This is My Life?

Daily PromptIf you could read a book containing all that has happened and will ever happen in your life, would you? If you choose to read it, you must read it cover to cover. 

“Excuse me, how much is this porcelain doll for?” I asked the ancient-looking shopkeeper with wizened eyes and a silver beard Santa Claus would be jealous of. Christmas being just around the corner I was stocking up presents for friends and family, and a rather quaint pink porcelain fairy doll in the window of an antique shop caught my fancy. I thought I would try to get it for my mother.

The shopkeeper, without even moving from his post behind the counter, pointed at the dusty label on the doll which proclaimed it’s price to be 50 rupees. A bargain by any estimate but being an astute shopper I thought I would try for more. The first rule of bargaining: don’t seem too interested in the object you are buying. So I set down the doll with a grim “hmm” to indicate my dissatisfaction with the price and looked around aimlessly. The shop was crammed with odds and ends: tarnished silver spoons, a dozen cracked mirrors (how many years of bad luck does that accrue to?) , dream catchers that have caught nothing but dust bunnies, porcelain dolls with frozen smiles and a few leather-bound books. Being the bookworm I am, I naturally graviated towards those, and froze in shock. The black leather bound book with golden edges, fifth from the right in the second row, very clearly proclaimed in its title my name in bold, engraved, and golden alphabets. A dozen possibilities ran through my mind, each more intriguing than the last: I had a namesake, who coincidentally, was also an author; I had travelled back from the future in a T.A.R.D.I.S. and this is a book I myself wrote; this was the book my parents read before they had me and named me after it. 

Intrigued and surprised I picked it up and was about to open it when a wrinkled old hand with surprising strength slammed it shut. I flinched back in shock. I was pretty sure I had left the old propreitor sitting behind the counter, at the other end of the store, only seconds ago. How on Earth did he creep up on me so fast?

“This is your book” he said. “This is your life”.

“What?” I said. 

“This book chronicles all that has happened to you in the past and that will happen to you in the future. It details your entire life. You can read it if you want, but you must read it cover to cover”.

A thousand things crossed my mind but what crossed my lips was, “It’s so short!”

The old man clicked his tongue, “Tsk, tsk! Such a typical comment of someone your age” (Why is it that grown-ups can’t say anything without making at least one comment about your age?) “You yourself are a writer of flash fiction. You should know better than to judge a story by its length”.

The idea that my life was similar to a flash fiction story written by me didn’t really reassure me. But I had more pressing concerns, like: “You read it?”

The shopkeeper shrugged, “It gets lonely around here”.

“Ohh…” I said because what else was there to be said.

“Can you give me some tips then? Anything I should look out for, a  lottery ticket number, the question paper of the final exams?” 

He fixed me with a stern glance, “That is against the rules. You must read for yourself, if you choose to…” He let his voice trail off meaningfully.

Oh man, did I want to read that book! So many questions that I wanted an answer for – did the guy I like like me back, would I get into the institute I was aiming for, would there be a Sherlock Season 4, so on and so forth. But there was also the realization that if I did I would never be able to unread it. And that meant No Surprises – Good or Bad, ever again in life, and how boring would such a life be!

So with a heavy heart I kept the book down and told the shopkeeper, “Thanks but no thanks”. He gave me a mysteriously knowing smile, which prompted me to add, “Wait…you already knew I wouldn’t read it! You read it!” 

“Maybe, maybe not” he said. “Now where were we on the porcelain doll? 45 is my final offer, and don’t pretend because I know you want it”.

There was little argument I could offer to that so I meekly paid the price, and left.

Just before the door closed, he called out, “By the way, I would look out for Komodo dragons if I were you”.

“Wait…what?” I tried to push the door open but it had locked itself behind me.

I don’t know if the man was bluffing or not but I think I will cancel my trip to Komodo in Indonesia, just in case….

A Fire in a Small Town

fire-roger-bultot

A fire in a small town is big news.

An incendiary blast of news and gossip. Who set it…an unattended fire…a gas leak…

It breaks the monotony of routine and shakes the town out of its slumber.

There has been so little to discuss, since the rape case ten years ago. The gossip had been unrelenting:

A young girl, wearing jeans, out alone at night without a male escort! She deserved it. Daughters like her taint the family name.

***

The newspapers would have a field day, she thought: Accused rapist burns to death. Police suspect arson. 

Word Count: 98

Prompt from Rochelle Wisoff-fields

An Unexpected Encounter: Flash Fiction

“Long time no see”, she said, fidgeting with her handkerchief, and then looking down at her painted red toe nails. “You never came to this side of town before”.
“I changed jobs”, he looked at the signal. Still persistently green. “You wouldn’t know”.
She flushed. “I meant to call, but I have been so busy lately…”
“You always were busy” he said. “Why you were hardly ever home!”
“You know I didn’t mean -”
“I know, I know. You didn’t mean to work on weekends; didn’t mean to  leave me stranded at the restaurant without even so much as an explanation; didn’t mean to cheat on me, but you did. You did!” He clenched his fists. “Anyway that’s all in the past now. Why bring it all up again?”
She passed a clumsy hand over her wet eyes, smudging her mascara, “Can’t you -”
“No”.
The light changed.

How I Came Across Harry Potter

Today’s Daily Prompt: Reader’s Block

What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without reading a book (since learning how to read, of course)? Which book was it that helped break the dry spell?

Now, this is what I call a tough prompt – I can’t remember the last time I did not have a few books lying around, except….maybe….uh, there’s a little spark of memory here —

I was in seventh grade, and had ‘overgrown’ Enid Blyton. Well overgrown isn’t the right word, but I had finished seven mystery series be her, three sets of school stories and thousands of short stories. I had read all the Nancy Drew novels in my local library, and was now in the painful dilemma of trying to decide what to read further. Needless to say, I had quite high standards.

This was when my mother suggested that I give the ultra-famous Harry Potter series by JK Rowling a try.

“I have been reading quite a few reviews of it in newspapers. Apparently children all over the world love it”.

I wasn’t really enthused, “Ma, you know I don’t like all that magical mumbo-jumbo. I never liked ghost and fairy stories. I want real stories, mysteries if possible!

But my mother was adamant, “People wouldn’t like it if there wasn’t something good in it. Read it. You might be surprised“.

I grudgingly agreed to borrow the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the library, but made sure to borrow a Nancy Drew mystery at the same time. Just in case!

The Book that changed me

The Book that changed me

While we were still on the bus, I flipped the book open, and started reading the first chapter – The Boy Who Lived

 I couldn’t put it down! The Nancy Drew mystery lay untouched, gathering dust, as I reveled in the magic of Rowling’s words. I was hooked. 

The next two weeks, I dragged my mother to the library every alternate day for the next part, and gobbled it up with as much enthusiasm as I had read the first book. I forgot everything else in the world….including my studies. So my dad laid down a ruling – NO MORE BOOKS TILL AFTER EXAMS. 

I was on the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the verdict destroyed me. I just had to find out what happened next! The suspense was agonizing. Voldemort was out there somewhere, and(*SPOILER ALERT*) Dumbledore was dead! There were seven horcruxes and they could be anywhere! Ginny and Harry had broken up, and stupid Ron still hadn’t kissed Hermione! I had to know what happened next.

But my parents remained firm.

That night I dreamt of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I kept trying to pick it up and read it, but it kept moving away from my reach; so tantalizingly close yet just an inch away.

DeathlyHallowsCover

I pounced on it and was about to read it — when I woke up, and found myself clutching my pillow.

I burst into tears, which melted my mother’s heart long enough to let her make a bargain with me – I could get the book, but I had to finish it in one day.

It wasn’t a bad bargain. The book was so engaging that I could barely put it down anyway! I stayed up the entire night reading it, and fell asleep with the book still in my hands.

With Harry Potter began my newfound love for the fantasy genre. Soon Chronicles of Narnia followed. Followed by Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Artemis Fowl, The Mediator Series and The Kane Chronicles. I remain an ardent fan till date, and all because:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

My Struggles With Brevity

I love to write.

I love to write a lot……Unfortunately.

I don’t remember how old I was when my mother, an English teacher, told me that I should always while writing answers in a literature paper take it for granted that the examiner knows nothing. Explain everything. Provide as much context as possible.

I don’t think even she realized the widespread repercussions her words would have, but since then my answers in the examinations, especially my literature paper, have just grown in size. The smallest answer I ever wrote for an English literature paper was three-quarters of an A4 size sheet! A close friend joked that if I had written the entire Shakespeare play verbatim in the answer sheet my answer would probably be shorter. It wasn’t even that big an exaggeration. For one exam, I remember taking 11 supplements or extra sheets, after finishing the initial 12-page booklet. I would probably have written more, but I was running a mild temperature  that day. The same friend joked, that next year our juniors could probably just bind my answer papers and read it instead of the textbook. It never hurt me however. In my final Literature exam at the end of high school, I wrote more than forty pages and scored 99 out of 100.

Verbosity has always been a loving friend to me. My essays in middle school used to be six-seven pages long, and I would only stop writing, once the final bell had rung, and my teacher had more often than not literally snatched the paper away from me. Writing till the last possible second is a habit I am yet to curb, during exams.

I remember one glorious day in tenth grade when all our lectures had been cancelled  due to some emergency teacher’s meeting, but unwilling to leave us all free for the rest of the day, our teacher had asked us to write a story on the topic ‘I wish I had wings…’ Unsurprisingly, no one in the class did…except me. When in the last period, our teacher came to collect the essays she found that no one had written anything, and the one who had was unwilling to give it. I had written ten pages, but I did not want to submit it yet. I told so to my teacher. Surprised, she urged me to tell her why. After a little pushing, I confessed that I had yet to finish my story….or to begin it one could also say. You see my plot was simple: a young village girl dreams of flying and on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus gifts her the ability to fly, and what she does after that. When my teacher came to collect the stories, I had only written till the part where she dreams of flying, and even Santa Claus’s grand entry was yet to be made. After I had explained this to my teacher, she was speechless for a second, and then groaned, “Archita, you shall be the death of me! Please, please don’t do something like this in your Board examination!” She was afraid I would waste so much time on that one question that I would not have enough time left to finish the rest of the paper. Despite her warning, my essay in my tenth board exams nearly reached twenty pages, but I made sure that I finished the rest of my paper beforehand. Yet this was the first time that I realized that as much as I loved my verbose style of writing with grandiose descriptions, brevity has its own charm.

Since then, I have trimmed my style a lot. I write my answers in bullet points, and try to be as concise as possible…at least in academic examinations. But at home with a pen and a sheet of blank paper in front of me – I run wild. My journals are filled with pages and pages of the day’s account in excruciatingly precise details (this year, I have already finished two 400 page journals. Last year, I used up 3 notebooks as my diaries). My ultimate dream is to write a diary entry so intricately detailed that when I open my journal, ten years from now, I can experience all that I am experienced a decade back with the same intensity that I felt then. Needless to say, I haven’t yet been successful in my attempt, but I am trying hard. I write in as much detail as Time and Memory would permit.

For me, words are the path to immortality. Maybe when I am 80 years old, I shall flip through the yellowed pages of my youth, and through the faded blue scribbles relive once again the forgotten past – laugh at the old jokes, chuckle at a daring prank, fondly remember forgotten friends, and for one moment someday the lines between the Past and the Present would blur. 

My verbosity is well known among my peer groups. My friends might tease me, but I am also pretty much in demand. Whenever someone has an important essay to write, they seek my advice. Sometimes before a literature exam, I have had to turn my phone off, so that I could ward off advice-seekers and study. For friends’ birthdays, I don’t have to waste a lot of time looking for the perfect gift. I usually give my friends a book (usually a personal favorite) with a personalized message inside. For some I might even write a poem, and those few scribbled lines alone often overshadow any extravagant gift anyone else might have bought 😛 On the last day of middle school, I was the one everyone wanted to have their slam books filled by. I remember, a girl with whom I had throughout my school life barely ever seen eye to eye with came up to me with her slam book, handed it to me, and said hesitatingly, “Write something good, ok?” 

Yet as much as I love verbosity, I do believe that brevity has its own utility. Sometimes the lesser you write, the better it is. I love reading and occasionally writing Flash Fiction.

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Earnest Hemingway’s six-word story, written as part of a bet, is according to me more poignant than dozens of thick volumes of tragedy taken together. It is one of my favourite works in literature. The story leaves you wanting more, like any good short story should. You yearn to know more about the individuals who published this notice, but you can’t, and that’s when your brain start filling in the blank space underneath the words. You imagine the pain, the angst of the dead child’s parents. You question yourself is the child really dead? Was it a miscarriage? An abortion? Was she kidnapped? You try to imagine the mother’s pain, the pale face of the father …and the story stays with you, because it has, through its brevity transcended the world of fiction and entered the sphere of reality.

Someday I would love to gain that much mastery over the elusive skill of brevity. But never at the cost of losing my verbose style!

Today’s Daily Prompt: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal          Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

A Love lost, a Love found?

It was just a photograph, yellowed with age, preserved carefully in a trunk that was never opened, with other broken dreams; preserved with care between her flowery pink journal, scribbled with blue ink, the voice of the broken dreams. A moment frozen in eternity, kept fresh by nostalgia.

It was all that took to set the waterworks running.

They both knew, right from the beginning, that it was never going to work. But they wanted a little more: some more time together, one more stolen kiss, one more moment of togetherness. 

Even today that is all her heart aches for.

One more moment in the green meadow, with the hills echoing with laughter.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi

Writing 101: Day 16

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.

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