I read this post by Priya and Charles about India, and as an Indian, I found it answers a lot of questions I get asked about my country. My answers are pretty similar. So, if anybody is curious about the fascinating land that is my country, I invite you to read INDIA: WALKING INTO THE JET AGE
Like I said in my reading post yesterday on Amlokiblogs, life nowadays is like a baton race, and I’m terrified I’ll drop the baton, let things slip through the cracks, and generally make a mess. My blogs, of course, are the first to suffer in such cases, then my appearance, then my home, then my writing. In that order, in case the muse is cooperative.
Yesterday I got down about 1200 good words on a short story, but today promises to be a long day— I’ll be writing more in my head than on paper or computer. I’ll be spending most of it on my feet.
A quick bit of writing practice, in the meanwhile, based on the picture prompt:
Dona wonders why they never find out.
This girl sleeping in the afternoon on the sofa, for example, tired after her long train journey from Darjeeling to Mumbai. She sleeps wrapped in a red saree, a streak of vermillion in the parting of her hair, her small eyes closed, her face cradled in her left arm, her right arm dangling towards the floor, a dozen red glass bangles on her forearm. Her lips move as she dreams, of her new husband perhaps. She’ll never find out before it is too late.
Is it because this girl is from the northern hills of India, where stealing is considered the same as murder? Or because her poor family was too happy to marry her off to an army officer-on-leave, without bothering to verify he was who he said he was? Dona does not know. All she does is host these girls at her place, and pretend to be their sister-in-law.
He comes every few months, her ‘brother’ Bikram, bringing his new bride to stay with Dona for a few days before he can find better accommodation. He leaves to make arrangements.
Dona has a large flat in Mumbai’s Bandra district, but she never hosts the girls there. Her employers have given her a separate apartment, a small one, nothing fancy. Discreet. All she has to do is make the bride relax for a day or two, make sure there are no knives in the place, nothing that could be used in self-defence, because hill-women are a sturdy, brave lot, who would defend their honor.
Dona leaves the apartment at night, after lightly drugging the girl asleep so she would be able to walk but not resist, and passes the employers the keys. In the morning, the girl is gone, and Dona makes up the room the girl was in, locks the apartment, and goes back to her life, till a call from her employers begins the cycle again.
Lately though, in her dreams, some of her sisters-in-law chase her, in their hands the glinting scythes they used to gather the brushwood for their mothers’ kitchen fires. “You’re our sister, a hill-woman, and you betrayed us,” they wail, and Dona wakes up in shivers. No more girls, she resolves, no sisters-in-law.
But now there is this girl, sleeping, a little drool dripping from her mouth on the sofa. Dona gets up, walks to the kitchen, where the food delivery sits. Dinner for the girl. She opens a folded piece of paper from her jeans, takes out the white powder, but does not put it in. Let them take their chances with this one.
I’m not sure just who Sula is yet, but she has decided to make an appearance a second time now, after this post.
Sula looked down from her fifth storey balcony at the silver-webbed ripples making their steady way across the body of the swimming pool in the cool air of the morning, and exhaled. She had not smoked in so long the back of her throat burned a little every time she drew in, but she wanted to get back to her old ways.
Wild ways involving boys, men, dances all night, very little food and water, a lot of drugs and booze, migraines, dark lipstick, red-streaked hair, hangovers, piercings, fast cars, wind in her face. She wanted back those who-gives-a-shit-about-anything kind of days.
As Sula coughed and took another drag, she realized that she was no longer alone in the early tropical morning, the pool now rippled from the middle outwards. A tall man swam free-style in easy long strokes, and though he had swim-goggles on, he seemed to look up at her every time he passed her balcony. Colored tattoos floated on his back as he swam. Though all she could see were blobs, she imagined a dragon, its tail flicked to the left shoulder blade and two ships below each shoulder, forever sailing in a beige sea, their sails buffeted by high winds, sailing away from each other yet remaining the same distance apart.
She drank in the smoke and swallowed, never blowing out, a trick she had learnt decades ago, in her teens. She looked around to see if anyone else could see her, but no, the balcony in the new home she had moved into faced a green hill, and was not visible to the neighbors. No children or nannies in the playing area beyond the pool. No guards walking out to patrol the condominium, no laborers coming in to work on renovations. A myna warbled from somewhere within the foliage on the hill, and far out on the main road a few cars plied to and fro, making her think of the big city she had left behind.
As she leaned on the cold metal of the balcony railing, she thought she met the man’s eyes as he looked up mid-stroke from inside his swim-goggles. She wore no bra, having just woken from sleep, and it would be easy to lower the strap of her spaghetti, and flash a milk-white breast when the man looked up next. She could then hook her finger and ask him up, go back in and wait.
Her finger burnt and the tiny butt whirled down and fell on the pavement beside the swimming pool. She had let it burn too long. From inside her apartment, a small boy’s voice wailed, “Mommy, poo-poo, Mommy, Papa says hurry!” She ran inside, beating the air around her to shoo away the smell of smoke.
I wake up in the morning and the day lies stretched ahead of me like a gorgeous creature, waiting to be seduced. I forget the dreams of the night and indulge in those of the day, promise myself that today I would finish this project or that, I would write a notebook-ful of words.
I’m not sure what happens between the promise of morning and the utter despair that hits before I head towards the bed: no matter how much I try, I reach the end of the day empty-handed, or almost.
A small writer’s life is like a river, it brings a series of droughts and floods.
I’m waiting to become a Ganges or Yang-Tse or Misssisipi one day, so I can flood when necessary, but never dry up in drought.
For the moment, however, I could do with another flood.
Blog-friend and fello-blogger Rick Mobbs has put up painting prompts for me, and if you want to really appreciate them and his other work, do visit his blog.
After the last one I’ve been travelling and generally going crazy with life. But today, I had no excuse other than slow internet, so here goes.
(Rick, as usual, I’ve done a spur-of-the-moment thing, and beyond a cursory fact-check and spell check, this is pretty much scribble-practice. One of these days I’ll really hunker down and produce a long piece that does your painstaking work more justice. In fact, the character below is from one of my short stories set in an aquarium. The fish in your painting must have nudged him awake! Thanks again for being so generous with your excellent work.)
Quit swimming in the air, Kenny tells them, air is no place for fish.
But they refuse to listen.
During the day they forage amid the plants in their aquarium, driving him crazy most weeks because no sooner than he puts in a half-decent plant in their aquarium they set about ripping it apart. The Singapore Aquaria, set above the sparkling, man-made Sentosa beach, likes each of its aquariums to look as neat and well-groomed as Singapore parks, gardens, people and government. If Kenny, a Filipino, is to survive here he has to make sure the Blue Tialpia behave.
But the Tilapia do not know about the obsession for order that hovers about them.
Each moonlit night they rise from their aquarium, and before Kenny’s helpless eyes, they rise into the blue ether, taking their time.
Quit swimming in the air, come back here, Kenny orders them, or they’ll fire my ass.
The Yemaya will protect you, the Tilapia babble in a chorus, like precocious children. She is the mother of all us Orishas, the most powerful guardians of old, and of the lands, the rivers, and the ocean. She is our mother and yours, too.
I know who is my mother and she is back home sleeping in the Philippines, come back now or I’ll lose my job and she’ll starve, pleads Kenny, hiking up the pants that have slipped below his belly.
We’re the children of Yemaya, the now-faint fish voices rain down from the moonlit sky above the blue-black ocean, and the red-rimmed moon is our home. Our job is to send dreams and desire to all creation, mate day with night, turn up in the dreams of newly-weds on land and in the sea, multiply the children of Yemaya.
If you’re so powerful, why do you swim about like a bunch of common fish in an aquarium? Come back down, air is no place for fish.
If fish do not belong in air, do you belong in this country of another, cleaning muck where you could have planted fields back home?
Kenny has no answer. The Blue Tilapia rise and fade till he can see them no more, they go home.
The next morning, Kenny does the same.
Rick Mobbs has put up picture prompts for me, and it is my privilege to be able to write something based on them—I’m starting off today with his sketch.
I’m not sure how this will turn out, because I’m writing it down as it comes to me. I do hope you don’t hate it too much, Rick, and thank you so much for the honour.
Meet Anna Williams and her hats, everybody.
Once you wear your hat you’ve gotta keep it on, they tell Anna, you have to become a legend because that is why you were born. Everyone in your family has done it. We married into it, Annie-girl, we bought it, traded it, bred it, so just you go ahead up on the stage and spit it out, and no matter what they’ll recognize it, because we wrote it into your chromosomes, baby, just go ahead, all right? Keep your hat on and you’ll be okay, they say, and give her a shove.
That was ten years ago and now she walks tall, a hard-headed girl, wearing many hats, a singer, songwriter, seductress, dancer, actress, diva, designer. A legend in the making, they say, we told you Anna-darling, just listen to us , they say, just keep your hat on and you’ll do well.
Sometimes though, she wears all of the hats together, and that’s when she has the most fun, though neither them nor anyone else knows it. To shrill whistles and hoarse cat-calls, under flashing strobe lights, surrounded by stale perfume, cigar smoke, and beer fumes, Anna purls her much-insured body the color of midnight, that otherwise appears on screen in flashes, covered by iron-clad contracts.
She wears a mask as she twirls around the cold, hard pole, and her hats–one hat upon the other– a red hat with tassels, an oriental hat with ostrich feathers, a fedora, a top-hat, a blue balaclava, a wretched beanie embroidered with pearls, never letting any of them fall as she moves.
The elderly men in loosened, delirious ties do not know what awesome return-on-investment the cash they drop at the bar brings them. Anna Williams in the flesh, all of it on display.
Anna breathes in her freedom as she raises her leg strapped to stilettoes, she smells her abandonment in the upturn of her arms and the hardening of her nipples, in the bracing of her stomach she finds the strength of her spirit.
I have kept my hats on, Mom, Dad, I’m okay, Anna mutters under her breath as she whirls, eyes flaming. Glued to her head by the power of her will, her hats tilt, sway, but do not fall. Because once you wear a hat, baby, you better keep it on.
While writing from a picture prompt, the character speaks for itself, its gecko-like tenacity on display. The writer disappears, as does the writing, only the voice of the character remains.
I hate pink. Pink is a labial color and as everyone knows, I hate women. Correction, everyone does not know, not yet, because the She, the one who has created me, is scared to let me loose upon the world.
I’m born in her mind, not her womb, so I’m not sure what the She is scared of. Not as if I could step out from my world into hers, and create lies, murder, mayhem, blood splatters. I could do it in my world, but for that, my world needs to be made, a world that lives in words.
The She better make it, and soon, for her own good, because she does not know the rules of my world…the longer its germ is allowed to languish, the stronger it becomes , because darkness is its rightful realm. I am its ruler, so my strength grows with it each day. I now manage to break out some days, and shred the pink tissue the She uses to keep her handbags cosy, or make the She hate her best friend, because of that woman’s girlish ways.
The fact that you all can hear me means that the She has lost control: she better write me down, give me my world, my crime and my punishment or I swear I will possess her one of these days, and never let her go.
And if my threats don’t work, tell her, gentle reader, I do not hate the She, though she is a woman, tell her to give me my words, my world. I’ll go away, never return. Maybe.