That afternoon, if Neeru had known how a few minutes can be enough time for life to exact its dues, she might have done things differently. She might have taken care to lock doors behind her. She might even have stayed put on that front porch swing, leaning back, feet skimming the tiled floor, to and fro, to and fro, as warm air blew from the ceiling fan.

When no one was around, this porch was her favorite part of the house as it allowed her to take in the always-blooming, always-colorful garden. These days, it was giving off a spicy clove fragrance from a profusion of small, white blossoms. At this hour, in the posh Prahlad Nagar neighborhood of Ahmedabad, menfolk were away at work and womenfolk were napping or watching TV in their air-conditioned bungalows.

Cleaners and cooks, many from her home state of Rajasthan, had finished their work rounds. Live-in maids, like her, were also stealing a few winks. Even the birds seemed to have taken flight to some cooler place. The only sound Neeru heard was of fountain water spilling from a pot held on the head of a half-naked stone goddess, who flaunted her bold curves under a lemon tree in the far corner.

Neeru could sit here for hours and daydream about, oh, so many things her new world, which she had known for less than a month, had to offer.

NBR 10 Alice in WonderlandPublished in NonBinary Review #10, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (Zoetic Press).

Read online here.

UPDATE: This story has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Please consider buying a copy at only $1.99. Great value for money: “40 authors and artists provide fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art that explores a world people have loved for 150 years.”

Zoetic Press publishes a quarterly journal called ‘NonBinary Review’. I first learned about them when they had released their ‘Sherlock Holmes’ issue on the story ‘A Study in Scarlet’. So, when the call came out for this issue on ‘Alice in Wonderland’, I could not resist.

Here is what they do, in their own words:

Four times a year, we reach back into history for a piece of our collective past, and invite authors to interact with it in new and innovative ways. We take existing works of fiction in the public domain, and invite authors to re-invent those works. From Grimm’s fairy tales to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, we look for authors to fill in some backstory, apply the plot to new situations, or take the characters in new directions.

My story, about a housemaid in present-day urban India, may not, at first glance, appear to have anything in common with the Alice we know from Lewis Carroll’s famous work. There is a connection, however, to Carroll’s Alice, in the first chapter — where Alice goes down the rabbit hole and gives in to those famous temptations of ‘Drink Me’ and ‘Eat Me’.

Here, Neeru, the housemaid, has a ‘Wear Me’ temptation. That is the main event which starts off a chain of events. All the other characters and their interactions with Neeru precipitate from it. Read closer, and you will also see a few archetypes from Carroll’s story: a knave, a small tea party, a cranky cook. That said, my story has its own trajectory — as it should, otherwise I’m just repeating Carroll’s story. Also, of course, my story is not intended for children.

Interestingly, when I started writing this one, I had planned on going in an entirely different direction. I wanted to throw in several more archetypes from Carroll’s book and be more faithful to his Alice’s story. What happened, though, is that I got more interested in focusing on the fallout of a single action/event and in exploring fewer characters deeper. After all, I was writing a short story while Carroll had written a novella. The form, to a large extent, dictated my change in direction. And, the setting brought its own twists and turns.

Again, please consider buying a copy — at $1.99, it is less than the price of a cup of coffee, and you will be supporting a wonderful creative effort.

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