The Dove on the Pergola – 31st July 2018

This is a blog post about the progress of my novel “The Dove on the Pergola”. The novel is about a young Indian woman, Makshirani, who has lived until she was sixteen years old in a village in Bengal, and who then moves to the big city of Kolkata.

As part of my research for the novel, I plan to write at least a dozen stories to help me ‘see’ the locations and the characters. Probably I shan’t include much of the material in the final novel, but it will have served its purpose, and, I hope, entertained a few readers.

The dove on the pergola - Holi 180731

The festival of colours

“Come here, little honey bee.”

Makshirani ran to her mother, Joti, and cuddled her. Joti smiled. For all her twelve years, Makshirani was still childish. Perhaps it was because her little brother, Sahadar, was only just weaned at two years old.

“You know it’s Holika Dahan tomorrow?”

Makshirani looked up at Joti.

“And then Holi the next day!” She grinned. “I am going to make Banerjee Sahib so wet with my water gun! Pink water!”

“Make sure you treat him with respect, little one. He is your teacher; you owe him courtesy.”

“He likes it, Mami. You saw him last year, laughing and joking, and covered from head to toe in purple. He had purple patches on his face for a week!”

Joti hid a smile.

“It was Holika Dahan I wanted to speak to you about. You know the story, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mami. Lord Vishnu killed the demon Holika in the fire, and saved Prahlada. Banerjee Sahib told us we had to pray to Lord Vishnu to kill the evil part of us so that we could be virtuous people.” She said it with a sing-song tone, as though she had learned it by rote.

“You’re a good girl, Makshirani.” Joti kissed her. “Now, will you take this jug down to Shama’s mother, please.”

“I’m not friends with Shama anymore.” Nevertheless, Makshirani held out her hands for the jug. Joti raised her eyebrows.

“She got me in trouble at school, and then she was rude to me.”

“What a shame! You used to be best friends. Carry the jug carefully, now.”

The afternoon sun was warm. Insects buzzed in the bushes beside the path that led to the village. Rice stood high, green and gold, in the paddy field; it was nearly time for the harvest. Makshirani looked forward to that. There was no school during harvest; everybody had to help gather the crop so it wouldn’t spoil. It was hard work, but when the harvest was good everyone was cheerful, and some of the women would bake sweet treats for the workers to enjoy at the end of the day. Makshirani wandered off the path and gazed at the crop. There were plenty of grains on each stem, and they were good and fat. Provided the weather stayed fair the harvest should be bountiful. Prithvi had blessed them this year.

Makshirani suddenly remembered her errand, and went on more briskly. It wasn’t far to the house where Shama lived.

She put down the jug outside the little house, and called out. Shama’s mother came quickly.

“Namaste” said Makshirani, bowing. “Mami sent me to you with this.” She picked up the jug and handed it to the woman.

“Good! We shall have some treats for Holi then! Make sure you come for your share, won’t you Makshirani?”

Behind her, Shama scowled, and drew her finger across her neck.

“Thank you, Didi. I shall be sure to come.”

Makshirani smiled and scampered away.

The following evening the family walked down to the village where the bonfire had been built. It was little Sahadar’s first time at Holika Dahan and he clung tightly to Joti, frightened by the large crowd of people and the dark night. His eyes were wide and gleamed in the starlight.

Somebody began to beat a drum. The sound was muffled, distant. Sahadar’s face puckered. Makshirani stroked his cheek gently.

The drum came closer. Makshirani thought of Lord Vishnu and how he destroyed Holika. She thought of Shama.

‘Perhaps she didn’t mean to make trouble for me,’ she thought. Her heart beat in time with the rhythm of the drum. Sahadar grasped her finger, and she smiled at him.

‘I persuaded the other girls at school not to play with Shama,’ thought Makshirani. ‘That wasn’t good, was it?’

Sahadar pulled her finger into his mouth. Makshirani gasped as he bit it; his teeth were small but sharp.

“Ow!”

The people next to her turned and stared. Makshirani stuck the injured finger in her mouth. Sahadar rubbed his face against Joti’s breast; he was almost asleep.

And then the drummer was among them. People jostled each other to make a path for him as he walked through the throng, accompanied by an effigy of Holika with Prahlada on her lap.

Makshirani looked at Holika and quaked at her ferocious smile. She shrank away, pressing even closer to Joti.

The effigy was placed on the bonfire. There was a flare of light as a torch was lit.

“Lord Vishnu!” murmured Makshirani.

The torch was thrust into the base of the bonfire. The kindling caught immediately, little flames igniting twigs, twigs setting fire to branches, until Holika was surrounded by fire. Makshirani’s face glowed with the heat.

As the effigy caught fire, there was a wailing sound from the effigy, as though it felt the flames. Makshirani jumped and almost ran away.

“Lord Vishnu, burn away my faults. Help me to do dharma.” She spoke out loud without realising.

Suddenly she knew what she had to do.

Pulling away from Joti’s hand, she pushed through the crowd, around the bonfire, until she found Shama and her family.

“I’m sorry I was horrid to you,” she said to Shama.

“I never meant you to get into trouble,” replied Shama.

The two girls looked at each other.

“Can I tell the other girls we’re best friends again?” asked Makshirani.

Shama looked doubtful.

“You made them be rude to me. They laughed at me because I don’t go to school and can’t read.”

“I’m sorry, Shama, truly I am.”

Shama stepped forward, embraced Makshirani and kissed her on the forehead.

“Alright. Best friends! And I’m coming with you tomorrow when you soak Banerjee Sahib!

Makshirani grinned.

“We’ll absolutely drench him!”

Then she thought a minute, placed her hands together, said “Namaste,” and bowed.

“Namaste,” replied Shama, bowing in her turn.

For a few seconds they regarded each other seriously, then, with smiles of delight they ran to tell Joti that they were best friends again.

 

 

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What Pegman Saw – Silence is golden

 “What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

WPS - Silence is golden 180728

Béatrice Hotel,  Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo | © Noé Diakubama, Google Maps

Silence is golden

We lunched in the Beatrice Hotel. The tablecloth was heavy and gleaming white. Cream curtains with a delicate carmine print covered the window and made the dazzling midday glare bearable.

Priscilla, of the International Women’s Media Foundations African Great Lakes Reporting Fellowship, scowled at the gold rim of her plate.

“I hope you realise this is paid for by wealth from conflict minerals?” she said.

“So, tell me about it,” I responded.

“Where do I start? Miners dying of lung cancer? Their children with birth defects? And all so you can have a cheap smartphone.”

“Show me!”

She furtively passed across some photographs. “Come and see,” she urged.

As she left, she said “I’ll pick you up from here tomorrow, six a.m.?”

I nodded.

As soon as she left, I was on my phone.

I didn’t hear her scream as the car hit her, reversed over her, and roared away.

Friday Fictioneers – Setting the Date

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Setting the Date 180725

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

Setting the date

Here by the lake the air smelled fresher. Swallows shrilled their night-song. Half-seen moths brushed against skin.

“So I guess, if it’s okay by you Mom, we’ll have the wedding in the fall.”

Eva smiled at her son, John, and his fiancée, Elise.

“Can we manage that, do you think, Pa?”

Cornelius blinked through thick spectacles. He thought of his life with Eva. Such memories! The delight of being a couple; Eva’s support when he was jobless; the joy of bringing up a family together.

“I guess,” he said.

Eva slipped her hand into his.

“That’s settled then,” she said.

What Pegman Saw – West Gate Bridge

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Melbourne, Australia.

WPS - West Gate Bridge 180722

St. Kilda Pier, Melbourne, Australia | ©  Paul Huang Google Maps

West Gate Bridge

Victor shook his head as he listened to the Resident Engineer.

“Listen, mates. After what happened to the bridge in Wales, you’re worried whether it could happen to our West Gate Bridge. Well, it can’t. Our best people say so.”

The Engineer glared at the assembled workmen, daring them to challenge him.

Victor spoke to his mates. Old Jack expressed their opinion best.

“Mate, if yer a pansy, don’t work on bridges.”

But the bridge was speaking. In quiet places away from the growl of motors and the clatter of jack-hammers, failing metal first whispered, then spoke, then shouted.

Before work on 15th October, Victor woke his wife Doris early to reassure her. “I was wrong yesterday,” he said. “We’ll be okay. Tell the kids I’ll be home early.”

He marched onto the bridge, straight-backed.

At 11:50 that morning, fifty metres above the ground, the bridge crashed from under his feet.

Author’s Note

This is a true story that happened in 1970. West Gate bridge was under construction and collapsed, killing 35 workers, among them Victor Gerada. It was Australia’s worst industrial accident.

Friday Fictioneers – Fire!

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Fire! 180718

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Fire!

The hazy sun told the story; bush fires were raging, driven towards Warrnambool by a blistering wind. The kids fidgeted in the car as Judy rushed out with photos and the cat. Bruce chucked the document strongbox into the trunk, then sprinted next door.

“Ain’t no good, I’m stayin’. Eighty’s too old to start again.”

A glowing ember struck the window.

“Goddamit, Sam, get in the wagon!”

Sam’s wife, Alice, was wheezing asthmatically in the choking atmosphere.

Bruce grabbed her and pushed her into the car. Sam followed, protesting.

As they roared away, the rear-view mirror was filled with flame.

The Dove on the Pergola – 16th July 2018

The dove on the pergola 180618

Last week, my daughter very kindly offered to buy me Scrivener software for my birthday. According to the Literature and Latte website this is a software package that helps the writer organise all the many different elements that you use when writing a novel. This sounded like something useful, as I’ve found it quite difficult dealing with revision status of both the full text and the notes supporting it (storyboard, scene index, character development etc).

I’ve downloaded the software for a thirty day free trial. This, L&L hope, will convince me that I can’t live without their product and I, or rather, my kind daughter, will stump up the asking price.

I have to say that first impressions are not beguiling. The look of the tutorial is very old-fashioned – at least 20 years out-of-date, with a low resolution font that is not easy to work with. If that carries over to the software itself it will be a major disadvantage. I sit here peering at my computer screen most of the day, and if the text is hard to read I will become tired more quickly. Still, I’ll press on and see what the product can do for me.

In the meantime, dear readers, do any of you have experience with this software? I’d love to hear from you if you do! And if any of you want to look at the software for yourselves, you can find it here.

What Pegman Saw – Finding Out

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Baltimore, Maryland.

WPS - Finding Out 180714

Peabody Institute of John’s Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland  © S. Kalugin Google Maps

Finding out

“Honey, what are you doing?” asked Laura.

Jeff turned from the mirror, his face scarlet.

“Mom! I didn’t hear you come in!”

“Come here, hun.”

Jeff hesitated. Laura’s dress hung loose on him, and he tottered on her high heels.

Laura sat down and patted the place beside her. “Sit beside me, sweetie.”

She hugged him.

“Honey, I love you,” she said.

Then she asked “You’ve borrowed my clothes before, haven’t you?”

Jeff nodded.

“Is it like that TV programme we saw?”

Jeff nodded again.

“Mom,” he blurted, “I feel like I’m a girl, not a boy.”

“Do you have a special name, sweetheart?”

Jeff looked at his toes. “Myleene”

“My, that’s a pretty name.” She drew breath. “You want I should take you to Johns Hopkins, like the girl on the TV?”

“What about dad?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll talk him round.”

She hugged her son again, her heart breaking.

Author’s Notes

Johns Hopkins Hospital pioneered gender reassignment surgery in the USA. However, in 1979 they stopped carrying out such surgery, taking the view that gender dysphoria was a mental illness and should be treated as such. They maintained this policy for 38 years, only changing it in 2017. They now offer a range of medical treatments for gender dysphoria, including surgery.