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Temporary Lives

Temporary Lives: Stories

Ramola D
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Temporary Lives
    Book Description:

    These ten memorable stories explore interior worlds and moments of intensity, either awakening or loss, in the lives of diverse characters—mostly young girls and married women, but also boys and longlaboring men. Whether Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, they are all burdened by the complex layerings of class and gender, and are variously able or unable to find escape from the conditions of oppression that surround them. Some manage to rise above their situations by experiencing the denials and hardships of their lives as temporary; others find no such relief. In the title story, Rose Ammal, who married young and bore numerous children, survives her husband’s betrayal and religious conversion by creating her own private redemptions and conversions. “The Next Corpse Collector” chronicles significant moments in the lives of two young brothers, Anwar and Amir, who seek to escape the destiny of corpse collector, the job their father is determined to bequeath to them. “What the Watchman Saw” offers a glimpse into the life of Venkatesh, a longtime watchman who is faced with the dilemma of whether to report the theft of stolen antiquities from the house of his new neighbor. “Esther” is a tale of the haunting, troubled spirit of Leeza’s grandmother, who lingers in Leeza’s childhood home and unexpectedly helps her during the summer her grandfather dies as she wakes to an adolescent infatuation with a neighbor boy. In “The Couple in the Park,” a young middleclass wife, Laura, in a constrictive arranged marriage, finds comfort in watching a couple in the park who remind her of her own grandparents as she tips over the edge into schizophrenia. “The Man on the Veranda” traces a significant day in the life of retired governmentworker Parameswaran—the day his wife finally leaves him.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-079-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  3. In Another World
    (pp. 1-11)

    My sister says she is never lonely. She means inside, where the heart is, where I feel in myself a dim roar and pulse, erratic cessation and return that pours chaos into me. She says she carries her true life inside her. That violet worlds erupt at her fingertips. That they reach into being like threads of light from distant stars, delicate in their entrance but powerful. She tells me roses hued cadmium red spill into her arms. Their scent rising like a cloud of forgotten things swarming about her body. She is alone, a woman in a magic landscape....

  4. The Next Corpse Collector
    (pp. 12-34)

    My brother Anwar brings the mangled body in with my father. The red checked shirt is wet with blood, black cotton pant torn at the knees where the bones have slid through. They lay the body on the wooden bench in the courtyard, beside the one drumstick tree that is still standing. The arms hang down and they lift them. The left foot slips, they pull it back, close. They have already closed the eyes. They do not glance at each other. They stand and look down on the body.

    It is no secret in our house that Anwar is...

  5. What the Watchman Saw
    (pp. 35-56)

    Venkatesh had been a watchman for twenty-two years on Second Cross Street in Radhakrishna Nagar when he glanced across the street and saw a flashlight flicker in the new neighbor’s house. He also heard the scuffle of feet, the muffled sound of voices, somebody swearing, and an urgent summons to a possible accomplice.Arrai, Shankar, Shankar!It was half past one, the night was dark, and no light shone but two of the four mercury street lights, paced evenly at fifteen-yard intervals down the street. (The other two had gone out months ago, the city had not yet replaced them.)...

  6. Room Enough for the Sky
    (pp. 57-71)

    She came into the room where the bird was and to the window where the light surged in, blue and full of the tearing brilliance of sky. She could see how the sky was coming apart, in shreds, like the paper (great lucent handfuls of blue handmade paper, coarse and rough, mingled with straw and mud and the raw stems of kadambaram and bark) stored here for private sale in piles around the room. Extra sheets from the cottage paper factory her husband worked at, just outside Madras, peeled and pressed in a bitterness of teal and shadow, hand-pressed, released...

  7. Pink Beads
    (pp. 72-76)

    Look—pink beads, pastel and pearly pink, bright white bobbles in between,two pink, one white—look how we sit, threading our beads with fat chubby fingers, thin eight-year-old fingers, Prithika Shah and I, threading our Christmas bead chains for the school Christmas tree, eyes furious on tinsel pink and slick glossy white, pushing and pulling at fat beads, little beads, look how the sun comes through the bars in the window and lies in great yellow slabs on our skin.

    We’re going to be friends forever, I think, Prithika Shah whose mother brings a birthday cake to class and...

  8. Esther
    (pp. 77-111)

    It happens after midnight, like it has so many times before, on this night when my mother’s away in the hospital at her father’s dying bedside, and we’re alone in the Madras house, my sister and I, with Kanthi, my grandfather’s old servant-lady, who sleeps in the hall, two rooms away, on the floor.

    Click. Scrape. Click.

    Then sharper, more convincingly, as before:Click Clack. Click Clack.We hear the footsteps of death on the terrace, they are cool and hard, sound of heeled sandals on brick, the sound of resolution.

    I wake and look across at my sister, huddled...

  9. The Couple in the Park
    (pp. 112-127)

    For three weeks now, she had watched them. From where she sat, in the steel folding-chair by the window, she could see through the partial overhang of trees to the stone bench in the Ganesha park three stories below.

    Here was the back of the building, and here the high concrete wall (once a delicate shade of gray, now wind-washed and weather-stained, crowned with jagged bits of glass) that separated Mudra Apartments from the park behind it. The glass, entrenched in the sloped concrete with pieces of metal and broken ends of barbed wire, was meant to preserve residents from...

  10. The Man on the Veranda
    (pp. 128-135)

    He was a clerk in a government office in a small town in Tamil Nadu until he retired. When that occurred, he was a few months short of sixty and combed his graying hair horizontally across his scalp. His wife had taken to covering her head all the time, even inside the house, with the pallu of her saree, so that it looked always as if she were on the verge of prayer. You could say they were trying in their own way to conceal their age, although they told themselves it was wisdom they were acquiring.

    Parameswaran had begun...

  11. Temporary Lives
    (pp. 136-153)

    One day my husband will die, and before he dies he will hand me a letter with my name scrawled all over it,Rose Ammal, Rose Ammal, like a poem, and it will say: forgive me, there is nothing else to ask, I must request this one Christian kindness before I leave. I will gaze out the hospital window into the shell-pink morning and not say a word. The silence will tick like eternity between us, for we are alone in this moment. Victoria, who took the Muslim name Mumtaz Mahal, to please him, is long run off to England....

  12. Same Blue Sky
    (pp. 154-167)

    I’d never thought the day would come when I would look across the leap I had made, from a crowded little town in the middle of India across continents of land and water to a sprawling suburb in Northern Virginia, and actually think: my life,it’s not that different. The sky collapses to blue. Day after night after day. Birds wake us, birds put us to sleep. Dusk yawns and stretches. Moon-halves hang in the middle of the street. Some days the same blue sky I knew in India burns high. Sapphire-blue, hot-sea blue. (Copper-sulphate and turquoise-blue, filmy soap-bubble-blue.) And...

  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 168-169)