Category Archives: fiction

The Meeting

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It’s going to be a tough day today. I can feel it. I know what you are thinking, ‘Since when did men start doing this intuition thing?’ Not my style either, but today I feel it in my gut. I mean how much fun can it be to meet up with your fiancee’s US-returned childhood pal? The one who thinks she knows my girl waaay better than I ever will and loves her waaay more than I ever will do? The ‘I got married before you so I know all about men and I’ll check out your fiancee for you’ friend.

It might have been fine if it were just her. But there’s also the husband to contend with. The ‘Jiju’. Ugh! I hate the sound of that word just as much as I hate it when Aditi goes on and on about him. But then I focus on that tiny endearing lisp she has and I can put up with almost anything. I do love this girl. More than I ever loved any girl, more than I thought I could ever love any girl. Aditi. I love her for her passion, for her strong sense of right and wrong, for the way she stands up for what she believes in, the way she talks – with her entire body – her eyes dance and her hands move as fast as she talks. Oh she can sweep a thousand people along simply on the wave of her enthusiasm. Within the space of a few months she had taken over my first love, Golf.

But I digress.

The thing is I need to get it right today because these guys are important to her. I dressed with care picking out a blue check shirt and my favourite tan jeans.

I arrived well before time but there she was, already. Aditi waved at me like seeing me across the road was the happiest thing that had happened to her. I forgot my nerves, my heart gave a joyous leap and I waved back at her. Sometimes I wondered at this miracle – the miracle that made her love me back just as much as I loved her.

Behind her stood Kirti and the ‘Jiju’ – the two spokes in the wheel of my perfect love story. I crossed over and as she made the introductions I sensed I was being sized up. I sensed a tinge of approval from Kirti but the ‘Jiju’ looked like a tough nut to crack. We must be about the same age, I mused. But he had a huge Rajput moustache that made him look some ten years older. We shook hands and walked into the restaurant.

In that instance I began to empathise with all those girls who had ever had to walk into a room with a tray laden with tea and samosas when the groom’s family came for the bride viewing.

We settled down and Kirti asked me about my parents and work and the wedding date. We seemed to be getting along pretty fine, better than I expected. I would have relaxed but for the Jiju who simply stared on. He was beginning to freak me out when he said, So what’s your handicap? You do play golf, right?

Man oh man! A fellow golfer! Who would have thought! And just like that the ice was broken.

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Written for the prompt ‘Of Ice and Men’ for Day 3 of the second edition of the
fortnight-long Bar-a-thon.

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Lemon Pie Cafe

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He stood in front of the cafe enjoying the crisp winter morning. The air felt cool on his hot face.

As a young couple walked in, the glass doors swung open and he caught sight of his reflection. He couldn’t help giving a self-satisfied smile. I look good, thought he, glancing appreciatively at his golden mop, its bright yellow contrasting spectacularly with his tanned chocolate body. He puffed out his chest a trifle more, settled the pleats of his paper cup just so and put on his best ever look. He was, after all, the life and soul of the cafe.

He sniffed the air – it smelt good too – fresh and lemony with a dash of cinnamon. Life’s good, thought he. It was going to be a good day.

Not everyone, however, was having a good day. He glanced back at the young couple as they spoke in angry whispers barely managing to keep their voices down; not that there was anyone else in the tiny restaurant, apart from the plump affable Mrs Brown who had discreetly retreated to the back of the bakery.

Mrs Brown glanced at the couple, then looked back at him. And then before he knew it, he was at the table and Mrs Brown was saying, “This is for both of you, with best compliments from Lemon Pie Cafe.”

The couple looked from him to Mrs Brown their frowns slowly melting.

‘You remember,’ whispered the girl, ‘the time you’d stuck a candle in one of these for my birthday,’
‘and,’ he added softly, ‘we’d argued over who should get the larger piece’,
‘and then,’ she went on, her eyes tearing up, ‘I’d almost eaten up the ring you’d put in there.’
‘And I was grateful you found it in time because it had cost my whole damn salary,’ he completed with a laugh in his voice his hand closing on hers.

At this point Mrs Brown thought it best to return to her station at the back of the bakery while he just gave a proprietary smile. That’s another sweet ending to a love-story.

This, this is what makes the life of a pie worthwhile, thought he.

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Written for the prompt ‘Life of Pie’ for the second edition of the fortnight-long Bar-a-thon.

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The Bar-A-Thon begins

I haven’t dilly dallied ever about anything as I have about this fortnight-long Blog Marathon. – the Bar-a-thon. I could do a whole blogpost on the ideas that I’ve thought and rejected because they just didn’t seem to come together. Finally, I’m plunging right in with no plan at all, taking a day at a time hoping to have a short fiction piece up here on the blog every alternate day. Very daring of me, given that I have rarely been this busy but after missing out on the A to Z I didn’t want to miss the excitement yet again.

So here it is – my first post for the Bar-a-thon.

Never Judge a Book by it’s Cover

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Sana put down her book and yawned. She could barely keep her eyes open. ‘Darn it’, thought she, ‘had I not missed that connecting flight I would have been home, tucked cosily into my own warm bed’. Instead, here she was, trying to make herself comfortable on a cold steel airport chair waiting for her early morning flight.

Sana normally, loved airports. She was a people-watcher, which is why she never minded the wait. But not today. And definitely not at 4 am in the morning, she mumbled to herself.

With a sigh she picked up her well-thumbed copy of War and Peace but then a huge yawn split her face and she put it down again. It was no good. She couldn’t read. As she turned to put it away in her rucksack her eyes fell on the man.

He sat in the corner seat lost in a book. Or so it seemed. And …. he was wearing glares. Glares! For goodness sake! Who wear glares inside airports, thought Sana. Other than rock-stars or film-stars. But despite his stubbled, manly good looks, he was neither. For one, he was bereft of the entourage that’s the norm with every famous personality and two because he slouched in the most unbecoming manner. No self-respecting celebrity would be caught dead sitting like that. He sat there – his shoulders slumped, his back bent, lost in the book.

And then that red apple leapt at her from the cover. Sana sat up bolt upright. She looked, and she looked again, she stared till she was very sure. Yeah it was Twilight! Which man in his right mind read Twilight? Which person in his right mind read Twilight? thought she, rather derisively. Unless they were giggly headed teenage girls. And Mr Glares here definitely wasn’t one. To Sana’s mind the book sat rather incongruously in his hands.

One really gets to the most unusual sights at airports, thought she.

From behind his glares Samir stared on unseeingly, fingering the tiny heart doodled at the corner of book – the last one his 15 year old sister would ever read.

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Written for the prompt ‘The Fault in our Stares’

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Glitter and Gloss – A Review

Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra

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It’s been a crazy month and my reading as well as writing have had to take a back seat. However I did manage to finish this sweet little book Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra. If you saw my Teaser Tuesday you’ll have a got a little bit of an idea about it.

But first, as always, here’s the story.

The book is about Misha (named after Misha the bear mascot at Moscow Olympics) a 20 something make-up artist. At a fashion event she rescues a hapless but very handsome man from the clutches of a rather predatory model and that’s the start of the Akshay-Misha love story. Enter Didi, Akshay’s elder sister, and it hits a roadblock. But then what’s a love story without a few roadblocks and some misunderstandings?

The review

I loved Misha right from the opening pages. That’s a great place to begin to like a book. She has an independent streak that I loved. Yet she’s a little scatterbrained and suffers from an acute foot-in-the-mouth syndrome and that made her even more loveable. Finally, her penchant for being a knight in shining armour won me over completely. Akshay is delectable – chiselled cheekbones, big muscles, flat abs and ton-loads of money. There are host of other delightful characters in the book too – Sammy – Misha’s house-husband flatmate, her friend Poulomi (This is how Misha describes her: “She may sound KKK—Khoonkhar, Khatarnak, Khadoos—but Poulomi does have my best interests at heart”) and her bohemian mother.

The writing is a mix of Hindi and English with the most witty one-liners thrown in. They jump at you suddenly, changing the mood, making you smile, even laugh out loud. Sample this:
“Our fingers touch and thousand volts of electricity course through me. The current of attraction is so strong, I half expect my hair to stand up in spikes.”
and another one after the first kiss:
My eyes fly open as I go from Sensuous Cinderella to Piddu Pumpkin.
At that final image the romance flies out of the window and one just ends up laughing. That was the most endearing thing about the writing. It reminded me a bit of Anuja Chauhan. However, this has a younger feel to it. Caution: If you’re a purist it might not quite work for you. In fact some bits stuck out uncomfortably for me too.

For instance ‘din din’ for dinner (pretty juvenile, I thought)
How much I heart Sam and Poul‘.  (Heart?)
‘It’s awesome and amaze’. (Do young people actually talk like this?)

However, I’m willing to forgive much for the laughs the book brought me. I just might be adopting some of the lingo myself like DDGGMM – that would be DullDepressedGlumGloomyMoroseMopey.

The combination of romance and humour never fails to charm me. And this one was just that.

My one real complaint would be that the story was overly simplistic as was the solution. It was way too predictable. I would have liked some more twists and turns, some more melodrama. Another fifty or hundred pages and I would have been happy.

Here’s a delightful quote from the book:

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My thoughts: If you’re looking for a simple, fast paced, uncomplicated love story that makes you laugh, this is your book.

Wonder – A Review

Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Let me begin with a warning – this is going to be a rather long post (by my standards).The book more than deserves it. This one came highly recommended. It has won several awards too and I’d planned to read it with the kids. One chapter down the line I decided I couldn’t possibly read just a few pages a day and ended up finishing it on my own.

Meanwhile, our nightly read aloud sessions continued and we managed to complete it only recently.

Here’s the story

Wonder tells the tale of a ten-year-old boy August Pullman (Auggie) born with extreme facial abnormalities. He has been homeschooled till grade four due to the various surgeries that he has to go through. In grade five his parents decide to send him to a private school, Beecher Prep. Auggie considers himself a normal kid but his physical appearance sets him apart. He desperately wants to blend in but that cannot happen. He knows, dreads and hates the constant stares, the looks of revulsion, or worse, those of pity.

The book talks about his experiences in the school, his attempts to fit in and find friendship.

Now for the review

Wonder is not only a fantastic story, it is told ever so beautifully as well. The story unravels through multiple point of views. This makes it very interesting because it shows us glimpses of Auggie through the eyes of various characters and how they learn to love and accept him over time. The book is broken up into short two-three page chapters which makes it perfect if you’re taking turns reading it with your tween. Almost every bit of it is a veritable quotable quote, full of simple wisdom.

Auggie’s character is wonderfully etched – smart, funny, sweet and kind. He is well aware of the way he looks and even finds it in his heart to joke about it, to the unexpected delight of his new friends. In the end what stands out is his courage and kindness.  Palacio’s ten-year-old voice is very believable.

The supporting characters are delightful too. Each of them – Auggie’s sister Via, their parents, Via’s friend Miranda, her boyfriend, Justin  – all of them have a back-story which makes them real and relatable. That is perhaps why the book has spawned a number of ‘Companion Novels’ and turned almost into a series. (Auggie and Me, Pluto, Shingaling, 365 Days of Wonder)
Via was my absolute favourite. I would love to read a spin-off from her perspective. What would it be like to live with a brother who takes up almost all of your parents’ time,  energy and attention? – that would be interesting.
I loved the parents too. They taught me some valuable lessons through the book.

I wondered whether I (and the kids) would relate to an American school setting. Interestingly we weren’t distracted by it at all. Not for one moment did our focus shift from the core idea of the book – the challenges of a ten-year old kid, which are quite the same the world over. The children identified with Auggie, with his struggle to fit in, with the peer pressure, how cliques are formed to include some and exclude the others. Palacio got the middle-school friendship dynamic bang on. She talks about how cruel the kids can be and how very kind as well.

I was apprehensive that it would turn out to be a sad heavy read given the subject but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course it has those heart-breaking moments when you wish you could reach out and hug Auggie and Via and their parents, and to tell them that all would be well. But then there are also happy, fun moments when your heart swells and you cannot but smile. That’s the magic of Wonder – it makes you cry and laugh by turns. And in the end leaves you with a full heart, raising a cheer to Auggie and his warm circle of family and friends.

The Julian Chapter: The edition I read came with an additional Julian’s Chapter – the story told from the point of view of the lead antagonist. I do believe, strongly that children aren’t born cruel or mean and that their parents often are part of the reason they become that way. Yet to me that chapter seemed like Palacio was making excuses for Julian’s behaviour – his bullying and his meanness – in a forced attempt to justify him. I have to admit though that it worked for the kids. It helped them see where his bad-behaviour came from. And in the end it served to make them less judgemental even about the not-so-nice kids, so I cannot really complain.

Another flip side – if I have to find one – is that the book might seem simplistic, the characters too good, too sensible. But sometimes you need to read a feel-good book simply because it leaves you with a happy feeling. Even more importantly, you need to get your tween to read this one.

Last thought: Put aside all cynicism and pick up this ever so fabulous read.

Love Muffin and Chai Latte – A Review

Love Muffin and Chai Latte by Anya Wylde

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When Shakespeare said what’s in a name he couldn’t have been more wrong. I picked up this one based solely on the name. Love Muffin and Chai Latte sounded a delicious mix of East and West. The blurb confirmed what I thought about it – the story of an American girl who moves to the England and then to India, written by a non-Indian author – this I wanted to read.

The Story

This is the tale of Tabitha (Tabby) who flees to England when her sister marries her (Tabby’s) fiancé. There, she meets Chris. Within a year of dating each other Chris proposes to her. She’s taken completely by surprise but agrees to marry him because, well because she’s been thrown out by her landlord, is jobless and of course because she quite likes Chris and he convinces her it wasn’t a ‘pity proposal’ at all, he was going to ask her anyway. Tabby is aware Chris is Indian but doesn’t know exactly how much of an Indian he is. Alarm bells should have rung when she discovers Chris is actually Mr Chandramohan Mansukhani and has a large extended family in England and India and also that she would have to win the approval of his grandfather, the arrogant inflexible Daaji to get married to him. Lulled into a sense of security by Chris and his beautiful sister Maya, she travels to India to  meet the family and that’s where the fun begins.

The Review

This is a book you’re either going to hate or love. I loved it. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let me try to warn you off because I believe in giving out the bad stuff first.

The story is full of exaggerated stereotypes – there’s a chappal babaji who blesses people with a tap of a slipper, auntie ji’s of all shapes and hues, slimy men and plotting women and a hunk of a dream hero – who’s upright, brave, famous and a rather unbelievable philanthropist.

The situations Tabby gets into range from clichéd to unbelievably ludicrous. There are kidnappings, blackmailing, shooting, narrow escapes and a typical airport scene, yeah right out of a Bollywood film. Oh and there are some poo jokes too.

There I’ve put it all out.

However, all of that worked for me. The mix of family and friendship and romance with a very generous dose of humour made it a perfect light read. It had plenty of laugh aloud moments with tongue-in-cheek one-liners. Without giving out spoilers I’ll say certain situations had the most unexpected, unbelievable riotous endings. Some parts, like the description of the aarti at the Ganges, touched me just the way they affected Tabby. She proves to be likeable enough heroine – with her loneliness and complexes and her affinity to put her foot continuously in her mouth, she’s fun.

This one is a Bollywood masala script. Read it without going into the hows and the whys and you’ll love it. Analyse it and it’ll fall flat.

Last thought: A crazy comedy that deserves to be read.

The Girl With Seven Names – A review

The Girl With Seven Names – A North Korean Defector’s Story
by Hyeonseo Lee

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North Korea as a country has intrigued me for some time. I heard about books like Camp 15 but was apprehensive to take them up because I find them too disturbing. I couldn’t sleep for days after I read The Boy in Striped Pajamas.

The Girl With Seven Names is the story of a young girl Hyeonseo told in the first person and it proved just right. It is a simple read, fast paced and easy and gives a first hand description of life in North Korea without getting too grim.

The story

Interestingly, it isn’t a passion for freedom or poverty that pushes Hyeonseo to run away from her country. She comes from a relatively privileged family that has managed to stay on the right side of the regime for the longest time. She lives in a border town  on the banks of River Yalu with China just across it. In winters when the river froze over, all one had to do was avoid the border security guards of both countries and walk across it and one could be in a different country.

Hyeonseo love for adventure prompts her to take that walk. With a month to go for her 18th birthday she decides to secretly visit her uncle in China. Unfortunately her disappearance is discovered and she cannot come back. Leaving the country in North Korea is counted as defection and if caught, brings severe repercussions not just for the defector but also for his/her entire family.

The book then on traces her struggle to establish a legal identity and make a home for herself first in China and then in South Korea, living and travelling without an ID or a passport. Hyeonseo starts out as a rather naive, impulsive, headstrong girl. The book traces her growth into a smart and courageous woman as she struggles to find her feet and keep her family together.

What I loved about the book

North Korea sounds straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to imagine that this is not fiction nor from an era long gone. The book is set in the eighties and the nineties.

The leaders wield absolute power. The complete insulation of people from the outside world, the constant threat from the government, the constant worry of being informed upon by neighbours and teachers, the entire education system pandering to the government including changing the history of the country – All of this is hard to believe.

And yet how would anyone who isn’t exposed to any other way, even know that this wasn’t the only way? And so people accept it, get used to it and even miss it when they’re out of the country. Her mom and brother are reluctant to leave even when they have the option to do so.

Hyeonseo also talks of the challenges of settling down in a capitalist country which is  something I had never thought of. The book turned out to be a very enlightening read. It talks about the dangers of an all-powerful state.

Last thought: I’d say go for it.