Thursday, October 30, 2008

Books that Call

So I go to the Exclusive Books sale. I browse around – with kids in tow of course – Mummy, can I buy a book
Which book do you want?
This one…
But you can’t read. Take something suitable.
Mummy help me choose.
When all I really want to do is take as many as my arms can hold to the nearest couch and listen carefully. Which ones call out?

The image goes up in a cloud of whine and nag, so I hurriedly ask for Pratchett. Never go wrong there. I find Thud. I’m already salivating. My eye then falls on a book. The cover is bleak. It has a picture of a young boy doing a handstand. The title – The Perfect Man. Author – Naeem Murr.

I open randomly. Find a bit of dialogue.

I’m impressed. I add it to my mangy – I couldn’t browse properly - pile. Then do the honourable sanity- saving -thing and pay attention to the whining. Choose the kiddies books, and hurry on out – I’m always in a hurry.

The book lies on my shelf while I wrestle with Shantaram. Eventually it beckons and I heed. And then I am lost. The writing is dark, like a shadowy raging river. I drown at times. Pull myself onto the rocks. Savour the light and then plunge headlong all over again.

I end it at 1 AM. But feel empty. As though I have been wandering in a desert . Complete with all the aching beauty and desolation.

I am saddened by the deaths, dysfunctionality. I am perturbed by how close he came to the ‘mark’. How real yet surreal it all was.

Are people really that dysfunctional? Why is ‘thinking’ so painful a process?

FOr a more comprehensive review, far removed from my whitterings :
  • go here
  • Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    excerpt yet again.....

    Chapter One

    Things Fall Apart. That’s the title of my favourite Chinua Achebe book. At the time when my own world fell apart, I had just bought the book. It lay on my bedside table. After it all ended, I remember sitting on the bed, fingering the spine, and thinking, this is me…

    While to the rest of the community our lives were idyllic, we knew just how completely Things were Falling Apart. Like a huge tapestry ravelling strand by strand. Sure, we lived in a bigger, more impressive house. The renovated council house had been sold, I was told. The display cabinet had never had more trophies or trinkets; both my parents drove a Mercedes Benz, and I, the ultimate Golf.

    Sure, we were invited to all the weddings…the ones that mattered anyway. And I was paraded as the beautiful, intelligent daughter. Yes, she’s at Wits, fourth year medicine. Even the whispering about Ammar had ceased. Amazing the effect that money has on people. But we never shared a meal together at home. Would hardly exchange more than a few words with one another.

    My father still looked wounded each time I caught his gaze. My mother would avoid conversation with me at any cost. Her only comments directed at me revolved around the ‘revolting scarf’ she called it.

    She spent more time out of the house now than in the TV Room watching Amitabh chasing women around trees. I was often left to whip up something for my father and me. My mother would not eat. She was constantly on some or other diet. And the diets were working. She was even thinner than I was.

    My father did not even bother with the Sundays afternoons at home ritual anymore either. Nobody bothered. While the aroma of rotis being fried drifted from homes around us, our kitchen remained cheerless. No browning leg roast, Chicken Kurma and never a steaming biryani.

    It often felt as though my bubble had grown thicker, harder

    The Parents didn’t even share a bedroom anymore. I could almost hear my mother in that fake larney accent. Why keep up the pretence. She’s big enough to understand. And I had no way of escaping it.

    While I collected Fatima at her home everyday for Varsity, her mother did not want to see me at their home. And would not send Fatima to our house to relieve the monotony either. Weekends had become a series of contemporary and classic novels and very little that was actually novel.

    I sometimes heard them arguing when they thought I was asleep.

    After everything I accepted. Which woman would do what I did? Accept what I have accepted? I’m too blerry good for you. I’ve had enough!

    I heard variations of this dialogue – or rather monologue – more often than I cared to consider.

    I thought nothing of my mother’s transformation. Of her renewed interest in fashion. I saw what I wanted to see. At least I still had a family of some kind. An unstable one, but a family. The alternative was too awful to contemplate.

    So on that September morning when I woke to find my father already gone to work and my mother straightening her cupboard, I told myself that all was well. I collected Fatima, worked my way mechanically through lectures. Took notes, even smiled at Zaheer who was a fifth year student whom Fatima insisted was in love with me. I did not notice the look of surprise on his face. We discussed this day at length years later.

    When the first snow flakes fell from the sky and caught the campus unawares, everything was driven from my mind. Snow in September! This had to be some sort of unprecedented freak of nature. Guys were lending girls their leather jackets. Everyone released the kid that had been forced to play adult and drink espresso for the day. Snowball fights, snowmen, toes freezing in sandals. At least I was safe on that score.

    I opened my mouth and caught snowflakes on my tongue. They melted into nothingness. Not a trace. Like Ammar. Banish that though. I caught sight of Zaheer watching me and suddenly felt shy. I sought Fatima.

    “Come. Let’s go home.” ”What’s the rush?”
    “I’m freezing.”
    “Okay, let me get someone to give you a jacket.”

    The words had barely vanished into the powdery flakes when Zaheer came up to us and thrust his hand out, shy, self conscious.
    “Here, use mine.” His manner was abrupt.
    “No thanks. We were just going home. The car’s got a heater. We’ll be fine.”
    “Hey, I thought you were going to stick around. C’mon, everyone is having so much fun.”
    “Then you stay if you want. You can catch a lift with someone.” I turned on my heel, my shoes filling with snow as I strode towards the car, my feet icing over.

    “Okay, I’m coming.” Fatima ran to catch up. “What’s with you? He’s such a nice guy. And he’s got the cutest friend.”

    I knew I wasn’t ready. And his parents would never approve. Zaheer could do better. He would have to.


    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    A work in progress

    Chapter Six

    When the 30th of June came and went and nothing happened other than an increase in my nausea, I knew. The worst had come to pass. But why was a small part of me rejoicing?

    “So, Asma, how about we meet after school.” Khaled, the swine.
    “Oh, fuck off Khaled. You’d have to be the last guy on earth.” Fatima, always to the rescue.

    The comments had become part of a normal day at school. All sorts of ‘jollers’ as they were called making passes at me as though I was noting more than an easy lay. That and the look of pity that Mr Naik reserved especially for me. The good girls all avoided me. As though what I had done was contagious. Rooms went silent when I entered. Eyes were averted whenever I sought them.

    I struggled to concentrate in school. The teachers spoke and to me they looked like people attempting to teach under water. I wrote, took down notes, produced essays, but the words all looked like dust on a jacket and blood smears wiggling on a page.

    Fatima tried to come and see me at home. She sat next to me. She wanted me to talk. But I wanted nothing of it. I hurt her. This I knew. But I just needed space.

    One morning while Mr Naik explained the workings of the heart to a rapt class, the toast I had had for breakfast burnt the back of my throat. I could taste the bitterness of bile in my mouth. I rushed out of the class, oblivious to the twenty five pairs of eyes that followed me.

    I ran to the toilets, tore a door open and gave in to the waves of nausea. Deep, spasmodic, that dug into the pit of my stomach. Fatima found me, hair all plastered to my head, face in a smelly toilet bowl. She helped me to my feet. I saw the walls dance. She steadied me and together we walked wordlessly to the basin where I began to gargle my mouth and splash water onto my face. She stood behind me, rubbing my back, gentle circular movements that stirred a memory, deeply buried in my subconscious and brought tears to my eyes. I washed them away brusquely. I looked up to find her studying my face in the cracked and spotted mirror.

    “You’re pregnant, right?”
    I did not answer.
    “You’ll have to tell your mother. Do you want to keep it?”
    More silence.
    “Look Asma, I know this is hard. I know we haven’t been as close either. But I’m here. I’ll always be here. You loved him. And that’s what is important.”
    I nodded at her reflection.
    “Do you want me to come with you to see her?”

    “No, it’s fine. I’ll manage.” My voice was hoarse, unrecognisable. I searched for her hand and gave it a squeeze. “And thanks. I mean that.”
    We hugged and I had to blink back tears. It was going to be a long day.


    I lay on the bed feeling dead inside. My eyes burnt, but the tears would not come. They had frozen somewhere inside of me. In that place where I had locked away the pain, locked Ammar away forever. My balled fists held bunches of floral bedspread. A white sheet, was spread out beneath my bottom. My legs were drawn up, my pants removed. A little hunched woman stood beside me. Her greying hair was tied in a tight bun at the back of her head. Above her lip she sported a hairy mole. She was laying out instruments on the bed, all of which looked as though they were designed to cause pain. She had on a pair of rubber gloves which reached halfway up her short arms.

    “Open wider,” She barked. I looked up at the light fitting. Amber nightmares tussled with the pain that ripped through my body; mixed with the warm blood that flowed from me. And then it was over.

    For the next few hours I lay on the bed, curled up foetally, writhing in agony as cramps ignited fires along my nerve endings. I thought I was dying. I wanted to die. Ammar stood by my bedside and smoothed my brow. No, it was my father…my mother.

    Oh what the hell…

    note: I've gone and pulled out all the incomplete manuscripts. turns out that there are three novels in progress. A disturbing pattern is beginning to emerge. With each of them, I ran into glitches. And all of these involved minor details. Stuff like, how authentic can my description of a house from the 70's be since I was only born in 1977. or how kosher is my description of campus life, since I have never been anywhere near a university campus. Stupid little things. These are, of course, manifestations of a bigger problem: Just how much do I believe in my ability to write a truly good novel? I am working on resolving it.

    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    He -- She

    The silence between them is elastic. It turns blind corners where fragments of their past life, so replete, remain hidden. She pulls at a thread on her cloak. The embroidery begins to ravel. As the colours come apart she sees her life between her fingers. A slender, fragile thread, whose beginning she can hold and whose ending remains embedded in a fabric that is tightly woven.

    He places a hand on her knee. She looks at his fingers. They are thick, extending from a meaty palm and ending in blunt, flat nails. They need cutting, she thinks. She can imagine the feel of his hands. Course, callused. When they were once so familiar, why do they suddenly look alien? She fights the urge to slide her knee sideways and dislodge his hand, see it drop to his side, pendulum like. Displaced, uncertain of where to go next. He clears his throat. She imagines a bit of phlegm slipping down his oesophagus.

    Sammaar. Her name sounds foreign as it escapes his lips. Did he ever once whisper it as an endearment?

    She sometimes imagines them standing on opposite ends of the Big Hole in Kimberly. Shouting at one another. Not to. That would be too familiar.


    He scans the contours of her impassive face. She plays with a thread from her cloak, forcing the flower to fall apart. It is stubborn. It clings to the fabric reluctant to part, loath to have its beauty sullied.

    He places - what he hopes will be conciliatory – a hand on her thigh. He knows that on that very spot, she has a mole. Small and delicate, dark against her pale skin. Has he not kissed it at least a hundred times before? He feels the inopportune tightening of desire. He clears his throat and whispers her name.

    It has a familiar taste to it as it rolls across his tongue. When he first met her, he told her that it reminded him of summer. She could be his eternal summer. If only…

    For the visitor to Lazeeza's who asked about Afrocentric and lamented the lack of fresh posts