If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Donal Mahoney: A Previous Life

It was their wedding night and Priya didn’t want to tell her new husband all about it but Bill kept asking where she had learned to walk like that. Finally she told him it was inherited from a previous life, a life she had lived many years ago in India, not far from Bangalore. She had been a cobra kept in a charmer’s basket.

When the charmer found a customer, usually a Brit or Yank, he would play his flute and Priya would uncoil and rise from the basket. Her hood would swell and she would sway as long as the customer had enough money to keep paying the charmer. She never tried to bite a customer but some of the men weren’t the nicest people in the world. You think they would know better than to tease a cobra.

Being a charmer's cobra was Priya’s job for many years until she finally grew weary of the tiny mice her keeper would feed her so she bit him and he died. His family had Priya decapitated but she was born again later in a small village, this time as a human, a baby girl. After she matured into a young woman, she had a walk, men said, reminiscent of a cobra's sway.

Priya told Bill she had been married many times in India, England and the United States but always to the wrong man. She would give the men time to correct their behavior but none did. As a result of their failure, she bit them with two little fangs inherited from her life as a cobra. They were hidden next to her incisors. Death was almost instantaneous.

No autopsies were ever performed. Death by natural causes was always the ruling. Priya, however, would move to another state or country before marrying again. 

She told Bill she hoped he would be a good husband because she didn’t want to have to move again. She wanted to put down roots and have children. She was curious as to whether they would walk or crawl or maybe do both. But Bill had heard enough. He was already out of bed, had one leg in his tuxedo pants and soon was running down the hall of the 10th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. He had his rented patent leather shoes in one hand and an umbrella in the other in case he ran into a monsoon.

Roy Dorman: It Could Have Been Anybody

Eleanor liked to tell people
that she knew everybody in town.
She would tell anybody who would listen
that she could never live in a big city.
“You wouldn’t even know
all of the people on your block,”
she would exclaim with a theatrical shudder.

Not everybody liked it
that Eleanor shared information
she had about anybody with everybody.

“Well, if you don’t have anything to hide,
you don’t have anything to worry about,”
she would spout while looking you in the eye.

Tonight, while getting ready for bed,
she was stabbed in the heart
by one of the town’s anybodys
who had been hiding in her closet.

Even as she was dying,
a satisfied sigh escaped her;
she had known her assailant all of his life.
Why just this morning
she had been talking about him
to his pretty wife, Mary.

“I’m glad I had the chance to talk to her
about his foolin’ around
with that hussy, Melissa Baines.”

As to who killed Eleanor?
Everybody in town knew
that almost anybody could have done it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: The Story of a Banana Tree

I was two feet tall when I stood surrounded by my brothers and sisters in the backyard of a deserted house. My mother stood huge and protective over all of us. There were mango trees and guava trees spread protectively near us.

In winters I was protected from frost and in summers from the severe sun. Whenever it was unbearably dry, it rained and I soaked in as much water as I could, to keep me alive during the issuing dry months.

One day the doors and windows of the abandoned house opened and we could tell that a family has moved in. There was a young lady and a little girl who stood at the door and gazed and gazed thoughtfully at all of us. We stood huddled together in the middle expectantly.

It was still winter. Two weeks after they arrived, in the middle of a sunny afternoon there came a hoard of men with axes and climbed up the mango trees.

Within a few hours almost all the branches of the mango and guava trees were chopped off. They carried away the logs and brushed aside the evergreen leaves in a huge pile just outside the boundary wall.

They left only the tops of the huge trees green. But it was not enough for us. We were now open to the cold blasts of the winter months.

As winter gave way to spring the ground around us was covered with many saplings of mango, guava, Jamun and many unnamed shrubs. The balsam and canna plants turned up and there were tiny shoots of tomato and brinjal too. It was a thick growth of foliage all around us.

The man of the house surveyed the backyard often. He prodded the small saplings with his big foot with curiosity. From his expression we could tell that he was trying to make up his mind.

Then our downfall began.

They hired a gardener.

The gardener came twice in a week with his sharp spade and large scissors. He began by attacking the bushes with his scissors. Then he trimmed the hedge.

One day, early in the morning, he brought along a friend and a couple of ploughs. The two of them hit the ground with vehemence and within an hour, cleared the ground of all its tender saplings. We stood there shivering with fear, but he spared us and the small litchi tree.

That day, the gardener and his friend planted selection grass all around us. The owner of the house watered the ground and very soon the grass spread all over the place in a lush green evenness.

The little girl and her mother played around us and took out garden chairs to sit near us.

We were very happy.

But our happiness lasted only for a couple of months. I noticed that the gardener was hostile towards the banana trees in particular. We heard him arguing with the lady that we were untamed plants and we did not allow the grass around us to grow thick. We sucked up all the water and hardened the earth near us.

The lady protested in our favour. She said we were venerable and we would bear fruit one day. So the gardener offered a compromise. He took her permission to remove some of us.
We stood huddled together is utter despair. It was a lonely night with no one to come to our aid. We waited for our doom.

The man of the house surveyed us the next day and pointed towards me. Leave this one, he said and went back into the house.

While I stood panting, the gardener uprooted all my brothers and my aged mother and flung them over the boundary wall, right before my eyes. That day my leaves drooped with sorrow but no one cared.

My leaves. A banana tree has a tender trunk and much of its strength depends on the balance of its leaves. I stood alone, next to a litchi tree which was just a baby. I drank up as much water as I could and shot my leaves in all directions for support.

But the horrible gardener loved the grass he had planted and hated me. Every now and then he chopped off one of my leaves with his sharp spade. Every time he cut off one of my limbs I tottered and swooned.

I was growing taller day by day. It was when I stood eight feet tall that I felt the first pangs of pregnancy. I took more nourishment from the earth. I could not bear more leaves. I leaned a little on the still tender litchi tree. It was the beginning of the rainy season. All my strength was drained in giving birth.
Finally, next to my heart there emerged a large fruit. It contained the grain of a hundred bananas. My entire focus was to give them as much nourishment as possible. My skin grew rough. My arms toughened. My roots spread out. I towered above the guava tree and stood braving the rains.

It was not easy. With no leaves to prepare my food and no shelter from the mango trees, I had to lean more and more on the little litchi tree for support. As my fruits grew bigger, I was bent by their weight.

I cried out to my brothers and sisters in agony when the rains drenched me for nights without reprieve. I pleaded with god to protect me and my fruits from imminent disaster. I prayed for more strength and more nutrition. My entire body ached with the load and everyone in my surroundings could hear the groans of my labour.

Finally, in the last days of fruit-bearing, my feet gave way and I fell during the raging storm in the middle of the night. The members in the house heard a loud thud and lit their lamps. But in the storm no one came to my aid.

I lay there till the next afternoon, when the gardener came. He and the owner cursed me, spat on the ground and hit me with their feet. They said, I was useless. I was unfit for fruit-bearing. I was a burden on the ground.

They cursed and cursed. The gardener gave vent to his pent up anger. He said, it ruined the hedge. It ruined the grass. It spoiled the beauty of the garden. It was wild.

And it hurt me most when he said that my fruits would have never been edible either.

But there I was lying helpless. A neighbour came and advised that I could be made to stand up on crutches. My roots were still alive and they may find ground again if I stood up.

But the vengeful gardener, who loved his grasses more made a wry face and declared: the tree is as good as dead. Let’s uproot it and throw it away.

The lady hurriedly said, maybe we can wait till its fruits grow big enough. But the man shook his head thoughtfully and said, No, the fruits would not be worth the price we’d have to pay. Do as you think fit. The gardener nodded with triumph in his eyes.

Anuradha Bhattacharyya is a poet of long standing. Her first book of poems was published in 1998. Since then she has been widely anthologized. Recently, she has published several short stories and a novel The Road Taken. The novel discusses many features of contemporary life neatly packed in the plot of a love story. Her other novel is titled One Word; an excerpt has been published in Indian Review. Both the novels have been published by Creative Crows Publishers, New Delhi, INDIA. 
Apart from two academic books, titled The Lacanian Author and Twentieth Century European Literature, she has published Fifty Five Poems, Knots and Lofty - to fill up a cultural chasm from Writers Workshop, Kolkata, INDIA.  She is Assistant Professor of English in PG Government College, Chandigarh, INDIA. She lives with her husband and daughter in Chandigar

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


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