Tag Archives: #desiwriter

Left to Right: Shikhadin and her book, Impetuous Women.

Shikhandin’s ‘Impetuous Women’: A Story Once Published For India Currents

‘An old neem tree extended its gnarled boughs over the roof which was pockmarked by last year’s hail. Hairline cracks on the roof allowed streaks of sunlight to pour into the hall below.’

Apart from the near ripe guava, there was something else that intrigued her. The tree’s peeling bark. Barks of guava trees peeled easily, but this was such a young tree. Besides it was not so much the peeling bark, the patterns it had made. The tree seemed to be full of faces. One in particular, low enough to be at eye level looked like an old man’s face. A smiling and kindly face and when the breeze made the tree sway the face seemed to nod at her and smile like the grandfather she still remembered and thought dimly. 

In that instant, a mere split second of a summer disk, when the sun seems to have had too much to drink and simply can’t get up and call it a day, and everything else is bathed in a quiet gold.

The above excerpts are from Indian writer, Shikhandin’s new book Impetuous Women, a collection of short stories. With her evocative imagery, the author paints characters, places, and situations, bringing alive the pages.  

Shikhandin’s earlier works are Immoderate Men and Vibhuti Cat. Impetuous Women is her latest published by Penguin Viking. A recipient of several prizes, Shikhandin’s honors include runner-up prize in the George Floyd Short Story Contest 2020 (UK), Pushcart nominee by Aeolian Harp (USA) in 2019, and First Prize Brilliant Flash Fiction Contest 2019 (USA) to mention some. 

Impetuous Women is pivoted around women. Some stories have been previously published in international and Indian publications. Interestingly, the story ‘It Comes From Uranus’ fetched Shikhandin a second prize at the India Currents’ Katha Fiction Contest (2016) which she wrote under her name, R.K. Biswas.  

Impetuous Women opens with ‘Taste’, a story about two friends – Dimple and Sarita. Caught in a game of keeping with the Joneses, their underlying jealousy comes to the fore.   

In ‘Just Dessert,’ we meet Liese, a German woman married to an Indian, Dinesh. A perfectionist, Liese is precise in her work especially when it comes to her culinary skills. Chocolate mousse is her signature. Little did I know that this seductive dessert could send a shiver down my spine. 

Shikhandin picks situations and people from life to peg her stories making them relatable. A rather mundane subject in ‘Threshold’ and ‘The Amma Who Took French Leave,’ is the housemaid. And, when the maid disappears in ‘Threshold’ it makes the narrator confront a hard truth of her life. ‘The Amma Who Took French Leave’ looks compassionately at the less privileged.   

Sometimes lessons on romance are found in the least expected of places. In ‘Missing the Movie’, a young couple – Girish and Seema – on a movie outing get a lesson on love that is far real than the English film they watch in a cinema hall. 

What will a commentary be like when a ‘word’ becomes a spectator to a gathering of poets? With characters named she-poet, barely-literate professor-poet; owl-poet; doorknob-head-poet, and Chinny-chin-chin-poet, this story has you in guffaws.  

‘The Thirty-third egg,’ laced with wit takes a dig at a tourist who smuggles eggs from the breakfast table of her hotel. 

Exploring the interior and exterior worlds, Impetuous Women creates a truly expansive and inclusive feminine narrative. The women are easy to recognize – defined by their quirks, maternal instincts, and a tenacity that comes only to women.

She smiled as she took them, her head uncovered for the entire world to admire her kohled eyes, the dimple on her left cheek and the side locks that she had oiled and curled into stiff upside down question marks lying pat against her cheeks.

The thought lands without warning. Just like Meera’s one-eyed tomcat, which has the habit of dropping soundlessly from the garden wall, casually interrupting the quietness of a day about to curl up for the night. The sun is already sliding down a livid sky and shades of the evening are gathering around her. Ramola drags on the cigar

Sleep at long last does come to them, sauntering slowly into their personal space, catlike in its stealth. This time through, they are ready, even eager to welcome their tardy visitor.

The languor that comes after deep physical pleasure melts and merges slowly into tender conversation, both verbal and tactile.

With her sharp observation of people and places, Shikhandin’s brilliant characterization makes the ordinary and the prosaic unforgettable. And in making us invest in them, the twist in the tale is astonishing. Impetuous Women is like quick bites – easy to savor and fun to read. 


Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Chennai, India with over twenty years of reporting experience. Besides contributing to leading Indian and international publications including Gulf News (UAE), South China Morning Post, and Another Gaze (UK), she is a Rotten Tomatoes critic. Check out her blog – http://romancing-cinema.blogspot.com/ 


 

13-Year-Old Abhimanyu Sukhdial’s Novel Sparks Climate Change Dialogues

“Stillwater is a great place to raise a family,” is the common refrain I heard from several Indian aunties at the small Holi dinner party I attended the year I moved to Oklahoma. I had gotten married just a few months earlier at a memorable wedding in Delhi, and with great anticipation, I left the familiar surroundings of the San Francisco Bay Area I had called home for almost 30 years to start a new life in a new state, in a small university town nestled in the middle of wide-open fields and country farms.   

Within a year, my husband, a marketing professor at Oklahoma State University, and I welcomed our first son, Abhimanyu (Abhi).  My parents flew out from the Bay Area for the blessed occasion. As I watched my parents cradle and cuddle their new grandchild, I thought of how they took care of me as a child in Tamil Nadu, how they instilled in me the values of hard work and a good education, and most importantly, how they effortlessly bridged two cultures to educate and raise two daughters in this country.  “What kind of mother will I be?” I wondered.

I once read, “We all can dance when we find music we love.”  

And for Abhi, that love was for words.  You know those magnetic A-Z letters kids put on the fridge? During our annual summer vacations in Meerut (a bustling city outside of Delhi where my in-laws live), Abhi spent hours moving, rotating, and repositioning those letters on the special dhurrie Dadi ma had laid out for him, making a lot of nonsense words and a few real ones. Soon, he started reading, and then, writing his first stories. School programs like the National PTA Reflections Arts-in-Education competition fueled his creative ambitions; starting in 2nd grade, he wrote and submitted a short story every year, advancing through local and state rounds of competition.  They were mostly fantastical adventure stories, not unlike the Enid Blyton stories I had read growing up.  

When Abhi learned that a fellow student had made a short film for the competition and that it had won at the national level, Abhi was adamant he could do the same. During that summer in India, he taught himself iMovie and figured out how to program a cute robot called Sphero so he could shoot his first five-minute film featuring a “robot detective” called Monsieur Sphero (a mischievous take on Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth, Monsieur Poirot). He was thrilled when his movie was selected for a national award.  

When Abhi was 11, we discovered Stone Soup Magazine, a literary magazine for kids 14 years and under, that offers both a monthly print edition as well as an online blog section.  Over the next two years, he became a regular blogger, writing book and movie reviews. The countless hours he spent debating his younger brother about the pros and cons of Star Wars helped shape the analytical skills and power of persuasion he needed to structure and write the reviews.  

Book, Three Days Till EOC.

In 2019, Stone Soup announced their first annual book competition, and Abhi decided to go for it. He wanted to write a sci-fi story and started coming up with ideas, determined to write the book during our summer vacation in Meerut. In India, he saw a segment on cable news about the severe drought in Chennai and it piqued his interest. Why not combine science fiction and climate change in a unique way? 

That was the spark for his 70-page novella set in the year 2100 called Three Days Till EOC.  It is a story of climate scientist Graham Alison, who literally has three days to save civilization before a catastrophic cyclone threatens to destroy the planet.  It is also a story about how small choices can lead to big changes – how a positive action we take today to stop climate change can result in a better world for our children, our children’s children, and generations after. We liked the idea, encouraged him to write the first draft, and then gave him feedback so he could continue to revise and improve his story over the next two months. Finally, he submitted it and was surprised and ecstatic when he learned that his book had won 1st place and would be published in September 2020. Since the book’s publication, Abhi has participated in various TV/newspaper interviews and made presentations to youth in the local Indian American community.

Abhi will turn 13 this month, and in a blink of an eye, he will soon be leaving for college.  Like all parents, we wonder if we are doing enough to prepare our kids for this increasingly complex, fast-changing world.  We hope that by giving them the freedom to play with and pursue their creative passions from a young age, that they will grow up to be hard-working, resilient, confident individuals who will contribute their talents in some way to make this world a better place.   As a parent, there’s no greater legacy I can think of leaving behind.

Three Days Till EOC is the Young Adult Fiction Honoree for the 2021 Green Earth Book Award.


Anu Sukhdial is Abhimanyu Sukhdial’s mother. She is a Bay Area transplant living in Oklahoma.


 

10 Books to Read On Modern Indian History

It is no surprise that India has a long and rich history. However, which books are the best for learning about the country’s amazing history? Below are ten of the best books that delve into India’s politics, culture, and economy.

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

“Guha’s India After Gandhi is the must-read guide on the journey of modern India, post-independence from the British in 1947 to the 1990s” says Donald Roussel, a book blogger at Essayroo and Paperfellows. This book thoroughly covers India’s political history over the latter half of the 20th century, providing a great backdrop for India’s current economic and social climate within the country.

India -from midnight to the millennium by Shashi Tharoor

The history of modern India but in the much more precise and succinct style of Dr. Sashi Tharoor. Although this account is not unbiased like Guha’s India After Gandhi, readers will benefit from Sashi Tharoor’s fresh and unique perspective.

India — The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagiriya

This book is the most in-depth account of the most remarkable experiment in economic development under democracy. Panagiriya explores the history of the economic path followed by Nehru to Manmohan Singh. 

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor

Tharoor explores the lasting damage committed by British rule in India. Funny and witty at times, Tharoor provides ample research lending credibility to his claims. “He systematically debunks any of the arguments that have been made about the positive benefits of British rule” explains Constance Moore, a writer at State Of Writing and OXEssays.

The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan

The Great Partition is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand contemporary South Asia. The book looks at both the execution and aftermath of the partition between India and Pakistan. Khan thoroughly examines the contexts and decisions which led to the decision of partition as well as the horrific cost of human life and the impact it still has today.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

This book is a collection of essays on Indian history by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. It is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the foundations of Indian polity. Sen focuses on the traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism and Sen argues that is this argumentative history that will help shape India’s democracy today.

Burden of Democracy by Pratap Bhanu Mehta

In Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s book, politics has truly created opportunities for people to participate in society. Mehta reveals that the persistent social inequality, along with the mistaken view of the state’s proper function and organization have modified and hindered the workings of democracy and its effects in innumerable ways. This book offers new ideological imaginations which illuminate the average Indian citizen’s discontents. 

Emergency Retold by Kuldip Nayar

In Emergency Retold, Kuldip Nayar breaks down the Prime Minister’s move and re-sparks a debate on this dark period of events. The book provides the reader with the facts, lies and truths in an easily digestible style. It reveals the atrocities that were committed and who were the chief perpetrators of these crimes. This is a must-read about those harrowing dark months in India’s history.

Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita

The book narrates the bleak history of Kashmiri Pandits.  Tortured, killed, and driven out of their homes by Islamic militants, this book highlights these horrible acts. The book goes on to describe how the Pandits lived out the rest of their days in exile.

A feast of vultures: The hidden business of democracy in India by Josy Joseph

Josy Joseph, an investigative reporter, takes a close look at the darker side of India-how money, business, power, and politics all collide.  This 2016 novel is meticulously researched and highlights modern India’s democracy and how corruption and business and the political arena shape this modern nation.

These are 10 of the best books on modern Indian history. They provide a well-balanced look at all aspects of life within India, including the issues facing this great country.


Lauren Groff is a writer at Coursework Service and Academic Writing Service. She reviews books online. She also is a contributor at Boomessays Reviews.  


 

California: The Cure

Legends of Quintessence – a Science Fiction column with a South Asian twist. 

Chapter 1

In a tiny house by the outskirts of Fresno, the morning was very quiet. Twenty years ago such a lull would be constantly interrupted by the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the windmills. Today, the windmill farm had been replaced by an energy farm that used a combination of solar fields and wind tunnels to maximize energy output. Quiet, efficient, and as ugly as could be. This stretch of California had stayed virtually untouched by the development frenzy that had gripped the state for as long as one could remember. 

The silence was broken by the phone

She jumped at the sound. 

Her hands shook as she picked up the phone, not saying anything. 

“Ms. Sana?”

“Yes, who are you?” 

“I am Vink Bhatia from the Center for Disease Prevention: CDP. We are calling from the Richmond center. We would like to call you in for a meeting to advise us.” 

She panicked, trying to breathe normally, “Do I have to come? My case is closed and I have not been involved with the CDP for 26 years now. I have no new information or anything for that matter.”

“No ma’am,” said Vink “We need your help. We have no other hope for what is staring us in the face. Please come and see us this afternoon and I will explain everything.” 

Once she put the phone down, she sobbed fiercely as all the memories she had suppressed came flooding back. 

Twenty-eight years ago, she had graduated from Strafford University, ready to save the world through research on vaccines. She joined the Center for Disease Prevention (CDP) Research Center to work on the development of vaccines for targeted assignments. It was the perfect time to be in a perfect world. The political upheaval of ten years ago was far behind and they finally had a president that came from California.

A woman of mixed ancestral background was voted into Presidency and led the country to financial success and stability through her political tact and focus on science, international relationships, and trade. It was just as well since the world was moving faster towards space exploration and travel. All eyes were shifting from regional and national boundaries to planetary and galactic boundaries.

She joined the team headed by Professor Braun. Her work was a combination of genetic engineering and cloning to develop vaccines. What had become clear to space agencies and companies contracting space missions was that, without vaccines that could trigger the immune system to mirror and overpower microbes in space, humans would be defenseless. In the last two years, there had been seven outbreaks of diseases brought back to Earth by space travelers. They had been hard to contain and three of them had had very sad conclusions with entire communities being quarantined till they were wiped out. Never had the CDP felt the heat like it did then.

The whole world unanimously agreed on the need for accelerated research to develop potent vaccines to protect humanity. Money poured into top research institutes and whole departments sprung like wild mushrooms in monsoon. There was enough funding to last for decades of research and development. 

Chapter 2

She worked on some very bizarre and strange microbes that took a lot of effort to clone, control, and conduct tests on. More than once she and her team had to quarantine themselves, as they worked to contain the aggressive multiplication of microbes.

The worst were the ones that came from the outer asteroid belt beyond the solar system. That part of the belt was where space mining companies really wanted to go for expensive and rare elements. The outer belt was rich in both elements and pathogens due to the increased gravitational forces in that part of the galaxy. 

In her line of work, she would often assist astronauts, lifting planetary dust off of their gear before they went into the sterilization chambers. She knew the frequent travelers by name and they joked and shared stories each time they met her.

This winter when Salas came back he was hurt. The official story was that his communication link with base had snapped due to a magnetic storm and a tiny piece of asteroid debris had hit him with moderate speed. When they were alone she looked at him, “Hey man, this time you lost it”, she said as she winked with a smile.

Salas looked up and she recognized the fear in his face.

“Can you shut off the recording for a couple of minutes?” he said.

”What’s up?” she was puzzled and not taking her eyes off him as she used suction to lift off the dirt from his clothes into five separate partitions within the sampler.

“I need to tell someone. They told me on the base not to say a word. But someone has to know …they may be coming to earth?” He paused and then looked up at her, pleading with tears in his eyes, ”Please, can you just give me five minutes?”

She paused and then turned the room to reclaim mode: they had seven minutes before all processes would kick back on, including monitoring and recording. She knew she would have to sign tons of paperwork and instantly regretted doing it. 

Salas gripped her hand and started blurting, “They know that there is some form of life in the outer asteroid belt. They have known for a long time and are hiding it. They have destroyed evidence many times.”

“Hang on there buddy, who’s they, and what kind of life?” Now she was genuinely interested, even if Salas had gone completely cuckoo.

“The mining companies…They think that they understand the aliens and that they can control them. They do not want to abandon the asteroid belts. I met him”, he paused, “I met it while leaving Base 3, which is at the remote end and is not manned. It was flowing fast and at first, I thought it was a gas cloud but then it hit my shoulder here”, he said showing the back of his right shoulder. “It was hard as a rock and I fell off and I reached out with my gun. I must have hurt it since I felt deep vibrations through my organs and then it flowed away very fast.” 

“Look at my suit here,” said Salas, pointing to a part on his right side that had a splatter of grey almost rock-solid matter. “I think this came out of it”

She jumped up at his confession. Did he mean that he had alien microbes on his suit?

“Don’t move,” she said urgently and reached for a mini sampler and scooped up the hard substance from his suit. “Salas, who else knows about this?” she asked.

“The controllers on Base 2. I told them about the encounter and they did not seem surprised at all. Instead, they told me to not tell anyone, else they would come after me”.

She told him to take some time off to rest and get his nerves back and promised to not tell anyone. 

Chapter 3

She did not report the alien matter as she should have. She worked on it on her own. She divided the amount into two equal halves and experimented with one half – attacking it with earth microbes to see how they would impact the defense mechanisms of the alien matter.

She used the second half to develop immuno-adaptive vaccines for humans when attacked by microbes from the alien mass. She worked non-stop, knowing that there was no end to the greed of the mining companies. Very soon Earth would be facing aliens without knowing if they were friend or foe.

She wanted to be ready…for people, for humanity…for a future where Earth could protect itself against the aliens that mining companies were aggravating.  

Completely unaware of what was happening in parallel, she worked on her own and was able to create the two medical safeguards with which she could arm the world if the need arose. She was almost done and had to conduct the last tests for replication and vaccine stability.

“Just a couple of days more,” she said to herself as she entered her lab on that fateful day.

They were waiting for her at the lab entrance. They had quarantined her work and she was escorted to a remote intelligence location. During her interrogation, she realized that Salas had cracked and told his team leader that she had taken alien matter from his suit. When she asked what happened to Salas, they gave her blank looks. She knew then what could happen to her. But if she told them everything, there would be no hope for humanity.

No matter what happened to her, she would not tell.

She had stored her work in two places by then. One, in the lab where her tests had failed, and the other where the vaccines had worked. She gave up the location of samples where the vaccines had worked on alien mass. She did not tell them the location of the molecules that had the potential to invade alien mass. She was not going to give up the last line of defense! 

They made an example out of her for the other researchers, calling her a traitor for developing vaccines to protect aliens. Her trial and sentencing was one-sided, military, swift, and ruthless. Eleven years in a military prison in Kansas and they ensured that they found every reason to throw her into solitary confinement as often as possible.

She imagined during these spells that she was the trunk of a twisted old tree, with each solitary confinement increasing her rings. Her branches held the weight of future children that wanted the freedom to be born. And close to her roots lay Salas in a resting position. She would often comfort him and let him know that it was ok.

“You have done your part. You can rest. I am the one that failed and my branches feel heavy with this burden.”

On release, she was only allowed to work non-medical, low-income jobs. She chose to be a hairstylist. Given her record, the only place that employed her was a minimum wage salon in Fresno. Routine: wake up, breakfast, get to work, end at 8 pm, back home, eat and sleep. 7 days a week including Christmas and New Year. It kept her sane, it kept her going for 16 years until the phone rang that morning. 

Chapter 4

She opened the door before the bell rang and walked to the car they had sent for her. The 3 hours drive was heavy with silence and she kept imagining in her mind again and again what awaited her at the CDP. As she stepped into the CDP building, a flood of memories hit her and she shivered involuntarily.

A man standing inside came rapidly to her and dragged her away by her arm to a room in the back of the two-story building.

“I am Vink,” he said as he hastily seated her in a chair.

She nodded, “What do you want?”

“You were experimenting on alien matter and developing vaccines for it?” 

She felt her anger rising, “I was not. I have served a long sentence for a crime that I never committed.”

“Oh, you don’t understand?” he said, “ We will need your help now. The mining companies have been exploiting the outer asteroid belt for a very long. We did not know that they were aware that some of these asteroids hosted an alien form of life that can survive in very harsh conditions. A lifeform so evolved that they can move from being fluid to hard as rock. When they die, they become a rock, almost unrecognizable as a living form.”.

He took out some pictures and showed her, “Look, here is one in the process of transforming from a solid rock form to fluid.” 

“So what do you want from me?”

Vink looked at her, “They are sick of being driven out of their homes and have entered earth using our own spaceships. Earlier, we thought that we had managed to contain them within the transportation base, but news from across California and Texas has me convinced that they are out there in these states.”

“Did you guys keep my experiments and materials in my lab?” She jumped up, “We will need to find it back and I need you to give me a lab and any alien mass you might have collected from the transportation base.”

“What had you developed besides what we found?” asked Vink.

“Well….you see some of Earth’s microbes can cause a lot of damage to them and are hard to create vaccines against. How many types do we have?” she motioned. 

“We have three types: two from combinations of flu and a very old skin plague against which all humans today have immunity and one that impacts their external layer”, Vink replied.

“Let’s work with the two combinations and forget the skin diseases…we need lethal diseases, not tame ones.” She stopped and turned sharply to him, “You don’t understand do you?” Vink stared at her.

“Look, they are able to change their form from fluid to solid by diffusing liquids and gases. But when they have to change from solid to fluid form they need to absorb these gases through their outer layer. If that outer layer malfunctions, they can no longer change back to fluid form and are rendered immobile. That is when we can infect them with our microbes”. 

“Stop staring at me and let’s get to work. We have a lot to do…first I will need to replicate these microbes at a mass scale and once we have done that we will need to distribute the vaccines as well,” she said, exasperated. 

Vink looked excited and confused at the same time, “We have not been able to develop vaccines yet. We are working on it but need more time. I am afraid we will lose some people but we are looking to quarantine the two states if needed.”

She looked up from the table and spoke slowly as a matter of fact, “Yes, I know that. I have the vaccine ready. I had it ready before they took me to prison. All we need to do is mass produce it.”

Vink sat down and took a few moments to absorb this. “So you did? Where did you?…They sent you to prison…And all the time you were….”

She stood up restlessly, “Vink, take me to a lab. We can’t waste time chatting!”


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

The Miracle of Christmas

Growing up Hindu in cosmopolitan Bombay, I looked forward to Christmas with a sigh of relief. Christmas for us did not have the bearings and pressures of other Indian festivals, so we could just enjoy its beauty in a laidback fashion through common symbols like the Christmas trees, church bells, decorative snow made from cotton balls, and delicious plum cakes. After coming to America, Christmas became another avenue for justifying material greed that was validated by the culture as a way to celebrate this day. Nothing wrong with shopping, but that just as I had done back in India, I missed seeing the depth of Christmas. The legendary miracle of Christmas was only a fable to me until Christmas acquired a transformed meaning for me and my family.

Four years ago, much to my shock, I spent Christmas at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Florence, South Carolina.

My son was born two weeks past his due date after a strenuous, dangerous, and heart-breaking birthing process. He was taken for a routine checkup when he started having seizures. Doctors informed us that he would have to be rushed to a specialized NICU, an hour and a half away, since that hospital was not equipped to deal with serious health conditions in infants. What health condition I asked. “We suspect meningitis,” said a very concerned doctor.

The next morning, he was zipped up in a see-through bag to be put into an ambulance. I saw him clearly for the first time. Strong, calm, and big at 9 pounds, he looked nothing like a new-born. I blew him flying kisses as tears rolled down my eyes. Because of my own medical recovery, I would not be able to get to him for three days. 

Three days passed in agony. I walked through a large room that was the NICU. There were about twenty infants there, primarily premature infants who would be kept in the unit until they reached 40 weeks, the normal gestational period. The slow exploration of miracles started when I saw babies close to two pounds, being kept alive in incubators; surviving, fighting, wanting to taste life. On the far left in the back of the big room was the critical section. That’s where I saw my son. Among others, he looked like a giant. His dark eyes wide open and aware.

I held him for the first time on Christmas eve. At this point, any contact with him felt like a gift. I stroked his hair; did he even know that I was his mother? As I met the nurses that I had been distrusting of  (How would they treat him? Would they be kind to him?), I saw how they held him, like their own. They magically appeared every time he cried, as if they were telepathically connected to him. Truth be told, they knew how to care for him better than an emotionally and physically wrecked first-time mother. They had fed him bottles of donor breast milk, another gift in this process by unknown women.

“We were thinking about a feeding tube for him, but he took to the bottle like a champ,” said the nurse. By now I had established my own milk and on Christmas Eve I fed him the first time as well.

We awoke in a hotel room near the hospital on Christmas morning. I had imagined Christmas to be at home with a tree, presents, a fireplace, welcoming our first child. When we went to the hospital, I noticed for the first time that they had a Christmas tree in the ICU. Under it were presents with each child’s name on them. And right toward the front, I saw one for my son. When I headed toward his bed, I was introduced to a woman who had been waiting for me. She introduced herself as a chaplain and that she was here to pray for every child. As she prayed for his health, for a speedy recovery invoking a miracle from God, the nurses held me while I wept.

One of them said kindly, “The best part of our job is that we see miracles every day.” 

After the prayers, the nurses serenaded Samuel with Christmas songs: Holy Night, Silent Night, Jingle Bells. My heart melted when I saw these mothers sacrificing their own Christmas mornings with their children to be with these wonderful little souls. It was a glimpse of the selflessness that motherhood calls for, something that, in time, I’d learn myself.

Trolleys of gifts were being rolled around the room and I saw that each child had a small blue teddy bear. When my son received his, I read the tag on it. It was a gift to all the children from a little boy who had spent Christmas, in this very NICU, fourteen years ago. He did not fail to send gifts each year as a reminder of the victory of recovery. 

When my husband and I walked out of the NICU, we were met by an unknown couple. They took us aside and gave us a fifty-dollar bill. “We wanted to give forward to the parents of a child here today but didn’t know who to choose. So, we stood here thinking we would give to the next couple that walks out the door.” And that was us. “Go buy yourself a Christmas dinner. Merry Christmas,” they said.

On that Christmas, my life changed. Little miracles opened my heart to a new reality – that of the true miracle of Christmas. The story of Bethlehem was no longer a fable for me. I witnessed the miracle of birth and life, of a soul coming through the darkness. I was following the guiding stars of light into the unknown to experience the magnificence of a child. Through this suffering, my understanding of Christmas was transformed from a consumer to its real purpose.

After Christmas that year, Samuel started to make a miraculous recovery. He fought his lot well, and soon it was concluded that he was fighting E-Coli in his blood all along and was spared any life-threatening circumstance. In two weeks, he was back home with us.

This year, as a four-year-old, he embellishes the Christmas tree and makes stars and snowflakes, his giggles are a rippling reminder of the miracle that he is worth all the trials and joys. A living proof of prayers answered. 


Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her writings have appeared in publications including Times of India, Yoga International, Yogi Times, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of fiction and poetry. 

In 2020, Science Fiction is Freedom

Legends of Quintessence – a column that interacts with Science Fiction in a South Asian context. 

The year 2020 has been a very strange one. This year has made me reflect on things I hold dear in my heart.

The first critical reflection was on people – family, friends, colleagues, mentors.

The second was freedom. Not just freedom of living in a free, democratic country but also mental freedom. I found my freedom in writing Science Fiction, where there were no boundaries to limit the imagination.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Most of my early pieces found their way to the trash can due to various reasons: moving continents, writing on loose sheets of paper, journals getting lost unwittingly. The intent was never to publish but to find an outlet for creativity. Putting pen to paper as a means to satisfy that creative urge. And somewhere down the line, I realized that I liked writing science fiction more than other kinds of stories. The ideas would come fast and would demand to be written…and I finally shifted from writing on paper to writing on my laptop. 

Then came March 2020 and the COVID crisis. Suddenly daily travel, socializing, watching movies in theaters, and my son’s violin concerts came to a halt. Instead, I started focusing on new gifts of quality family time, exercise, making healthier meals, reading books, and writing science fiction more often. The impetus to publish my writing grew. 

I believe I am very fortunate that I got to launch a Sci-Fi Column (Legends of Quintessence) with India Currents. When our publisher, Vandana Kumar shared the news with me, it was hard for me to believe that I was becoming part of such a prestigious and long-standing publication. It has been an amazing experience to bring Science Fiction to our readers: Interview with an artist @colorsofhoney, Sci-Fi short story ‘Aberration’, and an interview with @addictedtospice who shared a recipe worthy of feeding Aliens

And now as we look forward to 2021, a year that promises to be better and brighter, I am excited to continue bringing Science Fiction to our India Currents readers. Wish you all a very happy transition to 2021 and see you in the new year!

If you would like to read the Sci-Fi short story ‘Aberration’, here are the links to the chapters:

Chapter 1: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-tales-of-a-deviant/

Chapter 2: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-2/

Chapter 3: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-3/

Chapter 4: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-4/

Chapter 5: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-5/


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Here to Stay: Important Phrases of 2020

The year 2020 has been so dramatic that mere words are not enough to capture its uniqueness, absurdness, and plain scariness. It needs phrases. And not surprisingly, the top phrases of 2020 seem to fall into two neat catastrophic categories: health and politics. And one can’t forget the inevitable categories: life and future. 

HEALTH

Covid-19. 

Definition: CO for corona; VI for virus; D for disease; 19 for 2019. 

Origin: Ironically, we had never even heard of it in 2019, although there were already some rumblings of the disease in China. And even when we first became aware of it in early 2020, we were referring to it as “the coronavirus”. Then on February 11th, Dr. Tedros (Director-General of WHO) declared it officially as Covid-19. Many of us who had grown used to calling it “the coronavirus” were disturbed to learn that there are also other coronaviruses. And we were more perturbed by the suffix “19”. Does that mean there could be a “covid-20”? “Covid-21”?

Related phrases: pandemic; and for the non-believers, plandemic.

Related movies: Virus (Malayalam film); Contagion; Outbreak; The Andromeda Strain; Panic in the Streets;…  Actually, it may be better for the nerves to watch happy, pretty, totally escapist Emily in Paris on Netflix.

Social Distancing.

Definition: What we really mean to say is “physical distancing”, meaning staying 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household in order to minimize chances of catching covid-19. Social distancing can actually be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re also physically distancing. In fact, to maintain our mental health, we need to be socially close to our family and friends at this time via phone, texting, video chats, social media, etc.

Origin: No one knows, but as long as we practice physical distancing until a vaccine is available, no one cares. However, physical distancing can be very difficult in mega-cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and New York City – especially for the poor.

Related phrases: isolating; quarantine; lockdown; wear the mask (it’s not a political statement); flatten the curve.

Related movies: Think Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And Home Alone 6 is in the works … but not coming soon to a theatre near you because production is delayed due to covid-19.

The cure is not the vaccine; the cure is the vaccination.

Definition: The CDC defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to the specific disease, protecting the person from that disease”. It defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease”. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts have stressed that simply developing a vaccine against covid-19 is not sufficient; people have to take the vaccine to protect themselves against covid-19.

Origin: The reason to make such a seemingly obvious statement is that there are a substantial number of anti-vaxxers: people who believe that vaccines are harmful. A recent study in Lancet reports that “31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribing to similar accounts on YouTube”. The anti-vaxxer movement has, if anything, grown during the pandemic. And it may also be influential in other parts of the world – e.g., India, Brazil

Synonyms: rollout strategies; COVAX initiative

Antonyms: I don’t believe in science; The world is flat; I died.

Related movies: Worryingly, a recent study concludes that “Cinematic portrayals of immunization are increasingly unrealistic and negative”. 

POLITICS

Polarized.

Definition: Polarized used to mean the special lenses on our sunglasses that reduced glare. But now it means breaking up into opposing factions – as in Republicans vs. Democrats. 

Origin: The word is old, but it is becoming more ubiquitous and more dangerous, as it relates to an increasingly divided United States. It denotes disagreements on core issues and more worryingly, core values

Related phrases: hyperpartisan; narrow-casting; identity politics; populism

Related movies: Friendly Persuasion; Glory; Sarkar (Hindi film); Lincoln; Sarkar (Tamil film).

The election was stolen.

Definition: President Trump is saying that he has lost the US 2020 election because of large-scale election fraud: including voter suppression, accepting voters who are not eligible, and manipulation of voting systems. However, the election has been declared legitimate by the OSCE and many other neutral institutions.

Origin: President Trump. 

Synonyms: The election was rigged; Stop the steal; Disinformation.

Antonyms: The election was legitimate; international election monitors; Peaceful transfer of power; The Election Commission of India

Related movies: The Candidate; Kissa Kursi Ka (Hindi film); Good Night, and Good Luck; Swing Vote; All In: The Fight for Democracy; Whose Vote Counts, Explained

JUST LIFE

Essential workers.

Definition: those that need to show up to work despite lockdowns due to covid-19. Includes frontline workers in healthcare, childcare, water, energy, food production, food retail, construction, transportation, and social services. Hopefully, this will lead to well-deserved recognition and better remuneration for those whose services we need in our daily lives.

Origin: Covid-19.

Related phrases: frontline workers; ragpickers; migrant workers.

Related movies/shows: Superstore; Scrubs; Anbe Sivam (Tamil film); Norma Rae.

Black Lives Matter.

Definition: a political and social movement protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. Not a new phrase, but one that unfortunately needs to be repeatedly voiced.

Origin: It began in the US in 2013 with the acquittal of a white man in the shooting death of a black teenager. The movement has since gone global, with over 450 major protests in 2020.

Related phrases: anti-racism; No justice, no peace; Dalit Lives Matter.

Related movies: Nothing But a Man; Malcolm X; Periyerum Perumal (Tamil film); Stay Woke

Zoom meetings.

Definition: An easy way that multiple people can have a video chat. It’s also free if you keep your chat under 40 minutes.

Origin: Hot-shot executives may have known about ZOOM since 2013 but they were keeping it quiet so that they could keep traveling all over the globe on business class. Now even your grandma likely knows about ZOOM and uses it to talk each week to all the members of her bhajan group. However, if your grandma is a Palestinian activist, she may be banned from using ZOOM.

Related phrases: Skype, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JIO Meet, Say Namaste, etc. etc. etc..

Related movies: None…yet. And therein lies a business opportunity.

THE FUTURE

The next normal.

Definition: While ‘the new normal’ connotes change to a different and stable condition, ‘the next normal’ connotes an ongoing succession of changes. Given climate change, growing inequality, refugees, aging, and future pandemics, our world seems poised for a series of next normals. Hopefully, the next ‘next normal’ will again include trips to India.

Origin: likely the management consulting firm McKinsey, early on in the covid-19 pandemic.

Related terms: the usual unusual; same new, same new.

Related movies: (to be released in the next normal): No Time to Die; Black Widow; Mission Impossible 7; Laal Singh Chaddha (Hindi film); and of course, Emily in Paris season 2

May 2021 be less dramatic and less phrase-worthy than 2020. And may the next normal bring with it a subsiding of Covid-19, less noxious politics, greater pay for frontline workers, more racial equality, and face-to-face, hug-to-hug, meetings with all our beloved family and friends.


Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and phrase-lover.

A Memory, 2020

My best memory from 2020 isn’t necessarily my happiest. This year I felt no simple, one-note emotions. And so my best memory is one that encompasses the complexity of a harrowing year, glutted with loss. 

I returned to India at the end of December 2019 after a ten-year absence. On New Years Day I was in Chennai, after the drive from my family’s home in Pondicherry. I brought my three children along for this trip, now pre-teens and teenagers. They were toddlers on our last visit. 

Sunset in Pondicherry - Image taken by Author
Sunset in Pondicherry – Image taken by Author

As we drove from Pondy to Chennai, I devoured every scene of this country I’d missed for nearly a decade. The thatched huts, the overloaded lorries, a family standing in impossibly green grass, flanked by their taciturn cow. A woman posing for a selfie on the side of the road while balancing a great steel pot atop her head. Coconut groves, rice paddies, pilgrims wearing red saris that matched the blazing flowers on the nearby Poinciana trees. 

I went to the temple on New Year’s Day. Our driver guided us through a maze of people, thousands of them, a fact I can hardly contemplate now. That profusion of humanity is something I love and miss about India, and it’s one of the cruelest aspects of this pandemic—the inherent peril of India’s ubiquitous crowds. 

But at the beginning of this year, I could relish the throngs. What a different world it was.

Past the entrance of the temple, people waited in line to see the various deities. They pushed and complained, or fanned themselves with folded newspapers. Our driver presented an inscrutable, flimsy paper enabling us to advance in the queue. 

I stood at the front of the line, ready to receive my blessing, when an old woman, no higher than my elbow, strong-armed her way through the clot of people, shoving me aside. I let her pass. She was cracked and broken-earth old. And beautiful—in India such advanced age deserves reverence. 

In creative writing classes, instructors often advise us to “tell it slant”, a concept denoting the odd and intriguing detail that makes a story memorable. On this trip to India—my last real trip of 2020–the entire visit felt “slant”. From my uncle’s hilarious stories to the old woman at the temple, to the rickety stand on Marina beach selling dubious curry shrimp pizzas. 

Our prayers finished, I made my way back to my shoes, left outside the temple entrance. It had rained, and puddles collected on the uneven pavement, slimy on my bare feet. An old woman implored me to buy a garland of jasmine flowers. Another hawked damp, battered children’s books. 

As I exited the temple and approached our car, oblivious to what awaited us all just a few weeks away, I noticed a tiny, emaciated stray kitten, shivering as it crawled to one of the puddles. It lapped up the fresh rain. I wished I could hold the kitten in my hands. I doubt it survived more than a few more days.

But the image of that forlorn creature stays with me, slant indeed, and painful. In this year, so thick with loss and missing, I feel a kinship with that poor animal, stumbling forward, searching. When this is over I will have lost three semesters’ worth of connections with my students, along with the birthday parties, dinners, and the celebratory plans I had for my debut novel’s publication. 

And then, just weeks ago, the worst news of all. I lost my beloved uncle—the one I’d just visited in India for New Year’s. None of us could say goodbye to him. He could not even die in his hometown because the ICUs in Pondicherry were full. 

I often think the world provides me with poignant images that have little meaning for me in the present, but are planted in me to decipher later for some future lesson. And indeed, throughout this year my mind has returned to that kitten—now gone, I’m sure—because I feel so much like that creature these days. Stumbling forward, relentlessly aware of my fragility, but still grateful for whatever reprieve life offers. And sometimes, that reprieve is memory itself—of a time when life was easier and less freighted by loss. 

The pandemic will be over, and hopefully soon. I will return to India. My uncle will be gone, his flat in our family house empty, and I will be consoled instead by the palm trees and mangroves, frangipani flowers, bougainvillea, and other Pondicherry flora in which my Botanist uncle delighted.  And I will think back on that kitten, that New Year’s Day, when fragility belonged to something else, and not to me, or us.


Samantha Rajaram is the author of the novel THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS and lives in the Bay Area. 

Being Thankful & Keeping My Sunny Side Up

Fall is my most favorite season of the year. I love seeing the leaves of trees change colors, and the pleasantly mild temperatures encourage me to take long walks. As we celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of November, we reflect on our blessings in life. This year, it has become all the more important to be grateful for all that we have, with the world being caught in the grip of an invisible monster that is shaking the world!

Every day, I wake up with a thought that is not at all comforting. A question arises as to how long the cloud of uncertainty will be hovering over us. It was mid-March when I first wrote an article on the COVID-19 situation, and 8 months later, we are still battling it.

In the wake of this crisis, the issue of mental health is one of grave concern. What has emerged as a very crucial requirement for all of us is the need to be happy. I don’t know if it’s the few strands of gray that have made me older and wiser, but the pandemic has made me look at life from a different perspective. I’m pleasantly surprised that I have emerged as a more optimistic person than I was before.

Learning is a continuous process, and at times, certain events or circumstances reinforce what we have learned in the past with even greater strength. If I were asked what are the values the world needs to learn the most from the pandemic, I have an instant answer. Gratitude, positivity, and acceptance are the values we need to embrace. I have definitely made them my mantras.

We pass the test of humanity when we conduct ourselves with grace and dignity during turbulent times. For a change, let’s divert our minds from the negatives and focus on the brighter side of what life has to offer. This is my personal viewpoint, yet I am confident that there will be many who will identify with me.

The pandemic has definitely turned our lives topsy-turvy, but we could be in a much worse situation. I came across a beautiful piece “Be Happy You Weren’t Born in 1900” which asks the reader to imagine a hypothetical scenario of being born in 1900 and living through a spate of unfortunate historical events. The story starts with the beginning of World War I on one’s 14th birthday and ends with the conclusion of the Vietnam War upon turning 75. The examples of the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cuban missile crisis are also put in that timeline. Truly, would it have been easy for someone to live through tragedies that happened so close on the heels of one another?

Although it is the human tendency to complain, we need to take into account all that we have at this moment. If there’s a roof over our heads and food at the dining table, we need to consider ourselves blessed. One should be happy if there’s a monthly check coming home rather than evaluating how satisfying or not his or her job is. If we are together with our family members, we need to appreciate those moments.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” goes the proverb. It is certainly possible that we can beat a lot of the current COVID-related stress with a positive attitude. What can be a more opportune time to unravel and discover what we are capable of doing in order to sail through this storm with ease? And along with discovering our creative sides, we need to add that special dose of humor to make our days even sunnier!

Writing has always been my passion, and I have utilized this period to the fullest in order to give vent to my creative side. I have written more than I ever did because I have been spending a lot of time at home. My daily schedule has been a disciplined one, with daily yoga and pranayama being added to the routine.

So many people are discovering their hidden potential! It will perhaps not be an exaggeration to say that the world is buzzing with new singers, chefs, poets, artists, and other talented individuals during the corona crisis! On my family front itself, it is so heartwarming to see that my 24-year-old boy and my nieces have turned into accomplished chefs during this period. So isn’t it time for me and my sister-in-law to rejoice that our kids are ready to take over the kitchen and give mommy a break? One of my nieces has also rediscovered her childhood love for painting and has come up with brilliant pieces of art.

All human beings under the wide sky need to be treated as equals. As much as we know that, we tend to forget. As COVID-19 is holding the world in its frightening grip, the whole of humanity is on the same footing. The invisible monster has not made any distinction with respect to gender, status, race, religion, or sexuality. If this is not the time to practice kindness and acceptance, I don’t know when it’ll ever be.

Every small action counts. If we can spread some happiness by giving others a listening ear to their problems or perform some act of kindness, let’s do so. We all need to shed labels, cast aside prejudices of all types, and accept our fellow beings for who or what they are.

Adversity does not last forever. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel. All that we need at this moment is patience and composure. The mosaic of our lives is made up of all those small pieces that contribute towards making it a meaningful whole. So let us live in the moment and raise a toast to the tiniest of things that bring us happiness and make us smile, for the rainbow after the storm will definitely emerge!

Here’s to wishing all a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful and stay blessed!


Rashmi Bora Das is settled in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. She has written for various platforms including Women’s Web to which she regularly contributes. 

Dancing in Plain Sight

“The world is full of paper. I am writing now. I am writing to me. I am writing to myself and others like me,” author Sejal Shah professes in an essay “The World is Full of Paper. Write to Me“, which is featured in her debut collection, This Is One Way to Dance. 

When asked to review this collection, I remembered Shah’s piece in an anthology I’d reviewed fifteen years ago, Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (IC, April 2005). In that particular piece, “Betsy, Tacy, Sejal, Tib”, Shah imagines a childhood in which girls read books about characters who looked like her, and life was perfectly normal, even outside the walls of her home in a predominantly-white neighborhood bordering Rochester, New York.

Like that piece, her collection is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. “Dance” offers twenty-five of Shah’s writings and is chronicled by the year written (1999—2019). The result is an inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.

Sejal Shah
Sejal Shah, Author of This Is One Way to Dance.

The daughter of Gujarati immigrants from India and Kenya, Shah is the only person in her immediate family who was born in America and grew up in western New York. She was 19 when she first visited India. Still, travel is an important method of seeing herself as she moves from Rochester to Amherst, Brooklyn, Decorah, the Bay Area, and the desert of Nevada. We follow her as she moves to college, teaching positions, fellowships, residencies, and Burning Man. She travels to France – and reminisces about a dear friend lost to suicide – and to Sicily – and unexpectedly befriends an Indian family of vendors.

Shah guides the reader through skillfully written examinations of dancing and weddings (her brother’s, friends’, hers); her sense of place and belonging (contrasting the contentment of her parents’ circle of friends with living in numerous places where her comfort level varied); her challenges as an American of color (“Where do you come from?” people ask her, expecting an answer different from “Upstate New York”); frictional pop culture (The Simpsons’ Apu character voiced by a white man); microaggressions (encountered too regularly); and food (it means home no matter where she dines).

Shah is a poet, short story writer, and essayist. “Dance” is the canvas upon which she has successfully discarded rules, choosing instead to marry the three in a genre-mixing volume that shows her talents and voice at their best. As a poet, too, she brings a lyricism to her prose, an economy with hard juxtapositions, and an open, welcoming door into her thoughts and life. At times, it reads like a journal, a diary, those most intimate keepers of one’s emotions.

Her introspective, thought-provoking, often-humorous essays laced with frustration and joy, sadness and discovery give rise to seeing life through her eyes, then reflecting on one’s own. Her writing reveals an individual and offers no template for a large group of people. Instead, it is personal, honest, and hopeful.

Shah’s essays are springboards to conversation. They are reminders that under the broad umbrella of race, each person sheds light on as many unique facets of life as there are colors of skin and ways to dance. In a period during which race finally has moved forward in the national spotlight, these essays should be required reading.   


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is always reading and writing.

Each of Us Killers: Vignettes of Immigrant and Indian Lives

Jenny Bhatt’s debut collection of stories, Each of Us Killers brings us a sampling of experiences of a writer who has lived and worked in India, the United Kingdom, Germany, and now resides in a suburb of Dallas. Bhatt has worked as a writer, literary critic, and translator. Her translation of the Gujarati writer Dhumketu’s fiction is forthcoming from Harper Collins in India.  She is also the host of the podcast Desi Books. Each of Us Killers is Bhatt’s debut collection of short stories but several of these stories have been published in reputed journals; two of the stories were nominated for the Pushcart award, and the title story “ Each of Us Killers” was nominated for the Best American Short Stories, 2018. These biographical facts help to contextualize the experience of reading Bhatt’s collection of stories. Even though it is a debut collection, it brings a range of lived experience, experimentation, and stylistic variety, which announces a seasoned practitioner rather than a newcomer to fiction. Another important fact to note is that Bhatt’s publisher, 7.13 Books is an independent publisher, one that is likely to promote authors whose subjects and aesthetics are different from the mainstream presses, increasingly dominated by five major corporations in the publishing industry.

Bhatt’s collection portrays the complexity of immigrants’ lives but is equally at ease in offering vignettes from life in Indian cities. Unlike many diasporic writers whose representations of India seem dated because they draw on memories of India left behind several decades ago, Bhatt’s stories seem to resonate deeply with contemporary realities in India, particularly its uptick in religious and caste-based violence. The last two stories in the collection “The Waiting” and “Each of Us Killers” depicts the continuing everyday oppression faced by Dalits in India.

“The Waiting” is narrated through the voice of the ghost of a dead Dalit wife witnessing the continuing sufferings of her distraught and mentally unhinged husband. By the end of the story, the voice changes to that of the ghost of her husband in limbo after his brutal murder by the henchmen of the village sarpanch. While this story adopts the conventions of vernacular folk ghost narratives, the title story “Each of Us Killers” takes the form of investigative journalism exploring the reasons for the death of a Dalit man by consuming a bottle of acid. The investigation uncovers the brutal burning alive of a Dalit girl which is the catalyst for the brother’s suicide and the traumatic memory that ravages the community. This story is particularly poignant in the wake of continuing Dalit violence in India today, the most recent example of which is the rape, murder, and hurried cremation of Manisha Valmiki in Haathras. 

The violence unleashed on vulnerable groups is a trope that emerges even in stories set in the United States. The first story of the collection “Return to India” also takes the form of interviews that a police officer conducts in the process of investigating the death of a South Asian American man. The quotidian details of his life emerge from the testimonies of his office acquaintances, his unfurnished bare apartment, his occasional drinking binges, the loneliness following his divorce leading to the final testimony by the guy who shot him in what appears to be a drunken altercation fueled by casual xenophobia and easy access to firearms. Bhatt is gesturing at the precarious nature of immigrant lives in the xenophobic climate of Trump’s America.

Not all the stories in the collection evoke the tragic sensibility of the first and last stories in the volume. Some like “Disappointment,” and “Life Spring” turn disappointment in love into paths for liberation and growth.  In others, like “Separation Notice.”  Bhatt playfully rewrites Hindu mythology by crafting a letter terminating the services of Lord Vishnu for his inability to serve as protector of mankind. Bhatt is attentive to the multi-religious diversity of Indian citizens and offers a glimpse into the life and troubles of an aging Muslim food vendor in “Time and Opportunity,” whose young employee from his own community is stealing his profits. In “Neeru’s New World,” Bhatt seems to be depicting the tragic fate of a young maid in a rich household about to be blackmailed or sexually exploited when the story reverses course and the young girl is able to secure an ally to help her break free from the power of her oppressor.

The collection is rich in its exploration of socio-economic issues.  It also effortlessly experiments with a variety of forms like the ghost story, investigative journalism, retelling of myths, among others. As is inevitable in a collection like this some stories are more powerful than others, but overall this is a thought-provoking collection that successfully evokes diverse milieux and prompts readers towards an empathetic understanding of topics beyond the immediate familiarity of urban bourgeois life.


Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Each of Us Killers: Stories by Jenny Bhatt.  7.13 Books Brooklyn, September 2020.

Aberration: Chapter 5

This story is published every two weeks as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap: In the last chapter, Sneha’s truth is revealed to the others in the shelter. She also discovers that she has evolved due to her interactions with her cosmic friends. She feels that they have come back for her and once she meets them again, she realizes that her mother is part of them, living on.

Final Chapter: Immortal Grounds 

Sneha sobbed with realization and relief. As she looked around at her new family, she found comfort that her mother was still alive within their floating shapes. She knew that she faced an inevitable question: Should she go with her new family or stay with the humans?

“There’s more like you on various bases across the Universe”. She looked up as the shape right in front communicated with her.

“How many?” she asked, surprised. She thought that Earth had been the only research base for clones.

“Not sure,” it replied, “But we have seen many men and women pass through this constellation that are clones”. Sneha thought for a few moments. She wondered how many of these clones would have free will like hers. “Come with us,” he said, “You are one of us. I can feel your mother’s joy.” 

Sneha sat down for a long time. She looked back at the shelter a few times and knew what would be happening there: They would be communicating frantically with the other bases to report that she was hostile and asking for backup. She knew however that it would be days before any backup would arrive. 

She did not realize how exhausted she was as she fell asleep in between the stories they were sharing with her. When she woke up, she found them wrapped around her, protecting her as she slept. ‘They care about me” she thought as her emotions welled up. Sneha had never experienced any form of love before this. However, based on all she had heard about human emotion, this was the closest thing to love that she had ever experienced. She got up slowly and started walking towards the shelter. As she passed through the shelter walls, she saw them following her inside, her floating circle around her. 

The base commander stood there looking pale. Everyone at the shelter was standing behind him. Both humans and clones looked at her in shock. They still did not understand what was happening and why.

Sneha spoke slowly: “I want all the humans to pack up what you may need for a long trip, find another base that you can go to, and leave this shelter,” She paused, “Please let the others know that this planet and constellation is now for clones only. These are my family’s orders.” She saw them look even more confused. 

“I am giving the clones an option to stay and be part of my family if they want to”. Sneha was not sure how the other clones would react since they had no free will left. Of the nine other clones, only one walked towards her. She looked confused and torn. For the first time in her entire captive life, she was being asked to make a choice for herself….she wanted to but was scared. She shivered as she came over to Sneha and stood by her side. 

Sneha watched over the next few hours as the commander communicated with other bases, trying to find one that could shelter them. They packed and prepared, scared and concerned. She felt oddly at peace as she looked around the shelter and her family. She knew they had been maintaining this in the absence of humans and that’s why it was still functional. Her mother had integrated all her wishes, aspirations, and memories into them. It was time for Sneha to do the same and merge her existence into a floating, shared pool of life and intellect. 

They were finally ready to leave. Sneha noticed that the ship no longer showed any damages from the rough landing. She still had to learn how they managed to carry minerals and metals through space within their lifeform to be able to repair, revive, and build. “Ah, that’s for another day” she told herself smiling. 

Sneha turned to the commander for her parting message: “Do not try to attack us. You will not win. And I will not forgive any attackers”. The commander nodded shakily, ready to move as far away from this base as possible.

As the ship faded away, Sneha turned back towards the shelter. “What are the locations of other bases that are holding clones?” she asked. She listened carefully as many in the floating cloud shared what they had encountered during their journeys. “We’ll start freeing them once my evolution is complete,” she said to them. For now, they all went inside the shelter to rest. 

Go back and read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.