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Under the Bakul Tree : Can Ashim’s Choice Really Save his Family?

Experience the rustic beauty of Assam with Under the Bakul Tree by acclaimed author Mrinal Kalita, recipient of the Bal Sahitya Puraskar award. Follow Ashim’s journey as he faces tough choices and heavy responsibilities. Translated for the first time from the Assamese, Under the Bakul Tree is a coming-of-age tale that celebrates hope, determination, and the power of true friendship amidst the struggles of poverty and a flawed education system.​

Under the Bakul Tree
Under the Bakul Tree || Mrinal Kalita

***

Ashim lay sleepless on the bed. He was restless. The moonlight crept in through the slats in the reedmat wall and scattered on the opposite side. He could see the starry sky through the slats. Ashim didn’t like it in the slightest. He didn’t like the scattered moonlight floating inside the house and he found no beauty in the star-filled sky that appeared to him through the slats in the wall. The scattered moonlight looked like lumps on the skin of a leper! As the thought crossed his mind, he felt a sudden jolt in his body. He felt as if he was becoming mentally ill.

 

For the last few days, he had been thinking about the same thing over and over again. But he couldn’t arrive at a decision. He turned to look at the face of his Deuta, his father, who was fast asleep beside him on the same cot. He then looked at his mother and sister who were sleeping on the next cot. He could see their pale, rundown faces in the moonlight. An acute pang of pain filled his heart. His feelings towards his mother and sister were always very clear. However, that was not the case with his father. He was never quite at ease around him. And, of course, he didn’t know whether to feel sorry for his father or be angry at him. Whenever he had to face him, a kind of uneasiness weighed Ashim down.

 

Ashim got out of his bed silently. Removing the horizontal bamboo pole which held the door shut, he opened the door and stepped out of the house. Cowbells rang a couple of times in the cowshed. Occasionally, hoots of owls came travelling from somewhere. Dew drops were dripping relentlessly and a thick veil of mist shrouded the area. Shivering in the cold, Ashim got down from the veranda and went to the cowshed to fetch a bundle of firewood which his mother kept there as cooking fuel. Then, taking out the small kerosene lamp from the house, he tried to light a fire. It was only after a few tries that the fire began to burn properly.

 

As the warmth from the burning logs soothed him, Ashim tried to analyse the whole matter with a calm mind. He would need a sizeable amount of money for admission into class X as well as for buying textbooks, notebooks and so on. Moreover, after a few months, he would again need money to fill up the form for the matriculation examination. And even if he was able to pass his board exams, he couldn’t dream of studying in a college. His sister, Ajoli, had been promoted to class VII this year. Up to class VIII, the government provided all the textbooks and exempted school fees for female students, but after two years, money would be needed for her studies too and he needed to think about that. On the other hand, his father’s income by now had dwindled to almost nothing. Occasionally, his father earned a little bit of money by working as a daily wager. But whatever little his father earned, was always used up by himself.

 

Ashim turned his thoughts from his father for the time being as it would only demoralize him further. He thought of his mother. He felt deeply for her. It concerned him that her health was deteriorating day by day. Apart from doing all the household chores, she worked as a house help for two or three families. In return, she received some rice and vegetables. On the top of all this work, she also had to look after the cow.

 

And what do I do? I only study . . . Ashim felt that he was a burden on his mother’s shoulders. As he thought about it all, over and over, staring into the fire, his head became heavy. Then, all of a sudden, not wanting to dwell on his thoughts any further, Ashim made a firm resolve. It was done.

 

He had decided. He would no longer attend school. As it is, his academic performance had deteriorated to a point where he could not even dream of passing the matriculation examination. If he gave up going to school, Ashim decided that he would get enough time to provide some respite to his mother. As he thought about it, he felt a bit lighter. All these days, thinking about the same thing in a relentless loop had drained him both physically and mentally. But now, after taking this decision, he felt much lighter, as if an unbearable burden had been lifted off his head.

***

Get your copy of Under the Bakul Tree by Mrinal Kalita wherever books are sold.

Exclusive Excerpt from The Roof Beneath their Feet

The Roof Beneath their Feet by Geetanjali Shree is a captivating novel that intertwines the past and present, uncovering profound truths along the way. Shree beckons us to dive into themes of love, loss and friendship, the weight of unspoken emotions, and explore the layers beneath the book’s intriguing title.

Read this enthralling excerpt from The Roof Beneath their Feet to get a glimpse of the roofs Chachcho and Lalna walk upon.

The Roof Beneath Their feet
The Roof Beneath Their feet || Geetanjali Shree

***

When the roof is beneath your feet, there’s the whole sky above. We have started walking—me and my memory of Chachcho. 

The flesh of Chachcho’s arms hasn’t started turning into water yet, so we will have to walk stealthily, away from staring eyes, making our way through the darkness. Chachcho bumps into her own arm and frightens herself. Wherever the level of the roof changes, we have to go up or down a couple of steps. Or climb up a water tank and jump. Or leap from a ledge. Then Chachcho will have to gather her sari above her ankles. 

Which she does. She looks around. In a faraway corner, servants have laid out their masters’ beds. The bright shadows of darkness. When Chachcho’s sari flutters in the breeze, she gathers it around her knees and easily climbs up the parapet. Then, as if walking a tightrope, she walks across and jumps down to the other side. 

She, and I with her. We keep walking, far away. Over countless houses, leaping over their suffocating walls. At the end of the mohalla, I stop—one more step, and down! At that moment, I feel her behind me. How long must she have been following Chachcho and me to have come this far? I don’t want to, but I have to turn back, and my memory of Chachcho is left behind, as if it has jumped over.  

On the roof, the evening lights have started coming on, as if it is their secret desire to stay up all night and gossip with the darkness. Lalna’s hair is red. Chachcho used to henna it for her with a brush. Lalna started greying earlier. But it was Chachcho who died first. I did not want some stranger to prepare Chachcho for the pyre. You can’t do it, son—the pundits, the elders, they all were adamant. It wasn’t the time for arguments, so I stayed silent. How could I make them understand that, just because she couldn’t say anything anymore, it didn’t mean that some stranger could see her body? 

As she grew older, Chachcho covered up more and more of her body. A blouse cut like a kurti to cover her midriff. Long, loose sleeves, coming down to her fingers. The pallu covering her head, down to her forehead. Her face wrapped tight in her aanchal. Her feet covered in shoes or lost under her sari. Uncle’s death has broken her, the people sunning themselves on the roof said. That’s how devoted our women are. 

No one thought that she might be covering up her ageing beauty, erasing her shrivelling body from her own sight. I’ll change the large mirror in your bathroom, it has become clouded and stained with water, I had said. Let it be, she had replied, its flaws hide mine. In my dumb heart, I see her reflection in the mirror, floating like a dream in the steam-filled bathroom. 

Whenever I feel like crying, it’s as if something big and restless in my chest starts panting. Not one tear comes out. Chachcho . . . Chachcho . . . What can I do, besides saying your name? Chachcho, Chachcho . . . Memories rustling like dry leaves. Memories like a magic lantern, moving from here to there in a flash, turning upside down, inside out, playing tricks. 

This isn’t right, I think. This memory, at least, must come soft and slow. This high-speed flashing and spinning doesn’t suit it. This memory is my grief. Grief is slow, is deep, is seeping in, drop by drop. I say to myself, I’m really sad, very sad, very, very sad. I’m stuck in my sadness, and it drags me along, to memories—old, useless, endless. I peep in from the skylight to where Chachcho’s room used to be, but I can’t make out much, except something just out of sight, some dream carefully folded and kept away. 

It’s because of my sadness that I have started dreaming in broad daylight. A dream not of the future, but of the past. Again, that tired old man, and memories of the past, bloodying him. Even the happy moments from this world of memories give the old man more grief. Dreams that go backwards, not forward, can do nothing else. Like that heavenly beauty from childhood tales who you realized was actually a witch when you noticed that her feet were turned backwards. I return stealthily. To be alone. To remember Chachcho alone. How meaningless these things are. To remember someone dear, their death, a son crying for his mother—what is there to tell? I love Chachcho—what do these words mean? I turned away immediately after lighting her pyre, I had no wish to see the fire blaze. 

Is that how easy separation is?
Lay her down, touch her with a flame, turn away.

I came back home feeling utterly light and empty. 

***

Get your copy of The Roof Beneath Their Feet by Geetanjali Shree from your nearest bookstore or on Amazon.

There’s a New Boy In Nicky and Noni’s Class! Do They Become Friends? — ‘Being a Good Friend Is Cool’: An Excerpt

In Sonia Mehta’s Being a Good Friend Is Cool from her new series of books — My Book of Values, the author talks about the cool value of being a good friend.
Nicky and Noni have a new boy in class, but Nicky seems to be doing something wrong. What is it? Let’s find out!




What do Nicky and Noni do next? Do they become friends with Jojo? Grab a copy of Being a Good Friend is Cool to find out!

A ‘Great Tragedy’: ‘Raymie Nightingale’ — An Excerpt

‘Raymie Nightingale’, by Kate DiCamillo, is a beautiful story of friendships born in a storm. As Raymie realised that everything in her world depends on her, she finds herself competing with her close friends and coping with loss and grief. What emerges as a result are everlasting bonds of friendship that change their lives forever.
Here’s an excerpt from the novel.
There were three of them, three girls.
They were standing side by side.
They were standing to attention.
And then the girl in the pink dress, the one who was standing right next to Raymie, let out a sob and said, “The more I think about it, the more terrified I am. I am too terrified to go on!”
The girl clutched her baton to her chest and dropped to her knees.
Raymie stared at her in wonder and admiration.
She herself often felt too terrified to go on, but she had never admitted it out loud.
The girl in the pink dress moaned and toppled over sideways.
Her eyes fluttered closed. She was silent. And then she opened her eyes very wide and shouted, “Archie, I’m sorry! I’m sorry I betrayed you!”
She closed her eyes again. Her mouth fell open.
Raymie had never seen or heard anything like it.
“I’m sorry,” Raymie whispered. “I betrayed you.”
For some reason, the words seemed worth repeating.
“Stop this nonsense immediately,” said Ida Nee.
Ida Nee was the baton-twirling instructor. Even though she was old – fifty at least – her hair was an extremely bright yellow. She wore white boots that came all the way up to her knees.
“I’m not kidding,” said Ida Nee. Raymie believed her.
Ida Nee didn’t seem like much of a kidder.
The sun was way, way up in the sky, and the whole thing was like high noon in a Western. But it was not a Western; it was baton-twirling lessons at Ida Nee’s house in Ida Nee’s backyard.
It was the summer of 1975.
It was the fifth day of June.
And two days before, on the third day of June, Raymie Clarke’s father had run away with a woman who was a dental hygienist.
Hey, diddle, diddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.
Those were the words that went through Raymie’s head every time she thought about her father and the dental hygienist.
But she did not say the words out loud any more because Raymie’s mother was very upset, and talking about dishes and spoons running away together was not appropriate.
It was actually a great tragedy, what had happened.
That was what Raymie’s mother said.
“This is a great tragedy,” said Raymie’s mother.
“Quit reciting nursery rhymes.”
It was a great tragedy because Raymie’s father had disgraced himself.
It was also a great tragedy because Raymie was now fatherless.
The thought of that – the fact of it – that she, Raymie Clarke, was without a father, made a small, sharp pain shoot through Raymie’s heart every time she considered it.
Sometimes the pain in her heart made her feel too terrified to go on. Sometimes it made her want to drop to her knees.
But then she would remember that she had a plan.
Join Raymie on her quest to find her father, order your copy today!
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Meet Bilal — An Excerpt

Mr Unwin, meet Bilal.
He is the taller of the two who stand under the arch of bougainvillea, the wooden gate open behind them. I am the shorter one, the one who is squinting. That is a temporary squint, and I squinted at the time of being photographed not because of the sun, I was just trying to hide my discomfort at being looked at through a viewfinder. The picture was taken on the first Small Eid after we came to live in Bougainvillea, and I invited him for the feast because I owed him a treat. That is another story, but let me narrate it now because it may not fit anywhere else in this book.
A week after I joined the town school, of which Vappa, Uncle Yazin and Aunt Yasmin were the alumni of, I ran into Bilal on the cliff path. At school we sat on the same bench because we were of the same height, almost, and I willed him to quickly grow a head taller so I would not have to sit next to him any more: he smelled like cashew orchards in springtime and I always associated the smell of cashew flowers with death. But the chance encounter on the cliff path triggered off a chain of events that finally made us friends and partners in petty villainies.
It was one of those days when Vappa momentarily regained his old self and craved outdoors, and we were strolling down the path that frilled the north cliff, lined with shacks that sold curios and curiously-named food. Outside a cafe, I spotted Bilal, but for a long moment I could not reconcile what I saw. He was standing on his toes, leaning over the railing the café had put up around the dining area. He had one hand cupped in front of a white couple who sported identical pairs of sunglasses, the other repeatedly tapped his stomach to mime hunger. The couple, their skin tanned to the colour of sandpaper, were watching him the way people watch street stuntmen, with a mild scowl that betrayed neither indulgence nor disapproval.
My face stung at the sight of Bilal begging. I had never seen anybody outside television serials beg with such flourish. Nor had I imagined that anyone who attended school on weekdays would beg at weekends. I passed him with my eyes averted to the sea, my ears tuned to its roar. We were walking past a fish stall – catch of the day sat with sleepy eyes on a bed of crushed ice, traded by a man who knew the English name of every fish and spoke with the civility of a trained salesman because his clients were foreign tourists and hence his wares were unimaginably dear – when I heard my name being called. It took me an effort to not hear him, and I walked faster as his voice grew louder.
‘Are you deaf?’ Vappa snapped. ‘Someone is shouting your name.’
I turned around and saw Bilal, his face flushed from running, his breathing uneven.
‘Hello,’ he panted.
I wanted to say hello and goodbye in the same breath and move on, but Vappa was already holding Bilal’s hand and asking him his name and the location of his residence.
‘Behind the town mosque,’ he said, gasping for breath.
‘Behind the town mosque?’ Vappa pulled a face. ‘Behind the mosque there are railway lines.’
‘In the same premises as the mosque,’ Bilal said and, as Vappa was beginning to knit his eyebrows, he added almost inaudibly, ‘I live in the orphanage.’
Vappa forced a smile and, as if to hide his embarrassment, asked tenderly, ‘What brings you to the cliff?’
I expected Bilal to lie, but he smiled sheepishly and said nothing. The white couple Bilal had begged to walked past us, hand in hand, wind in the hair. The man puffed up his cheeks at the sight of Bilal, the lady removed her sunglasses and rolled her eyes comically at him.
‘You got lots of friends around here,’ Vappa said.
The sun had nearly set, and the lights were coming on in the shacks. Vappa reminded Bilal to start his journey back to the town as it would soon be dark. As if the mere thought of darkness frightened him, Bilal rushed off, blending into little groups of people that drifted down the cliff path. All night I wondered if smiles were all that Bilal could coax out of the white couple with his charade of hunger. But the moment I stepped through the school gates the next morning the riddle solved itself.
‘I have a dollar,’ said Bilal. He was standing by the bird cage, feeding love birds. ‘We will spend it at lunch break.’
This is an excerpt from Anees Salim’s The Small-Town Sea.
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5 Quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh that Define Life

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Life may not always be straight as an arrow – in fact, it rarely is. Sometimes, it is like a pretzel – twisted and confusing. Sometimes, it is like a roller-coaster – alternating between the crests and troughs.
These heartwarming views on life from the classic Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne show that often the solutions lie in the simplest of things!
Here’s celebrating AA Milne’s birthday with these short, easy . . . and delicious takes on life!
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Keep calm and flow on!
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Come out of corners – corners are despicable!
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What’s life without a friend that’s as sweet as honey!
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And, finally, isn’t love the stuff life is made of?
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And here’s to the creator of the fantastic Winnie-the-Pooh – Happy Birthday, A.A. Milne!

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