Friday, January 17, 2014

Sisters! - Short story

Hdg: As different as cheese and chalk

God! what a clatter! Slow down, you tornado', said Shama. Only no one heard her speak. It wasn't because the clattering feet of Divya, who rushed up the stairs to their flat, drowned out her words. It was because Shama hadn't said the words aloud.
Shama, older to Divya by two years, had always been quiet and soft-spoken. Divya was boisterous and too loud for Shama. Soon Divya overshadowed Shama, deciding for two of them and readily agreed to by their parents.
Shama, however, didn't meekly acquiesced to Divya. Shama continued doing things she wanted to do, quietly. No one, not even Divya noticed, because Shama was largely ignored.
Left to herself, Shama was happy, if trifle sad. Realising that her opinion don't matter and hardly anyone took note of what she said, Shama kept up a constant dialogue with herself. And, when she thought her brain would burst with conversation spilling out, Shama took to writing.
She wrote whenever she felt like. Until, Sheela Miss came to teach creative writing to her class in the second term, it didn't occur to Shama that she should show her work to someone.
Young, friendly and gentle Sheela Miss discovered that there was a budding writer in her class and encouraged Shama to write her thoughts more effectively. Shama enjoyed the process, basking in her teacher's praise.
And, then came the biggest surprise of the year. The school's annual gathering was announced with just one change. This year students were to shoulder responsibility with teachers – in writing, getting costumes and prop ready, roping in actors/actress....the works!
Shama was thrilled when Sheela Miss chose her to write a play, alongwith a few seniors. She was so busy, brain-storming and writing and drafting the play, that she had no clue that Divya was chosen to play the role of princess, in her play.
It came as a shock to Shama when one evening, Divya announced to her parents and relatives, that she was going to play the princess in school play. She also proceeded to enact it, while Shama watched with her jaws dropping.
'Stop it! Princess Pia is sweet, gentle and courageous and what you are doing is a terrible imitation of a spoilt brat', Shama's voice rang out clearly and firmly.
Divya stopped, her hand clapping her mouth in shock, while her parents and relatives were stunned.
'Look...Divya. What you are doing is wrong! Be a little more....' Shama went back to speaking gently, but firmly.
Divya and others, who were in a daze, didn't stop to think about how Shama knew about Princess Pia. Next few days, Divya went over to Shama with her lines and learnt to deliver them with perfect expressions too.
On the day of the annual gathering, Divya shone as Princess Pia, while her parents beamed in the audience. At the end, they sought out Sheela Miss to thank her for giving Divya the main role.
Sheela Miss was happy to meet Divya's parents and said that the role of princess was conceived and developed by a student in her class.
She called out to Shama, much to her parents bewilderment. Shama too was puzzled on seeing her parents and Divya with her teacher. Sheela Miss then presented Shama to her parents and said, 'Shama shared the responsibility of writing the play along with two other students. The characterisation of Pia was solely her idea, Divya.'
Stunned into silence for a few minutes, Divya then rushed to Shama and enveloped her into a bear hug.
'Thanks Shama,' Divya whispered.
When Divya freed Shama from her embrace, the latter's eyes were shining with happiness. She had not only found her voice, but her darling sister too.

Smile away your fears (Short Story)

Hdg: Smile away your fears

Her large eyes dilated with fear when Shruti Miss announced a class picnic to loud whoops and clapping from other students. Like every year, the picnic was to be held at an amusement park on the outskirts of the city; Sneha remembering last year's troubled times at the picnic immediately put in her pleas to God, requesting that He give her a tummy upset or a headache... Anything that would make her home-bound.
A year ago, Sneha joined her new school in a new city. But, she didn't fit in. In the first few days her classmates turned away from her, thinking on these lines - 'Sneha is too smart!', 'What an over-enthu girl! New students must be seen and not heard, 'Sneha who? You mean the 'pizza face'. What about her?'
At the annual picnic, all the negative vibes combined to make it the worst day of her life. Sneha heard herself being addressed as 'pizza face'. When she confronted the addresser, Sneha found herself friendless, she didn't have too many friends to begin with. She was kept out of all group activities and if the teachers insisted on her presence, she would be given a royal ignore by other fellows.
After coming back from the nightmarish picnic, Sneha withdrew into a shell and studied and worked all day. No wonder that made Sneha a dull girl. So, this year's announcement of annual picnic succeeded in reliving the nightmarish hours.
'What would be in store this year?' thought Sneha as she walked home.
No headache, no fever and no tummy ache either. Feeling let down by Him, Sneha readied for the picnic. Ticking off the essentials on her list, Sneha called out to her father, 'I am ready. Let's go.'
When Sneha reached the school, the school bus was trembling on its wheels – kids jumping in and out, clambering up with cartons full of juice, fruits and goodies, teachers shouting instructions – it was a chaotic scene.
Sneha's father unloaded her stuff and waving her good bye, his car sped off. Quiet as a mouse, Sneha sneaked into the bus and made for the last seat. Sneha's face hidden by the seat before her, she exhaled slowly. A slight movement in the corner alerted her. Her large eyes met timid ones.
'Hi Sneha! Remember me?' the boy smiled feebly.
Sneha blinked. 'Are you in my class?'
'We were together in New Horizon...our last school,' the boy continued.
'Aniket! What are you doing here?' Sneha shrieked.
'I have been in your class since five months. You didn't notice,' Aniket's smile grew more wider.
'No..hmm', Sneha looked sheepish.
'You look so serious and solemn. I wondered if it's the same Sneha. You were so bouncy and chirpy,' Aniket asked.
Sneha kept quiet.
'It's a little different here, isn't it. Not like our old school,' he asked. Sneha nodded in agreement.
'So, aren't you playing football any more? You captained the New Horizon,' Sneha asked. It felt so good to talk to someone!
'I am. Not in school though. The boys wouldn't let me be a part of the team,' he said with a tinge of sadness.
Sneha knew the feeling all too well. The rest of the journey passed in a blur with Sneha and Aniket talking and laughing easily. They didn't notice the surprised looks their classmates exchanged.
At the amusement park, they hung out together and when it came to participating in team games, Sneha and Aniket volunteered as partners. They won some and lost some, but always with a smile.
Aniket and Sneha knew they had nothing to fear, because they had a friend to see them through bad times.

Another short story for children

Hdg: Act, don't preach!

“Look at them...what noise they make,” Siya scowled staring into the room whose walls resounded with peals of laughter.
Peering over her shoulders were Siya's cousins – Chiu (Chitra), Mak (Makarand), Rutu, Neetu, Sachu (Sachin), Sanju (Sanjana) – flummoxed that the adults in the room, their parents and aunts and uncles could create cacophony.
Chiu, who was the youngest of the lot, pushed the others away and retreated into another corner. To think, to puzzle over. Her otherwise prim and proper mother, Geeta, couldn't control her laughter. And, nor could Golu mama (Niranjan) who was said to be the brains of the family. Golu mama's example was trotted out every time one of the kids didn't fare well during the exams.
Siya, who was meeting her cousins and uncles and aunts after a long gap, too was confused at what she had seen. Instead of pondering over it, she shrugged, went to her room, pulled out her earphones and listened to music. Her cousins too went their own way; Mak got busy with his car models, Sachu and Sanju sprawled before the TV, Neetu and Rutu started playing games on the mobile.
Only Chiu remained behind. Quiet and unobtrusive, she slipped into the room and listened to the talk and laughter floating around. Only, when some one mentioned dinner that she slipped out of the room.
Next day, when the youngsters met for breakfast, they started gossiping about their parents.
Siya was the first one to scowl and launch into her grievance, after Meeta her mother chided her for plugging earphones at the dining table.
“I like that! I bet she doesn't follow the rules that she makes for me. For us. Our parents, I mean.”
Others followed suit with their complaints.
Chiu, who was listening to their conversation, said quietly, “Bet, you can't do half the things they do.”
“What do you mean?” the cousins turned to her.
“Golu mama...” Chiu began before she was cut mid-way by Mak.
“Oh please! Don't talk about Baba. I have heard enough of his exploits. I am his son, alright” said Mak.
“What have you heard? Chiu asked.
Rolling their eyes, the other kids listed out on their fingers, 'Class IV, Class VII scholarship, SSC, HSC topper, Distinction in medical college and now he presents papers at the international fora.'
Chiu yawned and the kids stopped.
“That's stale, you know. Golu mama is an expert marble player; he sings well and was the only one who played pranks on Ajo.”
“Liar! How do you know? And, no one played pranks on Ajo. He was a terror,” remembering the stories they had hear about their strict grandfather.
“Okay about this. No one could beat Meeta attya in climbing trees. She was also good with catapult, better than Aniruddha mama and Golu mama. And, yes, my mother outrode other cyclists. She and Golu mama beat others at cards. They make a good team,” said Chiu.
“How do you know?” Siya asked her again.
“You all should have stayed back in the room,” she replied.
“You mean to say, you eavesdropped on their conversation,” asked Siya horrified.
“Well, I stayed back in the room and listened. You don't call that eavesdropping. And, anyway, you could have also listened to it, if you had paid attention,” Chiu defended herself.
“Stay back tonight,” she added.
And, when the night came, they did stay back with their parents and aunts and uncles.
If their parents were surprised, then they didn't show it. As the night wore on amidst laughter, rib-tickling performances by their parents, the kids also learnt afresh a few lessons.
Listening to Meeta's stories of climbing trees and playing seven tiles in vacation, Siya realised why her mother couldn't understand the term 'boredom'.
Talk also veered towards Golu mama's stellar performance in school. What made it stellar and an example to be emulated, was the fact that Niranjan walked eight kilometres to school and back, in rain, in sunshine and in winter.
'How come I didn't know this?' Mak asked himself.
And, Geeta attya and Aniruddha mama remembered how easy it was to follow in Golu mama's footsteps. He had set a high example before his siblings, not just by excelling in studies, but by coaching weaker children of his village.
The night was an eye-opener for the kids. They did realise that their parents didn't preach many things they practised. Sometimes it's enough to just act than talk!

Game for it!

This is one of the first few short stories that I have written for a children's weekly. Feedback, please!

Game for it!

Sharada dragged herself unwillingly from the classroom. She wasn't ready to face anyone; least of all, herself. 'I'm a failure'...the words drummed up in her ears, soon reaching a crescendo. Sharada's face had gone red and her eyes shone with tears, slowly trickling down her face.
When she reached home, she quickly dashed to her room. The small sprint had her huffing and puffing and reminded her of the dismal performance on the school ground. Sharada was not good at sports, but she wasn't mocked on the field either. But, that day she was BAD.
She had finished last in the 400 mt sprint and her long jump...well, let's not even talk about it. Sharada knew the reason, but wasn't willing to accept that her weight had played the spoil sport.
Somehow, from the beginning of this academic year, Sharada grew big. Put it down to her summer quota of hogging chips and not even lifting her finger to swat the flies. Her parents, especially her father, was keeping a strict eye on her. Sharada knew his plans for her and was determined to foil them.
But, she hadn't reckoned with the results of the sports week being e-mailed to parents and so two days later, Sharada was huffing and puffing while trying to keep pace with her father's jog. Sharada's father was a complete outdoor person. He refused to listen to Sharada's pleas that the sports week, physical examination test was over for the year.
“We will prepare for the next year, and the year after that,” he had told Sharada.
And, so every day, Sharada was either jogging or going on a brisk walk. In the evening, she was forced to play ring and badminton or cycle with friends. On week-ends, Sharada was climbing the hillocks, and picnicking under a shady tree.
A month passed and Sharada's groans and moans had considerably lessened. In fact she was able to keep pace with her father while jogging and walking. She presented a picture of healthy glow and cheery happiness.
After her annual exams finished, she surprised everyone, including herself, by signing up for a trek in the Sahyadris. Her excitement to learn and the exercise routine ensured that Sharada didn't lag and chose misery for her company.
When Sharada came back home, she suggested that her father could start a club. A club for her friends who could take up some sport or outdoor activity. Guess what was her father's reaction? He was game for it!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Story Teller

Nell Phoenix, who performed a story and also conducted a workshop in the art for the Pune audience,shares her theories on the art of story-telling

* The English countryside with its castle, church and cave came alive because of your performance today. Why is performance so important for a story?
I am a performer first and so I simply cannot read aloud a story from a book. I first began performing a story for kids when the teacher of my son's pre-school asked me to do something for the class. I asked her 'what' and she said 'tell a story.' So I came prepared with a white sheet to create an impression of winter. I told them the story of Oscar Wilde's A Selfish Giant. They got very involved and the teacher was suitably impressed to refer me to other pre-schools and then primary schools. Children are entranced by images and that's the cure for short attention span.

* You have been hopping from Ahmedabad to Delhi and now to Pune, to share your stories with the Indian audience comprising adults and kids. How do you decide which story will charm the very different audience?
Well, I have a vast repertoire of stories to depend on. What matters most is the space and the mind-set of the audience. In this session, at The British Library, the audience was mostly adults and younger kids, so I had to keep everyone happy. I decided to choose a story in which children could participate, and take adults back to their childhood. This was an informal setting, so I could move around, interacting with the kids. In Delhi, it was more formal setting. I had also come with the impression that the Indian audience might be more reserved, but that was an incorrect notion.

* In India, it is widely believed that the stories for kids should teach them values and morals. Comment.
Not just Indian audience, but people on the whole are looking for meaning in the stories they hear or read. We are by nature, curious, investigative and always looking for a sign. Stories have to establish a human connect and so I would say the lesson or teaching have to be imbibed by everyone on their own. It has to come naturally. What I take away from the story, might be different from the way you related to it.

* What makes a good story then?
A story is considered good, if it engages the audience. If the story is meant for children, then I would say that it should offer balance. They should not go back home with the thought that their world is in disorder. I have often been asked why should children stories begin with 'Once upon a time..' or 'Long, long ago' and end with, 'They lived happily after.' I would like to clarify that these are not cliche. They offer a differentiating point – whatever unpleasant things that occurred in the story, happened long ago. The gore and violence highlight the fact that it is evil and will always be overcome by good. Teenagers prefer something dark and for adults any story that suspends their critical faculty is good.

* Most parents today don't have time to read aloud stories to their children. Do you think story clubs or public performances that involve both children and adults is necessary to keep us more rooted?
Stories have to be shared. In England we have seen a revival of oral story-telling. We have several story-telling clubs; I also started my own club 6 years ago. Earlier, we were booked for four nights a month and now we perform/tell stories almost every night.
I am not against the idea of reading aloud from story books. But, on some nights, parents could keep the book aside and just dig into their memories and share something original. This could trigger an exchange between the two generations and the elders might learn of some incident that took place in school. Some thing that was not mentioned at dining table.

Bride & Prejudice

This is an interview with Shazaf Fatima Haider. --- Debutant novelist, Shazaf Fatima Haider's book, How it Happened is a refreshing take on arranged vs love marriage in Pakistani society.

a) A lot has been written about wedding and its sub-plots. Did you fear that your work might be lost in all the clutter? I was writing for myself at the time, so the ‘clutter’ was not a problem. When I decided to get it published, I looked around for books that wrote about the process of getting married, and whatever I came across was morose and morbid. The ‘raped into matrimony’ or ‘she was a child-bride’, themes abounded. Many people around me talked about the shortcomings of arbitrarily arranging a match based on a few standard externalities, but no one seemed to be writing about it. The focus of my book is different from other books I came across.

b) Was choosing a humorous tone for the book deliberate considering weddings whip up frenzy of emotions? The humor came naturally. I was going through the whole drawing-room process (boy meets the girl and her family) at the time I wrote the book. I was completely sick of the process and I had reached a stage where I was too tired to be angry. When anger dissolves, humour takes its place. Humour helps us minimize and put into place what anger distorts and magnifies. Humour was a fortunate reflex, yes.

c) The Shia-Sunni is the dominant theme of the book. Did you expect trouble with the moral policing? If you think about it, the Shia-Sunni aspect is a pretext for getting the ball in motion. I didn’t want to talk about different sects, I wanted to talk about common humanity – the unity of being a person with feelings and emotions. The only ‘match’ that needs to be made is between similar personalities with similar world views. Since that was my focus, I didn’t expect trouble. And I didn’t get any.

d) The book, refreshingly, doesn't touch on terrorism, Taliban and the politics. Would your future work too steer clear from the stereotypes associated with Pakistan? You know, I might just tackle the stereotypes to explore them. But my second book is also completely free of politics.

e) The book has been labelled as 'another Pride & Prejudice'. Do you agree? How flattering! Well, I can see how the Austen references I’ve put in can remind one of Pride & Prejudice. But there’s no Mr. Darcy – Omer (the boy whom Zeba gets married to) isn’t a central character. Neither is Zeba, a Elizabeth Bennet. I was more interested in Dadi and Saleha and what motivates people to put their loved ones through the rigmarole of what can be a very embarrassing and often demeaning process.

f) Do you think a glossary was necessary in the book? Many non-Muslims might have trouble in understanding the specific terms like Majlis and Istikhara.
I think the people of the sub-continent would understand easily; but yes, there are some terms that could escape those with a limited knowledge of Islam and Muslim cultural life. However, the plot, characters and themes are still apparent even without knowledge of what these terms mean. Moreover, an astute reader can guess what’s happening because while there is no glossary definition, there is plenty of description to allow the reader to orient himself with the situation.

g) The subplots of the book can be adapted for the big screen. Have you received any offers? Not yet. Karan Johar, if you’re reading this: call me! Box The story unfolds through the eyes and ears of Saleha Bandian, younger sibling of Haroon and Zeba whose marriages throw the Bandian household in a tizzy. The conflicting views on marriage – Haroon and Zeba's Dadi dismisses the love aspect, while her grandchildren want to marry for love and shared interests – elicits chuckles from the readers and a sense of deja vu!

A dialogue on cinema

This book review appeared in print last Sunday. --- Name: Talking Cinema By: Bhawana Somaaya Published by: HarperCollins Publishers India Price: Rs 299 Pages: 222 Every Friday, a new God or Goddess appear on the screen and soon enough their faithful multiply. We love, eat, drink and perhaps even pray in Bollywood ishtyle. Going beyond these cliches is Bhawana Somaaya's, Talking Cinema that captures the 'thinking aloud' moments of actors and film-makers, whose work has become the barometer of Indian cinema's history. Most of the interviews were done in early 2000, when Indian cinema was in a flux. And, it's that changing mindset of film-makers and actors, Somaaya hopes to capture in this book. Talking Cinema succeeds in its objective, besides getting the timing right too – we are celebrating the centenary of Indian cinema. The Q & A format of the book might at the outset seem pedantic and prosaic. But, it's not. Most of the questions posed to the actors and film-makers are simple and uniform, but have been answered differently, going beyond the breezy cheerfulness that you encounter in cinema reporting. Somaaya has succeeded in getting the actors to drop their guard; as the interview progresses, their choice of words become more candid, revealing and honest. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan on being asked on the definition of good performance, says, “This may sound like a cliché, but I don't think there can be a fixed definition.... Acting is a complex exercise and works differently for different people. I am often criticized for being Shah Rukh Khan in all my films. My argument is that even if I do bare all, is it about being different or being about yourself? For fourteen years, I have exhibited bits and pieces of me on celluloid. The day I feel I have exposed myself completely and have nothing more to offer, I will pack up. Such a time can be described as creative salvation or it can be called burn-out.” The Q & A format also enables you to begin reading from any page and even skipping some of the interviews, if you are not interested in reading the work philosophy of the actors/film-makers. The only count on which the author could have bettered the book is by widening her choice of interviewees. For instance in the 'Director's Cut' section, Sudhir Mishra or Vidhu Vinod Chopra's approach their craft could have made an interesting read. Only one 'Badhshah' Khan has been featured, with Aamir Khan and Salman Khan missing from 'An Actor Prepares' or 'Character Speak' segment. No one from the regional cinema has been featured, barring Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam (of course it's their work in Bollywood, that's the talking point). Barring these glitches, it's a book to be read, if you want to understand what makes our cinema tick.