Dream Journal: The Train

It is still dark when the train stops. I stretch my hands as far as I can in the upper berth and yawn

I hate it when I have to disembark at a station that is not the last stop. So much hurrying.

I gather my belongings and dump them into my handbag. I realise that my bag had remained open throughout the night. I zip it up and scramble down. I have two suitcases, one big and one small. Both blue. I hate blue but always end up with blue suitcases. Maybe because they are the cheapest.

I can’t find anything to tie my hair with, so I put my hair up in a bun. How do women look so effortlessly chic in messy buns when I always end up looking like I just lost a fight at the water lorry.

I pull out the suitcases from under the seat. The big blue one needs an angry yank to come out. Most of the passengers have already disembarked, so I am able to roll both my suitcases without bumping into impatient people. I roll them down the platform and go towards the exit. There is a ticket checker at the exit gate. Strange.

I stand in the line waiting for him to check the tickets and a wave of horror sweeps over me. I don’t have the ticket with me. It was a physical ticket, the one printed on the small piece of cardboard. Do they even make those these days? A family in front of me say that the TTR already checked theirs on the train and this checker lets them pass. It is now my turn. I tell him the same, but he is not convinced. He tells me to show it anyway. I open my handbag and fumble with the stuff inside. There is so. much. junk. Something tells me to slip a finger into the tiniest compartment of the bag and miraculously the ticket appears. First Class. Rupees 30. The ticket checker nods and lets me go. I pass the gates and place my bags on a bench to organise myself. A wave of panic sweeps over me! I do not have my phone or Kindle! Damn. I must have left them on the berth!

I grab my stuff and run back into the platform. The train has slowly started to move. I don’t remember my coach, so I leave my suitcases on the platform and rush into the one nearest to me. The upper berths have been folded down. This is the train where the berths are allowed to be folded out only after 9pm. I hate this new Railway Ministry’s rules. Someone would have found my things and stolen them. There is no way it is going to end up in the lost and found.

I hop off the train as it picks up speed. I see some guards standing at the door of a compartment. As a last ditch attempt, I run along with the train and tell them that I have lost my phone and Kindle on the train and ask them if they can do anything about it. They look at each other and say something. Suddenly my phone rings. Damn! I reach into my pocket and there it is! I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I must have put it in my pocket when I was fumbling for the ticket in my handbag.

The guards laugh too. Then one of them shouts to me, ‘ You said Kindle. What is that?’

‘It is a book’, I shout back.


‘For ebooks’


‘Yes. It has a brown cover and looks like a big cellphone’

The train is picking up speed and I run faster to keep talking to the guards.

I lift my left hand and show them what I am holding. ‘Kindle’, I shout louder and wave it at them. ‘It looks like this.’

The train thunders off on its tracks.

How do I interpret this dream? Something as obvious as ‘what you so desperately search for has been with you all the time’?

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The Dove’s Lament- Kirthi Jayakumar :10/52 (Book by a female author)

Painful. Reality.


When I was asked to review this book, I groaned. Yet another chicklit, I thought to myself and rolled my eyes. But a quick search told me that this wasn’t chicklit. It wasn’t even fiction.  It is a book about something so real, something so horrifying, something so sad. And something that we think is so far away, but it is something that is actually knocking at our doors.

Each story begins in a place that need to be magnified on the world map, places that most of us can’t identify offhand. Can you point out to Israel on the world map? Wait. Palestine. Wait. Umm…that area. Maybe. Rwanda? Somewhere in Africa. Bosnia? Is that still even a place? And that country in South America? No idea; I can only identify Brazil in that entire continent. So there you go. Lesson One: Geography. But that’s not what this book is about. It is about history. And current events that will someday be buried in the dusty archives of history.

And it is not just history. Or other people’s conflicts. Or war. Last year’s headlines, the Peshawar massacre is retold through the eyes of siblings who have just discovered each other. You take a diversion from the more known horrors of a Taliban-suppressed Afghanistan and are shown the ugly world of Bachha Baazi, a market where young boys are sold to be dancing ‘girls’ for the rich and perverted. And closer home, the horrifying reality of the Balika Badhus whose stories aren’t as lovable as Anandi’s. There is the never ending saga of the Israel-Palestine conflict; one story, For the Love of a Motherland, shows the irony of how one man’s oppressed is another man’s oppressor. And of course, a book about horrifying conflicts won’t be complete without Kashmir and Srilanka.

The format of this book is interesting, a short-story set in the backdrop of a shameful era of human history like the Srebrenica Massacre ( Go Google it) or the Rwandan Genocide which is then followed by a write up about the the actual conflict. And given the nature of these shameful eras in history, most of these short-stories may not even be fiction.

I remember the 90s when every single day the news reader used to talk about a bombing in Bosnia, a headline that I had no idea about. Fire in a Ring of Ice throws light on an issue that has been so vague to me for the past two decades. A friend’s grandmother used to watch Ulaga Seidhigal for news about Kashmir where her grandson was posted; she thought Kashmir wasn’t a part of India. Is it? I still don’t know. Even in this book, Kashmir has a sad story of its own. With a separate map.

The writing is very good, but I found that the parallel tracks of narration in every story were a bit repetitive and somehow predictable. That style works better for novels; in short stories, there isn’t enough time and space to bring out the depth of each character this way. Though they are all independent short stories, they are gripping enough to keep you going from one to the other without a pause. Makes you  want to know if the next horror is more horrifying than the horror you just read about, and so you keep reading till the very end.

What bugged me? The the urls as footnotes in the print version of the book. It made no sense. Like hashtags on paper or carbon copies in emails. Also, I didn’t understand the cover. Maybe I am not arty enough for it, but I would have preferred a more jarring cover, one that reflects the sadness and pain of the tales inside and stands out so that you take notice of the book in crowded stands.

It is a small book but it covers the entire world. Fly with that dove in search of a safe place to perch, find none, and lament. No, I won’t say that there is hope. I don’t believe in blue skies and rainbows.  I’m a pessimist, so I’lI say that this book has scope to become a trilogy.

You can buy the book here.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher- Hilary Mantel : 59/52

I’m too dense to get most of them.

With Wolf Hall put on hold  because I couldn’t keep up with the Thomases, I picked up this book to get Hilary Mantel in bite sized pieces. But looks like I’m still not deep enough to get her. Or maybe I’m not cool enough.

Do Not Disturb was disturbing. I expected something more stereotypical and was pleasantly and disturbingly surprised. Comma too hit home somewhere. Winter Break left me with goosebumps. The rest, I didn’t get. The most disappointing was the last story, the one in the book title. Not that I expected anything controversial, but it wasn’t as twisty as I hoped it would be. Also, I don’t take Irish terror seriously.

The problem with short-stories is that they leave me wanting more. I can handle those crisp two page stories with twist endings or novellas, but I always have a problem with short-story length short-stories. Also, short-stories need to be read at a leisurely pace, and spaced out over a longer period. I read these at one stretch, and worse, in order. So maybe I need to pick up this book after a few months and read one story at a time again to appreciate it better.


Coonoor Fiction

I was browsing through an old Femina from 2011 when I saw this. Wow. Someone from Coonoor has written a book and the book is set in Coonoor. How did I manage to miss it all these days.

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The book doesn’t seem to be available now, but there is a sample story from the collection on the website and it seems pretty ok. While it was weird reading about a fictional town of Monele near Ooty in Love Kills, it seems even weirder to read about Alwarpet, Bedford and Alankar Bakery in this story. Localities you’ve actually walked around in. A bakery on whose counter you have sat on an eaten the same apple cakes.  A nice kind of weird.

The author is a familiar name. Of course I don’t know her personally. We were from the same town, but totally different circles. Interesting how she describes her love hate relationship with Coonoor in this article.  I don’t intend to imply anything negative here, but I remember that she was a bit of an Urban Legend in town those days. Ofcourse most of those stories that shocked indianculture then were exaggerated and embellished, I’m sure.  She talks about her rebellion and how she felt a total misfit back there then. I can totally relate.

But somehow she has been drawn back to Coonoor and has gone on to write a book of stories set in that very town. That’s the beauty of Coonoor.

I too have a love hate relationship with Coonoor. This line from Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects perfectly describes the town

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Maybe someday I too will write a book set in Coonoor, based on people living in Coonoor.  And I’ll reveal some deep dark secrets with the disclaimer that it is purely fiction. I’m evil that way.

 (Note: Not mentioning any names in this post because I don’t want a Google search making things awkwardly uncomfortable)


The Darkness comes suddenly. It can hit me anytime. I could be having a quiet dinner or just be curled up on the couch with a book, after a long day at work. And suddenly, the world around me grows dark. A deathly silence engulfs me, swallows me and takes me to places I’ve never been to before. Sometimes it is not Darkness, just Silence. I would be sprawled on the floor, watching some mindless TV, the volume turned up to drown out the constant whirr of the neighbour’s mixer grinder or the FM station blaring from the tailor’s shop opposite my house. And suddenly, there would be silence. An eerie, deathly silence. These attacks come with a warning sometimes. I’d be having my morning coffee, turning the pages of the newspaper, and suddenly, I would know. A premonition. I would just know that it will attack me sometime that day.  Still, it makes no difference whether I am prepared or not. There is no escape. From both—the Darkness and the Silence.

The Darkness is the worst. It is like being trapped in a coffin. I never try to fight it because I know I will not win. I quietly go and lie down, trying to overcome the black with sleep. I toss and turn and try to shut my eyes tight to block out the Darkness. But it gets worse. The room starts growing hot and humid around me. It is like being trapped in a dark chamber with a constant flow of steam. No, not like a sauna. I can suddenly feel something chewing on my flesh, man-eating monsters. An ominous buzz begins and it gets louder and louder until there is nothing but that in my ears. I flay my hands wildly in the inky blackness around me. I don’t know what I am trying to chase away, the Darkness, the Silence, the buzzing or the flesh-eating beasts gnawing at me. I touch my hand and I find blood. I cannot scream. And then, without any warning, a wave of cool air wafts in from somewhere. I breathe. I calm down. And the coolness lulls me to sleep. They say prayer helps. And so, I pray. I pray to all the powers that be.

I pray that the power crisis in Tamil Nadu ends soon.

This was ‘published’ in Femina Fast Fiction