It's August and it's time to get back to Write...Edit...Publish... where the prompt is the delightful film Chocolat based on the book by Joanne Harris. Mine is a scheduled post this time as I am relocating from Fiji back to Calcutta, so forgive me if I am a bit late with my reading and commenting.
This post continues the story of Shovan and Mukta, Sam and Janhobi that began last December. It's turning out to be a kind of double scoop sundae romance story in a story...
What's happened so far:
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 in the past.
He meets with the granddaughter in their common hometown and shares the findings...which naturally shocks the granddaughter. The MC assures her that the secret is safe with him and he will support her through this bombshell discovery. They say goodbye but he feels she will not want to see him again.
Read on to find out what happens next...
Chiaroscuro V : Engraved
The surroundings deepened in colour as one travelled out, even as the bridge was crossed. The skies were incredibly bluer, the earth verdant with a million shades of green and the air was a clear invitation to breathe deep. I had been so firmly embedded in urban spaces that I had forgotten how beautiful everything got once the city was left behind.
Sometime in the 17th century, a merchant forefather of my mother’s had prospered on the back of the European jute trade. He acquired a tract of land and built a modest home close to a bend in the river. His descendants were to live there and carry on the family business happily ever after. A few centuries down the line however, plastics happened, jute declined, first the World Wars and then Independence and Partition changed the old order.
The descendants had quietly eroded away from the river bend to the city. The land had had to be portioned and sold off, but the house remained. By the time my mother got married, the old homestead only drew occasional visits by the family. I had only ever been there as a child, just a hazy memory.
Two weeks had passed since Mukta and I had met. It had ended as awkwardly as I had feared. I desperately wanted to ring her but did not know if it would be appropriate. This entire molehill-exploded-to-mountain was quite unnecessarily stressful. Getting out of the city was an escape too.
It was smaller than my memory of it. Entering through the gate into the traditional courtyard everything felt cramped, the columns not as lofty, the dust adding its own dingy colour to the doors, the round knockers pitted with rust. The front room with its low divan was bare of any mattress or pillows, the old teakwood armchairs were shrouded in yellowed dustcovers, brittle with age. Footsteps echoed eerily on the floors, voices seemed to ricochet round the walls. Mother got busy with her helper in making things habitable. I drifted from room to room, the bustle of people gradually receding as I climbed to the upper floor.
A long verandah ran the entire length of the house connecting the rooms. I walked along it into the last one. It was dark inside but I rattled a window open. Light poured in and picked out an arrangement of furniture that felt vaguely familiar – a Victorian table with an empty vase, an art deco radio, a chair with curved claw-and-ball legs. I dusted it off and sat down. Where had I seen these before? It eluded me for a minute. Of course – in the photo! In Mukta’s profile picture, her grandmother’s B/W photo. I sat frozen to the chair.
Twilight came and laid a gentle hand over the village in a crescendo of birdsong and a fluorescent arc of lilac light. The peak hour traffic rush was substituted by the field workers winding their way home from the paddies. The post office staff on tinkling bicycles, a distant local train’s chugging making the air throb vaguely without any perceptible sound. Peace made almost tangible. But on the outside only.
My thoughts rolled around my brain like pebbles in a shoe, sharp and uncomfortable in whatever positions I jockeyed them to. I jackknifed up from the chair – the walls closing in suddenly unbearable – and ran down the stairs.
Someone called out behind me. I threw an answer over my shoulder.
“Take a torch.” My mother pressed one into my hands. “It’s dark.”
Indeed the lights were quite dim, quite a few were missing bulbs. The sky was bright with stars though. The house abutted the river at the back, just a couple of hundred yards from the waterfront promenade. If it could be called that with its half tumbled brick parapet, missing paving stones and ever present litter. The birds had fallen silent giving way to a chorus of crickets. Peace lapped alongside the river, the water ran with a low, continuous chuckling. The moon rose and prodded the waves with a shining finger of light. A breeze started up from somewhere. It was enough.
The path back was narrow and dark, surrounded by thickets of bamboo. I switched the torch on. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because the gates were nowhere to be seen. It should not have taken this long. Had I really wandered this far? Lights broke though the gaps in the foliage, there was the buzz of voices somewhere, so I kept on mechanically, mulling over this new discovery of the room and its contents.
The groves thinned out after a while revealing the house just ahead. There was a huge neem tree against the boundary wall, planted more than a century ago. Its branches soared up many feet above the house, dribbling its leaves over the roof, casting deep shadows on the grounds. My feet stopped of their own accord. I shone the torchlight over it.
The beam played up and down over the great trunk of the neem and caught a gleaming speck, it flashed gold as the light fell on it. I drew nearer – it was a chocolate wrapper, plastered flat against the bark by the breeze. I slapped my hand over it. My fingers sank in unexpectedly. Underneath the fluttering wrapper was a small hollow – a piece of bark had been stripped off.
As I lifted the foil away, the torch revealed the mark scratched on the trunk, one of those eternal acts of love, or vandalism, depends on your opinion – names carved on trees. This one looked decades old, the edges had healed completely, the exposed wood buffed and smoothened with age. The letters had been slashed deeply, vehemently, into the grain. They were now blackened with accumulated grime, but no less emphatic than when they were first made – Janhobi + Samudra, shaped into an elongated but unmistakable heart.
WC - 987
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We have heaps of great stuff going on at WEP - there's the How To Series on various aspects of the writing life. The Anthology Page is now live so that's something we are all super excited about - go check that out for details and get writing!
And there are always the Challenges, the next prompt is in October and it's based on The Phantom of the Opera - how nifty is that for the Halloween month?!
WEP was also at IWSG earlier this month figuring out the fascinating links between chocolate, writers and books. That's worth a shufti too if you're into chocolate, or writing, or both!
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