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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Sunday Long Reads: Of faith and religion, doll diaries, the lure of the world wide web, and more

SPECIAL TO THE EXPRESS: Their work was a bright spot, making it to literary-award lists and creating standout OTT shows and theatrical productions, in the bleak pandemic year that went past. From writers to filmmakers to theatre directors, in this special fiction issue, we bring you a selection of short stories to start off the year.

January 2, 2022 10:24:56 am
eye 2022, sunday eye, pushkar, short story, indian express newsThe ancient city of Pushkar was spread around a serene lake, temple bells and incense filled its streets, and the fragrance of roses swirled in its air. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

Our Gods and Goddesses

The city of Naples sprawled by the Mediterranean, lively with Christmas, bustling with life. The sun gleamed on its cobbled streets, the oranges shone bright on the trees, and its sea sparkled. This was a day after Christmas, and we were on our first family holiday abroad, after two years of being locked up in our home in England.

We drove to nearby Pompeii, a city that was buried for 1,700 years under volcanic ash. Where men, women and children had died a slow death in their homes. Like us, these ancient people, too, had had nobles and ordinary men, the virtuous and the immoral, the rich and the poor. And gods and goddesses. We walked down the empty stone-paved streets which, thousands of years ago would have bustled with life, like Naples today. An old guide, Antonio, took us around and said, “Pompeii’s gods and goddesses were not different from those of the Hindus.” He showed us a temple of Venus, with marble mosaic floors and frescoes made from vegetable pigments, depicting scenes of love. “You know, they dug out a statue of goddess Laxmi in Pompeii a few decades ago. Venus is the same as Laxmi, you know?” he said. I wasn’t too sure about Venus’ connection with Laxmi but let him carry on. In another street, Antonio showed us a small stone temple of fertility, and said, “Look, the lingam, the Hindu symbol of creation.”



SHORT STORY The young man and the sea (Getty Images)

1. Mary woke up with the broadest of smiles this morning.
2. If you know Mary, you’ll know why Laranse is suspicious of her smile.

Mary had spent all of her childhood dreaming of getting the hell out of the little big fishing village, one that housed the island’s most ancient inhabitants. Its proud men and women, wore it like a badge of honour, their ownership of both land and sea. No other people could claim what they could, they could bend the laws of a most powerful nation that had in its possession no less than nuclear weapons. Them, they had done it. No coastal laws meant for others applied to them; they had established first claim over the seas, and her sands, and the proud nation had tucked its tail between its legs and allowed them to claim it, even if sometimes it looked the other way when the not-so-friendly neighbouring nation’s navy shot their men down for trespassing in disputed waters.


Doll Diaries

alankrita shrivastava Be my BFF. (Source: Getty Images)

I opened my eyes in a red-and-white stocking. I was Ruhi’s Christmas gift from Ruhi’s Papa. Ruhi didn’t love me immediately. In fact, she just threw me into a basket with a bunch of other toys the same night.

I made a wish… that Ruhi takes to me. And that we become inseparable. I had heard about wishes in the toy store, from the Fairy Doll. I didn’t know how badly I would need the wish.

Night after day after night, I was stuck in the basket. While the other toys grumbled or were hopeless, I knew in my heart that my wish would be granted. I was on top of the basket and whenever Ruhi passed by I tried to give her my brightest smile.

One day, Ruhi’s Papa picked me up and placed me on Ruhi’s baby desk. But in the evening, Ruhi, without a second look, just threw me back into the basket.


The Purchase

daribha lyndem The lure of the neon lights. (Source: Getty Images)

Out of the smooth matte cardboard box Phukan gingerly picked up the cold metal slab with the shiny glass screen. He turned it in his hands and his reflection stared at him. With his thumb he pressed the side button and his face glowed green as the phone read “Welcome”. He tapped on the screen and his movements belied an unsurety that permeated every aspect of his life. He always hesitated, even at work, when he laid brick on the gooey grey slush, a mechanical operation he had been conducting for 10 years. He followed the instructions, marvelling at how this phone was different from the clunky qwerty key mobile phone he had been using.

“Get ready and come meet us in the field,” the sms read. 


Return of the King

close-up stage microphone with blurry lights in the background For the heart. (Source: Getty Images)

Elvis Presley had died in 1977 and no one could stand the idea of him being resurrected by a South Indian man. Now, on the cusp of 2022, Karthik intended to change that. Find out how in this new short story by writer Lindsay Pereira, whose critically acclaimed debut was one of the best books of the year gone by



photograph, family photograph, family, nostalgia, chhobi, what is a 'chhobi', death, dealing with death, short story, shorty stories, Eye 2022, Sunday Eye, indian express news Our home was too small but we needed her to be close for my daughter, Ruki, and for us. A narrow lane runs between the two buildings and Mum-mum and her baandor (monkey) granddaughter spent long afternoons. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

She has drawn lines on the photograph.
“Ruki, why have you placed Mum-mum behind bars?”
“No. She’s outside a window.”

I take a step back and consider my mother (1998, Darjeeling, “Don’t get my double-chin”). My brother had quickly taken this picture of a photo from an album, and a small part of the image actually had his shadow on it. It falls on one side of her forehead and hair. It makes them look darker.

“Why is she outside the window?”



What takes down a bull elephant in a single bite?

sunday eye, ranjit lal The shikra: diminutive but fierce (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

It’s all very well to weigh five tons and show a bit of attitude, to swagger around, but frankly that’s not terribly impressive. With that kind of bulk what else would you do? What is impressive is when you’re around 15 milligram, maybe, and show the same aggression as the behemoth. I’ve discovered that some of my favourite creatures are these relative tiny-tots who punch way above their weight, often regardless of the consequences.


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