Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Friday, May 29, 2015

The International Lit Bulb Festival: Flash fiction, non-fiction and poetry from Across the Globe.

The prompt: TOGETHER
The limit: 1500 words

My story: 'THE FAREWELL', featured here, as part of the festival. My thanks to Matt Potter.

The Farewell

“Some things go together,” Mrs. O’Brien’s voice cut across to reach Sheila sitting right at the back of the classroom. “For example, apples and oranges, eggs and bread, pen and paper,” she continued.

“Sheila and Tony,” whispered Sheila to herself, trying hard not to smile. That was because she did not want anyone to wonder at her happiness, and also because the smile would expose her buck teeth, something she was more conscious of than the other things. The other things were many; her bigness that made her hunch her shoulders self-consciously, flat feet which made her shuffle, the lank hair she tied into a tight pony behind her head for it refused to fall in waves around her face like Clara’s did.

Clara was the class beauty. Yet, Tony had chosen her. He had asked her yesterday to be his partner at the school farewell party, which was just a week away. He had walked her into a corner of the passageway and held her hand. He had looked into her eyes, touched her mouth gently with his index finger. “Shshh, don’t tell anyone though,” he had said, “let it be a secret. How we will surprise them, wont we?”

She had been unable to believe it and was still pinching herself. She had been touching her buck teeth ever since, wondering how he had put his finger to her mouth and not flinched. Maybe he would kiss her on the night of the party. The idea made her shiver and she closed her eyes in ecstasy.

“Sheila Briggs!” Mrs. O’Brien’s vice rang out. “Is the poet here talking about just apples and oranges or something else? Do you know what he is referring to?”

 “Yes, Ma’am,” Sheila stood up at once, her shoulders hunching, her face turning a sad orange-red.

“Well?” Mrs. O’Brien’s face was a number of question marks.

“He is talking about lovers, Ma’am. Love has blossomed suddenly in his heart for his girl. He likes to say they are like apples and oranges because…” she tried to stop her heart from beating hard, “…because he does not want to acknowledge this love…yet.” Her heart continued to thump. She was thinking of Tony and their unacknowledged love, for what else could it be?

“Sit down, Sheila,” said Mrs. O’Brien, for she could find no fault with Sheila’s answer. “But next time, you needn’t shut your eyes when I’m addressing the class.”

The class sniggered. Sheila was used to this, so she just hugged her secret hard to herself and ignored them.

That night she sat in her small room, waiting for her grandmother and mother to fall asleep, before putting on music to practice some dance steps. She imagined herself dancing in Tony’s arms. She moved slowly with the music, allowing herself to dream of him holding her close.

She was not beautiful like Clara but Tony had obviously seen her inner beauty, her intelligence and her sensitive nature. She had never thought him to be the sensitive type, actually not thought of him at all for he was quite out of her league, but…and she sighed at this, she would soon dance with him. He had touched her lips with his finger. She put her own finger where he had placed his and felt a sense of togetherness, her finger on top of his, and blushed at the thought, drawing her hand away from her mouth. Finally, she went to bed, her body tingling with anticipation.

Sheila realized she would have to tell her mother about the invitation, for she needed to shop for the dress. She had some savings she could use now. Sheila just hoped that she would be able to afford something that fit her well without drawing too much attention to her bulk. She would look for something that highlighted her warm brown eyes, which she thought was her best feature.

The next evening she managed to convince her mother to visit the shops with her, and quite exhausted by the end, she finally settled on a dress of cream satin that had a brown sash that drew in her waist. A fine lace of the same deep brown decorated the hem and small sleeves. The rather wide round neck was embroidered with the tiniest of flowers in yellow. She had actually fallen in love with the flowers more than anything else. Perhaps it was the tinyness of them, so unlike her, that attracted her.

She persuaded her mother into buying her a pair of small brown heels and a diamante clip for her hair. She also booked an appointment at the hairdresser’s, which she would visit just a few hours before the party. She hugged her mother in delight, and her mother did not have the heart to tell her not to set her hopes too high, for usually highly anticipated events did not play out as expected. She just hugged Sheila back, and together they took the bus home.


It was the evening of the farewell party, and Sheila was ready. Tony had winked at her across the hall the day before, and she had smiled back, not caring that her buck teeth showed. You just needed to be appreciated by one boy to feel special and beautiful. And Tony was not any boy, he was a dreamboat. After the party, everyone would know that they were a couple; that they were together, like apples and oranges.

She smiled at her image in the mirror, the happiness spilling out of her eyes. The hairdresser had done what she could with her hair, and it now framed her face, softening it. The diamante clip glittered on one side.

She would have to walk to the school auditorium, but she did not mind that. She would walk along the river and then turn away from it towards the road that led to the auditorium. There was a breeze blowing, so she tied a scarf to keep her hair in place. She had almost passed the river when the wind grew gusty; the scarf left her hair and flew towards the riverside. Her eyes followed it and she saw that it had caught in one of the hedges. She walked gingerly towards them, not wanting to spoil her new heels. She just hoped that it would not rain, for that would spoil her dress. She needed to hurry. As she bent to pick up her scarf, she heard voices.


They stood leaning on the side of the car. It was Tony’s red Volkswagen, a car Sheila hoped to get a ride in soon. Tony was smoking, and Clara was looking up at the sky, making a pretty picture. Her short silver skirt, embellished with sequins, winked like a thousand stars.

Sheila, watching from behind the bushes, stepped carefully on the dirt and grass, moving in closer. She wondered what they were doing together, here by the river.

“Sheila is going to be my partner this evening, Clara,” said Tony, flicking ash.

Sheila smiled. She turned, deciding to hurry towards the auditorium, to meet him there. His next words made here ears burn, and she stopped in her tracks.

“Thinks she is Barbie, that I have fallen for her charms, the stupid oaf.” He spat on the ground.

“That toothy Sheila…?” Clara gave a high laugh. “Well, isn’t she in for a surprise when I waltz in on your arm instead?”

“The fool. To think I would even give her a look. Anyway, I am richer by a hundred dollars. Won the bet I had with Harry. Harry told me I would not be able to invite her or even touch her. I have done both, held her hand, and also made her accept my invitation. Now we only have to see her face…”

“Oh, Tony, you are the best. You can pull anything off.”

“Kiss me, then, Clara, to prove it.” Tony pulled Clara into his arms.

Clara, who proclaimed to all the girls in school that she kissed no boy, turned her face upwards.

Sheila stood still. She watched them kiss and kiss again, then drive off in the car. She imagined them arriving at the auditorium, and the sighs that would go up at the sight of their grand entrance together.

She had kept the secret and told no one. She touched her front teeth with a finger, tears gathering behind her eyes. Then she walked slowly down the dirt path leading to the river.

The wind turned harsher, and fat raindrops fell from the sky to merge with the choppy river waters. The mud turned wet and slick around her as she lay there in her dress of cream satin and brown lace, with tiny yellow flowers around the rather wide neck.

She had smashed her front teeth in with a stone, so when they found her, she would look just a tad more acceptable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review of Abha Iyengar's novel ‘Many Fish to Fry’ by Dr. Amitabh Mitra

Book Review: ‘Many Fish to Fry’ by Dr. Amitabh Mitra
Author: Abha Iyengar
Publisher: Pure Slush (Australia)
No. of pages: 170
Date of publication: October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-925101-59-1
Also available as an ebook.
Available here: http://www.amazon.com/Many-Fish-Fry-Abha-Iyengar-ebook/dp/B00OKRD6BO

Abha Iyengar’ novel, Many Fish to Fry is a joyful reading experience.

It talks about Delhi, its people in a kaleidoscopic adventure of contemporary times. Delhi has grown and so has its population, bazaars, malls and colonies invariably known in India as places. Hilarious to the core, Abha explores the cosmopolitan environs of Delhites, their eagerness in living and loving in a crowded thought within numerous such moments.
As a Delhi seeker, I have been reaching out to this city since my teen years. I have seen it changing to a mega metropolis but always a home to people irrespective of class, caste, origins and even nationality. Abha’s search towards a novel within such a milieu, short sections almost like a prose poem, detailing streets, galis and daily ruminations of families living in block of flats.

To my greatest love, she even takes us on a tour of Old Delhi, its garish jewelry shops and craftsmen who live in meager conditions. Abha’s novel revolves around Delhi women, their expectations, desires and ambitions to grow and prove themselves in a vastly mobile economic climate.

The Hilsa, Bongs separated from Bangla and living in Delhi, a South Indian lady, her immediate neighbor narrating the story of their lives brings me the picture of easy style of writing of a possible memoir about a Japanese girlfriend and her love for her cat and boyfriends living in an equally huge metropolis of United States. Vikram Seth brought them alive very much like Abha Iyengar’s book, ‘Many Fish to Fry’. Wish she could have brought a gay relationship too within, that would made the book far more flirtatious, gay being such a taboo in India.

I remember the endless cups of Dhaba Chai , I had near Arpana Caur’s home at Siri Fort and engaging back home on endless discussions whether the Hilsa I was having is the genuine one from Padma or its a duplicate from Mynamar. You can never get a Hilsa out from a Bong but you can get a Bong and Hilsa in an amicable relationship out of Bengal.
Nandita Bose mentions rightly about many slices of life but to me they seem all connected in a rapid life scan where jugad is as infamous and acceptable as Delhi is.

Here is to Delhi, the whiskey and fried hilsa, dimmed lights, the faint aroma of my girl friend, she still lives close to somewhere there.

~Dr. Amitabh Mitra, poet and artist, author of ‘Stranger Than A Sun’

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