Random collisions

“He saw her every day that summer. Sitting on the red-oxide verandah, leaning against a carved wooden pillar, headphones and silver hoops in her ear, the phone warm in her hennaed palms. Smiling. Humming. Talking. Every word simultaneously etched on the air with her long fingers.”

The doctor pushed up his spectacles and paced the stage as he continued the story. Eyes followed him, back and forth.

“He brought the herd home at dusk. There was no golden dust haze, the air over the pukka municipal road was devoid of drama. Godhuli was for the mud tracks of Gokul. She never looked at him. There were no visions of Radha, waiting, agonizingly, for Krishna’s return. No echoes of a flute to bring the stars to her feet. No magical full moon nights by the Yamuna in a backwater town where the wells run dry in April.”

Again he paused, for effect.

“When the holidays were over, she left. Later, taped to the black iron gate, he saw a peacock feather flutter in the twilight.”

Someone in the audience moved a tea cup into the hush.

“The kind of story that deserves a perfect ending, no?” He was playing the crowd. “How would you want it to end? You want me tell you I was that boy and,” he pointed to his wife in the front row, “she was that girl and this is how love is meant to be?”

“But everything is random. All these collisions and misses of minds and bodies – no one is moving eight billion lives on a board, choreographing meaning into arbitrary existence.”

“I could tell you the boy was brought to me one night and I tried to save his life. That he told me his story of unconsummated love before he died. That he never got to say goodbye. And you would want to believe that too. What else do we have left to believe in?”

“Or maybe you’d rather dismiss it as nonsense – that I made up the story so I could sell you a book about an alternate reality. A doctor who denies both science and god can be marketable for a while. Or amusing. Or a viral meme.”

“Perhaps…”

A hand went up at the back. A reporter. He could see the press ID around her neck. This one had snark in her tone and a sun in her eye. “OK, which one is it?”

“Which one do you want it to be?” He figured she must have a deadline. “Perhaps you think she came back for him but he was gone by then?” He was indulgent. People reveal a lot about themselves by their choices.

“Unlikely.” She waved her hand, dismissing the suggestion.

“You’ll say that the odds were stacked in her favour?”

“I’ll say everything is random and all existence is arbitrary.”

“But you still want a meaningful ending?”

She smiled. “Meaning implies science or god, doctor.”

She removed the press badge from around her neck. “I am just a girl who left a peacock feather on an iron gate.”

 

Flash Fiction #4
Flash Fiction #3

Flash fiction and such…

February has been a writing experiment. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I’ve been trying my hand at flash fiction (500-1000 words).  So, if you are part of blog groups that share flash fiction or if you write some yourself or have anything to do with flash fiction at all, do give me a shout. I’d love to read your work and link mine as well.

Meanwhile, a cherita (which is also a storytelling form):

morning crossword

every face on the train
a clue

every story
expecting
an empty white square

Where the waves sing

Perhaps, all we can know about someone’s life is three stories. A story they tell us, a story we make up from the cacophonous unsaid and a story we write together – a paragraph, a consequence or two, an ellipsis that walks away into the void. Here, in Tarangambadi, ‘where the waves sing’, there is the old story of a modest fishing village. There is another story of a colonial outpost, triangulated by the Sahib’s restored bungalow, the Dansborg fort that rises from the sand like a dull Shakespearean pause and the silhouettes of East India Company ships astride the water. And there is the story of the Tsunami that gathered all loss into its blue lap. Loss, beyond the comprehension of human hearts, that becomes wordless flotsam, catching the moonlight after the town has cried itself to sleep.

She had told him her first story, wet like fresh paint. Childhood welts remain welts, scab remains scab and torn flesh remains open and bleeding forever. He had counted them and covered them and been gentle as his pain poured into her wounds. He deduced the second. Adult life learns self-healing. Haphazardly. Hurriedly. Ugly mattress stitches fusing reality and hope, probability and time, failure and a corner of the morning sky. There is a looping calligraphy to the repair, beyond common lexicon. A patient ear can hear the words, discerning skin can feel the knots and the unravelling, a warm mouth can hold a thread in place that has long threatened to come loose.

They had come here, walked along the beach, past three hundred year old churches and a giant gate that must have guarded the white settlement. They had watched the stars, drinking rum and coconut water till a placid sun wove up between swollen clouds and erect palm fronds. And taken a rickshaw a few kilometres down to Poompuhar to watch the irrepressible Cauvery trickle into the Bay of Bengal: a mating of waters, the sweet river having travelled across the peninsula to find the inconstant brine – like a penance, like an incongruity, like destiny. It’s final story.

She had known him as one knows twilight. Real but book-ended. Impossible but reassuring. Like watching cricket in the afternoon, the shadow crossing the line before the ball. His real story was elsewhere. She was a second story, no, perhaps only a reflection of the first. Not manifest until the two came face to face, looking in opposite directions. His third story was his silence. But silence is not the absence of sound. In Tarangambadi, it is the alternating hush and roar of the waves. A saline Morse dotting and dashing sea-stories we cannot know. Ocean. Troubadour. Retelling in drowned dialects.

He hadn’t asked her about her third story. He didn’t know two would not be enough. He didn’t know two didn’t make up a whole lifetime. He didn’t know when the sea backed up preparing to strike. Didn’t know in the hush. Or in the roar. Or when the waves stopped singing. Or when they climbed the walls of the fort. Or when they began to hunt for prey.

 

Flash Fiction #3
Flash Fiction #2

Of moon-eating suns and other things…

toothless morning
like a worn cliché
chews the dark end of the sky

**
I woke seven times
and saw seven dawns
all empty of light –
how much darkness does it take
to hide a morning?

**
somewhere

in this amorphous dawn
is a moon-eating sun

I hold the darkness close
I pretend it is you
It pretends I am the light

**

Inspired by Rosemary’s Variations on a Theme to present a thought (of sorts) as a haiku, tanka and cherita. Which one works?

Sharing this with Poets and storytellers United – As a newbie storyteller, I can’t bring my flash fiction there because of the word limit, but if you are of a mind, do check it out here  and here and let me know what you think.

A new life

No one was surprised he had developed the product. No one was surprised he had become a millionaire at twenty four. He had forty six thousand employees, turning over close to a billion dollars by the time he was thirty. It was the perfect script. Until he dropped off the grid and disappeared. Eventually, people stopped searching, whispering, caring. He became a meme that the fringe shared every time they were high on rebellion or low on self-worth. Something about fucking the world right back. But he could have just been a character in a somewhat-famous book that no one had really read. Until now. Until he showed up on TV, looking much the same, a few grey flecks in his hair and a harder voice – all he had to show for the last ten years.

He refused to comment on his vanishing. Someone had recognized him and shoved a microphone in front of his face. Peace to all, he said. But it didn’t stop the questions. On TV, in buses, in tea stalls, around the peepal tree in villages with no name, people asked and guessed and blamed and proselytized. Soon a theory grew horns and earrings, with bumps and coughs in every dialect, but largely agreeing that the government had abducted him to weaponize a global identity management programme. Artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, cyber warfare. People were translating tech into their own languages using the words for fantasy, magic, tyranny and impossible. But no one could explain why they had let him go.

This one is a fake, a wise reporter broke on the evening news. An imposter who wants to steal the money. His wife refused to be dragged in. She was married now and had no intention of ruffling her good life. So no one knew how the man was paying his bills or what he was doing when he wasn’t being photographed getting into or out of a car. Maybe they erased his memory before they let him go, someone else wrote. The thirsty news cabal was milking it dry and even the vegan hounds were chomping hard enough to draw blood from their avocado burgers.

A few days later the man drove his car off a bridge. A couple of local fisherman dragged his body out. It made even less sense. The plot thickens, they mouthed inanely, surely someone killed him? Disease must have been eating him from the inside. He must have had a death wish, a lady with bright red nails declared. They found nothing incriminating in his room, either. There was communal delight in dissecting his life, tweezers thrust into cells and shadows that might hold fodder for click-bait articles and prosaic tabloid inches. The fringe held candle light vigils and wore black bands for a week. Religion had its moment from every possible pulpit. God had delivered justice. No one knew against what.

The woman who turned off the television wasn’t much to look at – the hunched posture and carpal tunnelled hands of someone who had spent a lifetime dancing fingers across a keyboard. When the beta version came back tested and bug free, he had nodded to her across a room of tired coders who hadn’t seen sunlight in many weeks. By the time he made his second million, he had wrapped his worn body around hers and let her take the lead. Before he left, he touched her belly, full as the moon, imprinted his sad face into her eyes and as if it was inevitable, closed the door softly behind him.

He had seen the girl outside the school. Big smile and quiet eyes. He knew she liked art. And poetry. And kept a journal in which she drew pictures of old churches. He felt an old echo. The throbbing energy of creation. The screen responding to his touch. Her breath reacting to his. A new product. A new world. A new baby. A new life. The river was running fast and full with monsoon rain.

***

Another shot at flash fiction. If you haven’t read the earlier one, here it is.  If you write flash, do leave your link in the comments. I look forward to reading more.

Flash Fiction #2
Flash Fiction #1

The moon is what it is

We look for formless visions of ourselves in the
distance. But we haven’t found ourselves, not

even lost ourselves. Not yet. Between us is the
desert of halves. Is love more memorable when

it fails? More likely to last forever? I am told to
find bigger things to be grateful for: sperm,

geometry, the blue probability of a kingfisher. I
thank pain that fills fissures like wet cement so I can

wake up whole in the morning. It was happiness
that broke us when we weren’t looking. The

moon is what it is — a fiction of movement and
light. It is the sky that is unfaithful. Or the mind.

I make lists of small things, unclaimed things,
unproclaimed things: Quarter past two in the

afternoon, steamed rice, my name, uncertain,
sitting like a wingless crow upon a stranger’s lip.

 

 

In other February news, am delighted to be one of ten poets named by The Ekphrastic Review in their annual awards list. Very grateful to the editor, Lorette C. Luzajic. Do check out this brilliant platform if you read/write poetry in this genre. This award is for my poem, Corollary, which is on their site as well as in my book, Water to Water.

And if you haven’t read my first flash fiction piece yet, here’s the link. Let me know what you think. Better yet, share your flash fiction as well!

 

After the party

Somehow, it’s February already. And we’ve just confirmed a second coronavirus case here in India. This month definitely carries the burnt, acrid smell of its predecessor. As a sceptical look-behind-the-sky realist rather than an it’s-always-sushine optimist, I’m not so sure this was the year February should have chosen to have an extra day.

Also, I have hardly written any poetry. Am supposed to be compiling a new chapbook. Instead I find myself watching the same news over and over again, hoping for a different ending each time. And writing snatches of goodness-knows-what which will never see daylight and on one strange occasion, a bit of flash fiction. It is a brand new genre for me, and it was fun while it lasted. Will it replace poetry? Now, like I said, there’s always some grey to find, if you look hard enough on the other side of the sun! No?

********************

After the Party

The city’s literati had turned up in their customary khadi and kholapuris, the conversation through the haze of smoke and a mirror or two had dropped a few banal points, the new twitter-trending novelist who had just published a chest-thumping, decibel-shattering novel was on his fourth whiskey, his political counterpoint was sprawled on the floor rolling joints in two thousand rupee notes with the hostess, she who read nothing but reviews that she paid for each week. No one wanted to talk to the pretentious young woman with the new exposé who was trying to will her phone into calling itself. Near the bar, a poet was having an extended verbal orgasm, his rhyming couplets now declaimed from the top of the Makrana marble counter, the punch line delivered in a fiery expulsion of alcohol breath, theatrical flourish and appeals to an alternative god. But all this was a moment ago, before a reporter had got into a squabble with an old professor in a goatee and madras checks. There had been some cursing in back-street Hindi, the academic had been accused of something, no one was certain, it could have been plagiarism or something more fundamental, but a bottle was smashed, punches thrown and a scream or two later, the poor man’s rather ponderous body lay in a pool of blood and Old Monk rum, ice cubes refusing to melt around his already cold body.

In the morning, it was a scandal. By afternoon, the reporter was arrested. His employers had to bring their news website down for ‘technical reasons’ and there were whispers of insurrection, of adultery, of debauchery, of suicide. A month later, everyone had forgotten the professor’s name. Six months later, they were forced to remember it as the pretentious woman released a video from the party. It was from her cell phone, the audio was muffled, the images barely visible in the dim light but it looked like a battle and it sounded like a war and the professor was branded a spy and a lowlife, definitely a radical, so they rooted for the reporter. It had to be self-defence. A year later, the reporter was on TV panels talking about international terrorism, populism, education, economics and climate change. His syndicated column appeared in forty newspapers and he was writing a book about his time in prison. He said it was a sacrifice the country had demanded of him. Someone suggested he should run for office.

The hostess had new flooring put in. It looked like green granite. It could have been black. The twitter-trending writer had a new girl on his arm. No one would later recollect the name of the girl or of his book. The loud rebel was lecturing to anyone who would listen about the need to turn vegan while drinking something green from a copper bottle he had brought from home. The pretentious woman had a new phone and had learnt to make it ring on command. The poet was in a deep debate on the structure of the ghazal and the subliminal effects of repetition. He was rewriting Shakespearean sonnets as ghazals or so he was proclaiming for the seventeenth time. The reporter had not been invited. Word was his book had not recovered from the reviews it had received from the culture press. A few hands had been shaken, a few backs rubbed and more people and parts cajoled in most agreeable ways to keep him out of the literary circuit. And certainly out of the party of the year. Someone suggested he should run for office.

The hostess rolled another joint for herself and left her house in a big black car that pulled up to the door. It had been a success. Last year had been forgotten. The floor shone. She stared at the onyx ring on the finger. The professor had been laughing in all seriousness the night he had gone down on one painful knee to present it to her.

********************

Flash Fiction #1