Taste of Home: A Flash Fiction

Prison Guard, Stockholm. Public domain photo.

Standing on the bridge, Gaurav cast a long look at the white expanse of deserted snow and the snow-capped mountains. There was no movement to be seen. Not even a stray leopard or a jumping goat met his eyes. It was like the terrain itself had frozen. Somewhere across the snow-white horizon was Pakistan, but all was quiet on the border today.

His breaths rose like hot mist in front of his eyes. Guard duty at the military outpost on Siachen Glacier was a lonely job.

He looked at his watch – five more minutes before his turn ended, and the next soldier took over. Right at six his reliever arrived. “They are making malpua in the kitchens”, he said.

Gaurav hurriedly took off. Malpua was his favourite dessert. As he ran towards the mess hall he remembered how as a kid he would pester his mother to make it for him.

The mess hall was warm with hearty food and cheerful company. The cook slid a brown malpua glistening with golden syrup on his plate.

Gaurav took a bite and smiled to himself. He patted his pocket where lay the last letter from home: “…when you come home, we’ll find a  good match for you. Come home soon, son“. 

***

malpuaMalpua is an Indian dessert, similar to pancakes, and is eaten with syrup. It is one of my personal favourites. You can find the recipe here

Siachen Glacier is located in the northern part of Kashmir, between India and Pakistan, and the no-man’s-land of Siachen is 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level. Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire. Both countries agree on a need to demilitarise the glacier, but neither side wants to take the first step.(Source: HindustanTimes.com)

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Book Review: Ramayana The Game of Life – Shattered Dreams

Growing up in an Indian Hindu household, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, narrated to you since childhood by your mother and grandmother. As you grow up you further see the epics played out on the silver screen by TV actors in popular TV serials. Whether you ever pick up the epic or not, you end up with a vague idea about the plot.

How then is a modern-day English reinterpretation valid or even relevant, especially in face of other readily available  English translations?

Yes, it is relevant.

In his series ‘Ramayana The Game of Life‘ based and inspired by the epic, Subha Vilas has rewritten the incidents of the Ramayana in chronological order. What makes the book all the more charming and relevant in today’s society are the engaging little insights that Vilas provides to the epic. The reader is not left floundring in the dark, trying hard to glean the knowledge and wisdom inherent in the epic. Subha Vilas has interpreted every facet of the story in painstriking detail and written down his interpretations in small excerpts throughout the novel. The language is simple and easy to comprehend.

One of my favorite parts in the novel is when Sumantra summons Rama and Sita to Dasaratha’s chamber. He is going to banish Rama for fourteen years and Rama, the avataar of Vishnu, in his infinite knowledge already knows this. He looks at Sita and places a garland around her neck, symbolizing (according to Vilas) that in the future all he will be able to give her are forest flowers. Sita smiles at him, indicating that she would stay with him despite his change in fortunes.

What follows this charming incident is a small box note by Vilas listing out the importance of communication, even silent communication in a relationship.  In this way the book can also be seen as a Guidebook to Life, and since each such lesson is enshrined in a box, it is very easy to just flip the pages and read the short extracts, without having to read the entire novel each time.  Some of these are tenets on management and leadership, and bears relevance in even today’s corporate world.

Each page further has little footnotes explaining Sanskrit words or cultural traditions of that time. In this way, the book helpfully transfers the reader back to the era when the epic was originally written, and gives us a brilliant insight into the life and society of ancient India. Some of the footnotes also contain motivational expressions, not unlike the extracts I mentioned before. For instance when Dasaratha visits Kaikeyi and foolishly promises to give her anything she asks for, the footnote derides his decision and all such decisions made spontaneously and recklessly out of lust and without proper consideration.

The character development throughout the novel too is commendable. The book is about Rama but Vilas has not ignored the other characters in his life, who help and support him in all his decisions. One commendable aspect of the book is that it portrays Sita to be as important as Rama. She is his courageous companion who braves all difficulties to support her husband in his time of trouble. Lakshmana is shown to be a caring, devoted brother. Dasaratha’s love and pride in his sons too is well established. Even Bharata who only appears at the end of the book,  is shown as a dutiful and filial brother.

Let me now list out what I didn’t like about the book:

  1. This book doesn’t provide a modern day retelling of the Ramayana. There is little explanation provided for the more fantastical aspects of the epic. The narrative has stayed true to the original epic and sceptics like me might find parts of this book rather hard to digest.
  2. The dialogues are long, repetitive, overly-melodramatic and irksome at places.
  3. There is very little empathy between the characters and the readers. Subha Vilas has placed his characters on a divine pedestal, and readers are only meant to read about their actions, but not question them.

All in all, read this book if you are inclined to learn about ‘Ramayana’ or want a self-help/guide book rooted in Indian culture and mythology. Read it to learn, but not to discern. 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

A Dream From The Past

flashficShe takes a deep breath and inhales the salty wet smell of the ocean. The breeze lifts her hair and it flows behind her like a veil. She screams – a sound of pure, unrestrained joy! She is 18, and Life stretches in front of her like an ocean of promises. 

She is 42 looking at a faded photograph. The walls of her house in the suburbs suffocates her, like a caged canary, who forgot how to sing. In the photoframes on the mantelpiece she searches for an innocent, carefree teenager; eyes brimming with wistful dreams. She sees a dutiful wife and a doting mother. In the mirror she meets the disillusioned eyes of a middle-aged woman.

The king-sized bed with its satin duvet is too soft for her – she longs for the granular sandy ground under the nylon sleeping bag. In the sparkle of the chandelier she searches for the soft twinkles of the stars. In the ceiling-mosaic she looks for the white swirl of the clouds.

Her house has four bedrooms, but she longs for a blue four-seater van. She would happily forgo her walk-in closet for one black-and-red rucksack – her entire life for one more vacation with her friends. 

“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?” Abraham Verghese

This post is in response to the prompt on Mia Madison’s blog.

Talking about the Future on the School Bus

10320348_757120340986332_8630196627970622781_nHave you ever wondered why we only remember snippets of our memories? Like one precious moment in time we managed to catch just before it slipped away, and stored it in the treasure chest of our minds. It might be a little dusty with time, but the essence remains pure.

This is one such memory carefully preserved in my memory box – the details are a little dusty, but it is still cherished.

What do you want to be when you grow up? – the favourite question of every adult whom you met. Today we had just written a paragraph in class on what we wanted to be when we grew up, and the topic was still fresh in our minds. By we, I mean me and my two best friends – who for the sake of anonymity, I am calling S and M. 

“So” I asked, looking out of the school bus window, at the receding building, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” 

“You tell, first”, M demands, testing the waters, testing if it is a trick question.  We were only 4 years old. 

“I wanna be a doctor” I replied proudly. “Like my uncle. He stays in London”. I never knew which held more fascination for me – the profession or the distant land, synonymous with all the magical places I read about in books (maybe that is why when I finally visited the city, a few years ago I was vaguely a little disappointed). Whatever the case, that was the only career path I knew of and deemed fitting back then. 

Now, S followed, a little tentatively, “I wanna be a teacher”. We turn up our noses. Being a teacher is the worst thing you could want to be at that age. A teacher was a wooden ruler wielding monster back then, who mercilessly gave homework to students. “Not any teacher”, she is quick to defend. “A good one, like Rina Miss. I will help students. I will be kind and never shout at them”. This was, still understandable. Rina Miss was all of our favourite teacher. She was kind, and always took extra interest in the underdogs – those who were bullied in the playground, those who didn’t seem to have friends, those who had problems at home. She would call them and talk to them at length. Sometimes she would give us chocolates and small gifts like pencils or ball-point pens (a rare privilege allowed to kids). She would take interest in what books we read and what films we saw, and when another teacher scolded us, it was to she who wiped our tears. 

Now it was M’s turn. She proudly puffed up her chest – “I want to be a wife!” We broke into peals of laughter. Marriage only had two meanings for us – 

  1. A game to play with when we were playing with our dolls.
  2. An occasion where we had to go dressed up and would be served tasty food, and would have our cheeks pulled by a dozen people we never remembered meeting. 

Once we managed to resume seriousness, we gave some serious thought to the question. “You will have to leave your parents”, I said gravely. As a girl, that was the biggest obstacle to marriage, in my opinion.

“I won’t”, M said, confidently. “I will make my husband leave his house, and come to live with my parents. My mother said that long ago that is how it happened. Men left their houses after marriage to come, stay with their wives”. (I have thought of this strange piece of knowledge for long. I guess my friend had misunderstood, or maybe her mother was talking about matriarchal societies)

“That is such a nice tradition!” I said. “Why did they change it? Why did our mothers shift residence after marriage?” 

For a moment we ponder this incomprehensible question. This ridiculousness of our mothers. “My father has a nice house” S said, almost defensively. We all were quiet. We couldn’t really debate this topic, without debasing either one of our parents, so we left it.

“When we get married, we won’t be like our mothers” I decide. “We will bring our husbands to our home. I will never leave my family!” images (1)

More than fifteen years has passed since this conversation took place. None of us are married….yet. I am pursuing a journalism career. M is pursuing English majors, and S just cleared high school. Very little remains of that ignorance and confidence now. Back then, all insurmountable problems had a simple solution. Sometimes I wish I could view life as simplistically now too.

(This post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Futures Past)

 

 

 

Someone Special For Dinner….

Dinner-table1-728x546“Mom, I am getting a guest over for dinner” her son told her, as he left for work that morning. Her heart sang with joy.

As he ran down the stairs, she called after him, “Someone special?”

He paused for a moment, and seemed to ponder. Then without looking at her, said, “Maybe…yes”, and then with more conviction “Yes”.

She stood at the door, long after he was gone. Finally, finally her heart sang, and the very air seemed to echo the tender hopes of her heart. He was 32, long past the marriageable age of their community. She was tired of meeting the wives of his friends in the markets, often with little toddlers jumping beside them. Even the gossip had died down now. People had stopped halting her at family functions and weddings to tell her about that nice girl in their neighbourhood who would be just perfect for her bachelor son. She was tired of telling him to get married and settle down – first through subtle hints, and then outright arguments. He wasn’t interested, he wasn’t ready. What sort of answer was that! “I hadn’t been ready to marry your father. I had just finished my twelfth grade. No one asked me. In our time, your parents selected a match for you and you got married! That’s how it worked!”

That whole day she spent in preparation of the dinner. She sent the cook away, and prepared all the dishes on her own. As evening drew closer, she got out her cream chiffon sari she had last worn at her niece’s wedding, and the pearl earrings he had given her for her sixtieth birthday. She hummed as she stood in front of the mirror, straightening the creases in her sari, and combing her silver streaked hair. He was bringing someone special to dinner and all those ugly, vicious rumours would finally die down. When she first heard them she had wept and it was the first time they argued over ‘the marriage topic’. He had left without denying or accepting anything, and she had comforted herself with tears and fervent prayers, before finally realizing how unnecessary they were. Her son would never do something so sinful. The rumours were baseless, spread by jealousy and spite.

Just then the doorbell rang. A final look at the mirror, and she ran to open the door. Her son stood there…and beside him, there stood another man.

Generations collided, tradition and deeply-cherished knowledge clashed with motherly love – and change came knocking at her door, hand in hand with her son. 

Daily Prompt: Modern Family

28th February 2014: Somebody’s Mother

    The woman was old and ragged and gray
And bent with the chill of the Winter’s day.

The street was wet with a recent snow
And the woman’s feet were aged and slow.

She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, amid the throng

Of human beings who passed her by
Nor heeded the glance of her anxious eyes.

Down the street, with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of “school let out,”

Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow piled white and deep.

Past the woman so old and gray
Hastened the children on their way.

Nor offered a helping hand to her –
So meek, so timid, afraid to stir

Lest the carriage wheels or the horses’ feet
Should crowd her down in the slippery street.

At last came one of the merry troop,
The gayest laddie of all the group;

He paused beside her and whispered low,
“I’ll help you cross, if you wish to go.”

Her aged hand on his strong young arm
She placed, and so, without hurt or harm,

He guided the trembling feet along,
Proud that his own were firm and strong.

Then back again to his friends he went,
His young heart happy and well content.

“She’s somebody’s mother, boys, you know,
For all she’s aged and poor and slow,

“And I hope some fellow will lend a hand
To help my mother, you understand,

“If ever she’s poor and old and gray,
When her own dear boy is far away.”

And “somebody’s mother” bowed low her head
In her home that night, and the prayer she said

Was “God be kind to the noble boy,
Who is somebody’s son, and pride and joy!”

– ‘Somebody’ s Mother, Mary Dow Brine

I had read this poem in fourth grade, or maybe it was fifth – I don’t remember exactly when, but I remember being mesmerized by it. By the simple association that we should treat people with the same love and care as we would to our family members, because they are someone’s family. I always felt that world peace could be achieved quite easily if everyone was to believe in this simple principle. I am sure terrorists would think thrice before bombing innocent people if they considered the pain they would be inflicting upon the families of the bereaved! But maybe world peace is too big an aim. I would be happy applying it to my everyday life. I do try to.

Maybe that is why I gave my seat up to an elderly lady in the crowded train, in the hope that someday someone might do the same for my mother.

Writing A Blog….

writing-centerI will Write! I decided, and with great determination opened my computer. The ‘new post’ page loads and there is no sound in the room except the whirring of the ceiling fan, and the soft crackle of the newspapers in the wind – no sound, NONE – not even the fantastic one of brain gears clicking and churning to produce an idea, that blossoms into a story.

‘Text’ I click on the dialogue box, and a sterile white box opens – waiting, waiting for my words…..as I wait for them to come, to descend like invisible moths into my brain, and help me write. For I want to Write. But nothing comes, and in desperation I open up the daily prompt ‘Shake it Up‘ write about your birthday from when you were 12. Ah! what a nice idea! I will write on this.

I re-open the page. The white box stares at me expectantly. When I was 12 years old….nothing comes to mind, except the image of my mother, my mother in the kitchen cooking for us, my mother waking me up with kisses – my mother who is right now at a hospital, battling for life from hyperglycemia.

mother-and-daughter-1Writing for me is therapy, and so I want to Write, but nothing really comes to my mind. When I think of my 12th birthday, at present it is only my mother who comes to my mind, saturating all my memories, with a heavy sweetness. My taste buds yearn for the taste of the dishes she cooked for me on my birthday, all my birthdays – pulav, prawn curry and chilli chicken. And for desert – caramel pudding and rice kheer. Always! At every birthday, she would be the first person to get up and visit the temple to thank God and pray for my health. Then come back, wrap up my presents – and wake me up to her own rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. The whole day she would be busy in the kitchen, in the dreadful heat, cooking up dishes whose fragrance dragged me and my sister to the kitchen door, where we would linger, watching her work. My nostrils ache for that fragrance now. In the evening we would go to my grandmother’s house for dinner, and it would be late by the time we returned. I remember how on our way back I would put my head in her lap, drowsy and half nodding off, and watch from this position the vast blue sky above with twinkling stars, interspersed by tree leaves and street lamps, while she gently patted me to Dreamland – this image always evokes in my mind a sense of safety and security that I cannot find now. I long for it now. I long for the comfort of her hug, the warmth of her arms, the promise of hope and security in her kiss, that could in an instant cure anything – from bruises to heartbreaks. I remember her pushing me on the creaky old iron swing in the park, I remember her holding my hand tight in the crowded roads, I remember her patting me to sleep, and I remember her hugging me tight when I woke up in tears after a nightmare; and later when these nightmares became real in the form of school bullies and cruel taunts.

I want to write, but it is only my teardrops that fall on the keyboard – and they craft their own song of nostalgia, of undying love and of Hope.

Daily Prompt: Shake it Up