8/11/20

New | Fiction | A Lump of Jaggery for an Empty Nest | Hridi

 

 This is Bua’s divan. It’s built of bamboo transported years ago from the Andamans. It is a nest.  No bird lives in another’s nest, even if abandoned. Which is perhaps why no one cares to sit on it. Except Rubai, of course, who is too forgetful for rules.

 

Like many, Bua lives far from where she was born- The Land of the Golden Crop: too many rivers, too many floods. This is her fourth home. In the Surf City, closer to the setting sun. The evenings here arrive late like the mornings. The whole clock machinery is a trifle shifted, let’s say a half inch.

This is Rubai’s fourth home, inside her head. Here she is, diligently labouring at her French. Her fourth tongue, none her own. Bua lived a whole life in one language, Rubai envies her. Her dreams always so wordless, like silent films. Torn in the squalor of this open- armed cosmopolitan, the thousand dialects in the local trains all stink of their owners’ sweat, their monotonous absence of direction. An extension of Bua’s refuge, Rubai ended up being exiled from life. How people scatter, in search, pulled and pushed. And hushed. Says a random page of the leather- bound notebook she keeps behind her books.

She moved from her first home some seven decades ago. A young girl saying goodbye at school, crossing the not-yet-erect East-West fence, her big brother in the lead, a litter of other siblings trailing, and the widowed ma bringing up the rear. This was a while before the Partition, or so Rubai has heard. It sure feels grand to have a story in the ancestry. Walking across the full moon, Timon, Pumbaa, Simba!  Bua often speaks of the zamindari back home, correction, the first home. The grand Pujo, festivities surpassing modern imagination… (Theirs is a long inheritance from the court poets of the kingdom. Hence, Rubai smiles, her poetic strain?) Years later, Rumour whispered of the horrible fate meted out to the old mansion. No one had the heart then to poke the ashes. There was the new life- the poverty, almost surreal, across a border. The rented verandah home, the search for a groom. And one fine day there she was, the plump ugly bride to a good poor man with a penchant for stories. She was lucky too.

This le voyage all in her head to find the island called “home”, the sparrows chittering on the window sill clearly disapprove of; they know how cheap they sell roofs at the bazaar these days, yet how in the GPS Age, it’s almost impossible to find a hidden shelter.

Bua does love her paan, Rubai her cupcakes, neither comprehending the other. Bua knows her old 60’s Bengali numbers to heart, Rubai leans classical. Rubai’s poetry, Bua’s TV soaps. Bua gave up faith years ago, Rubai never started on one. But gee, they sure love their wine together. Two bitches, one wrinkled, the other fresh in bloom, tied in the same elite choice for intoxication? Funny how kindred spirits sync.

It’s been sometime that the oldie’s hearing’s been ebbing away. This together with the almost childish naivet√© becomes most hilarious, entertaining or offensive in turn to the neighbours, much along the Professor Calculus lines. Her mortal fear of ghosts, that lovely Sylheti accent, obsession over hair dyes (pitch black at eighty!), the sleeveless blouses beneath the carelessly tossed saree, perfectly matched to the last! Like most grannies, she hoards water bottles and loves boyfriend- talk. Bua, the world’s pitha queen, each little sweet a work of art, the poor housewife’s odd canvas, wringing in perhaps every colour from the joy- sorrow syrup swallowed so easily, so heartlessly, the countless stories, so easily forgotten, and that special ingredient of hers, the stubborn resilience. The stone visage on hearing of her brother’s death. The day her old man passed away, Bua wrapped up her little own and left the house for good. Her third home, not turning back once. For folks as these, goodbye’s no surprise. Apparently, Bua and BhaloDada used to sing duets of Oliro kotha shune bokul hanshe, the popular Hemanta Mukherjee serenade. Rubai doesn’t remember BhaloDada and wouldn’t take the tale either if it wasn’t for this tune, the only one that could get the delirious woman to swallow food.

These are strange times for losing. Perfect in a sense, Time captured, Time still, walking backwards, lulling forwards, rolling into the gutter and sobbing at midnight like drunken fools. Yea, the yellow flag is good for the bereft, so little fuss, so commonplace yet so unique. The perfect tragedy. You remain in these pages, exotic herbarium, Tuntankhamun’s tomb, perfect, a beauty.

The sun heats the air. The air rises, leaving emptiness. Into each chequered space rushes in cold air from the sea. The fabric of nothingness shivers from the cold. Then all day long that too warms up, walks into the clouds. The void fills again. Living near the sea, Rubai is a daily witness of this simple chore. Night is a secret process of replacement; we seldom notice for all air molecules look the same, invisible. Only the heat circulates. Says her brown book.

This morn, dark pompous clouds have been gathering in. Nuage from the alphabet book. A powerful breeze steadily rises in howls, swirling the careless young woman’s dark hair- a portrait: Rubai at her window thinking of L'√Čtranger or rather, The Outsider, as she found it. Once she gets a hold on her French, she means to read the original. The gusts keep scattering the dry leaves from the potted plants. The blue globe on her brown desk is spinning of its own accord, such is the force. Finally, the kalbaisakhi thunderstorm, that famous midsummer irony, announces itself among the outraged curtains. Ma calls. Rubai absorbed, doesn’t hear at first. A second shout penetrates, she looks up and hurriedly leaves the room.

The wind flutters the leaves of the khata, stops abruptly at a marked page. It’s dated for the twenty- second. Four days Bua’s couch had gone empty. Reads-



A lump of jaggery and the toe of a ginger
is all I offer, Madame.
Leave the rest to
Imagination, let's say,
you treat a cold,
Or say she's flown,
become funnily recurring, in different
shadows over eighty-three years
approximately, since birth certificates weren't for women in her days.

Here's a song
yet to be rehearsed
Yowl of joy giving sixteen
dimensions, a mere memory.

So foolish, the bunch of y'all, saying goodbye like
tragedy
Pah! Say it like she deserves it,
Wish her fine summers if you can, you bastards
so insanely egotistical,
drooling grammatical,
Don't make it stink with yer foul tears,
Let her find the rains,
have her win in grace
The torment and strength
of the swishing tides.

Fill those sagging breasts once more
Full of the moons each inherits
and saves till after the last.

 

With a blaze, the sky cracks up like peanuts ‘tween expert fingers. The drops catch the gale, touching the first two words- A Lump. The ink blurs.

Up into the thirteenth- floor window rises a faint petrichor, defying the falling rains.

(Painting accompanying the text via Wikimedia Commons - Las Viejas, Goya) 

7/11/20

New | Short Story | Rini Barman | Half Dawn

Artwork by Ajay Sharma



Half Dawn


Warm yellow moth wings made of robust fibre. They are waiting for the skies to flare up. It may seem they wish to fly away but they are really trying to cling on. I have even stored a few underneath my blanket. It is almost 2 am now, an unearthly hour to bug about Lepidopterology.

Let me take you back to my bed.

As a ten year old, I used to dream about chandeliers—big, bright chandeliers mounted on moths made of glitter. They were about to come crashing from the sky and topple over my head.

Strange dreams have been a childhood disease, mother used to say. Over time, most of my dreams have been extinguished, and the rest await a similar fate.

Tropical moths and glow worms tend to die with seasonal flux; the heat kills most of them. But the ones in my room belong to warrior clans immune to the sudden onset of summer.  



***

When I look at the corners of their habitat, I think of probabilities—words like maybe, could be, ought to be. Modal verbs, they are my favourites—if life doesn’t bring you rainfall, let it bring you modal verbs. “It may rain again, we could wait...”

***


                                                           
Artwork by Ajay Sharma
              


Each morning, I partially tie my plaits and get ready for the run. I will make it past the tide. Or so I dream. On the highway, where I stumble often due to improperly tied shoelaces, speeding vehicles regularly compete with me.  I remember that mossy wall where mother had kept a Gregorian calendar. It recorded her medicine bills, astrological beliefs and service holidays.  On it was nailed her tailoring needle with a bit of leftover thread. Each fibre of her body longed for the pattern to be stitched unto culmination.


“Here look! These are perfect imitations of your creatures”, she had said, promising to teach me how to design moth wings. I was hell bent on granting these nocturnal beasts a second life. Red, yellow and brown threads—all colours of my stubbornness. They move only when the ceiling fans are switched on, eerily. With low voltage electricity in small towns, one can almost sing to the tune of these movements.  The radio with the built-in antennae would usually be switched on by her side-- “Jibon tolmol tolmol kore re, jibon chariya na jaish moke... (O’ fragile life, don’t part with me just yet”)

Songs of raw thread work can linger long after the sewing machine wheels stop. My feeble hands fail to grasp such a mystery. I just want to hold on to the moth wings. With every clasp, I prolong the wait for tomorrow.


***
                                                               
Artwork by Ajay Sharma


Mother, as finicky as ever, disliked coming near my bed; said it stinks of lost time. She belongs to an era when even menstruation meant extra cleaning work. The mosquito net, mattress and everything that came in contact with it, needed to be washed every month. Just to keep the nosy neighbours at bay, she’d spray a variety of scented perfumes. The smell released from a nest of moths needs some camouflaging. She tried convincing me to keep moth replicas instead, without ever giving up on her suggestion. The local markets have some fancy ones made out of synthetic materials and plastic. They come in attractive colours and little children instantly identify with them. Beauty is only skin-deep.


Morpheus said in the Matrix (1999) that it’s all a part of the system. “The system is our enemy.” Those who exist backpatting the system will try their best to protect it from any ruptures. They are so hopelessly dependent on it.


***

It has been two years now. After repeated attempts of purifying the corners of my room failed, my parents had a disturbing quarrel. It was mostly about restructuring that room and building the walls anew. There is a trend in the region of dismantling older, earthquake resistant houses to imitate styles of city architecture. Though both weren’t so happy at the nest I built, it was mother who left no stone unturned to make this an either/or situation.
Hiding her micro-aggressive self, she went to her native place angrily yelling: “I am staying out of this, you choose.” Everyone thereafter explained to me that her behaviour was “all out of love”.

Apparently, my moths will fly away. They will betray that corner of my foolish snuggles. There will be a glaring light and it will be gone too soon. And I, being naive, will mistake a forest fire for blazing warmth, she had said. Maybe that’s the maternal instinct of fear—illogical and systemic?

I am not sure.


***

                                                                    
Artwork by Ajay Sharma


The only option remaining is invisibility. I try to stash my moth family from the system. Last time I counted, there were about eighty of them. On the days I stitch torn buttons onto my shirt, they stare widely. Don’t ask me why—some even eavesdrop next to the needle, making sly noises. I respond to these sounds by producing a nasal buzz of sorts. Like true heroes, they seem unafraid of the sharp edges of life. One slim cut or a fall and it’s all over.

Whenever I wake up to weep at night, some of them abandon their wings on my lap, as if to say, “Well, go on, we are in this together.”

***

For most men born in the 1950s-60s, life gradually becomes unimaginable without the female spouse and the quarrelling. But all the belligerent masculinity finally boils down to a state of fatigue, helplessness and kitchen sink chaos. True, father would never admit he needs his obedient wife of many decades the way I need my moths.

When I look into his placid eyes, I see that the rains have abruptly stopped. He keeps a close tab on the circular wall clock. It represents a whole world for him.

***

Weeks later from that day, I posted a letter to mother saying my bed is now clean. My hands, the colour of cement mortar. The web of ‘filth’, as she used to put it, had seen  a bloody carnage.


***

My love is a hillock. It is made of moth-ashes that have thickened up.

***

Across the wall where I rest my head, I see rotten traces of caterpillar eggs. The moth kingdom wishes to resurrect itself time and again.

Every now and then a butterfly—fully grown and sepia pigmented, comes from nowhere and sits with me quietly staring into the laptop screen. Emitting filament like rays and scratching my skin.

A half-dawn is born with the embryo of journeys vanishing into the night.

***

                                                             
Artwork by Ajay Sharma
      


I am now compiling mother’s fake moth-wings and stitching them into a few hair clips. They sit pretty on my frizzy hair. I hide some of them under the pillow; they are precious, even in their unreal selves. I keep telling myself that the same moths will return and light up the fragments of my dream.
And in that dream, we may all be complete.         
                               
 











New | Poetry | Alex Stolis

Mark Bryan, Feeding the Baby, via https://www.newtimesslo.com/


Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Do dogs bark? Is coal white? Does a baby cry? Can a hat speak?


Open borders mean crime, 
means human trafficking. 
Human trafficking -- mostly women. 
Okay? 
Human trafficking. 

This is like prehistoric -- 
a word like that, "trafficking." 
Who would think? 

There's more human trafficking 
in the world today 
than there ever has been in history. 
Who would think that? 

You think of it almost as an ancient term; 
it's not.
Because of the Internet, 
all over the world, 
it's happening. 

Mostly women. 



*Donald Trump Addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington - June 26, 2019





Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Do hens lay eggs? Is a stone soft? Is one more than seven?


Let's do it again, 
didn't work out too well, 
let's do it again. 

They want a do over. 

No president should ever 
have to go through this 
again. 

It is so bad for our great country. 
Our hopes, the great hopes. 
Our patriotic movement 
has been under assault from 
the very first day. 

We accomplish more than any other president 
has in the first two and a half years 
of a presidency and under circumstances 
that no president has had to deal with before, 

because we did in the middle of the great 
and illegal witch hunt, 
things that nobody have been able 
to accomplish, 

not even close.



*Donald Trump announces his 2020 candidacy at a political rally in Orlando June 18, 2019





Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Do the land and sea look just alike? Are some books black?


He said, "I'm from San Diego.", 
you believe that? 

He said, "I'm from San Diego 
and we need that wall." 

And you know in San Diego, 
as you know, 
it's going up 
and now it's up 

and here's what they did in California, 
they wanted the wall 
so badly, 
and so I did it, 
and I said you know, 
maybe I shouldn't do it politically.

Let them ask, 

I did it, 
and now it's beautiful 
people not coming in, 

it's beautiful, right? 





*Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania - May 20, 2019





Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Does water run uphill? Are stamps used on letters? Does 100 cents make a dollar?


Now, if this weren't the greatest thing -- 
I really believe that it's been said, 
but make America Great Again, 

Ronald Reagan used seldom 
Let's Make America Great, 
close but not the same. 

Let's, apostrophes, 
you don't want the apostrophe, 
it's too complicated, 

doesn't work, 

but Ronald Reagan was good. 
He said Let's Make, 
but he didn't use it 

and we use it a little bit.




*Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin - April 27, 2019




Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Are we sure we know what events will happen next year? Do ships sail on railroads?


So you'll tell me because you'll clap. 
So we have the greatest theme, 
I think, really of all time, 
"Make America Great Again. 

"MAGA"
"MAGA"
"MAGA 
Country", right? 

MAGA Country. 

How about the guy from Chicago? 
The actor that nobody ever heard of, 
nobody ever -- I said, 

"Who the hell is that?" 

He said, "He got taken out 
by MAGA Country." 
I said, 

"What the hell was that?" 
I guess that's a hate crime, right?




*Donald Trump Addresses a National Republican Campaign Committee Fundraiser - April 2, 2019







Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Do stones float in the air? Can meat be cut with a knife?


I got it approved. 
And I didn’t want 
to get it approved 

for a certain reason, 
because I thought somebody 
treated me very badly. 

Very badly. 
Don’t get that vote 
very often. 

And I said, you know, 
I don’t want to get it. 
Then I get a call 

from a friend of mine, 
and he's in the oil business.




*Donald Trump Delivers a Speech at the 2019 CPAC Convention in Maryland - March 2, 2019








Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Are ledges common in mountain districts? Does success tend to bring pleasure?


Da Nang province. 
When I was climbing up the hill 
with Da Nang, 

I was climbing up the hill. 
And my soldiers were going down 
left and right. 

He never saw Vietnam. 
He was in the Reserves. 
Not bad, 
Reserves. 

He never saw Vietnam. 
He was climbing up the hill. 
Bullets left and right. 

My buddies going down. 
And then he wants honesty.




*Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in Fort Wayne, Indiana - November 5, 2018





Donald Trump takes the Deven’s Literacy Test
Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean? Is misuse of money an evil?


This was a few months ago. 
He was a 3, 
and I gave him a nice shot 

and a nice little tweak, 
bing-bing, 

and he went from 3 
to like 20-something. 

And then I gave him 
my full and total endorsement, 
and he's now leading by, 
like, 19 points. 

And that election is next week, 
leading in the primary. 

He's a good man. 
And so many others.




*Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in Charleston, West Virginia - August 21, 2018