Letter from novelist Aruni Kashyap re ‘The Shadow Lines’

Chrestomather | August 19, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

Aruni Kashyap

The letter below is from novelist Aruni Kashyap, author of The House With A Thousand Stories  (Viking/Penguin, 2013). It is posted here with his permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Amitav,

I have told this to numerous people and have also written briefly about it but strangely, never told you that The Shadow Lines is one of the most important novels for me. I read it at a time when I was disillusioned with literature. I was planning to return to Assam to study in History in Cotton College, Guwahati, where my mother teaches Assamese literature. It was 2004, my first year at St. Stephen’s. I felt I was such a misfit. Most of the people had come from elite families, and it seemed there was no space for someone like me. Thanks to my parents, I went to a good school in Guwahati, but I had very humble upbringing. We didn’t know it was humble. We thought we were quite better off with so many books around! Just to put things in perspective : when my father received his PhD in 1998 (on human sacrifice in Assam’s religious practices!), a meeting was organised in our village where hundreds of people came to listen and “see” the first PhD from that region and more so because he used to work as a bus conductor during his MA days to fund his studies. My mother had a harder life : they were urban poor. She could study this far only because there was something called “britti porikkha” in Assam that waived tuition fees for students who did well in schools and colleges. For years, she went to school hungry. They had a few plantain trees at the back of their houses. On better days, she would go with her uncles to pluck some of them from the trees, and soften those by punching to eat before going to college. She didn’t have the money to buy textbooks so she would borrow the textbooks from her wealthier classmates, buy plain sheets and copy those textbooks down. Those handwritten “books”, stitched nicely with cotton threads, remained in our house for a long time – to serve as a privilege checkers for her children. I was so embarrassed of those stories in my first semester at St. Stephen’s. I was worried people would find out and make fun of me and to top it all, I had to read Dickens’ Hard Times which was just awful. I couldn’t bring myself to “fit into” the the atmosphere at St. Stephen’s. I also felt stupid. Everyone seemed more intelligent than me and I was scared to open my mouth in class. I decided to return to Assam to my parents’ horror and told the professor I still admire and still in touch with. Feeling free, I thought I should read a novel just to enjoy and not to analyse it. I picked up The Shadow Lines. The lectures on the novel hadn’t started yet and the intimate, inviting, funny voice of the novel, Tridib’s gastric, Ila, Mayadebi – all of them enthralled me. I don’t know what happened but that novel churned something in me and I stayed back to complete my course and I know, I wouldn’t have been a writer today if I hadn’t read The Shadow Lines. It is one of the most important books in my life. Thank you for writing it. That day in October 2004, when I was reading The Shadow Lines in that room in Rudra North, I had no clue I would connect with you. Your letter is so important for me.
 
Last year, I brought my mother to Delhi for treatment in Medanta. She has an unfriendly kidney, that hasn’t turned hostile yet thanks to regular check ups and I hope it wouldn’t. I was so shocked to see her. I thought about the woman who punched on plantains to soften them before eating to quell hunger and still did well in academics, who remained awake on rainy nights with pots and tumblers collecting water in the house because they couldn’t afford a new sheet of asbestos, and went next morning to sleep on highways in front of oil tankers during the Oil Blockade Andolon. I was so saddened. I wrote a poem thinking about those stories that I am no more embarrassed about. I am pasting it below. I hope you will like reading it.
 
I hope I see you again very soon!
Best,
Aruni
 
 
 

MY MOTHER BRINGS THE RAINS

My mother brings the rains to scorching Delhi, even
before she lands. The skies wear cigarette ash,
goats bleat, winds create funnels with the sand,
and even green leaves break-up with branches.

In her city,
she was the famous beauty. Men
stumbled when she walked,
women asked her what she ate, what she
applied on her skin, marvelling
at her elephant-apple rinsed silky hair; but
she had no secrets to share, and
refused to tell them her sorrows.
Years later, unable to leave the bed for months,
on her way to a faraway hospital before
the days of cheap long distance calls,
my father bought her a notebook.

Write, he said. For yourself, for your son,
Otherwise how will he know?
How will he know about
your Muslim lover who was beaten up by your brothers
for loving you, about the poet who wrote a new poem
every night on a different classroom desk
until there were none
left to pour out his heart, the geek who made you the protagonists
of his fiction but didn’t write reply poems like me?
How will he know about your empty stomachs,
the mustard oil you applied on your face, the
bitter juice you drank every morning for that
golden skin, that men could kill for? Sit up

write that you slept on beds from where you
could count the stars, that rains meant placing
tumblers on strategic spots of the house, and staying awake
with a mope made of old bedsheets. Write about
Rebellions and oil blockades, about
farmers who rushed to the streets of Hamdoi
to kill landlords. Spend the ink

if not for yourself, for your first born,
who you worried wouldn’t have a sharp nose
like his maternal uncles,
for you married low,
for love, for ideals, for protest marches
and poetry.

Rathalla Review, Spring 2016
 
 


Leave a Reply

You can use these XHTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*


ucuz ukash