Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Two Guyanese Storming into the Movie World

Two Guyanese Storming into  the Movie World
By Ramesh D. Kalicharran

Veteran Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean actor, Mahadeo Shivraj, is producing Dr. Churaumanie Bissundyal’s Ek Chameli Mali Ke Liye (its English name A Jasmine for a Gardener) into a movie unprecedented in the Caribbean, bringing to life the values, music, tears and laughter of people of Indo-Caribbean descent. Though the movie is written in English, it resonates with Hindi cadences, resuscitating seven old Hindi film songs to unparalleled beauty, crowning the talent of all people of Indian descent. The movie will be shot mainly in Guyana, showcasing landscape beauty, monumental buildings, and the social fabric of the country.
            The movie announces a novel and dazzling motion picture in the panorama of the movie world, merging the Hollywood and Bollywood approaches into a distinctive Caribbean genre. At first glance, one can sense the Aristotelian design of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense and mystery thrillers courting the song-and-dance opera style movies such as Kashmir Ki Kali, Sangam, and Devdas. With fresh strength and deliberation, it revives dialogue as an important ingredient of drama so that action cannot be superfluous and ineffective. In this way, plot and characterization are fulfilled so that the movie pulses with colour, emotions, delights, and landscape beauty.
            The movie centers on the two characters Neetu Raghubir and Ravi Devdas, showing their hidden fears, their needs, their quest for a higher world, and their labour to find a balance between the material world and divine. Neetu, a medical student in New York, becomes tired of her parents’ domineering hammer over her, their boast of wealth, and their rigidity for social success and big life. As a reaction, she quits her studies to challenge her parents then turns to music, an offensive thing to the Raghubir family. Her mother Sharda, appalled at her new path, asks her to return to Guyana for a short holiday. When she arrives in Georgetown, her father Sukul (a Guyanese tycoon) commands her to marry his young friend Govind Somrah, a multimillionaire owning more than a score saw mills and trawlers.
            On meeting Govind, Neetu sixth sense tells her that this isn’t the man for her, that Govind only promises a life of luxury, jewellery, and extravagant travels. Though basking in splendour of wealth, he cannot access the simple beauties of the world, cannot hear the music of the wind, see the glory of the moon, or sense the passion of the stars. Then, one morning in the Botanical Garden, after an incident, Neetu meets the gardener Ravi Devdas, a man of music and a seeker of higher planes. Sensing his quest for true happiness, she falls in love with him. Here the movie takes an acute turn, brooding conflicts and crises that will fill scenes with questions, guesses and anticipations, underlining the plot of a wealthy girl going crazy for a poverty-stricken man.
            The story meanders into a bigger twist when Govind’s true character begins to unfold, revealing the murder of Pinky Gajadhar. In a back story, before Neetu’s arrival in Georgetown, to get Sukul’s wealth, Govind, as he’s doing to Neetu, tries the same trick with Sushma. The high point of the story puts the hair to stand on end with chattering teeth. Sushma finally gets a nervous breakdown. Then in a blood-curdling conspiracy, Sushma is treated by her uncle Dr.Suraj Gopal, a psychoanalyst. To keep Sushma as a nervous wreck with hallucinations, someone pays Dr. Suraj millions to treat her with dangerous drugs. But one day in a burst of terror, Sushma escapes from Dr. Suraj in an action-packed scene paralleling the best Hollywood thriller movies.
            The plot suspense of the movie becomes lurid when Inspector Sunil Singh takes center stage. When he gathers adequate evidence of Pinky’s murder and Sushma’s rape, the movie explodes into a drama surpassing any action thriller.
            The story, however, has not unfolded simply as this. Many things will not be made clear until the end, for instance Sushma’s rape, Govind’s nature, Ravi’s married status, and Inspector Sunil’s police game. The movie, though iridescent with humour, drama, action, songs, dances, family message, and cultural mosaics, forges a new genre of suspense model peculiar to the best stories written by Agatha Christie and Perry Mason.
            Finally, the story balances protagonist with antagonist, explains the deeper side of each character, links characterization with plot, and shows the interrelation between the psychological, social and spiritual aspects of the world. In a nutshell, this is a movie that seeds a new era to showcase the best talents of the Caribbean with respect to writing, acting, directing, and producing.
            Presently, Shivraj is casting and filming in Guyana. This is indeed an achievement for both him and Churaumanie Bissundyal.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Game of Death

This is a poem I wrote in 1993 when all doors were closed to me as a writer. When I wrote this poem,  I was sick with fever at the point of death. At that time it was raining  torrentially in Guyana, and I was living in a bottom-house shack flooded with knee-deep water.  My ground bed was soaked with flood water, so that I had to sleep on a makeshift bed of ropes. In my struggle for life, I had compared my battle with a game of cricket, as the god of death approached me to take me away. I won in the end. It was a contest of mind over matter.
Contact this writer at guyind@rcn.com

Game of Death
By Churaumanie Bissundyal

I lay suspended on a sling of ropes,
hung from ceiling to ceiling,
I couldn’t sleep on the floor:
it was knee-deep with water.
It was raining, a flood was all over,
the trenches overflowed with stench,
snakes and eels in front of my door.
Roaches and rats abandoned their quarters,
migrating to creases in the ceiling.
My books and other things floated sadly before me.
My room was a cemetery of stench and putrefaction.

I was dying with chickenpox fever,
entombed in a matchbox cellar.
And as I was  dying,
(body ploughed all over with sores),
I remembered Marxist prophets
as they chanted mantras for salvation,
quietly filling their purses and living in mansions high.
This was their proletariat revolution, I thought,
from each according to his work,
to each according to his needs,
(a Socialist gyaan),
for even the rats and roaches
sought higher places of habitation.

In the middle of the night when all lights were gone,
I tried to look at my hands,
an eternity of darkness filled my eyes.
Everywhere was endless death and terror.
Across the road, a woman was shrieking,
her husband had died.
In the rain and thunder, I heard a mother wailing,
her newborn had made her last cry.
I guessed that my number was near,
the Ogre of Death was standing at my door;
he stood watching me:
four days I was bereft of food,
four days besieged by fear.

I heard the frogs croaking
and thought that there was yet life in the world.
I tried to move my legs,
but they had no strength for the putrid water.
Then I closed my eyes
and started my battle from a different plain.
I began moving away from my darkness,
going back long ago where I had wept and failed,
where I must play the game again
to spurn the Ogre of Death away from my door.

I was the last batsman of my side
to face the wrath of the demon bowler.
His pace was hostile,
my team was shattered,
their faces hanging in remorse and humiliation.

The spectators were perched in the fowl-cock trees,
the crows flew high in the sky,
circling and freezing for carrion.
This was a game of death;
I was the last hope of the sad faces watching,
one bad stroke against the demon bowler
and that would be the end of the game.

In two overs we must make twenty-and-seven runs,
a tall order for a tail-ender.
My average was zero in ten games.
I was no contender for the demon pacer.

The sun was shining harsh in the sky,
sheep were grazing amidst the fielders.
The pitch was bumpy with kneaded rice-dust,
my heart was pounding with a sense of failure.
I took my guard, nervous of what I was doing,
the umpire giving directions
and then nodding in terror.
I looked at the fielders preying upon me
like hawks ready to devour;
their eyes were resolute to get me out,
impatient for their victory hour.

The demon bowler was on his mark to bowl,
the Ogre of Death was yet standing at my door.
I was sweating profusely with a dying breath:
I knew that this was my hour.

The umpire signalled and the bowler started his run, 
steaming with large, rapid strides.
His face was resolute with aggression,
his tall, huge figure looming like a giant.
He reached the crease, jumped and bowled,
the ball dropped and sped
and got me clean bowled.

The Ogre of Death at my door,
his face stern with ugly laughter,
made anxious steps to where I lay.
He took his shears to cut me down
and then to drag me away.

The fielders rose with one voice in the air
and appealed like a vicious predator.
The umpire ruled not out,
the bowler had bowled a no ball.

The Ogre of Death cut the ropes and I fell in the water.
“Get up and come with me,” he ordered.
“Your mission among the living is over.”

“No,” I cried. “Go away, you wicked sucker.
Even death cannot remove me from this torture.
I must live to prove my worth and power.”

The bowler walked back to his bowling mark,
fierce with anger.
The fielders crowded around,
the bowler began the long run of his race.
He reached the crease,
jumped and bowled,
the ball was pitched short, flying to my head.
I ducked from the missile,
the ball took an edge from my bat and flew high in the air.
The man at long leg was under it;
he never missed a catch, so it was said.
The spectators shook their heads with tears in their eyes.
This was the end of the game, they said.

The Ogre of Death looked at me in the water.
Fish and snakes swam around to say their good-byes.
“Get up,” he ordered again.
“I am an official who has no sentiments for the dead.
Your time is up and with me you must come.
Your purpose of the dead has now begun.”

“No,” I said. “With you I will not come.
On this earth my mission is not over.
Illness and hunger are no match for me.
I am a hero of implacable power.”

The ball was soaring high in the air,
comfortable under it was the fielder.
It was dropping lower and lower,
the spectators began leaving.
As it was dropping in the fielder’s hands,
a sheep looking for greener grass,
ventured between his legs.
In surprise, he scrambled in a start,
the ball spilled out of his hands.

In the heat of this moment, we made two runs,
twenty-four runs away from the winning total.
The spectators began coming back,
there was still life in the game.

The bowler walked back to his mark
and, like a furious bull, he started his run again.
He reached the crease, jumped and bowled,
the ball was pitched on the offside,
the slip fielders like a broad net waiting.
My eyes were too weak for the speed,
but I swung my bat with all my courage.
I heard an impact,
then I saw the ball rolling and hopping
speedily along the covers.
A fielder was chasing after it;
the pace overpowered;
the ball rushed into the boundary for four.

I saw dried cow-dung flying in the air,
Little boys throwing them and laughing.
There was a great cry of jubilation,
the spectators were dancing in the fowl-cock trees.

The Ogre of Death summoned his attendants to pick me up,
but I kicked them in their faces
and told them to go away.
“You have no claim on me,” I said.
“I am truly a living power of this day.”

We were now twenty runs away from the score,
I began feeling myself a champion.
An omnipotence suffused me,
and I told myself that I must win the game.

The next ball I played defensively,
the ball rolling back on the pitch to the bowler.
“A perfect bat,” the spectators cried.
“You are our hero. Keep your head and mind.”

The bowler began to show signs of nervousness,
there was no more zeal in his speed.
In a long run he reached the crease,
jumped and bowled,
the ball flew like a missile in a full pitch.
I saw the red apple coming to my left shoulder.
I swung at it: a glorious shot it was,
the ball took the leg-side field
and hopped into the boundary for four.

The next ball I played in defence,
the crowd roaring with approval and joy.
The fielder began spreading out,
for now I seemed a great terror.

It was the last ball of the over,
the crowd was shouting for me
to take a single to face the bowling again.
The bowler cut his run and bowled.
It was a good length ball on target,
pitched on the middle stump.
I leaned forward and stroked it gently to mid-on,
the fielder running in to take it,
an easy single was made.
The crowd roared in applause.
I felt my body surging with  power.
The field quickly changed for the next bowler,
a burly man, stronger than his predecessor.
In his hands the ball looked like an awara seed,
a giant this bowler was
with a long run-up of ferocious speed.

His first ball was a quick one,
pitched on my leg side;
it beat the wicket-keeper
and raged into the boundary for four.

The captain reinforced the field
and cautioned the bowler with tense gestures.
The bowler took a shorter run and bowled again.
In my surge of confidence I went for a big drive.
I missed.
The ball hit my front pad.
The fielders rose in a confident appeal.
The umpire looked at me for a second.
My heart pounded in a blast of fear.

The attendants of the Ogre of Death
pinned me down in the water
to get a grasp of my hands and legs.
I kicked them in their faces
and cursed them of their evil.
“Get away from me, you dogs,” I said.
“I am the indomitable of this region.
Death is a weakling before me,
since I am the significance of the living.”

The umpire looked at me again,
the crowd was in a stress of silence.
Then there was a burst of celebration
when the umpire ruled me not out.

The bowler took his long run again,
jumped up like a Kung-fu fighter and bowled.
Like a thunder the ball was pitched short
and rocketed to my head.
In a wild burst of instinct,
I got on my back foot and swung my bat.
I heard a pleasant sound of connection,
the ball soaring high in my hook-shot.
It sailed over the fowl-cock trees
and dropped into the pasture beyond the boundary.

The blow sent the fielders scared,
the captain pleading to the bowler.
He strengthened the offside again,
the bowler came steaming in with his next ball.
He pitched on my off stump.
I swung my bat with all my might.
The ball took an edge and beat the slips,
rocketing into the boundary for four.
The crowd exploded in jubilation.
One more run to come with two more deliveries.
Limbs came tumbling down from the fowl-cock trees,
the spectators cared not for injuries.

The next ball I played quietly, no run added to the score.
The captain strengthened the field like hawks around;
the bowler now took a shorter run
and pitched on my middle stump.
I stepped forward and drove at it.
I didn’t get to the pitch,
an awkward stroke it was, with an edge to mid-on.
The fielder came in fiercely, got the ball
and threw it at the wicket as we tried to complete a run.
It hit the stumps, the fielders appealed in jubilation;
they were certain that I was out.

The Ogre of Death came in to assist his attendants.
But I took the rope and began beating them.
I was desperate man fighting for life:
to refute Death I was determined.

The fielders appealed again.
The square-leg umpire reviewed the crucial moment.
He hesitated for a while.
His finger was going up, then it came down,
and he shook his head.
“Not out,” he said, and that was the end of the game.
The Ogre of Death looked at me solemnly,
thinking of my strength and resolution.
The rainstorm was now over
and daybreak came with the shining sun.

“Get away from me,” I told my assailants.
And they stepped back cowardly to my door.
Then they disappeared in the howling wind
and Life came and embraced me with joyous cheers.

Caribbean Moon, Indian Bride--Part Eleven

 Click here for Beginning of Story
Continued from Part Ten
When Arkah heard Morris’s story about Savita, softness and sympathy clouded his eyes. He said to Morris, “Can I help her in any way, like giving her some money?”

Morris bared his teeth like an enraged jaguar. “What? What is the matter with you, Ark?”

Arkah threw back his arms on the sofa. “We had nice times, you know. She was the woman who had given me the first taste of life. . . ” He trailed out into silence, memories inundating him. The day when Bansi had asked him to go to Redeemer Corner to buy a second-hand Ferguson tractor came back to him, Redeemer Corner a village on the Essequibo Coast. Eager to accomplish Bansi’s request, he crossed to Rika and boarded the steamer, Toucan, choosing a seat at the stern on the second storey.

When the steamer blew its signal for departure, a teenage girl in a pink dress came and perched on a stool six yards away from him. She seemed to be immersed in her own world, her face sombre yet beautiful with bright eyes. Arkah wondered whether she was Portuguese but her thick black hair, neat cheek bones, and full lips made her a facsimile of the Sindhi actress Sadhana. Yet, her body, slim and lithe, would say she had a yearn to be like Aubrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

She looked prettier when the wind dispersed her hair. Arkah wanted to say something to start a conversation, but when he saw the cross look in her eyes, he averted his eyes and pretended study of the aftermath streams, swirls, and ruffles of the vessel’s propellers. He loved to sit here and watch the steamer moving between the islands of the Essequibo River, leaping waves yielding to placid streams, mud-coloured water becoming coffee-hued, sun-capped furrows melting to gleaming fleeces.

Soon the sun disappeared, the steamer lights came on, and the wind blew harder. The Sadhana-like girl took out her make-up kit from her handbag and powered her face, brightened her lipstick, and darkened her eyelash. Arkah watched her with covert eyes through the gaps of his fingers. She was a beauty any man would want to gaze at.

The ship made a sudden swerve and rendered its stern to a squall that had been developing, blowing up the hem of the girl’s dress. Trying to cover her legs back, her handbag fell out of her hand, papers and notes flying out of it. Anguish, distress, and desperation seized face when she saw twenty-dollar notes fluttering out of her bag and whirling and zooming toward the bars of the rail to seek freedom in the river. She could not go after them since her hands had to stay on her dress.

Seeing her plight, Arkah rose and scrambled for the notes. He retrieved all except one that had flown over his head and wheeled into the sky like a kite losing its twine.

He led her to the cabin, where the wind could not assail them. Torn between relief and affliction, she stared at him speechless, her eyes and throat rolling. He put the notes back in her bag and dropped himself on a stool. She, too, flung herself on a stool, glowed in silence for a while, and said, “You save all the money me work foh three month.”

His forehead furrowed. “You earn a lot. What work you do?”

            “A floral designer.”
            “Then you’re a celebrity.”

            “Me is not a celebrity. A celebrity not going to work hard like me foh the little me get.”

            “The little you get?”

She smiled wryly. You think me has a golden spoon in me mouth, eh?’

            “You have more than a golden spoon. You have diamond stars in your eyes.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Me accustom to sweet talk like that, you know.”

            “I can see that.”

            “You belong to Essequibo Coast?”

            “No. Hoogenheim Island.”

Excitement twinkled in her eyes. “Me hear than down there have plenty ah flowers.”

He shook with reproach. “Flowers? The only good thing you can see in my island is flowers?”

She sucked her teeth and shot him a look of equal reproach. “Why does many men always jumps back when they hears woman talking about flowers?”

            “But Hoogenheim has better things than flowers to ask about.”

She clasped her lips in assertiveness. “Me is a floral designer, you know.”

            “Oh,” he said, sinking into conjecture. Perhaps, he thought, that the flying twenty-dollar notes had a connection to her floral design sales. And though he had no interest in her work, only a yearning to hear her speak, he asked her about the things she made. Her eyes luminous with pride, her fingers fluttering, she embarked on a dense lecture on vertical, crescent, and oval arrangements. Then, after explaining how she would make her designs with foam, glue, pins and sprays, she sank into a gloomy exposition of bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, and centre pieces.

Arkah restrained a yawn, feigned enthusiasm, waiting his moment to drop anchor and fish in her beauty.

            “What village you live?” she asked.

He told her, his mind severed from his words, his thoughts wandering into a realm of topaz feelings; and she, a crystal galaxy, raining down on him, a medley of splendours. Her face, hands, tresses, lips, the heavenly lakes in her eyes, the angel swans swimming in them, lulled him into a world of India and more than India. She charmed him into a garden where the film world of Bombay transcended squalor, poverty and disease to express ecstasies caressing fairies of Indra’s celestial raaj. From their lyrics, music, poise, colours, and dances, mortals like Madhubala, Nimmi, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman, Sadhana, Saira Banu, Mala Sinha, Meena Kumari, Geeta Bali and Viyanthimala would shed their frailties, platitudes, and blemishes to blossom into immortals like Urvasi, Sabz Pari, Menaka, Rambha, Tilottama, and Laal Pari. Beneath the histories, lamentations, and tyrannies of India, the earth would quake and open to spout founts of iridescence to adorn constellations with imageries in Vedic, Puranic, Persian, and modern poems. The movie world, then, would create parallel heavens of Krishna dancing with Radha in peacock gardens, of Shiva sitting in trance on cloud-kissed mountains, of chandani-bedecked Sita blushing before Shri Raam, of Shah Jahan pouring love to Mumtaz Mahal. For Arkah and the islanders, movies like Aan, Arzoo, Sangam, Guide, and Milan would drop upon them like soft rain then harden into permanent jewels that would never crumble into transitory dreams. In their sundering from India, whatever beauty or symphony they drank from the silver screen would become the corpuscles of their real world to combat miseries of rice fields, cow pastures, and the sudden blow of fate. Now the Sadhana-like woman had awakened in Arkah the golden spirit of India created by writers, lyricists, actors, musicians, and directors.

            “Me name Savita,” she told him.

            “Oh,” he said, and told her his name.

She dropped her eyelids and put a hand to her chin. “Does the place you live get plenty flowers?”

Ruffled by her question, he swallowed a lump of air. Then trying to find something to say, he said, “Yes.”

            “Which part?”

He felt his stomach gurgling, his mind blank. Then something occurred to him. “Oh, we have a place called Kumbha Pasture.”

She stared at him, questions simmering in her eyes. “Kumbha Pasture?”

He nodded and told her that Kumbha Pasture was a ten-acre plot of land taken up by ponds, trees, and clusters of wild flowers. When Mohan and Sunaina, Arkah’s great grandparents, died, Murli, Arkah’s grandfather, buried them on the bank of a pond overhung by bamboo trees. To keep a connection with India, he engraved the word “Kumbha” in Devanagari script around the tombs then planted marigold flowers on the lines to define the letter. Later, when Murli and his wife Soorsati died, Bansi buried them on the bank of another pond and planted oleander flowers around their tombs to shape the words “Prayag,” “Haridwar,” “Ujjain,” and “Nashik.” Bansi added more to this when Rajni his wife died. He buried her under a gular tree, planted flamboyant, frangipani and poui trees around the grave, then had constructed a mausoleum of statuettes telling the story of Kumbha Mela, a story of the danavas and devtas churning the mythological ocean of milk for nectar. When they finished the churning, they put the nectar in a kumbha, a pot. To defeat the danavas, the devtas stole the pot and hid it in four places—Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik. Whatever Bansi had in mind to connect this place with the sanctity of the Puranas and the festivities of India did not manifest as he had wanted. Fishermen would go there at night to catch fish in the ponds; hunters to trap their best iguanas; lovers to have their best times; boys to plunder the fruit trees. To protect the place from sacrilege, he built a troolie-thatched green heart house near the place and put a man Whisker and his wife Sussil to live in it to keep watch. After a year, Sussil told Whisker she could live there no longer because she was hearing strange voices in the trees. So they left, and Bansi gave up the idea of fulfilling a dream of grandiloquence to celebrate good over evil and the celestials’ gift of nectar to humans.

Savita put her palms to her mouth. “My God! What a place is that! The house is still there, nah?”

Arkah nodded. “In very good condition.”

When the steamer reached Adventure stelling, they exchanged addresses, promising to write each other. Arkah stared at her, a string humming inside him, as she boarded a bus. Seeing the look of loss in his face, she kissed her palm and fluttered her fingers. The string hummed louder inside him, and he felt that his destiny had made a turn.

He waited for two weeks then wrote her a long letter describing flowers in Kumbha Pasture and thanking her for igniting his interest in floral design. He told her that he had even started making corsages. She wrote back and said that she would love to come to Bundarie Square to collect flowers and teach him the finer techniques in her work. After an exchange of ten letters, she had made up her mind to come and live in the Whisker’s abandoned house. Excited, Arkah employed carpenters to repair the house then furnished it with things to make her comfortable.

She liked the house, moreover its location on the rim of Kumbha Pasture, the tall trees around her, birds singing, fragrance from flowers, and the wind trilling in the leaves. At night Arkah would keep her company until she was ready to go to bed. They talked about many things, about movies they saw, about books they read, about their families.

            “You know,” she told him. “You must be wondering what kind ah loose parents me have, to let me come here all by meself.”

            “I don’t care.”

She smiled and tapped his chin with a finger. “You only say so, man. But let me tell you the truth.” Then she told him her story: that she did not know her real parents. A fisherman’s wife, Beena, found her when she was a two-month old baby, swaddled with a jute bag, on the Essequibo beach. She picked her up, took her to her husband Dennis, and having no children, she adopted her as her daughter. At age sixteen, disaster crept into her life. One night, Dennis getting into a fight in a rum shop, his adversary broke a bottle, stabbed him with the fangs and killed him. A month later Beena died of a heart attack. To survive, Savita attended a floral-design class, graduated, and started making floral pieces.

On a Makar Sankranti day, when the sun and moon had entered Capricorn, Jupiter in Aries, and the moon now half a disc in the middle of the dark fortnight, Bansi told Arkah that the auspicious day of Kumbha Mela had arrived. The villagers fasted on fruits and sweetmeats, bathed in the river, sang bhajans and offered prayers. Bansi performed a puja in Kumbha Pasture, fed his guests kheer, and gave monetary gifts to the poor. At this time of the year in January, the monsoonal rain of the Amazon would rage through the hinterland, abate when it reached the Essequibo islands, and fall in soft intermittent showers between clouds, sun, and moon; canals and ponds shimmering with pure water; rice fields green and happy as ever; trees celebrating their best moments.

Arkah and Savita, too, fasted, bathed in the river, and celebrated. When night arrived and the moon came out challenging clouds and drizzles, they decided to tour Kumbha Pasture for Sankranti blessings. Always in this place at night the call of bird or the thrumming of a salempenter would come as a pleasing sound. They visited the tombs and lay wreaths on them, adorned the mausoleum statuettes with garlands, and threw coins in the ponds and made wishes. To pronounce the sanctity of the night, they had taken off their shoes and walked on the wet grass and leaves as if they place was a mandir. Then, reaching the bank of a pond smothered with sumooto vines, they sat on a batseed log and watched fishes making eddies on the sky-mirrored water.

Savita dug her toes in the mud. “This is a night me will always remember.”

Arkah snapped a twig and hurled it into the pond. “We’ve had many nights like this, but tonight you make it special.”

She blushed. “What really in you heart?”

            “Pure feelings like the nectar churned from the milky ocean.”

            “Can feelings be so pure?”

            “Yes, because real love is pure.”

She laughed and rose to her feet. “Let we go home.”

Weeks passed and Phagwah came with its spring flowers, kiskadees, songs, sweatmeats, and colours. Arkah and Savita, smeared with abeer, attar, and Talcum powder, went to the sumootoo pond again. The wind now made billows on the pond, distorting the image of a sun in a blue sky.

Savita threw leaves into the pond, nudged Arkah with her elbow, and said, “Let we throw coin in the water and make a wish.”

Arkah shrugged. “That would be nice on a day like this.”

They threw twenty-five-cent pieces in the water and watched the aftermath of ripples.

Savita studied Arkah, a finger to her lips. “What you wish for?”

            “The very first thing came to my mind when I saw you in the steamer.”

            “What that?’”

            “To make you my wife.”

She flung herself into him, gripped his shoulder, and breathed heavily. “It all happen so nice. So many time me want to tell you how me feel. So many time me want you to tell me what in you heart. Never never me need so much for someone to touch me.”

            “Do you want me touch you?”


            “Then, let us go and garland each other with oleanders and pray before the Lakshmi moorti that we become man and wife.”

They made oleander garlands and dropped on their knees before a large Lakshmi image near the mausoleum, closed their eyes, muttered words, then garlanded each other.

Now Arkah told Morris, “That day we became man and wife before the great Goddess, before the hilarity of robins and hummingbirds, in the witness of bright sunshine and green leaves, thinking that our love was divine. But on our new moon wedding day it seemed as if the danavas had found the kumbha of nectar the devtas had hidden.”

Morris laughed. “Sometimes snakes live quietly in diamond-studded temples.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Ordeal of a Woman Crossing the Mexican Border into America

A short, sturdy man, Bernardo, his shaven head tattooed with scorpion characters, came to the Tijuana Elegante, a hotel in Tijuana and gave Aaron a brotherly bear hug, looking at the Nina Gazukin covertly. She could not help but laugh how he stammered and rolled his eyes with a twisted face in his struggle for speech, his voice husky, strained and aggressive. In a warped English accent, he told Aaron of his plan to get them across to the States. He took out a moldy, roach-ravaged map and showed them an outline that made them more confused than enlightened. Tijuana, he showed them, was on the border with the States in the northwest corner of the Baja California Peninsula. Across the border was San Ysidro, an adjacent township to San Diego. The Rio Tijuana, a narrow river, meandered in and out of the borderline and intercepted it at a point close to the Revolucion Avenue of Tijuana. Where the river flowed into the American soil, toward the Pacific Ocean, was the easiest point of crossing. First, they must consider the triangular block of land on the Tijuana side, between the toll road, the western bank of the river and the line of the border. On the San Ysidro side, there was a smaller triangle of land between the western bank of the river and the line of the border. For them to cross into the border, they must cross the big triangle of Tijuana to the smaller triangle of San Ysidro. Then they would have to swim across the river to the eastern bank.
The next day Bernardo took them to the bank of Tijuana. Nina shuddered when she saw the crowds of people living in squalor, disease, hunger, drunkenness and debauchery, all of them waiting for a chance to cross into the States. Here, she thought, rivers of different cultures and nations had met in a confluence of the vilest degradation, people risking their lives or selling their souls to cross into a better world where there might be misery and degradation, too.
She looked at the river plunging and meandering into the Tijuana and San Ysidro territories, calculating her skill and strength to swim across. The river’s current flowed swift and strong, hauling islands of debris, carcasses, containers, bundles of clothes, and other things, the water reeking of putrefaction and filth. Everywhere, US patrols stood vigilant and fierce against the ten-foot wire fence. Five or six towers with rotating flashlights stared like monsters ready for an assault.
On Bernardo’s advice, they moved from the Tijuana Elegante to the Tijuana Triangle amid makeshift shacks of corrugated zinc, clapboards and tree branches. Clothes lines, filled with clothes, crisscrossed in a jumble and flapped in the wind to add to a hellish festivity of marimba, cumbia, ranchera and banda songs. Naked, diseased children ran about, eating mud or squealing. Beggars and thieves came in different ways to survive or profiteer. Fights and quarrels broke out and heightened into gang wars and murders. Men raped women as if it were easy as smoking a cigar. In the absence of pure water, the people drank from the polluted river and relieved themselves in secluded corners in communal ease. Everywhere stray dogs and carrion crows battled over filth, carcasses and corpses.
Bernardo found them a shack, which they shared with a Chinese man, Henry Foo; a Russian girl, Oskaya; and an Indian girl, Smita. They cooked outside the shack and slept in hammocks inside at night.
Nina found relief and new life in the company of the other two women. They talked about everything: their trip, country, career, and prospects. To whisk themselves out of the squalor and noise, they went to such places such as Plaza Rio Tijuana and Mercado del Artesanias and shopped. Sometimes they watched bullfights at Toreo da Tijuana and rodeos at Lienzo Charro La Maison.
Nina listened to the others’ stories and thought how close were theirs to hers, a deliberation to seek a better life from their miseries and drudgeries. Like her, they had braved the long and wild trip through the Latin American mainland to cross the border into America to find something they couldn’t find in their own countries, enduring rape, illness, despair and violence.
“Does this worth it?” she asked them.
Oskaya smiled and said in Russian: “I heard that in America they leave you on your own and give you a little chance.” She was in her twenties, blonde with green eyes.
“Why did you take such a risk?” Nina asked her.
Oskaya chuckled. “I am escaping from a communist insurrectionist group to join my husband in Washington. He told me that I have great scope in the States since I am a medical doctor.”
“If I were a doctor like you, I would have stayed in Russia.”
Oskaya fell quiet, biting her nails. “They were trying to kill me.”
Smita, a brown-skinned girl also in her twenties, with long hair and dimpled cheeks said: “It is not easy too in India. Amid the splendor and ancient culture there is so many corruption, hardly a place for a woman.” She said that she was running away from the drudgery and cruelties of her husband to start a new life. Her brother Romesh would put her up in Texas until she found a job.
Nina shrugged and said: “Yes, we have dreams, but the big monster is before us: the border. I have heard a lot of people didn’t make it.”
Bernardo waited for a rainy night, and when it came, he gave them silver-gray jump suits to wear to defeat the rotating tower lights.
“Now our time,” Bernardo said, trying to boast his authority rather than giving clear instructions. “Nina first, Smita second, Oskaya third, Foo fourth, and Aaron last. Look out for rotating lights. Lie down when they come.” He paused. “And I hope all of you can swim.”
Nina felt her heart pounding like horses’ hooves. In the persistent flash and flare of the lightning, she could see the roofs of shacks blown away, screaming children running frantically, women trying to save their babies.
As she set out to go, reports from guns blasted across the border. Wailing and screaming followed in the rain and thunder. She hesitated for a while, then slipped on her silver-gray cap and waited for the rotating lights to pass. When the place became dark again, she ran out of the shack, but the lights were coming upon her again. She threw herself facedown on the ground and waited again for it to pass. Dark again, she scrambled to her feet and began running faster than before. Soon she gained the fence. The light was coming again. She flung herself on the ground and lay splayed on the sand and rubble. The lights passed, and in lightning speed, she bored through the aperture in the fence, an exultant thrill whipping through her. As if they were a demonic intelligence, the lights were coming on her gain. Guns barked; men voices shouted alarms. She flung herself heavily on the ground, waiting for the moment of bullets and her final pain, but the gunshots and voices subsided. She got on her feet in renewed life and bolted toward the river. In three minutes she reached the bank. The lights came again and missed her.
After sliding down into the water, she slipped out of her jump suit, made it into a bundle and fixed it firmly on her head. Then she began swimming, battling against the tide, stench and debris. She thought about Oskaya and Smita and wondered if they could make it. Why did they leave their countries for this hell? she asked herself. Why was Marco putting her through this test? Soon she found her head aching, her feet numb, her energy ebbing. For a moment she wanted to surrender and add to the burdens of carcasses and corpses in the river, but her inner self scowled and said no.
She reached the other bank and rested for a while, then slipped back into her jump suit and began running again. In seconds she reached a small clump of bushes, then a tract of jungle, through which she picked her way in the convolutions of vines, trees and brushes, the branches and spikes tearing her skin. Half an hour later, she emerged into a crisscrossing of streets, lights in houses everywhere.
Running again toward the east, she reached the Interstate 5 Highway, where ceaseless streams of vehicles roared and raced on the lanes. She looked about warily, stomping her foot for a break in the traffic. Suddenly the traffic thinned and disappeared, leaving momentary empty lanes. She took a chance and ran like a sprinter, and in seconds she reached the final lane. But she was still in danger. An approaching car was five seconds away from her. With all the speed she could muster, she made a lightning dash, the car whizzing past in defeat.
Now she had to cross the other side of the highway, the vehicles coming from the other direction. As if she were in the gods’ favor, the stream of traffic broke again, giving her a chance. She sprinted with closed eyes, causing screeching tires yards away. In her tenuous bid between life and death, she felt caught in another world, a strange world where two faceless beings on a frontier were in a contest to pull her over to one side. In the end, the stronger contestant won, and she crossed to a patch of grass, a car roaring past in a close shave.
Following Bernardo’s instructions, she headed for San Ysidro Boulevard, crossing more lanes. When she reached there, she found the relief of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. In a spurt of exultation, she slapped her chest, and crossed into a filling station compound, where a truck awaited her. An hour later Aaron came.
“Where are the others?” she asked him.
“The patrols shot all of them,” he said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Necklace

 Contact author at  guyind@rcn.com
This is a poem that talks about illusion, arrogance and determination. We sometimes look only into our world, forgetting that there exists a bigger and better worldIf we live in arrogance that we are the best without looking at other possibilities, we will be like the nugget that never becomes a jewel. We must go on difficult journeys if we want perfection.   


by Churaumanie Bissundyal  

Once in the heart of a mountain there lived two nuggets
glowing in their splendour, proud and jeering.
To the stars they even swaggered
that their hidden lustre
was greater than their brilliance.
And they laughed at the moon
of its waxing and waning,
of its yielding to the earth and sun
by its size changing
from quarter to half,
then from three-quarters to full, to darkness demeaning.

One day, in their vain boasting,
the sun said to them, singing:
“O fair nuggets of the mountain!
Your nature is greater than your illusion,
than your centuries of brilliance.
None sees your beauty except your vanity;
none sees your glory save your own flattery.
Then come out of the mountain
and let the rain wash your face
and the grass touch your toes.
Leap out to a better dawn
that the wind may blow the dust away from your eyes
and the trees may garland you with their flowers,
that the rivers, too,
may sing your song with joy.”

“No!” said the first nugget, screaming.
“I will not show my beauty
to the stench of a world disgraced, demeaned.
The rain and wind
shall not kiss my face,
save the realm of this mountain.”

The second nugget thought it over
and reviewed the sermon of the sun.
Then to the first nugget he said:
“I have considered the words of the sun, my brother.
It is true and fair that all we know
is this little hole of this mountain.
The greatness we gain is only the empire of our pride.
We have not seen the other side of the world;
we know not the frontier between pain and pleasure.
We are two cowards lying among these ugly rocks,
building false castles in our glory and splendour.
It is now fair for me to declare
that my heart is bent on farewell to my spell of illusion,
a parting from you, my brother,
to seek the pains and gains of other worlds.”

The first nugget became angry and said:
“ Foolish you are,
because you are lured by the oratory of the sun.
You have not yet learnt to discern
between the foulness of the heart
and the flavour of the tongue.
Then, if you go, my brother,
you’ll be a traitor to my love.”

The second nugget laughed and cried:
“What we have achieved these four centuries
except a little growth in size?
Why would these minerals and stones weep in shame,
since we add nothing to their pride?
Are we not only burdens to our conscience
that we have not fulfilled the will of the beautiful
to reach the ultimate of the jewel?”

So said,
the second nugget turned his face from his brother,
rolled out of the hole
and made himself visible on the road.
He waited there in anguish and fear;
days passed him whipped by the wind,
scorched by the sun,
drenched by the rain and tormented by the thunder.
Yet there was hope in his eyes,
until a hunter came and found him at sunrise.

The hunter gasped in delight
and took him to his hut and showed him to his wife.
When she saw the nugget, she danced a little carnival,
betraying her longings, deep and volatile.

The village heard
and the news went far and wide,
so far that it stirred envy and greed,
every cheat, every thief, charting his own design.

Then, one night
a thief came and stole the nugget from the hunter,
and, before sunrise,
he hid him in a dirty ditch of toads and crocodiles.
A crocodile, in an error of carrion,
swallowed him for food
and kept him in his putrid stomach
The nugget wept in the stench and darkness,
a terrible penitentiary for jewel of his kind.
But in surrender he did not yield,
for he remembered the little hole in the mountain
where he had been and the big world he must find.

Then, one day, the crocodile,
in its search for food,
came to shore in pursuit of a deer.
The hunter, in his remorse of loss,
was passing the scene of despair,
and when he saw the crocodile’s intent to devour,
he alerted the deer for cover
and trapped the vicious predator,
killed it and had it disembowelled:
deep inside the putrid filth the nugget was recovered.

The hunter kissed the nugget many times,
embraced him gently,
took him to a jeweller
and sold him for a great price.

The jeweller dropped on his knees
and wept in jubilant vengeance,
vowed to make a unique jewel out of this nugget
to win fame and approbation.

In the hottest fire,
he put the nugget to burn
and bathed him with acid to burnish his colour.

He beat the nugget with a strong hammer
and persisted with violent labour
to bring out the nugget’s charm and splendour.
He beat and beat and said to himself
that this nugget must pay the price
for all his misfortunes over the years.
But the nugget bore the torture,
endured the jeweller’s curse and sneers,
reflecting on the words of the sun.
Then the jeweller began to cut and file the nugget,
cut and file,
not caring for the nugget’s pain,
put him in a mould,
cursed when he would not form,
broke him to pieces again,
cut and filed with greater strain
until the shape of a necklace was formed.

The jeweller smiled and said:
“Nugget, I’m sorry for the process of your torture,
but I have transformed you into a jewel
that shall make you into a monument of wonder,
a special gladness to the eyes
that will cleanse the ugliness of the mind,
enshrining your tale of sufferings with gilded phrases
on everything out of beauty born.
I must wash your pendants with my tears
for you have brought me to immortal fame.
I had taken your sufferings and covered all my shame,
all my lackings and frustrations,
and have now myself clad with the lustre
of your nature and name.”

One day the queen of the jungle
wanted to form herself into elegance
in contest with the other worlds.
She took the rivers, creeks and streams
and weaved them into a flowing cascade to make her hair.
She took the mountains
and made them her body,
the savannahs, her body line,
the rapids and falls, her arms and legs.
She took the smiles from a child’s face
and made them her eyes,
the trees, her raiment green,
the clouds, her eye-brows,
the red oleander, her lips,
the frangipani, her nails.
She took the song of the hanaqua bird
and made it her voice.
Then she pulled down the stars
and made them her earrings,
the sun and moon, her bracelets and anklets:
her rhythmic dance formed
from the gait of the chow-chow bird.
But still she felt sad,
because her beauty was not complete,
her neck was bare.

She flung herself in the court of the green heart trees
and wept for weeks
and would not stop weeping,
though the deer came and wiped her tears
and the bluesaki tried consoling her with a sweet song.

But she wept
and flung away all her jewellery
of the moon, stars and sun
and tore her hair of rivers, creeks and streams,
until the jaguar came and bowed to her
and said: “Beauty fawn-eyed of this jungle green,
my heart suffers when I see your tears.
Tell me, O beauteous Queen,
how could I soothe the wounds of your grief?”
“ Bring me a necklace,” she said,
“that I may contest the beauty of the other worlds.
Tell the king that I must have this jewel,
even at his life’s peril,
that I may burnish my regal being.”

The jaguar told the king,
who went and sought the treasure.
Days passed until he met the jeweller,
and happy he was when he saw the necklace of splendour,
that quickly he bought it with diamonds
and gave it to his queen.

She became bright with life again
and looked lovelier than before;
she made the sun shine brighter
and, the trees, with life greener,
that the mountains, seas and rivers
became part of the heavenly plain.

And in this resplendence she danced,
prancing to the mountain where the nuggets had been.
When the first nugget the sound of the music heard,
he loooked outside his hole
and saw the queen dancing,
embellished with the universe,
a lovely necklace around her neck hanging.
He had seen nothing as beautiful as this before
and wondered where this jewel had been.
How would he know
that that was his own brother
who had lived with him for years
in the same hole of the big mountain!

But the necklace could not bear
to see his brother in such torture.
Thus, he smiled and said to him,
his heart impassioned, filled with fervour:
“Do you recognize me, O brother, your own brother,
who has lived with you for centuries together,
the same couched shared,
the same food and water consumed?
You recognize me not, O brother
because through the mill of forbearance I have passed
and stench, darkness, curses and beatings I have endured.
I wept in silence and to none I complained,
but I thought of you in your little hole,
and even in my torture before the fire

I wept in shame. I wept with my tears flung to the wind,
my heart sunk in despair,
‘cause, my brother,
the jewel inside of you
you refuse to find.
But it is not too late to greet your soul.
Come out of your little hole.
Kill your conceit and arrogance,
and seek the higher world,
face the torture and tyrannies of evil men,
for, without pain, the jewel in you
you can never find.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Caribbean Moon, Indian Bride--Part Nine

The following night the moon in waning came out bright again. Everything like last night—the bronze-capped waves, expanse of rice fields, and cluster of huts—became washed again with splendour and happiness. The island people, in beliefs from superstition to logic, would watch the moon as it dwindled for fourteen nights until it became a sickle like a curve of wire. They called this half of lunar month krishnapaksha or dark fortnight. The next night—amawasya or amawas—when the new moon would not be seen—they would sulk a little thinking of ghosts, catastrophes, and demons, then would brighten up as the new-moon sickle grew into a full moon again. They called this half of the lunar month shuklapaksha or bright fortnight.

Purnima, still in her bridal dress, and Arkah in his bridegroom, stood at a window looking out at the river. They seemed tired, bored, and impatient, Purnima moving her feet as if standing on hot coals. When she found Arkah falling into silence, she thrust a finger into his ribs, good-humouredly, and said, “What is on your mind”

            “You know what?”

She winked at him with a trace of reproach. “The moon right?”

He chuckled, his lips convolved with an ironic smile. “Yes, the moon.”

She pretended ignorance to his irony. “Does the moon seem smaller tonight?”

He shook his head to pity her little game. “I think so. That’s why I m looking so hard to find the missing piece.”

She ignored his tantrum again. “Everybody on this island talks about the moon. This is a moon island.”

            “Yes, it is.”
            “What do they do when the moon is bright like this?”

            “Many things.”

She knitted her brows to feign rebellion at his brevity. “Come on, tell me. Just don’t be. . . ” And she trailed out of words.

And not wanting her to be truly angry, he told her about the festivals the people celebrated, about men playing cards under trees, women worshipping gods and goddesses at the river beach, men performing Ramlila and Indar Sabha plays in barns of rice mills, groups singing Tulsidas’s choupaaees, beating drums and clanging cymbals. Then he remembered how he, Agni and the other boys would boil crabs in large pots for group feeding. The crabs smelled delicious in the mix of coconut milk, wiri-wiri peppers, celery, callaloo and onions. Then everyone would be ready to eat, their gara-gara leaves, plate-like, stretched out in their hands to collect their portions. After that, they played cockadillo in the woods, singing and bringing back tree leaves. These were the best times in the village: the dry season with ripened paddy grains in the fields; mango, tamarind, and jamoon trees laden with fruits; the rice mill grinding.

When she saw him lost in his world, she poked a finger into his ribs again and made a face as if to kill. “Where have you gone. . . into your dream world again?”

Quickly he came back to himself, and said, motioning to the parrot in the cage, “Thinking what that parrot would report to Mother.”

Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “Don’t worry. I know how to bribe parrots.” Then, as if acting, she laughed convulsively, and pointed to the river. “What are those lights?”

He dilated his eyes to reciprocate her act, and said, “My beautiful dulahin, that’s where you’re from. Surprised? That’s East Bank Essequibo. Those lights you see there are lights of houses and other buildings between trees.”

Elated surprise flashed in her eyes. “My! Which part do you think is my place?”

He threw an arm around her and pointed to a place where a constellation of stars hung over a purple backdrop of dull flickering lights. “There. That’s Graceland.

She stamped her mouth with a hand. “Really?” Then she fisted the other hand, stomped a foot on the ground as if ready for a big exploit. “Let’s pretend to be goblins or angels and walk across. When we reach, I will cook you a nice dinner of crabs or hassars and break Mother’s rules. Then I will take you to the cane fields and ask the cane cutters to give us sugar canes to eat.”

He stared at her, his eyes wanting to break more than rules. He felt flames leaping within him. It would be so nice to be with her in the cane fields, he thought. He could even make it romantic like one of Jeetendra’s movies, dancing, hopping, hiding, teasing and singing. Her place, Graceland, was one of the most beautiful places on the other side of the river, with canals, meadows, stretches of cane fields, coconut groves, and a sea wall like that of Mumbai, waves billowing and leaping over to the road in blasts of sprays. Many times he had thought that this was a good place for a movie. Now he fell into a swirl of him and Purnima in a dreamland of Bollywood ecstasies.”

She nudged him to whisk him out of his reverie. “Come on, tell me something.”

He jumped out of his dream. “Oh, you want me to tell you that we should go across. Well, if you think it easy to walk across a six-mile-wide river, we can go.”

            “So wide?”

            “Yes, so wide.”

            “Do you think anyone can swim across?”

He shrugged. “Someone did already.”



            “Who is Agni?”

            “Thought you knew.”

            “Why? No one told me about him.”

            “He’s my brother.”
            “Your brother?”

He walked across to the sofa and flung himself on it. “Not my brother really. We grew up as brothers. He’s my mother’s. .. Not my mother’s…” He trailed out of words.

She too walked across and dropped herself on the sofa. “Please don’t play a game with me. I hate being in the dark.”

He threw back his head and exhaled a gush of air. “Rewati isn’t my mother. She’s my stepmother, and Agni is her brother.”

Her face contorted with disbelief. “What I’m hearing? Is Rewati your stepmother?”

He shrugged. “That’s the truth.” Then he told her that his mother Rajni had died at childbirth when he was two years old. Two years later his father married Rewati, who brought her brother Agni to live with her. He was four years old then.

Serenity pervaded her face, and she flung her arms back. “I have never seen a stepmother adore a stepson as how she adores you.”

            “With Rewati, I have never missed my mother,” he said. Then he told her when they were five years old how he and Agni used to sail paper boats on the pond behind their rice mill. One evening as they were having fun, Arkah’s boat got stuck between a bulge of grass and duckweed. To free it, he went to the edge of the pond and tried to extricate it with a bamboo rod. The dirt on the pond broke away, and he fell headlong into the deep of the water. Soon he found himself in a world of rainbows, amber moons, and lightning forks. Agni, panicked, ran and told Rewati. She sprinted, jumped into the pond and fished him out. When he came back to his senses, he saw Rewati slapping her chest, her eyes full of tears. From that day she became his real mother; Agni his blood brother.

Purnima, moved by the story, said,  “I saw the pond, a very huge and deep one.”

Arkah nodded. “We use the water from it to soak our paddy for milling.” He fell silent for a while. Then when he gathered his thoughts again, he said, “Do you like the surroundings there with the rice mill, bungalow, jamoon groves, and troolie-thatched huts?”

She brightened up, her yes like two shimmering lakes. “Beautiful.”

            “That’s why they did our wedding there, closer to everything.”

She now seemed ablaze with excitement. “Down there you have all you want of village life—the women cooking and singing, the men making tents and dancing.”

Yes, indeed she was right, he thought. When he was a child he used to think that Bundarie Square was like places in rural India he had seen in movies Jab Jab Phool Khile, Junglee, and Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon. Despite the hard work in the rice fields, cow pastures, ground-provision farms, and rice mills, angels and fairies seemed to be roaming everywhere. Colours—whether from sunsets, moonlights, gardens, or lily ponds--sang like kiskadees in trees. Even the grass after a shower of rain would challenge the green beauty faked in the best films.

The parrot cawed and said something unintelligible, hurling him out of his dream. Seeing Purnima gaping at him, he said, “Bundarie Square is different now. Many years ago people were poor but there was a kind of beauty and happiness you can’t find now.”

She ran a finger on his face in reproach. “Don’t say that. It is still beautiful.” Then she told him on her first day on the island she had taken a tour of the village and was thrilled to see women squatting on the grass, doing their laundry; boys throwing marbles into holes dug out for the game; others grazing their sheep or goats on parapets filled with daisies.

Then, drunk with her feelings, she said, “What I love most are the flowers—jasmines, marigolds, frangipanis, zinnias and lilies. And you can find them everywhere, in pots hanging from porches, in the churchyard, graveyard, school compound.”

Arkah seemed happy that she liked his island. He put his lips to the nape of her neck and said, “Ah, you have a feel of it! Bundarie Square, no place like it.” 

To be continued