The bump


courtesy of alienbee.net

courtesy of alienbee.net

1990

Tammy watched the little boys zoom across the grey concrete on the playground. They screamed and yelped and made their voices deeper as they stopped, turning and facing their enemies with their fists on their hips. They were superheroes, with their coats buttoned around only their necks and their hoods turned up on their heads.

Tammy desperately wanted to join in. It looked like so much more fun than playing ‘Mummies and Daddies’. For some reason, they always picked her to be the daddy and today, she really did not want to play the part of someone who went to work and came home and demanded dinner. But then, she had an idea. It was genius! She could be a Superhero Daddy! That could be her job! The other girls looked at her as if she had lost her mind but then, miraculously, they shrugged and said, “Okay, then.”

Tammy zoomed off, attaching her own grey duffel coat around her neck, like a cloak. She ran as fast as she could, and she knew, with her new trainers, she was pretty darn fast! She felt the wind whip her hair around her face and sting her eyes. She gulped the cold air and drank it in, thirsty for more. She glanced back at the girls and they were content. She just kept on running!

But then, everything went black; her knees were throbbing, as was her forehead and her elbows. She saw her bare knees first and noticed the blood, the miniscule gravel pieces trapped in the cuts. She wanted to cry but fought back the tears when she saw the boy sitting in front of her, her mirror image, rubbing an emerging bump, the size of an egg, on his forehead. Another superhero.

She grinned at him and he grinned back.

“I know you,” she said, “You’re in Miss Ham’s class.”

“I’m Josh. And you’re Tammy.” His voice was quiet, soft. Tammy liked him instantly. It helped that they were in the same year.

She wanted to say something more, but a crowd had gathered around them. Mrs. Samuels had appeared and was directing Snivelling Samantha to escort the two fallen, to the first aid room, which in reality was the disabled toilet.

They walked side by side, following Samantha, as she wiped away the mucus that stubbornly, eternally was attached to the end of her nose. There were only two chairs in the cubicle, and one toilet. Samantha left the two wounded, whilst Tammy took the chair and Josh took the toilet bowl. The lid was down. Mrs Barnes was already sitting on the other chair.

“So what have we here?” She looked at the both of them, her hair in tight grey curls on her head and deep, deep wrinkles adorning her face like war paint, even and dark. Her tone was pleasant. She smiled and Tammy wanted to be as brave as possible in front of the teacher and the boy.

“We bumped into each other and fell over. We grazed our knees and elbows and hit our heads.”

“Let me have a look, then.”

Mrs Barnes examine Josh first, gave him an antiseptic wipe and asked him to clean himself up, while she examined Tammy. She then handed Tammy another wipe and asked her to do the same. Meanwhile she opened the small freezer and took out an ice pack. She gave it to Josh. “I’m afraid you’ll have to share,” said Mrs Barnes, genuinely apologetic.

She took out a pair of tweezers, rubbed it with something and proceeded to take out the debris from Tammy’s knees. Conscious of Josh’s eyes, Tammy fought back the tears. It was awfully painful but she would not cry, she told herself.

Josh did cry but his tears were silent, trickling down his face leaving streaks, lighter than his skin, cutting a pathway through his freckles. At the end of it, they both received stickers, like medals and a note to take home. It was also Tammy’s turn for the icepack, but it was warm and soft by the time it was handed to her. She left it on the chair.

“You’ve both been really brave. Well done! I’ve cleaned up your knees and you’ve both got plasters on them. If the plasters fall off, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to come back for another one. Oh, and don’t forget to take the note home to Mum.”

The instructions were clear. The bell had rung, indicating that playtime was over. Tammy looked at Josh and smiled. They didn’t really bump into each other again after that.

But they did become friends.

 

 

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My Evening with Jhumpa


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The Venue, Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

We stood there, excitement coursing through our veins, too hyped up, even for the coffee being offered for a mere 10 Rupees (10 pence), by a vendor by the gate. We were going to meet our idol, our inspiration for turning to pen and paper in a bid to unravel and interpret our very existence.

We had arrived early, in the hope to grab the best seats, but they, the security, would not let us enter for another half an hour. “What to do?” as they say here. We were right opposite St Paul’s Cathedral and we could see the tip of the hallowed Victoria Memorial, which was to be our backdrop for the evening and we could see men in white polo shirts milling around, with a certain air of authority awarded to them by the badge they wore along with their scowl. We had no choice but to wait for permission to enter.

And eventually enter, we did. Near the front of the line, we made a mad dash for the seating area, a good 5 minutes and a round about route through the Park. We got there, ahead of the crowd we had left behind. We were triumphant and puffed up with success until, ALAS! Not only were there people there before us, but there was also VIP reserved seating for the first three rows. Never mind, we thought, the fourth best seats in the house were good enough for us, Aam Aadmi or ordinary folk. We seated ourselves, a good thirty minutes before the event was due to start and we chatted and learned a bit more about each other.

At the entrance, whilst waiting to be allowed in, I met two girls, who were to be my bosom buddies for the evening. We had made the mad dash together and we, all three of us wrote, or attempted to write. This made for a pretty special bond, in itself. We swore to wait for each other and pull each other along and save seats for whatever the evening had in store. One of the girls was a ‘guest’ lecturer in English Literature, in a Calcutta College another was a third year graduate student in Presidency, an institution mentioned in Lahiri’s latest novel, The Lowlands.

Each one of us felt a connection with this literary luminary. For me, it was the fact that her stories centre on the lives of Indian families straddling two different cultures. She has seen what I have seen, experienced what I have experienced. She has seen the longing in her father’s eyes when he related the tales of his youth or the sudden breathlessness in her mother’s voice when she remembers that time at her father’s feet, learning to sing. It was the broken Bengali in English accents the embarrassment at not being able to pick out the bones from fish on a steel thali or the fact that we were neither here nor there.

They call it Diasporic Literature. I call it ‘my life in writing.’

When this beautiful woman finally emerged from the shadows of the enclave, not quite American, not quite Indian, I held my breath. A part, that really vain, ambitious part, that likes to dream, wondered if that could ever be me up there. And when she spoke, it was my life she spoke of. It was a profound experience. The fact that she took books to gatherings so she would not have to interact with those around her, the fact that when she visited India she longed to have a little water bottle to take with her to school, like her cousins. It was those things that suddenly made me yearn to meet her. I needed to tell her, “I know! I’ve faced it too! This exact same thing is what I feel! I too want to write! You are me!” How stupid and weird and darn right crazy!

But then the veil fell away. She was not accessible. I’ll be honest here, because, I can write what I like, it’s my blog and I’m entitled to an opinion and I doubt she cares anyway. She seemed socially awkward. She seemed offended easily and unable to take an objective stance on her own writings. When I asked which was her favourite piece of work she looked horrified. “I don’t have one, I can’t answer that. That would be like which one of my children do I love the best!”

But I know, as a writer, there are some pieces, I have put out there that I can say are definitely better than others. Some I would do differently, some I would print out and frame and keep just as it is. That’s what makes you a better writer right? That’s how you grow, surely? But hey, who am I to make such judgements, I’m not the published author, around here!

She did not want to interact with her fans, and I hasten to add, for the Namesake, her short stories and not The Lowlands, I will always be her fan! She did not want to sign any books, although she was forced to, I think, and she seemed too damned serious! But that’s writers for you, I guess! Who knows! I haven’t met enough of them.

However, it was a magical evening! The Victoria Memorial was the perfect location! I met some wonderful people and best of all, my father was there to experience it with me.

This is why I’m in Calcutta. This is what my life is all about! And here’s to many, many more such wondrous events to come!

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courtesy of http://www.npr.org

Basking in the after glow of “I DID IT!”


Well, I did it! I wrote a novel in the month of November and I’m still basking in the afterglow of success. 

This is huge for me, I’ve actually completed a task despite the odds. I’m going to brag and boast my heart out until everyone’s sick of listening and then I’ll brag some more just because I CAN!

You see, it wasn’t easy. 

First there was Diwali (6 days of preparations and festivities in Hyderabad), right at the beginning of the month, which every Indian knows, is a complete drain on mental and physical resources and then my mum and dad landed in India and stayed a weekend (2 days of being an indulged daughter after, just too long) and then my cat died (3 days I allowed myself to mourn). That was the toughest thing I had to go through in a long time, and I don’t think I’m still over it, but do you know what? Nibbles has an entire chapter dedicated to him. I wrote my feelings into my book and mourned for him within pages of my personal triumph.

Anyway, enough! 

I just wanted to say, that I actually did it and it would not have been possible were it not for my dear friends in Calcutta who told me I could and I absolutely should, my husband who never once complained that what I was doing was a waste of time and my parents who locked me in my room for the last two days of November so I would reach the 50k mark before the midnight deadline. (I got there at 11.45pm exactly, by the way!)

So, as I shamelessly brag, I’m also shamelessly telling you, that if you want, you could do it too. I am probably the world’s greatest procrastinator, but I needed to do this. Just to say that I can! 

And as I do this I am reminded that I need to keep on doing it, because now, is just the beginning. I’ve still got to amend and edit and redraft and rejig and rehash and probably scrap and maybe add to my little baby. Watch her grow and evolve into something even more beautiful than just a symbol of my passion. It needs to grow to be worthy of being read and that is now my mission. For although it’s okay, I believe it has the potential to be great! Yes, I’ve said it out loud! It has the potential to be much more than just a forgotten tome sitting on my shelf. One day it will be worthy of readers who will love it enough to let it grow and take root into their own wonderful imaginings of events depicted in the lines and letters of my creation.

So a final thank you to Calcutta…it wouldn’t have happened without you!