ETWA | Ch6b: Universe, A Bollywood Movie

Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“Good morning Mani anna! Let me get you some coffee”, Sreeja said, unable to contain her appreciation for the Universe. Help had arrived.

Mani was not a diffident man. Diving right in, he proclaimed to her husband with enthusiasm, “Vineeth, I am telling you. There is no need to worry”. He did not bother explaining how he had heard the news or what he was referring to. Sreeja could not have asked for a better morning.

“We can cure her. Have faith. Give me a couple of days. Once this upcoming eclipse is over, I will find an auspicious time to speak to my guruji”, he said, turning his eyes up to the ceiling in reverence, at the mere mention of his guruji’s name.

“But how can the guruji help?” Vineeth was not sure.  

When Sreeja handed him his coffee, Mani was saying, “…the operative word here is to believe that guruji can help. What he offers is a way of life. It’s not a pill that we swallow that sets our life right. In his philosophy, a solution exists for all of our problems. All we need to do is to find it. And when we are unable to find it, he nudges us towards it.” Mani took a long pause to savour his coffee.  

A godman who could fix Ammu would be just the medicine the doctor ordered.

“A genius like guruji could have owned the world if he so wished. But here he is among us, helping us live our measly lives by solving our mortal problems. That for me is the greatest proof that he is not a fraud. I think of myself as a rational man. I am not going to fall for a swami type who makes the blind see or the mute speak. I have read most of his works. And I think the way of life he suggests could be one of the ways to live a successful life.” Try as he may to make his coffee last, Mani was unsuccessful. Finally, he returned the empty cup to Sreeja.  

“Anyway, I will get back to you as soon as I get in touch with him. Again, don’t worry!” he laughed a hearty Santa Claus laugh as he headed out of the house. 

Vineeth shook his head in agreement. A godman who could fix Ammu would be just the medicine the doctor ordered. With lifted spirits he headed to his room to get ready for his workday. 

Unfortunately, the hope that Mani had instilled in him did not last very long. Barely a day or two had passed before Vineeth found himself deflated. He decided to speak to his mother about the prashnam looming large over his life.

He found her on the balcony, engrossed in a book, “Amma, I wanted to talk to you about Ammu. She has got into some bad company.” 

“What kind of bad company?” Indira was the queen of downplaying her intelligence. 

“It’s a small prashnam. Nothing that can’t be fixed”, he tried to evade her question. 

“But what is this prashnam?” She was a dog with a bone.

“Amma, what have I not done for her? I’ve pampered her too much I think”, he was pouring his heart out. But she was eyeing the finish line. “That’s what you are expected to do as a parent”, she prodded him.

“To pamper her?”

“No, to help her deal with the prashnam”, she said with a hint of a smile. She had flipped that conversation like a masterchef. And just like that it was Vineeth who was being questioned.

“So this prashnam, do you think it’s a prashnam or does she?” she began.

“She doesn’t know what she’s doing, Amma.” Vineeth was flying blind.

“If she doesn’t know, then how do you know?” Indira was being deliberately obtuse.

“You know what I mean, she doesn’t understand that, what she is doing, is wrong”, he clarified.

“But what is she doing?” relentless should have been her middle name.

“How do I tell you, Amma?”, said Vineeth looking for a way out of this conversation.

Sadly there was none. “If you can’t even tell me, how will you help her deal with it?” Indira was gutting him mercilessly.

“Hmmm, she likes girls, Amma”, he recoiled from the sound of his own voice as he said it out loud for the first time.

“Is that all? Actually, girls are easier to like. They are much more sorted than boys”, Indira laughed silently.

“That’s not what I mean Amma. She likes girls. She has been spending time with a girl. My accountant, Vaithi sir, saw her kissing a girl the other day.” Vineeth was now questioning his decision to talk to his mother.

“Oh!” Indira fell silent. “Hmm…kissing a boy would have been worse, no? Or is it easier to explain away kissing a girl? Who knows!” she said to no one in particular after a long pause. 

“Anyway, how are you going to deal with it?” she was doing her thing again. Her thing where she blows hot and blows cold before putting him on the spot. 

“I don’t know yet. But I was thinking we should do a pooja…a ganapathi homam perhaps…to save us from whatever this kashtakaalam is”, said Vineeth hoping his bad fortune could be banished with a ritual.

“Aaanh…”, she said producing a sound that could mean either agreement or disagreement based on the listener’s temperament. “It is pointless to waste money on indoor fires, coloured powders and overpriced snacks. But if you must do it for your peace of mind…”

“I am too old for these things anyway. I have one foot in the grave already. Do what you think is best. I think I will lie down now”, she said ending the conversation in one deft move.

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ETWA | Ch6a: Universe, A Bollywood Movie

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“What can you do, ma? You hug her tight and pray that she doesn’t have bad thoughts. I will also pray for you”, said Sudha upon hearing the news. She was Sreeja’s best friend and neighbour.

She found Sudha’s response to be incredibly calming. It was precisely the kind of response Sreeja was looking for when she rang her doorbell. A practical response though Sudha was not a realist by any measure. She believed deeply in the supernatural, was devout to a fault and inclined to mysticism. She believed and therefore she was. 

Sudha’s response might seem non-committal to the untrained eye but it was precisely the balm Sreeja was looking for. It was the kind of reaction that both her husband and her son were unable to give her. An assurance that Ammu’s prashnam was the result of a larger scheme of things, much larger than her 1400 sqft world. An iron-clad surety that whatever had come to pass was as per the divine plan that ran the world. An unwavering faith that in the end, everything would turn out well.

The unexpected incident, much like a gust of wind on a clear day, had landed her right in the middle of moral outrage territory. 

It had been nearly 24 hours since the prashnam had surfaced, turning her head into Shivaji Nagar during St Mary’s feast. The confrontation with Sam had given her a solid headache. The subsequent late night argument and fitful sleep had only made it worse. She had put on her brave face in the morning but it was her child at the epicentre of this fiasco. The unexpected incident, much like a gust of wind on a clear day, had landed her right in the middle of moral outrage territory. Panicked and surrounded by emotional outbursts, she was unable to orient herself and had lost her way back to love. 

The call with Siddu had stuck a knife in her and twisted it. Her conversation with him had gone as expected though he shouted at her a lot more than she had accounted for. At one point he said, “You are mad. You spoil her silly and then complain that she is going off track. You know nothing of the real world.” Sreeja felt a twinge of resentment as he twisted the knife further with more jibes. “Staying at home has made you rotten”, he had said. He was also her child. He had come out of her. She had not realised when he had taken on the role of her guardian.

By the time the conversation with Siddu had ended, Sreeja was at her wit’s end. Both father and son had blamed her for everything that went wrong. As if they had no role to play in Ammu’s upbringing. As if a solution would appear out of thin air if they argued enough about it. If only father and son would harness the enthusiasm with which they shouted at her, into finding a solution, they would be halfway there already. Maybe we should all just let Ammu live life the way she wants. And fend for herself. Sreeja smirked at that laughable thought. 

When she realised that she was sitting alone at the dining table, smirking to herself, she decided that she had to speak to somebody about this situation. That’s how she ended up knocking on Sudha’s door even though they had decided as a family that this news would not leave the house. But it was Sudha. It was just a matter of time before she got to know. If not from Sreeja, then from their maid or from the atmosphere itself. Both Sreeja’s husband and her son seemed to think that secrecy was the only way forward. Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to find you the peace you’ve misplaced in the house. And everyone knows that you need a calm mind before you can apply yourself.

Justifying her actions thus, Sreeja found herself knocking on the neighbour’s door in the post-lunch lull before the hustle and bustle of the afternoon coffee began, offering up the news. And Sudha in turn opened the door into her sanctum sanctorum, graciously gifting her that merciful short sentence. I will pray for you. 

Sreeja instantly felt better. Unburdening her concerns had made her forget her headache. She felt her vision clear in the knowledge that someone other than her knew the secret. By watching Sudha’s face mirror her feelings, she felt validated. For a fleeting moment, she felt that she was not alone in this. Someone else was listening. 

All along, Sreeja was hoping that Sudha would tell her husband, Mani, about it. Mani and Sreeja’s husband were colleagues, morning walk buddies and car poolers. One half of her hoped that her best friend would keep the information to herself. The other half wished that Sudha’s husband would bring it up with her husband. Of course she knew that if her friend told her husband, she would tell others. But it was a risk she was willing to take. 

Sreeja knew that her husband was drowning in the aftermath of the news. He was flailing in anger, making it difficult for help to reach him. And he would never hold on to her for support. Help had to come quickly, from another man he respected. Mani was the perfect candidate. But if word ever got around that she had made it happen, they wouldn’t call her resourceful. They would call her a manipulator. Sreeja had to be discreet about it. And if things went south despite her plan, she would play her designated role as the helpless housewife.    

The universe is a Bollywood movie. For the most part it is predictable. There’s action, drama, romance… something for everyone, wrapped up into a short time period, and perhaps a packet of popcorn and a loo break. And yet again, the universe did not disappoint. Departing from their daily routine, on the way back from the morning walk, Mani anna walked right into their living room.

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Next Chapter | Ch6b: Universe, A Bollywood Movie

ETWA | Ch5b: What’s Happening Here?

Photo by Sarah on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“You will sit down and finish your breakfast. I don’t want to hear another word”, Papa pointed at the lonesome idly idling on the plate. That’s when I realised that I was no longer sitting at the table. I had no memory of getting up but I was now standing on the opposite end of the table. I had no idea how I got there. I stared at Papa, unable to process.

I sat down as instructed. I focussed on my plate. When did I get up from the table? I remember drowning my idly in chutney, just the way I like to eat it. I remember Papa saying that no boy will marry me. What happened then?

Papa was not finished. Taking my devices away was not going to be enough. 

“You will not go anywhere without one of us with you. You will not talk to those useless friends of yours. You will prepare for your board exams. You will score above 90%. And I will make sure that you have a bright future” he said.

“And you will help out with chores around the house. No more dancing. No more watching TV. I’m done being your slave.” That was Mama. She had returned as soon as Achams got back to our room. 

It was as if at the end of their life, Chetta would give them a certificate of merit for outstanding performance as parents.

I knew from the face she was making that Mama was worried about the impending phone call. Chetta called Amma everyday at noon. It was their ritual. She would tell him of all the little things that happened here and he in turn would talk about his plans for the day. And today it meant that in a couple hours, she would have to tell him about me. I’ve always felt that my parents looked up to him for approval. It was as if at the end of their life, Chetta would give them a certificate of merit for outstanding performance as parents. They also refused to call it my ‘relationship’ with Madhu. They referred to it as a ‘prashnam’, meaning problem. 

“When Siddu calls…”, Mama sounded unsure. “I don’t know what to say to him. I can’t lie to him. Can I? He is so far away. To tell him about this prashnam. I don’t know how he will react.”

I focused intently on my idly, squishing it into a paste, moving it around the plate. The lump in my throat wasn’t letting me eat.

“I mean, when he hears about this, at first, he will definitely get angry and shout at me. Once he calms down, he will perhaps say, I’ll come back and deal with her. I’ll show her what happens to children who go astray. Alle?” she turned to Papa for approval.

“When I think of how Chinnu’s family will take it, ayye! The shame makes my skin crawl”, Papa was worried about my sister-in-law’s family’s reaction. “Imagine us going to a wedding in their family. How will we face them? She has stripped us of all dignity. Che!” Papa shook his head.

It was as if they had forgotten that I was there at the table with them. As if I were invisible. They couldn’t see me and I didn’t matter. 

“What do we do, Sreeja?” Papa sounded desperate. Mama looked up, confirming that we had both heard the desperation in his tone. “We should not have come to Bangalore. I thought the city would offer our children the best opportunities. But I was wrong. It’s ruined us!”

Mama was never without a response. “Shall we send her away? Maybe to live with Siddu in the UK. Better opportunities for her as well.”

“Are you mad? Papa lashed out. “If she does this here, god knows what she will do there. Also, between the home loan and the loan we took out for Siddu’s wedding, we won’t be able to afford it. Who else can we send her to? You can’t send her to my brother. How about your youngest brother? That could be a good option. Let’s think about it a little. I am sure we can find someone to take her.” 

They were trying to wash their hands off me. Palm their ‘prashnam’ off to someone else. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. My tears breached the eyelids and tumbled down to their death. Hopeless. 

I’ve been toying with the same idly the whole time. Not that they were noticing it. But if I didn’t finish it, they would definitely hold that against me. I don’t want to put myself in that position. Not right now. My food pipe was still closed to traffic. I continued to chew on my mouthful.

“You know who I was thinking of? Mr. Roy’s son”, Papa begins and both of them laugh out in magic unison. I look up at Mama and Papa. They seem to be genuinely happy.

“What was his name? Ashok? Or was it Alok? Pch, something like that. Amogh?”, Mama is sure this time. “No no, something with ‘S’, I am sure” says Papa.

“Wait, wait, wait…got it”, it’s on the tip of her tongue.

But Papa beats her to it. “Pratap!”

“Yes, of course! Pratap with an S!” They both laugh again.

“What a name for a pansy fellow! Hijra he wanted to become it seems. After attending IIT—IIM. His entire family’s hopes he wanted to crash. Mr. Roy knew what had to be done. Got him married asap. You remember how he used to open the door and say…”

Papa got off the chair and opened the imaginary door, pushed his imaginary hair behind his ears and said coyly, “Hello Mrs and Mr Nair. Good evening! Your earrings are stunning! And your tie…”

“I can’t!” Papa sat down laughing uncontrollably. Mama was too. 

“You should have auditioned for Chandupottu. You would have been brilliant”, Mama said referring to a Malayalam movie from the 2000s with an effeminate hero.

Papa gets into character again repeating a rape joke from the film. It’s a wordplay joke where the effeminate hero is accusing the rather manly heroine of ‘raping’ him everyday since they met. “Allengilum njan ivide vannappo muthalu Rosy enne ivide ittu peedippikkale?” 

What is happening here? I keep asking myself. They are beside themselves with laughter. They don’t notice when I put the final piece of idly in my mouth, gulp it down forcefully with water and leave the table in tears.

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ETWA | Ch 5a: What’s Happening Here?

Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

I woke up knowing that life as I knew it had disappeared as I slept. So had all the relief I felt in letting my parents know that I liked girls. In its place was a jumble of sadness, anticipation, longing and fear. A heavy dread carried this ball of emotion from the pit of my stomach, dragging its feet all the way to my throat. 

I had to distract myself to survive this day. As I lay there refusing to get on with my morning, I closed my eyes and conjured up Madhu’s lively guffaw that always filled the room around her. I concentrated, rather intently, on her shoulder bone peeping through the collar of her school uniform as she laughed. I felt that new yet familiar sensation starting up between my legs. Just as that pleasant feeling spread like warmth under my blanket, I was pulled back into the present. 

It was Mama. She was rummaging through my things on the study table. What was happening? These days, nothing I hold dear is just lying around for anyone to find. It’s all in the virtual realm where she would never find it. But it was still bothersome that Mama was going through my things. I could feel her suspicion sneaking around my room, slimy to the touch, leaving indelible stains. 

“Woke up already? Your acting didn’t fool me!” Mama broke into my thoughts.

“What are you doing Mama?” I tried to keep my voice from breaking. “Why are you going through my things?”

“It’s a surprise inspection! I’m going to find everything you are hiding.” she said matter of factly.

“Mama, I’m not hiding anything. I told you everything last night!” I barely recognise my quivering voice. 

“If you have nothing to hide then give me the password to your laptop”, she hissed giving me the side eye.

“But why are you going through my things Mama? You can’t do this. You can’t go through my things”. I am not entirely sure if I said this aloud or if it was in my head.

She’s entering the password now. Did I give it to her? I don’t remember. She won’t find anything on my laptop. But that will only make her more suspicious. What is happening here?

It was as if the sense of safety, privacy, security…call it what you will… that I felt at home…that I felt around my parents…was being undone, one slow stitch at a time.

Next, she goes through the books on my shelf, flipping through each of them. She checks my bag and does the same to my school books. She looks calm. She’s in no hurry. As if she were browsing in a library. She’s paying me no attention. I stare at her in disbelief for a while. Achams is not to be seen. I look at the time. She must be having breakfast. That’s why Mama’s here now.

I head to the bathroom because I can’t stand this anymore. I leave the water running and cry my heart out. Why is Mama being so mean? Why doesn’t she care that she’s making me miserable? I take my time in there, waiting to calm down.

But when I come back out, she is still here, looking under my bed. When she hears me, she looks up. I try to look away because my eyes are swollen from all the crying. But I needn’t have. She doesn’t ask me if I’ve been crying. What is happening here?

Mama has always known when I am upset. When I got home after school, she would know how my day was just from an inflection of my voice. It seemed like she had stayed up last night building a stony wall of otherness between us. Now, she was like the Other Mother from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. She looked like my mother but when she spoke, she was cold; sinister even. My mother would never do this to me.

“Hmm, a girl child…she is like a paper cup at parties”, Papa goes off on a tangent.

Achams was done with breakfast before I sat down. Once she left the table, Papa cleared his throat.

“We have always been proud of you. We have told all of your friends’ parents that we trust you enough to do the right thing. We’ve never kept tabs on you…” 

I sniggered to myself at their short term memory. It’s true that they tell other parents that they trust me. But it’s also true that I have had to leave my phone with them after dinner everyday since I started high school.

“Hmm, a girl child…she is like a paper cup at parties”, Papa goes off on a tangent. “It works perfectly well the first time. But if you refill it a couple of times or hold it at the top, the paper loses shape, begins to leak or worse, it will cave. Now, it’s bizarre to try to eat a slice of pizza from a cup, isn’t it? But if you insist on doing that, you will definitely ruin the cup. Instead, if you place the cup down at a table, hold it around the middle and drink from it at intervals like a normal person, it will last you the whole party. What I am trying to say is that, no boy will ever want to marry a damaged cup!”

“But Papa, I don’t want to marry a boy!”, I blurted out.

“You. Will. Keep. Your. Mouth. Shut!” he snarled at me, grabbing my ear and twisting it with each word. What was happening here? I was so shocked that it almost didn’t hurt. They have never laid a finger on me before. Ever. This was all new to me. Perhaps because I was so much younger than my brother or because my parents were older when they had me…I don’t know. But they have never, ever hit me before. But it’s happening everyday now. I feel like I have taken a wrong turn in my life and completely lost my way.

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Next Episode: Ch5b: What’s Happening Here?

The Death of Disbelief

Photo by Alejandro Barba on Unsplash

When I read about the storming of Capitol Hill in Washington DC, I was first overcome by disbelief. There is absolutely no going back from that breach. Soon after, I went down a rabbit hole of news. When I came up for air a couple of hours later, I realised that the gumption white folk feel in America is uncannily similar to how upper caste folk feel in India. As you know, I am supposed to have written Chapter 5 of Every Thing We Are. Instead, I wrote this poem, essentially to collect my thoughts and calm my mind. Hope you will take the time to let me know what you think.

The Death of Disbelief

I know the truth about you, America

Where ‘Black Lives Matter!’ needs to be said.

Your Proud Boys—you’ll never

Say their names—terrorists, terrorists!

It’s their ‘constitutional right’ afterall, 

to storm Capitol Hill.

What great country pits their citizens in corners

Against each other in a grayscale dual,

One maimed systemically, the other unleashed?

When you let them storm the Capitol

You pillaged through my last defense: 

my disbelief. I can’t breathe.

By letting these supremacists occupy Congress

You undermined the supremacy 

Of your institutions; of our institutions.

You belittled democracy today.

You also made a believer of me.

I believe anything is possible now. Anything.

If your superpower is under siege,  

How can I sleep in peace tonight? 

My country, my house, my body

Is no match. It’s up for grabs, 

For anyone with the right 

surname, religion, skin colour. 

You have broken through that thin plexiglass

That separates us from the cavemen 

exhibit at your Natural History Museum.

Society is a construct. Civilization is a myth.

I can see that clearly now.

The fog of decency has lifted.

You are free to sleep with a child

And grow humans for their organs.

Your country, like mine has become autoimmune,

Eating its own people, spitting out hate.

This street is Anarchy. 

Ten houses down is Annihilation.

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ETWA | Ch4b: One Goddess, Maybe More

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

“Let’s check your BP quickly”, Papa looked at Mama for the BP machine. Mama was the one who cared for Achams. “It’s in the cupboard to your left”, said Mama still revving for a fight. She knew perfectly well that Papa would fumble with the machine. “Could you get it for me, please?” Papa said in an appeasing tone.

“Ammu, why don’t you get it for him? I am a useless housewife, what if I break it? I’ll get some water for Achams”, said Mama, leaving the room without waiting for a response.

Mole, Achams called after Mama. “If you are going to the kitchen, could you make me some black coffee, please.” 

Seeing Papa take the manual out of the BP monitor to read the instructions, Achams added, “Or, Sreeja, why dont you check my BP so we can get done with this today?” 

“Mon, why don’t you get me some black coffee? It’s really simple to make. Add half a spoon of coffee powder and one spoon of sugar to boiling water. Go. Sreeja will manage here.” Achams was laying it on thick.

Halfway through the BP check, Mama remembered, “I’ve switched off the gas cylinder. He won’t know to turn it on. Let me just…”

In a heartbeat Papa was heard from the kitchen. “Sreeja, have we run out of gas? The stove is not working.” All three of us giggled.

…she ventures into emotional territory, where she knows he will stumble. 

When he finally gets Achams the coffee, she sends him back for more sugar. She says to no one in particular, “Sreeja usually gets me a slice of bread to dip in the coffee. If you don’t mind… it’s becoming harder to break these habits as I grow older.” When he brings her a cold slice from the fridge she turns to Mama and says, “Mole, is it okay for me to eat cold bread?” Mama is ready to receive this ammunition. “In this weather? Definitely not! What were you thinking?” she snubs Papa, fully aware that Achams approves.  

As we wait for Papa to toast the bread, Mama cools down the coffee by passing it from one glass to another. Achams portions the coffee into the two glasses, takes a sip from one, “Here, you drink the rest”, she offers the other one to me as Papa returns. 

Achams puts her game face back on, “Mone, I think my days are numbered now. My feet feels unusually cold”, she ventures into emotional territory, where she knows he will stumble. 

“Sreeja, you go to sleep. I’ll sit with Amma for a bit,” says Papa as he sits down by the edge of Achams’ bed. Don’t wait up for me,” he adds. It’s nearly midnight when Papa finally leaves our room. He fusses over Achams, fixing her pillow, covering her with a blanket just so and leaving the night light on just in case.

As Achams’ long-winded ruse to diffuse the argument plays out, I feel extremely relieved that the focus is off me. I feel grateful to Achams for this brief moment of normalcy as Papa banters with her at the end of his day. 

Now that my leaden secret was out in the open, I felt overwhelming relief. With the secret cut loose, all the fear, doubt, guilt, anger, shame and frustration that I felt settled, giving way to a sense of calm. 

As I stared into the darkness beyond my pillow, I thought back to the first time I knew that I liked women. Long before I could articulate it, there had been an incident when I was ten. During my annual trip to Kerala, Achams always organised a Chuttuvilakku, an offering to the goddess Bhagavathy. In the evening at the temple, Registrar Kurupettan made these elaborate powder drawings of the goddess on the floor before the offering began. He mixed turmeric and limestone to create a deep radiating red colour. As the drawing progressed, he filled in two circles on either side of the chest with deep red powder to indicate the goddesses’ breasts. He shaped them till they were two-three inches off the floor. In an instant, those two perfectly curved inanimate spheres that leapt off the drawing, made me blush. 

Quickly, I looked around to see how the adults were reacting. No one seemed to notice except me. They were all busy exchanging yearly pleasantries. I shut my eyes quickly but they were already imprinted in my mind. Each time I thought about it, I felt a peculiar sensation; something akin to firecrackers lighting up my body. I didn’t know what that sensation was called back then. 

Of course, I told the Zassies as soon as I knew for sure how to put those feelings in words. But by then I also knew better than to tell my parents that I was once aroused by a drawing of a goddess.

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Next Chapter | Chapter 5a: What’s Happening Here?

ETWA | Ch 4a: One Goddess, Maybe More

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.

Achams is the best but I couldn’t say that about Mama and Papa. Once the early dinner and desktop shifting was done, they retired to their room in silence. But that silence did not last long. I got into bed hoping to still my racing heart. I prayed for a calmer set of parents tomorrow. Achams, as was her routine, turned in when I did. I was just falling asleep when the argument began in the adjacent room. At first, Achams and I hoped that it would subside. In half an hour when it didn’t show any signs of receding, I sat up in bed.

“It’s your family’s culture that she is showing. Your father, that lowly Mr Parameshwaran’s gulf budhi. Dubai kaaran’s one-track mind. Only thinking of how to make money. Do you even care about what’s happening here?” that was Papa shouting about my favourite grandfather.

“No, not really. As you always like to say, she’s your daughter. Fair enough. You deal with her then. How many times did I tell you that we shouldn’t have her? That I do not want to have another child? And what did you say? You said, it’s all in your head. Once you see the child, you will automatically love her. All women do. And that it will be easier this time. It wasn’t, was it? 

I was bed ridden for most of my pregnancy. And I was miserable for months after. Do you even remember this? When I told you that I was having bad thoughts, you said I should quit being dramatic. Of course you don’t remember. You haven’t changed a single diaper or woken up a single night to put either of your children back to sleep. But you were so sure about having her. Go for it then.” Mama was furious. 

“It is just carelessness, what else is it? You had one job. To take care of our daughter and make sure she doesn’t get into trouble. Have you imagined if this gets out? What will our neighbours say? What about our friends? You just have to sit at home and cry. I am the one who has to face the world. What will I tell people?” Papa could be mean when angry.

“Yes, I just sit at home. Maybe this is a magic house that runs itself. I do everything, from setting up your car service to washing your underwear. I am a glorified maid here.” Mama was not going to back down.

Papa often used ‘panchayat’ as a derogatory term, especially against Mama’s intelligence.

“Oho, why don’t you go out and earn then? You said, we should give Ammu a phone for her safety. You said, we should let her commute on her own so she becomes street smart. Now what? See where your lowly panchayat budhi got us? You can get a woman out of her circumstance but you can’t get that circumstance out of her” Papa often used ‘panchayat’ as a derogatory term, especially against Mama’s intelligence.  

“What are you implying? That your family is somehow more cultured than mine? Who exactly do you have in mind? Your brother who quit his decent IAS job to teach useless government school children? Did you mean him? Or your mother who let that low-caste woman desecrate your ancestral home? Is that the cul…” Mama did mean business.

“Enough! Lower your voice. Amma will hear you”, said Papa referring to Achams.  

“Let her hear what I am saying. Let her hear what her son really thinks of her.” There. That was the first sign that this argument was going to escalate.

 “Mone!” came Acham’s voice right on cue. She startled me into action. I switched on the light and turned to her. She was sitting up in bed. She smiled at me gently. Mone! She called out again, her tone urgent; not matching her expression. As Papa ran into the room, Achams clutched the foot of the bed and swung into her performance.

“I felt a little giddy when I sat up. I was going to go to the bathroom… I sat up and I could feel my head spinning so I sat back down… I think I was dreaming that someone was shouting. Now that I am old, maybe I am imagining things.” Achams was a clever, clever woman.

Papa glared at Mama in an ‘I told you so’. Amma glared back, unperturbed.

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Next Chapter | Ch4b: One Goddess, Maybe More

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I owe you, my reader, an apology for dropping the ball on the novel series, Every Thing We Are. I am back on it in the new year. And I can’t wait to get back into the groove. Hope you will still read along. 

As all of you must have heard December was a fantastic month for me. I published my first eBook, The Dog We Stole, on Amazon. Thej and I had planned to get it published in December, no matter what! And I am so glad he was a prick about it. Left to me, I would have dilly dallied.

I’ve been thinking of how writing fiction can pay my bills. Apparently that’s not very easily done. Publishing The Dog We Stole as an eBook was one attempt towards this goal. While I like experimenting with biographies and novels, what I really enjoy writing are short stories. Whenever I have reached out to traditional publishing houses about publishing a short story collection, I’ve been told that there is no market for short stories in English. 

What I want to do in 2021 is to build my own audience. I want to start a newsletter where I will send you one of my short stories to read on the first of every month. At the end of the year, I plan to compile these short stories and publish them as a book. More on this soon. 

Happy New Year!

Subscribe to fictionhead in 2021 for daily fiction.

Many Feats of 2020

The Dog We Stole is available for preorder!

In the middle of a minor family emergency that brought with it travel and a spell of quarantine, I turned 35 in November. In a year like 2020 when the world as we know it came to an end, I feel grateful to be alive and well. In a rare moment of clarity and friendliness, I wanted to share with you some of my accomplishments this year.

  • February: Along with my team, I organised City Scripts 2020—the three-day urban writings festival at IIHS. Pulling this off taught me that even without being a social person, anyone interested in planning and execution could pull off big events.
  • March: With 34 years behind me, I shaved my head. I’ve wanted to do it forever but I waited till it became clear that I wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon. And there’s been no looking back.
  • April: Uncertainty and the lockdown brought with it a build up of nervous energy. I began with the simplest of team body project workout videos. I have kept it up, eating right and losing weight in the process.
  • August: I’m proud to have made the difficult decision to leave a job that I loved. I have often struggled with knowing the right time to let go. This decision really tested me.
  • October: I wrote my younger pup Pathumma’s biography (The Dog We Stole). It started as a fun project on my blog but turned into a 25 episode narrative that’s been read over a 1000 times.
  • November: I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I’ve known the storyline for many years now but I’ve not had the guts to put it on paper. *Drum roll* I started writing it (Every Thing We Are) as part of the novel writing month (#NaNoWriMo). 
  • December: The Dog We Stole is being published on 24 December 2020 as an ebook on Amazon Kindle/Mobile App in time for Christmas. (If you’re planning to gift this book, that option opens up once the book gets published.) It’s now available for preorder! Preorder The Dog We Stole

As I look ahead, I see a lot of writing in my future. But writers need readers. The traditional publishing route feels like running into a wall repeatedly. As a young writer I have a hard time finding new readers because I lack the legacy of previous works. That’s why I am turning to you for support.  

  1. Best support: Preorder The Dog We Stole now! And share the link with your friends.
  2. Next best thing: Sign up to get my writing in your inbox. It’s free!
  3. OR Follow me on instagram (@anjananju) to get updates.

Here’s wishing you and me the strength to make the most of 2021!

Happy holidays!

ETWA | Ch3b: We All Fall Down

Photo by Ramakrishnan Nataraj on Unsplash

Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. My first attempt at writing a novel, this is being written 1000 words a day through November as part of #NaNoWriMo2020. Hope you will read along as I write. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page.  

Mama grew dramatic that very second. She fell to the floor turning in the general direction of the pooja room praying, “Bhagavathy, save my child!” I didn’t think much of Mama being dramatic. She was known to be. I turned to Papa.

“What is the meaning of this?” Papa asked, unsure of his own question. I’ve never known him to be unsure.

“Papa, I like girls”, I said lifting a giant rock off my lungs and letting the lightness of disclosure fill me. “I like girls”, I say a second time with confidence. 

“Not in this house, you don’t”, he said, lunging to hit me. I ducked and he missed. But it was more than I could imagine in my wildest thoughts. Papa, my hero, raising his hands to hit me. My eyes were smarting again. And my ears were ringing as if he had actually hit me.

“Give me your phone”, he said. I complied. No phone, no TV and no Internet from now on. After dinner, I will move your desktop out of your room. Anyway, you have study holidays from now. In the meantime, your mother and I will decide what to do with you. Go to your room now. 

“But Papa…”

“No, don’t call me that, you filthy…” Papa ate a bad word.

By now, Mama had lit all the lamps in the pooja room with an accompaniment of incense sticks. She was picking up her prayer bell when Papa held me by the hand and dragged me to her. He placed my right palm over her head. 

“Promise”, he began, “promise on your mother’s life that you will not do such things from now on.” I stood there, agarbatti fumes waterboarding my nostrils. I didn’t know how to get out of here or to make them stop. Were these my parents? Did I know them to be capable of such drama? 

“Wait! Before you promise”, Mama intervened, “tell me first, how long has this chuttikali been going on for? How long have you gone behind our backs faking bloody dance practice and what not to sleep around?”

I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing. Words like ‘bloody’ and ‘sleep around’ coming out of Mama’s mouth. I’ve never ever heard her speak like this before. I was not even allowed to say ‘damn’ at home.

“Answer me”, she shouted, chiming the bell over her shrill question. 

“A couple of months”, I broke Siam’s rule again.

“Eeeshwara!”, Papa facepalmed, sinking to the floor next to Mama.

“You must have told Zara about this, no? And the others?”, Papa asked suddenly, as if he had just remembered this detail.

I had seen enough of this tacky serial. “No”, I lied.

“Don’t lie”, Amma countered.

“I am not lying. I don’t always tell them everything,” I lied again.

It felt so strange to lie to my parents. I had no experience with this kind of trouble before. Any kind of trouble actually. No wonder Zassies thought I was a kiss ass. This was all new to me.

“Good”, Papa’s face showed an uptick for the first time this evening. “So no one other than you and her know about this?”



I just wanted this to end. 

“What will I tell your brother? He will definitely say that it’s my fault, my carelessness that this happened to you. Did you stop to think for a second how your brother would feel when you were fooling around with this nashicha…” Now it was Mama’s turn to swallow a mouthful of bad words. 

“Who will marry you now?” she let the water works take over. 

“Calm down, Sreeja. This is our fate, nothing can change it.”, Papa consoled her.

“Is she Malayali?”, Papa couldn’t but ask. “No Papa. She is Bangalorean.” Mama started another string of prayers.

“Yes, but originally from where?”, Papa was a man on a mission. “Born and raised here in Bangalore.”

“Hmm, what’s her full name?”, he wouldn’t relent. 

“Madhumita Swaminathan”

“Brahmin then.”

“Hmm”, I said, my first ‘correct answer’ of the evening.

Bingo! That response seemed to appease them enough to let me go.

“Freshen up and come back in 15 mins. We’ll have dinner early. We have to move that computer out of your room tonight. No more Internet for you.” Papa warned me, again. 

I was so listless as I sat on my bed that I didn’t notice Achams walk across the room to the door, until I heard her. 

“What’s the commotion there? Are you playing the Vanambadi serial on Asianet?” she called out to no one in particular.

“Alla Amma. It’s err… nothing” Papa fumbled.

“Don’t lie to me, mone. Was someone here crying then? I thought I heard some background music I recognised well. Like bells ringing. Must be the serial, no?”

“You must have imagined it Amma. The TV is not even on. Dinner will be ready soon. Why don’t you freshen up?”, Amma was quick to step in to pacify Achams. 

“Okay, I’ll be out in five minutes”, she said, shutting the door gently behind her offering me some much-needed privacy.

Achams walked past me to her chair by the window. I logged into Zassy and typed in the latest code of choice—emoji. Kissed Madhu at Juice Centre. No phone, computer. Much drama. Help.


A second later, Siam responded. 🙊🤝👮⛖💪📞👄🍭

Don’t say anything. Don’t agree to anything. They’ll interrogate you, just don’t answer. We’ll find a way. Stay strong. I’ll let Madhu know, don’t worry.

I looked over at Achams who had gone back to reading, completely dismissing how she had just played my parents. She was the best.

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