Category: Excerpts

Melodramatic Monologue (Short)

How she had changed. I watched her, both fascinated and repulsed at how she ate and talked at the same time, indifferently cramming the multi-layered chapatis and korma (that took me two hours to prepare, I wished I had that time back) into her mouth even as she passionately berated her husband and mother in law. It seemed impossible to connect her with the girl whom I thought I knew, who had grown up with me. Could a person change this much in five years?

I had last known her as a bright young business analyst who could make herself at home in the corporate workplace, anywhere in the world. The customers loved her. Each of our regional offices across the globe asked her to join them, though it may have had something to do with the way she cultivated people, the way she would give them her full attention, turning her face towards them, head tilted just a little to a side, speaking in those murmuring tones which reminded me of a cat which purred as it calculated its next move. I had once mistaken the fire in her eyes for ambition to dance on the glass ceilings, but what she did later showed that it had merely been an average human’s lust for life. She was really a very ordinary woman.

I wondered if she was assessing me the same way I was trying to piece together the missing parts of her story from the way she slouched over the table, with that inscrutable expression in her eyes. But she seemed too preoccupied with the happenings in her life to talk about anything else. Who thinks of anyone but themselves in today’s world? Even I wanted to know her story only because I am a writer and people are part of my raw material.

Had I changed in five years? But I had stayed back on the fringes of life, observing, analysing, recording and writing. Each story brings me revelations as I type, flashes of insight into the many dimensions of truth, of life. The last time we met, she told me that those who seek the meaning of life often end up not living it. Depends on what you mean by living. If it was relationships, they were no longer reliable, I said, forget security. She had replied that what matters is the courage to forge relationships, to dare to put yourself out there, to take the risk, which was the key to make a life. Of course she didn’t put it like that, rather something to that effect in cruder words, and ungrammatical sentences.

I willed her to stop the melodramatic monologue as she piled salad, and then dessert on her plate. Even a pulp fiction writer of those appalling bored-housewife-finds-herself novels would have balked to plot the commonplace scenes of domestic woes that she was harping on. I wanted to show her out once more, shoo her away from my beautiful new flat and return to the comfort and excitement of the pages of my novel.

On Madras Day

There are controversies on celebrating 22 Aug as Madras day, as it is associated with colonialism. But people who belong to the city are aware of its history, which goes far beyond the three hundred plus years that mark this anniversary. The day is just an occasion to reaffirm love for the city which so many of us, irrespective of where we happen to live, will always call home.

Here is a short excerpt from The Reengineers, which begins with a love letter to the city.

“Aside, which called itself ‘The Magazine of Madras’, is now as much a memory as the city’s old name. Yet, the vibes of my city remain unchanged. The vibes that you get from the old Leo coffee ad in which a woman serves filter coffee in a steel davara-tumbler to a man against the backdrop of a butter-Krishna Tanjore painting, suggesting a typical Madras home where kolams of rice flour bloomed in the courtyard at dawn and the warm morning air carried the strains of the Venkatesa Suprabhatam.
The feeling of home still pervades my city, despite the impersonal flyovers that now criss-cross above the old familiar roads, the acres of shining skyscrapers that buzz with the sounds of the software cities teeming within them, and the gleaming malls that may soon outnumber the tiny Ganesha shrines on each street, all of which make the Chennai of today such a different world from the Madras of 1991, where this story first begins, and then begins anew.”
The Reengineers, p.3-4

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

This is the old Leo coffee ad mentioned in the paragraph. I was a child when this ad used to be aired on television. But every time I watch it, it makes me timesick for the sweetness and simplicity of Madras of the nineties.

If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers:
Click here to buy

On Independence Day

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Indians. Someone told me recently that they thought the concept of patriotism was outdated in present times, when almost everyone is part of a global community in some way. I disagreed politely. I like the quiet pride that shines in my English, Irish, Canadian or Italian friends’ eyes as they talk about their respective countries, which mirrors my love for my own nation. For it is only when we feel secure in the love of our own family that we tend to accept and respect others more easily, and adapt better to society, whether it is the immediate society around us or the wider, global community. Everyone should have the freedom to love their own country, and to say that they do. Breathes there the man with soul so dead, etc. as a good Scot once wrote.

In The Reengineers, young Chinmay wonders about patriotism and what it meant to him, among other things. There is a scene in which he watches this song on television, which portrays the optimism that prevailed in the country in the decades that immediately followed independence.

Here is a short excerpt from The Reengineers in which Chinmay and friends discuss what patriotism meant to them, teenagers of the nineties.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

Arun’s lecture on the last working day of class ten had revolved around his favourite topic: India.
‘How many of you respect the Indian national flag? The national anthem? How many of you actually stand up when it is sung?’
I raised my hand in a reflex action. Sabi did the same. Hearing furtive giggles, I turned around and found, to my horror, that in a class of forty students only the two of us had our hands up. Anu was frantically gesturing to me to drop my hand. I did so, puzzled and hurt.
Arun did not look surprised. He continued, ‘Now this question would have evoked a totally different reaction in classrooms in countries such as the UK or Japan. They have an intrinsic sense of national pride that is lacking in India. Not surprising, as it has only been forty-four years since we got independence.’

I looked down into my book, wishing I could hide within its pages. My love for my country had turned me into a bigger freak than I already was in the classroom.
What did it mean to love one’s country anyway? Much like the farmers who cheered enthusiastically for Mother India when Jawaharlal Nehru addressed them but were dumbstruck when he asked them who exactly they thought Mother India was, I had no answer. To me, patriotism was the joy I experienced while reading the poems of Subramaniya Bharati, Uncle RK and Rabindranath Tagore. It was my pride in singing the national anthem and saluting the tricolour unfurled in the school assembly on Monday mornings. It was the lump in my throat when I watched songs like ‘The fertile earth of my country that brings forth gold, diamonds and pearls’ and ‘I am a little soldier of the nation. Say with me, Jai Hind’ on TV. It was the anger and resentment I felt when my mother told me not to get too friendly with Anu as he was not a Brahmin or with Sabi as she was not ‘one of us’ but a north Indian.

Sabi’s question brought back the forgotten incident and with it, the embarrassment and hurt.
‘Remember Arun’s question about respecting our national flag? Why didn’t you raise your hand?’ I asked Anu.
‘I didn’t want to be the odd one out.’
‘Why did Arun say that we have no national pride? What about the ancient verses that laud the glorious Bharat Varsha? What about our freedom fighters from various corners of the country who fought for the nation as a whole? What about Bharati and Tagore?’ I asked.
Anu raised his hands in a non-committal gesture.
‘Do we really have freedom? I would like some, please,’ Sabi said.
She got up and walked to the far end of the library. Leaning against the door, she looked at us pensively.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers:
Click here to buy

My Guest Post on Overcoming Depression

A guest post I wrote on overcoming depression in the StayFoolish blog.

Link: https://stayfoolish2day.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/guest-blog-post-on-how-to-overcome-suicidal-behaviour-self-destruction-by-indu-muralidharan/

How to overcome suicidal behaviour & self-destruction?

This question is so deep that one could write a series of books to answer it, and still have much more left to say. Many people including artists, thinkers and scholars have suffered from this condition, and many have succumbed to it. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, Ned Vizzini are some names that come to mind – their books give us an idea of their struggle. Many have also survived the condition, and thrived afterwards in their personal and professional lives, a good example is J K Rowling; anyone who has been depressed can relate to the description of dementors – her metaphor for depression in the Harry Potter books.

Depression is not the same as sadness. To quote Barbara Kingsolver, “Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.” It is much more of a challenge to diagnose and manage, as depressed people may not show external symptoms of the disease.

A number of factors may trigger suicidal depression in an individual – it could happen in a short period as a response to a stressful or traumatic event, or build up as a result of spending many years in a debilitating environment. It could happen due to substance abuse or it could be the side effect of a medical condition such as hypothyroidism. Very often it is the high achievers in life, intelligent, creative and driven individuals who are affected by this condition. They may end up spending years without realising that something is wrong with their state of mind. Their professional expertise and inherent smartness might help them go about their everyday life and work, while they try to suppress the numbness within, unable to understand why they feel so.

In all cases, the first step to overcoming suicidal depression is to become aware of it, to understand that they have a condition that needs to be looked into, and which can be controlled. The next step would be to get help, to discuss the condition with close family and friends for support, and seek medical attention, preferably holistic natural treatments that get the mind, body and spirit back in balance.

Depression is a curious condition. Only the affected person can gauge what works for them, and what does not, and in spite of it being widely prevalent in present times, it is nearly impossible to make a generalisation.

But however bad it is, as someone who has been there, I would say that it is worth to keep going, for eventually you will get to the light at the end of the tunnel. First, let us look at basic strategies. Find out a reason, any reason, to hold on to life, when you are in the throes of deep depression and cannot see ahead. When I was depressed, besides the many books that sustained me, strangest things kept me holding on to life. At that time I was working in a place that I disliked intensely, I kept going on because I did not want to die in that godforsaken place. Then I had a rather unpleasant acquaintance in those days, a woman who loved and lived to gossip, who had not spared making jest of her best friend when he died. I imagined how she would react to the news of my death, how she would relish it like a juicy morsel over teatime conversation, eyes bright with malice, flashing her smug toothy smile. When I was really down and wanted out, the thought that I did not want to end up as a source of gossip to the likes of her, kept me alive. Later, I had fun immortalising her in the character of the mosquito woman in The Reengineers.

Once you become aware of the condition and are on the way to recovery, the most effective way out is to determine your major goals in life, whatever they are. Focusing on your goals, visualising them and working towards them is one of the most effective cures for depression, I say this again from personal experience.

Here is a short excerpt from ‘The Reengineers’ in this context, in which the author Siddharth advises his hero Chinmay on how to survive while depressed.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

I found treasures in that library that sustained me through my dark days and, once, saved my life. The darkness had almost got me for good, one weekend. I drove to the library in a daze. Wandering uneasily between bookshelves, I pulled out a small book that caught my eye. Songs of the Bulbul by A. Chatterjee. It was a handsome book, dark blue and edged with shining gold. I had read rave reviews about it along with excerpts when I was a precocious ten-year-old in a Madras school. The book made me feel safe and warm as I held it, for it held the memories of a time when everything had been right in my world. When I now think of the moment I opened the book and turned to the first page, lo, my mind floods with light. For the next few days, the bulbul carried me on its wings, whispering to me though its songs that I was not alone in my sorrow.

There had been other books that affected me. I had shrunk back from the darkness that leapt out at me from the yellowing pages of The Driver’s Seat. Sylvia Plath’s poems terrified me so much that it was years after I was out of the bell jar before I dared to open it. Chatterjee, on the other hand, acknowledged the darkness and even made fun of it. It was apparent from his verse that he had been touched by depression. Yet, instead of allowing it to take over his life, he opened the windows and asked it to find its way out. Undaunted by depression, he sang odes to the simple pleasures of life: the breeze that carried with it the fragrance of the flowers of the night, a litter of fox cubs playing by a hill in the sunshine, a toast to the moon with a glass of red wine, a raga hummed under the breath, a prayer for Mozart, a passion for mangoes, the love shared with his lost lover for Rumi’s poetry. His gentle songs were irresistible concoctions of life, art, nature, love, laughter and a tinge of pain, verse which had the power of claiming the reader as its own. To read him was like having someone listen to you while walking by your side. For years I held on to A. Chatterjee’s poems as a lifeline. I even had a crush on him for a while.

But I digress. Here are a few quick tips to manage depression after office hours, when you do not have the succour of work to comfort your mind:

1) Read all that you can, including the online depression forums. Something that you read may just save your life.

2) Avoid hard-core philosophy. You might be tempted to seek answers in thick, dusty tomes that promise to elucidate the meaning of life. Some of them are thick enough to crack the mind.

3) Depression will stir you to burst into the poetry of suffering. Avoid trying to get it published unless your words are bright enough to shine through the darkness. There is enough pain in the world without you adding to it.

4) You may find yourself gravitating to amateur poetry groups full of people who are usually bursting with self-congratulation or angst. Avoid them, they will sap your energy.

5) Do not smoke, drink alcohol in excess or take drugs. Depression can tempt you to overindulge. The cigarettes almost killed me.

6) Exercise when you can, take long walks and consume chocolate in moderation.

7) Beware of ‘god men’ and ‘god women’. Even people who have not been depressed for a day in their lives get sucked into the seductive delusion of spirituality. If you must seek, seek by yourself, sitting in an armchair at your desk after office hours. For while Buddha saw the light, we do not know how many of his disciples did. If you must get guidance from a living guru, take it and move on. Gurus are no more than the teachers we had at school. You may find them when you need to learn, but you have to outgrow them in order to grow.

Here is a story about my tryst with a genuine guru during my last few months of depression.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

To buy The Reengineers:
Amazon.com
Amazon.in

On Writing Romance, An Excerpt and A Song

In a recent interview for a blog tour, I was asked if there was were any love scenes in The Reengineers, and if any of my forthcoming books had romance in them.

The premise of The Reengineers is the realisation that one has the freedom to live on one’s own terms. This awareness of freedom, the feeling of being in control of your life, is the foremost need of any human being. Everything else, including love, comes only next to it. However, this being the coming of age story of a fifteen-year-old boy, there are references to love and romance. Here is a short excerpt.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from the book The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

Something strange and sweet was stirring in the air. Raji had drawn the window shades and the overhead lamps cast a muted golden glow around the room. On the screen, Joy Mukherjee was singing to Helen in the rain: ‘Raat nikhri huyi, zulf bhikri huyi …’

A song about a date with a girl who was as charming as a flowering tree in bloom, on a night so beautiful that it appeared to blush. About how he wished that the night would go on and on. Joy was shirtless, purely out of chivalry. Helen wore his shirt with a grace that made her unrecognizable as the vamp of so many sizzling dances. With wet hair hanging in curls about her face, she exuded the innocence of the girl-next-door who looked up trustingly at the handsome hero. There was no trace of lust on Joy’s face. He was the decent young man who sang tenderly to his girl that the night should never make way for the dawn. And then escorted her safely home afterwards. They hardly came within two feet of each other, but from the way they looked and smiled and sang to each other, first love flowed out of the TV and swirled about, bringing spring into Aunt Kalyani’s living room.

It continued to permeate the room even after the song was over and Joy had presumably dropped Helen home. But, this time, the sweetness arose from Kailash and Charu. Even without looking at them, one could sense how aware they were of each other’s presence even as they talked to other people. A rude voice in my head started chiding me, telling me I wasn’t old enough to think of such things. I ignored it and it shut up immediately.

How would it feel to be married, I wondered. What if I got married to—I stopped my thoughts there. I had many exams to pass before that. Besides, I wanted to sing a few songs to a girl first, a real girl with whom I would have a real relationship. At that moment, I became aware of the nature of my feelings for Sonia. It was her boldness that had fascinated me and now that I could stand up and speak for myself, the halo around her vanished. What remained was a mild attraction that I saw for what it was: a simple teenage crush.

I thought of the summer that lay ahead, of the farewell party for the seniors. We would present them with a giant card with tearful bears holding up a banner that said, ‘Missing you guys will be too hard to bear’. On that day, when the festive confetti flying around made little chinks in the invisible walls that separated the seniors from the juniors, I would talk to Sonia. I knew that nothing would come out of it, but I would still talk to her. I might tell her that throw ball matches would never be the same again. I might get her autograph. I might never contact her. I might forget her. I might remember her. I might meet her after many years. But I would talk to her on one of those long, summer afternoons before she left school.

The thought made me smile.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from the book The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

Here is a link to the song that is referred to in the excerpt.The comfort level between the lovers is endearing, especially as the film implies that the intimacy in their relationship is limited to holding hands and innocent dates like the ones shown in the song.  The gentleness of the interactions between them is not something one gets to see in the movies anymore.

To buy The Reengineers:
Amazon.com
Amazon.in

Memories of a Madras Summer, and a book giveaway

“The Madras summer begins in March. I remember reading in the Aside magazine that the season of hell begins in this month, the other three seasons of the city being, of course, hot, hotter and hottest. It was my favourite time of year, for the end of March meant the beginning of the long vacations. The idea of dying at the age of fifteen in the beloved summer month had seemed morbidly romantic, and I had almost looked forward to it. However, later that summer, I truly rejoiced in the heat, for the years of ice within me had finally thawed.”
The Reengineers

I was especially delighted that The Reengineers was published in March. For in spite of Elmore Leonard’s much quoted rule of never starting a book with the weather, I chose to begin the novel describing a summer day in Madras.

A summer day in Madras in 1991, which is so far away in space and time that looking back, it feels almost like a different country. It was the age of the last few years before the advent of the internet. When time flowed so gently that a vacation felt like a lifetime, a weekend was an age and an evening passed like an eternity.

Fifteen year old Chinmay lived in this charming epoch of time and was planning to die there, but something happened on that day which changed his life. The Reengineers narrates this story.

I am giving away two copies of The Reengineers in exchange for reviews, and two more copies as part of a Goodreads giveaway. Both giveaways are open until 22 April 2015.

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/132878-the-reengineers

Please do enter the Goodreads give away or contact me for review copies of the book (the give aways are currently open only to readers in India), if you wish to know what happened to Chinmay on that summer day, the stories that he came across during his surreal adventure and why he chose to live at the end of it.

An Ideal Boy

I was delighted to come across this hilarious vintage poster of ‘An Ideal Boy’ which was shared by the facebook page ‘You Know You Grew Up in India in the 90s When…’. I love dipping occasionally into the nostagic photographs and memories of India in the eighties and nineties that are shared on this page. I have great affection for that lost period of time during which we did not have internet or mobile phones or even cable TV but life was inexplicably more richer and had a magical quality to it.

The Author and The Hero unfolds over a period of a day and an hour that begins and ends in Madras as Chennai was known then, in March 1991, in those days ‘when life was lucidly defined in glorious shades of black and white, when the world was a relatively simpler place where time flowed at a slower, gentle pace’. Though the novel begins and ends in that time and place in a beloved old library in a poet’s house in a Madras suburb, the rest of the story is set in more recent times in the fictional town of Conchpore.

1000434_601539496545402_646354625_n

Image Courtesy: Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/pages/You-Know-You-Grew-Up-in-India-in-the-90s-When/111238285575528

This poster along with similar collages that showed scientists and their inventions, places of historic interest and the unity in diversity of the people of India, all of which were labelled in both English and Hindi formed the main wall decor of our primary school classrooms.

I have mentioned this ideal boy poster in The Author and The Hero. As a teenager growing up in a closed, old fashioned environment, Chinmay is confused about why his parents expect him to be an ‘ideal boy’, especially when they are far from being ideal parents.

Here are two short excerpts from the novel in this context:

“The red mosaic covered steps along the long corridor outside the school library held some of the most memorable moments of the first fourteen years of my life. It was there that Sonia Shastri broke the handle of my water bottle. Those steps stretched across a passage screened from the playground by a thick curtain of scarlet Bougainvillea through which the sunlight fell in flower shaped patterns on the pastel pink, blue and yellow charts illustrating the uses of petroleum, the greenhouse effect, food chains and ugly posters in fluorescent colours depicting ‘First Aid Measures’ and the characteristics of ‘An Ideal Boy’. The passage led to the Chemistry lab and smelt strongly of ammonia.”

“While the universe was comprehensible at least to the scientists, why was life so difficult to comprehend? Ideal gases existed only in Chemistry textbooks, while real gases were the only kind that were. If deviating from perfection was the law of nature, why were children expected to follow all the rules? Besides, few parents follow the rules that they set for their children. Atticus Finch was an exception, perhaps the only one of his kind.”
From The Author and The Hero. (HarperCollins, December 2013)

On 1 July, I had set an optimistic target of writing a post per day throughout July. Since I missed posting through last week (once again, sickness and the day job, it happens), I have revised the target to a total of 31 posts in July.