‘I am a writer, but I wish I could write like that,’ said Durga, seated at the head of the rustic green, rectangular table. There were nineteen women on the sides, who turned to look. Then, some picked up their beverages and sipped them. In the background, a cash register clinked a tinkle closing in on a purchase. A TV peeping out of a corner behind Durga played, on mute, reruns of Kashmiri youth pelting stones at the Indian military. Somewhere, a coffee machine whirred to life and at the table could be heard the clanking of wooden and metal bangles on Durga’s wrists as she rested her elbows on the wood weighed down only by Priya’s bare elbows at the other head of the table.
They were there for an informal meet-up that Priya had announced on her blog, A Booklover’s Paradise, which was one of the Top Ten Blogs of the Year. She intended to start a book club and nineteen of her thousands of followers had turned up at Magical Springs Café that sultry July morning.
Priya tucked a loose strand of her bob behind her right ear from which dangled a miniscule book covered in blue Ikkat, and then turned around to look at her friend Menaka, who was sitting beside her.
‘Yeah, how I wish I could write like that,’ established Menaka.
‘Menaka is a writer,’ Priya declared. ‘Her manuscript is with Ladies Finger.’
As in the vegetable? thought Arpita.
Nusrat who was sitting across from Arpita noticed the question flicker on Arpita’s brow and smiled in solidarity. There’s Penguin, there’s Harper Collins, now there’s one after a vegetable, she had begun to form the thought when she saw Arpita’s hard stare. Prissy Missy hunh. So, she turned away and decided to take a look at Menaka’s fingers. They weren’t long or slender, they were stubby and chewed at. Batao bhai, Ladies finger! Whatever.
‘In fact, it was Menaka’s nudge that pushed me to start this book club,’ Priya continued. ‘I had reviewed The Husband’s Secret on my blog and Liane Moriarty commented on my review.’ Priya beamed. Some of the women who had been looking into their swirly lattes looked up at Priya now; there was most definitely awe flickering in some of those eyes. Even the golden stars that dangled off the fake off-white balustrade, which ended on the ceiling, dazzled. ‘I review up to fifty books a year and have 3000+ followers on my blog.’ She smiled in acknowledgment, for she had to acknowledge, right?
The readers around the table, who were merely readers, seemed now in doubt about their presence among the honorable gathering.
Sakshi picked up her large mug and sipped the last shy bits of her staple beverage. Everyone seems to be an author here, she wondered how many more would reveal themselves before the end of the meet-up. Might as well bring down a gavel and declare this to be the moment. Out with it now all you who want to, or forever hold your peace. Though she did not know the technicalities of the art now, art, clearly, she guessed it to be. Not science for sure. Husband’s Secret had been fun, but was that valid anymore, or would only Jane Austen books qualify?
No one had said so as yet; the other readers, hopefully who were merely only readers, that is. Did they seem wary of their opinions on the book because they were, poor things, merely readers? wondered Menaka.
Was Durga a popular author? that other lone writer, Menaka, wondered. She most definitely seemed confident of her writing!
Priya decided to motivate her group because, around the table, enthusiasm seemed to wane. The book club was hers and seated around the table were the followers of her blog. It was time to spruce things up, instill confidence among the women for their respective points of view — important points of view. She nudged the gathering and thankfully the discussion propelled forward, way up until the last speaker. Phew!
It was definitely the ripe moment to take the Book Club forward.
‘Excellent!’ called out Durga, before Priya could take a moment to savor that thought. ‘Now that we have completed the discussion, how about we start a book club?’
‘Which is why I called this meet in the first place, Durga,’ stated Priya. ‘Menaka and I have a plan,’ she continued, picking up on that bite she was about to lose. She swallowed a lump in a hurry and it threatened to go down the wrong tube. Gawd! ‘We’ve been thinking of making this meet a monthly affair,’ she said, coughing it out.
‘Yes, we should. I hope that was the idea behind meeting today,’ Durga answered, smirking at Priya’s lack of confidence. She then looked around for acceptance.
The party of nineteen did turn around. Esther noticed the smile that lingered on Durga’s lips, but then she looked towards Priya, the blogger she followed for book reviews. So did all the others seated across her.
‘I wanted to check everyone’s availability at this meet,’ Priya said to the nineteen women.
‘How many of us can meet on weekdays, show of hands please?’ Durga cut in.
Most hands shot up.
‘Let’s meet on weekdays then,’ concluded Durga.
‘Great then, let’s decide on days and some rules, right Priya?’ butted in Menaka, wanting to pass the baton back to Priya.
‘I feel a book per month to begin with,’ started Priya.
‘I am part of another book club and we take one book per month,’ said Arpita who was sitting between Esther and Durga. A discussion broke out on this along the length of the table. Finally, the power balance included all the ladies. They had a democratic say as well, after all.
‘Ladies, let’s talk one at a time,’ interrupted Priya. Would the baton pass back to Durga, or would it now be shared among the nineteen women? Priya wondered.
‘Yes,’ restated Durga. ‘I have been in a book club for two years now and we take turns alphabetically. To begin, any lady whose name begins with A can make the first pick, we then take a month to read it and meet the following month to discuss it.’
‘Let’s not meet if we’re very few,’ tried Priya.
Thus proceeding, by the end of that hour, rules were agreed upon. By the next hour, as the ladies returned to their homes, Priya had created a WhatsApp group, Booklovers’ Paradise, adding the women who had shown interest. She named it after her blog, merely needing to tweak the apostrophe to accommodate the plural after all.
But wasn’t the name a bit tawdry Durga argued that evening on the WhatsApp group.
‘It does sound like the name of a motel,’ messaged Arpita who was to pick the book of the month.
‘It has a branding, my brand,’ texted Priya. Who knew this would be so difficult? she wondered. Her idea, her effort, and here were enough to steal it. ‘And since I called the meet, it should be associated with my brand, my blog. After all, the participants are followers of my blog.’
‘Well, we have the potential to attract more people with a better name,’ debated Durga.
Arpita agreed. The rest of the women were typing…, not typing, then typing… and then silent.
After the ensuing altercation between online participants Durga… and Priya…, Menaka, whose manuscript lay with a publisher, sent the final judgment. ‘Ladies, it is Priya’s initiative and I see nothing wrong with the title she has picked. It has to be associated with her blog. We are all followers of her blog and assembled today because of the influence she holds.’
Twelve thumbs went up in the WhatsApp group to seal the deal.
But some weren’t quite sure. Esther wondered whether Durga would leave the group in fury. Arpita wondered whether she had been sufficiently neutral, Nusrat and Sakshi were baking and sprinkling in their respective homes when they decided to exit the group.
But Durga had no doubts. She would stay. After all, she read and taught English at the Voice and Accent centers of a call center in Gurugram, and of course she was a writer and that most definitely made her a valuable member of the group.
The following month, the group met a second time. That August, Priya, Menaka, Durga, Arpita and Esther met at a coffee shop inside a mall to discuss Arpita’s pick, A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry.
The following month, Durga, after treading on A Fine Balance decided to host a Monsoon farewell at her place. The book that month was her pick, Malice by Keigo Higashino. ‘Murder and mystery over schnitzel and wine @my place’ she messaged on the WhatsApp group one evening.
‘Terrace garden fun.’
Dancing emojis flooded the message board on WhatsApp.
Priya, Menaka, Arpita, Esther, and Karthika, a new friend whom Durga had added to the group, confirmed their attendance.
‘Who has read the book?’ Durga messaged a week before the meet-up.
‘Read it earlier, revising now. Thumbs up,’ messaged Priya; Menaka followed suit. Well, Durga was a writer, now wasn’t she?
‘I’m not missing the wine sweetie,’ said Arpita.
‘Anything for the blossoms on Durga’s terrace,’ said Karthika, remembering the fragrance of the frangipanis, the jasmines, and the chrysanthemums that flowered in pottery that she had made herself. Durga had helped Karthika in making her shop The Potter’s Terrace a reality.
‘How sweet K,’ replied Durga.
Esther sent a thumbs-up too.
‘Looking forward to hosting you ladies,’ Durga continued.
The next day Durga took a headcount, ‘so we have Priya, Menaka, Arpita and Karthika. Ladies, we’re eighteen in the group, and only five of us are reading the book? Please do try to make it.’
‘Esther had agreed too,’ butted in Arpita.
‘I’ll bake a Bundt cake for Malice,’ messaged Arpita early the next morn.
‘I’ll toss an orange and apple salad,’ promised Menaka.
‘I’ll bring along brownies with hot chocolate sauce,’ pitched in Esther.
‘How sweet. Thank you, darlings,’ replied Durga before recalling a final count of five again, ‘Priya, Menaka, Arpita, Karthika and Durga.’
Two days later, Esther was unable to attend that meet-up due to unforeseen circumstances. Nevertheless, the ladies discussed Malice and by evening the WhatsApp group was inundated with pictures of the meet-up. Hugs and kisses overflowed in the pictures, and Priya, Menaka, Arpita, Karthika and Durga could be seen passionately discussing the book, the recipes and the flora; conversations overflowing onto the WhatsApp group. The pictures were zoomed in on baskets of delicacies as rainbow-hued carpets of blooms and blossoms skirted the backgrounds. Esther, meanwhile, spent the evening peering into her TV gathering details of the lynching crimes that had risen in the country.
She managed to join the next month’s discussion, though. They were to discuss her book choice that month, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. ‘Let’s meet at the Piano Man café,’ she had messaged. ‘It’s within a golf course and is an outdoor café; breezy enough for a balmy October morning in Gurugram.’
‘Hats and halos ladies?’ suggested Durga fanning emojis of excitement into the chat window.
‘Wow! Such creative ideas Durga!’ exclaimed Karthika. The other women agreed. She adds excitement to the group, most clearly, thought Priya. She’s a writer after all. Sitting at her writing table, Menaka sighed. She rued over her lack of spontaneity and sparkle.
With that, on the designated morning in October, as the polluting PM 2.5 began descending down on the city’s air, the rustic café began filling up with hats of every kind. Menaka walked past the vine bower at the entrance to the café wearing a fuchsia pink fascinator. Arpita had on a straw hat with a floral silk scarf tied around it in a bow. Priya’s head fit snug in a soft pink golfer cap. Karthika had covered her head in an aquamarine organza scarf with Cartier sunglasses perched up to hold it in place, and Durga strode in with a straw hat and a printed cream stole tied around in a bonnet to honour the life and times of the book. Esther wore a headband of sunflowers over her silky mocha highlights like a halo. Oh! and the book discussion? It hummed along at a merry pitch.
‘That’s what a good book does, encourages empathy for people different from us. Nice pick Esther,’ endorsed Durga from the head of the cane table in that garden café.
‘I thought it ambles away, though,’ voiced Arpita.
Menaka and Priya liked the book. However, they preferred thrillers. ‘You know, with plot upheavals, suspense and drama. Movement, basically,’ said Menaka with a dance of her chubby hand, the diamond on her ring finger catching sunlight.
‘Literary fiction tends to put me to sleep,’ concluded Priya taking a bite off her bruschetta. Durga interrupted by plunging a hand into Priya’s platter. ‘Let me have a bite, sweets, that bruschetta looks tempting.’
‘Sure, would you like to try my Oreo shake as well, goes very well with the bruschetta,’ Priya offered.
‘Ooh lovely and your quill danglers, aren’t they something, girls?’ said Durga looking around and prodding the ladies.
Esther used the interlude to sip her coffee. How has she stuck on so long? Durga wondered. What does Esther mean anyway? These questions seemed to leave Durga a teeny-weeny nebby. Perhaps, she could catch up with the woman after the book discussion.
Esther was waiting for the valet to bring over her car when Durga spotted her in the distance, beyond the vine bower at the entrance of the café, beyond the creepers that creeped up and down the arch and grew into a hedge forming a waist-high wall around the cafe. Durga hugged Priya a quick little hug lest she miss Esther.
‘Hey, nice book choice there,’ she called out to Esther, putting on her Ray Ban shades as she walked up.
‘I’m glad you liked the book,’ replied Esther.
Durga smiled. ‘So where do you stay?’
‘Ah! What a coincidence. Can I ride along? My driver called in sick this morning and I had to call in an Uber to get here.’
Durga thought she sensed an eagerness in Esther. She read this in the slight curl of Esther’s lips at the corners, a tad bit up, was it? Much like those sad-little girls in her class, wanting to be friends, back in her teenage days. She had been the Hema Malini of her school. Things hadn’t changed much over the years.
‘Where are you from, Esther?’ she asked, sliding into the beige Honda City that had rolled in.
‘Delhi,’ replied Esther.
‘Umm, you don’t look like a Delhiite.’
‘My parents are from Nagercoil, but I was born here in Delhi.’
Durga looked at Esther and wondered what it was she disliked about the woman’s silence. ‘Is that a rosary?’ she decided to ask pointing to the wooden beads dangling from the rear-view mirror.
‘Are you Catholic or Protestant?’
‘Catholic. A rosary is used in prayer to the Mother.’
‘Oh! The virgin,’ said Durga with a smirk, inviting it was too.
‘What about you?’
‘I was Durga Ghosh. I married Venkat, he’s an Iyengar. Now I’m Durga Iyengar, you know Tam Brahms.’
Esther knew, for Nagercoil was the southernmost tip of Tamil Nadu and Tam cats they were called. Rarely though eh.
It was a 10-minute ride and there wasn’t much left to say, so the ladies stayed quiet for the most part.
That evening, Karthika revealed her pick for the month on WhatsApp, The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It had been one of Durga’s best reads of the year, and she could not help her fingers hold down the dancing girl emoji and shooting it across to the group. Priya could not hold onto her excitement either. She sent kisses with hearts so red they beat in imagined 3D. Esther sent up a thumb while Menaka sent a mug of beer, and Arpita clinked it with champagne flutes.
The women made a decision to dress up in sarees this time around, and Menaka decided to invite a friend who had loved the book too. Meera was an ardent fan of mythology and Krishna, much like her namesake. Perhaps, a love that grew over years of listening to her grandmother’s tales of Meerabai, the ones her Dadi whispered at night into her ears as she stroked Meera’s hair, while she lay in the nook of her Dadi’s arms drifting into sweet sleep.
As a new genre, literary mythology fascinated Meera. It offered new and diverse perspectives to universal truths. She had devoured Devdutt Pattnaik, Kavita Kane books, and Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni flagged the summit of her hunger.
That beautiful November morn, Meera dressed up for the book discussion, as she always did, in the best of her sarees and little jhumkies and a grey coiffure of unblemished strands. At the café under the Metro station, the ladies gathered. Meera was elegance personified in her cotton jute, ochre and orange saree. The discussion continued, caffeine flowed, words and sighs enlivened the café. ‘Your saree is lovely,’ Durga complemented Meera after the discussion. ‘It’s refreshing to hear your thoughts on the Mahabharata, ain’t it girls?’ The ladies nodded. Menaka leaned on a corner of a table waiting to leave with Meera, a smile adorning her face and heart.
The Palace of Illusions had evoked sentiments of love, devotion and feminism, like no other book had thus far. Karna was loved as was the feisty Draupadi, emblematic of the fire that had arisen within each woman at the meet-up that morn. The pictures in the WhatsApp group were aflush with energy, zeal, ochre and orange. Words of praise for Draupadi and her feminist stand flooded the messenger window. Draupadi’s was the voice each woman wanted to represent, to fight for, to justify, to love. And because these were liberated women, they could not help but hail her possible sexual freedom as well. As it were wont to, the discussion meandered towards Sita in Ramayana and her contrary plight. The fate she succumbed to, the hypocrisy of society and the villainy of Ravan.
‘But Ravan was not a bad fellow, to put it lightly’ messaged Durga. ‘In fact, he was an extremely intelligent person. Alas, he desired another’s wife,’ she debated speaking in favour of intellect, for intellect had to be acknowledged now, did it not?
‘I read somewhere that his ten heads were not physical heads, they were a metaphor for his intelligence,’ messaged Arpita.
‘A man with the intelligence of ten heads put together, a Brahmin. Albeit, for his one misdeed. Imagine being called Ravan or Iravanan in Tamil,’ texted Durga with a squiggly faced emoji, didn’t it accurately reflect the face she could see in the mirror across from where she sat? Rubbing the kohl from her eyes, she sighed, ‘dark circles!’
‘But why would anyone name their child that?’ reasoned Priya, simultaneously reading through an email on her laptop, an advertisement request on her blog it was.
‘Apparently, the word Ravan means powerful and victorious,’ explained Menaka.
‘Oh! The fate of that child,’ assuaged Durga.
‘Mohammad, Jesus. Oh! The fate of those children too,’ pursued Durga.
The minutes that followed were silent; no one in the group was typing.
‘No, we are not averse to the name Jesus or its synonyms,’ Esther, who until now had been looking at the conversation intermittently, typed, deleted, typed again and eventually sent. ‘In fact, synonyms Emmanuel and Chris are popular names for our babies, a matter of pride rather,’ continued the stream of messages rather promptly from the, well, rather deceptively quiet girl, as can be seen.
‘Really?’ messaged Durga rolling her eyes - an emoji. Durga dunked a cotton ball into a pot filled with a homemade concoction of equal portions of aloe vera gel and rose water. She then swiped the cotton ball around her eyes, over the dark circles, over and over again. Sigh!
Venkat, whom Durga had loved over and over for years, walked into the room. His fingers flying over his mobile phone, typing out the minutes of a conference call he had been on with the East Coast. Venkat had caught the roll of Durga’s eye right on time and peeped into her phone.
‘Ravan might have ten-headed intelligence, but he did commit the one crime. Jesus did not commit any, so the scriptures say and so we believe. He was the Son of God,’ messaged Esther.
‘I did say that Ravan was intelligent too,’ Durga typed. Venkat approved. She sent it quickly for fear of losing control of the conversation due to any delay, as go fears in WhatsApp conversations.
‘We know Esther. He is considered saintly. The good person. The one with high clarity gloss shining through,’ messaged Arpita, who was trying to work a lump of dough into a croissant to bake but had unwillingly rolled it into a Celtic knot instead. Is that Christian, she wondered, stretching the dough into an Om. Later, she would place a warm and flaky croissant on an asymmetrical wooden platter, throw in a sprig of rosemary, sprinkle a trail of breadcrumbs and place a vial of vanilla essence by a corner for rustic charm. She would then take a picture and post it onto the Innovative Baking Group on Facebook, where she often garnered praise and appreciation for her baking skills, her USP, her identity.
Priya, meanwhile, typed and deleted and typed again and deleted again. She couldn’t be bothered with the communal discourse on a WhatsApp group, or should she? The thought did cross her mind. But wasn’t the discourse in the country ochre, orange… saffron anyway. Needn’t Priya only secure her WhatsApp group against libel? This was not libel.
‘As was Ravan, a wise man,’ Durga debated.
‘But he did commit a crime, whatever his qualities. In the Ramayan, he stands in place of a villain,’ debated Esther. ‘That would be the place of Satan in the Bible. Jesus would be comparable to Krishna from the Mahabharata if at all comparisons were possible,’ she messaged in frantic, consecutive lines, her fingers flying all over the keypad, tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck.
‘I’ve heard that comparison before,’ messaged Arpita along with an uplifted thumb.
‘In the south, as far as names and their interpretations go, a womanizer is often called Krishnan,’ continued Esther. ‘He’s a Krishnan,’ people will often say, though endearingly, in praise of a cousin or a neighbour who has girls flocking after him. And yet, we know these are merely folklore and the place Krishna holds in people’s hearts cannot be trampled over.”
The group lay silent. No messages, no typing.
‘These converts,’ said Venkat as he walked over to the refrigerator leaving Durga fuming over the messages.
‘Uff! This girl Esther Whatever jumping on us—on me—like a wolf,’ Durga whispered to herself sauntering into the living room for her evening hour of TV.
In the kitchen, Venkat hung onto the door of the refrigerator looking for that wholesome thayir sadam that his Durga had learnt from his Mum to a perfect T. ‘I’ll just have an early dinner,’ he decided against the ayurvedic practice of avoiding curd at night, ‘plus I can’t take thayir sadam to lunch at my MNC anyway, right Durga?’ he yelled from the kitchen.
‘Durga’s salad jai, jai,’ he mimicked with a smile scooping out a spoonful of the thayir sadam as he plonked himself next to Durga on the couch. But Durga was distracted. She seemed to be staring at, wait, ‘a saas-bahu serial?’ asked Venkat picking up the remote from the table and switching over to the news. A journalist was screaming questions at the left-leaning intelligentsia on the issue of the disappearance of a Muslim student from a premier left-leaning university in the nation’s capital. Durga remained distracted, her mind still with her group. It was a first this questioning of her position by a woman so insignificant. Was she losing her touch, she wondered? ‘These Muslims should each disappear one-by one, I say,’ continued Venkat, staring at the TV. ‘Hinduism was always better than Islam or whatever. It will always be. Just wait and watch you non-Hindus, we’ll throw you all out, Muslims, Christians, all you dogs. Just you wait.’
‘Yes Venkat,’ muttered Durga.
The other members of Booklovers’ Paradise slept peacefully through that night and went quiet for the rest of the month, with the exception of Meera announcing the next book, Night by Elie Wiesel.
But on the morning of the book club meet-up Durga was suffering from a wobbly stomach. ‘Won’t be able to make it today. Sorry sweets,’ she messaged Priya with hugs and hearts, and Priya replied with many more.
Meanwhile, in her kitchen, Esther stood holding open the door of a wooden cabinet. Inside sat five loaves of plum cakes wrapped in cellophane sheets, tied up in red and green satin ribbons. The warm smell of the spices had begun to lift the family’s spirits into a celebration since the previous evening when they had been delivered by a home baker friend. It had been on order for over a month for the book club meet-up. The dry fruits had needed to soak up rum for that long, according to the recipe. But that morning, she decided against bringing the plum cakes to the ladies. ‘Inducement to convert, they will say.’
At the café, no one dressed up in black or white or any other colour of mourning. But weren’t they discussing the horrific details of the holocaust? Well, neither did they dress up in the holiday colours of red and green. Although, through the discussion, eyes enlarged in shock, heads hung low in pity and mouths were covered in dismay as each lady sighed and recollected the horrors in the book. Priya sighed and ended the discussion by reading a few lines from Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech for the book:
‘…the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.’
‘True,’ whispered the women, their chins and hearts held in the nook of their palms coming together.
Meanwhile, at work, Durga read through a WhatsApp message that had come through in Venkat’s family group.
‘In 1378, India lost a piece of its land. It became the Islamic nation of Iran.
In 1947, India lost another piece. It became the Islamic nation of Pakistan.
In 1971, India lost another piece. It became the Islamic nation of Bangladesh.
Now, these converts are after Assam and Kerala. Wake up my Hindu brothers.’
Durga responded with an uplifted thumb and forwarded the message to the Ghosh family. There wasn’t a need to verify the facts of the message, they were sent from the Brahmin side of her family, after all. ‘Forwarding,’ she messaged. Venkat would notice. His Brahmin family would notice.
By evening, Menaka messaged the next month’s book choice, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Though fantasy was not to everyone’s fancy, the ladies decided to rejoice in the choice after the despairing Night.
The following month, Priya chose Serious Men by Manu Joseph and soon the book club entered its second year. New members joined the group, some old members marked sporadic attendance and publishers and writers offered to launch books at its various meet-ups. Priya’s reviews were now acknowledged by most writers, Indians and internationals. Durga’s attendance and relationship with Esther had also found a steady distance to traverse along.
But life for Durga was wrought with troubles, and a few days after the group celebrated its second anniversary, she began pouring out her inner turmoil onto a mothers’ forum wherein she unveiled her personal journal of sorts, Fighting Autism: a mother’s journey.
It must be said that many-a-troubled heart found resonance and solace in Durga’s words and the women of Booklovers’ Paradise held her up through her troubled times, sharing the posts and encouraging her with positivity when she needed it the most.
‘Today’s link…’ Durga would often send. The women would comment and reinforce their faith in her. In one such post, Durga spoke about her exasperation with her daughter’s saree for her 12th grade farewell party. Jaya was finishing school that year and the border of the neel blue saree that Durga had picked was 3 inches thick while all along Jaya had wanted one with a 2.5-inch-thick border. Durga had walked into every shop in Gurugram in her search for the ideal saree. Alas, each variation had a different design, a different shade of blue, or the border of a different thickness. Writing her struggle down in a blog post had helped, though, if some souls could not lead her to the required saree, they could talk about her helplessness and perhaps help another helpless soul by way of shared dead ends. When the women in Booklovers’ Paradise commented, Durga had felt relieved and understood. She was thankful that Priya had not deleted her post, even though Priya was strict against links to third party blogs, forwarded jokes and Good Morning messages on the group. And as Durga sent the blog post to the group, she also decided to post vital details she had received about a Booker Prize winning author whose second book critical of the situation in Kashmir had hit the stands after a gap of twenty years.
‘The famous far-leftist, pro-Maoist, pro-Naxalite, pro-Kashmiri terrorist intellectual Arundhati Roy is Arundhati Suzanna Roy. She is said to be funded by foreign groups to unsettle focused developmental efforts and firm actions by the government. Arundhati Suzanna Roy is a Christian who has retained her Hindu name to spread hatred about India and Hindus through her books,’ said the message.
Booklovers’ Paradise was silent. Esther, munching on an orange while scrolling through her WhatsApp messages, pondered whether to comment against the insinuation about Christians and risk be called unpatriotic, whether to rake up the issue of fake, contorted news (for Arundhati had never claimed to be a Hindu), or whether to debate the issue of having to be defensive in her motherland while the other women in the group were never put in a defendant’s box. Esther decided to ignore Durga’s message for peace and a daughter who was excited about a blue saree with a 2.5-inch-thick border. Instead, she read through the word of God that someone had sent in her family group, ‘bearing with one another, and forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13’
The following month the group was to read Meera’s book choice. She had picked Lanka’s Princess by Kavita Kane and to set the mood forwarded a riddle with the names of Hindu goddesses. Oh! The women had enjoyed the fun trivia. The following day, Durga forwarded a message detailing scientific evidence of the magical properties of the holy Cow’s urine.
It also seems that the discussion on Lanka’s Princess went well, which would perhaps be why Menaka picked 99 Thoughts on Ganesha by Devdutt Pattanaik as the following month’s book choice. Esther debated whether to continue with the book club. She knew trials formed the corner stone of a Christian life as affirmed by two messages on Corinthians 4:8-9 that someone had sent in her family group.
‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’
Esther forwarded the message to her group of best friends from school who had reunited on WhatsApp, for shouldn’t she give strength to her flock?
The following year, when Esther’s short story saw the Gurugram morning ray in a Literary Magazine, Booklovers’ Paradise, with Priya, Durga, Menaka, Arpita, Meera and many more, was abuzz with the link to the story. Encouragement flowed in for the hidden talent in the group. Durga, then, was forced to message the quiet, cunning Esther now, wasn’t she? ‘Congratulations! You’ve grown from the short stories you would post on your blog back in the days,’ the private message said, ‘you’re bigger than me now.’
Bio: It was while working on the corporate ladder that Donna Abraham Tijo’s first short story won a contest and was published in ‘Chicken Soup for the on a whimSoul, Indian College Students’ (Westland Ltd, 2011). She then went on to publish her first novella ‘Or Forever Hold Your Peace’ (AuthorsUpfront, 2014) . With learnings gathered over the following years, she contributed a short story ‘My Mama’s Girl’ to ‘Escape Velocity’ (Write&Beyond, 2018). These days she’s adding final truths to her second novel, The Pheeki Lives of Geetanjali and Maryann.