55 Fiction

My first attempts at 55 Fiction – comments eagerly anticipated!

Renewal

She winced as he flung the catalog and walked away, slamming the door shut.

“Why try to fill the home when my heart feels so empty?”

Hours crept by, unnoticed. And then he walked in again, her favorite daffodils in hand. Her face lit up as their eyes met.

“Which color should the curtains be?”

Wicked!

“We made our plans months ago, don’t you remember?”

He was right. But how to cancel the dinner invite? She dialed M’s number, still unsure.

“I’m so sorry D, I can’t make it tomorrow…”

“No problem, next weekend?”

She struggled to hide her glee and sound understanding instead. What luck that M had spoken first!

Trust

“I’ll be right here, go in and have fun baby!”

Her heart swelled as he walked away. Soon, he was happily at play. Perhaps she could leave now?

She struggled to concentrate at work all day.

In the evening – “How was your day sweetheart? Didn’t you miss me?”

“But you were just outside Mama!”

P.S. I know – I am hopeless at doing suspense!
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Currently reading…

I was excited to pick up two old favorites from our local public library yesterday. Both books are fairly new, but while I had reserved John Grisham’s ‘The Appeal‘ a month in advance, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jeffrey Archer’s ‘A Prisoner of Birth‘ available on the New Releases bookshelf.

Why so, I wonder? Do other folks share my waning enthusiasm for Archer’s recent narrow choice of themes and slow and (dare I say?) pompous style of writing? Or is the American public simply not as crazy about British authors as most of us in India are? Back home, I read a few random pages from both books to decide which one I’d read first. Surprisingly, ‘The Appeal’ won hands-down. Is Archer losing his magic touch then? I would say yes, particularly since the disappointment of the monotonous ‘False Impression’ is still fresh in my mind. As you can imagine though, for someone who so enjoyed ‘As the Crow Flies’, ‘Kane and Abel’, ‘Honor among Thieves’ and other Archer classics, this is a pretty tough admission to make.

To be sure, the same accusation could be directed against John Grisham too, but I like the fact that Grisham has experimented with different styles over the past few years. I especially loved the warm and funny ‘Skipping Christmas’ from amongst these experiments and ‘The Painted House’ was quite interesting too. And the legal thrillers, though repetitive in terms of theme and treatment, manage to hold my interest for the most part. The lure of Grisham’s unique writing style has not yet worn thin for me. I love the short snappy sentences, colorful character descriptions and caustic interplay of dialogues, especially during his famous courtroom brawls.

So ‘The Appeal’ is what I am going to be reading for the next few days and ‘A Prisoner of Birth’ will follow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Archer will surprise me with one of his famous red herrings this time around though! Will let you know if that happens.

Disclaimer: I agree that there is no basis to compare the two authors, their genre and styles are completely different. I am not attempting a comparison here. It’s just that the two have been my long-time favorites in the thriller category and a few years back, making a choice would not have been easy for me at all. I was simply intrigued by my shifting preferences and hence this post. Now any Archer fans out there who would care to disagree?

A Book Tag

Shruthi has gifted me the tag of my dreams! I am to list and describe my ten favorite characters from literature. Can anything be more heartwarming for a book-lover? Without more ado then, but with a ‘If my choices match yours, it just goes to show we both share great taste!’ disclaimer, let me begin.

Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice)

Rhett Butler (Gone with the Wind)

I am pretty sure these two gentleman would feature on most girls’ lists. In both cases the lure is the thrill of taming a wild headstrong man, the goose-pimply moment when he goes all mushy in love… Picture the rakish Rhett Butler murmuring sweet nothings as he comforts Scarlett after a nightmare. Need I say more?

Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)

Dare I add Scarlett to this list too? Yes, she is selfish and shallow, but isn’t her strength and childlike enthusiasm and can-do spirit infectious? I cry for her each time I read the last page, when Rhett dismisses her with his famous ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ line. And I smile the very next moment when I hear Scarlett say, ‘Tomorrow is another day’!

Sir Percy Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernal)

Father Ralph (The Thorn Birds)

These characters are pretty alike too. Love is painful in these stories, it is deep and strong but unrequited. And so very sweet when finally expressed. Who can forget the last scene in ‘The Scarlet Pimpernal’ where Sir Percy tenderly carries his lady aboard his ship, all misunderstandings and distances between them forgotten?

Jennifer Cavilleri (Love Story)

Love is fun here, it is a young, mischievous and bantering love, yet also a deep and abiding love. ‘Love Story’ is one of those magical once-in-a-lifetime stories for me and I especially love Jennifer with her strength and tenderness, her humour and her zest for life.

Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables)

I am an unabashed romantic, as you can see. But love can be powerful in other forms too, as is seen best in the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series. The magic of Anne’s innocent childlike love melting Mathew and Marilla’s crusty hearts is a joy to read (and re-read). Why isn’t Anne on this list instead? I do love her, but I think I am partial to Marilla and Mathew for some reason I cannot explain.

Susan Calvin (Isaac Asimov’s robot stories)

A lonely woman very similar to Marilla in many ways, Susan is unable to relate to people and finds solace in work instead. There is no Anne to melt her cold demeanour, but her beloved robots are probably of some consolation. Her sharp tongue, razor-sharp wit and caustic humour make Susan Calvin Asimov’s favorite character and mine too. (I assume she must have been his favorite, considering she appears so often in his robot stories.)

Sir Humphrey Appleby (Yes Minister)

One of the most delicious characters ever. Sharp biting sarcasm, Machiavellian political skills and a hilarious ability to confuse and complicate the simplest of situations – Sir Humphrey Appleby rocks!

Malgudi (R.K. Narayan’s work) / Mussoorie (Ruskin Bond’s work)

And I challenge any of you to prove to me these settings are not the most fascinating characters in Narayan’s or Bond’s stories. So there!

I compared this list with the list of my favorite books I had compiled a while ago and was surprised to find many favorites from the old list missing in this one. The one explanation I came up with is that the story is probably the hero in most of the other books.

Take for example ‘A Suitable Boy’, one of my all-time favorite books. All the characters in this book are interesting, nay fascinating, yet no one character makes me fall in love with him/her… food for a separate post perhaps?

Now comes the tough part, I need to tag someone. I have a hunch Priya, Chakli, Chandni and Manpreet would enjoy doing this tag. Would you, girls?

Crossed Connections

6 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi

Sarla Verma hurried over a last minute inspection of the dinner preparations for tonight’s party. She had spent an agonizing week debating over the dinner menu this time. Her friend Leela had had seven courses in her party last Friday. A meal isn’t complete with less than seven courses, she had gloated.

The barb was aimed directly at her of course. Sarla was too adept at this game to miss the significance of that remark. And just because she hadn’t offered Leela the appetizers when she had come in late to the Verma’s last party! Leela had come when most of the guests were finishing dinner, Sarla flushed as she recalled the incident. She’d show everybody tonight though, she promised herself. With a stern admonition to the cook to make sure dinner was ready in time, she swept out of the kitchen to get ready for the evening.

 

7 PM,
The Nair family’s plush flat in the heart of South Delhi

Leela Nair struggled with the pleats of her expensive Kanjeevaram saree. It was getting late but she wanted to look her best for Sarla’s dinner party tonight. After all, Mrs. Singh would be there too. What nerve that woman had, coming to Leela’s home and insinuating that her prized Chiffon saree might be fake! Leela recalled the incident indignantly.

But how her snooty face had fallen with Leela’s biting remark about the seven course meal! And it did not escape the notice of the other women either, Leela recalled gleefully. No one in their posh Delhi circle would let Mrs. Singh get away with serving only one dessert at a dinner party, she felt sure of that. And especially with all the airs Mrs. Singh gave herself otherwise.

But Leela was still puzzled that Sarla had not joined in the general laughter that followed her remark. Come to think of it, Sarla had behaved rather strangely, giving her cold looks and ignoring her for the rest of the evening. One would think she had been insulted and not Mrs. Singh!

And then there was that malicious remark from Mrs. Lodhi, something inane about the quality of the food being more important than the quantity. Quality, indeed! As if her food wasn’t good enough for the likes of Mrs. Lodhi! True, the paneer was slightly burnt, but nobody had seemed to notice. Or had they? Leela wondered.

She had expected Sarla to come to her rescue, but Sarla had been strangely indifferent. At least she didn’t join in the unkind sniggers, Leela consoled herself. But she was slightly miffed at her friend’s uncharacteristic behavior nevertheless.

 

8 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi

Sarla heard the first guests coming in. She took a last look at her immaculately arranged drawing hall before adopting her practiced stance in a strategic corner, ready to show off her new Dhakai saree to the best advantage. The maid hurried to open the door. After all, she, Sarla Verma, could hardly be expected to open the door herself. No, that would never do, of course not, she thought to herself.

Strange woman, Mrs. Singh thought as she walked into the beautiful room and saw Mrs. Verma simpering away in a corner. Why didn’t she come forward and greet her guests like a good hostess? Was she trying to show off her saree? It was exquisite to be sure. Was she angling for some praise? Poor Mrs. Singh was unsure. After the fiasco at Mrs. Nair’s party last week she was afraid to offer even praise. God only knew how these women might interpret it!

She had been trying to praise Mrs. Nair’s saree last week, declaring it a refreshing change after all the imitation Chiffon sarees in vogue these days, but her hostess had unexpectedly taken affront to this innocent remark and repaid her friendly gesture with a stinging rejoinder on her own failings as a hostess.

Naturally shy and timid, Mrs. Singh found it hard to indulge in the kind of power politics she knew these women played. Better stay off the subject of sarees, she decided as she walked into the room and gently greeted Mrs. Verma.

 

9 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi

Arun Nair’s booming voice roared across the drawing room as he pronounced his customary categorical judgments on the state of the national economy. Leela turned away, completely bored. Didn’t her husband ever tire of the same discussions, the same arguments, repeated over and over again at party after party? She tried to focus on the more interesting conversation in the women’s circle instead.

Sarla was holding forth on the abysmal quality of household help these days while Mrs. Singh nodded her head in agreement. Look at her, behaving like a thorough doormat to Sarla, Leela thought in disgust. She was feeling unusually high-strung today.

Mrs. Singh was in fact trying hard to conceal her boredom behind her polite nods. Don’t these women ever tire of discussing the same old topics again and again?, she mused.

Despite her calm demeanor, Sarla was fuming inside. Mrs. Singh was being really aloof, but worst of all, nobody had commented on her expensive new Dhakai saree yet. ‘Oh, what a beautiful saree Leela, is that genuine Kanjeevaram silk?’, she asked in a vain attempt to draw attention to her own saree. She had completely forgotten her friend’s anger at Mrs. Singh’s remark last week.

Leela Nair couldn’t believe her ears. The newcomer’s taunts were bad enough, but here was her old friend Sarla snubbing her in a similar manner. It was too much, really, too much to bear! She had half a mind to walk out of the party but controlled her temper with some effort.

Mrs. Singh observed the exchange of words between the two ladies in horrified silence, thanking her stars that she had chosen to keep mum on the subject.

 

10 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi

Sarla was completely unaware of the cause for Leela’s slighted feelings. Why was she giving her those strange looks? Was she feeling guilty for her remarks last week? Sarla tried to understand her friend’s puzzling behavior. Yes, that must be it, she concluded. Besides, Leela really deserved to feel guilty after treating her so shabbily last week! But she wished her friend would cheer up before the entire party was ruined. It was no fun making biting remarks without someone to back her up!

The mystery behind Leela’s behavior cleared up, Sarla’s furious mind now worked overtime looking for a way to insult the hateful Mrs. Singh. Wasn’t Mrs. Lodhi saying something about Leela being upset over the dessert served at Mrs. Singh’s welcome party? Leela was sure to join in once Sarla baited Mrs. Singh about it. She might even snap out of her gloomy mood that way! Sarla was excited now that she had finally hit upon a good idea.

‘Oh, do have another gulab jamun Mrs. Singh’, she enjoined in a particularly catty voice. ‘And won’t you have another of the rasmalais? I so hope you’ll like our humble spread. There may not be too many items, but I do try so hard to make sure whatever I serve is good. Not everybody does that, you know. Are you sure you won’t like another of these delicious gulab jamuns?’

Sarla watched with open-mouthed horror as her dear friend Leela stormed out of her house. She wasn’t sure why, but something about the look on Leela’s face told her their fifteen year old friendship had irrevocably ended that night.