Story Club # 9: Flash Back

Hello friends! As you perhaps may be knowing I have taken it upon myself to host (preferably co-host) a Story Club each month where we can pick up a short story and discuss it or simply enjoy it. March just whooshed by just as spring did. The sun is out all guns blazing and to make matters worse – no Story Club 😉

But don’t worry here we are with this month’s offering – with a little twist. No advance notice (there didn’t seem to be any takers as it is) plus we have a couple of really short but fun stories. I say ‘we’ because this time I managed to rope in a partner – Rekha. Multi-talented, she is a writer, artist, paints shoots and can leave you in splits. 😀 She suggested the idea of Akbar-Birbal stories and I for one, can’t get enough of their (or at least Birbal’s) antics.

Akbar, as you may know, was the Mughal ruler of India between 1560 -1605 AD. Akbar was illiterate – unhampered and unencumbered by education he was a visionary and tried to integrate and unite with the Hindu community. He patronized and promoted artists and men of exceptional talent in his court regardless of their religious affiliations – they are popularly known as the nine gems of Akbar’s court.

One of these nine gems was Birbal, the son of a poor Brahman of Trivikrampur. Though Birbal was initially inducted for his administrative skill, his wit and wisdom won Akbar’s heart and he became a close confidante and advisor of Akbar. There are countless stories of Birbal’s wit and he didn’t even spare the Emperor.

I have always found Akbar-Birbal stories entertaining and jumped at the idea of revisiting them and hopefully unearthing an unread story or two. And sure enough I found a couple which I hadn’t read before much to my delight (and secret chagrin – how could I have missed these stories!)

Anyhow before you vanish to Rekha’s blog here’s a couple of short stories.

Birbal’s Justice

Once a man sold his well to a farmer. But when the farmer went to draw the water from that well, the man blocked his path. He said, “As per the sale deed, the well is yours, not the water. So you have no right to draw water from the well.”

The farmer was naturally outraged and took the matter to Emperor Akbar.

Akbar promptly handed the case to Birbal.

Birbal called the man who sold the well to the farmer and asked him to justify his actions.

The man replied rather self-righteously, “But I sold the well to the farmer, not the water. He has no right on the water of the well.”

Birbal nodded and smiled. “I agree!” He turned to the farmer who was wringing his hands and asked, “By the way what is the rent of the well?”

“Rent?” they chorused.

“Yes. Rent for the well. Since the well is the farmer’s, you have to either pay rent to keep your water or take out your water from the well and keep it elsewhere.”

Outwitted, the man had no choice but to give in.

Didn’t this story have overtones of The Merchant of Venice? I wonder who inspired whom or perhaps they had their own ideas. Here’s another tiny one – this can be of help to us too 😉

Birbal escapes

One day a man accosted Birbal on the street and unburdened his myriad woes and ills.

“I’ve walked twenty miles to see you,” he ended his tragic story, “and everywhere people kept saying you were the most generous man in the country.”

It was not difficult for Birbal to guess that the man was going to ask him for money.

“Are you going back the same way?” Birbal asked.

“Yes,” said the man.

“Will you do me a favor?”

“Sure!” said the man. “What do you want me to do?”

“Please deny the rumor of my generosity.” Birbal walked away.
As I re-visited these stories, I couldn’t help but think these were probably the earliest version of flash fiction stories. I thought I had just chanced upon flash fiction when actually I have been reading them all my life! How interesting is that? A huge thank you to Rekha for being such a sport and coming through at such a short notice.

I hope you enjoyed these little stories. If you have any favorite Birbal story do share it! Let’s move to Rekha’s blog where she has created a lovely post complete with pictures – looks just like my comic book of yesteryears! And even better, she promises to post more such stories in the coming days.

But before you leave just a quick recap of the Story Club:

Rules are simple (and breakable) :

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  1. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  1. Bloggers should post on their blog.
  1. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before and of course have fun! 

    Anyone interested in hosting the next month’s Story Club? Please feel free to may email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com

    Look forward to reading from you – have a great day.

Story Club #8 : Fathers & Daughters

Hello folks! How’s 2017 treating you so far? Already 2 down and 10 to go – winter is giving way to spring and red blossoms are popping up from every nook and corner…

Oops! There I go rambling when it is Story Club time. But I have reason – it’s the author poet storyteller musician artist philosopher Rabindranath Tagore’s influence! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hope to re-visit one of his numerous masterpieces in short fiction The Kabuliwala. Just contemplating about his works can inspire the most unimaginative of minds.

Before moving on to the story, just a few words about the man himself. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) or Gurudev as he was (and is) addressed, is also sometimes referred as the ‘Bard of the Bengal’. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. In 1915 King George V knighted him but he renounced it in 1919 in protest of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Although a supporter of Gandhi, Tagore stayed out of politics. In fact, he was opposed to nationalism and militarism. He believed in spiritual values and exhorted the creation of a new world culture founded in multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance. In 1921, Tagore established Viswabharati University at Santiniketan with the money from the Nobel Prize and royalty from his books. He gave all his money from Nobel Prize and royalty money from his books to this University.

Home-schooled, he began writing from about 8 years of age. He first published a book under a pseudonym when he was about 16 years of age. Born in a wealthy family, Tagore was sent to London to study law. But he returned to India after about 2 years without acquiring a degree. He began writing in Bengali and I have grown up hearing that one lifetime is not enough to read all that he wrote during his life. Tagore was a prolific composer, with 2,230 songs to his credit. His compositions are the national anthem of two countries – India and Bangladesh. I believe his work also inspired Sri Lanka’s national anthem.

No Bengali movie is complete without at least one of Tagore’s songs. He seems to have written a poem, composed a song for every season, every situation, and every emotion. Tagore also wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, and dramas. His travelogues, essays, and lectures have been compiled into several volumes.

I have not read many of his works in Bengali but like I said his songs are everywhere. I have read Gitanjali (literally – Song Offerings), the book for which he awarded the Nobel Prize, which deals with divine love.

Here’s one of them:

Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost it’s way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by Thee
into ever widening thought and action.
In to that heaven of freedom, my Father,
Let my country awake!

Perhaps this could well serve as a world anthem!

At sixty, Tagore took up drawing and painting and many successful exhibitions of his works have been held all over the world. His manuscripts were a work of art – the scribbles, cross outs and word layouts formed interesting and artistic patterns. However, he himself was not very pleased with his own work. In 1900s, he wrote to Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (another world famous Bengali polymath), “You will be surprised to hear that I am sitting with a sketchbook drawing. Needless to say, the pictures are not intended for any salon in Paris, they cause me not the least suspicion that the national gallery of any country will suddenly decide to raise taxes to acquire them. But, just as a mother lavishes most affection on her ugliest son, so I feel secretly drawn to the very skill that comes to me least easily.”

Here are some of his other quotes:

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.

If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.

Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.

Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.

My all time favorite prayer:

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but
for the heart to conquer it.

And one more

If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.

When I conceived the idea for a Story Club and I seemed to be floundering alone (as I still am 😉 it was his song that came to my rescue – it still continues to inspire me to plod on, regardless. If you have time to spare, do listen to it – lyrics are given in English.

Of Tagore’s prose, his short stories are particularly highly regarded and widely read. What I like best about his short stories is that they speak of the average person, his little joys and tragedies. This is also true about this month’s story, which I hope you have read – if not do read and jump right in – link is given above.

Kabuliwala is a story about a man from Kabul (hence the name of the story – the one from Kabul) who comes to India to make a living selling exotic dry fruits. The innocent bond between a strange man and a little girl, their lighthearted banter is what draws us to the story. It charms us, ensnares us and just as we have formed an attachment to the pair comes the crux of the story – a master storyteller at work.

If you have read the story, I quite sure you would not have remain untouched by heartwarming and yet heartbreaking way Tagore unveiled a father’s love for his daughter. I particularly appreciated the empathy one father feels for another – if only we were more attuned to the sufferings and emotions of our fellow travelers on this difficult journey of life.

Like Mini, the little girl of the story, I have sort of grown up with the story. I have read English and Hindi translations of the story as part of school curriculum, onscreen versions – in Bengali and Hindi. And never has it failed to bring a lump to my throat. But each time I have seen it with different eyes and taken away a little something new. Perhaps that is a sign of my growing up or perhaps it is the greatness of a master storyteller who skillfully unfolds the layers one by one.

Kabuliwala could be just a simple story of a Bengali family, their way of life, prejudices, customs and traditions, as I thought it was when I was in my early teens.

Or it could open ones eyes to the story behind peoples lives, shake us out of our obsession with the self and see the person in front of us as more than just a service provider, an employee, a professional and ‘see’ him first as a human. It nudges us to be kinder, warmer, more supportive and appreciative of the others journey to get through the battle of life.

And yet when I re-read it just a few days ago, I felt the utter helplessness of a man, ill-prepared to be a father – one who feels all the emotions but is totally out of sync with reality. He is so completely engaged in the battle for providing for his family that the other realities and eventualities escape him. He seems to be stuck in a time warp, an alternate reality – where everything stops until he has done what he set out to do. It’s sort of like cooking lunch for a family with utter disregard for lunchtime.

The story makes me more kindly disposed towards my spouse as well. I see him with new eyes – poor chap is quite quite clueless 😀

I end with this message from Gurudev:

Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God, first fill your own house with the fragrance of love.

Go not to the temple to light candles before the altar of God, first remove the darkness of sin from your heart.

Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer first learn to bow in humility before your fellow men.

Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees, first bend down to lift someone who is down trodden.

Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins, first forgive from your heart those who have sinned against you.

Thanks for reading. If anyone wishes to join the Story Club (including this one) most welcome. Just post a review and link back to this post. Or you could host the next month’s Story Club.

Rules are simple:

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  1. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  1. Bloggers should post on their blog while non-bloggers may email me – mysilverstreaks@gmail.com
  1. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before.
  1. And of course have fun!

Look forward to reading from you – have a great day.

Story Club #7: Perchance to Dream

Welcome to another round of the Story Club. As announced earlier, story for this month is “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s not too late. Read it here and join the discussion.

Sandeep, who had suggested the story and was supposed to host it is unable to join us due to unforeseen circumstances. I will try to do my best to make up for his much felt absence but I must confess I feel quite out of my depth with Dostoevsky. Hopefully some of you will chime in and complete the picture.

First a few words about the much acclaimed Russian novelist, journalist and short story writer Fyodor Dostovevsky (1821- 1881). Although a military engineer by profession he resigned in 1844 so that he could focus on writing. He published his first novel Poor Folk soon after in 1846. This was followed by The Double.

Dostoevsky was a member of the Petrashevsky Circle who were socialist radical thinkers opposing tsarist autocracy and Russian serfdom. He and other members of this group were arrested and sentenced to death in 1849. Apparently they had all been taken to the square and were waiting to be shot when a messenger arrived with a reprieve. The death sentence was commuted to incarceration and he spent four years in Siberia and four years as a soldier in Semipalatinsk. His later works were influenced by his experiences in Siberia.

Although Dostoevsky was impoverished most of his life due to familial debts (worsened by his habit of gambling) he was lucky enough to be recognized as one of the greatest writers of his country during his lifetime.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Power is given only to those who dare to lower themselves and pick it up. Only one thing matters, one thing; to be able to dare!

But how could you live and have no story to tell?

To go wrong in one’s own way is better then to go right in someone else’s.

The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.

The best definition of man is: a being that goes on two legs and is ungrateful.

Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.

The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he is in prison.

Everybody wants to change the world but nobody thinks about changing himself.

Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately in love with suffering.

I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.

Awesome quotes aren’t they? Any favorites?

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man published in 1877 is a fascinating read. Written in the first person, the story is about a (ridiculous) man who has lost the will to live and is determined to take his own life. Yet a dream changes everything.

Presuming, that you have read this (longer than our usual) short story, I will touch upon just a couple of points that I found of particular interest.

The narrator who is disillusioned with the world cannot find the meaning or the point of his life. With an intention to end his meaningless existence, he buys a revolver yet he cannot gather the will or the gumption to take the final irrevocable step. Then, one day, he decides that tonight was the night.

Hurrying home to undertake the final step, he is accosted by a little girl, demanding, pleading for help but he spurns her. His life is going to end in a couple of hours – what did it matter? Yet he cannot quite shrug of the burden of guilt that nags him. He sits contemplating his actions “I stamped and shouted at the unhappy child as though to say–not only I feel no pity, but even if I behave inhumanly and contemptibly, I am free to, for in another two hours everything will be extinguished.”

For instance, a strange reflection suddenly occurred to me, that if I had lived before on the moon or on Mars and there had committed the most disgraceful and dishonourable action and had there been put to such shame and ignominy as one can only conceive and realise in dreams, in nightmares, and if, finding myself afterwards on earth, I were able to retain the memory of what I had done on the other planet and at the same time knew that I should never, under any circumstances, return there, then looking from the earth to the moon–should I care or not? Should I feel shame for that action or not?”

The above paragraph caught my attention for another reason – it is such a long sentence. Today, writers are exhorted to write short sentences – a sign of our (impatient) times? Or just that not everyone is Dostoevsky and long involved sentences are bound to confuse the reader? But then again, this a translated work – I wonder how it was written in the original.

Coming back to the story – the narrator is so overwhelmed by the questions that arise in his mind that he puts of dying (once again) so that he could find answers to his questions.

Decision taken, he seems to be relieved of guilt as he promptly falls asleep sitting in the armchair, something he has never done before. Perhaps out of sheer relief of having evaded death?

As the narrator falls asleep, he has a vivid detailed dream – and I just loved his description of a dream:

Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish of jewellery, while others one gallops through, as it were, without noticing them at all, as, for instance, through space and time. Dreams seem to be spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart, and yet what complicated tricks my reason has played sometimes in dreams, what utterly incomprehensible things happen to it! My brother died five years ago, for instance. I sometimes dream of him; he takes part in my affairs, we are very much interested, and yet all through my dream I quite know and remember that my brother is dead and buried. How is it that I am not surprised that, though he is dead, he is here beside me and working with me? Why is it that my reason fully accepts it?”

Again some very long sentences but nevertheless compelling, don’t you think?

The dream itself is believed to refer to the original sin and the narrator a ridiculous man who has deteriorated to madness. It is believed that Dostoevsky had temporal epilepsy and had several hallucinatory dreams which forms the basis of his story.

But I somehow couldn’t quite accept that this is his ‘madness’ speaking. While reading the story, right from the start I couldn’t help but find parallels with the story of Lord Buddha – not the bit about wanting to end his life of course. But his mental state of the utter meaninglessness of life, seeing no point of it all, introspection via his dream, a churning of his mind of all the knowledge and information he has within his subconscious mind followed by enlightment and clarity of thought culminating in a deep love for his fellow companions and an overwhelming desire to save them and show them the path to eternal bliss.

What do you think? No, I wasn’t talking about the long sentence! Jokes apart, I do feel as if I haven’t managed to do justice to this Story Club. But I still have hope. Perhaps, one of you could chime in!

Thanks for reading. If anyone wishes to join the Story Club (including this one) most welcome. Just post a review and link back to this post. Or you could host the next month’s Story Club.

Rules are simple:

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  1. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  1. Bloggers should post on their blog while non-bloggers may email me – mysilverstreaks@gmail.com
  1. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before.
  1. And of course have fun!

Story Club #6: Knowing the Unknown

Oh shoot! It’s Story Club time and I clean forgot all about it. So much has been happening lately, travel, wedding, trying to capture scissors and ladders, studying art whew! No wonder it slipped my mind. Oh well, better late than never right?

So here’s Story Club number 6, the last one for this year. And in honor of that, I am tweaking the rules – since it’s already late, I am skipping the pre-announcement of the story. Besides, nobody seems to be reading them in advance in any case 😦

And instead of a short story, I am picking up a book this time.

Hey hey!! Pipe down will ya? I can’t hear myself type. Just read me out 😉 The thing is I am way behind in my reading target for this year, so I thought why not kill two birds with one post? Tick off a book (or two) from my list and get in the Story Club as well – great idea isn’t it? 🙂

What about you – you ask.

Well how about reading the review and then you make an informed decision whether or not you would like to read this book? Come on admit it, that’s what you usually do don’t you? Anyway, since this is a book and I know it is short notice, I won’t give away any spoilers.

Okay, all set?

On the same page?

Let’s go.

The book I have chosen for last Story Club of 2016 is Everything a Man Knows About a Woman by Alan Francis (1930) who is a comedian and writer from Scotland.Not much is known about Francis as an author but this book has an average rating of 4.3 on 5 on Goodreads and 49 reviews. He first published this book in 1987 in consultation with Cindy Cashman.

I read the book in one sitting. In fact I don’t think I wasted any time drawing any breath either. It was gripping right from Page 1. The book was particularly fascinating from a woman’s perspective. It was a real eye-opener and made me understand men better than before. I have to confess that exposure to this book has given me significant insight into the male psyche and softened my harsh attitude towards them. I am a softer and mellower person particularly towards my significant other. I thought of gifting this book to him. But then I thought no point, he already knows all this (he may not admit it of course), better to gift to my girlfriends. They are bound to benefit richly from this fresh and rich insight and vision into the minds of the men who matter. I can almost guarantee you won’t regret reading this book.

Amazon is offering a 25th Anniversary Edition (1995) as well and the E-book costs just over 3 $ while the paperback edition is just under 4 $

But tell you what – If you are interested, I would be happy to ‘give’ you a copy of the book for free this Christmas season – ahem ahem I have inside information 😉

So, if you are hesitant to purchase this slim book of 128 blank pages of what men know about women, do let me know 😀

On the other hand, if you are willing to spend a little bit more in this holiday season (and expand your reading list for the year 2016), you could try What Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex by Sheridan Simove published more recently in 2012. This is a thicker volume, about 200 blank pages.

In an apparent bid to decode the female psyche Dr. Melissa J Marshall jumped on to the bandwagon and published What Every Woman Thinks About (June 2016).

However, I personally found this book rather misleading and self-contradictory. I mean the author must have thought about what women think? And only after thinking about the topic did she come up with book of blank pages – did she not? And hey come on – does she or every other woman not think incessantly and ad nauseam about shopping, diamonds, how to steal their girl-friends’ boyfriends, murder their mother-in-laws etc etc?

You might call me biased but in my defense, I would have lauded the book if it had been titled What Every Woman Knows About Man. Now that would have been an epic tale.

Inspired by these priceless books, I am tempted to publish, “What Every Woman Should Know About Men.”

A hardbound book with a dark handsome beautiful cover design but no – the pages wouldn’t be blank. I have some plagiarized (suitably edited) material (from somewhere on the internet):

Men have 2 interests: hunger and hanky-panky, and they can’t tell them apart. If you see a gleam in his eyes, make him a sandwich.”

Look forward to reading your reviews (and contributions to the above book) while I add 3 books to my list of books I read this year. Apparently I can add a few more before the year is over 😀

As a peace offering, here is a short film (20 min) in Marathi with English subtitles – it gives a glimpse of Indian culture, traditions and psyche. Even I was unaware of this particular ritual. I would go so far as to say this is one of the best short films I have seen in a long time. Seriously. No hanky-panky. Off to have a sandwich.

By the way, just in case something isn’t quite clear in the short film, please do read the comment section of the video or even better we could discuss it here 🙂

If anyone wishes to join the Story Club (including this one) most welcome. Just post a review and link back to this post. Or you could host the next month’s Story Club?

You can read the other Story Club posts and rules here. Or leave me a comment below or mail me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com.

Please free to discuss, comment, suggest and protest 😉

Story Club #5: Train Travels

Welcome to another round of the Story Club. As announced earlier, Geetashree is hosting this month’s story. Her choice of story is “The Night Train at Deoli” by Ruskin Bond. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s not too late. Read it here and join the discussion.

I am very excited about this month’s story club for two reasons. Firstly, it is a story penned by an Indian author, Ruskin Bond. For sometime now, I have been on the look out for a suitable Indian story for the Story Club and have been dithering over a couple but couldn’t quite make up my mind. So when Geeta suggested it, I jumped at it. However, finding a free link was tricky and Geeta was kind enough to change the story.

Just a few words about the author – Ruskin Bond who turned 82 this year, is of British descent and is known as the Indian William Wordsworth. Ruskin Bond showed a flair and passion for writing at a very early age and wrote his first short story at 16 years. After his schooling in India, he went to London where he wrote his first novel – Room on the Roof, which won him the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. He also wrote a sequel to it – Vagrants in the Valley. Subsequently, yielding to the call of the Himalayas he returned to India and shuttled between Delhi and Dehradun – crafting a writing career spanning over 40 years during which he has penned hundreds of short stories and over two dozen books for children, including ghost stories. He has been awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards some of the highest civilian awards of the country. His stories and books have been made into popular award winning movies in India.

The other reason for my interest is that the story (like many of Ruskin Bond’s stories) is based in and around Dehradun – my hometown. But I must confess, this factor ends up being more of a distraction for I am so busy trying to identify familiar places and locales that I often miss the essence of the story – weird right?

Well perhaps, but true.

And it happened with this one too – The night train at Deoli.

Deoli – was there really such a place? Or was this a fictitious place? I wondered and mused as I frantically scrabbled through the memories of the myriad train journeys I have made between Delhi and Dehradun. Nope – no sign of any Deoli, and certainly not before the train rushes headlong into the jungles – that’s Raiwala junction (where it stops for two minutes).

Oh well perhaps it is a fictitious place. Or perhaps it’s been abandoned since then. But then I couldn’t be sure could I? Oh darn it! I wish I could take that train journey right now…

Anyway, did you read the story? An evocative story that tugs at the heartstrings, isn’t it? I could easily identify with it and the small town train stations are exactly like Ruskin Bond described – in fact it reminded me sharply of the train station shown in the Hindi movie Jab We Met.

In the story, the line that touched me most was when the girl says, “I don’t have to go anywhere.” It somehow seemed to represent the state of women in general. They wait and hope, hiding, nurturing and hoarding dreams, tsunamis, and volcanoes within themselves while going about their daily chores. Other people pass by, perhaps with a backward glance, curious and wondering, yet hesitant to reach out. The ‘incomplete’ story and the suspense regarding the fate of the girl who caught the fancy of a young boy is bound to leave the reader with a sense of restlessness and a feeling of something not quite right, sort of a haunting. Ever since I read the story, tiny train stations from my childhood ‘flash upon that inward eye.’ 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite quotes of Ruskin Bond:

Of course, some people want literature to be difficult and there are writers who like to make their readers toil and sweat. They hope to be taken more seriously that way. I have always tried to achieve a prose that is easy and conversational. And those who think this is simple should try it for themselves.

I never break my journey at Deoli but i pass through as often as I can.

Book readers are special people, and they will always turn to books as the ultimate pleasure. Those who do not read are the unfortunate ones. There’s nothing wrong with them; but they are missing out on one of life’s compensations and rewards. A great book is a friend that never lets you down. You can return to it again and again and the joy first derived from it will still be there.

“Hinduism comes closest to being a nature religion. Rivers, rocks, trees, plants, animals, and birds all play their part, both in mythology and everyday worship.”

Normally writers do not talk much,because they are saving their conversations for the readers of their book – those invisible listeners with whom we wish to strike a sympathetic chord.

I particularly liked this nugget:

Summing up his last essay in The Lamp Is Lit, Ruskin writes: ‘And there are many brave and good Indian writers, who work in their own language — be it Bengali or Oriya or Telugu or Marathi or fifteen to twenty others — and plough their lonely furrow without benefit of agent or media blitz or Booker prize. Some of them may despair. But even so, they work on in despair. Their rewards may be small, their readers few, but it is enough to keep them from turning off the light. For they know that the pen, in honest and gifted hands, is mightier than the grave.’ Ruskin then goes on to write: ‘And these are my parting words to you, dear Reader: May you have the wisdom to be simple, and the humour to be happy.’

That’s enough from me for the story and over to Geetashree’s blog for her fabulous analysis and reviews on the story of the month – Night Train at Deoli.

 

 

Thanks for reading. If anyone wishes to join the Story Club (including this one) most welcome. Just post a review and link back to this post. Or you could host the next month’s Story Club

You can read the other Story Club posts (and rules) here. Please free to discuss, comment and suggest.

 

Story Club #4: Games People Play

Welcome to the fourth round of the Story Club. As announced earlier, Ramya is hosting this month’s story. Her choice of story is “In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s not too late. Read it here and join the discussion.

This week’s story is a treat to read and on a topic that has always fascinated me. How interpretation of scenarios/events differ according to mindsets and perceptions. Take for instance, the flash fiction challenges based on a photo prompt. Yet, amazingly, the stories that come up are as diverse as can be.

This is exactly what this story discusses – how different people perceive and narrate a scene leaving the reader thoroughly confused as to what exactly had happened. What I found most intriguing about this story is can the ghost’s version be relied upon? Is that the ‘real’ truth? Or is the medium including his or her own perception of the ghost’s narration? What do you think?

In a Grove is an out and out whodunit without the denouement. And it goes without saying that the author has done a great job – he has entertained and left a permanent impression by virtue of his style of telling a tale.

Interestingly, Akutagawa had a highly publicized dispute with Jun’ichirō Tanizaki over the importance of structure versus lyricism in story. Akutagawa argued that structure, how the story was told, was more important than the content or plot of the story, whereas Tanizaki argued the opposite. Six months ago, I would have vehemently supported Tanizaki but now I am not so sure. Although I am not willing to completely give up on the supremacy of the plot in a story but I do get what Akutagawa was rooting for. Whom do you support?

Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1 March 1892 – 24 July 1927) is considered to be the Father of Japanese short stories. Akutagawa’s mother passed away soon after his birth due to mental illness and his maternal uncle brought him up. Akutagawa was very concerned about inheriting his mother’s illness. His apprehensions, hallucinations and subsequent nervousness drove him to suicide at 35 years of age. During a very short span, Akutagawa wrote over 150 short stories. He also wrote haiku under the penname Gaki, but not many seem to have been translated to English.

Rashomon was Akutagawa’s first short story. Interestingly, the famous Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed film Rashomon is based on the plot of In a Grove rather than that the short story, Rashomon, from where he takes only a few scenes and of course the name of his movie.

Credit goes to both Akutagawa and Akira Kurosawa for highlighting the concept of mutually contradictory accounts of a single event which is a common occurrence in real life, such as journalism and law. This concept is now popularly called “The Rashōmon Effect.”. Several movies also explore this concept – Gone Girl (Hollywood) and Talvar (Bollywood) come instantly to the mind. As do Agatha Christie murder mysteries. But I have to admit I couldn’t quite connect the Rashomon Effect to Star Trek – anyone kind enough to explain?

That’s enough from me for this Story Club and over to Ramya’s blog for her analysis and views on the story of the month – In a Grove.

Thanks for reading. If anyone wishes to join the Story Club (including this one) most welcome. Just post a review and link back to this post. Or you could host the next month’s Story Club 🙂

Rules are simple:

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  1. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  1. Bloggers should post on their blog while non-bloggers may email me – mysilverstreaks@gmail.com
  1. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before.
  1. And of course have fun!

You can read the other Story Club posts here. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com.

Story Club #3: An Unequal Life

Story club seems to be jinxed! First I wanted it (rather ambitiously I admit) to be a weekly affair, then a fortnightly before settling for a monthly event. And then I went and missed last month’s book club. And I was all set to miss this month’s as well.

But then I didn’t want the ‘jinx’ have the last laugh. So here I am with this month’s short story – Country Lovers by Nadine Gordimer.

Nadine Gordimer, a South African writer and political activist, started writing at the age of nine, and her stories began appearing in magazines when she was 15. She was shocked by the condition of the black community and spoke out strongly against the apartheid system existing in her country. Apparently, after being released from prison in 1990, she was one the first persons that Nelson Mandela met. Many of her books were banned in her home country and she spent many years outside her country in self-imposed exile. In 1991, at 67 years of age, she became South Africa’s first Nobel Prize winner for Literature.

I had a brief encounter with the writings of Nadine Gordimer around this time, or perhaps a bit earlier. Seeing my interest in books, someone had gifted me Nadine Gordimer’s Six Feet of the Country. Being a compulsive reader, I had read the book of course (at least I think so) but somehow I didn’t quite take to it. Perhaps I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate it or I tried to give it the usual casual reading that I was used to giving the crime thrillers and suspense novels I was more into those days. But what is truly ironic is that today’s story – Country Lovers – is one of the 7 stories of that very book.

I feel like kicking myself. To have a priceless gem somewhere around the house and to have no clue – how callous (and ignoramus) can one be? How many more such priceless gems have I missed? And here I always thought I was bright, perhaps even clever – just like Rabbit.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Oh well…I think I prefer this one 😉

Men do not understand books until they have a certain amount of life, or at any rate no man understands a deep book, until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents –Ezra Pound

Moving on to the story – and if you haven’t read the story yet, perhaps you should do so now (link is given above) before scrolling down for there are spoilers ahead.

Country Lovers is an interracial (hence forbidden) love story of childhood friends turned sweethearts – Thebedi, the black girl and Paulus the white farmer’s son. There is almost a bland detached matter-of-fact narration of the events as they unfold. The children play together and become close friends. Defying norms, he continues to visit her while home from his boarding school and one cannot help but feel the affection and connection they both share. He brings her gifts as does she:

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They seek each other out.

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One almost feels that things will be different for this couple, that they would have a future – together.

But then as is wont to be, one thing led to another and she becomes pregnant. For a modern day reader this is where the story diverges and takes off on a different path. Logically speaking she should have then informed Paulus. But she doesn’t. And neither does she tell him of her impending marriage to Njabulo. She even gets married and delivers a baby girl within two months of her marriage. Even that is acceptable as is the fact that the child is unmistakably white. Njabulo provides for Thebedi’s child as much as is possible with his income.

Things could have carried on so but for word reaching Paulus’ ears about Thebedi’s child. He lands up to investigate for himself. And there is no denying – she is his child.

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Grimace of tears and anger – overwhelmed at seeing his daughter? Or perhaps cursing his fate that he is unable to publicly acknowledge his beloved and daughter? Hey wait a minute…and self-pity? Like really? The gentle, laid back placid pace of the story takes a sudden turn and one is quite unprepared for it. At least I was.

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Instead of killing himself, he killed his baby…

No! That couldn’t be possible. And why take such a drastic step? Nobody had pointed fingers at him – not Thebedi, not her husband, not the community people. Yet he killed his baby. Why?Just to save his reputation? Unbelievable.

Yet all too true. In many places, even today.

In a show of justice, Paulus is arrested but let off for lack of evidence and unreliability of Thebedi as a witness. Njabulo is commended for his fortitude and forbearance.

Through her writing Gordimer has vividly recorded life in a controversial country. I did read some of the analysis of the story that are available on the net. Most, if not all, make a note of female exploitation highlighted in the story.

To be honest, I found Njabulo’s situation to be equally tragic and pathetic. As was that of the rest of the community. Their acceptance of the situation as if it was par for the course is almost eerie and unbelievable. It only indicates how common such events were, that it did not even deserve a protest.

Njabulo comes out as a strong principled character that is rare and difficult to find. Rather than make the child, who is not at fault or even Thebedi suffer, Njabulo goes about making his family as comfortable was possible for him. An uncommon man indeed.

I cannot help but be a bit cynical about Thebedi – she is the dark enigmatic one. Her actions are quite unfathomable. She is happy to follow Paulus’ lead but she is content to marry Njabulo. She accuses Paulus of killing her daughter but retracts it a year later (perhaps she was pressurized into doing so) all the while wearing the earrings that Paulus had gifted her.I did find this significant – did the author wish to make a point about Thebedi’s duality or stress that she was too poor to buy another pair of earrings? I wonder, if before marrying Njabulo, did she tell him about Paulus, or her pregnancy – if the baby was born 2 months after marriage, he could have hardly not known about it?

I wish I could have known more about Njabulo, his feelings, reactions and thoughts as the events unfolded and played out for him.

For me, Country Lovers is not about Paulus and Thebedi. It is about Njabulo and his unwavering and steadfast support for Thebedi. If that is not love what is?

Thanks for reading– don’t forget to leave your comments and suggestions.

If anyone is interested or motivated enough to join the Story Club – most welcome! Just create a pingback to this post so that we can hop over for a read.

Rules are simple:

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  1. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  1. Bloggers should post on their blog while non-bloggers may email me – mysilverstreaks@gmail.com
  1. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before.
  1. And of course have fun!

You can find the previous Story Club posts here and here

A selection of Nadine Gordimer quotes

Truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.

Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.

The facts are always less than what really happened.

A truly living human being cannot remain neutral

My answer is: Recognize yourself in others

I would be guilty only if I were innocent of working to destroy racism in my country

Looking forward to a lively interaction, comments, critiques, suggestions, opinions…