Monday, February 23, 2015

Book review: When She Smiled

Name: When She Smiled
Author: Ritoban Chakrabarti
Publisher: Notion Press
Year: 2015
Price: Rs. 215

Ritoban Chakrabarti’s When She Smiled is what can be called a romance-youth fiction, dealing with young love. Set in the idyllic settings of Shimla the Himalayas provide the perfect backdrop to suddenly fade into when the narrative slows down or decides to take a rest. There are nostalgic descriptions of the sleepy Himalaya town, which for most of us is nothing but the famous tourist destination. There are descriptions of quaint winding roads and the long walks along them with the white wafts cloud that suddenly engulf you. It was quite easy to imagine, given that I am familiar with the terrain and its peculiarities, strictly in a touristy fashion.
The story starts with Roy, a Bengali, a misfit right from the day he was born, having gotten stuck with a name like Mrityunjoy, which only another Bengali can understand the plight of; especially when finds oneself in the middle of a crowd of non-Bengalees completely unfamiliar with the Bengali’s knack for bombastic long winded complicated and difficult to pronounce and spell names. It is enough already that they are long, it is worse when you try teaching your peers how to pronounce and in the process almost endanger them to losing some teeth. However, Roy with the short term memory of 150 plus IQ handles his first day in a new high school with quite panache. If nothing else, the author sure does let Roy give quite a show of saving the situation when it came to Bengalis with difficult names having to introduce themselves AND saving face in front of a room full of late high school kids out to get you. He is returning to his old school, which he left for two years of Sainik School, with dreams of eventually joining the National Defense Academy. However, a freak accident crushed all such dreams and the readers join him on that day when he woke up at 6 on that spring morning to rejoin his old school.
As the dedication on the first page shows, the book is the author’s tribute to Shimla, which is evident in him often going for trips down his memory lane. The story is this one year from Roy’s life that proves quite educative and enlightening for him. As always the journey to knowledge is never an easy one and Roy goes through his trials and tribulations, heart break and loss, until he discovers the light that shows him the right path of life.
Roy has a fairly typical middle class family with a father who is bordering on abusive and only interested in seeing his children excel in studies. He believes in a frugal living so as to strive for a better future. He has a massive temper, which he often unleashes on Roy and his older brother Siddarth through cruel beatings; one of which ended up with Sid having to be hospitalized with a broken thigh bone. His sister Ashima was the oldest of the three siblings and was the apple of their parents’ eye – beautiful, talented and loving; ‘was’ because Roy loses his beloved sister in an accident when the bus she was traveling from Delhi to Shimla overturned and fell down a sleep cavern. Their mother is shown doing nothing much other than the thankless job of doing everything to keep the household running smoothly. They were not a loving couple, which is evident in the few words of the author – They never shared their personal problems with us. All we heard were voices through the walls. But that they were enough to disorient the child Roy is evident in his description of Ashima holding his hands and taking him for long walks, talking to him soothing him to overcome the trauma of seeing his mother and father fight.
The major part of the story is about Roy falling for a pretty girl in his batch, Akansha, pursuing her, falling for her, offering his friendship and company only with the hope of taking that one big leap. He leaps, only to fall face flat. He loses Akansha and when he tries too hard to get her back, he realizes that the forces of nature was against him – that he was destined to go through this pai to learn the lesson of life, that is, to move on.
There are certain moments in the story where the author seems to be building up for a certain burst of action or shock, only to leave the readers waiting and it eventually never comes. The language is crisp but fails to offer much to a reader who might be expecting more, especially in terms language doing justice to the physical beauty of the place. He seems to lack the patience that is needed to capture the beauty of nature; sometimes it does pass off as the impatience of youth when one tries to see it coming from Roy. The author does touch on social everyday issues that those of us growing up in the 90s are familiar with. This strikes a note of nostalgia somewhere among the readers.

There are too many stories left untold in this book, while telling the story of Roy alone. 

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wordshot: newspaper guy

The rickety bicycle stood perched on its singular side stand. The handlebar overloaded with stacks of newspapers; different ones, fresh from the press, waiting to be delivered. With extreme dexterity, the man gets off the bicycle, swiftly pulls out a newspaper from the stack and rolls it up into a neat longish baton-like shape. He looks up at the second floor balcony where the rolled up newspaper baton in his hand has to be delivered. A yellow taxi stands in the background. The last few morning walkers making their way back. The man lifts his arm, leans back and the next moment the newspaper baton was flying on its way up to its destination. It cuts through the morning air and lands on the desired balcony. The man’s eyes followed the missile till it vanishes into the balcony. He hops back on his bicycle and rides off. He has more missiles to launch and see through their mission till they land. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Her AND story

She was sitting at her desk in her old room. In less than a month, she will no more be able to call this her own in the same way as she can now. In less than a month, she will be married off into another household where she has to start this journey of growing relationships all over again. The past roots will slowly fade away while the newer ones will drop anchor. She thought the former was impossible. But time proved her wrong. In less than a month, the custom-made single bed, just like the way she wanted, will no more be enough. She will have to finally walk out of the safety of the room and embark upon a journey that was unknown and made her feel giddy in the head.
He was a good ten years or older than her. He was the only son who has lost his mother at an early age. His father was getting old; he needed someone to take care of the household. He did not know whether he needed a wife, but he knew that he needed a homemaker – someone who will nourish the family, keep the engines of the family well oiled so that everything functioned smoothly without any hiccups.
She loved to sing; had a lovely voice. Music was something that had been her companion all her life till then. Music had stood by her in good stead. She reveled in the whole experience of being able to lose oneself in the intricacies of a melody. But everything changed. Music never left her. She left music; was forced to abandon her longest companion. Many years later she would break down in tears when she would find her voice lost; the muscles no more having that flexibility that allowed her to sing. She failed to recognize her own voice when she sang.
She soon gave birth to a boy, which was quickly followed by a girl. She had her hands full. She immersed herself in ‘her family’, taking care of the children, the husband, the house. The rhythm of her life was defined by them. She could not continue to be the darling daughter that she was, the youngest of all her siblings. With each passing year the strings tying her to the family she was born into frayed while new strings were being tied in a new family. It drained her; weakened her. She forgot to question why could she not be strong and have both – the ties of the past intertwined with the new ones.
Her well oiled engine suddenly began to splutter and cough. Her husband was diagnosed with a killer disease with the doctor giving not much time. This time she refused to give up. This time she refused to make a choice and decided to be both. She became the provider for the family, while continuing to be the nurturer. She proved herself wrong. She proved those around her wrong. Most of all, she proved him wrong. She realized that she did not know her true self – while she made a choice between the two, deep down she did not want to choose. She wanted to be the daughter and the wife and the mother and the boss and...

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