Lalwant and Parents Who Ate Their Kids


What do you call parents who eat their own progeny?

They were busy protecting the little ones for a day, and then promptly ate them!

I’m talking about my black angelfish of course. Red eyes, black bodies, and the attitude of naughty puppies, they’re usually a laugh riot.

And if I’m not mistaken, Lalwant Singh, (the next-in-line after the dear departed Kartar Singh), is to blame!

Lalwant Singh has been doing his Betta thing, rushing at everything all fury and red fins. I’m not sure but maybe he remembers being nipped in his erstwhile home in the shop by a host of baby angelfish. (Why do they say, “memory of a fish”? Mine seem to have long, vengeful memories!) He went and spooked the first time parents, and killed my dream of tiny angel fry following their parents around the aquarium.

The next time they lay eggs, they will be shielded from Lalwant by some black film between the two aquariums.

Who said fish make boring pets?

Do not Resuscitate: Writing Prompt Fiction


An hourglass of death

Do Not Resuscitate: Writing prompt

9 pm and I got ready for the night shift, to relieve my brother who took care of Auntie Jane at the hospital all day.

I attacked my dinner of left-over casserole and salad, which was all Mum managed to rustle up after her day of chores and hours at the church. I knew it wasn’t the length of the prayers for her sister-in-law, but their nature that tired her.

But we had no choice on Auntie Jane, and we could not stop talking about it.

She won’t make it past tonight, you’ll see, said Uncle Josh, sprawled out on the sofa. He scratched the seat of his pants, took a swig of his beer. She looks terribly frail, John.

You never know, she’s getting enough fluids. You never can tell with cancer, said Dad, and our sister is tougher than a one-eared alley cat. But I hope something happens before we all go broke.

We can’t bring her here that’s for sure, no place for all those things hooked to her, said Uncle Josh, and my digs are a mess.

Do you have any idea how much it would cost to bring her home? And for nothing, rumbled Dad between drags.

He had taken to smoking cheap cigars which smelled like a combination of wet dishrags and stale tobacco. Everything in the house carried that stench, even the dog.

That’s Auntie Jane you’re talking about, I said, and left the table without waiting for a reply.

Before I left, Mum passed me a cross on a chain. It will make the end peaceful, she said.

I drove off, and through my tears I saw Auntie Jane as she was before, not shaven headed, not in a hospital gown, when her cheek had not sunk in, when her body was round and ripe, not a bundle of bones swimming in her skin. I saw her walking in the gate back from work, for the all years my brother and I stayed with her, because Mum and Dad could not afford to keep us. She smiled when she saw us at the doorstep.

I held on to the cross for the rest of the month.

One night when I reached her ward, Aunt Jane lay with her face towards the door. Her dull eyes peered at me from deep within the sockets, seemed to like what they saw. She smiled through her blackened lips. I smiled back, asked her how she was.

My brother hated my forced cheer, and loped off to his job at the railway yard without a word. In the few months at the hospital we exchanged dwindling greetings and smiles during the handovers. Now we simply looked at each other, and that was that.

That night Auntie Jane did not sleep at all. I want to go home, she said, take me home.

In the morning, Auntie, I told her, now try and sleep. She never remembered anything beyond five minutes anyway. I tried to follow my own advice, but that spoilt fruit and metallic smell of the poison they pumped into her to keep her alive would not let me relax.

That morning the doctor came on his rounds, and I made myself ask how long. Cannot say, he said, could be tomorrow, or another month.

We have our jobs, I said.

You could take a break, he said, we’ll make sure she’s comfortable.

I nodded and he passed me a form without a word. DNR, it said, Do Not Resuscitate.

I signed it, and gave it back to him.

I tucked the cross Mum had given me under Auntie Jane’s pillow, kissed her damp, musty forehead goodbye as she lay sleeping.

When my brother came in, I hugged him, and left.

Of Writing Blues, and Lalwant Singh


Some days you feel like giving up, like nothing is worth it any more. This happens in real life, as well as writing.

When this happens to me in writing, I have to bend down and pull myself up, lift the head from the toes, slowly peel it from my shins, coax it up my hips and stomach, catch it back when it rolls down again, uncurl it from its foetal position, slowly make it face the sun and make it see the light again, make it light up again.

Today is one such day.

Physical and mental exhaustion take their toll on the creative self, and the challenge is to create through the fog of tiredness, of frustration.

I’ve been uncurling myself since morning and now that I’m back in my study, the books on the shelves around me a sort of cocoon, I can unfurl myself and begin to write.

Someone very close to me said today that to me, my work is more important than everything..all else be damned.

Though I argued back, I know that on a day to day basis, this is true. The days I can paint with words inside my head or on the page, I feel I have lived, others are days wasted.

I do not know how it came to this, I do not know how I came to be a writer, not just in the worldly sense, but also in the deepest part of my inner world. Well, for better or for worse. We’ll see.

For those who have followed the life of Kartar Singh, I have news. His place has been taken by Lalwant Singh, a dark grey and red (who was getting his fins nipped by a host of baby angelfish, so I call buying him a ‘rescue’.) I guess I’m heartless.

Or a stupid masochist. Despite my last lesson, I’ve named this one again.

RIP Kartar Singh


Kartar Singh woke up this morning, did  his usual happy dance, broke his fast of the last 3 days, and made me very happy.

Then in the afternoon, I found him tail up, his head stuck in the pebbles, dead.

I know Kartar Singh was only a betta fish, but I feel his loss.

Time to resort to the lesson I learned the hard way : Sadness at death is proportional to the level of attachment.

Another one, a corollary, one I had forgotten: Never name a fish.

RIP, Kartar Singh. I’ll miss you.

Sini Sana: Travels in Malaysia


Travels in Malaysia : Sini Sana

SIni Sana: Travels in Malaysia

I have seen my name in print before, but this one is special because it was no long in the waiting: Sini Sana : Travels in Malaysia will be out in bookstores soon. It features one of my travel pieces, “Finding Zen at Tasik Kenyir” .

About the book:

“Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri …” Thus begins a Malay version of the proverb, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” Humble, perhaps, but never humdrum. Sini Sana: Travels in Malaysia features the very Malaysian journeys of a dozen writers who have managed to uncover hidden gems that may not all glitter like gold, but are still rare and precious finds.

A kopitiam (coffee shop) stopover yields an unexpected trip back through time, and a promise delivered too late. A foreigner’s visit to a pasar malam (night market) educates and overwhelms him at the same time. A bad call turns triumph into tribulation atop a storm-swept mountain ridge. A catch-your-own-lunch island holiday enlivened by dodgy old boats, crusty captains and run-ins with the island’s local residents. There are encounters with trees that come alive and a child seemingly possessed by a Hindu god. These are just some of the stories found in this collection.

From idyllic beaches, isolated jungles and ancient ruins, to sleepy hollows and small towns, these travellers’ tales chart a course back to a country we once knew—or thought we knew—and its ongoing metamorphosis into a place of our best hopes and sweetest dreams. Even after all this time, it’s actually possible to find the new within the familiar.

I have yet to hold the book in my hand, because it is on its way from Kuala lumpur, but I know I’ll be happy when I do get it.

I’ll always remember that the germ of this piece was a post on this very blog. I made the post private once I had submitted the piece and it was accepted,  so I cannot link it here, but it is one of the many reasons I’m thankful for this blog.

The other reasons are mostly you, the visitors, who have now become my blog friends. Thank you so much for reading, commenting and cheering me on as I stumble along on my little writing adventure.

Kartar Singh on Hunger Strike


Kartar Singh has stopped eating.

He swims up to me when I try to feed him, looks at the food, and then looks up at me with his beady eyes, as if to say, What, you think I’m going to eat this crap? You have another think coming!

Kartar Singh the beady Betta Fish

Betta Fish on Hunger strike

I’ve tried all kinds of food good for his kind, but he turns his tail at them, and flashes in indignation. The water parameters are fine so I can only try and imagine what is wrong with him.

I’m told Betta fish are moody, can go for days without food, and given my experience with thoroughly spoilt Bettas before, I’m holding on to that.

Or, our Kartar Singh has figured out the Gandhian way of protest, because the only change in his life so far has been the trip to my study desk... and now that he is back home in his own aquarium, he has taken to sulking behind the leaves.

He’s also ignored the mirror all of yesterday (beware the Betta who ignores the mirror, this indicates he means business). Maybe his charter of demands includes a room with a view of books, and the Singaporean skyline from the window.

I’m tempted to take a picture of the view from my study desk and paste it behind his aquarium. How would he know the difference? He is a fish, after all.

But something tells me that with a name like Kartar Singh, he might be on to me.

Of Soups


I was looking through soup recipes today, and went on to imagine how each would taste and smell, the thyme, the garlic, the meat rolling off the bone, the simmered fat, the pillowy potatoes, and why and how I cooked soup…because sometimes I did it for unusual reasons. Like the time I wrote about cooking soup just after my uncle lost his battle with cancer.

And in a coincidence, I read a Mother’s day story by a blog friend, all revolving around a mother making soup.

This reminded me of the time I had taken part in a Blogfeast: it was a Blogfest on Food...and I wrote this fiction excerpt, in which the soup takes centre stage:

———————-

She looked out from the pale intensity of her being, her face neither man nor woman, neither happy nor sad, neither silent nor yet unspeaking for her eyes said what her lips did not as she stirred the pot of soup. Her upper lip pursed over the lower, her square jaws tight on her unwrinkled but leathery face, she looked up from her pot at the wall behind me, and then back to her cooking. Her left hand wiped itself on her dull, tattered apron, and reached for the thyme she had chopped and left on the block of wood she used as a cutting board. With her right hand she stirred, never looking up, her short curly hair falling over her brow and her eyes, making of her gaze a secret thing, a secret also of her cooking.

Under the thyme, I could smell the chicken (I had spotted it running out in her backyard not two hours ago when I entered her hut slung on her shoulders,) which had now become simply flesh and bone, food, nourishment. It had lost its blood, been made to give up its feathers, and now lay simmering in her crock-pot, the water bathing its unfeeling skin, its fat melting slow and easy, mating with the salt and pepper. For a minute I forgot her, my rescuer, and focused on the chicken I could not see. I could imagine its bones, and I knew its marrows will do me good, force a bit of warmth into my muscles, expand my stomach, give it something to linger over other than its steady fare of water, dirt, and roots for the past weeks.

She had not spoken to me, the woman who bent into the river and fished me out, who murdered her chicken for my sake. I could see plenty of smoked fish she could have eaten, so I assumed the soup was in my honor, to work on me on the inside as the poultices and bandages joined and soothed on the outside. My bed of rags must be hers, for I could see none other in the room.
I watched her as she dropped potatoes and carrots into the pot, and they fell with soft swishes and plops. Still she did not look up and greet my eyes.

I wanted to read her look, but had to content myself with watching her as she dipped her finger in the pot, snatched it back to her lips, sucked it and added a pinch of salt with her right hand. Her lips became slack as she let go of her finger, and on her face spread the faraway look of a mother suckling her child, her jaws fell, and for an entire minute I watched her as she let the steam rise from the pot and dot her brows with shining beads, of mingled sweat and soup.
She did not feel my look, or ignored it if she did, for her eyes stayed inside the pot, as if she were cooking the soup from the heat of her eyes and her mind and not over a fire. I tried to speak, but my lips felt sealed with something like mud, and my arms  too weak to lift my hand, touch my own face. The afternoon light from the windows receded. Over the bubbling of the soup and the roar of the river in the gorge beneath her kitchen, I heard footfalls.
I felt too weak to react or move, so I did nothing to alert her. The soup had entered me through my nostrils and now played with each tendril of emotion in my being, toyed with nostalgia, and for a minute in the rising aroma of the chicken soup I could sense my mother, the woman who must have given birth to me, some time some place, and then left me for dead on the jungle floor. The door behind her opened with a sigh, and still my rescuer did not look up.