Tuesday 20 June 2023

Write... Edit... Publish... June 2023 : Close Encounters of the Third Kind


It's June and it's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish... where the prompt is based on the iconic sci-fi movie by Steven Spielberg - Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There is much going on at WEP apart from the Challenges, we have a series of 'how-to' articles relating to writing, publishing and flash fiction, we are actively working on the modalities of the antho, so do go check out the site and keep your eyes peeled and ears cocked.

Re the Challenges, let me repeat here what I've said on the WEP site also - the prompt being drawn from a movie poster doesn't mean the writing has to reflect the movie in any detail - not the plot, not the genre, nil, zilch, nada. Use any element that you want from it, whatever inspires you, whatever small or big part helps your interpretation come together. You don't have to watch the movie and/or know a single thing about it. 

That said, I'm myself using the prompt only tangentially to continue the story that I started last December. With a minor change of voice, as I find the mixed first and second POV I had started with  has got too restrictive, I had no inkling the story would grow to this length. This is the 4th part, done in a simple first person POV. Read the other parts here (Chiaroscuro I),  here (Chiaroscuro II : The Evidence in Black & White) and here (Chiaroscuro III : Colour it Beautiful))


For those who don’t have the time to read previous entries, here’s a brief synopsis -

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. 

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.

He finds a letter that breaks the bombshell news that his Great Uncle Sam, the studio owner and the grandmother had an ongoing relationship. He meets with the granddaughter in their common hometown... Read on to find what happens next.


Incidentally, this here is my 1000th post here on M-i-V (I know! Who'd have thought, right?) For some, not-so-strange reason, it pleases me exceedingly that it's a WEP entry! 

Thank you for being this massively enjoyable, grounding, supportive, cherished and meaningful part of my online world!

Chiaroscuro IV : River Flame


“Are you done?” Mukta smiled. “I’m supposed to be the one with the questions, aren’t I? What did you find?”


There was no good way to tell a granddaughter that her obviously idolised grandma had been in a lifelong, illicit relationship and had at least one child, if not all her children, from it.  In fact, there was my family too – Sam Gain’s nieces and the nephews-in-law. It had occurred to me that if Kaustubh was truly Sam’s son – and so far the signals were he was highly likely to be, then the studio belonged to him rather than my mother and aunts.   


I looked around the café. It was one of those spanking new ones, all muted geometric wallpapers, spiky chandeliers and futuristic décor combined with retro sci-fi film posters. On my right was one from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, across the room on the far wall were posters from Fantastic Voyage, Things to Come, Forbidden Planet – all ominously apt. It was bristling with afternoon crowds – too much noise, too many people, it did not feel the least like the ideal ambience for the breaking of bombshell news.


“Do you really want to know?” I stalled. “It might make sense to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“That’s crazy, no way! Of course I want to know!”

“It’s complicated. Not a feel-good story, Mukta.” I called for the bill. “We’ll have to find a quieter place. I’m not saying anything here, c’mon.”



We found ourselves one of those ancient eateries in a bye lane off Esplanade. The ones which had those curtained off cubicles for so called ‘family’ seating, used more as hideaways by couples reluctant to go public. It was emptier – unmarried couples had far less reasons to hide from public view now. On second thought, maybe not, what with the love-jihad gangs – perma-outraged right-wingers pouncing on any couple unfortunate enough to be mixed faith. Intercaste had got substituted by interfaith nowadays, that was all.


“What was her  name?” I asked as I handed over the letter.

“Janhobi. Janhobi Jyoti.”

She read the letter and sat silent for some time. “There’s no signature. How can one be sure?”

I was prepared. “There was a bunch of photos.” I whipped out my phone – opened the cropped versions and handed it to Mukta. “In the same envelope.”

“Still. It’s not ironclad.”

“Pretty much. Your Uncle and Aunt being named Kaustubh and Amrita, exactly as she said…”

“Where are the originals?”

“They are works of art. I thought I’d ask before I brought them over. They’re nudes. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see them.”

She looked at the cellphone for the longest minute, silent. “Talk about digging up a snake thinking it’s an earthworm! She was a strong woman though.” The smile had vanished from her voice. “I can’t quite wrap my head around the lie that’s involved, that’s so out of character. So unlike her. Scandalous, in those times.”

“It’s scandalous now too. I don’t think our society’s broad minded enough to accept pre-marital relationships, or children resulting from them. Folks would still go up in smoke. Your relatives won’t be best pleased for sure. The man you know as your father or grandfather all your life is suddenly not, how can that not be earth shattering? I’m so sorry, Mukta.”

“This is just beyond belief. Does that mean my father is also not my grandfather’s...?”

“Listen, we could just forget this ever happened.”

“I don’t think I could. I can’t unread that letter, unsee the photos. I wouldn’t forget in a hundred years. Would you?”

“Possibly not. What is bothering me is also that your family likely has a greater claim on my Great-Uncle Sam’s property – his studio and the buildings and whatever else was there. Not exactly a fortune but still…a whole heap of legalities would be involved if there’s a claim.”

“Good heavens! That also means we, me and you, share ancestors. We are some sort of cousins or half cousins or something.”

“Yes.” I shrugged. “That’s really the least of our problems, I’d think.”

“Will you come for a stroll with me? I don’t think I can go back right now.”

“Sure. Do us both good.”


The afternoon had lengthened into evening. We walked out in silence through the narrow lanes, crossed Esplanade and finally onto Red Road. The streetlamps came on and dappled the pavement with leaf shadows the size of my palms. I looked up at the great trees lining the boulevard, filled now with returning birds, always a poignant metaphor whether homing, migratory, nesting or flying off.


The silence felt like a metaphor too. This wasn’t going anywhere. Should I have said nothing, pretended the search had just fizzled out? Such a huge lie, though. Is a pleasant lie ever acceptable over an uncomfortable truth? …Priyam cha nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanahDo not speak a falsehood even if it is pleasant, that’s the path of eternal righteousness.

The traffic thickened all around us as the rush hour gripped the city in its stranglehold. She broke the silence at Victoria.

“I think I can manage now. Thank you, Shovan. For being honest with me. For everything.”

“I’m sorry. This was drastic.”

“It’s not your fault. And you did give me the choice not to know. Definitely drastic!”

“Think about what you want to do. And know for sure this won’t go any further. I’m only a phone call away. In this country and over there as well.”


She nodded, waved crisply, then turned and walked off, the set of her shoulders incredibly vulnerable and lonely among the knots of waiting commuters. I would not blame her if she got home and ghosted me forever.


WC – 954


Tagline : How not to meet an online friend face to face.

Read the other entries below.  

Saturday 17 June 2023

Someone Else

Yankari Game Reserve


I’ll go back there some day, return and stand

underneath that row of gmelina trees,

I once dug at their roots with my own hands,

buried childhood treasures. Some memories


mixed in with the earth, inseparably twined

even then and more so now, turned to dust - 

as I too have crumbled, tumbled, groped blind

through miles of different grasses, chimneys, rust.


The town will have changed – in likely parallels.

Will she recognise my thumbprints, my footmarks?

Will I know the slopes of her surrounding hills?

Does the road home run straight past the Co-Op still,

the gmelinas still peel off their silver bark?...

I forget - that home belongs to someone else.

It has been a vague dream of mine for the longest time - to go back to the towns of the Sahel/Sudan Savannah in Northern Nigeria where I grew up. If you are a regular here, then you know me and my odd hankerings. Nothing new, just want to go home to Africa! :) That's one of the reasons why Fiji felt familiar, it combines many of the features of the Sahel towns of the previous century with a bit of modern internet and a different terrain.

The Net is a mixed blessing, because the satellite images are accessible, but I couldn't find anything there in the maps - my school has disappeared, the neighbourhood where we lived, the sports club, nothing is visible. Well, naturally - it's a long, long time since I was there. 

The population meanwhile has gone from 81,000 to 670,000 so everything must have been demolished and rebuilt to accommodate that growth.  I know I won't recognise a thing, but still, I just want to go stand there once. Unlikely in this lifetime as the security situation is not so great, travel advisories are firmly against foreigners' venturing there, so veering towards impossible. But one can hope. And dream on and write... 

Saturday 10 June 2023



Photo by Amritanshu Sikdar on Unsplash

When you peer into the well it only

mirrors a dumb grey sky, where no bird flies,

looking into a well is lonely,

it doesn’t speak back, there are no replies.


Unseasonal rain speckles the water

in rivers and streams as well as oceans.

Long lines of women – mothers and daughters

wait at the well for their turns at the omens.


You wish to hear the prophecies spoken –

no birdsong, no chatter. A lizard moves

somewhere on the parapet. Not a token

nor a sign. Just the rope in its own grooves,


the splash of the bucket, resultant ripples.

The draw of the future in drops and trickles.

Even when there's a contract all cut and dried, everything spelt out, a term specified - the future always retains its haze of uncertainty, its immeasurable potential for change, from a slight tweak to a megaspanner in the works. Something akin to a spanner has been thrown and as a result we are relocating back to India. A bit ahead of schedule. I'm here for this month and next, then it's back to ye olde hometown. I'm sorry and I'm not sorry. 

It'll be a relief to get to decent bookshops whenever I want. Get online/postal deliveries in 2-3 days instead of waiting interminably. And be in a more manageable timezone as compared to the rest of my family, phew! That I think is what I am looking forward to the most, being able to communicate again with folks in India, Europe and US without having to turn my brain inside out calculating the time difference and tracking civilised calling windows. Fiji has been isolating. 

So why am I sorry? mostly because...well, I'm a nitpicky goody two shoes - I don't like the loose end of an incomplete contract, no matter how justified the reason behind it. Secondly, in some ways, Fiji has been a throwback to my childhood in Nigeria, the same sort of isolation and remoteness from urban spaces, the same wide open untouched expanses of wilderness, similar rudimentary retail infrastructure - malls few and far between, home- and farm grown veggies bought at unsophisticated open markets, live fish bought after bargaining from  fisherfolk at roadside stalls - bliss! Most of all though, it's the familiar pattern of expatness and employed breadwinner that was easy to settle back into. Having a retired workaholic male at home full time, yikes - it's still an unknown, scary zone. :) All unknowns are adventures though, I'm up for a new one. 

Saturday 3 June 2023

Keep it trimmed


Pack only the weight you yourself can lift

and it makes sense to prioritise.

The small often weighs way more than the big

it’s not always linked to size.


You’ll have to take off your shoes many times.

At security. Strange doors and streets.

Wear the most robust yet softest you find

and remember to put up your feet.


And there will be the unplanned layover

that’ll pounce out from simply nowhere

a light bag means you’ll keep your composure.

A delay won’t stop you getting there.


All routes don’t have to be perfectly straight,

enjoy the panoramas while you wait.

This one's addressed to the folks who're always in a hurry, get their tempers frayed by the least delay or deviation. Basically, they make it easy for the world to ruin their day and their travels in a million ways. My suggestions distilled from 50 plus years of air travel in the above. 

Enjoy the panorama, this one right here, because it's never going to happen again. This particular unfolding of the world to your particular gaze is never going to be repeated in its entirety again. Worth being mindful, because no situation or vista is ever all bad, there's always something of breathtaking beauty studded somewhere in the worst delays - you only have to look a bit close. Actually a delay isn't even a delay half the time, it's just a different route. Relax. Keep your eyes peeled, keep your mind calm. The gems come at you without notice and disappear without trace in a split second. Lamps must be ready, wicks correctly trimmed, if you're in places where power outages are quite common. In the ROTW - all devices fully charged.