Tuesday 18 April 2023

Write... Edit... Publish... April 2023 : Life is Beautiful


If you're here looking for my A-Z post, that's P for Palm...click here.

It’s April and there’s the A-Z and the WEP, embarrassment of riches! - and I have family visiting from India here in my home-from-home in magnificent Fiji, so life is indeed beautiful – also busy right now. I’m a sliver over the word count. I truly tried to wrestle it down but it’s the best I can do under the circs.


For this challenge our prompt is based on the Roberto Benigni award-winner Life is Beautiful. I am continuing the story that I started last December, this is the 3rd part, read the other two parts here (Chiaroscuro I) and here (Chiaroscuro II : The Evidence in Black & White). For those who don’t have the time to read previous entries, here’s a brief synopsis -

Chiaroscuro I – The MC finds a B/W profile picture on a social media platform intriguing. He writes on an impulse to the woman and finds that the picture is of her grandmother and was shot in a studio that once belonged to a relative, now dead.


Chiaroscuro II : The Evidence in Black & White  – The MC goes back to his hometown and explores the derelict studio. He finally comes upon a series of nudes of a woman in different stages of life, the last of which he recognises as the grandmother.

Optional Reading

For those unfamiliar with Indian culture and mythology, a few words about the context of the next installment:

1) India has a hierarchical caste system, loosely based on professions, from thousands of years ago. While it was done away with in the Indian constitution, intermarriage between the castes, between a so called higher caste and a lower one, was taboo and stigmatised during the mid-20th century. 

2) Samudra, Arnab and Sagar are Indian names for males, originally from Sanskrit. They all mean sea or ocean. 

3) 'Samudra-Manthan'  means 'the churning of the ocean' and is an important mythological tale where the primal ocean was churned by gods and demons and yielded both treasures and toxins. 'Amrit' was the elixir of immortality, 'Kaustubh' was a gem,   both were among the treasures dredged up in the churning. 

Chiaroscuro III : Colour it Beautiful

I put down the photographs and scissored my hands into the envelope - folded paper, smaller than the  enlarged prints, a couple of sheets. Expensive, thick, suede finish. The kind that was used to write letters on decades ago. I opened them and smoothed them out.



I am being locked up. I cannot come to you. Ruby has agreed to deliver this. I am not allowed too many visitors, but I guess refusing them all also looks suspicious so they are suffering one or two of the neighbourhood girls to call on me. It is a challenge to slip her the letters, but this is the only lifeline I have left.


I have loved you for so long that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I really can’t remember a time when your voice in the front room didn’t make my heart race. The sight of you and my brothers sitting at your games of carrom brightened up my evenings. None of you took any notice of me – go  away and find something else to do, what’s an unruly girl doing here among us, don’t be a pest, get us some tea


You came and went during the festivals, for the rehearsals of the amateur theatre group, for the dumb charades, for the evening addas during the long summer breaks. I hovered everywhere without anyone catching on.


Things changed the day I found you and my brother smoking in the small room off the terrace. You both had graduated, you’d already joined Bourne & Shepherd’s. I had grown up too, I no longer looked like the pest you knew, no more a tongue-tied twelve-year-old girl in two tight plaits and a shapeless frock thrown on anyhow.


I had retreated to the terrace upstairs hopping mad because Father had summarily dismissed my request to get admitted for higher studies. I’d gone there to lick my wounds and regroup for the battles to come.


I had got a place in the best institution in the country! Yet the family refused to even listen, because I was a female, how illogical!


You’d smiled thoughtfully and slowly came up with options. It was pleasantly surprising that you didn’t parrot the elders’ lines. In the end, I did get what I wanted. I always do.


We met quite often after that, in the room off the terrace, sometimes out in the open among other people where we could just blend into the crowd. My brother figured somehow, he wasn’t best pleased.


He tried to warn me off. They’ve given in on the college, alright, they’ll never agree to an inter-caste marriage, if you think that, you’re less smart than I thought. A non-Brahmin, a professional photographer without two pice to rub together, what are you thinking of Sis?


We think that Independence means change, along with the imperialists we have thrown off the centuries old rotten systems, all is fresh, all is new, we can chart our own course as we please. In some ways, we can, we are. But the social divisions, they are not going to change just because the Union Jack is gone. 

I’d told him to keep his opinions to himself. I’d won one battle, I’d win the next too.


So I knew from the start that this was going to be rough. I’d have to fight for every inch of ground. But what I have, what we have between us is worth fighting for.


I don’t know yet how I will do this, but I will give birth to our child. I will name him Kaustubh if he is a boy, Amrita if she is a girl – the supreme treasure of my own Samudra-Manthan.


It does not matter if we can marry or not. I can’t be any more married to you than I am now. It does not matter who they might marry me off to. And whoever it is they trick or cajole into being the groom, he will possess neither my body nor my heart.


Life doesn’t feel beautiful right now, dearest, but I swear to you, I swear by all that is holy, it will be. It will be beautiful again, no matter where I am and where you are.


Yours, and yours only


It ended without a signature.


My brain turned into a tangle of jumbled, writhing thoughts, pulling in different directions. Calm down. Calm. There was an unborn child. All this letter proved was that Sam and the lady were in a relationship when it was written.  What about the photographs then? Surely they meant the relationship had continued beyond the letter, exactly as the writer had sworn it would.


I had wanted to connect a few dots. What I’d got was a bombshell instead. I wasn’t sure how welcome it would be either to my family or to yours.



Slightly anxiety inducing call  - too many horror stories of online friendships falling flat the moment an effort was made to meet offline. It was evident you felt no such qualms though, you were easy, confident.

“ How am I to know you? You never change your profile photo, it’s still your grandmother on there?”

“Ooh, shall we wear matching exotic orchids or something on our lapels?” There was always laughter lurking behind everything you said.

“No, seriously. How are we to recognise each other?”

“Don’t stress. I’ll find you. Your profile pic is bang up current, isn’t it? Unless, you’ve grown a beard recently?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Cool. By the way, folks say I look like my grandmother. So you’re not as much at sea as you think.”

When you removed your sunglasses and sat down opposite I saw exactly what you had meant. 

“Tell me about your grandmother.”

“She was quite a character, actually. She fought her menfolk, you know, very conservative stubborn macho types in those days, went to study in Presidency. The first woman graduate in her family. Didn’t take any nonsense from anyone, did exactly what she wanted and how she wanted. My grandfather always deferred to her opinions. Quite the matriarch.”

“How many children did she have?”

“Four. Three sons and a daughter.”

“What’s the first-born’s name?”

“Kaustubh. Then my Aunt, she’s called Amrita…are you okay?”

“Yeah, fine...go on..”

“The last two brothers are Arnab and Sagar – that’s my father. She used to say that her offspring were the treasures from churning the oceans of life…her rewards for her own personal Samudra-Manthan…”


WC - 1080


Read the other entries here.


  1. Hari OM
    I love how you have chosen to tell one story in chapters through this year's challenge - I am tingling at the connections here! YAM xx

  2. I had forgotten the long ago parts of the story, but it all came back as I read the intros. Will we find part 4 in 6 months?

  3. Poignant and beautiful. And real. Thank you.

  4. I love this story and can't wait to read more. Excellent!
    I added your link. I hope all is going well. You are one busy woman.

  5. Love and mystery intertwined. How poignant. I want to keep reading.

  6. Well done!! Love this developing story!

  7. Reading about the unplanned pregnancy and then meeting the person as an adult. That's interesting. I'm trying to decipher if the narrator is interested in the person or is related. Which I'm guessing that not knowing yet is the point.

    I guess keeping the rich marrying the rich is how we get "old money" and Billionaires. And probably keeps too many poorer people from getting a slice of the pie, financially or in political clout. The law might change, but people don't stop feeling like things matter more than life and love. Good way to equate the movie (and a big reason for the war) with your story.

  8. You've set yourself another challenge and are carrying it off so beautifully. The topic of caste is always highly charged and emotionally appealing. I enjoyed this one!

  9. Nila, I takes me 'at off to you at the way you tackle these prompts. It's very alluring to come here to explore your genius. I like this one so much. The feisty heroine we can root for and her determination to win in such a patriarchal society. Yep. She seems to have achieved this. Wonderful.

  10. As always, loving your intriguing, photographic tale, Nilanjana. Something about it reminds me of My Story... kamala das.

  11. Hi Nila - I do hope you're enjoying your visitors and spending time with them. I'm so pleased you gave us those synopses before continuing your story. It's fascinating to read - and I'm so looking forward to more ... and to find out about the unborn child. As Denise said 'a feisty woman' - who was determined to be herself. Thank you - so interesting - cheers Hilary

  12. What a beautifully layered story and so apt for the prompt. I'm intrigued by what happened in the past and how it yet affects that young man who's trying to figure out exactly what happened and what it means to him today. Looking forward to more! Social change does occur, but very, very slowly!

  13. Fiji is beautiful. I hope you'll have pictures to share.

    Great post. You have a good slow-reveal going on here. Great way to build!
    Proof of Existence, book two in my dark urban fantasy series, is out this month. I hope you'll check it out.
    And please don't miss the amazing giveaway on my blog. Act fast and enter now!

    J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Reference& Speculative Fiction Author, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, and Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge

  14. Thank you for the synopsis before-hand - a great help. A lovely story with that touch of mystery that will, hopefully, develop as the year goes on.

  15. So many layers to this story. As I read this, memories of the others came flashing back. Very well done.

  16. Such a pleasure to read your writing and this story you have woven! My heart stopped when she said her grandmother's eldest child's name is Kaustabh. Great piece!

  17. Thank you all for reading and the feedback. Much appreciated!