Saturday, 25 October 2014

Bilet

I don't quite know how to begin this post, so I write a line, delete and wait. And then I decide to tell you: I don't quite know how to begin this post.

When I'm excited about something, I can never lead up to it with any amount of graceful restraint. I just have to put it out there - plop. And since 'out there' means out here, to you who know me, I can lose the grace and do a dance and tell you that my second fiction is out.




It's a story called 'Bilet' and it's now on the wonderful Tupelo Quarterly; it's also my first publication in the US.

You can read 'Bilet' here:
http://www.tupeloquarterly.com/bilet-by-pia-ghosh-roy/

Tell me what you think. Leave me a comment, leave me your thoughts. And pass the story around to anyone you think might like to read a story. 


Sunday, 19 October 2014

You at six

Let's first face facts.

You're six.


Like every year, this leaves me stumped. And like every year, Ba and I talked about the day you were born, and the morning we brought you home from hospital. You should've seen us, Ba and me - two utter amateurs, all by ourselves, no family in the country, clutching onto a teeny-tiny person swaddled in a great length of cloth. I remember standing outside the hospital in the October sun holding you while Ba went to fetch a taxi. If I close my eyes, I can still smell you; the one-day-old you. I can still feel the texture of the crocheted white blanket you were wrapped in. I can still see your little face, eyes shut in sleep, nose wrinkling with the first smell of the outside, the smell of sunlight. Your skin peeling in little patches. Everything new - arriving, waking; all at once.

When I say it was just the other day, it was.


The only difference is that now we don't have to hold you gingerly anymore. We can squish you and squash you as much as we want, and you squish us right back. You also write us letters - long letters, sitting in school - which you give us when you come home. Sometimes you keep them in your hidey-holes, little surprises for us to find. On your birthday, as Ba and I sang your birthday song early in the morning from under our duvets, still groggy, the sun rising behind us, you bounced out of your bed and ran into our room, and after we'd given you your birthday card, you said you had something for us too: you ran downstairs, there was shuffling, and then you ran back up holding a card. You'd made us a card for your birthday with a letter inside, and kept it hidden all week. But there's nothing you keep hidden on these sheets of paper  - all your love is in there in careful handwriting. Every emotion, every time you've ever missed us, is on it. The way you see us is on it. And we've never looked better. I'm always humbled by how powerful, how uncomplicated, this love is that buzzes and crackles and flows without ebb.

When you're not writing, you draw. Yes, you still love to draw. Visual references of your world,  journaling things that stick to you. Like rainclouds and rooftops, geese flying over water, a wild hare in mid-leap.




You also drew your birthday party, only the guests looked a little different, and decidedly four-legged.



The actual birthday party though was by no means less wild: sixteen six-year-olds; it would've been calmer with the animals.





You had a Totoro Party in honour of your favourite movie, with a popcorn-and-sushi screening at home. And party bags with soot gremlins and chopsticks.



And finally a cake that made you so happy, that it made all the late-night baking and smearing and Totoro-drawing worthwhile.



Apart from Totoro, these are some of your other favourite things at six:

The animals you collect; a veritable zoo, each animal with its own name: like Cuba and Havana (the leopard and her cub - gifts from Bobo), Chandan (the St Bernard, because you love the smell of sandalwood), Charcoal and Snow (the black horse, and the white), or Snot (the snake; because that's what he feels like).



Taking late night walks by the river, your dim little torch showing us the way.

Discovering the joy of reading your first chapter book. But still much preferring to sit on my lap listening to old favourites like the Beatrix Potter books on your desk.



Going to Ba's Aikido class and copying his every move on your own little mat. 

Making tiny sculptures that can sit on the tip of a finger. Like this dog and baby Totoro you made today.



Coming into our room, crawling under our blanket and snuggling between me and Ba every morning before our day starts, and we run late for school.



Dancing with me, and making music with Ba.


Chotto-ma, how we love you! From the ends of your short, spiky hair to the tips of your six-year-old toes. You make music for us every day. And every day, we wonder how we created a note so perfect.


Monday, 29 September 2014

Nothing

I sit down to write a post, but I realise I have nothing to write about. So I tell D I have nothing to write about and D says why don't I write about Nothing.


Who'd want to read about Nothing? Who'd want to read about a Nothing kind of week? With exactly seven days, each day with exactly the same name: Tuesday right after Monday. People un-upsidedown. Duvets in duvet-covers. My washed washing still in the washing-machine. Four cows in the Common chewing on their grumpiness and that fine grass. Pooing as they walk, pooing as they eat. Terrible table manners under absurdly good sunsets. River, rowers, ripples. Goddamn alliterations. And autumn.



Nothing that trumpets. Or tells a story. And that's the thing about Nothing, see. It doesn't care. It doesn't want to be. Doesn't want to make a point. I watch Chotto-ma blow at a dandelion, scattering seeds to wind, till there's nothing left but a green stump. But in that Nothing is contained one deep breath. Held. Released. Sending scores of seeds parachuting to its soil, sprouting into a hundred beautiful weeds.



I like Nothing. I like stories that say nothing, and tell something. I like questions that ask nothing, and walks that go nowhere. I like cul-de-sacs. And pointless conversations. And silence. And empty hours. And blank paper. There's nothing quite like Nothing.

I had nothing much in the kitchen on Friday. I came home to a few stalks of celery, four carrots, a bunch of forgotten spring onions, some dried chillies and a couple of potatoes. And wine, for there is always wine.

Something good came out of that. Something good always comes out of nothing much.















Carrot, Celery and Chipotle Soup


Ingredients

1 cup chopped celery
2 cups sliced carrots
1/2 cup chopped spring onion (white onion will also do)
3 potatoes, halved lengthwise, then sliced in thick-ish semi-circles
1 chipotle chilli (this is what gives the soup its lovely smoky flavour)
1/2 cup dry white wine
A knob of butter
2 bayleaves
Coarsely-ground black pepper
Salt



Heat butter in a deep pan. Add the celery, carrots, potato, onion and a pinch of pepper. Stir for a couple of minutes on low heat.
Add about 6 cups of water, salt and bayleaves. Cover with lid and simmer till the vegetables are halfway cooked.
Add the wine and chipotle chilli, then continue to boil with the lid off till the vegetables are cooked and tender.
Serve hot.

PS: Don't go by the soup's plain appearance. Inside, it is a thing of great beauty.
PPS: We had the leftover soup the next day with a grilled sausage dunked in.




























Saturday, 20 September 2014

Mirrors and grey days




Chotto-ma took this photo of us while we napped in the afternoon today. I woke up, and found it on the camera. It was a very grey day, and it would've passed like another grey day, and I'd never have known us in sleep. This little girl, she holds a mirror to us in so many ways. Shows us what we look like when we aren't looking. And sometimes by being a mirror herself.








Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Stew you for supper

"Who are you, little girl?"
"Maa..."
"Have you lost your mummy?"
"Tumi aamar ma" (You're my Ma.)
"What's that strange language you're speaking?"
"Eta strange na. Eta Bangla; Bengali." (It's not strange; it's Bengali.)
"Bhengawli? Well, I don't understand a word of it! Greek to me."
"Ma..."
"Oh, stop calling me that! Go home, little girl. Stop following me."
"Ma."
"Shoo."



This is Chotto-ma's absolutelyfavouritest game, staged daily on the walk back from school. I started it, little knowing what I was in for. She loved it so much, it has begged repetition ever since. And every day if possible.

There's me in my best ill-humoured-Edwardian-lady accent, and a little brown girl straggling behind. Ne'er has a play seen a more unsuitable cast. But apparently, it's "hu-normous" fun.

Some days, though, when I pick her up from school, I feel like I haven't seen her forever; which means I need to squish her too much to play the game. I squish her and I carry her as far as I can these days, slobbering her face with very noisy kisses - which doesn't quite set the mood for Le Pathétique. On days like that, there is Option B.




In Option B, I play myself (thank god). But. I seem to be very confused about our way home from school. I drag her to all the wrong doors, try to take all the wrong turns, but Chotto-ma knows better, of course. So she rolls her eyes and pulls me in the right direction. She points to our house from a distance. Look Ma, there's our house. No-no, I say, that's Miss Havisham's, an old lady who's allergic to little girls. Nah, she says, that's ours. Big mistake, I say - Miss Havisham's going to stew you for supper.

And so we climb the stairs; me mumbling caveats about trespassers and dour old ladies, and Chotto-ma with her worldly calm, shaking her worldly head. When she reaches the door, she takes the key from me. She slips it into the keyhole. I'm aghast that our key fits Miss Havisham's house. She turns the key and the door opens! She pulls me in, and I nearly pass out from the shock of it all  - for it is indeed our house.


And so happy and relieved are we to find Miss Havisham missing that we flick off our shoes, throw off our jackets, and dive into the kitchen to bake a cake that would befit the fussiest Edwardian dowager.


.....


Fig & Pecan Buttermilk Cake




Ingredients

3 large figs (1 quartered lengthwise; the other 2 cubed into 8 pieces each)
A handful of pecan, broken into pieces
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
3/4 cups brown, granulated sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract






Pre-heat oven: 160°C.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together with a wooden spoon.
Make a well in the middle, crack in the eggs, pour in the butter and vanilla extract. Stir it all in.
Add in the buttermilk a little add at time. Stir, add, stir - till the buttermilk is all gone and you have a nice, smooth batter.
Now, add the cubed figs and the pecan, and fold them in.




Pour the batter into a greased loaf tin.
Tuck in the other fig slices on top.


Bake for about 50 minutes, or till a knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Let it cool for a while before slicing.
Serve with a drizzle of cream.