had found a letter from Nicola, admitting that she was committing suicide after being subjected a physical torture by a jealous ex-lover.

Autopsy reports revealed that she had died of poisoning. Medical examination came up with evidence for forced intercourse and sodomy. The victim had been treated roughly. There were cuts and bruises all over her body. Aurobindo Ghosh had scratches and marks on him, proving that she had tried to fight him off. Semen found inside her matched the samples taken from him. Witnesses from the party reported that Nicola had publicly dumped him and had already moved on to a new lover. The leading actor of the play confirmed this. Aurobindo couldn’t remember a thing. The last thing he remembered was seeing Nicola’s tongue snake into the man’s ear. It was an open and shut case.

They knew her as Nicola. They called her Lady Nick. Lady Nick, the home-breaker. Lady Nick, the ball breaker.
March '05

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The River Inside Her

“Peace I ask of thee, o River
Peace, peace, peace
When I learn to live serenely
Cares will cease.
From the hills I gather courage
Visions of the days to be
Strength to lead and faith to follow
All are given unto me
Peace I ask of thee, o River
Peace, peace, peace.”

(Camp song – Poet unknown)

Everywhere she looked, vast expanses of rolling green countryside met her eyes, dotted at times with flocks of sheep or a clump of trees, but mostly a velvety green carpet that made her itch to reach out and run her hand on it. Occasionally she spotted a house or two nestled in the hills with their bright red-brick roofs, making her wonder about the people who stayed there, so far away from any conveniences and how they survived in the wilderness. It reminded her of the Arcadian stories of shepherds leading idyllic lives in the mountains, content with driving their flock of sheep every morning out into the mountains and back into their pens at sundown. But could someone really be content with living on cheese, bread and wine for a lifetime? What about the other necessities of life? Surely there was more to life than chasing some wooly creatures around the mountains? Or was there? Was her life more meaningful? Wasn’t she too, chasing something across the countryside?

She broke away from her reverie as the train started approaching flat lands. Within minutes the speeding ICE had entered a city – a quick consultation of the halts mentioned in her map of the train’s route across the country confirmed her suspicion that they were about to enter Frankfurt. Briefly she wondered if she should get down at Frankfurt for a quick visit of the city, then dismissed the thought as she spotted a row of factory-chimneys spewing out black smoke.

No, she wasn’t in the mood for that kind of a city today. Perhaps some other day. For now, her destination was decided. Besides, she had to get there by this evening or she’d lose the job. Ignorant of the admiring glances she was getting from the young man sitting across her, she smiled to herself and thought of how lucky she was to get this wonderful opportunity. This would be the best opportunity she’d gotten ever since she’d started working as an au-pair to finance her voyages across Europe. She’d worked and stayed with families in France, Spain, Italy and Germany in the last three years. She stayed with each family for six months, traveling around the neighbouring towns and villages during weekends, which she insisted were hers and hers alone. During the week, she spent her free time exploring the meandering lanes of the town she was living in, taking pleasure in discovering the quaint nooks and crannies of the city that were known only to the locals, picking up cultural nuances and the local dialects. She’d always been adept at picking up languages and had a fairly good grip over several European languages, so her time spent in these countries had merely polished her mastery of these languages.

“Nächste halte Mannheim.” She looked up startled and started putting away her Discman, book and remnants of the salad she’d picked up at the station in Braunschweig. She had lost track of time, so lost was she in her ruminations of her experiences in these last few years. Pulling down her navy-blue backpack from the overhead compartment, she shrugged it on, shaking her head in a polite but firm refusal when the young man offered to help her with it. Checking that she had taken all her belongings she made her way to the other end of the compartment where her steel-gray valise was stowed away, pulled it out, swinging her long braid back over her shoulder, and joined the queue of people who were waiting to get off at Mannheim. She had three minutes to make her way from platform 4, where this train would pull in, to platform 7, from where she was to catch her next change.

She made it just in time. The train was pulling in just as she stepped out of the elevator on platform 7. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight of the train, a quaint old train run on a coal-engine. This was going to be interesting. As the train trundled its way noisily out of Mannheim, she settled back in her seat. Being the shortest leg of her journey, not to mention the last leg, she decided not to attempt drowning the cacophony of the train with her Discman.

Her senses prickled in excitement as her destination grew closer. The Dortmunds had said they would meet her outside the Heidelberg Bahnhof Eurail counter. She pulled out the photograph they’d sent – their three year old daughter stared back defiantly at the camera, her thumb stuck in her mouth stubbornly despite what looked like a rather valiant attempt her by elder brother to pull it out of her mouth! Mentally crossing her fingers, she hoped they wouldn’t be too difficult to handle. So far she’d had only one troublesome charge – Maria-Jose had been a royal pain in the neck with her constant demands and daily tantrums. It had taken all her patience to keep from giving the girl the beating she deserved. Though she didn’t normally condone corporal punishment for children, this was one time she’d agreed with the adage of spare the rod, spoil the child.

“Wilkommen Fraulein Up-Upadhaya!”

“Upadhyaya. Rema-ni-ka Upadh-ya-ya. It’s wonderful to be here in Heidelberg.”

“We’re glad to have you here at long last! Come let’s go home. You must be tired after such a long journey. Allow me, “said Mr. Dortmund, reaching to take hold of her valise.

The Dortmunds had a swanking-new silver BMW, she discovered as they walked out into the autumn sun and made their way into the parking lot. They didn’t talk much, giving her time to absorb her new surroundings as she looked around taking in the huge billboards that adorned the tall steel and glass sky-scrapers. To one side the road sloped down and disappeared while the other way it curved upwards and joined a fly-over that snaked its way through the maze of concrete structures into the city. They stowed her luggage away in the boot of the car and settled in. The strains of Mozart filled the car as Mrs. Dortmund started it up.
“Mozart isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes, of course. We’d met in Salzburg during a recital of Mozart’s Orchestra,” answered Mrs. Dortmund. Mrs. Dortmund smiled at her in the rear-view mirror as she pulled out of the parking lot and turned towards the fly-over.

They were making their way through the city now. She knew already from their correspondence that they lived by the Neckar valley in a cottage nestled in the hills that overlooked the Altemarkt and the river. It was an elite locality, or so she gathered from her readings about the city and she was looking forward to staying there during her tenure with them. She looked out of the window, reading the road signs and the billboards as they sped past the commercial district of the city into the residential areas. The Dortmunds were nice so far, she thought to herself, mentally sighing in relief. Now for the kids – Gordon was six and had started school, but Anna was still in kindergarten.

Soon, they were crossing the river and going up a winding road. They pulled in to the driveway of a charming two-storeyed house with a bright red portico, sand-blasted brick walls and wooden lattice-work windows which had cheery curtains adorning them. She turned around to look at the valley below and stopped dead in her tracks, for the sight she beheld was breath-taking. The Neckar river that ran through the city wound its meandering way below her. It seemed busy on getting to its destination, gushing away below the bridge, ignoring the hustle-bustle around it. Across the river stretched out the old city, the Alte Markt and looming above all this was the Heidelberg Schloss that she’d heard so much about. With the sun beginning to set behind the castle, it was glowing softly in the dying rays of sunlight, looking down at the city in all its splendour.

“It’s beautiful”, she breathed in a hushed tone, afraid that if she spoke too loudly the magical web she found herself in would break.

“Yes it is. We never tire of the sight ourselves. Tomorrow you can go down to the market and walk up to the castle – it’s a breath-taking view from up there and the organized tour of the Schloss is an educating experience. But for now, let’s go in and get you settled in. Our children are waiting for you excitedly.” With that, Mr. Dortmund went around to the boot of the car and started pulling out her bags.

“Oh please allow me,” she said running over to help him. “It’s quite heavy. Besides I’m accustomed to carrying my luggage around!” She took hold of the backpack, allowing him to pull the valise up to the door and followed them in…

Four months later, she was walking by the river after dinner, as she was wont to. The last few months had been a very enriching experience. The Dortmund family had warmed up to her and she had soon developed a very close bond even with the children. She knew the streets of Heidelberg as well as the back of her hand, having spent hours exploring the city, had traveled extensively around the region and had even gone down to Bavaria during Christmas with the Dortmunds.

During the week, she spent her days helping Mrs. Dortmund with the children, teaching them when they returned from school and reading something from the vast family library. Evenings were usually free, for they ate early and then the children were put to bed. Mr. and Mrs. Dortmund usually had a drink in front of the fireplace, discussing the day’s events before retiring themselves. Sometimes she joined them, but usually, she went out. If she wasn’t at the Student’s Pub down in the city, she was walking by the river, like today, lost in her thoughts.

Lately, she’d been finding herself increasingly restless. Perhaps it was time to start looking out for a new position? Time to move on? She sighed, pulling her coat tighter around herself. It had become very cold in the last few months and today was particularly windy. Spotting an unoccupied bench she made her way towards it and sat down propping her face in her hands, staring gloomily into the depths of the inky river.

Her thoughts drifted back to December 1999. She had finished her studies and joined a prestigious school as an English teacher. With her flair for languages, the Head had soon asked her to take on French and German as well, having recently introduced the latter to the curriculum. It all seemed to be working out for her, but then she got a call from home. Her father was ill – Leukemia, the doctor informed her. He’d been suffering from it for over a year now and been on medication too. She felt betrayed. She’d visited her father in May, just before joining the school and he’d never mentioned a thing to her. Now he was on his death-bed, drifting in and out of delirium and had asked to see her. But she’d spoken to him just last week! He’d said he was down with viral fever, but he sounded fine! They told her that it had been rather sudden; he’d been admitted just two days back. The driver had brought him in early on Tuesday morning, after having discovered him unconscious in his bed. She’d applied for a leave and rushed back. Just in time, for her father slipped away barely two days after she reached Bombay. She had spent those two days by his bedside in an almost un-interrupted vigil, leaving only when she had to shower and change and timing that too, with the time the nurses came in to sponge him.

She’d moved away from home when she left for Delhi to pursue post-graduate studies in English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. B.Ed had followed and then this job in a residential school in Shimla. She had gone back just thrice since she left, for short trips of a fortnight, to spend some time with her father. His death left her devastated. He was, after all, her only family. Her mother, she’d been told, had passed away when she was just two. There were photographs of course, but she’d never been able to identify with the fair brunette with sparkling mischievous eyes.

Her mother hadn’t been an Indian citizen; she was of German origins and had come down to India for her research on the Aryan race. She had met Anirudh Upadhyaya at an Indo-German conference and it had been love at first sight for the dynamic German anthropologist. They’d never married, for Ulrike Wehle hadn’t believed in the institution. A bohemian at heart, she was fiercely independent and this was the first time she was attempting to sink roots anywhere.

So she’d been born as Remanika Wehle. Her name was a fusion of two cultures, to represent the love of her parents. Or so her father had told her. After her mother’s death, her father, had officially adopted her and brought her up with so much love that she never felt the absence of a mother. When she’d moved away to Delhi, he came at least once a month, scheduling unnecessary business meetings so he could check up on his daughter. And now, in the blink of an eye, he was gone, leaving her alone.

Tying up the few loose ends he’d left, took up nearly a month, during which she often wondered about her next step. One day, as she cleared away her father’s cupboard she came across a box of old photographs. It seemed they must have been her mother’s, for they weren’t photographs of Indians. She recognized the Brandenburg Gate in one of them and smiled as she remembered the time her father had taken her to meet her grandparents in Berlin. She’d been ten years old and that was the first time she was going to meet them. They were nice people, but they’d never understood their daughter and so they couldn’t relate to this man their daughter had chosen to live with, or this little girl with dark hair who stared back at them with her black eyes. She had exchanged postcards and Christmas greetings with them till they had passed away some years ago. And she’d never gone back.

In that instant, she knew what she wanted to do. She set about making inquiries and started surfing the Internet looking out for job opportunities. A week later she’d found what she was looking for – an agency in London offered to set-up arrangements for young women interested in working as au-pairs across Europe. She sent in her curriculum-vitae, knowing that with her qualifications and experience she stood a good chance. She wasn’t wrong. Barely two months later, she had resigned from her job, locked up the house, and left. Her first job had been in Germany, in Berlin. She’d spent six months there, tracing her origin. She visited the University where her mother had once studied and worked, traced and looked up old acquaintances, asked innumerable questions about her mother, traced the family genealogy and had gone to meet cousins. Her curiosity had been satiated, but she hadn’t really found what she was really looking for. At the end of six months, when the time came to renew her contract, she asked for a new placement. Somewhere far away from here, she requested. So they sent her to France, and then Spain and then Italy.

When her last contract was due for renewal she asked them if they’d send her to Germany again. Before she left for Heidelberg, she went back to visit the people she’d met and befriended in Berlin, some of them her cousins, with whom she’d stayed in touch these past few years. And then headed to this magical town about which she had heard so much from her father, who used to come here quite often for conferences or other work-related meetings. She’d been missing him more and more these past few days. Coming to Germany, had been a decision spurred on by her desire to know the mother she never knew. But when she didn’t find what she was looking for, she had fled, living a nomad’s life these past few years, moving every time she started sinking roots and forming close relationships. Feeling that odd sense of restlessness once again, she wondered where she would go next.

Sighing, she got up and started walking towards the bridge. It was quite late now, and there was hardly anyone out. Apart from a few cars she saw in the distance, she seemed to be the only person outside. Once on the bridge, her steps slowed down to almost a crawl. She always found herself lingering on the bridge. It had a magical feeling to it, often transporting her to a far-away land and time where she felt secure and protected. It was the same today. Leaning back on balustrade she looked up at the dark skies. It was cloudy night and she couldn’t spot any stars, so she indulged in her childhood game of guessing at the shapes the clouds formed. A few minutes later, she sighed in frustration, for it all just seemed like one big shapeless mass tonight. What was wrong with her today? Why couldn’t she escape this restlessness? Turning around she looked down into the river once again, wondering how people could possibly want to despoil the beauty of the river by jumping into it and ending their lives. How could they desecrate something of such deep and mysterious beauty, something that provided so much energy at time and calm at other times, with something as sacrilege as suicide? Surprised at this rather morbid turn of thoughts she shook herself and forced herself to turn around and start walking back towards home.

Home? She stopped dead in her tracks. Was that home? No. Not in this lifetime. Home could never be here. It could only be one place on this earth. But she’d fled from that place and never looked back even once in these past three years. But what was she fleeing from? From a lifetime of being loved? From her roots? She’d come here searching for her roots, for answers about her origins, but had she found any? Not really. She knew more about her mother and now had more friends and cousins to add to that postcard list, but nothing else. No real relationships. No feeling of belongingness. Just this aimless nomadic life. It was little wonder that she was feeling increasingly restless.

Perhaps it was time, after all to go home. Back where she belonged. Back to the house where she was brought up, the house with all the memories of growing up, of the tears over hurdles that once seemed insurmountable and the feelings of triumph at surmounting them. The house from where she’d left for many vacations with her father. The house into which she had always walked into knowing her father would be there. This time he wouldn’t. There would just be memories now. She had to learn to survive on those memories.

Yes, it was time to go home. Time to go back and sink those roots in. Time to start life again. To build new relationships and perhaps a family of her own. She turned and looked down in to the river one last time. As always it had helped her find answers and the peace that she was looking for. It was right then, that there is a river that flows inside everyone. A river never has any doubt -- it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn't want to go anywhere else. That’s what it makes it so peaceful. She knew now, where she was headed next. Back home.

Feb '05