The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mirage: A Story to Recall

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This time I could trace my copy of the old Oriya magazine "Katha", and the issue dates back to September 1988. My first short story in Oriya entitled "Marichika" was published there. The magazine is now out of circulation. I had always thought of posting in my blog a translated version of the story. This time as I was spending a week off from my work at Bhubanswar, I could give a decent trial and was able to accomplish that. It's quite a feeling to revise one's own writing after two decades!

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It was raining incessantly. The chill in the wind made the trees pathetically shiver in the open. The crows and sparrows in the neighbourhood had gone into their hideouts in search of a little warmth . The roads were empty, muddy and dangerously slippery. A frog in the paddy field was croaking impatiently. It was a stubborn rain, out and out.


The weather had been like this for last four days. People of means were making the best out of this inclement cloudiness—they were huddled indoor, munching on their choicest snacks, a mixture of perched rice, bits of coconut, green chilly chopped into thin slices and mustard oil. They had nothing to do but to waddle along the time. The cool dimness afforded them pleasure, nay a delightful languor. But what was there in it for Madhua to enjoy? He needed no more rains; he would only welcome day and diet. Yes, diet and diet only would bring smile onto the face of his daughters Menka and Budhi.


It had been raining since Saturday and today was Tuesday. The elements were expected to continue for seven days, for the rain had started on Saturday. For the last two days Madhua and his family had somehow got on out of the advance wage for a day they had managed to get from the village moneylender. The cow dung cake he had saved had been used as fuel to cook rice; the green kansiri leaves that had grown on their own in the backyard had been the curry; and the bites of green chilly had helped to make up for the insipidity. All these consumed, Madhua had gone to the moneylender once again. Yes, he was the same moneylender, known even to the mongrels on the village road for his stinginess. And what else would he have pleaded for before the stingy fellow? The same old request, the same old prayer.


Saantey, would you be kind enough to give me two seers of rice towards advance wage? As soon as the weather improves, I’ll work for you and repay that, please,’ Madhua entreated.


You’re here, and once again? Have you worked for the wage you took as advance last year? You aren’t the people to trust, never. If I accede to your request, I should consider my money lost,’ Saantey was rude and wild in his gesticulations.


I swear I’ll repay...and as for the last year’s advance, I’m sure I’d settled them all,’ Madhua was not sure if he should have answered back.


I'd settled them--what do you mean by that? Well, what else would you tell if not this? If truth be told, altogether advance worth three days’ wage is outstanding against you. And here you’ve the guts to say that you’ve settled everything. I know it’s our mistake to pay you the advance at the time of your need,’ Saantey glowered at Madhua.


Madhua was about to stutter something. Probably he was trying to say, ‘Saantey, if you don’t want to accede to my request, it’s your wish, but for God’s sake don’t vilify me. Madhua would better starve than lie.’ Before he could muster courage to tell what he felt, Saantey had begun to shout, ‘First you get lost. One should avoid talking to people like you.’


Undone, Madhua turned homeward. The pattering raindrops were creating rhythm, landing on his palm-leaf umbrella in an irregular interval. The wind whistled as it passed through the gaps between the palm leaves. There was a big banyan tree, a little beyond the hamlet where Saantey lived. Even the canopy of the banyan tree allowed the raindrops to drip through it like a beggar’s umbrella that was miserably leaky. Somehow Madhua felt like standing there for a while. There was the cremation ground of the village, just a few yards away from the big banyan tree. It was literally too big, so big a place where many Saanteys and Madhuas had already coalesced. ‘Pity it is. Nobody understands the truth. Everybody is too busy to earn and amass, and in the process one does not know when he has reached the cremation ground. It is so near to everybody! And everybody is so ignorant about it! As one is laid onto the pyre, the fire makes him bare,’ Madhua resumed his walk as he cogitated about the unsolved mystery of human existence.


Dejected and irresolute, Madhua was literally drifting homeward. The house of his friend was to come on his way. He was half inclined to drop in on his friend, to know what the family was doing to spend a rainy day like that. On a second thought he dithered. Who could tell it for sure that his friend, finding Madhua at his door, would not jump to conclude that he had appeared there to borrow something? In case he came to offer him something to eat? Why would he diminish the share of his friend from whatever meagre he might have arranged for his meal? It was just possible that like him his friend and his entire family of ten were waiting empty stomach for something to come to them. If Madhua called on them, they would share their grief, not food.


In the meanwhile, while Madhua was still busy thinking and dithering in turn, he had reached the gate of his friend. His friend was quick to make out Madhua’s indecision and called him.


Both the friends were suffering the same fate. They opened their tittle-tattle cursing their common enemy: the cruel weather. Madhua could mark that his friend’s family had already upended the cooking pots near the hearth after finishing its cooking and eating. Yet Madhua narrated his misery as the context came. There was a real exchange of misery-talks: Madhua listened to whatever his friend had to say and his friend reciprocated the gesture lending his willing ears. There was no offer of help from his friend and Madhua had expected neither. Thereafter both the friends rolled a bidi each out of tobacco and sal leaves. Somehow Madhua felt a little relaxed as he had a few puffs at the homemade smoking stick. His stomach was really empty, so much so that the smoke had its powerful presence felt there. He almost forgot about his house and all its depressing circumstances. The next moment, as he saw Malli, the youngest daughter of his friend, he was reminded of his own daughter Menka. He felt as though Menka had reached there in search of him and she was demanding her food; her mother who had reached there chasing her daughter and who was quite unable to stand her daughter's tantrum, began to thrash her in the presence of her friend. Everything unfolded before him like the scenes of a biscope. And Madhua returned home right away.


Madhua’s wife was waiting for her husband to return. She had already cleaned the cooking pots, brought a bunch of cow dung cakes up to the hearth and she was waiting for Madhua to bring her something to cook. Now, seeing her husband entering home empty-handed, she was filled with grief. Her face contorted out of despair. Madhua came home, sat silently leaning against the wall and breathed out a few shuddering sighs of anguish. Everything was silent and soundless for almost half an hour. The house had four souls: the couple themselves and its children, two of them. Hunger was reigning the moment; none had words to articulate. The girls had slept to keep the pangs of their hunger at bay. Fine, that was good for them, good for their parents too. The ferocity of the wind outside had redoubled. The rain was in full action, loud and deafening, as though a quarrelsome woman in the neighbourhood was settling her old scores with them!


Madhua’s wife was feeling a little relaxed as her daughters had drifted into sleep. Would they sleep like this for ever—oh no, she was not able to think more. Nay, she was reminded of what lay in store for her the very next moment. Menka and Budhi—her two daughters would get up and cry for rice. They were only kids…and what did they know of the indigence in the family? They knew it only too well, how to creep for food as and when the worm of hunger in their belly bothered them. They won’t allow their mother to rest in peace. What big point would it serve if they were asked to behave? What would it achieve if they were dressed down on every pretext? If they just woke up, what should she do as mother? It was of no use to blame her husband, either. Where would he bring stuff from? And at this time when the rain had turned his sworn enemy? Despite the weather, he had ventured outside in search of something to warm the hearth. That he failed in his attempt was a bad luck. Would not god provide anything for the beaks to grub out, the beaks that He had himself created?


There was nothing that Menka’s mother could have done except that she would fall back on her savings…and her savings consisted of half a seer of chipped rice. That was something she had saved for a purpose: Her daughters would celebrate a Khudrankuni festival in the month of September. In a way the rice was their own saving, for the children had themselves gathered the paddy panicles during the last harvesting season. The entire grain out of that had been used up and what remained were only the chipped particles. They were not fit for cooking real steamed rice. Nevertheless something edible could be prepared out of the stuff. Menka’s mother had hidden the stuff from her husband, lest he should ask her to cook on a day of scarcity. She was really secretive about that. Given choice, she would not like to exhaust the stuff and allow her daughters to skip the festival. She would not like to deprive them of the fruits of their labours, for they had really put up with the biting cold of December to gather that. She knew if she made her daughters unhappy on the day of Khudrankuni festival, she would have to incur the displeasure of the goddess. So, what should she do now? The oppressive silence started to hurt her. It only reminded her that she should accept the reality. The day had only starvation in store for her family and she should expect nothing better. Her own stomach had long started rumbling. She was reminded of an incident of the previous rains. Madhua had brought a coconut from the village and it had hardly formed the pulp inside. Probably Saantey had thrown the fruit away after sipping the water from it. Madhua had prised it open and started eating the pulp. He had then almost forgotten his hungry children. A father could be so heartless—Madhua’s wife could not bear it. She had snatched the coconut from her husband…and she had severely flayed him till she got exhausted. And what about today? With her children grimly fighting their hunger in sleep, how would she keep mum hiding that half a seer of chipped rice?


She went near her husband. With an artificial rudeness in her tone she commanded, ‘Can you hear me? Go and bring some fuel wood. I had saved half a seer of chipped rice for Khudrankuni festival. I’ll make porridge out of it.’


Hearing that Madhua gawped at his wife, as though he was too nonplussed to believe what he had just heard. And he wondered, ‘Is that true?’


Madhua’s wife retorted, ‘How can I allow my children die of hunger? But I warn you, just leave the idea of taking a share from that porridge. There’s only half a seer of chipped rice. When I clean it for the final round, the quantity will still go down. Whatever I cook out of it will not be sufficient for the children. Do you understand?’


Madhua was happy and he went to the rear verandah. Every inch of it was sodden and he was not sure how to collect fuel wood there. He was reminded of the stack he had made for Saantey. Only a single plank out of that would be better than the entire pile of sodden cow dung cake heaped near the hearth. Madhua found a coop lying there in disrepair. The birds had been sold out months ago. The coop was of no use now. So he started to dismantle it. While doing this, Madhua thought, ‘Even if Menka’s mother prevents me from eating the porridge, I’ll take at least a slurp out of it. I’m too hungry and not a grain has found its way into my stomach since last night. Whatever Menka’s mother says, I’ll bear them but I’ll slurp something. And that is for sure.’


As Madhua entered the kitchen with some fuel wood in his hand, he was taken aback. His wife was crying. She was beating her head against the wall too. Madhua could not muster courage to enquire about the matter. In time his wife voiced her bitter complaint, ‘The mouse here are our enemy. They won’t allow us to store anything at all. They have eaten away my rice. They’ve sealed my fate. Now what can I do? My children are hungry, now what can I do?’


Madhua now got the matter sussed. For rainy days, his wife had kept half a seer of rice hidden from her husband but the mice have munched them up. A moment ago Madhua had thought the smouldering hearth would to go into flame on its own and now, with this realization that there was no rice to cook, it would succumb to the all-pervading dampness around.


The rain outside had not yet stopped. His hopes gone, everything appeared hazy to Madhua. His emaciated body was stricken by disease and helplessness. The severity of hunger started to numb his guts. Behind his helplessness and his incapacity, a feeble stream of fatherhood was threatening to evaporate into nothingness. Madhua had no inkling of it.


Now Menka got up and called her mother, ‘Ma, Ma, I’m very hungry. Give me whatever you have.’


The mother was trying her best to make her daughter understand that there was nothing at home to feed her. Whatever she had saved so long was eaten away by mice. But Menka had neither the patience to listen to her nor the trust to accept her explanation.


Menka’s mother was overwhelmed by a sense of futile anger. She was about to thrash her daughter but Madhua came rushing. He took her hand in his nimble grip just in time. Each looked at the other’s face for a moment. Then Menka’s mother covered her face and stifled her sobs that threatened to explode into a bitter cry. She left the spot to collect her guts that cried out for an immediate healing.

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By

A. N. Nanda

Bhubaneswar

26-01-2010

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Second Chance


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Above, the sun is out, platinum-clad

Rich, robust, hot and haughty

Blithely unaware of the moment next

Assured, it has a bright second chance.


Here, along the flowing tarmac

The flotilla of fatigue moves on

But where? To the goal that eludes

For aeons is not over yonder.


Reaching there or rushing for it?

Every step is a journey in itself

The end is just the beginning, they say

Wonder, why do they rush all the way?


The Present has left something far behind

And the path permitting no retracing

Rushing ahead is the only option

The Future would restore everything lost.


Imagine and compensate

And that’s the mantra for all the stress

There exists something beyond the maze

A second chance, let me start it afresh.

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By

A. N. Nanda

Bhubaneswar

23-01-2010

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Moved by the Movies

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It is said that literature is the mirror of society. So is the case with movies. Do the movies of the day reflect the realities of the time or its aberrations? I think when there's a pressure to get back the money invested, people would try to push trash into the market backed by intelligent publicity blitzkieg. We should be really discerning and the interest of humankind would be best served by our choice of what we see and what we read.
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This time no more creeping about drudgery! I've got over the mood. Last Saturday I even managed to see a movie, "Three Idiots" rushing all the way to the movie hall when it was time to have my beauty sleep. And should I tell after how long a span I could return to a movie hall? Maybe it was after a gap of three years. The last movie I remember to have seen in a movie hall was "Lage Raho Munnabhai". I had, thereafter, skipped many good movies that I'd a desire to visit but eventually couldn't. The four movies I could manage to see during the interregnum were (1) The Blue Umbrella; (2) Tare Zameen Par; (3) The Slumdog Millionaire; and (4) Outsourced.

I bought CDs of the film "The Blue Umbrella" and watched it on my PC. My children also watched that with me. I was so very particular about it that I'd personally gone to purchase the CDs from the nearby mall in Bhubaneswar. The story of "The Blue Umbrella" is written by Mr. Ruskin Bond, my favourite author, the one who has given a really hearty foreword for my book "The Remix of Orchid". I had liked the acting of Pankaj Kapoor in the movie and it was simply marvellous. Besides the setting--yes, it has been set in Himalayan foothills--the perfect acting of the child artist Shreya Sharma and her screen presence frame by frame left an impact on me.

"Taare Zameen Par" is an Amir Khan-starred movie that depicts the problems of such children as have difficulty in reading, a disability that confuses people around to treat such children afflicted as duffers. It's a very touching movie, a tear-jerker. It was the effort of my children that enabled me to see the film, for they brought the CD and copied the contents on to the Desktop with an icon on the wallpaper. Secretly, they wanted that their parents, especially their mom, should watch the movie and try to amend their nagging attitude towards them. And we understood it...without much of an effort!

Again, "The Slumdog Millionaire" was one such movie that I was waiting to see, not because it got the Oscars but for the fact that I'd already read the book "Q & A" by Vikas Swarup. I remember I'd enjoyed reading the book but the movie "The Slumdog Millionaire" proved to be a nauseating portrayal of an otherwise beautiful book. I still believe that the movie got the Oscars because it dipped an Indian soul in the pit of night soil. Such a sick movie it could be! But then again an Oscar is an Oscar; it's not for such beautiful movies as "Lagan" but for something like "The Slumdog Millionaire" that has been designed to show the superiority of the western world by dipping a poor soul of India in a pit of night soil.

And what about "Outsourced"? Aha! It's a good movie, to say the least. What happens when cultures meet has been beautifully captured and the movie does not give vent to the deep-seated grudge of the Americans for the migration of jobs to India. For example, how the word "rubber" has a different meaning in American context is taught to the call-centre aspirants. The principal character, an American, gets to know what is "holi" and what is goddess "kali". I enjoyed it even though it was a small-screen viewing for me.

"Three Idiots" is another nauseating movie with buttocks shown as if it is pleading for social acceptance of sodomy. Sickening, it's absolutely so. Or else why would it show at copious length how students use their urinals and commodes. Vulgarity, thy name is humour. And what about the scene of childbirth? Oh no, not again. We respect childbirth by doing puja, celebrating womanhood but what does this movie intend to show? Does it intend to show that any quack can pull the child out of the womb of a mother by using vacuum cleaner? Pathetic? Does it not encourage the ragging phenomenon? Friends parodying friend's mom in hostel--I don't think it has neither shown what is happening nor said something convincingly like what should be the attitude: "Yaar, everything is acceptable in friendship!"

It is said of Amir Khan the actor that he chooses his script well. I also had that impression. But after seeing this movie "Three Idiots" I think Amir Khan is hell bent on impressing the western critics by such movies as would appear nauseatingly unconventional.
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By
A. N. Nanda
Patna
08-01-2010
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Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Mixed Bowl

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Wishing U a Happy New Year 2010

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The New Year came and passed by, like any of the previous days…or rather with more drudgery to tackle and take satisfaction from, sighing at the end of the day—Aha! A day is well-spent. It was a quotidian affair, like any other day in the life of a workaholic, a person that takes recourse to some illusory comfort to convince himself after a long day’s work. Is it true that I love work and that’s why they come rushing to me with or without promise of reward? Or is it that I’ve realised I shine in work and wither without that? Say like a spider weaving its net to keep its nest always in repair, ever ready to trap the insects? Or is it that people around me are bent on harnessing (exploiting?) me, enjoying their holidays with vengeance and taking me for granted? Am I being treated like a fool? Should I protest or shouldn’t I?


Protesting has never been an easy course for me? And it’s more so, these days. Maybe, I’ve protested more than I should in the earlier days and today my quota is full. Am I then a burnt-out soul? So much so that I’m incapable of protesting and steering my course through the sea of selfishness? The truth is that my love of peace has proved dysfunctional and I've forgotten how to say "no" . I’ve come to realise that the way to peace is by ensuring that others are taken care of, else they would protest and make my life hell. At the end of the day when I’ve just enough time to sleep, I find many of the works I should have done are not finished. So I delay my sleep and try to finish them, say talking to people I should keep in touch on a daily basis so that I avoid being criticised for my aloofness, or replying the e-mails and clearing the junks out of the Inbox...or even reading something I'm told to, to be in league with my new-found literary friends. Late-night work leads to waking up late in the morning and skipping morning exercise, and blah blah.


Where, then, is the time for creativity? Yeah, I should confess—last night I dozed off with my copy open in front of me and pen slipping off my finger, and when I finally conceded my defeat against the urge for sleep, it was no longer yesterday.


But then my New Year was not a total washout.


Yesterday I met one gentleman; rather he came all the way to meet me bringing with him something to lighten my gloom. He was an old man of eighty-four and he came to exchange the New Year’s greetings on his way home from the tennis court. Spirited, healthy, tidy, courteous, informed…and scholarly, he began discussing the etymological purport of the word “decade”. Oh yes, 2010 takes us to a new decade. ‘Does it have anything to do with the word “Decay”?’ ‘No, Sir, it should be about “deca” or “deka” meaning ten,’ I said.


'Your "Virasat" reminds me of that great novelist who wrote "The History of Post Office". Do you know who am I referring to?' 'Yes Colonel,' I replied, 'he's Mulkraj Anand.' 'That's right,' he said, in a way encouraging me and praising my effort in writing the book "Virasat".


I was quite happy to meet a person who had not only a working body but also a thinking mind. He expressed his regret that he could not attend my book release function that was long over, way back in May last year. So courteous! And so very sweet of him! I was moved by it and was suddenly reminded that I had a couple of copies of the book with me. And I presented one to him, saying that I owe an apology, for I should have long given that by visiting him in person.


Oh no, the gift was waiting for the New Year; it has to be a New Year gift, I say, something to be remembered for the apt reason,’ he said.


My drudgery was nothing before the spirit the eighty-four-year-young gentleman disseminated. His tennis and his sharp mind had only one thing to impart: inspiration. And that was the word to highlight. His respect for creativity and his affable gesture had filled me with vibes of “never say die”.

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By

A. N. Nanda

Patna

2-1-2010

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