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Simplicity of a Star

I wanted nothing more than to indulge in the divine pleasures of sloth and gluttony. After cramming for exams for an entire week, I was looking forward to some relaxing. But the anticipation soon turned to irritation when the electricity went off, leaving me to flip the AC's switch in vain. I resigned myself to my fate, trying to seek comfort in the thought of the still functioning television and pizza. And then the second source of irritation arrived right when the fight scene was getting really thrilling. My grandmother (Nani) shuffled up to my room and asked me to take her for a walk on the roof. “Why now?” I groaned.

“Because now is the best time to see the Evening Star”, came the firm reply.

I reluctantly tore myself away and trudged upstairs, grumbling about walking around in this heat. “If you went out of that caged room of yours, which you treat like a shrine, you would know that there is usually a lovely summer breeze during this time.”

She was right; the cool wind's refreshing embrace slightly contributed to soothing my roused temper. While I impatiently waited, Nani found the Evening Star and pointed to it, and to oblige her I went and scanned the sky.

It really was a beautiful sight. Patches of dark clouds made it seem like an unfinished canvas, where the artist tossed splashes of blue, indigo, green, turquoise and a multitude of other unnamed colours, and let the painting come together. I looked west, and there was the Evening Star, sparkling like a gem around the slender throat of a celestial goddess. Nani told me how the star was actually the planet Venus, the brightest in the sky, and how you can also see it as the Morning Star in the eastern sky before dawn. Central American tribes considered Venus to be their god, the 'Feathered Serpent', the Lord of the Winds. According to legend, he flew to the House of the Sun, which was the only place where music existed, and brought back musicians to the earth to teach the morning birds, moving water and rustling leaves.

Why did Nani make this daily pilgrimage to view a star? “I have always come to see it. Life has had so many ups and downs, but through it all, the star has always been steady on its course, never veering off its selected path. Even though I couldn't see it at times, it's been my companion throughout the whole journey.”

I looked at Nani's brown, wrinkled face, life had had its ups and downs for her. After being married at 13, she managed to look after her family and continue her education, finally completing a BA and becoming a respected teacher, and later on, editor of a magazine. Throughout it all, she struggled with the loss of her paternal property, an outcome of her simplicity and undying belief in the honesty of others, as well as the Partition and Liberation War, forcing her to repeatedly uproot her home and painstakingly rebuild her life. Now during its latter stages, when her children have chosen their own paths, she is still left with the parental duty of caring for her bed-ridden child suffering from schizophrenia, and the sorrow of watching all her younger siblings leave this world before her.

The sound of the restarting generator made me snap out of my reverie. I strolled alongside Nani while she walked around the roof with her frail, steady steps and pointed out the names of all the plants and showed me how to sip the tiny, red flowers to taste its honey. She told me stories of her childhood, when she and her family would light candles and sing to the sky on such evenings, how she would collect flowers to make garlands, and how she loved to spend hours under a banyan tree, swaying to and fro on a rope swing in the company of the summer breeze.

“When was the last time you put flowers in your hair or rode a swing?” I felt a queer sense of shame and regret when I admitted that I didn't remember. As we walked, she pointed out little things that I had never noticed before.

“Look at that white lamp shining through the branches, and those dry leaves burning in the flame. You could've heard such a nice, crackling sound if you were nearer!” Even the headlights of a passing car illuminating the brick road seemed beautiful to her. It amazed me how she could find pleasure so easily. At the age of 77, she still laughed like she was 17. We finished our round and paused where we could see the moon, shimmering above the silent buildings with an ancient brilliance that never lost its newborn beauty. “When I was a child, I really believed that the moon was an old woman spinning threads”, she smiled.

“It looks so lovely. No matter what happened, ever since I was a little girl, the moon was always equally dazzling, and even when I'm gone; it will continue to shine with its spiritual beauty. Isn't that a comforting thought?”

Yes. Somehow, it really was, and nothing seemed hard or unattainable anymore, under the light of the moon and Evening Star.

Dedicated to my Nani, who still shines brighter than the Evening Star

By Shuprova Tasneem


Book review

Suite Française

IN his novel A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens describes the events leading up to the French Revolution by saying "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". One could probably say the same about World War II. Sure, those were terrible times, with all the fighting and the casualties and the displacement of lives and families....and let's not forget the horrors of the Holocaust or even the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the same time, as harsh as it may sound, this was the time when some of the major innovations in science and technology, communications and medicine came about. In the wake of the war came a wealth of literature. One example that's frequently quoted is the Diary of Anne Frank, but there are others equally touching, and probably even better written. And then you have Suite Francaise.

In fact, the story of the author, Irène Némirovsky, is perhaps just as fascinating as her work. Born in Ukraine, Némirovsky had lived in France since 1919 and had established herself in her adopted country's literary community, publishing nine novels and a biography of Chekhov. She composed "Suite Française" in the village of Issy-l'Evêque, where she, her husband and two young daughters had settled after fleeing Paris. On July 13, 1942, French policemen, enforcing the German race laws, arrested Némirovsky as "a stateless person of Jewish descent." She was transported to Auschwitz, where she died in the infirmary on August 17. The date of Némirovsky's death indicates that she wrote the exquisitely shaped and balanced fiction of "Suite Française" almost contemporaneously with the events that inspired them, supposedly an impossible feat.

Contrary to what one might expect, this book wasn't a diary of sorts, and despite the author being Jewish, and having had to suffer the atrocities meted out to people like her, there is no mention of the Holocaust anywhere. Instead, the book deals with the German occupation of Paris and the French reaction to the events. Starting out with one of the first bombings that preceded the invasion, the narrative splits into several sides of one story, each picking up the perspective of a particular character or set of characters. There's the vain and pampered poet Gabriel Corte and his mistress, the meek and unassuming Michauds, the imperious Charlotte Péricand and her charges, and more, and each group is dealing with the invasion in a different way. As the story progresses, one finds how these characters are connected to one another.

As she steps into each set of narratives, Némirovsky seamlessly slides into the mindset of the character she is portraying, fleshing out their individual quirks in exquisite detail. Between her tongue-in-cheek depiction of the pretensions of the upper-class French, and her rather rosy descriptions of the landscape, there is almost a sense of unreality about the whole situation, which then serves to drive home the fact that it took the Parisians a long time to come to grips with the reality of what was happening to them.

Here, it needs to be mentioned that the book actually contains two narratives, one fictional and the other a fragmentary, factual account of how the fiction came into being. Suite Française itself consists of two novellas portraying life in France from June 4, 1940, as German forces prepare to invade Paris, through July 1, 1941, when some of Hitler's occupying troops leave France to join the assault on the Soviet Union. From the author's notes, it is apparent that she initially intended to write a set of five novellas as a series about the war. Suite Française is actually an incomplete work, seen from that perspective. Yet, by itself, it still manages to be a very poignant slice of life during those troubled times.

If you're looking for a light read, this is probably not the best book for you. However, if you want a story that will touch your heart and remain in your mind long after the last page has been turned, and leave you sighing at the thought that there's no more where that came from, you really want to read this one.

By Sabrina F Ahmad
sabera.jade@gmail.com


Where are you now?

Where are you now?
As I'm swimming through the stereo
I'm writing you a symphony of sound
Where are you now?
As I'm cutting through you track by track
I swear to God this mix could sink the sunk
But it was you I was thinking of.
- Jack's Mannequin, 'The Mixed Tape'

EVEN getting a spanking new laptop cannot take the sting out of missing out on all that's going on in Dhaka.

My friends had their 'last day at school' a few weeks back. Right now they're embroiled in their mock II's, so I'm not envying them. But when the pictures started getting uploaded on Facebook, and I read the wall posts and the comments, and saw the (color-stained) school uniforms that a lot of us will never don again, I couldn't help curse my luck.

Here I am, twelve thousand miles away, across two oceans and ten time zones, and I am painfully aware that there are things I will never again be a part of.

No more uniforms. No more bunking classes (not that I ever did bunk a class, but now I'll never get the chance to, either). I will never pose for a picture with any of my school friends, people I have spent the last ten years of my life growing up with. I have passed them on the halls, been stuck in classes with a lot of them. I have seen them pick fights, crush on fellow classmates, dodge teachers. I have been entertained by them in those stuffy classes where the lectures went on forever. Their anecdotes make me laugh out loud, proving that some things cannot be thawed. Sometimes, time will remain frozen. Sometimes, the nostalgia will sweep you off your feet over and over again, and make you reminisce with a fond smile on your face and a lump in your throat.

I cannot be a part of it, and every time I think of that the fact slices through my heart and leaves me a little cold. Honest to God, I never thought I wouldn't graduate from my school. I always knew that a day would come when even a stick-in-the-mud, goody-two-shoes like me would throw caution to the wind and fling the coloured water (as is our tradition) and scrawl autographs on the uniforms of my classmates. I always thought that I would wear the red sash and get my diploma from my school principal. I always thought that I would walk over to the stage, pose for pictures with the graduating class of 2010. Those were things I had envisioned and accepted as my future. Those would be my high school years.

Boy was I wrong.

Instead, my parents and I packed everything we could into six suitcases and boarded an almost twenty-three hour-long flight across the Pacific to start life in The Land Where Everything is Possible, and Anything Can Happen. I didn't sit for the mock I, or the mock II. I do not have my O Levels from May. I will never anticipate the day Edexcel puts out my grades on the Internet. Never will I be able to swap results and comfort and console and cry with my friends. Never.

None of those things will come to me. 12,000 miles away, my friends might be doing those exact same things. But not me.

That picture of the future has cleanly detached from the album of my dreams.

By Shehtaz Huq
p.s. This one's for you, graduating class of 2007 2008, Scholastica. I wish I could've been there.

 

 
 

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