Book Review: Teresa’s Man and Other Stories by Damodar Mauzo

Book Review of Teresa’s Man and Other Stories, written by Damodar Mauzo and translated by Xavier Cota now live on The Tales Pensieve 

A vibrant, yet subtle cover that matches the flavors in the book

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Not Really A Short Story: 20 Years Later

This should fall in the category of valentine’s day posts. But not quite Matru-Pitru posts.

 Anita’s Journal Entry, October 18, 2011. 11:30PM

Dear K,

Have you ever received a gift box, which is this big shiny box that opens up to reveal a smaller shiny box. When you open the second box with great anticipation, what you see is another box, almost as shiny, but a little smaller. Your curiosity gets the better of you. You open that one too. You see another. The process goes on for a while. You start tiring. But there is still that one more box left. Now, if you’re really the never tiring, always positive, and infinitely patient person, then you’d open this box with the same excitement as the previous one. But most people are spent by now. They just want to be done with the ordeal. Usually, they lose their excitement for this gift. The gift seems like a joke which has long since stopped being funny.

This marriage seems a lot like that. A promise that I don’t see being fulfilled. For tonight, we sleep, to wake another day.

 

Yours,

A

 

October 23, 2011: 7:30AM, Somewhere on Mumbai-Pune Expressway

 

“Can’t you drive any faster?”

Anita had always felt that the driver, Surinder, preferred driving at speeds befitting bicycles on a highway. Slow to the point of being illegal. Surinder, however, looked at the dashboard, reconfirmed that he was driving at 80, the mentioned speed limit on that signpost he’d just crossed, and continued to ignore madamji.

“I am telling you. Someday, I am going to ask him to stop and get down right in the middle of this highway, and drive myself. It will solve two problems at the same time.”

“Do it.”, Kishore knew he had made the wrong move.

“What?”

“Do it…”

“Do what?”

“Ask him to stop and get down. Then you can drive us to Pune.”

“You think I’m joking?”

“Naah. Never. My submission though is that it will help us reach at 12:30 instead of 12:45.”

“You go back to doing whatever you were doing. Tweeting. Facebooking. Whatever. Just go to hell.”

“…”

 

The song on radio at that time – Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai

 

“Saahab. Rukna hai? Cow-fee Day aane wala hai.”, crooned Surinder. Ah, that endearing stress on cow, the sweet smell of the cow-belt accent.

“Hmm…”

“Nahi. No Need. We are already late. And you should cut down on coffee. Tumhara weight mere marne ke baad hi kam hoga.”, madamji, oops, Anita was on a roll here.

(Nopes. No Need. We are already late. And you should cut down on coffee. You’re going to lose weight only after my death I suppose!)

“Ya shayad tab bhi nahi”. She added as an afterthought. The amusement on her face was irritating Kishore.

( Not even then, maybe.)

“Theek hai Manoj. Pune mein hi dhoondh lenge.” (Its OK Manoj, we will find something in Pune itself)

 

“By the way, what did you think of my Sari? Am I looking nice? Proper?”

“Hmm..”

“What hmmm?”

“Sari – good. Loking nice – yes. What do you mean by proper?”

“Arrey.. You know how it is. Riya’s in-laws are so nit-picking. They will keep discussing how I was looking long after we’ve left Pune. And this, when Riya is not even a family member.”

“Hmmm…”

“So?”

“So what?”

“Is it proper?”

“Ya ya. It is..”

“You don’t give me any compliments anymore?”

“You have never given me any compliment!”

“You don’t do anything worthwhile. You’re useless.”

 

I had gone back to tweeting about the traffic on the highway, the quality of the road, the ghats, the comparison between this expressway and the Yamuna expressway, and the latest political debate around the prime ministerial candidates.

 

The road signs had been announcing the latest property coming up in Lonavla, Aundh, Hinjewadi, Kalyani Nagar, Viman Nagar, Magarpatta, and what not. The colors and the words and the names changed. The message barely so. World-class townships or premium apartments or holiday homes.

 

“You know what? I think we should meet Anjali and her husband too”, Anjali’s said in a thoughtfully lost voice.

“Hmmm”

You think we will have time?

“I guess..”

“Should I call them?”

“Do you want to finalize it now? Or after we know whether we have the time to meet them or not?”

“See, this is what exactly happens? Now, we won’t commit to a plan. Then we won’t have a plan!”

“Arrey meri maa… All that I am saying is.. “

“I know what you are saying. No need to repeat. This has always been my problem. You just won’t plan anything.”

“… “

“Neither will you plan anything. And you won’t let me plan anything!”

“…”

“My life sucks.”

“What?”

“I want a vacation.”

“Sure. But where did that come from?”

“You won’t let me plan a vacation.”

“No… That’s not true.”

“So can I plan one for November?”

“November? Hmmm.. Let’s do it in the second half. I have a few important meetings in the first half of the month.”

“What dates?”

“Not sure. Will let you know?”

“See?? Again.. You won’t tell me the exact details. We will keep waiting. By then, the flights will be too expensive, or the hotel will be sold out or something or their mother will happen.”

“Calm down yaar”

“What calm down? Tell me. When was the last time we had a planned vacation?”

“3 months back?”

“That wasn’t a planned one. That was a break – yes. But not a planned vacation.”

“So what is a planned vacation?”

“At least one week, and with the plans firmly in place about what all we want to do”

“But..”

“I know what you’re going to say. But even if you don’t want to do anything, it’s still a part of the plan. The plan is that on day 1 we won’t do anything. We will lie down.”

“But..”

“And this is exactly what you’d do. Not let me plan a vacation.”

“…”

 

 

Kishore’s Journal, October 18, 2011,  11:00PM

Dear A,

 

I wonder where our relationship is headed. It’s like that box we often talk about. Twenty years of marriage, and I still fall in these traps. I hate these arguments.

We have long suspended our own plans to keep up with Zinger’s plans. Now that he is in a hostel, these traps are becoming more frequent. I know I should have seen today’s discussion going in this direction. My mind often switches off when you go in these ten minute ranting modes, the ones you call justified anger. Any attempt to revisit the discussion at a future stage would lead to further ranting (expressing disappointment) about how useless I am, and how this marriage was such a bad idea. So, let’s bury this one too.

I think we are at that point in our marriage. The fatigue seems too high and both of us don’t care about the apparently amazing choice we had made back then – of getting married. Ah. I just read all this again. Profoundness. I have found myself to be profound this time. Profound tumblr is just around the corner.

Yours,

K

 

 

October 23, 8:15 AM

 

“Acha suno. Khurana had called.”, Kishore broke the silence

“Who? That… “

“Tarneja Vs. Khurana”

“Tarneja Vs. Khurana”

We both completed the same thought and laughed heartily about that private joke which no one else found funny. Specially, Mr. TV Khurana or Mr. Luv Khurana, as his parents had named him.

“Why?”

“He’d be coming over tomorrow night.”

“Why?”

“Something he wants to discuss. “

“What?”

“Not sure. I think he just wants a break from his screwed up office life. Last three weeks have been a little nerve wrecking you know”

“Then why don’t you two go out. I don’t want to meet Mrs Khurana who knows the answer to every question”.

“She’s not so bad!”

“She’s worse! You go and meet them. Spare me the trouble.”

“Cmon yaar. They’ve been a lot of help.”

“I know. But I just can’t get to like them.”

“Ok. We will figure out something.”

 

Another five minutes of silence.

 

“Say something nice to me”.

“Like what?” Kishore dreaded this question. Like most men do. 

“I don’t know. Something? Anything?”

“Are… but like what?”

“See? Pehle to tum kuch dhoondh hi lete the.” (Earlier, you were always able to find something nice to say)

“Haan.. but purana repeat bhi to nahi kar sakte?” (True, but can’t even repeat the older ones, right?)

“To kuch naya socho. Something new.” (Then find something new!)

“Like?”

“Ditch it.”

“Ok.”

 

“By the way, the sari is actually looking very nice.”

“Thanks. I know.”

 

 

By then, both them had started feeling a little sleepy. The eyelids were happy, and the decision to not pick a cup of coffee on the highway was adding salt to the injury. Kishore hated getting up early.

 

Her head was already looking for a comfortable resting position so that she could sleep. It can be called an old habit, but it probably was also the most comfortable position.

“Suno..”

“Haan?”

She had put her head on Kishore’s shoulder by then. And was getting somewhat curled up in the back seat of the car.

“I love you.”

“Hmm.. Me too.”

His head was resting lazily on her head by then.

 

The song had changed by then – Thoda hai thode ki jaroorat hai

 

 

 

Anita’s Journal Entry, October 24, 2013, 11:00PM

 

Dear K,

Did I tell you this?

 

The tiny box might just be worth it. So, hang in there.

 

Yours,

A

Short Story: The Tousle

We’ve all seen them. The ones who keep playing with their hair. All the time.

He was one of them. He had the ability to tousle his own hair indefinitely. It was a never ending cycle. The slight tousle. And in about fifteen seconds, a four fingered swipe that pulled the hair mop back. With that a slight jerk of the neck to mark the conclusion of the process. Repeat again in fifteen seconds. Was the ritual irritable? Yes, to start with. Then it became as natural as someone sitting in the room. I had stopped noticing.

As I came to know him better, I understood it to be his reminder to himself. Of the one thing that people had told him many a times over the years – you’ve got beautiful hair dude. In an age where people have started balding earlier than average, hair treatment and transplant clinics have started doing more befores and afters than the weight loss clinics, Salman Khan has become bushier than he ever was, and Harsha Bhogle no longer looks like his cute balding self, having naturally beautiful, strong, bushy hair was God’s way of compensating him for everything else that was wrong with him.

He had deep rooted insecurities. About his abilities. About his success. About what he wanted to become but did not have the right tools, platform, resources to be. About every small thing that went wrong in a day in an average person’s life. And the tousle and swipe helped him deal with life.

When disturbed, he would tousle his hair a few extra times before stopping to pull them back with a fierce swipe. When happy, the neck jerk would stabilize at a 15 degree upward tilt, a sign of pride and happiness with the moment. When thinking, his fingers would alternate between tousling and swiping at slower speeds but at a higher frequency than the usual fifteen second intervals. A pattern for every season. A pattern for every emotion.

When he’d walk into an elevator, his first reaction would be to check if the elevator has a mirror, or a surface so shiny that he could see his reflection. Once spotted, he would first go through a series of double hand swipes, pulling his hair back and then smoothing them over. And he would then end it with a tiny tousling. This was to add the effect of a little side romance to a gory action movie. Just as a Jason Statham would blast an entire den of gun toting villains, and then amble to that damsel (not much in distress) and confess about his hard-on.

If this story were written by Harishankar Parsai, he would talk about the agony of that strand of hair that goes through an abuse worse than a not-so-rich girl in Delhi who has to travel around the city in a DTC bus because she is in a sales job. The constant touches, pokes, forced violations, even as she is sitting petite in a corner, the constant feeling of being checked out, the groping, the molesting, and then at the end of it, getting down with a feeling that she’s been done a favor by not being raped. He might even use the metaphor of a Devadasi, for she exists to please the believers. Or a goalkeeper, who has been given this duty to protect the team. Everyone else may do anything else. But when push comes to shove, the goalkeeper has to stop the ball. Get hit in the process. Stop endless attacks and still get up every time. The only difference would be that the goalkeeper asked for it.

Or, worse still, he could compare it to Rahul Gandhi. Having been made to believe for so many years that you are destined to become something, you lose sight of what you actually are, and start becoming the face of the existing. But the face is the face. The hair can never be the face. Or, a stop gap to compensate for the lack of personality or identity. He could compare the party cadre to the fingers that tousle and swipe this mop of hair and eventually expect it to look pretty to the outsider. And no doubt, there are a few that would not notice anything else but the hair, and assume that the person is as good as the hair itself. And maybe, then, expect Gurudev to write about where the head is without hair, into that future let my country rise. Maybe.

 

And it all might be true. But I digress.

 

I met him yesterday. He is thirty years old. He is bald. He had stage three leukemia. Detected five years back. The radiation therapy led to hair loss. I had tried to be by his side through the stages of treatment. He had been strong.

His hand still inadvertently reaches out for the tousle, and his face loses its smile when it finds nothing. I want to tell him that he is looking better now. A stronger version of himself. But I am not sure I would be able to explain.

 

 

*******

Book Review: The Love Letter and Other Stories

My review of The Love Letter and Other Stories, written by Buddhadev Bose and translated by Arunava Sinha, is live on The Tales Pensieve.

In short, its a fairly sensitive and poignant  set of short stories, well written and well translated.

Renewal

I had written this one for the Caferati readmeet which I could not go for due to some last minute thing that came up. So, I think I should post it here. The theme for this readmeet was going to be renewal

**********

It was the June of 2004, I think. We were having a chat at the Barista. The one on MG Road in Bangalore. It wasn’t a singularly profound conversation. We were discussing music from the era where Mohd. Rafi was at the peak of his prowess. His flawless voice, and the smooth turns his  voice could take from one song to another and within a particular composition, and that surge of emotion that only he could handle at those high notes. We both loved him. The world might be divided on whether Kishore Kumar was better than Mohammad Rafi, but at the least, the world is not divided on the greatness of Rafi. The discussion started with the song that was playing  in the background – mujhe dard-e-dil ka pata na tha (I knew not of the pain of love, why did you come into my life), mujhe aap kis liye mil gaye! We discussed many more, our favorites, the poetry, the rendition, the love and the tears. And we realized the common favorites in the process. “Aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai, mera dil machal gaya to mera kya kasoor hai”. A new light shines on your beautiful face, how am I at a fault, if my heart did a double take!

And yet, here, today, in 2012, as the end of world is near, we bump into each other. This time, in a crowded mall. R City Mall, it’s known as. Had we been in touch? I wonder. I know all about your vacations, and your son, and the work that’s made you travel from here to there, and the friends you’ve met. I also know about the Thai place where you were dining last week. And I am sure you are clued in about me as well. Though, I haven’t met you in these 8 years. There were those couple of conversations that we had. Yes. But what did we talk about? Guess some congratulations and some work. Do you remember what it was? I don’t. And my guess is the same as yours. That it must have been something really… really important.

We talk about a lot of things. And we talk about the noisy mall. And that we should meet again. At a quieter place. Because there’s much to catch up on. Much beyond the frivolously inane facebook, twitter and foursquare updates. Because we, as individuals, are still the same. It takes a while for us to talk about the real updates from our lives.

It’s at a mall that I visit almost every week. And so do you. And yet we have missed each other almost every time. Except this one. You know what I loved the most – the way the conversation started – “aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai!, we had said almost in a chorus.

******

Someone I met the other day shared a factoid with me – The median number of friends in the pre-facebook era was 4. In the post-facebook era, it’s “0 (zero)”.
There is a little something about Mumbai that you never take time out to appreciate.  You “bump “into your friends invariably at Phoenix Mills, NCPA, R-City Mall, Leopold, Bandstand, etc. The city localizes everything in small pockets, and has these nerve centers for everything. And in this process, this city increases the odds of your bumping into someone. Despite the city being so huge.

Your friends. An accident. A serendipity.

 

विरासत (Inheritance)

उसे अकेले चलने की आदत नहीं थी। मज़ा नहीं आता था ऐसी वाक में। हमेशा ऐसा लगता था मानो बैकग्राउंड में ज़ी हॉरर शो का वो भद्दा सा संगीत बज रहा हो। हॉरर देखने वालों की तादाद दो तरह की होती है। एक जिन्हें वो भूत, वो खून, वो डरावने चेहरे देखने में कुछ मज़ा सा आता है, और दुसरे वो, जिन्हें ये सब एक कॉमेडी की तरह लगता है। वैसे इन दोनों ही पक्षों को ये संगीत कॉमेडी ही लगता है। मगर उसके दिमाग में सुनसान से ज्यादा तन्हाई का संगीत जी हॉरर वाला ही होता था। उसने कभी विश्लेषण नहीं किया था की क्यों ऐसा होता है। ऐसा भी नहीं था की उसे जी हॉरर शो बहुत पसंद था। बस एक संयुक्त एहसास था। और कुछ भी नहीं। कम से कम दूसरों को तो ऐसा ही लगता था।

वो भी एक ऐसी ही रात थी। बैकग्राउंड म्यूजिक के साथ जब वो अकेले बस स्टॉप से अपने घर की तरफ आ रही थे, तो एक खौफ की तरह उसे कुछ पैरों की आहट अपने पीछे महसूस हुई। पलट कर देखने की जगह उसने अपने कदमो की रफ़्तार बढ़ा दी। लेकिन आहटों ने पीछा ना छोड़ा। कुछ देर तक तेज चलते हुए क़दमों से उसने अपना रोज़ का रास्ता बदलने की कोशिश की। आहटें फिर भी साथ थी। उसने सोचा की वो चिल्लाये। मगर किसे? और क्यों? कुछ हुआ तो था नहीं। और मानो की ये सब उसका वहम हो? बचपन से सब ने सिखाया था की अगर डर से आँखें मिलाओ और डर को तुम्हारा डर दिख जाए, तो डर तुम पर हावी होने लागता है। येही सोच कर उसने पीछे पलट कर ये देखना अभी तक जरूरी नहीं समझा था। और साथ में दो सामाजिक डर अलग से – अगर कोई पीछे हुआ ही नहीं, और मैंने शोर मचाया तो लोग क्या कहेंगे? और अगर कोई पीछे है भी और मान लो की वो कोई यहीं का रहने वाला हो और मैंने शोर मचाया  तो बिना मतलब की फजीहत।

अब वो हांफने लगी थी। अभी भी घर कम से कम 100 मीटर दूर था। रौशनी थी। और भी घरों में रौशनी थी। उसे यकीं था की अगर वो चिल्लाएगी तो कोई न कोई निचे उतर ही आएगा। मगर जितने देर में कोई नीचे आएगा, क्या वो काफी होगा? अगर कोई उसे अगवा कर के ले गया? और इससे भी सुनसान जगह एक लोहे के सरिये से जख्मी शरीर की तरह छोड़ गया? सेलफोन कम से कम हाथ में निकाल लेती हूँ। मगर चलते चलते पर्स को टटोलने में रफ़्तार धीमी पड़ने लगी। दर से उसने फिर अपने कदम तेज़ कर दिए।

इन रास्तों पर चलते हुए अब 15 साल हो गए थे। और अब तक वो सोचती आयी थी की शायद ज़िन्दगी इन्ही रास्तों पर कट जायेगी।

उसने अपने मन को सांत्वना देने के लिए कुछ बोलना चाहा। मगर सूखे हुए गले से कोई आवाज़ नहीं निकली।

शहर कभी भी सुरक्षित नहीं महसूस होता था उसे। मगर कभी इतना डरावना भी नहीं की शाम के अँधेरे में उसे साए दिखाए दें। वो कॉमेडी क्लब में थी। लेकिन गए कुछ अरसे से उसे हॉरर शो डरावने लगने लगे थे।

काम्प्लेक्स के दरवाज़े पर पहुँच कर, जब उसे बिल्डिंग के गार्ड्स दिखाई देने लगे तो उसने हिम्मत जोड़ी और पीछे मुड़ के देखा। वहां कोई नहीं था।

वहाँ अँधेरे में उसे छह हैवानों की दी हुई वो विरासत दिखी जिसकी हिफाज़त में मुल्क के सारे सियासतदान लगे हुए थे।

उसने पर्स से फ़ोन निकाल, और अपने विश्वास और हिम्मत के लिए उस लिफ़ाफ़े को फिर से छू कर देखा, जिसमे उसका भविष्य था। किसी और शहर की किसी और गली में।

Short Story: Ten Minutes

This short fiction is part of the marathon blogging challenge that I am a part of. Though I know that I have been off for a week, but I am back and back with lots. The road trip diaries shall be live by tomorrow and the movie reviews of The Hobbit, The Last Act and Hotel Transylvania are also coming in. Till then, read on and shred it to pieces. The underlined part is the common start given to the group. Cheers! And Helloww!!

********

I ran. Fast. Out of breath. Lungs bursting. Legs hitting the earth. I thudded up the path, around the corner, right up the stairs and reached the door. I flung it open and picked up the phone. It must have been a total of one missed call and six rings on the second, fifteen steps on the staircase leading to the room on the first floor, a city in summer and a temperature of 42 degrees, and an overweight person head over heels in love to achieve that exact state of affairs. My younger brother (bro, as he prefers) still could not get used to it. A panting, gasping me on the first floor of our duplex house. He had started calling the stairs “The Milkha Way”. Well, bros can be like that.

We had never been apart despite the age differences. We weren’t very similar either. In more ways than one can imagine. For instance, I was slim once upon a time. And he is slim at this very moment. I am overweight this moment of time, and he was obese once upon a time. And at least in my case, the obesity phenomenon had happened in the last three months that I had been in India (I am awesome at defending myself, by the way and he is not!). He is funny, I am bore. He is ubercool, and I am traditionally awkward. He has hobbies, and I have work. Anyway, I digress. He usually doesn’t.

I had picked the call (before the seventh ring, if you remember), and a tiny hello came out between gasps of breath. Or, gaps of breath as bro would refer to them later. It wasn’t the call I was expecting. The call lasted about 90 seconds. My role on the call was limited. I had to do the cellphone conversation equivalent of nodding my head. And so vigorously that the other person could feel it all the way from here. The alternate was to talk like my grandma. She always felt that a long distance call meant that you had to scream louder, just in case the voice does not reach the village std booth from where my chachaji must have been calling. The longer the distance, the louder she would talk. I chose nodding vigorously. Especially since I had nothing to say. For once, in the last six years, I had nothing to say.

I disconnected the call, and kept looking down for I don’t know how long, but bro could sense it. His typical response at these moments is the Budweiser Wazzapppppp, with me joining in chorus of course. “‘vrythin ok bro?”, is all he said.
“I need to use the laptop.”
“C’mon man. Intense warfare happening. Can you give me one more hour?”
“Now”
“You suck man!”
“…”
“‘aight. I get it bro. Gimme a min”.
“And just leave me alone for ten minutes, ok?”
“Ya. Whatever man!”

Those were the longest ten minutes of my life. I kept staring at the screen. I didn’t want to open the mail. But I knew I had to do it. Your past always catches up with you. For once, I looked at every key of the keyboard as I typed my password. It seemed to take longer than usual to open. And then it did not. “You have exhausted your free usage. Click here to add more to your data plan or continue browsing at 256kbps.” The message seemed like a sign from the heavens at that point. I smiled. A dry smile, if someone else were noticing me. And I continued with the paleontological era speed of 256kbps.
All I could think of as I typed my password again were the last things I had heard on the call – I need to hear back from you in the next ten minutes. Or… ”

I opened the email. I clicked open the dreaded attachment. Seven years of research and a decade of planning had come to naught.  I had to accept the revised funding terms within the next 10 minutes, or it would be assumed that I am not interested in continuing with this alternate arrangement.

I kept staring at the screen with such disbelief that my eyes could have popped and fallen into the next person’s glass of Martini. Assuming I was in a bar. But I was not. The mail was a very standard mail that everyone has read. More often than they realise. Or, at least more often than any other average email. I carefully checked the sender’s email id to ensure that the mail was from the highest authority in the field of astrophysics. These alternate sponsors were ready to offer me about 150 million dollars. It was only the last line that caught me with my pants down.

I quietly picked up the phone and dialled a different number. The person did not pick the call, as expected. I cursed under my breath. And typed a short response. However, I changed the replying email id to another alias. Coincidentally, it was the same as the sender’s.

Oh. And the last line of the mail was – “BAZINGA!”

 

*Inspired by the millions of spam mails offering more than a hundred million dollars on behalf of the Nigerian president.

* Bazinga –  made famous by Sheldon Cooper in the TV Sitcom – The Big Bang Theory.

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