Thursday, February 16, 2023

Prerna Jain's new offering

 I have had the privilege of knowing Prerna Jain for a while now, and it is truly a privilege. Besides her great personal warmth and hospitality, she is a woman of many talents: an ace photographer, a very creative gardener, an artist, and an avid bird watcher. Confined to her daughter's home in England during the first lock down, Prerna explored a new medium, the short story. And hence this beautiful collection, Kahaaniyaan: Kuchch Aam, Kuchch Khaas. 

Although Hindi is my mother tongue, I am a lazy Hindi reader. However, this slim collection of seventeen short stories had me hooked. Each story is different, and yet deals with situations and characters that are familiar to the middle-class Indian woman. Domestic violence( Mainey Ussey Koot Diya), male double-speak and chauvinism (Kammkaaji Patni) , the sometimes extremely tenuous basis for a marriage proposal (Parkati), sexual molestation(Thhanda Sparsh and Thhappad), friendship and respect across social divides (Dahi Badey), changing gender roles across generations ( Aur Saancha Toot Gaya), gender discrimination within families (Meri Almaari), female bonding (Apni Apni Baari), communal tension (Imli), emotional blackmail (I Am Sorry) and so much more. Prerna paints scenes with her words, and the conversations between characters are natural and familiar. A wide gamut of relationships is depicted with sensitivity and skill. Her protagonists do not accept injustice, even if they do not fit the usual feisty feminist mould. Many of the male characters are sensitive and supportive, which is a reflection of social change across the past few decades. There are, of course, characters who are cruelly deceitful (Raaz). An eminently readable book depicting our contemporary social realities and the concomitant change in interpersonal relationships. Non-Hindi readers will be glad to know that an English translation will be available soon. Kudos to Books etc. for publishing this gem. (www.booksetcstore.com)

Looking forward to more of your writing, Prerna.



Monday, January 9, 2023

Mathangi's writing challenge, December 2022

 Last December's writing challenge

Five minutes of breathing in and breathing out: Everything that comes to mind.

Breathe In, Breathe Out
I want him to keep breathing. My favourite uncle, my late father’s first cousin, is in hospital for the past few days, with breathing issues. He’s over ninety. Only God knows how many breaths he has left, or any of us has left, for that matter. But I want him to keep breathing, to be there for me to visit and talk to, to share books with, to have his appreciation for my attempts at poetry and prose. Erudite, affectionate, compassionate, one of the most loving people I have ever had the good fortune to know. My pre-emptive grief is totally self-centred, I know, but that is what it is. Please get well, Uncle.
Daddy couldn’t get a bed in the hospital, and so we made sure he could breathe at home, with a nebulizer and oxygen cylinder. (He had had full time attendants for some months now, ever since my mother had fractured her hip). My mother had had a stroke, and was back home from the hospital with a tube through her nostril, immobile, silent, but holding tight with her good right hand, her eyes trying to follow me when I left the room. In her final few days, though, her stertorous, rasping breath was distressing to hear. I wasn’t at home, though, when she breathed her last: I was in the car, on a potholed lane not far from home, coming home after meeting a dear friend, when my sister called and told me that she was no more.
Daddy, in his final days, used to drink buttermilk and orange juice from small, single serve cartons, un-chilled, with a straw. His attendant was reluctant to leave his side, but I insisted that she go and have her dinner. Daddy asked for juice, and then for buttermilk, which I gave him. The woman came back to her post. I was changing for the night when she knocked at my bedroom door, in tears, telling me that he had left us. I still wonder, more than twelve years later, if he had needed that final sustenance for his last few breaths, or for the transition to another world, or was he merely completing his quota of earthly nutrition?
When my older son and his family came to stay in Delhi for most of 2018, one of the first things they had to do was purchase several air purifiers, given the horrific levels of air pollution that year. One was permanently kept at our house, for when our older granddaughter stayed over. Last winter, on the younger son’s insistence, I got the air purifier serviced and had the filter replaced. After two nights of use, it indicated that the filter needed cleaning. I tried washing it, but it didn’t work. I gave up. Winter is here again, and our son is trying his best to get his recalcitrant parents to get the air purifier serviced and use it. Will inertia win, or will common sense prevail?

5th December 2022

500 word piece telling us the news of the world in the tone of a favorite author.
The News of the World- 6th December, 2022
The news of the world today remains a farrago of disasters, demises, disappointments, with a smattering of honorificabilitudinitatibus.
Let me commence with the exemplary achievement of an intrepid six year old boy of Indian origin, Om Madan Garg. He became the youngest Singaporean to reach Everest Base Camp, after trekking for 65 km, over a period of ten days, accompanied by his progenitors.
According to the Secret Service in Washington, Chinese hackers have successfully appropriated millions of dollars of Covid relief funds. In the meantime, China has further eased its extremely stringent anti-virus controls, in the wake of increasing public protests, subsequent to a conflagration in late November, in which at least ten people shed their mortal coil.
The Oxford Dictionary chose, through an online poll, ‘goblin mode’ as word of the year. It is defined as ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations’. This term was first seen on Twitter in 2009, and gained popularity in 2022 as people around the globe emerged uncertainly from pandemic lockdowns.
Russia has renewed its air strikes against Ukraine, plunging parts of the country into freezing darkness. Kyiv claims that its air defences have limited the damage. The G7 countries have capped the price of Russian seaborne crude oil in order to punish Russia for the invasion of and continuing conflict with Ukraine.
Snollygosters are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which marks the beginning of the end of the secular India that we once knew. More sensitive souls are resorting to lalochezia to express their emotions, although they are fully aware of it not making an iota of difference to anybody at all. One wag on social media claims that the ‘disputed structure’ committed suicide, much in the same way that ‘No One Killed Jessica’, as no one was ever found guilty of the demolition, despite vast quanta of evidence of the destruction.
Our erstwhile colonizers are celebrating their victory over our neighbouring country, the one that many of our populace love to hate, in the first test match of the series, that was played in Rawalpindi. Ben Stokes and his men beat their opponents by 74 runs on the fifth day of a high scoring series opener.
The sporting world lost an iconic coach with the demise of the 91 year old Nick Bollettieri. He had coached many legends in the world of tennis, including Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, and Maria Sharapova. He was known for his acerbic manner and no-nonsense training methods.
Exit polls indicate that the ruling party is making a clean sweep in the Gujarat assembly polls, while they may be in a close contest with the Congress party in the Himachal Pradesh elections. Let’s see if there are any revelations when the actual outcome is revealed. Perhaps a great deal of perspicacity is not mandatory for an accurate prediction.


Day 3
A 500 word travelogue of any place/ space of choice that MUST employ all five senses.
Om Swasthiastu
Bali had been on my spouse's Bucket list for several years. This lazy traveller let him plan our weeklong itinerary, merely overhearing the words Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud and Nusa Dua, as he spoke to the travel agent.
On this trip, we discovered that Vietjet had a special class of air travel: sardine class. Never again, we swore to ourselves. We rushed to catch the connecting flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Denpasar. The view from the plane, as we approached Bali, was magical: a coastline of green and brown, with a deep grey sea. The Denpasar arrival hall was exquisite, with statues that seemed to be carved out of ice, and beautiful pillars which looked like woven cane. We obtained our visas, and then discovered that our luggage was arriving three hours later, on the next flight, and so we bought chocolates and Pringles and bottled water from duty-free, our first nourishment in Bali, and sat and waited. Luggage acquired, we stepped out and were received by the travel company’s agent. Our villa was about half an hour away. It was lovely, with a private swimming pool, surrounded by frangipani trees, bearing pink and yellow flowers, such a gentle fragrance. I luxuriated in that silken water.
A glass bottomed boat ride to Turtle Island. Corals and shoals of fish. Wading through sandy, stony water. Holding turtles: large and cool to touch. A visit to a temple on the shore, with a gentle young guide. The sea and the rocks and the ancient stone. There were many temples across the city, ancient looking stone, with fascinating gateways: the inner side smooth, the outer side carved and chunky at the base, open at the top. Offerings outside every home and shop for both the good spirits (at a higher level) and the bad spirits (on the ground). The acknowledgement of both good and evil in the black and white checked cloth wrapped around many statues. The huge Hindu mythological statuary at a few roundabouts. The strangeness of no one being allowed to enter the temples, except the priests, on most days. The coffee plantation where we tried all kinds of coffee, and delicious lemongrass tea, but didn’t dare try the world’s most expensive Luwak coffee, wherein the coffee cherries are fed to civets, the beans emerge in their poop, after which they are cleaned and processed further. The beans smelled good enough, but no thank you.
We saw silver craftsmen at work, and wood carvers, and artists painting beautiful canvases.
We saw a delightful, colourful dance drama in a temple hall surrounded by emerald green rice fields, with a troupe of musicians playing various traditional instruments, in pleasing harmony and rhythms. We went back to Ubud, to a long street full of more kinds of wood carvings than you can imagine, to buy a traditional Barong mask, an exquisite, somewhat scary looking good spirit, which the spouse had set his heart on. A little bit of Bali now lives with us!
May be an image of temple, monument and outdoors


Day 4
A 500 word fiction piece (which must be complete and coherent and must begin and end within 500 words) ordered around a grocery list.
Riya wakes up automatically at 5 a.m. every morning, even when on holiday. Her body is used to getting up on time to fill up the drinking/cooking water vessels and run the motor to fill the overhead tank when the water supply comes on, for just half an hour every morning. They moved to an apartment complex with all conveniences a few years ago, and she no longer needs to fill anything, but she still wakes up at five.
Today, though, she and her husband are at their daughter’s place, in a Virginia suburb. She seems to be over her jetlag, and is awake at her usual time. They are visiting Priya for the first time since she married Daniel. This is their first weekend here, and Daniel has promised to drive them to Patel Brothers, in Fairfax, a good hour’s drive from their home. Ramesh is quite sure that he does not want to drive in America, on the wrong side of the road. Being a passenger here is disorienting enough. Priya is eight months pregnant. They will be here for a while, to welcome their first grandchild, and to take care of their daughter. Riya quietly makes herself a cup of tea, and sits on the patio, waiting for the sun to rise. Priya has told them that you can get everything desi at Patel Brothers, no need to bring stuff from India, but Riya has got some good quality heeng and edible gum granules with her. She remembers her late mother making a strong heeng solution and applying it on Baby Priya’s belly button, and then gently warming her abdomen with a folded cloth heated on a clean pan. It worked wonders for colic. The edible gum was for the traditional laddoos made for post-partum, lactating mothers. She sips her tea, and pads softly into the study to pick up paper and pen. She needs to make an exhaustive list, especially of lactation enhancers. She has heard of so many young women these days having problems with breast feeding. Ghee, atta, almonds, sultanas, dried figs, fenugreek seeds, mustard oil, which is great for massaging babies. Daniel might not like his baby to smell of mustard oil. In which case she will cook with it, maybe make some pickles. Dals. Fleased husk: Priya is getting constipated, nothing is as safe as Isabgol. Jaggery powder, for the panjeeri laddoos. Basmati rice. Although Riya likes soups, salads, pasta and baked casseroles, she and Ramesh are now craving desi khana. What else does she need? Good desi achaar. Chooran. Aniseed, cardamom.
The door opens. An agitated Daniel rushes in, hair tousled, glasses crooked:
Priya’s in labour. Her water’s burst. It’s too soon. I’m calling the hospital.
Riya throws down her pen and notepad, enters her bedroom and shakes Ramesh awake.
Then she goes to her daughter. Priya is both distraught and excited.
Thank goodness I’d packed my hospital bag last week, she laughs.
Your panjeeri laddoos, sighs Riya, hugging her daughter.

Day5
Today, we play around with nonsense verse.
A 500 word piece with perfectly formed sentences that make no sense. Like a garbled dream.
Bina Gupta : Thank you for the second Thurber quotation, which sent me down this nonsensical path.
People who do not understand pigeons―and pigeons can be understood only when you understand that there is nothing to understand about them―should not go around describing pigeons or the effect of pigeons. -- James Thurber
Hens embarrass me; owls disturb me; if I am with an eagle I always pretend that I am not with an eagle; and so on down to swallows at twilight who scare the hell out of me. But pigeons have absolutely no effect on me. ― James Thurber
Peter and his Pals
A literate pigeon called Peter
Was quite an inveterate reader
He ate and he read, he read and he ate
All day long, till it was quite late.
He read from potato chip packing
Of which the dustbins never were lacking
Newspapers and books in warm cozy nooks
Were always his for the asking.
Librarians loved him: he cooed at them
With warm guttural mutterings he wooed them
Until one sad day, the above words came his way
And our peaceful Peter wasn’t seen again.
His pigeonly pride was shredded to pieces
He summoned all his nephews and nieces
To a family conclave, over James Thurber’s grave
All of whom concurred, save
One absurd bird, who spoke the truth
But no one was listening to this youth:
Thurber is long dead and gone now
What is the point of this silly powwow?
There are better things to do
For me and for you
Why waste our time on this useless gutturgoo?
Ranted Peter’s avid supporters
You foolish feathered traitor
Our Peter is right, wise and erudite,
You are no more than a winged potater.
The peaceful pigeon withdrew from the gang
And stayed alone, far away from his clan.
He would rather be lonely, than be with them only
To listen to nonsensical plans.
We must desecrate this grave, cried Peter
Though dead, Thurber is a cheater
And a liar. We will give him an 'effect'
That will cure the defect
In his thinking, that miserable liar.
It’s time we claimed our rightful place
On Planet Earth, we are powerful birds
With no dearth of wing power and poop power.
We shall rule, mark my words.
And so, starting from the Green Lawn Cemetery,
Columbus, Ohio, a global movement started
Led by Peter, who had his plans all sorted
A pigeonesque dream, following a stream
Of thought both mala fide and malign.
We are the pooper troopers,
Cried their leader, the erstwhile avid reader
And the pigeons agreed that this was their creed
To feed and to poop, to poop and to feed.
And so the late lamented James
Who as a humorist had many a claim to fame,
was now relegated
To the pigeon hall of shame.
He’s the reason why they don’t spare us:
Our homes, our cars, and even us
If they can, they will poop
All over your stoop
Your porch, your yard
Your birthday card.
The world is their pooping arena
Which is why it is not any cleaner.



Day 6
A 500 word piece chronicling a climate change event as both a material, empirical one but also a metaphorical one.
Non-fiction.
The entire piece must be written in second-person.
From Under the Stars to the Great Indoors
When you moved back to Delhi from London at the age of eight, and lived in your aunt’s house for several months until your father was allotted his own accommodation, one of the things you found most fascinating were the sleeping arrangements for all the family. There was a huge open grassy ground, surrounded by houses on three sides, divided from its twin by a central road. The entire neighbourhood slept outdoors all summer. Newlywed couples were issued the enclosed aangan, for privacy. Charpais stood on their sides in the verandahs, and were laid out before dinner time. Bedrolls were stored on a huge trunk in the storeroom, and neatly unrolled, and covered with sheets, pillows distributed, and a pot of drinking water was placed on a stool. Your father was allotted a first floor house with a high-walled terrace, with an open barsati to protect your charpais and bedding from the elements, so you continued to sleep outdoors for much of the year.
Summer also meant dust storms. The strong, dusty wind, known as ‘loo’ meant a pre-emptive closing of doors and windows, and you or your sister had to sweep the verandahs, which became slippery with dust. You also had to lug buckets of water upstairs to the terrace, (before a tap was installed there) and throw mugs full of water all across the terrace floor to cool it down. The summer heat was intense: this process made it bearable. The loo has not been seen or felt for decades now. Those were the years of childhood, of teenage angst, of a room shared with your sibling, in which you only slept during the harsh northern winter.
Getting married and moving to a tropical country was your first introduction to domestic air conditioners. Getting out of the plane had you perspiring buckets until you reached the arrival hall. Air conditioners were de riguer except when it rained steadily for days, bringing a modicum of coolness. Getting attuned to marriage and motherhood was not without its share of storms, either. Many thunderous looks and angry tears, until both parties recognized the futility of attempted mindreading.
You return to another city in north India, dry and dusty in summer, freezing in winter. You invest in desert coolers, which are brilliant except when it’s very humid. Filling them with water, making sure the pumps were working, all a part of your Lucknow summers. You have a tiny front lawn, and a backyard with trees, but have, somehow, lost your sleeping outdoors mojo. Your spouse’s company blesses you with one air conditioner, which you use as sparingly as possible, because you still have to pay the electricity bills.
You move to Kochi, where humidity and air conditioners rule. You move north, then south, then to sticky Kolkata where you get an air conditioner for your kitchen. Now just the two of you live in an apartment with five air conditioners. God save the planet.

Day 7
500 words of a memory palace for 2022. Pick any place, any memories/ objects/ people.
Aide-memoire aka memory palace
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
Spot 1: The shoe cupboard just inside my front door, in which rest my pinky-purple sneakers, tells me to go out and about, with all the energy and enthusiasm I can muster.
Spot 2 is for placidly, and silence: The leafy green belt at the back of our complex, where I walk in blessed silence, apart from being howled at by the occasional territorial beagle.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Spot 3 is the large common garden, where I am often accosted by a person with whom I have very little in common, but she is like a warm, friendly puppy, so I occasionally, willingly, do engage in conversation with her.
Hydrate. Even though it’s winter, and it’s cold, living beings need to drink plenty of water
Spot 4: The copper jug on the dining table.
Spot 5: The twenty water bottles on the kitchen counter.
Spot 6. The front balcony with the plants and the water bowl for the birds. Today, three little sparrows drank from the water bowl, unbullied by the parading pigeons. Such joy.
Do not drink tea or coffee before a long car drive, in your own best interests, as you are definitely psychologically weak bladdered, if not physiologically so.
Spot 6. The semi-circular little console table near the front door, with the car key in the drawer.
Woollen garments can spread themselves like wildfire across a medium sized apartment. They need to be tamed and put in their place immediately.
Spots 6. 7, 8: One bedroom closet for my pullovers, cardigans, and jackets. One hanging space in the steel almirah in the store room for shawls, scarves, stoles, caps and gloves. The spouse’s sole wardrobe.
Do not sit for long stretches of time, sitting is the new smoking.
Spot 9: The dark brown leather couch which pulls you in and holds you in its thrall, bought over sixteen years ago, when you, your knees, and your entire musculo-skeletal system were much younger. You may ask, gentle reader, why don’t we get rid of it? For two reasons: that we do have youngsters visit us occasionally, and that it holds many memories.
A sexagenarian and a septuagenarian need regular meals, but actually can’t eat a great deal at a time. The septuagenarian will consume any given leftover only once. Do not buy more than you can cook/consume over a reasonable period of time.
Spot 10. Our long suffering refrigerator, which always seems to be overflowing. We remain on adversarial terms, despite my good intentions.
Get rid of stuff. Be ruthless. Paper especially multiplies exponentially. Like woollen garments, papers also require ceaseless vigilance
Spot 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17…ad nauseum
All drawers in the house need cleaning and sorting. So many drawers, so little time.