Culture & Society

Book Excerpt: Two Minutes To An Eclipse And Other Moments

The author calls on the readers to treat each moment of their life with respect, with awe of the unknown magic that a sundry moment may unfold.

Book Excerpt: Two Minutes To An Eclipse And Other Moments
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Anshu Choudhury’s Two Minutes To An Eclipse And Other Moments is a collection of short stories centered on moments—moments that disturb, shock, thrill or apprise unsuspecting readers of their potential to jolt out of ubieties or plain boredom.  No matter how ordinary and dull life seems, no matter the number of years that have formed and frozen opinions and beliefs, an unbidden moment can destabilise status quo, is what the stories lay bare. 

The book calls on the readers to treat each moment of their life with respect, with awe of the unknown magic that a sundry moment may unfold and at the same time, seeks to invoke unity through empathy for the human condition (and those of living creatures like Romeo the monkey) through the vivid ‘that person next-door’ characters, caught up in their moments of disruption. 

But above of all, the book through its lucid, engaging narration of short stories portends and marvels at the miracle that is life, hoping that the readers will fall in love with it all over again and value their lives moment to moment.

Below is an excerpt from a short story ‘A Photograph’ from the book—

“Mommy, here goes the match…..tsch, tsch, tsh………” She announced loud enough for the neighbours to hear. The spilt milk was no match for the dripping kerosene, her Mom must acknowledge.

“Nikkei, Nikkei, stop Nikkei. I am coming. What are you up to, girl? What's it about the matches?”

Nikkei heard the scuffing of feet, her Mom’s gait heavy and burdened yet urgent, just as soon she had smelt the pungent odour of kerosene thick in the air. The store room ponged like a kerosene drum even though she had only kept a can for occasional use when LPGs lagged by late deliveries.

“Nikkei, Nikkei, stop it. What are you doing with the kerosene?”

“I am bathing in it.  It is all over me, not much to drown me but more than enough to burn me. Do you hear, Mommy? I am going to burn myself so that you are rid of me. It’s what you always wanted.”

“Nikkei, you crazy girl, don’t be silly. Wait, wait, listen to me, throw away the match box, and throw it away, now.” But Nikkei made a face at the mirror; twisted her mouth and sneered, assured that her Mom could see. She looked at the match-box in her hand and flipped it side to side. She wandered if she should draw out a match just then or wait some more to work up her Mom’s frenzy. She picked up the empty can and threw it at the door. The plastic against wood made for a booming protest.

“What’s that?”

“It’s the can I inverted over my head. You wanna see how wet I am? Wet with kerosene, soaked to the cell. Mama, you will go to hell, a jail, that’s where you will end up, and you deserve it for all that you have done to me. I will never forgive you.” It was sung out not stated, the melody of a blackmail.

“Nikkei, don’t be stupid. Are you out of your mind? Okay, send me to jail, but don’t you harm yourself, girl. Open the door, you crazy insane girl, troubling me just like your father.” Mom was beating the door with her palms, fists, sobbing and Nikkei felt a little better, a trifle compensated by the sniffling that came from across the door. But she had no intention to scale down the attack. Rather, she was convinced of stepping it up.

“He left you and now you want to be rid of me. You might as well have it; but on my terms, on my terms, you understand? ” Nikkei screwed her eyes narrow and scrunched up her nose in disgust to hiss out the rebellious threat.

“Open the door Nikkei, listen to me, and don’t do anything foolish. You’ll regret it the rest of your life.”

“What life? Here goes the match….tsch…..”

“Let this moment pass, open the door my child. Open the door….”The banging grew strident like drums going off at full blast in a wedding or in a wild ritual for sacrifice at the point of culmination; then, stopped abruptly as if the plugs of a music system had been yanked off. A dull thud was all Nikkei heard followed by silence. Not even a bird chirruped. She imagined the neighbours on a silent alert, ears strained, for an explosion. Nikkei too waited until it was too long to expect.

“I knew it. O, I knew it; Knew, that she would do just this. Abandon me when I need her the most. Could it be any different with her? It is why I have to do this.” Nikkei screamed at herself in the mirror and squeezed the matchbox in her trembling fingers.

Impulsively, to offer some respite to her hurt pride, she slid open the match-box. Evenly placed cream coloured match-sticks with black heads stared at her like imprisoned souls yearning a release, ignorant of the havoc they could unleash with a mere rub. And yet, tied down to discipline they appeared innocent, meek and helpless in collective passivity.  She pulled out a stick and stared at it for long. The fierce determination with which she had poured the kerosene over her head had dissipated by now and the thought of a flame bursting from a tiny flicker of the match-stick terrified her. She blamed her Mom for bringing it on her, that woman would even deny her a peaceful death—just as she had denied her a father, a happy childhood and even resisted friends like Samantha who made her feel special.

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She had felt less deprived and better endowed when she had met Samantha who had no bust even at fifteen and her hair grew thickly all over except the head. With wide shoulders and strong hands, she could cover her more than a man could, more than her Mom ever would. They posed as friends when they went on sojourns discretely or to the cinemas or just sat idly in parks, hand in hand cursing their families and watching the grass go greener with envy, the birds cantankerous and the joggers sarcastic in their smiles. It was a feeling of ‘made for each other’ that kept them bound even when her Mom had threatened to throw her out of the house. Nikkei had packed her bags, ready to leave for Samantha’s place.

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“Will her family accept you?” And for once, she had found her Mom’s question pertinent. Samantha’s large family had a claustrophobic effect and so they had decided to stick to the parks, shops, cinemas and school. As for her own Mom, she had no choice but to retain her at home despite the threat. 

Nikkei but really wished to be thrown out. It would give her the genuine excuse to blame her Mom for everything; for everything that went wrong in her life. She yearned to be on the road but its roofless eternity intimidated her. Even though the walls of her home  were suffocating, they were the necessary accessory to her freedom—freedom to dream, freedom to sleep at will, freedom to weep and wail, scream and shout when angry, freedom to curse her Mom. She was frightened of doing all that in the open—people would think her mad and report her to the authorities. Likewise, even though she hated going to school, it afforded her some respectability in the neighbourhood and a friendship; she could pass off Samantha as a school-mate. Also, school offered the occasional deviance from perpetual misery. There were times her teachers found her worthy despite the fears about her own level.

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“You could do better Nikkei.” The Maths teacher had told her many a times. Not exactly a compliment, it had restored some of her fledgling faith in her own capabilities. But Maths required practice and persistence and if only Nikkei could concentrate.

She was aware that she was too caught up with her Mom’s attitude to be able to afford attention to her studies; and yet again her Mom needed to answer for her poor performance in school—if only her Mom allowed, she would excel, if only she could be happy, she would concentrate, if only she had her way, she would work hard—if only. ‘If only’ had become the pivot of her thoughts, the point at which her hopes germinated and withered without growth.

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School also confirmed that she was fifteen going on sixteen and that was a remarkable age to attract attention from the boys. She had a fair share of admirers but the relationships fizzled out in glances.

A story surfaced once when Princy started stalking her with his band of buffoons. They were everywhere—outside the school gate, in the Pastry shop, park and even on the way back from school. 

“Why do you follow us?” Samantha had played the perfect bodyguard.

“It’s not about you. Why are you so freaked out?” Princy had jeered at Samantha and winked at Nikkei. Nikkei had liked his audacity and smiled back. The results of this overture were anything but tangible. For days Princy’s gang followed her until it became neighbourhood gossip and her Mom went frantic. She stomped up to Princy’s house and threatened his Mom.

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“You be warned. Tell your ruffian to stay away from my daughter or I am going to the Police. My daughter is a minor.”

“So is my son. They are children the same age. My boy is immature to be messing about with the likes of you. Let me ask him. Princy, Princy, come out.” Princy’s obese Mom made strange condescending faces. Princy climbed down the stairs and stood before the jury arguing his crime, his head held down in shame.

“Do you know this girl? Do you talk to her? Do you harass her?” 

Princy looked at Nikkei sheepishly and before he could answer, a tight slap landed right on his bearding cheek. He rubbed his hand to it in shock.

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“How dare you hit my son?” Princy’s Mom raged with her hands closing in fists.

“It will be the Police baton spanking his buttocks if there is a next time.” And Mom grabbed Nikkei by the hand to drag her away. From then on, Nikkei had become discreet about boys and her fancies, as if they existed only in the mind. She nevertheless used them to get back at her Mom.

“You will always keep me away from boys, from men, because you are so poor with them.” Her Mom could never retort to that jibe.

But yesterday’s incident was not about boys or Samantha or her performance in school.

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(Anshu Choudhury is a poet, writer, literature enthusiast, nature lover, curious about Quantum Reality.)

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