Ah! There is the Lucky Dip booth with Miss Dinshaw. A pack of fathers has surrounded her. Everyone is attracted to Miss Dinshaw because she has glassy skin that shines as if she has a light inside her, and she speaks the Queen’s English so propah, like no one else Mira has ever heard. Fathers leave mothers gossiping and drinking their Gold Spots, Mangolas and Energees together at the drinks booth and take their daughters to her. One more Dip, beta, then papa has no more money, they warn, while staring at Miss Dinshaw, whose complexion darkens as her inner light wanes under the sweltering attention.
As the stage clown readies to jump off the dais, she locks Mira with a cool stare that seems to see everything Mira really is, with her frilly purple dress, the meagre contents of her soaking brown envelope, her 10 years, her position in space, and, above these particulars, the immense waste of being a nobody in this amazing adventure world. Then, the clown looks away, and launches her bunch of sticks at the clouds for her own amusement.
To buy a digital issue, click here and select the July-September issue. At last check, it costs less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks: $2.23, or £1.71, or Rs 150. It is, truly, professionally and elegantly put together, with custom illustrations/artwork and layouts. If you need more reasons to buy this issue, go to the bottom of this post for a brief description of the other terrific writing in it.
As for what this story is about: At a school fête, a child learns both how painfully beautiful and incomprehensibly vast the world can be and how even kindness can sometimes be cruel. It is narrated from the child’s point of view, which is a first for me.
My starting point was a Yeats poem about a certain type of uncomprehending kindness that can cause an agony, which is just as difficult to understand and give voice to.
Like the moon her kindness is,
If kindness I may call
What has no comprehension in’t.
But is the same for all
As though my sorrow were a scene
Upon a painted wall.
So, like a bit of stone I lie
Under a broken tree.
I could recover if I shrieked
My heart’s agony
To passing bird, but I’m dumb
From human dignity.
The setting is based on my old boarding school in India. We had fête days exactly like this. The period is sometime in the mid-1980s. That’s where the reality ends, of course, because the rest of the story and the characters are all fictional. That said, probably, every person has, at some point in their childhood, experienced the “sense of lostness in the vast world” that Mira does here. I hope that resonates with readers. Even as an adult, I still get that sense often. And, as it drives my writerly curiosity, I hope to never lose it.
This is one of my first published stories with custom artwork. So, a special shout-out to the editorial team at IQ and the artist, Harshad Marathe.
More information about this issue from the editor:
Feasting is the theme of this issue. Mahesh Rao looks at excess in Delhi, while Rimli Sengupta reminisces about her widowed grandmother’s kitchen in Bengal. Prabha Chandran looks at the role of culinary diplomacy in forging bonds between individuals as well as nations, Sandhya Mulchandani explores the relationship between food and faith and Alberto Ruy-Sánchez examines the significance of the Mexican Day of the Dead. Shougat Dasgupta savours his memories of “inauthentic” food, while Mahesh Shantaram’s lens lays bare the big Indian wedding.
Elsewhere, Gautam Pemmaraju explores the state of sleep and dreams, Juliet Reynolds views the Sistine Chapel with new eyes and Kanu Gandhi’s photographs reveal his uncle, the Mahatma, in an intimate light. I discover a safe house in Amsterdam with an Indian connection; Sohini Chattopadhyay tracks the evolution of the woman warrior in Indian cinema; Waswo X Waswo goes looking for Europeans in Shekhawati; Kusum Haidar sees a brilliant new theatre production in Kerala; and Amal Allana remembers her father, Ebrahim Alkazi, as an artist.
There is also original short fiction by Jenny Bhatt, Meghna Pant and Shoili Kanungo, and original poetry by Sharif Elmusa and Amlanjyoti Goswami. And, in what will be a regular feature, we have new translations of work by Manohar Shyam Joshi, Rilke, Sant Ram Udasi, and others, by the foremost translators at work in India today.