Thursday, November 07, 2013

Nights of the Buffalo Bull

The cultural significance of the buffalo and the real fate it suffers.

The buffalo is a culturally very significant animal: it is the vehicle of Death. Death, or Yama as He is known by, is believed to be dark and rides a male bull buffalo. The dream in which one is chased by a buffalo is thus believed to be a significantly bad dream heralding unknown dangers. This story, taken from "Daughter of a Watermill" thus revolves around the buffalo: its cultural significance as well as its fate... The following is an excerpt from the story titled "Nights of the Buffalo Bull".

Sabitri noticed him paying the boy as she walked along the pavement carrying morning meal for him. As the boy darted across the street, he turned, noticed her, and smiled. She felt awkward: he was her husband of years. Why should he smile at her, at this age, as if he was a young man and she a teenager? No doubt, he’s changed again after that eclipse over his brow. ‘(You’ve) Come smiling. What so strange has happened today?’ He flattered her with an unbelievable smile. Yes, unbelievable, of the man muted only yesterday.
You know, I saw an insect moult today,’ she replied, ‘and saw it shed a skin.’
Is that a good enough reason to smile along? Well, perhaps it is. After all it’s living its life, and life’s a rather precious thing. Don’t mind.’ He sat down on the small mat, his shoes taken off at some distance, towards his back. ‘So you’ve seen an insect moult, aye?’
I also noticed a seedling,’ she added, not answering his question of surprise or that of curiosity if that was one. Her husband sometimes asked too many questions like an innocent child as if he knew nothing. And she liked him more for that. He was learned also, and possibly wise too, but not with cunning as was natural to most men. He was her artless husband and she sometimes loved to play with his simplicity even if she hardly knew to read or write her own name.
What seedling?’ he asked, startled. ‘I mean, in this cold of winter?’
Probably an orange pip has germinated, or a lime seed, in the flower pot. It’s so small, it’s difficult to know which one it is.’
It’s orange. I know it’s orange. I’d thrown all the seeds from an orange into that pot last time. Which pot was it?’
How can he be so sure it’s orange. Sabitri questioned to herself. The pots are moved from this side to that side, placed and replaced and exchanged. It all depends upon his moods, the full moon, the no moon... ‘It’s on this side of the doorway—’
Which side?’ he quickly asked.
This side, ké, this side. The one in which there was aloe before.’
Leave it, leave it. Maybe it’s lime, or orange...’ his cheerfulness vanished now that he could not be sure and certain, but it returned once again. ‘So you saw a seedling on the pot? Hhhmmmmm!’ The aloe had already been re-potted in another because the previous pot had looked rather small for its size and now there were few empty pots as well. Empty of any specific plant, that is, and anything could germinate and grow in them. But neither orange nor lime. The pot would be too small for either of them when they grew. Had they germinated in open soil, they would keep growing, produce branches, flower, and fruit. A gift of heaven... Aye, wait! Adhikari had a flash. He hurriedly finished eating and left the empty box for his wife to take back home. ‘Beginning to feel a bit hungry these afternoons,’ he reminded her.
In winter it’s always so; one feels more hungry because of the cold.’ She reminded him of the fact.
Could you make some rotis and prepare potatoes? Something like the sort?’ he asked.
Sabitri sensed he was up at something again, nodded in affirmation, and left with the empty lunchbox. He couldn’t be dating a damsel at this grey age of his, could he?
Were it a mango... he continued thinking, a banana or a papaya seedling. Anyway, a seed has germinated, sprouted out, pierced the earth and emerged itself into the air, the sky, the light of the heavens. It doesn’t matter what plant or tree it gives rise to, or has the potential. Were it in soil—not in the pot, that is—it would grow, spread branches, produce buds, flower, fruit. And it would cast a shade. Adhikari quickly grabbed a sheet and scribbled lines in it. After finishing, he went through the lines again and again in amazement and chuckled gleefully. Some came so smooth and so easily while others turned you into a different man altogether before they were readable. In ten minutes, for example, this seed-germination-life poem was finished without much effort. In comparison, the buffalo poem had taken three days completely, and disturbed his nights’ sleeps as well. Ah, poetry; poetry! He went through the lines again and satisfied, folded it and shoved it into his pocket; there were now two in it. Adhikari smiled within himself, his gladness visible on his face that has appeared to be brighter. He knew well that there was no end, no finis, to a composition or a creativity of words; the revisions through time could become endless but for the time being two had been done well and they could be filed or trans-written onto his third poetry note-book and read from time to time, to feast himself, to relax his eyes and mind, and for possible improvements. The loose pages and sheets of paper that were now in his pocket could, after they were copied over with dates, then be burnt or shredded, disposed of one way or the other. Adhikari brightened up and became cheerful; he was happy now, at least for the time being.
*** *** ***

There is a love story, two rather strange stories with strange narratives, a story about cigarettes and the Burmese uprising of 1988, and among these, as well as others, also a story of abduction during the violence of the armed insurgency that started in 1966 and lasted for more than a decade. The details are in another post within this blog, if you are interested.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Story Does Not Lie

The story does not lie, and neither do these photographs. 

A village woman prepares morning meal
During the first half of the 1990’s, political dissent and the struggle for power led a political party to go underground, and rise up in 1996 with arms pushing a violent insurgency movement that the state found rather impossible to deal with. It launched at least two secret operations that led to the arrest, execution and disappearance of hundreds of innocent people. The revolutionaries pushed their atrocities to the limits, setting up parallel governments and passing penalties to the people who dissented with their philosophies.

Locals celebrate the festivities
Deep in the hearts of the Himalayan mountains, the rebels forced the poor people into involuntary recruitments and loaded their hands with .303 rifles. Those who differed in their ideologies were either brutally killed or else forced into exile from their native settlements. The state on the other hand, carried out its operations in a most unjustified manner: it forced the people to make false statements and then executed them in secrecy. It then lied later to the international community as to the whereabouts of the potential victims. Families and relatives waited for their loved ones with a firm belief that they would sooner or later return to their homes; but who knew where they were taken during the wee hours, blindfolded, kicked, raped, beaten, and then buried alive, or dumped to the scavengers…

A villager carries firewood on his back
During this chaos, the nation went into an undeclared civil war: the state passed arbitrary laws that gave its forces unprecedented powers to search all households at all hours, and, at the same time, no rights for the common people to even file a complaint or register a case in court. Very soon, people were robbed at gunpoint within their own households during the middle of the night; many were taken to unknown locations never to be returned again. The rebels set fires to most state infrastructures, attacked and ran down security set-ups out of the capital, confiscated arms in the process, and fought against the state with the very weapon that they managed to carry away during their previous raids.

Porters with medical supplies
The ramifications are too much to describe in one story, or even one book, and spread too far in time: violence and atrocity fueled by anarchy would last for more than a decade. However, some, or rather, a few, always find a way with us and become kept as records: of what was seen, of what was felt, of what was shared, of what was to become… the inevitable. And when tranquility dawns with a false promise, everything becomes changed, forever. 

The people that never had enough to buy even a few tablets of paracetamol, the cheapest among the medicines, (read acetaminophen if you are in North America) to get rid of fever and pain, became pushed to breaking points. 
NandaKala comes with a gangrene

There is TB they have to face, and wounds and tears and cuts, snake bites and bone fractures, malnutrition and even death! A humanitarian organization provided free health facilities for many, and in the shadow of its medical services, the most helpless of people shared their stories. But there are rules and regulations that govern the system in a most bizarre and the most unacceptable way: morally, culturally, ethically. 

NandaKala with her arm amputated
If any justifiable story was written of the few incidences depicting the plight of a people at that time, then they were carried in the nation’s daily newspapers. And whatever filtered through across the nation’s boundaries to the outside world was more of a distorted image than a reality.

You can now read the full story of humanity’s side: of helplessness, of heartbreak, and of the inevitable as it happened in one corner. But there is more to it: you can find the most bizarre, most unbelievable, and also the most humbling of events and incidences from the lives people have lived.

SetiMaya (right) cries with a villager
Even more, there is humour and laughter and fun at the most unlikely of circumstances. Need solid proof? Look at the photographs that accompany these texts. These images have not been released to this scale before. (There are also a few among you who would testify as to the full story, no doubt about that. Without taking names, I can tell, you probably were there!)

A patient who knows there is probably no cure for her illness, an ostracized housewife whose arm needs to be surgically cut thrice sees the wound never heal, an old man who has a cancerous outgrowth, a baby that dies during the hours of midnight...  

Could you have gone through this all? Could you have faced all this? Could you have stood in the shoes of those helpless and endured? The album with some selected photographs related to the story is available on-line at Please do not forget to take a look.
SetiMaya probably knows there is no cure


(All photographs by the author. A few may have previously appeared on-line way back in 2007.)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Daughter of a Watermill

Finally, after a long passing of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, suns and moons, seasons, I have been able to bring out my new volume of stories entitled, rightly or wrongly, Daughter of a Watermill. Is there a story by the same title? Of course, there is. Rest assured.

short stories vol.2

A road accident in the US ends a friendship in an odd twist; the 8888 Burmese Uprising has a strange connection to a father-son duo and cigarettes; the consequences of eating the forbidden are too much for a pious man in Kathmandu; a strange out-of-the-world relationship exists between a teacher and a mirror; a butterfly narrates the sequence of events that leads to death and beyond; the headmaster of a public school delivers a speech-in-mourning brewed with inspiration, anger and satire; and a teenage student narrates the tales of her abduction, at a very very wrong time, by the rebel guerrillas during the armed insurgency.

Find characters as weird as a buffalo or a narrator as unlikely as a mirror, or even a butterfly, in some of the finest stories the likes of which appear nowhere else.
So, what has changed since the last prediction?
First, no characters from the older stories have re-appeared. Rimi got late, of course. Others were slow as well and could not catch up. 

Second, the weird and the strange, unexpected, continues in this book as a whole. Perhaps, it has now become my identity and so has chosen not to leave me. A mirror will tell you a story, yes, believe it right now! Or if you think it can not happen, then there is a butterfly that does it in another place and time; across time's boundaries from two different worlds, in fact. 
Third, the characters are themselves common and ordinary. Their stories are not so at all. 
Last, the cover image has been arranged across cultural, social and language barriers despite the obvious difficulties. Thanks goes to Andrew Ioch.



If you have gone through the death of a friendship, then I am really very sympathetic. We can even be friends, you and I.

If you have been associated with the 8888 Burmese Uprising, or are part of a father-son duo, or very similar, or have had to share smokes with someone, then I am definitely a friend of yours. (I am not promoting cigarettes or smoking in any way.)

If you are the one whose story is being told by a mirror, lucky you! You have been fortunate enough that you at least had someone, or something, rather, to tell your story.

If you are the butterfly that can flutter between two absolutely different worlds, befriend with me. I need just a connection like you to bridge two different worlds. Would you accept?

If you have eaten the forbidden, you share the same fate with me. I am living through the consequences.

If you happen to listen to one of those speeches in the desert heat, thanks god, you made it through. I could not.

But if you had ever been abducted by the rebel guerrillas during the insurgency for forceful recruitment as a cadre, then I am extremely sorry for your plight. But, yes, I can understand. I will definitely listen to your story.


So, what's the fuss about?

Nothing in particular. There is no pride, no joy, no celebrations... But, O YESSSS! There's victory in having written something that seems so much difficult to express, so much more difficult to write. SO MUCH EMOTIONAL it made me during the whole of the writing process, so much disturbing it proved throughout. YES, THAT IS VICTORY!! Two of the stories are definitely out of this world, yes.

For a snippet, please go into one of the stories here.

(Cover graphics: Andrew V Ioch; Modified and used with permission. Cover designed by the author.)