Short Stories

Mice and Rabbits

An excerpt from A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land


“It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole.”

As the days and months passed by without a job in sight, Mythili started wondering what she had become. In the course of six months she had transformed from a journalist passionately espousing the rights of the downtrodden to someone who went to women’s parties to gossip about her maid. Her life was careening all over the place making as much sense as a writing desk to a raven.

Her relationship with Siddharth was like a patient diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. On weekends, the world would right its course and just be about the both of them. Siddharth cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Walking into to the tiny bathroom to see a tub full of bubbles and scented candles everywhere. Sitting on bar stools, holding hands and watching the world go by; getting high on wine and laughing at the un-funniest things. Being with Siddharth made Manila wonderland, the right kind. Both of them would neatly throw a rug over their arguments and frustrations and live the life they had dreamt of when they were a long-distance couple yearning to be together.

But come Monday night and Mythili’s world would turn topsy-turvy again. The disgruntlement and frustrations would jostle their way out from under the rug, threatening to spill out even before the work week started. The cracks would start to show as Mythili checked her mail and found no responses from head-hunters. And as Siddharth left for the office, the fun-loving, bright and happy Mythili would leave too. In her place a bitter, judgmental bitch would walk in to toil and trouble and boil and bubble resentment through the week.

It was like she was a werewolf whose full moon was hidden under a swathe of clouds on weekends. On weekdays, she would catch herself changing and try and stop, but not really succeed. It was maddening. It was frustrating. This moody Mythili would obsess about how much she had changed. She missed who she used to be—hanging out with her friends, the random outings, dancing to Bollywood hits and calling her sister at three in the morning.

She was not the only person noticing the pendulum-like swaying.

“You’ve changed,” half her friends declared on chat. “You’re like so married now! Maids, vegetables! This is not the Mythili we know!”

“What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you change your name to Mythili Siddharth? What is this newfangled notion of not changing your surname? Are you still pretending to be single? Embrace the married-ness of your life,” the other half of her friends declared.

Had she changed? Was she one-half of a stereotypically married couple? Or the other half of a stereotypically ‘don’t-want-to-be-seen-as married’ couple? Or was she borderline schizophrenic?

As soon as Siddharth left for work at night, the walls closed in on Mythili. Nothing distracted her from how lost she felt. There was nothing familiar to turn to. The glossy television shows lost their luster. Her job hunt continued with a lot more rejection than she had ever expected and no concrete progress. She switched her chat status back to ‘invisible’ and spent hours clicking through pictures of friends and family on Facebook.

“Was I better off at home?” she wondered tearfully. Then she pinched herself for forgetting how miserable she had been during the long-distance relationship phase of her life. The red welt triumphantly stared at her, happy at having reminded her why she was there. She smiled. She was tired of people telling her she was this or that. She was tired of not knowing whether she was this or that. It was high time she got on with the serious business of finding herself and getting to know the city. Two birds with one metaphorical stone if you will. And on the lines of the well-known cliché of getting lost to find yourself, Mythili decided to explore the city on her own.


Rejection: Encouragement in Disguise

Dear Shweta Ganesh Kumar:

Thank you for sending “XXX.” Your work received careful consideration here.

We’ve decided this manuscript isn’t right for us, but we wish you luck placing it elsewhere.

Kind regards,

The Editors

Yes, yes, I can see all of you aspiring writers out there nodding your heads at the painful twinge of familiarity that letter caused. But, guess what?

You are not alone.

Those are pretty much the words I read everyday when I checked my email circa 2010 when I started to send out my first submissions. Every day, I would screw up my courage, cross my fingers and toes and pray to everything I believe in for a break, one break, please let today be the day, and click open my inbox.

And there they would be, the mails from people who just did not have space for my writing, even though I would find out, from careful perusal of their sites, that they had ample space for the floozies and ghost writers of the world. I would judge away as hot tears added a touch of salt to my bucket of chocolate ice cream. Some spirited wailing later, I would sit down again. It would be time to send out my manuscript to someone else.

By the summer of 2011 when my first book was released, I had 22 rejection letters carefully filed away in a folder called ‘Motivation’.

For, despite the stinging pain they caused that is what they really are. Words that cut you to the bone and force to you to look at your work or research whom you send it out to or even reword your submission letter. Words that strengthen your resolve to get published. Think of it as a rite of initiation, even the best of the best have to pass, to call themselves published writers.

Don’t believe me? Well, then what about Stephen King? He says:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Of course, some of us can have actual laundry baskets filled with these blessings in disguise, but that’s a different story.

So, do you have a rejection story that changed you for the better?


Welcome to the Virtual book club – Shweta Ganesh Kumar

There is this need these days to analyze and talk about what we are reading and looking at a book from every possible perspective. And thanks to the wonders of technology, all of this can be done while curled up on one’s couch, still in your pyjamas.

Welcome to the era of virtual book clubs.
But is this what reading is all about?
Wasn’t reading an intensely personal experience where a particular book became a part of you?
Has it now evolved into a collective experience?

Suchitra Ramachandran is a Carnegie Mellon doctoral student in computational neuroscience studying brain mechanisms that might underlie how we learn to read. One of her dream projects is to open a library-bookstore-café. She created Drones Club—a book club on Facebook as a sort of virtual world precursor to this dream.

Suchitra says, ‘While there is a pleasure in reading and retreating into the worlds created by the author, there is as much (if not more) fun in talking about your favorite characters and plots, wondering why this author decided to take the story this way or that, debate ideas, hear about new authors from friends who are passionate fans.’

What fascinates her about social reading, ‘is understanding what different books do for different people. Chetan Bhagat and Twilight may not be high art, but there are people who appreciate and enjoy it. The books do something for them that Wodehouse, Kundera and Murakami don’t.’

One of the most common pieces of advice doled out to writers is to read and of course, talk about their book. And what better forum for this than a book club?
So does being part of the Azure Book Club help author Sumeetha Manikandan?

‘Though the initial idea was to promote my book ‘The Perfect Groom’, I enjoyed my interactions with the group members and many have become my friends,’ says Sumeetha.

Creative Art Therapist Shahla Nikpour who is working on starting a book club in El Salvador says there have been times when she has vehemently disagreed with other members. ‘But that is the beauty of book clubs too, having those disagreements, books bring out the passion in people,’ she says.

From different perspectives to making friends and tasting the passion, book clubs are more than just forums to intellectualize. What do you think? Would you rather read and introspect or are you ready to join a club?

Shweta Ganesh Kumar

Journal News & Events


Ansari Uncle, Shahana Aunty and Zehra lived in the same apartment building as ours. Downstairs, facing the open parking lot. Our apartment faced the vacant lot behind. We were from Kerala, a coastal state on the southernmost tip of India and they were from Karachi, Pakistan. We were foreigners together in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, where both my father as well as Ansari Uncle worked for a multi-national firm.

From left to right: Shweta in the ridiculous poofy dress; a friend from Bangladesh; Zehra looking serious as she never liked getting photographed and Shoaib looking very different from his usual naughty self
From left to right: Shweta in the ridiculous poofy dress; a friend from Bangladesh; Zehra looking serious as she never liked getting photographed and Shoaib looking very different from his usual naughty self

Zehra was a year elder to me. Five to my four. She was slim and had the loveliest, silkiest hair I had ever seen. She was soft-spoken and kind and really took care of her younger brother, Shoaib. Despite being elder to me, she would let me take the lead in our games, without the slightest protest. We went to different schools. But the afternoons were all about playing till we dropped—indoors, outdoors, pretty much everywhere.  As we grew afternoons were also to exchange stories about teachers and our best friends in class and annoying boys.

There were no boundaries—neither touchable nor perceived. And being based so far away from the sub-continent, our young minds had been spared from being conditioned to grieve over past hurts and perceived slights. We were just friends with no other baggage.

The whole family would come over for Onam and Vishu and other Malayali festivals that my parents diligently celebrated. Eid would be all about the special delicacies Shahana aunty made. My mouth waters at the mere memory of it. And then in 1994, the call of the motherland became impossible to ignore and we decided to go back and settle down in India.

I was leaving behind the people I had known for the first ten years of my life. But I was excited to go back and with the undamped optimism of childhood, I believed I would still, somehow be in touch with Zehra and Shoaib and everyone else.

As I write this in 2013, I’m still looking for Zehra and her family. Even in the era of Facebook, where I have reconnected with friends from my school in Muscat, I’ve still not found Zehra. I wish I had more to key in while searching for her than just, ‘Zehra Ansari, Muscat/Pakistan’. I wonder if she remembers me, and whether she is single or married, in Pakistan or overseas.

Wherever she is, I hope that like me, she too still remembers me just as a neighbour and a friend, free from the restraints of invisible and tangible boundaries. The story that I have jointly written with Naheed Hassan, in this anthology, is dedicated to you, Zehra. It comes from the place that you and your family still hold in my mind. And it is written hoping that there will always be a generation of friends like us, to whom borders will mean nothing.

Journal News & Events

The Journey Towards ‘A Newlywed’s Adventures In Married Land’

A Newlywed's Adventures in Married Land

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ has always fascinated me.

As an only child, I’ve lived in Muscat, Kottayam, Calicut, Kochi, Hubli, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore. Two years, sometimes three in one town and then we would move on. There would be a new school at the other end, sometimes in the middle of a term. I would stand at the fringes—an interloper trying to blend. Masking my nervousness with a grin, I would force the extrovert in me out, while the nerd in me would yearn to curl up with my books and my dog for company.

My wonderful parents were a constant source of support, no matter which new city we moved to, but I’d wonder about Alice and how she coped in that Wonderland of hers. Without a lifelong or ‘best’ friend, I sank deeper and deeper into the books that I took with me everywhere we moved to.

As I grew up, Alice and friends from other enchanted woods became my beloved childhood companions, even if they existed only within the realms of my imagination and the well-thumbed pages of my books.

Years later, married and still travelling (El Salvador, this time), I’d found my niche and in addition to being a happy wife, (occasional squabbling aside, of course), I was also a mother.

As I tried to cope with the rigors of bringing up a new baby, then barely five months old and the trials of learning to communicate in Spanish, I remembered that girl I used to be long ago—the newlywed who moved to a foreign land and learnt her way around it.

Much like a lot of my friends who had left their family and careers and friends behind.

Much like my childhood friend Alice trying to grapple with the eccentricities of Wonderland.

Thus was born, ‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land’—a book for everyone who has chosen to take a leap of faith by saying yes to a proposal, yes to moving to a distant land or simply yes to meeting new people and making new friends.

‘A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land’ is also about Mythili and, her brand new husband Siddharth. Far away from her world, she feels like she has fallen down a rabbit hole into a completely new land, complete with distinct personalities.

The book wonders whether their once long-distance love will stand the test of living together.

And whether this real life Alice ever embraces her Wonderland.


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