Category Archives: short stories

Day 7 of Writing 101: Homecoming

“There is more to a boy than what his mother sees. There is more to a boy then what his father dreams. Inside every boy lies a heart that beats. And sometimes it screams, refusing to take defeat. And sometimes his father’s dreams aren’t big enough, and sometimes his mother’s vision isn’t long enough. And sometimes the boy has to dream his own dreams and break through the clouds with his own sunbeams.”
Ben Behunin, Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp

I was putting off going to the bank for as long as I could. But my daughter, Anita, is persistent. A new bank has come up near our house, and Anita suggested my husband and I create a joint account there. She has been pestering us about it ever since she came home on a break from office.

“Think about it, Ma. You hardly visit that old bank of yours. Why? Because it’s so far! This is near. You can deposit money on your way back from a walk.”

Today’s kids! They know their money better than they know themselves. At least mine does. Last week, Anita did all the necessary applications for creating the account. She had us sign numerous times on a form she downloaded and accompanied us to the bank to submit it. Today, we’re going to make the first deposit to the account. My husband was supposed to come as well, but his knee started to pain again. I used this as an excuse to skip the bank visit, but Anita wouldn’t budge.

The bank is about seven minutes walk. Along the way, Anita keeps blabbering about how much her insurance covers, how much she has kept in fixed deposits, etc.

All my married life, I never bothered about banks. My husband made not much more than was needed for us to get by. The meagre amount that we saved had been used up in Anita’s education. Somehow, this left a huge impact on her – she has made it a mission to have money in the bank. She wants to be prepared for emergencies. I respect her thinking. But I am too afraid of technology. Everything is computerized these days.

When we are inside the bank, Anita fills up a form for something called a remit card – it has to be used for depositing money. This bank does not have paper slips for deposit.

When we are done with the procedure, we are handed a green-coloured card.

“So, this is not ATM card?” I ask Anita.

“No, Ma. It’s a remit card. You can only make deposits with it. With ATM card, you can withdraw.”

Anita was insistent that I apply for the ATM card as well, but thankfully, cash withdrawal can still be done using paper checks! I want to avoid complication as much as I can. All those news about people being robbed after withdrawing cash from ATMs gets to my nerves. Then if you lose the card there’s hell to pay. I lost a SIM card once. We had to go to the police station for the general diary. God! They had so many questions. What a hassle!

Anita and I stand in the line for depositing cash. People, bored people, are standing in front of me. They look at their phones, touch and type. Screens and screens and screens. Mobile screens. Laptop screens. TV screens. All eyes are on screens now. Even the older folk like me have smart-phones. Whenever we meet a smartphone-savvy woman, Anita makes it a point to remind me why I should get one too. I couldn’t care less.

I am next in line to deposit the cash. I push the green card in Anita’s hand.

“What, Ma?”

“You do it. I can’t.”

“Of course not. You’re doing it.” She thrusts the card back in my hand. When did she become this stubborn? What if I do something wrong?

“I will guide you. It’s no big deal, you see.”

“You better do it. I promise I will watch carefully.”

“No, you can only learn by doing it. That’s what you told me when I was in school, remember?”

The man in front of me leaves the line. I cringe inside. Anita pushes me forward. On the counter in front of me there is a small machine, slightly bigger than a calculator. It has numbered keys, like in a calculator. And one red, one yellow and one green key. Behind the counter, a banker, a man with black-rimmed spectacles, is shuffling pages and typing into a computer.

“Here, swipe the card in this slot,” Anita tells me. I never noticed the small vertical slot on the side of the machine.

I put the card and run it along the slot.

The display reads: Please swipe your card.

I swiped it, didn’t I? What is the meaning of this message?

“Not this way. Here, let me put the card in the slot for you again.” Anita re-inserts the card and holds my hand in hers and draws the card along the slot. This time, the machine gives out a hopeful result.

Anita guides me through the next steps.  I type, with trembling finger, the amount I will deposit. Then I press the green button thrice. But where do I put the money?

“The cash, madam,” the banker says, as if reading my mind. “Five thousand rupees, is it?”

“Yes, yes.” I hand over the notes to the banker.

With a whirring noise, a paper slip comes out of the little machine. One end stays attached to the machine.

“Please hand over the counterfoil to me, madam,” the banker says while examining the five hundred rupee notes.

“Tear off the slip, Ma.”

I fiddle at the machine. The paper is so stubborn, it won’t come out. Oh, God! Can I do one thing properly? Why on Earth do these people make simple things complicated? Somebody please give me the old deposit slips!

“Madam, hurry. We don’t have all day,” says the man behind us in the queue.

“Here, let me do it, Ma. It’s simple, see?” She bends the paper towards the keys and tears it off at an angle. The paper gives in easily.

“There are small teeth on this side which cut the paper,” she says, “but if you do it the other way…”

Anita goes on explaining to me how I was doing it wrong. But I am not listening anymore. I am tired of feeling incompetent every day. Every day there is some change. New laws. New technology. The older I get, the more difficult it is to cope. With Anita so many miles away, my husband and I are lonelier than ever. Helpless, too.

On our way out, Anita says, “Wasn’t that cool? No paperwork. No hassle!” She is smiling. She is content with the inventions of her generation. She is proud of digital technology.

I look at her. She breaks out into laughter. “You should see the look on your face, Ma. You look like you have the flu!”

I feel too weak to say anything. My daughter pins her hands on my shoulders and looks at me in the eyes. “I know it is difficult for you, Ma. But trust me, it will get easier,” she says, “Especially now that I am here to guide you through everything.”

“Well, you won’t be here next week when your office starts, will you?” A stubborn tear makes it down the corner of my eyes. Anita hates to see me crying. She gets all furious. But I feel so lonely right now, I can’t help it.

Anita smiles. The smile touches her eyes. She had the same smile when she came home after winning the Best Sportsperson award in school. The same smile when she got her job and flew away to a different state. She wipes my tear with her finger and chuckles.

“What is it? Tell me.” I feel a rush in my blood. What is the girl thinking?

Anita takes out a white envelope from her bag.

“Ta-da!” She waves the envelope in the air before putting it in my hand.

“What is it, Anita? What is in the envelope?”

“My offer letter. I got a new job, Ma! Here! Now your daughter will work from home!”

“Really?”

“Really, really, really!” She gives me a hug in the middle of the road.

My daughter links her arm with mine. We walk on.

Sorry, she walks. I am flying! I am flying along the edges of the clouds.


Copyright © 2015 Arpita Pramanick

“Women beware – don’tcha leave yer hair open after dusk!” – A Horror Story

This story is loosely based on a story that I have grown up hearing (in spite of the fear of ghosts, I begged my aunt to tell me horror stories, and then refused to go to the loo alone). My aunt told me this was a real incident that happened in the family, but I can’t be sure she wasn’t just making it up. There is a popular belief (or superstition depending on the viewpoint) in my part of the world that women and girls should not leave their hair open after dusk; you may want to remember that while you read this story.


“Women beware – don’tcha leave yer hair open after dusk!”

A Short Story

When Shelley was fifteen, she had hair that reached her waist. Girls with long hair were traditionally forbidden to keep their hair open, especially after dusk, but Shelley wouldn’t listen to any of her elder sisters’ plea to do so. Neither did she listen to her mother. She went about the neighbourhood, quick on her steps, climbing trees in people’s yards, picking guavas and eating them while sitting on the crotch of the tree. All the while, her hair swayed with the wind.

“Leave your hair open like this, and the devil will possess you,” said the neighbourhood aunts. But Shelley wasn’t the one to budge.

One day, as dusk waited to turn into a deeper shade of dark, Shelly was sitting on the guava tree in her neighbour’s backyard, chewing the tasty fruit when she felt a cold wind shiver her skin. From the houses came the holy sound of conchs being blown; women were performing their evening prayers. Shelley’s hair gathered around her face with the gust of wind. When the chill was gone, she felt weak and hungry, it was as if she had not eaten anything in ages. The guava in her hand was half-finished, but she hated the taste of it inside her mouth. She craved something hot and thick. Something that would make her feel energetic.

Shelley jumped off the guava tree, a good ten feet high. She landed on the ground easily. Not once did she wonder how jumped from such height – she had always climbed down the branches. But jumping seemed the natural thing to do now.

Inside, her hunger grew. She felt weak and powerful at the same time. With steps as large as four feet wide, she walked to her house.

In the kitchen, Polly, her sister, was marinating chicken in a paste of salt, garlic and turmeric. Her mother was at the oven, stirring something.

Before Shelley knew, her hand reached for the raw meat. She put a leg-piece in her mouth. Vigorously, she chewed it, crushing the bones noisily. It tasted okay, but the salt and turmeric ruined it all. The warmth of the blood was gone from the meat.

“Geez, Shelley! What did you just do?” Polly’s eyes were as wide as saucers. She had frozen in her place, one hand that had risen to remove the locks of hair falling on her eyes was still in the air.

Shelley stared at her sister for a whole thirty seconds, but she could not process why Polly looked so scared. Her mouth was salivating now. She needed to eat more, but the chicken would not do. She needed something with blood. She was so thirsty.

In a split second, her feet took flight and she was gone.

For two days, there was no sign of Shelley. Her family was anxious. Her mother cried all day long. A missing report was filed at the police station.

Neighbours came asking after her absence. When they learnt what Shelley had been doing moments before her disappearance, the women screamed, “She has been possessed by the demon. Oh, how many times we told her to tie her hair. Leaving that long hair open on evenings and sitting on the guava trees like a ghost, no wonder the demon possessed her.”

“My dear Ranu,” said an old woman with no teeth to Shelley’s mother, “you daughter has most definitely been possessed by a demon. You must call the ojha now. Only he can save your daughter.”

So her mother went to her father and relayed the neighbour’s advice. In the evening of the second day, the ojha was summoned. The ojha was a tall man of over six feet. He wore black robes and had vermillion stain all over his forehead. His eyes were darkened with kohl. His face was bearded and a thick, bushy moustache crowded above his upper lip. He wore a necklace of rudraksh seeds. The same also formed wristbands on both of his hands. He lived in a shack near the burning ghat, where dead bodies were burned and the ashes were thrown into the river flowing beside. He was said to worship Goddess Kali and summon spirits on new moon nights, all alone by the river. He had a generous collection of human skulls in his shack, which formed a shrine and an instrument to summon the spirits. He was the one and only person in the village who could remove evil spirits.

As soon as he stepped onto the threshold, the ojha cried, “I smell Death in this air. It is rotten. Evil lurks near.” His voice was cold and deep; it sent chills through Shelley’s sisters and mother.

At night, the ojha arranged materials to make a holy fire. “Depending on how near evil is, the wood will catch fire”, the man said to the family. “I can sense that it will come soon. You all go inside the house now. It is going to be a long night.”

The family huddled inside the house. They had no sleep in their eyes. Shelley’s mother kept crying, fainting occasionally. The girls kept sprinkling water over her face to recover her.

When daylight came, the house was silent. At some odd hour in the black night the family had fallen asleep. They woke to the loud shriek of the ojha.

“O come near and the fire will burn you, you witch! Tell me who you are.”

The family rushed outside. Shelley was standing in the front yard. Her hair was all over her face. She was gritting her teeth. “Eeeeaaaaaah!” she cried, shaking her head like a madwoman. When the hair parted, they saw red marks at the edges of her lips. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she looked straight at the bright flames separating her and the ojha and her family. Her posture was defensive.

“O my God!” cried her mother, “Oh, what happened to my poor girl!” and fainted. She fell on the ground. The family turned to tend to her and Shelley took the opportunity to advance towards the ojha.

“Go away, Ojha!” she shrieked in a hoarse voice that was nothing like hers. It sent chills through the spine of the girls. Shelley’s father rushed inside to bring water for her mother.

“No,” cried the ojha in a louder voice, “Tell me who you are, or by the grace of Maa Kali, I will destroy you! Leave the poor girl, now.” The ojha sprinkled some powder in the fire and the flames rose higher.

The neighbours started to gather. They spoke in low voices, fear evident in their eyes. A baby began to cry in the mother’s lap. The mother quickly put the end of her sari to the baby’s mouth.

The noise distracted Shelley. She looked in the direction of the woman. At the instant, the ojha switched sides. He was beside Shelley now. He had a big broom in his hand. He began to hit Shelley with it. Shelley was unwavering at first. She was still looking in the woman’s direction.

“They killed me and my baby,” Shelley howled, “They killed my baby!”

“What are you talking about? Who are you? Tell us,” cried the ojha. His broom kept hitting Shelley mercilessly. “Tell us or I will destroy you!”

“I am Nihar’s wife. The bastard and his mother killed me.” Her eyeballs were at the inner edge of her eyes.  She seemed lost in thoughts, and the hitting seemed to have no effect in her, though her skin was red now at the spots where she had been hit.

The crowd gasped at the mention of Nihar’s wife. She had been found dead in her in-law’s house three weeks back. On inspection, the cause of death was found to be poison. Her marriage was a failure. Her in-law’s abused her for dowry. The woman was five months pregnant when she died. There had been no police case as everyone assumed that she had taken the poison herself.

“Woman, I understand your sorrow. But why are you torturing this poor girl? Leave her body now!”

“No,” Shelley growled. She turned towards the ojha. Her eyes were bulging. She did not stop the man hitting her, but she did not seem to let go either. “I will not leave the girl’s body. She was sitting on the tree with her hair open, swaying her legs when I found her! Her body is mine now. I will not leave her.”

In a sharp movement, the ojha dropped the broom and picked up a copper pot containing holy water of river Ganges. He threw handfuls of the water on Shelley. The effect was instantaneous. Shelley shivered as if she had been struck by electricity. In moments, she fell on the ground, writhing vigorously.

“Tell me woman, will you leave the girl’s body now? Or you need more medicine?” The ojha proceeded to heat an iron rod in the fire.

“No, no, no! I will go away. Do not torture me no more. I will leave the girl!”

“Give us an indication that you are going away! Break a branch from the teak tree to let us know.”

The audience watched in awe and fear. Suddenly, Shelley’s body rose in the air and she fell down with a thump.

Her mother recovered. “What happened?” she mumbled. Remembering, she cried again. “What happened to Shelley? Where is my baby?” Her father tried to calm her down, patting her head.

Suddenly, a huge branch of the teak tree near the fence cracked. It fell with the loud thud.

The ojha bent down near Shelley quickly. He sprinkled some more water over her, applying it on the spots where the broom had hit her. “She is gone now! Take your daughter inside. She will recover soon.”

Soon enough, Shelley stirred. When she opened her eyes they were no more bloodshot.

The End

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick


100

Farewell, my love – A Vignette

They sat across the table, sipping their last cup of coffee in the softly lit coffee shop. A crass English song played loudly just above them. For the third time, he said to the waiter, “Can you please turn down the volume?”

“Yes. Right away, sir.”

The sound level decreasd. He looked at her. She glanced back. Behind her glasses the skin below her eyes shone. A teardrop waited at the corner of her eyes.

“Guess this is it then. The last time.”

“Yes. Last time, until we meet again, that is.” He stirred the coffee with the spoon. After all these months, the day had finally arrived. Tonight at eleven, he’d catch a train to a new city. Day after tomorrow, he’d start his new job there. She’d still be here, pursuing her bachelor’s in botany.

He toyed with the wristwatch on her hand. She put her palm in his. He felt the same warmth in their contact that he had always felt.

She opened her mouth to say something, but her voice choked.

The wall-clock showed it was eight p.m. He had a bus to catch – he lived in a different part of the city. She saw him eyeing the time on her watch.

“Let’s go, then.” She ran her fingers through her hair and pursed her lips and took her purse from the table.
“I’ll be a minute,” he said as he walked to the washroom.

She stared around her. People were sitting around other tables. A girl with her boyfriend. A married couple. A man working on his laptop. Three married women. She had seen most of them every day she came here with him.

Tomorrow, all these people will still come here. Only, not me.

The coffee shop was their secret hideout. None of their families knew about their relationship yet. “After I get the job and you’ve completed college, we’ll speak to them”, he had said. She didn’t disagree. He was barely starting his career. There was time. But for all this to end, no more seeing each other, merely texting and calling and skyping – suddenly everything seemed too restrictive, too cruel. It’d probably be six months before he’d get a long holiday to come home. Six months before they’d hold hands again. Six months till they’d watch a movie together. Six months before she’d look at him in the eyes as he toyed with her hands. Could she do it?

“Let’s go,” he said. His wiped his face with the kerchief. Always, always he washed his face in the washroom before leaving the coffee house. Always, he came out of the shop rubbing his face with the same blue kerchief.

He clasped her hands as they waited to cross the road.

For the final time, they walked on the deserted street. Though both of them could catch a bus or cab home from the coffee shop, they preferred to walk towards her place. Never to her home, though. They’d separate near an alley that led to her street. It was a thirty minutes’ walk from the coffee shop. Then he’d catch his bus. He’d pass the coffee shop again, ten minutes later, watching it through the window of the bus.

“Nothing will change between us, right?”

“Not a thing,” he said and pressed her hand.

“I know,” she said. She knew it was true. “But it won’t be the same again.”

“It won’t,” he said, “but we’ll be here again in six months. And we’ll walk like this, hand in hand. And that is all that I will dream about for the next months. That is enough for me.”

“Yes, it is enough. For you. Not me.” She said.

His mouth found hers as her tears fell. Their hands were clasped in firm embrace.

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick

The Leafy Feast – A Short Story

If you will give this story-teller a chance, she will spoil you with her stories! 

So, I had been reading Beatriz Portela‘s A Green Monster last day (and I commented on the post, too! See? I am a great neighbour!). Her short post literally grabbed my attention. It reminded me of this one time when I had a bug (a real bug, no electronics here, folks!) on one of my plants. Today’s story is roughly based on that experience, with added spices of humour. I have never tried humour in my stories before, so I have no idea if I suck at it. If I do, kindly jump to the comments section and fry me alive. Here we go, then!


The Leafy Feast

Arpita Pramanick

I am the most whimsical person I know. You don’t trust? Well, let me tell you a story.

When I was… umm… wait… no, sorry, I don’t remember how young I was then (I’m still young in case you’re wondering, just passed my engineering, dude). So, anyways, watching all my neighbours raise potted roses on their terraces, I decided to pet few rose plants too. My house is too small for a dog or a cat, anyway. A plant is the closest thing I can have to a pet! Plus, it doesn’t bite. Or scratch. Or poop in the most convenient of places.

My family isn’t really enthusiastic about gardening and all. Neither am I, except when I am whimsical. We are those morbid creatures that take pleasure by looking at things from a distance.

So back to my whimsical story, or you’ll call me a digressing crazy woman, too!

This one time, I told my mother, “Mom, I want to grow roses.”

Mother grunted.

“I am serious,” I made my teacher-face, which meant looking at my mother intensely through my spectacles, and keeping my lips tightly sealed. My hands rested on my thigh.

“Yeah, right! Who’s going to take care of the plant once your ‘I’m a gardener’ phase is over?”

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you. If you raised me this well, I am sure a harmless plant is no big deal!”

“Whatever,” my mother rolled her eyes and stomped off into the kitchen.

The next day, I brought home a fragile rose plant. It had a single leafy stem that ended in a big, yellow rose. I kept it in the balcony.

The next few days I showered my love on the plant. I watered it regularly (now that I come to think of it, I guess I watered it a little too often). Slowly, the lone flower grew old. Its petals dried up and started to fall off one by one.

“If you’ve been born, you have to die! That’s the law of nature.” I told myself. Yeah, I know. I sound so deep, right? Yes, I am always like that.

One week passed since the first rose died. No new bud.

Second week. New shoots sprang up.

Third week. More leaves. No bud yet.

By the fourth week I had had enough. I asked one of the neighbours – the one whose roof was strewn with pots of huge dahlias and tens of varieties of roses – to come and check my plant. What was wrong with it, anyway? Was it lacking nutrition or something?

“Hmmmmmmm…” The neighbour sighed. He looked like a doctor examining a patient. At last, he said, “I don’t think it’ll ever grow any flowers. See this?” he pointed at the plant’s leaves, “Most rose plants have five leaflets. This one has seven. Highly unusual! Highly unusual! I am sure that is the reason why it’s not blooming anymore.”

 “But Mr. Pal, when I bought it, it had a flower, remember? So, sure as the sun rises in the east, this pretty lady can bear flowers too.”

“Yeah, well,” Mr. Pal was hardly taken aback, “Exception proves the law. Now, if you will excuse me, my plants are waiting for me.”

Exception proves the law? Duh!

Pretty much after this my whim decided to take interest in origami. The awesome art of making things with papers, you know? I could have a thousand roses and more with that. So, the watering can and my stubborn rose plant stopped getting my loving touch.

The next time I checked on the rose plant, accidentally, it had been half-eaten by a caterpillar. Yes, I did find the little criminal. I was wondering what punishment would justify its heinous crime, when I was suddenly hungry.

“Mom! Food. I am starving.”

Perhaps my green foe here was starving too? As kind as my big heart is, it decided not to rob the little bug its wholesome leafy feast.

Yeah, yeah, you can clap now. I know I am really sweet.

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick

Cockroaches and Chickens – A Short Story

Rima was in her final semester of college. She shared a room at a paying guest accommodation with a girl who worked in an IT firm. Her name was Shyamoli.

Every Saturday morning Shyamoli left for home, returning on Monday after office. Rima had the room entirely to herself during the weekends.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, Rima was studying on her bed when a brown cockroach landed beside her pillow. Rima definitely wasn’t one of those girls who jumped at the sight of cockroaches. Her reactions were more restrained, like, “You think you can scare me? Huh? Come try me!”

She eyed the flat shiny brown mass, and the cockroach stared back, as if almost looking into her eyes. The audacity!

Rima selected a medium sized book from the ones scattered over her bed, and almost hit the cockroach. Almost! The arthropod was faster than her. It crept into the crevice between the bed and the wall. Realizing she had no intention of touching its hideous hairy legs, Rima backed away, and immersed herself into her books. How long would it hide anyway?

Later that night, Rima was watching old episodes of Castle on her laptop. She had had her dinner, brushed her teeth and changed into her nightgown. She had even hooked up three sides of the mosquito nets over her bed because she knew she’d feel too lazy afterwards. Rima perched herself in the small space on the bed that the half-hung mosquito net allowed. It was too hot to sit inside the net. One by one the episodes continued on her laptop as Rick Castle and Detective Beckett’s chemistry intensified. Rima loved how confident Stana Katic was as Detective Beckett.  If only I could be like her.

When finally Rima thought it was enough and closed her laptop, it was half past two. The house was eerily silent. Even the girls in the next room who were shouting while watching some stupid romcom had fallen asleep.

Rima stifled a large yawn. She hooked up the fourth corner of the mosquito net, and went inside to tuck in the bottoms of the net below her mattress. And then she saw it again!  The cockroach.

“I am too sleepy to run after you now. Go away!”

The cockroach sat unperturbed, staring at Rima with its lidless eyes.

After five minutes of intense staring, Rima had had enough. The cockroach was at the corner where she was about to tuck the net in. Exasperated, she thumped on the bed, hoping the impact would scare it away. It worked, but not in the way she hoped it to. The cockroach ran towards the other corner, between the wall and the bed.

Now, how was she supposed to find the cockroach and hush it away if it chose to sit in a crevice too narrow to slide her hand in? She was tired of this catch-me-if-you-can game.

Outside the net, Shyamoli’s bed stood, the bed sheet neatly covering it. Her blanket was folded on one end, and the pillow placed on top of it. The pink plastic broom with which she tidied the bed lay in front of the blanket.

Rima eyed her roommate’s bed with desire. Her eyelids were drooping, and the tube light seemed too harsh.

Will Shyamoli mind if I slept in her bed for one night?

Of course, not! She answered herself. At any rate, she’d tidy the bed first thing in the morning. Shyamoli wouldn’t even know her bed had been slept in. Plus, Rima couldn’t sleep in her bed when she knew the cockroach lurched at some corner. It would definitely come out to crawl all over her as soon as the light was switched off. Ugh! Those thorny legs.

Rima took her pillow, and hurriedly un-tucked the mosquito net. She hurled herself onto Shyamoli’s bed, and switched off the light with a flick on the bedside switch.

On Monday night her roommate returned. Rima was in her bed, reading. After Shyamoli had freshened up and tied her hair in a pigtail, she asked, “Hey, where’s the broom? I left it on the bed I think.” It was Shyamoli’s habit to dust the bed every night before going to bed.

Rima eyed at her roommate’s bed uneasily. Really, where was the broom? No one else came to their room except the maid. But she wouldn’t steal a broom, would she? Rima panicked. The room was her responsibility when Shyamoli wasn’t there.

Oh my God! She remembered then. The broom must have slipped under the blanket when she had lain on the bed. She had her feet towards it while sleeping that night. Geez, she had totally forgotten about the broom! Now Shyamoli must suspect something.

Hurriedly, Rima got off her bed and raised the blanket before Shyamoli could ask, “Hey! What are you doing?”

“Here you go!” Rima handed the broom to her.

Rima waited for the next question, “How did it end up there?” Should she explain now about that night? What if Shyamoli shouts at her? She knew she would, if she came to know Shyamoli was sleeping in her bed. Suddenly, the cockroach episode felt too silly.

“So…” Shyamoli began. Rima pursed her lips and eyed her. “How was the weekend?” Shyamoli finally asked and proceeded to tidy the bed.

Rima released the breath she had been holding back. I am such a chicken!

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick

The Donald Duck

What would I tell the ideal reader of my blog if I were given a chance and undivided attention? Well, given the love I have for story-telling, I’ll probably spin a story. Let’s get started then, shall we?

The Donald Duck

Arpita Pramanick

Once  upon a time, there was a little girl who studied in the third grade. One day her teacher told the class, “The school is going to publish a magazine soon. It will contains stories, poems and pictures. So, your homework today is to create something on your own for the magazine.”

The children were very excited. They went to the teacher and asked her, “Miss, will our names be printed on the book?”

“Yes! Your names will appear on the magazine. But, remember, not everyone’s writing/painting will get selected. We’ll get a lot of submissions, and we can only publish the best. And your creations are to be submitted to Ira Das of the Fourth Grade. Is that clear?”

“Yes, miss!” The kids said in unison.

Now, our little girl – let’s call her Mercy –  was very excited about seeing her name in print. On the way back home, she thought and thought and thought, wondering what to come up with for the school magazine. Later in the afternoon, while she was watching her favourite Donald Duck cartoon on TV, she had the idea.

Mercy rushed to her room, and went through her comic books. There was a big picture of the Duck wearing a blue cap and a blue sailor dress which she loved very much. I am going to draw this, she thought.

For the next two hours, Mercy sat with her painting copy, pencils and eraser, and the prized collection of sketch pens that her father had gifted her on her last birthday. When she was finished, Donald’s eyes looked more droopy than it was in the original picture, and his cap was too big for him. But Mercy thought it was perfect.

The next day, Ira came to her class. The third graders surrounded Ira, shouted and clapped as they showed each other their creations. Ira had a tough time organizing them and collecting the submissions.

Two months later, the teacher distributed copies of the magazine to the third graders. Mercy was giddy when she took her copy. Her picture had to be there, wasn’t it?

Mercy turned over the pages and scanned them quickly. The pictures were printed in colour, and the names of the contributors were written underneath them.

Twenty pages… twenty-five… thirty… but where was Mercy’s Donald Duck?

At last, on the thirty-seventh page, Mercy found it! Yes, it was just what she had submitted: Donald wearing his blue cap and blue sailor dress. Wow! Mercy jumped on her seat, and showed the picture to her friend Lily, who was sitting beside her.

“But this is not your picture,” Lily told Mercy. She pointed at the name below the picture, scribbled in a small font. It said: Ira Das, Fourth Grade.

“But this is my picture! I drew it.” The tears bristled in Mercy’s eyes. How could Ira give her own name to it?

Mercy walked to the teacher, holding the magazine to her chest. Choking between her tears, she told the teacher about her picture.

The teacher wiped the tears and said, “Don’t cry, dear. Tell me something, did your write your name in the picture that you submitted?”

“No, Miss.” Mercy had been so excited to have created something that beautiful that she had totally forgotten the teacher’s instruction to write her name and grade on her submission.

“It’s okay, dear. Ira had to take care of so many submissions that perhaps she had no idea who had given it to her. It doesn’t  matter. Here, give me your magazine.”

Mercy handed her magazine to the teacher. The teacher took out her red pen and struck through Ira’s name. In her beautiful, slanted handwriting, she wrote Mercy’s name below it.

At last, Mercy smiled. Then the teacher made her stand before the class and said, “Class! I have an announcement. Please turn to page thirty-seven in your magazine. Do you see a picture of Mr. Donald?”

“Yes, miss!” The class chimed.

“Well, there has been a confusion. This sketch was made by your friend, Mercy. Somehow, they printed it wrongly under Ira’s name. So, I’ll ask Mercy to write her name on the blackboard now, and you all copy her name down under the picture, and scratch out Ira’s name, okay?”

The teacher handed Mercy a white chalk. She walked to the blackboard, and in big letters, wrote: Donald Duck by Mercy Mendoza.


In case you were wondering, the story is based on real incidents. Mercy is me in my third grade! However, there was no announcement for me in my class mentioning any confusion whatsoever, regarding the creator of the Donald Duck. I guess, I just wanted a better ending, and that’s why I wrote this story. It was my first-ever submission, after all.

I regret to say that I don’t have the copy of that magazine anymore. We moved to a different house, and somewhere along the way, the magazine got lost. I still draw sometimes. Here’s one of the pictures I drew back in 2011, under my pen name Mystic Mousumy. I have since dropped that name.

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The Woman with the Sitar

© 2015 Arpita Pramanick

The Millennial Fan – A Short Story

“We have been careful, and you had left nothing behind.”

She stared at the line for a long time. Then she closed the book and sighed. She mused, long after, about the futility of Kaushik’s life. What a perfect story Lahiri had penned!

In the afternoon, she wrote a long email to Lahiri. She had found the email address on the author’s Facebook page. She closed Gmail, and waited. After five minutes, she refreshed the Gmail app on her smart-phone. There in deep, bold letters waited the reply from VintageAnchorPublicity.

If you are trying to reach a Vintage/Anchor author, please note that Random House policy prevents us from distributing author contact information, or to forward emails.

JL

She read the email five times, memorizing the choice words. What was the point, she thought, if you could not even send the author a note after you had finished a novel? They asked her to send a regular mail, whose receipt would never go confirmed, apparently because of the high volume of emails the publicity office dealt with. At any rate, she had no trust for snail mail; emails were cheaper and more convenient. She hoped, for a minute, that someone in the office would actually read her email. And if they did read it, they must forward it – she was confident of the urgency and honesty in the tone of her letter. But she knew what automation meant, so she moved the email to the custom Failure folder on her Gmail app.

It had started with reading the story of a local author in a fortnightly magazine. She had loved the story, and sent her comments through a contact form on the author’s website. He replied the same day from his personal email. On Twitter she wrote: Nothing like emailing an author and being replied to. Thank you @AuthorSanjay!

That was the day when she created the Success folder on Gmail and transferred Sanjay’s email to it. After that, she kept repeating the process with every book she read. She combed the internet to find a digital address to contact the author. More often than not, she met with a dead end. In the finite cases that she found an email/contact form, she sent a message instantly. Everyone loves being praised, or so she believed. Hence, she heaped on adjectives and adverbs in her emails, besides the paragraphs where she talked about how the central character affected her or how much she had loved the plot or the setting.

As soon as the author replied, the period of which varied from one day to seven days, she was ready with another email. This time she was direct: I am an aspiring author, and I simply love your style. Could you please give me some tips? Thank you so much for your time!

And so the process, effective in most cases, continued. She queried the authors about their methods of writing, about the books they read in order to write better. She even sent samples of her own writings and asked if the authors could look at them and comment. Some of the authors wrote long emails to her, trying to answer each of her questions. Others were brief and suggested links and books. On the occasions that she did not receive a reply, she put the sent email in the Failure folder. She kept checking those emails from time to time. She wondered if the author had never gotten to read the email. Or if she’d read it but chosen to ignore her. On most occasions, she assumed the second and grumbled, “One day when I am successful, you are going to mail me yourself”. She believed they owed her a reply, because she had taken the time out to read their stories and spent time to find their contact information and wrote to them. In the long stretches of time when there were no replies from any author, she constantly refreshed the Gmail app, her frustration growing with each passing day. She felt humiliated, stripped. She compensated by starting to write more, trying to distract herself by creating imaginary people in imaginary settings.

In college, she took a creative writing class for two days a week, besides studying history and ancient art. She attended seminars where established authors came. She heard them discuss their craft and took notes. She started to write more and more, on paper and on her laptop, and did not even spare the margins of newspapers and the white napkins in coffee shops, jotting down ideas for plots that she’d later build on, not limiting herself merely to the craft of email-writing now. Her teachers said she had potential, but she needed to stop copying other authors. On the margins of her submissions they wrote, “Too much Lahiri!”, “The Coelho effect” and the like.

Frustrated, she stopped reading the authors she loved most. Around that time, their house was repainted, the chipping plasters on the walls and ceilings were redone. Things were shifted from room to room.

One day she discovered an old trunk kept in one corner of their living room, among old copper utensils and a broken chest of drawers. In that trunk she discovered an old photo album. The pictures were from a bygone age. Everything was in black and white. She recognized a few of pictures of her father from when he was younger: he had posed before tall buildings, most possibly in Bombay where she had heard he had gone. He wore bell-bottom trousers and large, square sunglasses. Apart from these, there were pictures of men, women and children she did not recognize. There were pictures of a woman wearing a lot of jewellery. Another picture had a woman holding a baby in her lap, standing by a river, surrounded by older children.

She also found old letters in the trunk that read like they were some sort of legal documents. One mentioned compensation to refugees who came to India from Bangladesh. She knew her grandparents had migrated from the then East Pakistan to India. But she had no idea about the circumstances in which they had left their homeland.

Over the next five months, she questioned her father and her relatives. She visited the house where his father had been raised, where one of her uncles still lived with his family. Slowly, she reconstructed the past as she saw it. She discovered the rice mill where his grandfather had worked, before becoming a salesman to feed his family. She discovered about the amount of gold her grandmother had received on her marriage, being the daughter of a rich landlord. She found letters from the seventies, sent by the relatives who had stayed back in Bangladesh. They spoke of the bloody struggle that she had read in history. She extrapolated the loss her family must have borne the day they became refugees.

All this time, she took notes. She typed page after page in the word processor. By the end of eight months, she had written a book.

Over the next two years she sent her manuscript to publishers who said, “Thank you very much, but we are not in a position to publish this right now.” She created her own blog, filled it with shorter stories from the era in her novel, trying to create a platform. Slowly, her audience built up.

In the third year, she found an agent who agreed to represent her manuscript. He sold the book to a medium-size publishing house. By then, she had rewritten the entire book thrice.

The book released one winter evening, at a leading bookstore in a shopping mall. She sipped cups of coffee as she read portions from her book and signed copies.

She saw her name pop up on Google search as the author of In Black and White – all the major e-tailers stocked her book. People read and reviewed the book. Slowly, emails started trickling into her mail box.

“What a wonderful book, Chandana! I am so touched.”

“You are such a wonderful writer. I can’t believe you are so young!”

“The thoroughness of your research shows in every paragraph of ‘In Black and White’. You are the next big thing in Indian writing. Waiting eagerly for your next book.”

Other authors, with whom she had stopped communicating years ago, the ones in the Success and Failure folders of her Gmail, congratulated her on her success.

She tried to reply to most of them, never discriminating between the authors and the fans, but in between the book tours and readings and writing the next novel as part of the three-book contract, time was never enough.

Then one day, she received the following email:

Dear Chandana,

I received your book as a gift. I can’t tell you how touched I am. My ancestors also migrated from Bangladesh, and I have heard so many stories of their struggles. Your novel totally resonates with me. I am an aspiring author myself. How do you think I should start to reach where you are today?

What books do you suggest I read? What exactly is your writing procedure like? Do you plan and outline your plot, characters and the settings? Or do you write as they come to you?

Please reply me. I am so eager to read more of your work!

With love,

Sohini

Soon after, Sohini followed her on Twitter, her Facebook page, and subscribed to her blog. The same day, Chandana called her agent and said, “Hi, can you arrange for the publishing house to deal with the fan mails from now on?”

 © 2015 Arpita Pramanick

Choices – A Short Story

I am immensely delighted to inform you all that one of my short stories, I am Mala, has been accepted for publication in the eFiction magazine (Yay, looks like my endeavors are starting to pay off!). It will come out on 1st May, 2015. I am Mala is the story of a young Indian woman named Mala who becomes a victim of the dogmatic caste system. The eFiction magazine is available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook. Do buy your copy! I am so excited to hear your feedback about my story!

Meanwhile, here’s another story from me for you to enjoy this week!

Choices

Smita lay on her bed, feeling the rough bed-sheet irritate the inner side of her left calf. She rested her right leg on the wall, trying to absorb its cool in her skin. Moisture seeped through the pores on her brown skin. Even though the fan whirred above her dutifully, it was hot. Typical Indian evenings.

Smita counted the days on the brown lines of her fingers. Starting from the little finger on her right hand she stopped in the middle of her index finger. Fourteen days more. Just two weeks.

The fluorescent lamp in the room was switched off. However, plenty of light came through the window to illuminate the book shelf on the opposite wall, two feet from her bed. Books that she has been accumulating through the years stood next to each other on the shelf. Some of them had tattered spines, the ones she had bought from the old book stores.

Two weeks and a new life. A new city, far away from the comfort of familiar walls, far away from this hot, sweaty bed.

Her parents were both out this evening, working their asses off in the store where they sold little electrical gadgets. Her father was a part-time electrician. For years, he visited the clients’ places repairing their wiring system or replacing their fans and tube-lights. In the last few months, however, he complained of weak vision in both eyes. Her mother started frequenting the shop then, to help him out. They couldn’t afford someone to help at the shop. They did not make enough money for that.

Four years back Smita had wanted to become an engineer. She was good at physics and mathematics. However, her joint entrance rank for engineering did not allow for a seat in any government college. She did not have the magic certificate that declared her as a scheduled caste.

Privately-funded colleges were expensive. Her parents sat her down and said, “Please don’t worry about the money, dear. We will manage. We’ll take a loan or something. Do not cut back on your dreams.”

Smita argued, “No, Baba. I love mathematics. I could go for a B.Sc.”

The next day, her father had taken her to her higher secondary school. He wanted her to talk to her chemistry professor. The professor was a short woman who wore circular specs on the ridge of her nose.

“Smita, come in!” Her teacher called her to the staff room.

“Thank you, ma’am! My father wants me to talk to you about my college preferences.”

In the next half an hour, Smita had her future chartered before her. Her teacher was a convincing speaker. Pursuing dreams was at the top of her list of priorities, for herself and for her students.

Today, four years since that conversation with her chemistry professor, Smita lay on her uncomfortable bed, counting the days remaining for her to join her first job.

The job was right out of an IT engineer’s dream. The promise of a handsome paycheck and onshore opportunities hung before her like a lollipop on the rope in a chocolate race for primary school children. The minor setback was she had to leave her home town. She had to go to a city in a different state which took three days to reach via an express train.

Ever since she could remember, her life had been a series of repeated events, no variation, no changes. Life at home would remain strikingly same even as she left. Her mother would wake up at six in the morning, prepare simple breakfast of hand-made rotis and a vegetable. After breakfast, her father would leave for the shop at around eight-thirty. After he left, her mother would sweep the floors of their two-room house with a wet rag which she occasionally dipped in a bucket full of murky water. Then she would proceed to cut the vegetables for the lunch.

When the fish soup was cooked and the rice boiled, her mother would take a bath. For the next half an hour her mother would sit before the twelve idols of Hindu gods and goddesses that flanked a sanctum in one corner of her parents’ bedroom. Her mother would meditate, burn incense sticks and arrange fresh flowers in front of the idols.

These days, after her mother completed her prayers, Smita and her mother ate their lunch. Soon after, her mother packed some curry and rice in the three-bowl steel lunch box. Smita would then ride her pink bicycle and ferry the food to her father’s shop, balancing an umbrella in her left hand to cut off the glare of the angry sun.

She would stay there for a while, helping her father out with the sales, which were far between these days. In the evenings, after the sun hid his face, she cycled back to her house. On most days her mother would already be ready to leave for her shift at the shop. Her father found it more difficult to see in the evenings.

In two weeks, her life would be different. She would ride a sleek car provided by the company to and from her office. She would probably buy sets of clothes she had so often admired on the mannequins of the recently opened shopping mall.

After she left, no one would read these books anymore. Neither of her parents was a book-worm – they simply did not have time for the simple pleasures of life. Who would carry the lunch box after she left? Would her father brave the sun in the hot afternoons for a lunch? Or would her mother walk all the way to the shop, an umbrella in her left hand and the lunch box in her right? Or would she learn to ride the bicycle?

In her schooldays, when Smita was promoted to a higher class, her father struggled to buy her books. Even now that she had graduated, the financial picture remained the same. No, there was a minor change, she corrected herself. Now they had this added burden of an education loan. Also, they had to save up some money for her father’s treatment, his eyes got worse each day.

Yesterday at dinner she asked her father, “Baba, do you really want me to take up this job?” She wondered if her mother could handle everything alone after she left – the shop and her father’s treatment.

He father smacked the fingers of his right hand clean (he really loved this mutton curry that her mother cooked once a month). Then he adjusted his spectacles and said, “What alternative have we got?”

No alternatives. She could try for other IT companies, of course. But all of them would transport her to glossy metros. The teaching job at the local school couldn’t possibly pay off her loan. Government jobs were a gamble anyway – you could try for five years and still have nothing on your hand.

Smita wanted to think of the better things. Something that would make her lips curve upwards. Couldn’t I have some more choice in my life? She asked aloud. No answer came.

Only a lizard croaked on the wall.

Smita watched the whirring fan above her – the contour of its blades made a perfect circle. The individuality of each blade was lost in the motion. In motion they became something they were not – something they could not choose to become but couldn’t prevent as well.

Smita scratched her damp scalp as she watched the blades move. No choices, she muttered. She turned over in the bed and killed with a single slap the mosquito that was blissfully sucking blood at her ankle.

 The End

Does Smita’s story leave an impact on you? Please let me know what you feel about this story in the comments section. Like they say, it’s feedback that helps authors grow!