Story Club #11: A Twist in the Tale

It’s story time folks and this month I have chosen to feature the master storyteller, William Sydney Porter (1862 – 1910) or O. Henry. Apart from being an acclaimed short story writer, he was also a gifted musician with impressive drawing skills.

O. Henry had a checkered career that involved pharmacy, drafting, journalism, and banking. While at the bank, he was accused of embezzlement and though his father-in-law offered to bail him out, he preferred to flee. He had to come back when his wife fell terminally ill. His father-in-law posted bail that allowed him to be by his wife side until her death. He was then imprisoned for five years. But he was lucky enough to be spared the jail cell for he was allowed to practice pharmacy and given a room in the hospital.

O. Henry’s collection of short stories was one of the very first books that I bought with my own money (and hence all the more precious!). The heartbreaking and poignant The Gift of the Magi and The Last Leaf, stand out vividly in my memory from eons ago. In O. Henry stories, I particularly enjoy the unexpected twist endings which fascinate and impress like no other. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I feel compelled to include twist endings in my stories. But lately as I re-read his stories, I am bowled over by his witticism and clever wordplay, which I can never hope to match.

For this story club, I spent a pleasurable couple of hours reading his stories – the ones I hadn’t read before. One of them, The Romance of a Busy Broker immediately touched a chord and I fell in love with the short and sweet story.

Do read it before scrolling down as there are spoilers ahead.

As the title suggests this is about a busy broker Maxwell. Even after I finished reading the story, I can still vividly see Maxwell’s office as clearly as if I had emerged from a movie screening. And the humorous turn of phase,  brings a smile whenever I think of it. Take for instance this line:

Maxwell dashed at his desk as though he were intending to leap over it, and then plunged into the great heap of letters and telegrams waiting there for him.

and another

“He did,” answered Pitcher. “He told me to get another one. I notified the agency yesterday afternoon to send over a few samples this morning. It’s 9.45 o’clock, and not a single picture hat or piece of pineapple chewing gum has showed up yet.”

I read the latter section twice, quite sure that there was a typo somewhere! The crisp and exacting words painted images that refuse to go away long after one had moved away from the story.

And this day was Harvey Maxwell’s busy day. The ticker began to reel out jerkily its fitful coils of tape, the desk telephone had a chronic attack of buzzing. Men began to throng into the office and call at him over the railing, jovially, sharply, viciously, excitedly. Messenger boys ran in and out with messages and telegrams. The clerks in the office jumped about like sailors during a storm. Even Pitcher’s face relaxed into something resembling animation.

While I would like to draw your attention to his liberal use of words ending with ly (against current exhortations to avoid them like the plague 😉 – jovially, sharply, viciously, excitedly not even the most critical critic can accuse him of using clichés:

She was beautiful in a way that was decidedly unstenographic.

I also love the fact that unstenographic is not a word but should clearly be in the dictionary 😀

But I saved the best piece for the last:

In the midst of this growing and important stress the broker became suddenly aware of a high-rolled fringe of golden hair under a nodding canopy of velvet and ostrich tips, an imitation sealskin sacque and a string of beads as large as hickory nuts, ending near the floor with a silver heart. There was a self-possessed young lady connected with these accessories; and Pitcher was there to construe her.

 This one just blew me away and I still can’t stop giggling. I have only one reservation. It also evokes dejection, envy and despair  – I cannot even dream of coming anywhere near sort of exposition.

But before things get really bad, I just read it once again 😀

Moving on, in the story, if you remember, there is mention of lilac odor. Now I am not familiar with the odor and since Google is as yet unable to let me experience it, I subconsciously replaced it with the scent of mogras or jasmine flowers. The combination of the office scene and the fragrance was a potent one.

Before I had finished reading the story, a story in the Indian setting played out.

I attempted to pen it but it took quite a while to actually draft it and grew longer (4000 words approx.) than I wanted it to be. Besides, it looked so much better in my head. But since I put in so much effort I thought I would go ahead and post it.

If you can read it without feeling bored, I will consider it worth the zillion redrafts. If you like, you can read it here. And if you do read it, do let me know if you managed to finish it, what you liked and what you didn’t.

Thanks so much for visiting.

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.
  2. 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.
  3. Bloggers should post on their blog.
  4. 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 email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com

If you don’t want to host a story club, but if you have a favorite short story, do share it – thanks!

 

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The Scent of Love

Dayaram entered the office and his step faltered.

A new girl sat at the reception.

“Belaji?” he mumbled unable to stop himself.

“Good morning!” The receptionist sang out as she jumped up from her seat. “Myself Geeta, how may I help you?”

Dayaram shied away but he had to know. “Where is Belaji?”

“She’s getting married…”

Dayaram tottered away to his seat.

Married!

An alien sensation enveloped Dayaram – acid, he wondered or was it a heart attack? Wasn’t he too young? Was…was this what they called heart broken? How easily he had said it didn’t matter…but how would he live the rest of his life with this pain, this agonizing crushing pain as if a giant hand had slid into his chest and was squeezing his heart. He couldn’t breathe…

“Daya Babu, are you alright?” The office boy stood at his desk with a sheaf of papers.

Beads of sweat dotted his brow. Dayaram nodded and waved him away. He took deep breaths to calm himself.

He pulled a file and stared at the neat orderly row of numbers.

It had all begun 7 months, 21 days and 13 hours 17 minutes ago.

That day, unlike other days, Dayaram had arrived at the office a little late because he had been to the bank for some official work.

As was his habit, as soon as he entered he touched the feet of Goddess Lakshmi on the calendar that hung by the doorway. The calendar itself was a decade old but nobody dared remove it – after all she was the Goddess of Wealth. Dayaram himself was staunch devotee of Hanumanji and kept a fast every Tuesday, but Devi Lakshmi was hard to ignore. Besides, as head clerk of the Accounts Division, his job was all about money and her blessings were of paramount importance.

Even as he paid his daily obeisance, he could sense something was different in office. He had been coming to this office for the past fifteen years and hard work, perseverance and a love for numbers had made him a valued and reliable member of the company.

His honesty, sincerity and dedication were legendary and all, including the CEO were in awe of his meticulous work. If Daya Babu had passed a bill, a balance sheet, a file, it became God’s gospel – unchallengeable. He was the perfect employee who lived for work and had no time for office chitchat or politics. But he did have a quirk he was a stickler for first-come first-serve policy. The files, bills, vouchers were all handled as and when they were received and not in order of priority – not even if it meant rising rates, irate customers or delayed payments.

No amount of cajoling or pleading worked. He would just stare at the offending file and get back to the pile of files on his desk. Over the years, after many an altercation and brainstorming sessions, he had grudgingly begun to accept files, which had the CEO’s initials with his distinctive scribble “Daya babu plz expedite”.

He would keep these files in a separate pile and deal with them on his time after office hours no matter how late that made him.

The others shook their heads and laughed at him.

“Crazy fellow. No wonder he is still unmarried,” said one.

“I thought his wife had left him?”

“How old is he?”

“He’s thirty-three.”

“Really? He looks so much older.”

Dayaram did look forty plus but that was mostly because of the air of gravity that he wore like a thick mantle and shed only on rare occasions and never in office. The responsibility of providing for his family had fallen on him when he was still in school. A stroke left his father paralyzed. With his father out of commission and four younger siblings to take care of, Dayaram had had to grow up overnight.

He had joined this office as a peon and worked his way up. He had taken his responsibility as head of the family seriously and uncomplainingly unquestioningly earned money to feed his family, school his brothers and marry off his sisters.

The entire office laughed at his penny-pinching ways but he didn’t care. They didn’t know his story and neither did he want to share. He only did what had to be done – did the Sun ever ask why he had to rise everyday? Did he care if people cursed him or prayed to him? No. He did what he was meant to do. Rise and shine – come summer, winter and rain. If someone or something came in front, so be it, He would still rise and shine.

Daya Babu took inspiration from the Sun and drew strength from Hanumanji.

Every morning he would wake up at the crack of dawn and do the Suryanamaskar 32 times and be in office by eight-forty five am. He had a fixed routine that he liked to follow – fifteen minutes grace period to cool off, after a one and a half hour journey by bus and on foot. He would reverentially extract one marigold from his shirt pocket and offer it to the bronze idol of Hanumanji before bowing with folded hands. He had a deal with the flower boy at the temple, ten rupees a month for one marigold for each weekday. Dayaram splurged another ten rupees on Tuesdays for prasad, which he distributed in the office. Rather, he would keep it by the side of his table and his colleagues would feel free to take some and offer a greeting in return. Dayaram would nod in return without looking up from his precious files.

He would take a 10 min break for tea at 11 and 3 pm when the canteen boy arrived with the tea. He would sip the sweet tea with a biscuit from his personal store – one for the morning and one for the afternoon. He would leave his seat at dot one and have his lunch in the Government sponsored Meals on Wheels that stood at a distance from the office. The food wasn’t too great, but it was fresh and cheap. During summers when it was too hot to stand outside, he would carry a tiffin box, collect it and go back to his seat to have it and indulge in a bit of a siesta until the clock struck two. And it was back to work until six pm or later.

And that is how his life had been for the past seven years since he had joined the accounts department. Every morning when he came to office he bowed his head in gratefulness and reverence – for this was his temple, his sanctuary. He had a seat of his own and had even graduated from an office hall with a cooler to an air conditioned hall. At one time his job was in the field delivering collecting, queuing, or walking in the blistering heat just to save the bus fare. And study by night, sleep out in the open, live on the mercy of strangers saving every paisa to send home for his father’s treatment, his sisters’ wedding, brothers’ education. Those days had been the really tough ones even though he hadn’t had time to think so then – he was too busy coping. But now that the worst  was over – his sisters married, a brother on his new job and even father was better, he had nightmares. Sometimes he woke up sweating thinking that he had been just dreaming of his office cubicle, his own desk, chair.

After many years he was finally in a comfortable position and wanted nothing more –  What more could he ask for?

“Get married Daya, I worry about you. All alone…” his mother had taken to saying of late and Dayaram was running out of excuses.

“Don’t worry Mother. I am comfortable and happy. Why do you want to take away my peace?”

“I want you to have a family of your own.”

“You all are my family Mother.”

“You need a wife to take care of you, cook for you…”

“I can cook for myself. She will be more of a headache than an asset.”

“I want a grandchild.”

“Get Sakharam married.”

“He can’t marry before you!”

“Says which law? If you want I will look for a suitable bride for her…”

“Better you look for one for yourself!”

“Over my dead body!”

“Daya!” His mother burst into tears. Daya exerted himself to soothe her and calm her but he stood his ground. He wasn’t going to get married ever.

His mother was equally adamant. If he wasn’t going to marry, neither would his brothers.

And that was that – a stalemate as neither party was willing to blink.

Fate heaved a sigh and sent a gentle waft his way.

He frowned.

What was that fragrance? It took him back to his school days with his mother humming a song as she clipped a gajra on her hair. He took a deep breath – who in the office…?

“Namaste. May I help you?”

“Who are you?” Offended he shot back.

“I am Bela, the new receptionist.”

Dayaram walked inside without bothering to respond to her. Someone would tell her who he was. Besides, as the receptionist, it was her job to find out who was who, he sniffed.

“Good evening Dayaji.” She chirped when he left for the evening.

Showing off, he grumbled to himself, that she knew who he was and that she wasn’t a slacker like him, who came late to office and left early.

“I have to give these cheques to the Chief at his home,” he snapped.

Her smile flickered but she held on to it. “Very good Sir.”

He grunted annoyed with himself. What was the need to justify to her, a newcomer? Who was she? Oh what did it matter, his and her paths were different. They needn’t meet ever. He would be in office before her and leave after her. Today was an exception, he told himself firmly and put her out of his mind.

Or so he thought.

The entire night, the scent of mogra haunted him. How could one dream about scents? And why did he? She didn’t have much to her credit – dusky glowing skin, large kohl lined eyes, a long plait with the bunch of mogras peeking out, a mole on the upper corner of her lip…stop it! He told himself sternly.

When had he noticed so much about her? And why her? There were other girls in the office, they laughed and giggled whenever he passed them by but he barely noticed them. What was so special about her?

Dayaram sneaked into office half an hour before his usual time. He slid into his seat and soaked in the silence and the familiar musty smell of files. He felt safe as if he had crawled into his mother’s lap. He even looked up to greet a colleague or two as they passed by his table.

Dayaram was neck deep in numbers when his breath faltered. Head still bent over his file, he froze, he gripped his pencil tightly and the numbers blurred.

What if she wished him? He wouldn’t look up. He would nod distantly. Like he did the others.

Simple.

“Namaste Dayaji.”

Daya’s breath left him. Almost helplessly, he looked up and of their own will his lips moved and he echoed, “Namaste Belaji.”

She rewarded him with a smile that stretched ear to ear, crinkled her eyes and even her shiny button nose. He stared bemusedly until she swished away her thick black plait swaying gently.

Dayaram put down his pencil. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair and replayed the ultra-short clip over and over again. His heart thudded, he was back in his village running through the yellow mustard fields the wind blowing through his hair until he was flying high, high…

“Dayaramji? Is everything okay?” It was Sukrit, the office manager.

“Y…yes.” He straightened. “Just a bit tired, didn’t sleep well,” he said shortly.

“Sorry to disturb you but could you please do this file urgently?” Sukrit was close to begging, “Please it is very urgent. The Chief is out of station otherwise I would have had it initialled, please…”

“Okay.” Dayaram took the file. “I’ll do it.”

Sukrit stared.

“I wonder what’s wrong with Dayaji,” he mused over a cup of tea with his colleagues, “he broke his own rule! He took the file. I was prepared to fight tooth and nail just to allow me to keep the file on his desk. But he smiled and tokk the file!”

“I am sure this is a new delaying tactic. He’ll just sit on the file.”

“While I get an earful from both the Chief and the customer.” Sukrit fretted.

But by evening, the file was on Sukrit’s table. And he couldn’t even say thank you for Daya Babu had left for the day. Another first! He must be coming down with something serious.

Dayaram was restless. He had to meet her once more, speak to her, perhaps look at her…he flushed.

At the ripe old age of 33 he was turning into a pervert.

He left without wishing her and spent a miserable night cursing himself.

What on earth was wrong with him? Where was the unruffled placidity that had been his constant companion and strength in times of his greatest challenges. Was he losing it in his dotage? But didn’t people become steadier as they aged? He tossed and turned the whole night unable to sleep, the scent of jasmine wafted in from the open window, teasing him, disturbing him, inciting him…

Quite at his wits end, Dayaram upped this exercise regimen, went to the temple, tried meditating in an attempt to regain control over himself. It was a slow, uphill task – one step forward and two steps backwards.

He avoided her in the office but she always came by his desk to wish him, as she did the others. Nothing special. But she was the only girl in his office who was bold enough to help herself to the prasad on Tuesdays.

“I am a devotee of Sri Krishna,” she confessed, “but I love this prasad.”

He began getting a little extra packed separately for her, which he would slide towards her as she came by his seat.

Then one day, she requested him to help her with her tax, and on anohter, requested his advice regarding her investments. Dayaram went deeper and deeper into the chakravyuh. And like Abhimanyu he entered the complex tangled web easily enough but lost his way out.

Unlike Abhimanyu, Dayaram was oblivious to his entrapment and was in fact loving it. He lost his air of gravity, shrugged of the invisible burden that weighed him down, he looked younger, fresher.

Fate seemed to be pleased with the revised version of Dayaram. She laughed with glee and cooked up ways to throw them together. There was a new circular to transcribe physical files into electronic files. He was asked to take the help of Bela in extracting and computing the expenditure data. She spent longer times at his desk, leaning over his shoulder, fiddling with her dupatta, worrying her nail and sometimes throwing back her head to laugh at her own stupidity.

He could only stare at her in wonder. How could anyone laugh at oneself? How could anyone not mind making a fool of oneself?

He stopped avoiding her. He made excuses to pass by her table – the photocopier machine, the washroom, drinking water, in search of the elusive mobile signal, his creativity blossomed. He changed the angle of his chair even though he got a crick in the neck. His colleagues snickered and although nobody dared say anything to the man himself, the girls teased Bela no end.

She began noticing his visits, his shuffling even steps, the way it faltered by her seat. She would continue to type diligently with a small smile on her lips and her heart rate would speed up just the tiniest bit.

There is no saying how long this gentle romance would have continued for one day, Bela dropped by Dayaram’s seat.

“I finished typing the 1998 records.”

“Give it to Ramesh to proof read.” He didn’t look up. “And take this file and correct the typos. So many errors this time. You need to pay more attention…”

“I…I…my engagement has been fixed.”

He looked up. The pencil slipped from his fingers.

He blinked.

“Cong…” he cleared his throat, “Congratulations. I hope you will be very happy.”

She drew in a sharp breath as if he had thrust a knife into her. She turned on her heel and went back to her seat.

After about an hour or so, Dayaram came to her seat carrying a file.

He shifted from one foot to the other.

He handed the file to her. “You forgot this.”

“You came to give this?”

“Yes.”

“You could have called me.”

“I thought I would stretch my legs.”

“You wanted to stretch your legs?”

“Yes. Why?”

“There’s nothing else?”

“What else could be there?”

“I thought you came to ask about my…”

“Your what?”

“M…my wedding.”

“What is there to ask?”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“Fine.”

He walked away but not before he heard her sniff.

He felt slow and dull. He hadnt anticipated this. He had never given future a thought. He had been too exhilarated from soaring on the clouds living in the present moment, her presence, her fragrance, her smile.

But she wasn’t smiling now.

And she seemed to be angry with him.

Why was she angry with him? What did she want from him? What could he have to say to her? Had he not done the right thing and congratulated her?

What did she want from him?

The question haunted him day and night. He wrestled with it like he would when his numbers wouldn’t tally. He went over and over the question but it just didn’t add up.

“Why are you angry with me?” He confronted her.

“Why would I be angry with you? What right do I have to be angry with you?”

He shook his head bewildered. “I don’t know. But I know you are angry with me. I can feel it.”

Feel? Don’t make me laugh.” She walked away.

He wrestled some more with his feelings but drew a blank.

“I don’t understand. What do you want from me?” He went back to her.

“What do you want?”

“Me?” He was taken aback. This question had never ever come up in his life. “What do I want?” He looked lost and confused.

Bela sighed. “Yes. What do you want?”

“What I want doesn’t matter.” He reported back to her the next morning.

“But the question is what do you want?” She insisted.

“I don’t matter.”

“Then what matters?”

He shrugged. “Others?”

“W…who others?”

“Everyone.” He waved his hand vaguely.

“Am I included in that?”

Unable to breathe, he could only stare at her.

“Well? Do I matter?”

His throat closed up choking him. Sweat broke out on his brow. This was something terribly important he could make that much out. But what exactly it was eluded him. He had to get to the bottom of it.

“W…what about you matters?” He managed to say.

“T…that…that I,” she faltered but held his eyes, “that I am getting married.”

He was silent.

“To another.”

Rage engulfed him. He wanted to smash everything in sight. He wanted to strangle her. He felt like running to the terrace and jumping off.

He walked to his seat.

She was getting married to another.

And he could do nothing but watch in dreadful silence.

His feet would drag as he passed her seat. She no longer wore the flowers in her hair nor did she wish him good morning. He wished he could say them but the words stuck in his throat.

Despair settled over him like the thick blanket of smog after Diwali. He was suffocating and the clock was ticking. Each day he lived in dread of seeing her empty seat. And each day he saw her sitting, was as if his death sentence had been commuted at the last minute.

But today the axe had fallen.

Her seat was empty.

She was gone and his life would never be the same again. A searing anguish ripped through his soul. Had he felt this bad when his world had come crashing down when he was barely out of his teens? He didn’t think so. His tender years would not have been able to take this raw bleeding gaping gash that didn’t let him sleep or work. Work which had been his panacea was abhorrent to him – the numbers mocked him and slipped away from his grasp. He messed up the accounts.

“Daya Babu, you are overworked.” The Chief had been apprised of the real situation. “Take a holiday. Go home. Meet your family.”

Dayaram looked at his boss with something akin to hope. Meet his family. His mother. She would know what to do with him. She would take care of him. He couldn’t wait to see her. It had been five years since he had gone home. The money was better utilized in paying off the debts incurred for his sister’s wedding.

“Amma…” He choked up.

His mother shed tears of joy and sorrow. “Look at you my son! So thin! Don’t you eat? Are you not well?”

“I am fine Amma.” But he was listless and dull. He only perked up when his sister put her toddler in his lap. He sat for hours playing with her.

“It’s decided Daya,” his mother was firm, “you are getting married. Your Uncle even has a girl in mind. Very…”

“Amma please! You know I don’t want to get married. I barely sustain myself. How will sustain a family?”

“By God’s grace, we have enough for our needs. Sakharam has a job at the post office and God willing Munna will start earning soon. You can stop sending money to us. It is time you thought of your own family.”

“But you are my family Amma.”

“I don’t want any arguments. I have decided you are getting married and that’s it.”

“Amma, listen to me…”

“No you listen to me. You are getting married otherwise you arent going back to the city.”

“Fine I won’t go back to the city. I’ll just sit at home and eat home-cooked food.”

“You will see my dead face if you don’t get married.”

There wasn’t much to be said after that.

If only he hadnt come home! How could he marry? What about Bela?

What about her? She’s already married to another.

But I couldn’t marry anyone else.

Fine then see your mother die.

Dayaram was the most morose groom ever. He refused to cooperate. Not that it mattered. He was anointed with turmeric, bathed, dressed and led to the mandap for the wedding. He exchanged garlands with the bride, went through the motions as directed by the pundit and ended with the seven circambulations around the holy fire.

And he was married.

But he was also free.

Free from his mother’s blackmailing tactics. He had been an obedient son and done as she wished.

Now he would do his duty as a responsible son and leave his wife behind to serve his family.

That would serve Amma right for forcing his hand.

But before that he had to bypass the obligatory first night rituals.

He got drunk and passed out on the nuptial bed decorated with marigold and rose petals.

Dayaram managed a peaceful night but the morning brought no respite. If anything it was worse than before – his heart was as sore and resentful as ever only now it was compounded by a massive headache.

His sisters fussed over him and scolded him. “What made you drink? That too on your wedding night? What will Bhabhi think?”

He couldn’t care less and the less she thought about him the better it was for his peace of him. He snarled at his sisters.

They left him to sleep off his hangover.

With no alcohol to deaden his senses he thrashed and tossed about on the bed, groaning and moaning as the scent of jasmine assualted his senses. Would he never escape? Would he never forget?

“Bela!” He called out in anguish.

“I am here.” Her voice washed over him like a soothing gush of cool water. He never wanted to wake up from this dream.

“Bela?” He reached out blindly.

A soft small hand slipped into his. He gripped it tightly. She moaned. He sat up and stared.

Bela was rubbing her hands.

“You are here!” he said stupidly. “You’re married!”

“Yes.” She said simply.

“What are you doing here?” He hurriedly got up from the bed. “What will about your husband?”

“What about him?”

“What will he say?”

“Ask him yourself.” She said coyly.

Dayaram back away. “He’s here!”

“There.”

He followed the direction of her finger.

“But…what…how?”

Bela came up beside him and looked at him through the mirror. “You may not matter to you, but you matter to me.”

Dayaram gave up trying to make sense of it. He did what he had been yearning to do since the day he had met her. He buried his face in the white bunch of jasmine nestling on the base of her neck.

***

A short story with a local flavor inspired by O. Henry’s  The Romance of a Busy Broker as described in Story Club #11.

Thanks for reading and go on, say it!

 

 

 

Story club # 10: Two Tales

I am sure nobody noticed but I missed last month’s Story Club. And in my defense, there is so much to do and so little time! Anyway to make up, this month, instead of one story, I am attempting to tackle two short stories. Both are penned by the same author WW Jacobs, a British author who is mostly known for his macabre and haunting story The Monkey’s Paw although he mostly wrote humor stories.

If you haven’t read The Monkey’s Paw, please do read it before reading further. I don’t think there are any spoilers ahead but the read is not likely to make much sense unless you are familiar with the story.

The Monkey’s Paw has been a personal favorite for as long as I remember. And not only that, it left a permanent impact on me. That the monkey’s paw is from India and cursed/blessed by an Indian fakir somehow made the story all the more real for me. Whenever I read the story I go back to the drawing room of my first home where I lived as a child, and can almost hear the knock on the door, see the man standing at the door, the horrified silence…

The message ‘Be careful of what you ask for you may get it’ has remained with me ever since then and has sort of become my guiding principle for life as well.

I am quite paranoid and wary about not wishing. Indian mythological stories too have strengthened the belief that nothing good really comes out of wishes being granted. That in fact things could turn out to be worse than ever before. That it was better to make peace with what one had than hanker for things beyond us.

Like the famous Hindi poet, Sri Harivansh Rai Bachchan told his son Amitabh Bachchan, India’s  megastar – Man ka ho to achcha aur na ho toh achcha

Translated, this reads as – If it happens as you wish it is good, but if it doesn’t, then it is even better.

Strange and quite incomprehensible isnt it? But what it means is that if things don’t happen according to your wish, then it is occurring as per the wishes of a higher force who is looking out for you and preventing you from treading paths that are bound to spell disaster for you. Only you don’t know it yet.

Anyway to come back to the story, I realized, that my memory of the story was sketchy and didn’t quite remember about the other two wishes. Perhaps I was too preoccupied by the outcome of the first wish to really comprehend what followed.

But now as I read it again, the end is what nags me. What if he had not made the third and the final wish? Who was it at the door? Would Herbert have returned? How far can things be reversed? Or was it all meant to be? Was fate playing a cruel game of her own? Having some fun at the expense of gullible disbelieving mortals? I wonder and wonder and wish that the father hadn’t wished the third wish.

Oops I forgot…

I don’t wish do I?

After that heavy piece here is a humorous piece from WW Jacob – The Golden Venture. It is a lighthearted fun read which reiterates that nothing good comes out of bad. A comfortable and fun story. I hope you read this one too and share your reactions as well. As for me, for the second story, that is all I am going to say because while reading it I was led astray. I found the characters and story so engaging that I was inspired to pen a short story.

I am posting that story The Inheritance separately – click to read it.

As always I would love to know your reactions, opinions, suggestions and even better, if you feel like it, post a review of the stories or pen an inspired version of your own. Drop a link in the comment box and I will be along for a read.

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.
  2. 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.
  3. Bloggers should post on their blog.
  4. 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

If you don’t want to host a story club, but if you have a favorite short story, do share it – thanks!

The Inheritance

“Ann, why didn’t you tell me about the inheritance?” Polly asked.

Ann started. “How do you know?” she asked warily. “Did you read the letter?”

“No I didn’t. You know I don’t much care for reading and writing. Tidger told me. He read the letter by mistake.”

“Oh.”

“Ann, now that you are an heiress, you better keep your wits about you,” Polly cautioned her elder widowed sister.

“What do you mean?” Ann was bewildered.

“Ah Ann, ever the fool. Didn’t you notice the doddering fools Wigget and Miller praising you to the skies?”

Ann pinked. “Oh I thought they were being sweet.”

“You’ve been here for the past 6 months and all of a sudden they became sweet? It’s the inheritance, mark my words.”

“Oh Polly,” Ann wrung her hands, “You are the clever one. Tell me what should I do? I don’t like either of them but nobody else will marry me at this age.”

“Humph!” snorted Polly, “I wouldn’t be surprised if my own Tidger wouldn’t marry you himself.”

“Polly!” Ann gasped scandalized, “Do you know what you are saying?”

“Of course I know.” Polly said. “I know my Tidger. He has a weakness for money. Besides, he’s worried about the mortgage on the…”

“But that doesn’t mean…”

“It doesn’t mean, but it could, is all I am saying. And now that the children have flown the nest, we don’t have much in common.”

“Oh Polly aren’t you happy in your marriage?”

“Now don’t be a romantic fool Ann.” Polly briskly set about cleaning up her tiny makeshift kitchen. “Does anyone get married for happiness’ sake?”

“Then why get married?”

“Women get married to have children and stability. Men get married to get an unpaid servant and nurse for life.” Polly attacked the dishes with vigor.

“Polly!”

“Tell me Ann, were you happy in your marriage?”

“It was alright.” Ann crossed herself. “May his soul rest in peace.”

“Do you miss him?”

Ann was silent. “Not really.” She said at last. “But I do wish we had a house of our own. That I was independent…”

“Well with your inheritance you could easily set up house by yourself.”

“But that would be so lonely. What would I do alone?”

“I…I could join you.”

“That would be lovely Polly! Will Tidger agree?”

“He doesn’t need to.”

“Meaning?”

“I am baking his favorite cake today.” Polly held up a bottle. “With a special flavor.”

“Polly!”

Polly shrugged. “He’s outlived his usefulness. He’s more of a bother and a pain to be with. I thought I would send him to a happier place.”

“What on earth is the matter with you Polly?”

“You are a fine one to talk Ann,” Polly rounded on her, “Making sheep eyes at my husband.”

“How dare you Polly!”

“Oh I dare alright. Do you think I am blind? You always had a soft spot my Tidger didn’t you? And now the money is making him lean towards you.”

“You are crazy Polly.”

“No I am not. He’s always been a sleep talker. And these days all he says are Ann and mutter about ways to bump me off.” She held up the bottle. “I had bought this poison for you. But since the money I thought it better to get rid of him. After all you are my sister.”

“Polly please…”

“Don’t worry Ann, you and I will get along well together. Won’t we?”

Ann paled. She wrung her hands but wilted under Polly’s unblinking glare. She nodded.

“Good.” Polly sounded strange and her eyes glittered dangerously.

“You are looking funny Polly. Your blood pressure seems to have shot up. You need to rest. Let me make dinner…”

“No! I am baking the cake.”

“Okay after you bake the cake,” Ann said soothingly, “you go and rest. Let me take care of the dinner, while I think how best to handle this. And you know I love cooking.”

Polly expertly sifted the floor, broke the eggs, crushed the sugar, emptied the bottle and slid the cake batter into the oven.

“Done!” Polly dusted her hands and slipped off her apron. “I am going. You think all you like, but remember that cake is for my Tidger.” She sniffled. “He was a good man. Until you and your money came along.” With a sob she left the kitchen.

Ann heaved a heavy sigh. But there was dinner to be made. She worked swiftly around the kitchen and didn’t pause until she had set the table to her satisfaction.

“Polly,” she walked up to her room, “It’s all set Polly. And I have decided to accept Miller’s invitation for dinner. That way I will be out of the way and you can claim that Tidger had a heart attack.”

“Good thinking.” Polly approved of the plan. Besides, she couldn’t wait to see Tidger’s face as Ann left for a date right under his nose. Oh how she would rub it in.

He would die of a heart attack, she chortled to herself.

Bump her off would he? She would show him – who would bump off whom.

Ann and Miller were enjoying a quiet dinner when the concierge came and interrupted them. He spoke in a low whisper to Miller.

“Ann, my dear,” Miller laid his hand on hers, “We have to go.”

Ann stared at him and paled. “What’s the matter?”

“Come let’s go.” He was gentle with her as he led her out of the restaurant.

The scene at home was one of utter chaos. The dinner Ann had labored over, lay spattered all over the floor. Alongside it, Polly lay senseless while Tidger was weeping softly in one corner.

“What happened?” It was the doctor.

Tidger wiped his face and attempted to gather himself. “I…I don’t know doctor. We were having dinner. She had finished eating and I was almost done. She got up to get the cake and appeared to get dizzy. She gave a gasp and grabbed the tablecloth before keeling over. She…” he choked, “she hasn’t moved since then.”

“ You ate the same thing?” The Inspector peered at the dishes. “What was in this empty bowl?” He sniffed suspiciously at it.

“Soup. I finished it.”

“What soup?

Tidger shrugged. “Don’t know but it was real tasty.”

“The bowl looks clean, as if it has been been washed.” He pinned Tidger with his eyes, who flushed and blustered, “Look here Inspector…”

“It was clear soup Inspector,” Ann controlled her sobs, “I…I helped her make it.”

“She was fine before that?” The doctor interrupted.

“Yes. She was perfectly fine. She cooked dinner. She even made my favorite cake.” Tidger paused. “She did complain of uneasiness once or twice.”

“Hmm, looks like she had a heart attack.” The doctor stood up. “She did have high blood pressure and diabetes.”

“My poor Polly. What will happen to me now?”

Ann was too busy crying in Miller’s arms to console Tidger.

She didn’t even speak to him at Polly’s funeral. She moved out of his house the same day.

It was only months later, after the doctor had declared Polly’s death to be due to natural causes and police had given Tidger a clean chit that Ann met Tidger at a common friend’s house.

“How are you?” She looked at him critically. “You’ve lost weight.”

He gave a tired smile. “I am not much of a cook. And,” he coughed, “I haven’t been sleeping too well either.”

“Come over for dinner tomorrow. Miller, you come too. Around 7.30 pm?”

They nodded.

Tidger was early.

“How’s the paperwork for the inheritance progressing?” Ann asked as she cut him a piece of his favorite cake.

He bit into it and closed his eyes in bliss. “Almost done.” He mumbled indistinctly through a full mouth. “Shouldn’t take more than a month now.”

“Good. Poor Polly must be turning in her grave to know that she was the one who got the inheritance not me.”

Tidger grinned. “Aren’t I smart?”

“Only in showing me the letter first. You shouldn’t have washed the soup bowl.”

“I thought there could be traces of the poison.”

“They wouldn’t have been able to detect it.” Ann was confident.

“I am sorry.” He deferred to her greater wisdom. “What next?”

The doorbell rang.

Ann rewarded him with a kiss. “Now it’s time for you to woo me. Make it nice and slow.”

She went to let Miller in.

Just enough delay to raise suspicion but not confirm it.

As always, patience was the key to success.

***

A/N This story is inspired by WW Jacobs short story A Golden Venture and linked to Story Club # 10

So what do you think? Plausible? Any loopholes? Doubts? Loose ends? Go on say it, I am sure you found something!

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!