More September Highlights – An Omnibus And A Review


William Burkholder is a poet-editor, artist and an activist. We have been Facebook friends since 2009. He is also one who published my poems in Troubadour 21 when I was at the initial stage of learning. He is also co-founder of SCCA (The S.O.U.L Collective Of Collaborative Arts ). a non-profit corporation.

product_thumbnail.php(Pic sourced from lulu.com with William’s permission)

Sometime back he compiled an International ‘Collaborative’s Omnibus‘ which is the fourth collection of creative works published by the Source of Universal Love and has work of many good writers from across the globe.  I am honored to be part of this collection. The Omnibus includes 10 poems and 4 short stories written by me. It feels good that people across the globe are reading my words and buying this book to aid a charity.

I am deeply grateful to William for making me a part of this noble initiative. It feels good when your hard work is recognized and appreciated.

Your support matters too. Do buy your copy and check out the other books by the Source of Universal Love.

The another big news of this month is that my review of author Nabina Das’s short story collection “The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped” got published in the Singapore-based journal Kitaab. I absolutely love reading kitaab and it feels awesome to be a published there. The essay was read and appreciated by many good writers/editors and that itself is an encouragement. I am not a reviewer so when the author feels that my “words are gracious and constructive in their critique”, this means a lot. Maybe this is a sign that I should explore new possibilities.

Special thanks to Kitaab editor and writer Zafar Anjum  and review editor Monica Arora for accommodating my review. It is a milestone for me to be a part of such prestigious journal.It feels good to have a circle of supporters and mentors. Each one of you is special.

Here is an excerpt from the review,

  “Living in two or more places at the same time defines the coordinates of Das’ collection of stories. The nature-culture dualism in her stories, a rather likable binary, plays out effortlessly. The two female protagonists in “The House of Twining Roses” represent the two houses, two different ideologies, two life choices of women who grew together yet in different ways, like the two kinds of plant life around the house – the roses and the eucalyptus. The theme in each story too operates on two or more levels, I feel.”

I have known Nabina since almost seven years and I greatly admire her writing. The House of Twining Roses is a fantastic read. I recommend it totally. You can read the full review HERE.

September began with mixed feelings but I guess the universe has a way to close and heal open wounds. I am attending book readings, launches and other creative meets in my city and finally stepping out of my cocoon.

“Something’s lost but something’s gained in livin’ everyday.” says Joni Mitchell and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Enter The House Of Stories


I live in a house of stories. In a phantasm. Here everything is made up of words. Said and unsaid. Written and unwritten. Heard and unheard. Familiar and unfamiliar. Words that are still in the nuclei and others which are decaying and dying. Dead words and their ghosts. Orgasmic words exploding at touch of a thought. All encompassing all including words. Tainted words. winged words- magical, ethereal.  Then there are the creative trouble makers. Words that will bewitch you, cast a spell and posses you. They will become your fingers and write the stories for you. You will have no control, no power. Drugged by them your stories will rise from the belly of your mind and float out of the house while you watch in helpless trance. They will be your masterpieces. Your finest creations.

Cast a net  catch a few starry words, look for those glowing words hidden in the crevices, sniff the pain and  joy, vulnerability and  passion, death and rebirth if you have a nose for it. Allow your senses to indulge. Let the words have their way with you. Let them tickle you like a soft feather, undress you slowly down  to the wire syllable by syllable, consonant by consonant. Let them undo you one vowel at a time.Lend yourself to them. Surprise your tongue as they gently push past your teeth , rejoice in the deeper play they create inside you. Watch their sweet swell. Taste the salt on their skin. Dance to their symphony of lust. Let them feed you a story or two in bite size morsels. Be part of their stories. Always searching, always needing, always wanting. There is  a beauty in staying incomplete. Hungry.

Do not be afraid. Open yourself to the house of stories and it will sing you its  siren songs, it will string together and weave fascinating tales.  It won’t lie, It can’t. It isn’t capable of deceit.

No emotion is superfluous here, everything is an all engulfing whirlpool. Everything is larger than life. Raw, naked, stripped off of all inhibitions, everything is free of boundaries reality imposes.  The boundary between the animate and inanimate is in itself animate. Walk that line.

While you do all this always have an escape route. Don’t let the words hold you captive in the house of stories. Slip away the moment you feel the cage closing in. Escape. Heaven is real but so is hell. Sometimes the word wall will crumble like cookies and the winds will scatter them. Do not despair. Other words will take their place and those flung far and wide will take roots there and lay the foundation for some other house of stories. There is always a birth in death. Nothing actually dies.

There is also a dark world lurking in here.  A house within a house where you can cut yourself on words, bleed. Weapons- sharp, loaded. Silent cold words with sharp jagged edges. Gleaming daggers. They can ravage your heart, pierce through it, nibble on it or tear it like a carnivore, throw you off-balance and hurl you down a narrow, gaping hole. They can strip you naked and whiplash you till your skin burns crimson, black and blue but as I said do not be afraid. Let them hammer on your pain points, slump you like a deflated balloon but remember it is all a part of love-making, of self-awareness, of  becoming aware.  Be aware, let them scribble on your heart, accept, relax, surrender to them as they surrender to you. Let the house of stories take you in its warm, moist fold as you take it in yours. Stay joyously drunk on them. Enjoy the fluidity. Ride through it, plunge, rise, drown and rise again. Meet those unmet passions, unbound desires, celebrations and raptures, slaughtered dreams and rejections, the end of the rope and secret shame, discover the road map of scars, heal them , touch them with love as they throb inside your being. Let them bring you to your knees as they take you on a roller coaster ride called life. Watch the swing and swirl of words as they tangle with human emotions.

Be a relentless seeker. Seek the stories hidden in the nooks and corners of this house. Reach out to them. Reach for the void at the end, look for spaces between for it is there you will find yourself. Listen to the echos of your heart. Curl up and retreat in those empty spaces. Don’t be in a hurry to fill them for they add meaning to all that is around you. The spaces between tears and laughter, silence and words, between the pieces of yin and yang that lie in your path. Nestle in the light that seeps through the spaces of darkness and dark that quietly descends between the light. Be there in the spaces between your breaths, give yourself to the space between the rising and the setting sun, slip through the spaces between your fingers, sit quietly between your illusions and delusions.

Find stories hidden in the spaces between awake and sleep, between birth and death,  in gaps where the warmth meets the chill, where yearning meets the indifference, Don’t occupy it , just be there. Dig deep into yourself. Feel the intimacy of being with oneself in these miracle moments.

This house is ever reinventing itself. You can’t live here as a whole. You are split into a million nano particles, each as complete as the other.

You are the house. The house is you. It is a maze. It is an extension of you. Add your stories to it. Write. Create. Co create. Love its solitude and yours within it. Be in love for that is what writing is all about. Become your writing and merge into the house of stories so there is no physical self, just words. Let it be an excavation site where every moment is a mystery revealed. Where in every crack lies a spring waiting to launch forth just like your heart. Don’t box yourself in for the true blossoming can occur only when you have set yourself free of everything that restrains, restricts. Explore, take risks, question, allow yourself.

I live here, in my enchantment. 

Would you like to come in? 

To Freedom and Love (A Story)


Lisa watched as the two men took off in their bright red jeep. She smiled and waved till the jeep was just a blur on the sun-kissed horizon.

She loved sunrises.

She began to hum her favorite song and walked back into the cottage. switching on the music she began to dance. A slow seductive dance. Slowly she dropped her gown and winked at the picture at the mantel piece.

The three of them. Best friends.

“Freedom at last . I am glad we could get away all by ourselves Danny, She can be very taxing at times” ,  Peter affectionately hugged his lover but his tone clearly showed the disgust he felt for Lisa.

“Hmm.. yea ” , Danny returned the smile.

“You seem distracted, buddy” Peter glanced at the man he had loved for so many years.

“No way, I am cool”  Danny Checked himself and gave that heart stopping grin.

Peter kept his arm around Dan as they drove on the long winding mountain road. Nothing unusual.

The two reached the lake in an hour . It was their favorite place .

Peter’s favorite place.
Slipping out of their clothes  they slid into the cool waters and lazily floated taking in the picturesque surroundings.
It was a vacation Danny had meticulously planned for Peter.
Danny got out of the water first and began to arrange the lavish spread Lisa had prepared for them.
He took out the glasses and poured the drink.
The last drop created a ripple in the still sparkling liquid. He watched the tiny blue waves as they slowly faded into the  colorless ness of the drink.Peter walked out of the water looking like Adonis .

He took the glass and raised a toast . ” To Freedom and Love ” Peter said loudly and finished the drink in one shot.
In  fraction of a second he was gone.
Danny swirled his glass with a strange smile on his lips .
“To freedom and love ” He echoed his lover’s words and watched the virulent liquid from his glass create larger ripples in the stillness of the lake.
Lisa looked at the watch and smiled.
Even best of the friends have secrets.
All is fair in love and war.

 

 

Bhed (discrimination) – A short story


“The children are starving since last two days. Please get us something to eat from somewhere.” “I can not see them suffering.”

“I am trying dear, morning till evening I try to get something that can sustain our children. Even I can not see the family going hungry each da

“Why don’t you try the garbage dump?” “Maybe you may find some leftovers there.”

“Absolutely out of question, that place stinks and the entire colony throw its garbage there, it’s such a bad place, I won’t go there.”

“Please this one time,” she said with her eyes welling.

“Oh! Alright I will go.” He turned and hurried towards the garbage dump at the end of the long road.

It was cold, foggy and there was no sign of sun.

She waited impatiently. Her children cuddled close to her. She looked fondly at all of them .They sure will have food today.

Hours passed and she started getting worried. Her eyes fixed on the road.

She could hardly see beyond the nearest tree, but then she saw him running toward their home. He held something in his mouth.

The children gathered around her full of hope.

He dropped what looked like a loaf of meat, in front of her. Trying to catch his breath, he sat on the ground.

“What is this?” she started inspecting the thing lying in front of her.

“Oh God! This is a new-born human girl child.

Their eyes widened at the sight of the dead female infant.

“Are you sure”?

“Yes, I am”. “Someone who did not want a girl child threw her in the garbage dump.”

“How heartless and cruel these humans are. Thank God we don’t discriminate between our children.” She said licking the nearest one fondly.

The puppy, happy at the sight of food and love, wagged its tiny tail.

“Let’s have our meal quickly, it is a question of our survival”, he said.

No one moved.

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Savitri, Woman of Substance – A Story


The night slowly slipped behind the back stage making way for the dawn that glowed with joy from behind the cloud curtains. The rays of the morning sun started to spread the cheers across the marbled floor of the sky.

Savitri rubbed her eyes and yawned as the sun light brushed on her face. She rose, picked up the broom and cleaned the area near her home. Then she went to the hand pump, drew some water and went about her daily chores like many of us.

She quickly revised all that she had to do before the rush hour. There was drinking water to be filled from the municipal tap before the line went to the other end of the earth. There was a specific time period and if she missed that they would have to drink the dirty hand pump water. Then there was cooking to be done, lunch packed for her little children and husband. She would wakeup the kids in a while and dress them for their school. Savitri made it a point that no matter what the kids will not miss even a day at the school.

I guess most of us did have a similar kind of routine but our daily chores and private moments with family were not for public eye whereas Savitri’s were free for all. She lived on the pavement near our apartment. The posh residential complex meant for the who’s who of the capital. Where people hid their family skeletons into the cupboard, and shoved their dirty linen under beautiful Persian rugs. Savitri’s world was open for scrutiny all the time; she did not have one single private moment of her own.

Savitri’s husband had moved to the capital as a laborer when our apartment foundation was being laid. He was the right hand of the contractor and good in his mason work. Like any other average person who wanted to make good money in the big city, he too nurturing a dream of a “private” home and other luxuries of decent living.

Her village in the interiors of Bihar had no electricity, water or even a road. Shyam lal wandered here and there for one year before a contractor hired him. There was no way he could keep his family with him. Time passed and loneliness of the big city started to take its toll on him. He got his pregnant wife just after a year’s stay in unfriendly city.

Savitri and her husband wandered for many days until they found the construction site of our apartment and made it their home. They now had an envious address in town.

Shyamlal was a mason and spent many days in some or the other construction site but it was not getting him good income to support the growing family. He did odd jobs like cleaning cars or cleaning dishes at parties with the tent house guys he had befriended. Somehow they managed to meet the both ends. Savitri worked as house maid and earned a bit to pitch in, but with an infant in her lap and three more to take care of, it was becoming a bit rough for her to do her bit..

I would often see Savitri’s little family and her open life from my balcony on the fifth floor. Many a times I tried to get the whiff of what was cooking for lunch at her home. She would bathe her children one by one under the broken municipal tap and try to make the new baby sleep amidst traffic fumes, noise and filth.

I would pass her humble dwelling en route to the market and often think about the rigid rules we had at home about cleanliness. I would always be uncomfortable of my clothing when I would glance at the rags hanging on a thin dirty wire near the side wall of our apartment building.

I never stopped at Savitri’s home but smiled once in a while at her or handed some fruits to the children while passing that side. We had developed some silent unheard of bond between us.

One day as I returned home from the market, laden with bags of all shapes and sizes, I heard her shout from behind.

“Madam ji your purse fell off when you crossed my house.” She handed me my wallet with a smile.

I was touched by the honesty and sincerity of this woman. She was poor but not greedy. I mumbled my thanks with a smile and handed her a fifty rupee note. Suddenly the color of her face changed.

“We are poor madam ji but we are not beggars. My husband earns well to feed and keep us. You give eatables to my children that I don’t mind because food is sacred but money…. You are insulting me.” The proud woman said with a hurt in her voice.

I never felt more ashamed in my life than at that moment. A humanitarian lesson came to me from the most unexpected source.

I patted her back and walked silently towards my home. Days passed and I got busy with my new found work. My maid usually went for the local household purchases so my interaction with Savitri became less.

One day the bell rang at the crack of dawn. Half asleep and tired I dragged myself to the door to find Savitri with all her children.

She muttered that she was sorry for disturbing me so early but it was urgent. I became defensive and asked what the urgency was all about. I was sure she wanted money or some other help by telling some sob story.

“We are leaving for the village for good. Me and children” she said.

“Why? Is something wrong and what about Shyamlal?” I asked, curious to know what had hit them to move from the city after such a long time.

She was a woman of few words and in short she explained how her husband had got into bad company and came drunk most of the nights, hit her and created a scene by demanding physical contact when he pleased.

“I have two growing sons and three daughters and if we stay with him it would have a bad influence on them. I want to make my children civilized respectable citizens. I have some savings and I am sure we will be better off without that creep.”

“I don’t want my children to think that a woman is a ball of dung to be kicked around.” she said with pride glowing in her kohl dark eyes. I was dumbstruck. She was not willing to sacrifice her self-pride at any cost. I fell from my own eyes that very moment.

Here was I struggling to keep a dying relationship with a married man and here was a woman who had never set foot even in a local school teaching me what woman’s liberation was all about.

My respect for her grew from that day and I wished her success with her liberated new life. I went ahead and hugged her to her utter surprise. We parted with moist eyes.

I watched her walk away majestically with honor followed by her proud children.

The locality suddenly lost one of her most élite residents. Shyamlal wandered aimlessly for many days in half drunk condition. Maybe he lost his job too. After a few days the locality was cleared of the growing slum near it. The space on the pavement constantly reminded me of humble Savitri and the lesson she taught me before leaving. A lesson, all the years of my élite education could not teach.

Flash Fiction


One

You veiled your heart from me.

Yet I managed to enter your heart, silently on cat feet.

I came to steal all the sorrow, pain, hurt and suffering from you.

I even emptied my heart of my own burdens to make space for yours.

However, I realized you had buried them some place else, somewhere beyond my reach.

I felt pained and let down. I had a right to them as much as you had, may be more.

Still despite of all your silence and all your efforts to hide within your so-called shell, my heart found a way to yours.

You even dressed it in rags and made it beg.

It kept beating at the door of your heart, unconditionally without questioning.

Every time you try to kill it, like a  phoenix it rises again from its ashes.

The slightest breeze of love that is part of a bigger scheme of things blows sometimes even the heaviest of veils away.

Do not attempt to fight what is part of your destiny, have faith.

Sometimes we lose time and by the time we realize what we have lost it is too late.

As he stood by her grave, her words kept haunting him. A tear slipped through his soft brown eyes.

Under The Dogwood Tree



The rivulet gushed through the picturesque forest .It was spring in England .Sam looked around him, this was their favorite spot .The place was vibrant with colors .A carpet of bluebells under lush green tall trees, delicate wild flowers of hues that only God could paint with his magic brush, daffodils swaying with the gentle breeze. The flaming colors of rhododendron lit up the hill sides. Along the banks of the rivulet and under the trees narcissus filled the air with their intoxicating fragrance .A palette of red, pink, yellow and blue.

Sam waited for Dan to arrive .They had spent some of the most memorable evenings there .Sitting under the pink Dogwood tree whose gently arching branches leaned over to kiss the sparking water of the rivulet .He smiled as he remembered the most intimate moments Dan and he shared in that magical unspoiled beauty around them .The place was secluded and so there was no chance of any disturbance.

Distractedly Sam plucked a blade of grass and started nibbling it, a maelstrom of emotions and remembrances engulfed him.He watched the small pebbles roll into the cool waters in front of him. A leaf fell from a tree into the water, and was carried away by the swift current .Sam wondered where the rivulet will take the tiny leaf .Where its journey of life will culminate? Such is life, he thought.

Where we have come from and where the river of life will take us no one knew. We may glide gently down the current like this little leaf and during our journey we meet whirlpools and rocky shores, rapids and precipices, and many obstacles. His eyes followed the little leaf till it disappeared from his sight forever. So it is with man, he thought. One disappears from sight—Death takes him.

Dan had taken a day off to meet Sam .He wanted to set things fine before Sam left the country .They were a couple and had spent great times professionally as well as on personal front but things had gone out of his control lately. Sam was demanding more time and attention, he was not happy of their undercover relationship. While Dan was successful, handsome top level award winning journalist Sam was an upcoming photographer. A simple soul with great looks but a complex personality and responses that drove Dan up the wall.

Sam had started quarreling with him over the attention he paid to all the lovely girls who seem to gather around him like honey bees .He was sure Dan was sleeping with some of them and that made him furious. Dan was bisexual but kept his sexual preferences under wraps due to his Indian background and the position he held in his profession. This troubled Sam no ends .He wanted Dan all for himself .He wanted to be socially seen with him, accepted by the friends and colleagues.

They had talked about it for hours together but Dan was firm about his decision and Sammy could do nothing about it. There was a whirlpool of emotions inside the young man .They had been together for last ten years but the distance still remained.

Sam was getting less assignments now as he spent most of his time in pubs or trailing Dan to wherever he went, keeping an eye on all that he did .Dan was getting very irritated by this constant bickering and being followed all the time .The fights were increasing every day .Dan felt sorry for Sammy and tried to counsel him but to no effect .It made Sam more stubborn and furious .He started taking drugs and resembled a ghost on the sidewalk.

Dan knew Sammy was going to loose his job one day but could not do anything. He had fallen in love with a beautiful Italian girl and did not feel the same for Sammy the way he used to .Something had changed in him, though he still felt sorry for his lover.

Sam slowly receded from his life and Dan became more and more involved with his new found love and life .One fine day he met Sam at a party. He looked well. Their eyes met over hundreds of people laughing and chatting over drinks. Dan tried to look away, feeling uncomfortable and guilty but Sammy came towards him, smiling his beautiful smile .Dan felt something cut deep into his heart .The ache made his eyes moist. They shook hands like old friends and hugged.

Sammy told Dan that he was leaving the country and wanted one evening with him in the forest near the rivulet.

Dan remembered how enchanting the place looked in spring and quickly agreed to come that weekend.

Sam saw Dan walking down the path towards him. He got up and went to hug his friend .Dan felt a sudden rush inside him but managed to remain calm .He did not want to start it all over again.

The two men sat on the bank of the rivulet chatting about all the fun they used to have .It was like old times. And time stood still.

Sam had brought some of Dan’s favorite things to eat, complete with the cutlery, glasses and wine .They had a hearty meal together listening to the birds and taking in the breathtaking beauty that lay before them.

Sitting under the blooming pink Dogwood tree whose flowers as delicate in color as fine porcelain Dan looked around the swirls of lilac, gold, and white formed by bedded-out pansies which they has planted there together .

It was getting a little windy and late so Dan decided to say his last good bye.

For the last time the two lovers embraced.

Just as Dan turned to leave Sammy picked up the steak knife

It had been an hour since Sam had been hugging Dan’s body .His eyes swollen with crying .He kissed Dan’s forehead and ran his fingers though his rich black hair.

“Goodbye Danny I love you’’

After a seven day search for Danish, who had gone missing, the police found a decomposed body of a male in a fisherman’s cottage, with his wrists slit and a freshly dug shallow grave near the rivulet in the forest.

Near the grave on the Dogwood tree truck was etched:

DAN AND SAM

AT LAST

IN DEATH TOGETHER

Rapture


Rain, thunder and lightning, she could see it all from her bedroom window. It was a freezing December night. Unusually dark.

Stretched casually across the emptiness of the bed, she spread her delicate, bare arms on her sides. Her palms up. The luxurious raven black curls fell over her well rounded shoulders.

She closed her midnight dark eyes slowly. Her breasts rose and fell in tune with the rhythm of her heartbeats .She moved her shapely slender legs .The satin sheet beneath her, creased a little.

She lay stark naked on the king-size bed of her master bedroom. Her body aflame with hunger. The intoxicating aroma of the scented candles drifted in the air.

The lighting flashed through the stately glass windows, revealing the curves of her slightly tanned body. She resembled the Greek Goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture, Aphrodite, sculpted exquisitely in marble.

Flawless.

Suddenly she felt a warm touch upon her arm, sliding down slowly towards her palm. Warm strong fingers lightly slipped between her fingers. She felt a tender palm press against her palm. He unexpectedly pulled her close to his strong warm body. She could hear his heartbeat merging with her own.

She was thirsting for this meeting, her heart beat loud and passionate against his chest ……. it had been so long .She wrapped her arms around him and drew him closer .Their bodies pressed in a tight embrace. Her soft lips, full as ripe fruit, touched his forehead while his hands slid between them caressing and feeling her firm round breasts .A passionate kiss followed intense love making.

For the next couple of hours they lay engulfed by the raging fire of passion. Their bodies melted into each other. She was in the world of orgasmic fantasy.

None of them said anything. Their eyes never met and she didn’t realize when she fell asleep encircled in his arms. Inseparable.

The first rainbow hued sunshine filtered through the glistening glass.

The bed was empty. The satin sheet, crumpled and moist, had slid to one side of the bed.

Did he leave before the daybreak or was it all a dream?

She just did not want to know and didn’t care. She stretched herself, satiated and whole.

She gazed out at a glorious morning knowing that life was never going be the same again.

It was a warm December morning when she woke up alone in an empty room.