She’d learn

      21 Comments on She’d learn

The air bore a slight chill and the smell of December morning fog. I flung open the pashmina shawl that I had around my neck and wrapped it around both of us. Diya smiled and cuddled, placing her soft, cold hands in mine. My eyes were sleep-stung but hers were wide and wandering.

We were on a train to Dehradun, my hometown, having landed in New Delhi the previous night, after a travel of more than 24 hours. Diya was in India after five years; last time she was five and very shy, always ducking behind me. Those layers of shyness had peeled off, one year at a time.

Now, she was like a child in a fete — hungry for the sights and sounds and also for the snacks and chai/coffee that the vendors were toting inside the train. I handed her a 100-rupee bill, instructing her to do the math at each purchase. That would keep her busy so I could enjoy the brooding that a moving train’s window always triggered.

I must have dozed off when she shook me, “Mama, someone is singing Naani’s song.”Yes, I could hear a woman’s voice singing ‘Chalte chalte mere ye geet’, a 1970’s Bollywood song that my mother used to sing melodiously. I played it in my kitchen during bouts of homesickness.

As the song inched closer, I noticed that it’s tune was way off.

Then, the singer slowly entered our coach, filling it with her voice, a smell of unwashed bodies, and a feeling of tragedy or misfortune.

She was a slim young woman, definitely less than thirty, draped in a green threadbare sari with the pallu pulled across her face so that only her singing lips were visible. A baby girl, probably eight to nine months old, with dirty and uncombed hair, a snotty nose, and sad eyes, clung to her left hip.

Her voice was good but she was mutilating the song, stretching its happy tune, pushing it into melancholy. It reminded me of Bollywood music directors who retained the lyrics but doctored the musical notes of a song to convey a different emotion at a different juncture.

At the end of her song, she stretched out one hand, palm up, in front of every passenger, one by one. The baby followed her cue and stretched her mud-ridged palm out too. Some passengers averted their eyes, some placed crumpled bills in her hand or the baby’s, and some even tried to peek under her veil.

She reached us. I was seething over her violation of the song and the employment of a baby to harness people’s compassion.

Diya reached inside her sweatshirt’s pocket, pulled out the money and placed it on the singer’s outstretched palm. She also handed a packet of biscuits to the baby. The singer acknowledged by folding her both hands into a namaste and raising them to her head.

“Her baby must be hungry,” Diya whispered to seek my validation. I nodded.

By the next station, Diya had fallen asleep with her head on my shoulder. I watched the singer alight from the train. She jerked the pallu from her head, lit a beedi, and walked briskly to the tea-stall where she handed the baby to another young woman who was waiting with her sari’s pallu pulled on her face. I wondered what this woman’s song might be.

But I told Diya nothing. She’d learn. Everyone does.

21 thoughts on “She’d learn

  1. Hema

    Sara, you pulled me right in with your vivid descriptions. I love the line “brooding that a moving train’s window triggered.” I’ve always hated people talking to me in trains or buses, especially when I’m near a window 🙂 This was beautiful. There were a few verb choices, however, that threw me off a little. “I flung open the pashmina”, I thought flung was a little too dramatic for when she’s only about to drape it around her daughter. Also, I thought “after a travel of more than 24 hours”, details like that weren’t really necessary, if you could’ve just told us where they were traveling from. That said, it was really a beautiful piece. Very nostalgia-inducing. I love the mother’s decision in the end 🙂

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  2. admin Post author

    Thanks Hema for the feedback.You are right about some of my word choices and redundant information.I would have asked someone to beta but wasn’t done writing in time for it.A fresh set of eyes can great a big difference.Thanks gain.

    Reply
  3. Jamie

    This drew me in immediately – I especially liked ‘sleep-stung’, and interaction between mother and daughter really worked, especially the mother trying to distract the daughter so she could get some rest, and the daughter wanting validation for giving the money (I remember doing that with buskers!). The cynicism of the beggar was really nice as well, and added another layer of sadness.

    One minor point – it should be ‘I noticed that its tune was way off’ (no apostrophe).

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    1. Jamie

      Ah I forgot something, sorry – the title feels a bit like a placeholder. It doesn’t add much to the story for me, or frame it in an interesting way. But then I struggle with titles regularly!

      Reply
      1. admin Post author

        Oh, titles are my biggest weakness 🙁 I didn’t have a title. Just wrote something when WordPress asked for one.Need to improve on this.

        Reply
    2. admin Post author

      Oh, how could I write it’s in place of its without my eyes complaining?Need to be better at editing. Glad you liked the story.Thanks a lot, Jamie!

      Reply
  4. Laissez Faire

    LOVE: My eyes were sleep-stung but hers were wide and wandering. / I was seething over her violation of the song and the employment of a baby to harness people’s compassion.

    You always pull me into these places I’ve never been and never likely to see other than in pictures or movies. Even when I don’t quite understand something, there is enough color and texture and smells to give me context. That is really hard to do. The ending to this was perfect I think. I like how the reader has to wonder if the mother is being cold and then you realize she just knows its a scam. She doens’t tell her daughter which also says a lot about who she is.

    My only critique is that sometimes your language is too lofty for the mood for example: It reminded me of Bollywood music directors who retained the lyrics but doctored the musical notes of a song to convey a different emotion at a different juncture. <– It's not information we need and juncture doesn't quite go with your rich details of an unwashed body setting. I know English is not your first language and I /really/ admire that…to read and speak more than one language is amazing — so sometimes the word choices err on the book vocabulary side rather than every day usage. I can barely ask for the toilets after trying to learn Japanese for a year. LOL

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      THANK YOU.Appreciate the feedback.Yes, as many people have suggested, I need to forget the ‘learned’ words and try to use simpler and easier ones.Will definitely work on it.Glad you could enjoy the story despite the foreign setting. LOL on Japanese toilets.Need to google it 🙂

      Reply
  5. Nate

    The singer’s song was really effective in changing the tone of the scene. The MC is reveling in being with her young daughter again and then here comes this beggar transforming a happy tune into something brooding. It told me a lot that the MC didn’t transfer her sour mood onto her daughter after the daughter made a decision in which the mother didn’t approve. There were a few places where the language could be tightened up, for instance: “I flung open the pashmina shawl around my neck…” Also there were a few word choices that seemed overdramatic, for instance, “flung” in the previous sentence and “mud-ridged.”

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    1. admin Post author

      Thank you Nate. Received the same feedback from others too. “Use simpler words” is going to be my mantra for the next piece I write. Didn’t see you on the grids this week?

      Reply
  6. Donna-Louise Bishop

    Wow. This was an absolute joy to read. I also loved the phrase “sleep-stung “. You managed to convey such a strong sense of place, as well as a mix of emotions. The underlying theme of coming-of-age was just perfectly done. I do agree with previous comments about the title. It makes it sound so sinister. Her name is so beautiful that perhaps that would work as a title?

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  7. Michelle H

    My favorite part of the piece was when the mother didn’t want to give money but the daughter did. The contrast of world weariness and innocence was very poignant there. This is a story that I enjoyed as I read it, and enjoy more the more I think about it. I also found some of the word choices to be a little flowery, but I thought it was a style choice that fit well with the setting of the piece. I think it does detract a bit from the central action, but it also helped create a world.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thanks Michelle! Glad you liked the story.Flowery language, yes that’s something I need to take care of.

      Reply
  8. lisa

    What a lovely story. It kept me interested from the start and, like others, I enjoyed your choice of the words sleep-stung. As a mom, I can totally relate to the mother allowing the daughter to keep her sense of hope and generosity despite the truth of what was actually happening. I liked how you incorporated the prompts in this. Well done! 😀

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  9. asha

    Really solid story telling and wonderful imagery here, Sara. The scenario was so relatable (lol my husband the first time I took him to India was forever giving money to all and sundry). I liked the way you chose to narrate through the mother’s POV, it laid the groundwork well for the reveal and why she held back from telling Diya. And what a great choice of song — it’s so easy to see how it could have been manipulated into something much more melancholy.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thank you Asha. Everyone has to learn it the hard way. I started with the song ‘Chalte Chalte’ from movie Pakeezah which is actually my mother’s favorite song and then changed it to this one because it has a happier tune :}

      Reply

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