The Sound of Silence

In April last year, I participated in Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Contest, just to challenge myself. In this contest, 24 hours are given to write a story. A prompt and a word count are provided on the given day and within a day writers are supposed to send their stories in. The entry fee costs $5 and I had nothing to lose except perhaps a bit of pride!

The prompt was as follows, and stories were not to exceed 950 words:

Sitting on the porch steps, she stared, ignoring the scent of lilacs from the overgrown bush. Her heart lurched when she saw the mail truck approaching, dust in its wake. Would it arrive today? The ancient mail carrier took his time handing her some envelopes and, finally, a large package in brown paper. As he drove away, she dropped the envelopes on the porch, and walked quickly around the side of the house, praying nobody inside saw…

Without further ado, here’s the story I penned. It won no accolades, but considering I wrote, edited and submitted it all within a space of twenty-four hours, I was pretty pleased with it. Tell me what you think!

#

The Sound of Silence

Mary’s bones ached as she sat on the porch steps. It had taken weeks of preparation. Now everything she needed lay in one place, except for one last thing. And if she wasn’t wrong, it would arrive today.

Her heart lurched when she saw the mail truck approaching. The ancient mail carrier took his time handing her some envelopes and, finally, a large package in brown paper. As he drove away, she dropped the envelopes on the porch, and walked quickly around the side of the house, praying nobody inside saw her.

Mary slipped to the shed behind the house, shuttering the door behind her quietly.

For a second she stiffened, her ears perked up against the wall, waiting to pick up even a note of wakefulness from within the house. No sound came to her.

She set the kettle to boil and got down to work.

The package was large but not heavy. She opened it and gingerly extracted the items, one at a time.

Two skeins of yarn and the four double-pointed size 5 needles were set aside for later use. She had only a little work left on the mittens.

The sheet of satin was so smooth it fell out of the package. The color was a bit too baby blue for her tastes, but it would have to do.

She loved the bells best, but they jangled and broke the quietness in the shed.

A rustling sound broke her concentration. She dropped the package and padded over to one corner of the shed.

The girl, still in her wedding dress, seemed to be stirring awake. The duct tape over her mouth was intact. Mary checked the ones binding her wrists, and those were tightly secured too.

The girl’s eyes fluttered open. She looked groggily around the room. Her wandering gaze found Mary, and her eyes widened instantly.

Mary smiled. “Up already, my dear? You had better take some rest. We need you fit for the evening now, don’t we?”

The girl shook her head vigorously.

Mary dropped to her knees beside her, and picked up something from the floor. “Ah, the cat’s whiskers. Now if only I could find the cat.”

The girl looked even more scared and tried hard to make as loud a sound as she could with her mouth closed. Mary caressed her delicate cheeks. “Be careful my dear. I’m sure you don’t want to join your friends in their habitats.”

She nudged the girl’s face to the right. There the girl saw her companions. Her eyes opened so wide that her long lashes almost feathered her brows. The girl shuffled in her place, but she couldn’t move much. Mary had taken care of that. The sedative was too strong.

The girl closed her eyes. Mary thought she might be crying. She jumped to her feet and strode to the other side of the shed, where two cages housed the girl’s companions – a Siberian Husky in one, and a Welara stallion in the other.

“These aren’t your problem, my dear girl. What will give you a run for your life is this little thing.” Mary pointed to a glass cloche on the table backed up against the wall of the shed.

A bumblebee buzzed about inside, its wings hitting the sides of the glass in vain as it tried to escape.

Mary stroked the curve of the cloche. “It’s just like you – it has wings, it can fly, but it can’t escape. It’s trapped, just like so many of us.”

She fell into a pensive mood, but just as suddenly, snapped out of it.

“Right, let’s get to work. Lots to cook and make merry. I’m thinking, veal cutlets, apple pies and noodles. What do you think?”

Mary brought out a meat cleaver. The girl’s eyes, now red from crying, fixed upon the weapon.

Mary banged down a perfect cut of veal on to the table. With one firm stroke she swung the blade down.

#

In the evening when the whole family was gathered around, Mary said, “I’d like to thank you all for your support. But my shrink says I’m fine now! So I’ve made a small presentation I’d like to share with you all.”

The cheers and whoops of her family was drowned out by a persistent banging on the door.

A hush fell over the gathering.

Mary’s son Phillip opened the door. A young policeman stood at the threshold. “We got a tip-off about a missing person who was reported last seen around here.”

Everyone looked at each other. Mary stood rooted to the spot. Phillip said, “I thought I heard some noise in the shed.”

Mary piped in. “That’s all my stuff.”

Phillip turned to her. “What do you keep there, Mom?”

“Ma’m can we see the shed?”

Mary shrugged. “Let’s go. I was taking everyone there anyway.”

“For what?”

Her face shone with excitement. “To show them my presentation performance!”

She led the way to the shed. When she opened the door, a gasp issued from everyone gathered.

Lined up in a neat row were roses with water droplets on them, a clutch of cat’s whiskers, two copper kettles, colorful mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, even a horse and finally, the girl in the wedding dress wearing a sash.

The officer rounded on her. “What’s all this ma’m? Did you know that girl’s been missing from her wedding since two days now?”

“What’s the big deal? I was going to return her anyway.”

“That’s crazy. And why is she wearing a blue sash?”

Mary said, “Oh come on, Officer, I thought you’d have realized by now. These are a few of my favorite things.”

 

What’s in a name?

According to the good bard, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. I am no rose, and I don’t care how I smell, beyond praying I don’t suffer from halitosis, but I long for the day when I can introduce myself and not have a distorted version of my name flung back at me.

My name is Gargi, pronounced Gaar-gee, rhymes with ‘car key’ but substitute the hard g sound instead. The first time people hear my name, the many unflattering variations they conjure up are as follows.

Gar-gai
Rhymes with Fungi. This name would be appropriate if there existed an organism called a ‘gargus’ and I amounted to many of them together, thus becoming the plural, Gar-gai. Despite the many flaws in my character, no-one has, so far, compared me to a fungus or any other such moldy substance.

Bonus joke:
Q. Why did the mushroom go on holiday?
A. Because he was a fun guy.
(Source unknown)

George
Why don’t people understand – if my name was George, I’d spell it that way, wouldn’t I? Do they think I’ve deliberately changed the vowels just to flummox potential acquaintances?

Greg
Studies have found that people calling me over the phone are especially liable to confuse me for a Greg or a George. They dial my number in feverish expectation of a hunky male voice, and then react in great surprise when my dulcet feminine tones stream down the phone. If I had a dime for every time I answered my cell only to hear ‘May I speak to Mr. Gargi?’ I would be richer than Mark Zuckerberg.

Georgie Porgie
Close on the heels of George came the insufferable nursery rhyme Georgie Porgie. The chants started as soon as I boarded the school bus:

Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ and Pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away

It only hurt more because Georgie Porgie was a boy.

Jar-gi
This one crosses all boundaries of decency. I assume the offender had consumed one pint too many, and taken it upon himself to spoil my day by drawling my name like this.

Jar-ji
In India, one tags a ‘ji’ to the end of a name to connote respect. So “Jar-ji” would be appropriate if one was addressing a jar, but I am not a jar, even if people might accuse me of being shaped like one.

When spoken with a French accent, ‘Jarji’ sounds like a badly cooked French dish, which again, I am not. Maybe they were aiming for ‘bourgeoisie’ but got ‘jarji’ instead?

Gergi
This is the number one most popular pronunciation of my name. The first syllable rhymes with ‘fur’, and overall it needs only a little juggling of the alphabets to be turned into Fergie, which means I might turn up as a popular Duchess in London. I am toying with the idea of moving there for good, and assuming the title ‘Gergie – Duchess of Dork.’

Garbage
Fear not, this is neither a mispronunciation nor (I hope) an assessment of my character, but ‘tis instead a mere nickname for my humble self. Friends and foes, fed up with pronouncing my name wrong, resorted to this simple word to express how they felt about me. It helped that when you type Gargi in Microsoft Word, it offers ‘garbage’ as a viable alternative. MS Word, I feel the same way about you.

Gags or Gargs
This is, thus far, the most popular nickname I’ve had. Old friends, who still remember my name and on occasion my birthday, refer to me by this affectionate nom de plume. A friend who eventually moved to Australia hit upon an extension of this that became wildly popular among my colleagues – Gags the Bags.

Graggy or Gragi
I think they mean groggy, but I can never be sure. Possibly I got stuck with this nickname the day I downed two glasses of wine and one glass of champagne and tottered to the loo in a hurry.

Jaggery
This is the word for a coarse, dark sugar, especially the one made from the sap of East Indian palm trees.

It’s nice to be thought of as something sweet, but really its not. I’m not that sweet.

Other alternatives offered by MS Word
Gorge
Garage
Garget
Margi
Gage

No thanks, MS Word. I can get myself misnamed without your help. In the meantime, write down my name – it’s spelt G-A…oh hell, just call me Miss G.

How I Overcame Writer’s Doubt and Saved the World

I am participating in the ‘Writing Contest: Overcoming Writer’s Doubt’ held by Positive Writer.

Show me a writer and I’ll show you doubt. Writers all over the world harbour all kinds of misgivings about their voice, the number of adverbs in their stories, the Flesch-Kincaid level of their writing and many other such seemingly trivial issues.

My writer’s doubt was a little different.

Around this time last year, I’d taken a stab at revamping my first novel. Revamping is a polite word – what I really mean is ‘rewriting’. A contest lurked on the horizon, which required 3 chapters and a synopsis. Of course, I didn’t have time to rewrite the whole manuscript but surely I could slap together the first few chapters and a summary, couldn’t I?

Indeed, I could. I still didn’t have a lot of time, but I kept my nose to the grindstone and churned them out. I grabbed my critique partners by their virtual collars and dashed the partial off to them, demanding snappy reviews be sent back ASAP. They obliged, and minutes before the deadline, I sneaked in my entry.

Of course, I didn’t win. I didn’t even place.

That’s when doubt, in all its might and glory, struck me. Now, my hesitation wasn’t the usual – “is my writing good enough” variety.

It was the mega-jumbo-super-mammoth version. The exact words in my mind were:

Do I even have the ability to tell a story?

At this point, I’d had around 4 published pieces in journals spread out over a few years. So when I asked myself this question, I assumed that the previous ones were flukes, and that now I needed to get down and prove that I can tell a story – coherently, succinctly, and for the reader’s general entertainment.

But how to do it? It’s easier said than done. It had taken me 2-3 years to complete each of my novels, by wresting the few free hours leftover after finishing my day job. If I set out to prove my writing chops via novels, I’d be around 80 by the time I had anything to show for my efforts.

So I had a brainwave, and opted for the shorter route. I decided to try my hand, once again, at polishing and publishing my stories.

This time, I pulled up my sleeves and stepped into the murky waters of plot and characterization and that bane of writers existence – literary writing. I read story collections, I collected them like fridge magnets and pored over stories that online journals were publishing, to get a feel of what works and what can be done better.

Then I did the only other thing left to do – write.

I wrote the stories. Then I polished them. I wrote some more, and polished some more.

Since making my ground-breaking decision, I have had 5 stories published in a span of 6 months.

I’m part of the Short Story Challenge, which means I’m sharpening my knives and polishing more stories. Literary journals online are, at this very moment, snowed down under mountains of submissions with my name on them.

I guess there’s only one conclusion to be drawn – I can tell a story! That, and even if I couldn’t, I’d die trying.

That’s how I overcame writer’s doubt and saved the world (from another frustrated suicidal writer). How about you? Do you have a story to share about overcoming doubt in any form?

To Kindle or not to Kindle

A great start to the year – my story “Singapore City” has been published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Hop over and check it out!

On to the feature presentation:

Two years ago, I bought an iPod Touch. Why, you may ask, did I abandon all manner of Apple iPhones and stoop to the Touch instead? Well, I’ve owned my share of expensive cell phones, and the experience alerted me to the realization that Smartphones and I are not heading for a Happily Ever After. I don’t possess the maturity levels required to nurture a smartphone as much as it needs me to.                           

So I went ahead and splurged on the 16 GB iPod Touch. From the minute I brought it home in its carefully wrapped pristine white packaging, I surrendered all rights to my toddler. The speed with which she navigated the device amazed me. She swooped in on the phone and started using it as her own.

I considered buying a Kindle. From all that I’ve heard and seen, the Kindle is an ideal device for the voracious reader. Kindle boasts e-ink technology that is easy on the eyes and most closely resembles reading a print book. One can read it in the sunlight as well, similar to how you read a print book.

Though I didn’t buy a Kindle eventually, I settled on reading ebooks using the Kindle app on the iPod Touch. I’ve done almost half my reading last year on the Touch, which is a great surprise for one who thought you’d have to pry the print books from her cold dead hands.

Apart from the ebooks, I am a member of two libraries which combine to quench my thirst for books. The first is British Council, where I’ve been a member for almost a decade (minus the two years I lived in Singapore). The second is Just Books, which set up shop here a couple of years ago. Now I wonder how I ever lived without them. They stock every type of book, down to the latest Indian bestsellers and Nigella Lawson/Jamie Oliver cookbooks. What more could a girl want? I even read The Casual Vacancy by borrowing it from Just Books. Considering its price and bulk, I might not have purchased or read it otherwise, however brilliant it turned out to be.

Thanks to Just Books and British Library, I am slowly but surely building up to my pre-baby average of 2 books per week. Last year I read 43 books, which improved on the previous year’s total of 33. This year I hope to read 50 books by the time 31st December rolls around.

Do you read more print books or prefer to flip virtual pages on an e-reader?

Marissa Mayer and the WFH policy

By now, everyone and his uncle have formed an opinion on Marissa Mayer’s controversial decision that forces remote employees to pack their laptop bags and report to the office. Her effective discontinuation of a hitherto popular Work-from-home policy (hereinafter referred to as WFH) has disgruntled quite a few employees and industry people. Views for and against, as well as some reasoned analyses, have gone flying around the internet.

I work in a company that allows WFH with the approval of the manager. For my part, I much prefer working in the office. When I am working at home, my five-year-old daughter clatters around in the background most of the time while I try to read two words on the laptop. She doesn’t quite grasp the concept of ‘working’ from home – the only portion of significance to her is ‘home’. She imagines a heavenly world where Mummy has surrendered all official responsibilities so she can cling to her and wring stories out of her one after another. I believe I get more work done in the office than at home.

Having said that, the WFH suits the rare occasion when you can work but you can’t make it to the office for whatever reason. I grasp the WFH straw whenever her school schedules parent-teacher meetings at around lunchtime, so that I don’t have to drive down thirty minutes just to sit in the office for a couple of hours.

I made good use of it in the early weeks of Feb when an attack of viral fever rendered me too weak to drive to office and sit in an AC haven. Instead, I heaved out the laptop and started pounding the keys immediately after packing my daughter off to school.

I guess certain people use the WFH to their advantage to goof off at home the same way they would goof off in the office. Like everything else, a few rotten apples spoil the bunch. So unfortunately, those genuine users of WFH bear the brunt of harsher policies and stricter governance.

A friend once told me about one of his colleagues who sent on email to his team with the subject line – ‘Working from today’. A few minutes later, he sent a follow up mail – ‘Working from home today’.

Looks like the folks at Yahoo won’t be seeing this kind of faux pas in their inboxes anymore!

The Unbearable Wetness of Rain

In countries all over the world, it rains. In some places, it showers, in others it pours, thunders and even drizzles. Over in the good old Indian subcontinent, we have the ‘monsoons’, a polite term for rain so heavy it feels like someone perched atop the roofs of buildings is emptying buckets of water on our heads.

But we’re used to it. We wouldn’t swap our monsoons for all the cutely-named hurricanes and typhoons raging anywhere else.

There is little to do in the monsoons, except to get drenched in the rain or better yet, stay indoors, play board games, eat monsoon-friendly food, watch movies and purchase an umbrella, a handy device for those days when you feel adventurous enough to brave the outdoors. Let’s look a closer look at these activities and their impact on our rain-filled lives.

Appetizers for a rainy day

The most favoured snacks during the monsoons consist of steaming cups of tea and pakoras (prepared by smothering miserable vegetables in a batter of gram flour and then deep-frying them).

Bengalis make khichdi, which an Indian author pandering to western audiences might describe as ‘an exquisite mixture of rice and lentils flavoured with onions and tomatoes’. They believe the simultaneous preparation of khichdi in a dozen households together creates a low-pressure area thus diverting the clouds’ attentions to other drought-prone locations. This works fine for day one, when the rain does indeed stop. Come day two, we are back to the rain pelting down on our windows and threatening to unscrew its hinges without manual intervention.

My mother has resolved this problem by persistently cooking khichdi every single day of the monsoons until the rains finally beat a prolonged retreat, at which point she takes full credit for the crystal-clear skies.

The Umbrella Phenomenon and Murphy’s Law

This year, for a month and ten days it rained. Continuously. I got drenched, while running from the bus to the office, the home to the auto stand, the auto to the shopping mall…you get the gist. After losing several kilos due to this sprinting activity, I started carrying an umbrella. The first day I armed myself with this shelter-bestowing device, it drizzled. The sky appeared grey and downcast, in no mood to pelt down lashes as it was accustomed to. On the second day it stopped raining altogether. A week of my umbrella-carrying and no-rain-occurring continued, at the end of which I left my umbrella at home, and the entire process repeated itself again.

The Bathers

A few ‘fun’ people actually used to welcome the monsoons. What an opportunity, they said, to not take a bath at home! On 26th July, 2005, after witnessing the city of Mumbai turn into an ocean, they changed their minds. The next day they signed up for swimming lessons, and have always bathed indoors ever since.

Rain in the films

Indian movies tend to give the impression that doing the salsa in the rain is one of the most pleasurable activities one can indulge in. It convinces people that things like pneumonia are but a figment of their imagination, and they need not fear the consequences of waltzing during a downpour and getting soaked to their skin. The sight of heroines wearing sarees or other transparent apparel that have the added advantage (much to the hero’s delight!) of clinging to her curves go a long way in confirming this view, with the result that clinics all over the country during the monsoons witness an unprecedented increase in the number of sneezing coughing patients.

Cricket in the monsoon

The unduly long monsoons that lash our country prevent cricketers from playing as much as they would like. Usually, this period is devoted to playing county cricket, so our players get to inflict their ghastly game on the English viewers. This is beneficial to the cricketers, but sadly, it deprives the BCCI from earning as much as they could have if they were able to set up a few exciting clashes with our rival teams. The BCCI, however, is innovative. This problem cannot stump them for too long. I think the day is not far when an article, such as the following, will grace the sports pages of national dailies:

Cricket in the rain

In a desperate bid to revive cricket frenzy in the country, the BCCI, in a fit of enthusiasm, declared yesterday that instead of abandoning a rain-threatened match, they would provide all the players with umbrellas to continue the game.

This meant that the batsman would have to take guard with an umbrella in one hand, and his bat in the other. But it would be inhuman to suppose that the bowler could bowl holding his own umbrella. Thus the 12th man would be utilized to perform this service, by holding it and running after the bowler in hot pursuit.

This step will have two distinct advantages:

  • The batsman would be considerably unnerved by the spectacle of two burly bowlers descending on him, and this would lead him to hit some rather shaky strokes.
  • The 12th man would justly earn his bread, as he would be required to run 50 overs per day. (In case of the opponents of the Indian team, this figure may be drastically reduced)

In addition to the above, it will be necessary for the wicket-keeper to catch all catches with one hand. But if he dislikes this activity, he is welcome to (on payment of a token fee) purchase a container in which he may catch the ball.

Of course, the best solution to all these situations, that would combine wholesome public entertainment together with great reduction in costs, would be for all the cricket-playing teams to purchase the CRUMB or the CRicket UMBrella. This is a simple device that attaches itself seamlessly to cricketers’ helmets, caps, turbans, and any other headgear they may choose to wear. Certainly the BCCI would be pleased to be able to offer the CRUMB at a fabulously discounted rate of US$150,000 per piece. The governing body of other cricket-playing nations may also choose to purchase a set of 15 CRUMBS at a nominal rate of US$5,000,000.

With each purchase, the following are free:

  1. Ear-piece – skin-coloured, waterproof and cleverly concealed in the lining, perfect for communication with the coach throughout the match
  2. Raincoat – automatically drops down from the CRUMB at the press of a button

We urge cricketers to place their orders for the CRUMBs before it’s too late. After all, the special offer stands only as long as stocks last!

The rain in India,

In mainly near the Vindhyas,

But the cricket in the monsoon,

For the board, ‘tis a boon!
 

As the poet Henry Longfellow said, ‘Into each life, some rain must fall’!

 

A slightly different version of this was originally published on Rediff.com

Hollywood to Bollywood in Five Steps

The Indian filmmaker lives a decidedly hectic life. The torrent ofHollywoodfilms released every Friday greatly strains him.  How is he supposed to churn out indigenous versions of all these movies at the pace at which they hit the screens? With utmost reluctance he selects from the innumerable smash hits only those that have set the Western Box Office on fire. Video in hand, he plunges into the world of “Lights! Camera! Action! ” 

But wait. Not just yet. There are five things he must do first. 

The Script

The producer must find an enterprising scriptwriter who will do justice to theHollywoodfilm, by retaining the Western theme and adding an Indian touch. But should the original screenplay be inspiring enough, then the scriptwriter may easily be dispensed with, and an efficient translator employed instead.

The translator’s job is simple. He/she simply has to purloin a duplicate of the original English script and copy it down word for word. In today’s day and age, the advent of sophisticated English-Hindi conversion software has rendered the human translator redundant. In the case of foreign language films, though, it is possible that a highly qualified interpreter will have to be hired.

The Cast of Characters

The next step in the filmmaker’s schedule is to assemble the cast. Actors and actresses that bear the most (or as much as surgically possible) resemblance to the real McCoy, must be signed up, and briefed on the character they have to portray.

This phase is accomplished swiftly, as all the actors’ tasks are cut out – literally, their role is neatly snipped out from the original film reel. 

Costume and Makeup

Though these two aspects are an integral part of the filmmaking process, they exert no real pressure on either the producer’s mind or his budget. The actors simply pick out some favourite outfits from their own wardrobe, and the actresses … well, one meter of cloth is usually enough to cover their needs. 

It is only when the producer dares to make a period film that he must hire a costume designer, whose job is somewhat difficult. It is not the designing of the costumes that agonizes him/her, but the prospect of clothing beautiful young women who are, from birth, allergic to any fabric, especially in areas like the midriff, legs, underarms etc. The costume designer must employ all the arts of flattery at his command to convince the nubile heroines to don such little-revealing dresses. 

On beholding the struggle of the costume designer, it is hardly surprising that the producer leaves the cosmetic wonders entirely to the experts. He need know only one thing about makeup, which is that most actors/actresses shed up to 5 kilos at the end of each day when the powder and paint is peeled off. 

The Shooting Stars

In the following weeks, the shooting of the film commences. The filmmaker arranges for the stars to be transported to the foreign location that has been chosen for shooting the romantic scenes. Once all the trees and greenery there have been exhausted for the dance sequences, the cast and crew return to the good old homeland where they continue their prancing in another scenic (but decidedly Indian) place.

When it is unanimously felt all around that an ample number of songs have been shot, the artists get down to serious business. They must now recall and deliver their dialogues that have been carefully translated from the original (with due regard to slang and other colloquialisms). The actors are seasoned professionals and thus require no more than fifteen takes per scene.

The Title is Vital

It falls to the producer’s lot to imaginatively baptize his film. ‘Tis not so easy as you think. Gone are the days when a simple Hindi word or phrase served as the film’s title. In the present day it is essential that this Hindi title be followed by a few choice English words that describe the central theme of the film, in keeping with the trend set by films like Daag – The Fire, Shakti – The Power, Karz – The Burden of Truth, and Dhund – The Fog, to quote some examples. 

This convention is followed, not with the purpose of catering to the vast English-speaking public of India, but to provide an adequately universal title so that when the day comes for the film to be viewed at the Oscars, the Academy members will have little or no trouble understanding its sensitive plot. 

Back to…

Thus in five stages the producer completes his flim, and can now take a well-deserved break of satisfaction, for his masterpiece is sure to be a winner at the BO (Box Office, not the other thing).

But then, who has time to wait and see its performance, when another zillion movies are out there just waiting to be Indianised?