Monday, June 23, 2014

Cinderella With A Twist!


Her step sisters were excited. They ran across the house, admiring themselves in every mirror they came across.

“Cinderella! A lock of hair has escaped! Do something, quick” yelled one sister.
“Cinderella! I think I need more powder! Help me!” screamed the other.
“Oh girls, get ready fast. I hear the Prince is in the house next door, trying out the shoe on those silly Smith girls who live there. Oh I am sure it won’t fit them. I just hope it fits one of you” 

Her step mother had just stepped in after spending almost half an hour craning out of the window for a sign of the Prince.

Cinderella knew the slipper could fit only her. After all, she was the one who had worn it to the ball. Had the clock not struck midnight, she would have stayed on, with her prince. But alas, she had to return, for it had only been a spell, that had transformed her back into the country girl at twelve.

With a smile on her face, her thoughts went back to the ball and the time she had spent with the prince till all of a sudden she felt someone’s eyes on her, watching with intent, her every move. She turned back and caught the look on her step mother’s face just as she turned and started fanning over her daughters.

“Why did Step Mother give me that look? Does she know? No! How could she? Other than me only Fairy God Mother knows about that night. The secret was safe with her!”

Cinderella went about her chores, but no longer feeling as confident as she had been just minutes before; her Step Mother’s stare still fresh in her mind. She knew the Prince would come in any time now; quickly she looked at herself in the mirror and tried to wipe away the cinders that had settled on her face and the dress from cleaning the fireplace. That was the best she could do with her tattered dress and wooden shoes, the only attire she had ever owned.

“Knock Knock” There was a loud rattle on the door.

“Oh the Prince is here, he is finally here!” the step sisters and their mother wailed as they settled themselves in their arm chairs and waited for the doorman to let the guests in.

The most handsome man in the kingdom walked into the sitting room and looked around. Cinderella watched from the corner, partly hiding herself behind a curtain. He caught her eye and for a moment seemed distracted when her Step Mother called out

“I suppose you want my daughters to try out the slipper my lord”

She bowed down to the prince and paid her respects. Her daughters followed suit and then one by one set down on the stool waiting for the Prince’s guard to bring forward the slipper.

Not expecting a difference in this house, the Prince kept looking towards the corner, to catch a glimpse of the girl he had seen hiding behind the curtain. She had looked familiar but he couldn't remember where he had seen her.

“My Lord! My Lord! It’s a perfect fit!” cried his guard, breaking through his thoughts.

The Prince turned around, shocked at the change in events. When he had first stepped into the room, he hadn't taken much of a liking to either of the two sisters but now… one of them was the woman he had fallen in love with?

The sight in front of him did hint at it being true. The second sister sat on the stool, looking as stunned as he was. She was staring at her foot, the glass slipper sitting pretty on it. It was a snug fit.

Behind the curtain, Cinderella was shocked. How could the slipper fit her step sister? It was her’s! She had just started towards the store room to get the pair that she knew would prove the slipper belonged to her; when she heard her Step Mother speak

“My Lord, let me get the other pair, I have kept it safe in my room”

Cinderella was shattered. How one earth had her Step Mother known? She caught her eye and saw the same malicious glint that she had seen before.The slipper was brought out and her step sister put it on. It was a perfect fit!

The Prince was unhappy. He could sense something was wrong but could not place a finger on what it was. Halfheartedly he joined the group and watched the sisters jiggle around making a mockery of themselves. Was this really the girl he had fallen in love with? His gaze once again shifted to the curtain and fell on the silhouette against the drapes. A sorrowful sight she was and watching her made his heart cry. He wondered why.


“Oh Fairy God Mother! Where are you? How did this happen? I need an explanation! Cried Cinderella as she lay by the fireplace covered with cinders in the dark of the night.For a long time she sobbed, sleep evading her. The tears had just started to dry and the eyelids begun to get heavy when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Shush Cinderella, its me” a musical voice filled the room.
“Fairy God Mother! Where have you been? What is all this? How did Mamma know about the slipper?”
“So many questions! Why don’t we sit for a while and catch up? It’s been a while, the questions can wait” and Fairy God Mother settled herself into the armchair closest to the fireplace.
“No! I need to know now, why did this happen? It should have been me instead of my sister. You know that!”  Cinderella was in no mood to listen.

Fairy God Mother let out a sigh and said “Fine. Listen then. Years ago, your step mother had done me a good deed. At the ball the other night, she had recognized you. She also knew that only I could have transformed you that night. So she found me and made me pay back for the favour she had done years ago. She made me change the shape of the slippers so that it fit one of her daughters, then she stole the slipper from your shelf. I am really sorry Cinderella, but I had no choice. In the fairy world, we cannot go back on a favour done to us. I did not know back then that your Step Mother was so evil and that she would use the favour to destroy you. I hope you understand. The kind soul that you are, I am sure you would”
Saying that, the Fairy God Mother disappeared leaving behind a few traces of fairy dust.
Heartbroken, Cinderella knew she had to resign to her fate. The Prince would no longer be hers.



The Kingdom was celebrating. The news of the Prince having found his bride had spread wide and far. The King and the Queen had invited the bride’s family for a banquet at the Castle. Step Mother and her daughters had been dressing up since dawn. Donning colored laces and trying different hats, they had been driving the whole house crazy. Finally it was time, and they had left the house, in a beautiful carriage sent by the King.  As usual, Cinderella had been left behind.

“Welcome to our Castle!” greeted the King, offering his arm to the Step Mother and escorting them in.
“Isn't it such a coincidence? Our prince being betrothed to your daughter?” smiled the King
“I am sorry My Lord, but I don’t understand” said the Step Mother with a quizzical look on her face.
“Oh didn't you know? The Prince is really not our son. He was found in the stables, he is but the son of a commoner. And now he is marrying a country person, just like him. He wants to go back to his roots now, live the country life that he was born in. And who would be a better partner than a lovely girl like your daughter?”

The King smiled, patting his future to be daughter’s hair as he spoke.

“Mamma what does he mean? Will I not get to live in this Castle? Will I not be the Queen?” cried her daughter.
“O King! How can that be? I got the slipper changed so that it fits my-uhhhh” she gasped, quickly covering her mouth but it was too late.
“What do you mean? Are you trying to say the slipper does not belong to your daughter?” the King asked, a hint of anger creeping into his tone.
“My Lord, I just wanted the best for my daughter. The slipper belonged to my step child Cinderella. She is a simpleton and not fit to be a Queen!” Step Mother was scared, not knowing how the King would now react.

The King was now silent. He walked up and down the room, glad the Queen and the Prince had still not joined them. He had made up the story about the Prince to gauge how they would react. The Mother was cunning he thought, so must her daughter be. The Prince is simple hearted, he believes every word he is told. He trusts everyone. When he becomes the King, he would need someone by his side who is cunning and wily enough not to fall prey to the enemies. Marrying Cinderella would mean doom for this Kingdom. No, both of the royal couple cannot be simple and good hearted, one of them has to be shrewd, only then will there be a balance he thought. He turned around, the fear in the eyes of the women in front of him not escaping his attention.

“Well, I need a shrewd daughter-in-law and not a simple one. Let this be our secret, one we shall never reveal” said the King extending his hand to the Step Mother.

With disbelief Step Mother shook the King’s hand, just as the Queen and the Prince entered the room.

“There they are! Let us proceed with Lunch and fix the date for the Wedding” said the King.

 “Will you be kind enough to take my arm, My Love?” said the Prince, leading his future wife into the dining room. For the briefest second, the thought of the girl he had seen hiding behind the curtain crossing his mind.

A prompt asking for a twist in the straightforward and romantic Cinderella tale triggered of this post.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: The Shadow Lines By Amitav Ghosh

It’s been a week since I finished reading ‘The Shadow Lines’ and I have been wondering since, if this book should be reviewed at all. Not because it let me down, but because it is a masterpiece, one that I wasn't confident to do justice to with a review. But I finally decided to pen down my thoughts, because this is a book that has found a place for itself in my mind.

‘The Shadow Lines’ is a tale woven with emotion and memories that spread across generations and countries during Pre and Post-Independence. The narrator, as a young boy, traverses through his childhood, reminiscing incidents which seem random yet relate to each other more closely than anybody can anticipate. 

Then he brings forth through the time he spends in England, events that not only play a role in shaping his life and that of those around him but also explain a lot of the episodes from the past. He brings to fore the nuances of the relationships within the members of a Bengali family and the connection they share with an English one. These two families form the basis of this soulful tale of their lives and how the political situation that existed then leaves a permanent mark on each of them.

Reading ‘The Shadow Lines’ was a lot like eating a liqueur chocolate. At first you wonder what awaits you. As you bite into it, and feel the different flavours ooze out and engulf your senses and as you slowly twist and turn it, the uniqueness in the bite begins to stand out. When you are done, the taste lingers for much longer than you could imagine. Making you realize how truly beautiful the experience actually was. At first glance, it seems as if the boy brings to us just a spate of incidents, some that he experiences, others that he has been told, but as you read on you realize how each of those are tied together by a random act of violence. The observations of this young boy of history, of politics, of countries and relations from the perspective of his young mind are what make this book linger on in your mind long after you have put it down.

Spread across Bengal, Dhaka and London, Amitav illustrates the impact political situations have on individuals regardless of where they come from. Be it World War II or the birth of Bangladesh, he brings about the effect these incidents have at a very intimate level through the eyes of his narrator. An intense topic, but leavened by the interpretations of the young narrator make this book an engrossing read. What also adds depth to the story is his affection for his cousin Tridib, his infatuation with his cousin Illa and the love-hate relationship he shares with his Grandmother.

The ferocity with which he recollects every story he was told by Tridib, the experiences his grandmother had before Bangladesh took birth, or the different plane on which Illa lives, all add to the intensity of his narration. 

Eventually you get glimpses of what the narrator, his family and their English friends go through when he says “It’s all very well, you’re going away now, but suppose when you get there they decide to draw another line somewhere? What will you do then? Where will you move to?”

But what stayed with me most was what the Narrator felt when he was just a school boy and riots hit Calcutta
“That particular fear has a texture you can neither forget nor describe. It is like the fear of victims of an earthquake, of people who have lost faith in the stillness of the earth. And yet it is not the same. It is without analogy, for it is not comparable to the fear of nature, which is the most universal of all human fears, nor to the fear of violence of the state which is the commonest of modern fears. It is a fear that comes of the knowledge that normalcy is utterly contingent, that the space that surrounds one, the streets that one inhabits, can become, suddenly and without warning, as hostile as a desert in a flash flood. It is this that sets apart the thousand million people who inhabit the subcontinent from the rest of the world – not language, not food, not music – it is the special quality of loneliness that grows out of fear of the war between oneself and one’s image in the mirror”

This is a gripping story, narrated so beautifully through the memories and observations of the Narrator. A boy who has no name through the book, an important aspect that you don’t even realize till the very end. That’s how engrossing the book is.

‘The Shadow Lines’ is no doubt one of Amitav Ghosh’s finest works. And no one can put it more rightly than Kushwant Singh did “This is how the language should be used… this is how a Novel should be written.”

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Box


She touched the little box in her pocket and smiled. Running a finger against the contours that crisscrossed forming colorful motifs all over, she felt relaxed. She had cautiously kept the box away from everyone’s sight, lest it be taken away from her. She did not trust anyone, not even the kind lady who swept her room everyday. The box was precious to her, more than her life, more than anything else; it was the tiny little wooden container that she had heard so much about from the Russian masseuse at the salon years before.

“Place a thing gifted by or belonging to your beloved in it and he will be yours forever” she had said with a dreamy look on her face and gone on to tell her how this tiny jewelry box had helped her find her better half. Helped many in her village back home get their love. The conviction in her voice and the belief she saw in her eyes, had made Anjali resolve to find one such box that she could call her own - To use if a time came when her love would be taken away from her…If Satish would be taken away from her.


It had been love at first sight for her. Right from the moment she had seen Satish walk into the classroom, holding a helmet under his right arm and a suede jacket casually slung around his left shoulder. Wearing a tight fitting shirt that shamelessly showed off his well sculpted muscles and boot-cut trousers that fit easily over his formal shoes, he had looked like a Greek god who had just descended from the heavens. Wavy black hair that fell on his dark grey eyes completed his chiseled face to perfection. He was the handsomest man, Anjali had ever seen. Time seemed to have come to a stand still; she had thought. Looking around she had watched fifty minds switch to overdrive, all wondering just like her who this god-like being was. The silence had been filled with extremely visible sharp intakes of breath when he had turned towards them and said “Good Morning! I am your new Mathematics teacher, Professor Satish.”

For Anjali, it had been a dream come true. She had always imagined falling in love with a teacher. Her friends had found her fantasy to be weird, but she had never cared for what they thought. For years she had patiently waited, for the day to arise when she would meet her Prince Charming. For years, she had been disappointed, by the grey haired, bespectacled, about-to-retire teachers and professors who had taught her. Not being one to give up, the day had finally arrived when the man she had visualized ever since she had understood Love, had walked into her life. It was only till the end of the first class that she had waited. Once the bell had rung, she had pursued him, with queries that she never had and problems that she had already solved. She always ensured she was dressed in her best, that she was as beautiful as he was good looking had only made matters easier. She had made him notice her; everything about her; right from the shimmering darkness of her almond shaped eyes and the kohl she wore in them to make him lose himself into, to the light shade of strawberry on her lips, the slight plunge in her neckline to the tan line on her shoulders. This pursuit continued till the day she saw a glimpse of the same love in his eyes. They had become the talk of the college; never in its history had a professor dated his student. She was elated, her fantasy had become a reality; she had made her friends eat their words. Despite the rolling eyes and the raised brows Satish and Anjali had become inseparable. Bets were placed on the time they would be together; stakes were raised every now and then. But they always had the last laugh.

With a lot of enthusiasm she had told her family about Satish; both the shock and the anger they had reacted with had shaken her beyond measure. She couldn't think of anyone beyond him. She couldn't love anyone besides him, how could they not understand that? Her family had become strangers for her; she had left the house and moved into the hostel. Satish had paid her fees and told her they would be married as soon as she finished College. He had even bought her a silver ring which she wore on a silver chain around her neck. She had given herself to him, mind body and soul. He was all that mattered; he was her life; her being.

Three years went by and she graduated. Satish’s parents had been yearning to get him married through that time, after all, the fifteen year gap between them meant he was considered well past his age to find a suitable bride. But he had delayed the process for her. On the day of her graduation ceremony he had taken her home and introduced her to them. He had introduced his student Anjali Thomas to Vidyashankar and Lakshmi Iyer as his choice for their daughter-in-law.

The aftermath that had followed was not one that either Satish or she had expected. Subject to cold treatment, she was offered nothing but water, in a glass she realized that was meant for the helps and vendors who belonged to ‘other castes’. In the house filled with Tanjore paintings and the fragrance of incense and camphor, she was made to sit in the corner farthest from their Puja room. A cup of coffee had been hesitantly placed in her hands by his mother who took utmost care to not let her “madi” (pure) sari or her hand touch her bare skin. The awkward silence had been cut short by his father who had decided they had appointments to keep, thus making her take their leave.

Their opposition was evident, but she had faith in Satish. She knew he wouldn't care for what his parents felt, just like she hadn't for hers. She had been disowned by her parents and the entire Protestant Catholic community, but it hadn't mattered just as his parents views shouldn't matter to him, she thought. Her conviction had been sealed when she missed her cycle that month. This, she knew would bring them together for eternity. She hadn't felt happier.

A week after the episode with his parents, they had met. She had sensed something was amiss; they had never been apart for more than a day before. Whatever it was, she knew her news would make it all go away.

“I have something to tell you” she had said with glee, ignoring the tensed look he had given her.

“Wait. I have something of a lot more significance to tell you” Without waiting for her response, he had continued

“Amma-Appa are not fine with our relationship. I did try to talk them but…. They both have threatened they would walk out of my life if I marry you. Amma…she… she went to the extent of saying she would take her life” and he had broken down.

“So?” she had been confused.

“Can’t you see? I can’t let that happen. How can I just let them walk out? How can I be the reason behind my mother ruining her life?” he had started crying by then.

“But, didn't I leave my parents? My entire community has disowned me! What about that?” she had screamed.

“I didn't ask you to do that, did I? You had already walked out and come asking me for help. I had to help you, that does not mean I approved of what you did! And just because you don’t care for your parents, it doesn't mean I don’t either!” Satish had begun to sound angry.

“But… but… I am going to have your baby, this is the news I have been wanting to share with you!” This she knew was her trump card, Satish would now melt down, take her into his embrace and whisper sweet little nothings, his anger would fade away, and his parents would be forgotten.

“What! Haven’t you been taking those pills? How irresponsible can you be? I come from a very illustrious family; do you know what such a thing would mean to my parents? How cheap could you be? Left your parents already and now giving birth to an illegitimate child! Characterless you are; Amma was right when she said that about you! Amma has found a suitable match for me and I intend to marry her. I had been wondering how to break this new to you but your news… well that did it for me! How shameful can you be?”

“But, we could get married-“she had run after him but he had already walked away.


“Characterless… cheap…shameful” those words kept playing on her mind as she felt for the box again; hidden away in the folds of the housecoat she was made to wear everyday. She looked around the bench she had been sitting on to check if anyone was looking. In a distance she saw the hazy image of a few month old baby held close by an elderly lady who was quietly walking into the room opposite. What a sweet baby it was! “If Satish and she had one, it would look just like this baby” she thought, a distant smile plastered over her face.

Then seeing the coast to be clear, she carefully removed the box out of her pocket and opened it. Lovingly she caressed the silver ring she had so carefully kept away from everyone else. Then she picked up the strands of wavy black hair and kissed them“Yes, he would be hers forever” she thought, just as the masseuse had said. Her love was her’s forever.

Clutching the box tightly she was lost in her own world when a policewoman walked up and roughly pulled her up “Get up, Anjali! The Satish Iyer murder case is next, your trial is about to start”.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Kya kar rahe ho AAP?


I still remember the day you rose into our lives, bringing with you the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. For the first time in years, I was enamored…For the first time in years I began to believe that things could change, the darker side of politics could be stopped from taking over. For the first time in years I understood what it meant when Gandhiji said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. For the first time I felt there was hope.

And you didn't let me down. Your performance in Delhi showed how I was not alone. There were many like me, rooting for you. You got your chance and we were elated. This was the perfect platform to learn, to dig deeper and let the roots spread. To lay the foundation of an identity that we could proudly nurture in the coming years.

But alas, that was not to be. You gave up, and left us feeling orphaned. We groped around, wondering why darkness had suddenly enveloped us from all around. Why did you give up? Didn't you always say that the only way to get rid of the muck was by stepping in, regardless of our own hands getting dirty? Then why did the first one setback make you give up? You could give us countless reasons for what you did, they might have made sense to you too, but all we could see was our winning horse abandoning the race midway.

Was this a sign of the coming tomorrow? No! We couldn't let that be. The darkest of times had set upon us; we desperately needed that one ray of hope to tide us towards the end of the tunnel. The mother of all Elections was round the corner, so we held on, this time tightening our grip a tad bit more, lest you suddenly gave away.

And then Elections arrived. You started showing us glimpses of the fire we had seen in you before. Our hopes began to surge. Yes there were times when you made us wonder how different you really were from the rest, esp. when you joined the mud slinging game… but we persisted. After all these years, we had but you to make certain that we made a difference. That’s how desperate we were.

You woke many of us up from our deep slumber. If nothing else, you made us move our lazy behinds and vote. Frankly that itself was a big feat to achieve. But was invoking the passion your only job? Was that the only reason why you came into being?

We knew your aim was to sit in the opposition, to ensure governance remains just that – governance. To ensure, the right things are done to help us grow and to make us safe. To ensure our country pulled out of the stagnating waters and progressed towards calmer shores.

You made a grand entry into the house, maybe not as regal as you expected but nevertheless it was significant. For the first time in Indian history, a party as young as you had garnered four seats. It might have seemed trivial, but for the purpose you wish to achieve, it was the first step.

We wouldn't want any more, definitely not want you to keep making those deafening noises, that’s all you seem to be doing right now. No, we do not want you to go around criticizing those in power even before they have begun their work, that’s not what you were meant to be there for. No, we do not want you to keep pointing your fingers at the world, not when your own house is yet to be built, strong enough to weather all storms.

All we would want is that now you work towards the cause you took birth for. To strengthen yourself and let those seeds you have sown develop. To make the most of the next five years and establish yourself as a force to reckon for. To prove your mettle’s worth by focusing on the goal you set out to achieve in the first place.

There will be a lot of stones thrown your way, but if you stop and retaliate, all it will do is distract you from your goal, slow down the journey you have set out on. There will be obstacles in your path, but making noises and hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons will not make those vanish, if anything they will only grow. After all you are on the road less traveled.

Don’t let yourself become another Lok Paritran, who died before they could live. Wake up, don’t let this faith thousands of Indians have placed in you wither away. Noise will only distance the ones who care to care. Learn that silence is golden, precious enough to pave the way. Because God forbid, five years down, if these dark clouds were to return, we would want you to be there, stronger and mightier, to tide us through… yes to that brighter tomorrow.
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