Friday, April 18, 2014

Life With(out) Archie

It was a quiet day at the Chok’lit Shoppe. The place seemed empty except for the lone figure of Pop Tate hunched behind the already gleaming kitchen counter, swabbing away the tiny salty drops that kept trickling down onto it. He would have been at it all day had he not heard the main door creak open and silent footsteps make way to the farthest table in the room. Their favourite corner, the table they sat at, sometimes all day; taking his advice or driving him up the wall. 

But today was different. One of the chairs would be empty. He had spent hours standing at the table that morning wondering whether to remove the chair but then it had always been there. It would always be there. 

He glanced outside straining his teary eyes, catching a glimpse of blonde and long black hair as he turned back to his cleaning. The door had opened again, this time it didn't take him long to recognize the heaviness in the footstep; he immediately turned towards the stove to grill an enormous hamburger for the latest entry. But the footsteps had stopped, not as usual near his counter, sloppily calling out the order, but at that corner table. A routine of decades had just been broken by his hungriest customer. The crown like beanie hat which he abhorred was missing from the boy’s head; it was a day of firsts as far as this fella was concerned he thought, tears now flowing down his cheeks, wetting his perfectly maintained mustache.  

Pop wondered if he should go say hello to his favourite people but for once his feet wouldn't move. The door opened again, but not with the brashness or the force the folks entering usually opened it with. With drooped shoulders, the three trudged in. Trio, they were today- The big “Duh” boy, his long time girlfriend and the conceited guy who always chased her around. The door had almost closed shut when the tiny little nerd walked in with their athlete friend and his girl friend. All trooped towards the corner table, joining the rest of the gang. He looked at the door waiting for it to open one last time and he wasn't disappointed. In walked a tall lanky girl and went straight to the boy she had adored years before but had never been with. Before anyone could react, they had engulfed in a hug and burst into tears.

He couldn't believe his eyes anymore. For years he had watched his favourite group of people and the relationships they shared. The brawls that took place and the brickbats that flew. The friendship that developed and the love that bloomed. The animosity between rivals and their patch ups too. He had seen them bitch and later cry on each others shoulders, sometimes even lending his own. But never had he seen them all so quiet and silent. 

He closed his eyes hoping it was all a bad dream. Slowly he opened them, praying fervently to see what he had seen all these years, them laughing and joking at their favourite table in the farthest corner of his cafe. But that was not to be. Amid the stillness, all his eyes could see was the empty chair where once sat their red haired freckled friend, the one whose absence had destroyed the world as they had all always known it to be.

This post is a small tribute to Archie, the lovable yet accident prone and confused boy we all grew up with. Come July 2014, Archie will be dying a heroic death while saving a friend.

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: 'Never Let Me Go' By Kazuo Ishiguro

Sugandha and I met over books. It cannot get any better than that can it? But then I hopped over to her blog Shades of Life and realized we have a lot more in common; her thoughts, her reflections, fiction and reviews… I realized we shared a mutual love for the written word.

So when she asked me to write a review post for her blog, and let me decide what I would like to talk about, I couldn't think of a better book than this to share through her writing world. 
Source: Wikipedia

Kazuo Ishiguro is an Author you wish you could be. Every book that I have read of his has had poise, elegance, uniqueness and a creativity that very few Authors are capable of. Each book he writes is vastly different from the other and leaves a mark on the reader not only with his writing abilities but the characters he creates through each of them.
'Never Let Me Go' is probably one of the finest of his works. While Remains of the Day continues to remain my personal favourite, this particular piece of work touches a chord in an entirely different way.

Read on at Shades of Life

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Tri-General Tournament

The Goblet of Electiofire had spurt out the names of the two champions who would participate in the Tri-General tournament. The championship was meant to be contested by three but never had it thrown out more than two names in the previous fifty odd years. 

Champion no. 1 was Reggie from the School of Empowerment. Known for their good looks and charming personalities, Empowerment taught them the magic of words. A string of words that tackled every problem in the world.

Champion no. 2 was Ned from the School of Controversies. Characterized by boldness and aggression they considered themselves Empowerment’s (gulp, the school that is) no. 1 foe. Their forte lay in their magical charms which were all about jingles.

There were no surprises here; the two schools always competed against each other. So the students rose and began to celebrate but all went quiet when they saw the goblet fire up again. Much to their shock, it spat out another name. A third champion would compete for the first time in the history of the Tri-General tournament.

Champion no. 3 was Andy from the latest school on the block, the Muffler School of Magical Arts. Every student in this school was a commoner with nothing but their flying skills to boast about. While they did learn their spells and potions, their strength lay in their magical brooms.

Oh, Andy was an underdog alright, but his flying abilities held everyone in awe. After all he was the boy who lived despite the number of slaps that came his way. Reggie and Ned didn't really care, as far as they were concerned they were the heirs. 

The tournament was made of two tasks. The first being making the spectators dance to their tunes. While the second was to venture far across the Empire, tackling every monster and spell that was thrown at them. The contest was set to take place in two days and a large crowd was expected to turn up. Not only would there be students from all three schools but also folks from all across the Empire. It was going to be the moment of a lifetime for whoever would win.

The three champions had begun their practice.

Reggie didn't really have much to do as his school had one solution for all. “Empowerment and Youth!” that’s all he had to say. He had never questioned what it meant but he knew it sounded magical and well, that was about the only spell he had managed to learn. So he went about muttering the spell and doing little of anything else.

Ned was smug as he watched Reggie mutter around. He knew his school could win the cup this time. All he had to do was recite their latest magical jingle, the spectators would swoon all over him and he could tackle all dragons and monsters thrown his way. 
“Spells I may or may not cast, Ned’s laugh will be the last” he repeated to himself all through the 48 hours that lay in between him and the championship. He was quite confident that his jingle would work, he had already heard a lot of sniggering and chatter each time he recited the lines. Yes, people were already falling for its charm.

Andy practiced as well. He flew his broom around telling one and all that it was now time for the commoner to win. It was now time for spectators in the crowd who sent their children to schools like his to win. That was his secret weapon against the veterans, woo the spectators and wipe off the two old timers with his magical broom.

Finally the championship day dawned. All three stood smug, each convinced of their own win as they walked out into the stadium unprepared for the sight that met their eyes. The stands were full with a crowd like they had never seen before. Jeering and clapping all at once. Andy was overwhelmed to say the least. But Reggie and Ned felt a shiver go down their spine, for the first time they weren't sure who was being jeered and who was being cheered. But before they could react or wonder what to do, a sharp shot rang through the air. 

The Tri-General tournament had begun. 

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Book Review: The Black Tower By P.D James

Source: Wikipedia
As a child, I fed on mystery stories. Be they Famous fives or Secret Seven... I joined hands with the Three Investigators, deciphering clue after clue and wished from the bottom of my heart that I had a boyfriend as charming as Ned Nickerson from Nancy Drew. As I grew up, my diet changed and I was introduced to Agatha Christies, Erle Stanley Gardeners and Marry Higgins Clark who kept me on the edge of my seat and biting my nails till there were none left.

And then came along P.D. James; an author whom I had not read until now. When I did pick up Black Tower, the sole Adam Dalgliesh novel that I have read so far, I was brim with expectation and my hopes were pinned high. That is probably also the reason why when I finally placed this book down I was a tad bit disappointed.

The Black Tower is a mystery that is triggered off by a letter that Commander Adam Dalgliesh receives from an elderly chaplain, Father Baddeley. Recuperating from a misdiagnosed illness, Adam finds the letter as an excuse for a perfect getaway from his professional life to take a break and decide what he really wants from his life. With that in mind, he sets off to Toynton Grange an isolated nursing home along the coast of England. What he discovers on reaching the home is not something he had ever anticipated. Father Baddeley and a patient from the home are dead, having died presumably of natural causes. There is nothing about the place or the situation that cries foul but the letter Dalgliesh had received makes him wonder if there is more to it than what meets the eye. He decides to stay back to sort out Father Baddeley’s books which have been left to him as a legacy. In the short duration of his stay, the bodies start piling up with not enough reasoning to term them as murder. But the sheer coincidence of death and a detective’s mind suffice for Dalgliesh to carry out his own private investigations, solve the crime and unmask the terrible evil that has been residing in the heart of Toynton Grange.

P.D. James is like no other mystery Author I have read before. Most Authors specialize in developing the analytical abilities and detective mindset of the protagonist to unravel the suspense that has been built, P.D. James does no such thing. In fact if anything, Adam Dalgliesh seems slow in comprehending the setting of the crime and not much emphasis is given to how he goes about solving the mystery. While there are sprinkles of his investigations here and there, he spends most of his time either regretting a mistake he makes or just getting to know his suspects. Not often does the author give you a peek into how the detective arrives at his conclusion and nails down the guilty.

What P.D. James does do is develop a deep sense of personality of each character she introduces in the book. She develops a vibrant scene of potential malice, dark thinking and diabolic feelings in each character thus thickening the plot and building the suspense. However the lack of investigation and the final outcome do not seem to do justice to the hype she so successfully builds up.

If there is one thing that stands out for me about this author is a skill which impressed me beyond measure and at the same time frustrated me at some junctures throughout the book- Her ability to weave together words and metaphors such that they lead to vivid descriptions and paint distinct images in your mind. While this writing style of detail and imagery overwhelms you with her creativity, it tends to throw you off track at times when all you want to read is a straightforward explanation for the suspense that has been created. It forms a pleasant experience, pondering over her usage of language and the way she plays with words but when it pops up in the middle of a cliff hanger, it tends to confuse and take away the focus from the actual mystery at hand.  

If anything her writing style made me wonder if sometimes an author needs to draw a line as far as over usage of writing creativity is concerned

The Black Tower was overall a good read, however I wouldn't call it an edge of the seat thriller which boggles your mind even after the mystery has been solved 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When I picked this piece of African Writing, I did not know what to expect. The only objective I had was to read a different Author, one who comes from a world that was different from the one most of the authors we read belong to. And boy, did it make a difference.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a story of three characters Igwu, Olanna and Richard set in the 1960’s both before as well as during the Nigerian civil war.  As you start getting to know the characters in the book, you begin to believe that like any other fiction, these characters will form the central element of the story and the rest will revolve around them. But as you get deeper and deeper into the plot, you realize eventually that the theme centers on the Nigerian civil war, the rise and fall of Biafra and the torment and inhuman treatment by the Hausa’s (from northern Nigeria) of the Igbo’s (southern Nigeria) leading to the birth of what we today define as starvation. The intent of the characters is but a mean to bring to fore the plight Nigeria suffered at the hands of its own people.

Igwu is a house boy to Professor Odenigbo and later his wife Olanna as well, who does everything a house boy should. For him loyalty means being with his master and mistress through thick and thin, through life and death. Olanna, a Sociology Major is a smart, forward thinking Igbo woman whose parents have rich political connects and is estranged from her twin sister Kainene. Richard is a Igbo loving English writer who finds his true calling in Nigeria than he does in his own homeland. He finds love and companionship with Kainene. The journey of these five characters through the civil war, the way their lives intertwine and the consequences they have forms the crux of this book.

In the early sixties, each character is shown to develop, each personality is revealed. Then the Author moves a few years ahead into 1967 where war breaks out and she paints a picture of how overnight everyone turns homeless and runs for their lives. From here she does a playback to events that happen pre-war which test the relationships between the protagonists and then moves it forward to the peak of the war and finally the end it sees.

The star of this novel is not the depth Chimamanda brings to her characters nor is it the relationships that develop between them. It is the attitude she brings out in them to overcome issues they have and the instinct she portrays for survival during the short time that Biafra comes to life and gets engulfed by one of the worst civil wars of our time. 

I am sure not many of us have much insight into African history, let alone the plight of those who suffered the war. Chimamanda does a fantastic job of giving us that peek into what formed the foundation of Nigeria as we know it to be today. Starvation is too small a word to describe what the people went through. Lack of food and supplies made them eat lizards and worms, things you would not even consider as food in normal times. Lack of hygiene and cleanliness made them victim of diseases that we would never have thought off. Imagine using the same tea bag for days together to have your black tea. Imagine using the same water day after day to clean whatever little grain you might get to eat. Imagine making your own soap out of ash. Imagine observing animals to see what leaves they eat and then eating that yourself… no, how much ever we try, we really cannot imagine it. She narrates the horrors of the massacres, how pregnant women were beaten, raped and killed, how fire was opened on anyone who looked like an Igbo…how humanity came to a standstill. But what shines through all the melancholy is the hope the Biafrans harbor of a brighter future, symbolized by the half yellow sun on their flag.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a heart wrenching lesson in history with a human narrative. This book is an effort by the Author to let the world know what her country went through during those trying times. This is her way of telling the world that the effect of that war has still not died out. It has its effect on every Nigerian even today. This book is a piece of Literature that makes a difference. It makes you feel that a Writer is quite capable of doing justice to history.

Don’t miss this book; we all need to know how our world once used to be…. 

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Up The Jamun Tree

 This story was originally meant for Women's Web's March's muse of the month writing cue, “To want is to have a weakness.” (from The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood). The prompt required a word limit of 800, since I had already missed the deadline, I decided to ignore it :-)

The tree outside Meena's window (Source:
She stared at the Jamun tree outside her window. The slender branches swayed as the leaves rustled as if they were playing “chinese whispers” with her. ‘Whoosha, Whoosha, Whoosha” each leaf whispered, some highpitched in their excitement while others drooping with their feeble tone. All seemed to want to speak to her.

“Just like the stories from those books all girls in the class talk about” thought Meena.

Fairies, pixies and gnomes, some hiding under toadstools, others disappearing behind bushes and climbing up trees. Trees like the one in her yard; with leaves whooshing all the time as if there were little elves hiding on their branches whispering and inviting her into their own abode. Full of jamuns in the summer, she wondered if the tree would bear some other fruit as the season changed, just as the faraway tree all the girls spoke about did. She peeked out, wanting to talk to those beautiful creatures her imagination had given birth to, but quickly jerked back and pulled the curtains when she saw Sneha, her neighbour, staring at her from her balcony.

“Oh why was she there now, just when I wanted to talk to my friends and live those tales all my classmates talk about…what she talks about!” cried out Meena opening her Science textbook and doodling over the chapter on cross-pollination.

Her mother would stop by any time to check on her, to check if she was studying or wasting her time dreaming of what she called nonsensical creatures.

She longed to read, wanted it more than she had every wanted anything. All those Nancy Drews, Percy Jacksons, Hardy Boys and Enid Blytons the girls spoke about. Esp. the Enid Blytons; they sounded so magical, as if they could transport her to a different world. A world that consisted of kids who went on adventures, girls who secretly had midnight feasts in their boarding schools, toys that came alive at night, goblins, gnomes, pixies and fairies who went about their business as soon as it was night fall…. She wanted to lose herself in that world, be one of those kids, be one of those girls, secretly watch those toys and all those magical creatures… if only she could, she always thought.

“To want is a weakness Meena, all those books girls your age read are a waste of time. Study hard and you will do well in life, those books will not take you anywhere”

Every time she had asked her mother for books to read, she had got to hear these words. She was not allowed to be a member at the local library; she had to study all the time. Her mother even disapproved of the School’s mandate for Sixth standard students to take a book from the school library every month to write reviews and essays.

Meena glanced out of the window hoping to steal a moment to step into her imaginary world before her mother came up to the room for her evening check. She looked lovingly at the tree, trying to imagine a tree house on the broad branch that tapered right near her window when from the corner of her eye she saw Sneha again.

“Oh why was she still there! Cant she just let me live in peace!” muttered Meena just as the door to her room opened and her mother stormed in.
“What are you doing looking out of that window? Are you upto your silly antics again?” yelled her mother, continuing her usual torrent about how if she didn’t take studies seriously she would suffer in higher classes.

Meena had learnt to turn a deaf ear to her scolding but this time she was worried that Sneha would have heard every word of it. Her mother had been very loud.

“Always lost in the world of those fairy tales, wanting those books all those girls in your class read! They won’t score marks reading those books; those come only with hours of studying. How will you manage when you get to Tenth standard? How will you score? You have to become a doctor don’t forget that. Have you seen what a free hand Sneha's mother gives her? No wonder she is always third or fourth in class, can never beat you to the first place!” Her mother went on.

By now Meena was praying desperately that Sneha had not overheard any of her mother’s rant, esp. the last part of it.

She had put in a lot of effort to make the girls in her class think that she read as many books as them. She tried to participate in the discussions Sneha and the rest in her class had during the recess about wishing chairs, faraway trees and circuses. She had even proclaimed to the class that there was a rabbit just like Brer rabbit in her own garden. Living next door to her;Sneha had given her a curious look then, Meena had realized she had gone a bit far with the rabbit story.

She had made up all the stories based on what she had heard being discussed by all the girls. It was so easy to catch up when you liked something so much, she had thought. Suddenly her mother’s voice broke through her revelry, telling her to complete her lesson and be ready for the revision questions she would make her answer at night.

Meena looked out of the window, hoping Sneha wasn't around. Her balcony looked empty but she thought she had seen a shadow disappear across the curtain. All she could do was pray that Sneha hadn't heard anything. The care she had taken over the years to fit in with the rest of her class was at stake; she desperately wanted to maintain the image she had so lovingly created.

Days passed into weeks and Meena got busy with her exam revision. When she felt bored of studying she would look out of the window, first checking to see if Sneha was around. Once the coast was clear, she devoted her attention to the tree imagining the homes of Silky the elf, Dame Washalot and Moon Face, names she heard from the recess discussions of the Faraway Tree books. She imagined herself befriending the residents of the tree and visiting the different lands that came on top of it every now and then… just as the girls decribed from the books. So lost she would be in her world, staring at the Jamun tree, that she would fail to notice the shadow that fleeted across the curtain in the house next door.

Once in a while she would jerk out of her thoughts and remind herself that wants were a weakness, she had to study and top the class like she always did. That was her mother’s want and she had to live up to it.

She continued to talk to her classmates about the rabbit that lived beneath the Jamun tree and the different Enid Blyton books she had read. She even described the tree which reminded her of the Faraway Tree. All the girls involved her in their talks, listening with rapt attention each time she spoke. All except Sneha.

Sneha had begun treating her differently. She was friendlier than usual but continued to hang out with her own group of friends. But there were tiny things that Meena couldn't help but notice, like how she would warmly squeeze her shoulder once in a while and offer to share her eraser or pencil whenever she forgot her own. There was a change in Sneha’s behaviour, she had noticed; especially the look she gave whenever Meena spoke about the books she read. It was hard to decipher but it almost seemed like she knew what was really going on in Meena’s head. A shudder would run through Meena each time she got the look, it made her wonder if Sneha had overheard her mother that evening a few weeks before.

The final exams came and went and a week later the results were announced. As always, Meena topped the class; Sneha had come in fourth. Happy with her results, Meena’s mother had left her alone for the evening and gone out to run some errands. Meena was elated, this was the best gift she could ask for, some alone time with her thoughts, to focus all her attention on the Jamun tree and the pretend rabbit hole below it. She had just settled herself on the window sill when the doorbell rang.

Irritated with the disturbance she quickly ran down the stairs and opened the door. To her surprise there was nobody at the door. Angry, she turned to close the door when a speck of brown caught her eye. Lying on the doorstep was a bulky package with an envelope attached to it that was addressed to her. She picked it up, locked the door and returned to the room. With a lot of curiosity she opened the letter and read,
Magic Faraway Tree Series

Dear Meena,

Congratulations on topping the class once again. You have always been the brains of the class and deserve to top it more than anyone else. Here is a small gift to celebrate your result. Hope it helps you immerse yourself in a different world, one that has had you enchanted forever. Enjoy this new world because you so want to be a part of it.
Always remember, a want is never a weakness, it is our ability to define the person that we are; that we want to be.

Your Friend.

With trembling fingers Meena opened the package that accompanied the envelope. In it was the Faraway Tree Series. Instinctively she looked outside the window just in time to see Sneha disappear from the balcony.

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...