Tag Archives: #shortstory

Migration, Belonging, Pandemic: Kitaab’s Anthology Has It All

As a humble writer and avid reader of fiction, I’m always in awe of the short story. While on one level the short story is challenged by its need for brevity, on another level it is that very need that frees it into a realm of creativity without the bounds of structure, form, and formula that apply to larger works. Unlike a novel that begs for details on and off the page, the short story has the privilege of precisely capturing a moment, an image, an observation or a phenomenon. Many good short stories do not seek a resolution and in that nuanced restraint, unforgettable stories are created. The Best Asian Short Stories 2020, an anthology does just that.

Inspired by the Best American Short Stories, this series was started in 2017 by Kitaab International, a Singapore-based publisher. The intention has been to allow writers of Asian descent and those with strong connections with Asia to have a place to submit their works to be considered for publication. In its fourth year, the series has been reviewed, featured, and recommended over several platforms across Asia and the world. 

This year’s anthology includes themes of migration, pandemic, and the ever-present human condition of wanting to belong. These stories by previously published and unpublished authors are set in all parts of the world ranging from the mountains of Uttarakhand and Australian outback to the outskirts of Atlanta and the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Through them runs a common thread of uniquely Asian voices and stories.

Zafar Anjum, the founder of Kitaab.org and the editor for this year’s anthology says, “Living in Singapore, I was curious to find out about other Asian cultures and I thought it was important to build the bridge – that connection among cultures.”

As a reader, I can attest that this bridge was successfully built. The Post-Colonial use of the English language here is used not so much to express the linear, individualistic storytelling of the west, but the communal and cyclical tradition of stories that Asian cultures share. Our rituals, our families, our superstitions, and our desires are shared in these pages. I read a story called A Woman’s Place by Jasmine Adams about a Chinese and Indonesian family spanning four generations, I couldn’t help but resonate with the issues of raising a girl child in an Indian family.

In Kelly Kaur’s Singapore Dream, the human question of belonging is explored through three generations with the theme of the soul’s eternal search for a home and the constant push and pull between the old and new.

In Seema Punwani’s beautiful story Spin, the challenges of parenting are explored in raising a special needs child.

Similarly, in Moazzam Sheikh’s Sunshine, the hard task of parenting in an unsafe world is discussed.

Renowned poet Sudeep Sen’s Gold Squares is poetry in prose of great caliber against the backdrop of Mumbai.

Closer to home, Atlantan author Murali Kamma’s notable Route to Lucky Inn is a suspenseful and intriguing account of the interplay of migration and politics, but at its core, it is an exposition of the tragic state of human existence.  

It’s impossible to mention all the stories in the collection, but if I were to sum up the experience of the profundity of reading this book, I would quote a character from the story Singapore Dreams. She says, “Nothing is free…immigrants are forever conflicted as we are. This is our unique burden.”


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


 

Pink and Pollution at 4 O’Clock

I’ve begun applying hot coconut oil on my hair again every Saturday. I search for the little footprints I left back in the streets of India playing football. I seek that warm sun and humidity in Hyderabad on Saturday evenings. I’ve begun reminiscing about the pink and pollution of 4 pm. The kiraane ki dukaan that quenched my thirst with sprite and a 10 rs. Lays packet. I reminisce about the rainy days of playing four corners instead of basketball. I remember the smell of rain hitting concrete. I remember the feeling of melted dairy milk silk on my fingers, the cold glass of mango juice that numbs my fingers on a hot day, the smell of yellow daal tadka, and aloo after coming home from school on Saturday. 

Artwork by Swati Ramaswamy

This nostalgia made me realize: the smell of rain on concrete is not so different in San Francisco. Sprite tastes the same here, just a little (lot) sweeter. The sun at 4 pm yesterday was bright and golden and made me feel like I was in Mumbai. As a kid, I never understood the feeling of belonging to a place, everywhere can be your home if you want it to. But this past year I felt so distant from every place that I had called home. I felt in between things and just slightly offbeat. But these small things, like the smell of concrete and the sun, connected me back to all my homes. It connected me to Sunday morning skies in Japan, which were perfectly blue and sunny. It connected me to the most beautiful view from my balcony in India. It made me realize that pieces of my home, that felt most like it, always carry themselves with me. They repeat, they renew. No matter how much I change or grow, they give me comfort when I need it. The new year felt like that. Like the smell of freshly baked cake in the kitchen. Like finally making the perfectly round and “crisp on the outside soft on the inside” dosa. It feels just happy enough to be happy for no reason and happy enough to be happy when I’m sad. The feeling of jumping into a cold pool on the hottest day. It was like landing. I think home, wherever it is, invokes comfort in its meaning rather than its physicality. This phase of nostalgia made me realize that if I ever feel lost, I’m still always home.

Renewal. It’s a very tedious word. We renew passports, leases, and licenses. It’s a process that we have already achieved, but need to repeat. Renewals are odd and vacant. But the years that repeat are also renewals. The seasons renew too, so the second time it rains you have an umbrella. Situations repeat, and we change how we react to those repetitions, and we grow. This new year won’t be much different, but I hope it ends up being one of familiarity and comfort, even if it is about seeking new things. I hope there is always belonging, there is always that memory of a home that makes you feel permanent, like a cold glass of mango juice on a hot day.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

Leather Notebook

My Rough Leather Notebook, An Escape From This World

My hands run over my notebook bound in rough leather, slightly wrinkly like my skin after a long hot shower. Its cover is dark black with speckles of shimmering silver flashing under the dappled sun. It looks like staring up at the starry sky on a clear winter night. It invites me inside, pulls me in like a portal to another world where I can write. Outside where the world is dominated by a plague, we stare at the virus trackers, of big red blotches filling the continents, growing bigger and darker. We see the numbers of cases and deaths increase. Only they are not just numbers. They are people who once had families and enjoyed life, maybe they had a notebook just like mine. Outside my door, the world is toxic, tainted and polluted but inside the notebook, my words are pure. Untouched by the chaos, unchanged by circumstance.

My hand slowly lifts the cover as I bring the journal up to my face. My nose fills with the smell of home, comforting and familiar. Old paper pages delicately rustle like leaves dancing when the wind makes them sway. Lines in a subtle sky blue streak across the page, straight and long, asking me to fill them. Asking me to forget, to leave behind all of reality and enter the realm of the imaginary. As I flip through, words adorn the pages of all different shapes and sizes. Some are crisp and clear like a high-definition TV. Others are smudged, smeared from wear and the sweat that drips off my hand. They look nothing more than dirt smeared on a creamy-white page. The pages look like the color of soy-milk, an off-white color with hints of yellow and brown spreading across the edges like food coloring staining water or red blotches on a COVID tracker. Flipping through the pages makes a rustling noise, not unlike opening a bag of potato chips quietly. The pages feel familiar in my hand, feeling like an extra layer of soft, supple skin embracing my hand, gluing my palm to the page like the journal is begging me to write. The smell brings me back to the good old days, as I reminisce of books filing a shelf, old and new the smell draws me in like the smell of fresh coffee in the morning or hot coca in December.

Then, the most extraordinary thing begins to happen as the world starts to fade. The lines between reality blur as my pencil touches the page. When I’m tired of the world, of sad news and coronavirus cases, I fall into my journal’s embraces. Away from this world I leave, the pages acting like my wings as I spread them and fly. Not looking back to say goodbye, I rise as I write.

The journal is my escape from this world when I need to mend. When the days are too short and the nights too long, when I fall back, the pages seem to catch me and lift me up. Telling me that if I write, everything will be alright. That it’s okay if I don’t wear a mask because I’m not leaving my house, they call me, say that I don’t need a plane to travel because this journal is the plane and I can go anywhere I want. It doesn’t even have to be real.

In the harsh world of the coronavirus, unemployment, and giant recessions, my notebook is my life, my world is my words. When counterintuitive reigns, when a positive test brings only negatives, I find my way. Not just a journal but a mentor, a friend, I can hang out with my journal without Zoom or a six-foot ruler.

The first word is written, from my brain, it travels to my left arm, towards my fingers. As I etch it into the page, once again the inexplicable feeling fills me. This is the point where the world of the real and the imagined separate, unable to tell what is fantasy and reality, everything becomes hazy.

As I stare at the vast openness of the space ahead of me, knowing I can fill it with anything fills me with joy. I wonder what will happen during this roller coaster ride because in these lines, anything can happen. As the point of the pencil touches the page, the story starts, venturing out into the unknown. I am full of excitement and joy to see what I can create.

Words just flow like water or liquid gold, the pencil dances across the page, as graceful as ballet. The page sings opportunity, the words spill secrets, the pencil whispers freedom and I, I remember to forget. 

My words build worlds; my pages build palaces. Once the story starts, it’s like a thundering waterfall, pouring, unable to stop. The words are like water, life-sustaining, delicate, yet mighty enough to gorge canyons and carve rivers. The power of the page lies on my shoulders, the power of creating a new world, any new world, now rests in me. A superpower anyone can achieve if only they thought to befriend a pencil and become part of a notebook.

This is the feeling of writing, of opportunities and freedom, of inspiration and wonder, of home and the unknown. And it is beautiful. No amount of words can express; no number of notebooks can explain this feeling of writing and filling a page.

In the world of COVID, of social distancing and being stuck indoors, writing is my way to explore. The notebook and I, are united as one. For me, it symbolizes light and life, shining like a beacon or a star in the night. Never extinguished, like the north star, it leads me back home, which lies somewhere inside.

This simple notebook, made nothing more of leather and paper, is the most amazing thing because everything once started with a word contained in a book just like the one under my hand.

Always with me, the notebook remains. It is there when I laughed and smiled so hard it hurt and it stayed there to dry my tears when I had my messy cries. When we walk together, the weight of the world doesn’t seem as heavy anymore, when I write my fears and worries, sharing it with my best friend, something happens that seems to make me mend.

Slowly, the notebook became my world, now more than ever. Because there are times when the world is tough, life gets bumpy, the road is rough. But the notebook is stable, it’s always there, whenever I need to get some rest or express myself, to help me get rid of stress, it’s always there when I need to decompress. Reminding me to let go, telling me to remember that it’s okay to forget the world.


Diya Kanduri is a sophomore from New Jersey. She has been writing poetry since fourth grade. She loves to read, travel, and spend time with her family. To read more of her work, you can visit her blog or her Instagram @diya_kanduri.

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.

Former IC Intern Releases Anticipated Book

Shruti Swamy’s debut collection of stories A House is a Body is a highly anticipated volume, after the potential displayed in the publication of her stories in journals like the Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review Online among others. She is also a two-time winner of the O’ Henry Prize. It might interest our readers to know that Shruti worked as an intern at India Currents long before her fiction became widely known.

Short stories as a genre are more difficult to market than long fiction forms like the novel or even the non-fictional genre of the memoir. In the South Asian American literary archive, short story collections that have had a profound effect on audiences and changed our expectations forever include Bharati MukherjeeThe Middleman and Other Stories and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies. More recently Neel Patel’s If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi also earned the distinction of becoming New York Times Book Review’s Editor’s Choice and NPR Best Book of the year. Swamy’s collection although firmly rooted in the tradition of diasporic South Asian American writing is charting new and unexplored territory.

What distinguishes Swamy’s collection is the persistent presence of trauma, loss, female vulnerability, and fulfillment in a transnational and transhistorical contexts.

While some stories like the last one in the collection “Night Garden,” invoke a very specific geographic landscape, others like “The Siege” and “Earthly Pleasures” seem to flow effortlessly between the genres of realism, mythology, and magical realism.

In “Earthly Pleasures” Swamy plays with the theme of unrequited love of a lonely female artist for a celebrity named Krishna, invoking the myth structuring the Bhakti tradition of India: Radha’s love for her divine and unattainable lover, Krishna. This unrequited love gets replayed in the medieval poet/ devotee Mira’s longing for Krishna which produces a flowering of her poetry. Similarly, Krishna is an earthly pleasure for Swamy’s protagonist Radhika and also her creative muse and obsession.

In “The Seige” Swamy weaves a story that resembles an Indian fable where an old queen is abandoned by her husband and loses her sons in battle.  This story may be read entirely as a fable, a throwback to an earlier pre-modern, feudal world of female victimhood, but it connects thematically to several other stories of spousal abandonment in contemporary North America. For example, “The Laughter Artist” and the title story “The House is a Body” as well as the final story “Night Garden” dwell on themes of husbands leaving their wives, sometimes on the abyss of despair and destruction. In both these stories, the husband or male partner who has left is a shadowy, indeterminate presence, but the effects of this abandonment are registered on the traumatized family.

In “The House is a Body,” the abandoned wife goes through the distracted motions of caring for a sick daughter whose skin is burning with fever, even as a wild California forest fire forces her to pack the detritus of her broken life and memories as she waits to get rescued, while almost succumbing to a desire to be destroyed by the fire.

In “Night Garden,” we witness a woman’s bond with her dog who protects her home from the attack of a cobra, holding steadfast to his task of guarding the home over the course of a night. The implicit comparison is evoked between the loyalty of the woman’s animal companion juxtaposed with the fickleness of her human partner who has abandoned her.

Swamy’s exploration of loss is not limited only to the loss of romantic love. In some stories, she touches on the loss of children or the loss of parents. In “Mourners,” a young infant is barely aware of the trauma of the loss of her mother which is being processed by her father and aunt. In “Didi,” in a rare moment of grasping his daughter’s fears, a father reveals to her the loss of her older brother in gestation. Even more unfathomable is the loss of a brother in “My Brother at the Station,” where a sister stalks her brother’s ghostly presence from the station to an apartment, only to realize that she could not cross the threshold and do her parents’ bidding and “beg him to return home.”  Sometimes, the elegiac quality of loss changes to the more jagged depiction of domestic violence registered on the bodies of women, in “Neighbors,” hidden by sense of shame and not acknowledged by other women even when revealed.

The most joyful story in this collection is “Wedding Season.” which is an unabashed celebration of a lesbian relationship between a South Asian woman and her white female partner who are attending a heterosexual wedding in India. Even though they have not come out to their families, they revel in their surreptitious intimacy interspersed among the wedding rituals.

Swamy is masterful in her use of spare prose to evoke the most harrowing psychological experiences. Her stories span a variety of styles and genres from realism to mythic representations. Reading her stories is akin to reading poetry or entering into a dream state. Her characters seem sometimes to be indistinguishable from story to story.  They are not sufficiently varied and sometimes seem unidimensional in their experiences as survivors of trauma. Swamy is skillful in depicting characters on the brink of psychological collapse, but she rarely provides any experiences that offset their abjectness. Perhaps in the future, we will see more of her satiric commentary and sly humor which is offered fleetingly in “Wedding Season.”

The India Currents team is filled with pride to see Shruti Swamy’s burgeoning career after her time with IC and is here to cultivate the next generation of writers. Reach out to editor@indiacurrents.com if you’d like to work or intern with India Currents!


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.

Elder Love: Translated From Gujarati to English

Bela Desai published seven translated short stories by a famous late Gujarati writer, Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai; this is the first time his stories have been translated into English. Here is an abridged excerpt from the book Selected Short Stories by Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai:

Elder Love

Prabhalakshmi regarded her family lovingly, as her son and daughter-in-law propped her up in bed with care. They were all there—her sons, daughters, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. The doctor had advised them not to gather in her room, but Indian families often ignore such advice. To her joy, the grandchildren came in constantly, asking how she felt and playing quietly until an adult made them leave. Her gaze landed on her husband Pramodrai, sitting quietly in his armchair. Prabhalakshmi sighed.

An observant person would have noticed Pramodrai’s frequent glances at his wife. If someone came or left the room, a son gave her medicine, or a daughter-in-law offered her fruit—he took the opportunity to steal a look at her. But everyone’s attention was on Prabhalakshmi and his looks went mostly unnoticed, except by the young daughter-in-law Veena, who tried to hide her smile at the surreptitious glances.

Hearing Prabhalakshmi sigh, Pramodrai looked up; she turned to Veena, who was trying to conceal her amusement, and requested,

“Please make him a paan, my dear.”

“Ji—right away,” replied Veena, making a mental note to relate the old couple’s display of affection to her sisters-in-law later.

  One of Prabhalakshmi’s two sons came over to make sure she was comfortable, and Pramodrai walked over too.

“Relax,” Prabhalakshmi told him. “The children are taking good care of me.”

Pramodrai nodded, returning to his armchair. Soon, someone came to visit Prabhalakshmi and he thought it was a good time to take a break.

“Maybe I’ll go take a short walk,” he stated.

“Yes—no need to sit here all day,” his wife replied.

“I will leave, then?” Pramodrai confirmed.

“Yes,” replied Prabhalakshmi.

She glanced at Veena, and they smiled at each other.

******

In Pramodrai’s absence, Prabhalakshmi asked the family to come to her.

“What is it, Ba?” they asked, concerned.

“I want to tell you something.”

“Yes. Anything,” a son responded.

“I will not be around for long…”

“Arré!” interrupted another son. “The doctor said you will be sitting up by yourself soon!”

“No—it doesn’t matter.”

They tried to protest; she interrupted them,

  “You are wise children who don’t need my advice but—please pay attention to his needs. He will not ask for anything…”

Prabhalakshmi was too exhausted to go on.

At that moment, Pramodrai entered the room; seeing everyone standing by the bed, he approached hurriedly.

“What happened?”

“Don’t worry, nothing happened,” replied Prabhalakshmi, closing her eyes.

Pramodrai stood quietly for some time. Suddenly, he reached for his wife’s wrist. Prabhalakshmi slowly opened her eyes—with effort. Her fingers touched Pramodrai’s—she smiled faintly. And the open eyes, the fingers touching his, her loving smile, became still.

“It has happened,” Pramodrai said, as he gently let go of her hand.

Immediately, the house erupted in the chaos that follows a sudden calamity. Children were taken out of the house by well-meaning neighbors. The doctor was hastily summoned. He checked Prabhalakshmi’s pulse.

“There is nothing left,” he solemnly proclaimed.

The women huddled, crying softly. Pramodrai, acutely aware of his responsibilities, tried consoling them. Family and friends started pouring in. Eventually, the beloved entity was taken on her final journey to be ceremoniously dissolved into ashes by her heartbroken family.

Pramodrai did not shed a tear—he continued offering support to his family, whose sense of loss was deep; no one could offer them solace except the elderly Pramodrai.

“Do not cry,” he told his daughter-in-law. “You did so much for her. She is surely at peace.”

And the wives would cover their eyes and weep harder.

To his daughters, he said, “See, the most important thing for us is knowing that our children are happy. What more can a parent want?”

But the daughters were not soothed.

He spoke privately with the son who was unable to eat, “She was very happy to see you doing so well. Don’t be sad—come, eat with me.”

Friends and extended family offered their condolences, “How terrible to lose a loved one! But it must be a big consolation that she lived a happy, full life!”

That was how Pramodrai himself consoled his family, but it irked him when others implied that, because of advanced age, her death was somehow justified.

One elderly relative offered, “Who can escape fate? Thankfully, you are amidst the warmth of your ample family.”

  Pramodarai nodded politely, however, he felt as if the essence of his life had vanished, leaving behind a dark, ubiquitous void.

******

Several days had passed since Prabhalakshmi’s death. From his armchair, Pramodrai looked at the empty space where her bed used to be, his mind wandering to a time when they were still poor. He closed his eyes and envisioned a young Prabhalakshmi. He saw himself, lying in bed—his head on a pillow—eyes closed.

“What is wrong?” she enquired.

“It’s nothing,” he replied.

“There’s something on your mind.”

“Nothing important.”

“Then swear on my life that nothing is wrong!” Prabhalakshmi persisted.

“You are so stubborn!” he expostulated but continued. “I need some money, urgently. Tried a couple of sources but no luck.”

“How much?”

“Two thousand rupees.”

“There’s a thousand left from my trousseau money. We can get another thousand selling some jewelry,” reasoned Prabhalakshmi.

Pramodrai was reluctant, but eventually accepted her solution, which proved to be prophetic as, in time, they dug out of their financial groove and began to live comfortably.

He wondered what would have happened had the young Prabhalakshmi been unwilling to part with her possessions.

“Veena!” Pramodrai exclaimed suddenly.

“Ji,” responded Veena, hurriedly entering the room.

Immediately, Pramodrai realized his mistake: he had wanted to remind Veena that it was time for Prabhalakshmi’s medicine. He tried to cover it up.

“I don’t see anyone—where is everyone?”

“Everyone is here, Bapuji. Shall I get them?”

“No, no—maybe I’ll step out.”

Ji,” Veena replied, concerned. “Should I ask someone to accompany you?”

Pramodrai shook his head—No.

Outside, the flowers were blooming, but Pramodrai did not notice them; instead, he found solace in the drooping branches of the banyan tree that cast an elaborate shadow on the ground, like the protective arms of a mother.

“Are trees closer to Prabhalakshmi than me now?” he wondered. He sat on the bench underneath the banyan.

“My family takes good care of me but the one whose constant love supported me is gone.”

The leaves of the tree swayed in the gentle wind; the branches creaked.

“She often fanned me with that old brown fan, offering a cool breeze,” he reminisced.

As the sky turned red and gold in the twilight, Pramodrai slowly rose from the bench.

“My sun has set too,” he reflected, like a desolate man pining for his love—without the swagger of youth. His beloved partner was gone but he knew that displaying his grief would be ungainly—at his age.

He went inside, settling into his armchair again. The oil lamps were lit, reminding him of the time when Prabhalakshmi would light them.

“Where are Malini and Veena?” Pramodrai asked after his daughters-in-law.

“They are feeding the children,” replied someone.

He heard crying, and asked, “Who is that?”

“Oh, that’s Usha,” replied someone else.

“Who is making her cry?”

“Who can make that stubborn girl cry?” a daughter responded.

“Give her what she wants. Who but a child will be stubborn?” he sided with his granddaughter.

The brothers and sisters exchanged looks. Several minutes passed, but the sound of crying from the kitchen did not stop.

“Why is she still crying?” Pramodrai asked. “Bring her here.”

“Don’t worry, Bapuji. she will go to sleep soon.”

“A child should not go to sleep crying. Please—bring her to me,” he insisted.

Reluctantly, one of the daughters went to the kitchen. She cajoled Usha to stop crying—to no avail. Soon, Pramodrai sent his other daughter and, finally, they managed to bring the child over.

Pramodrai sat her on his lap and asked gently, “What is the matter, Beta?”

“Nothing,” she managed to answer, still sobbing.

“Then why are you crying?”

Usha stopped crying long enough to respond, “I want Ma.”

Pramodrai was unsure of what to say to the child whose daily ritual had included her beloved grandmother.

“Beta, Ma has gone to the house of God.”

“Why did she go without me?” Usha cried harder.

Pramodrai felt a tug in his heart. Stroking her head gently, he asked, “Shall I feed you, Dikri?”

“No, I want Ma,” replied the child.

“Ma cannot come back, Dikri!” the grandfather stated.

“Then why did she leave without me?!” Usha objected, letting out an extended wail.

Pramodrai’s restrained grief finally defied the threshold of constraint.

Hugging the child, he said in a quivering voice, “Everyone could go on without her—you could not, Dikri!”

And the room was filled with tears.

Bela Desai, Ph.D., has been working in biotechnology in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than twenty years. Besides science, she enjoys reading and traveling to different places around the globe. She loves to dabble in singing and writing as well.