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Tea and Tender Moments from Vivek Shanbhag’s Sakina’s Kiss

Step into the colorful streets of Kodai, where a bright red cotton sari sets the scene for an intimate journey in  Sakina’s Kiss by Vivek Shanbhag and translated by Srinath Perur. A casual conversation over tea unveils stories, secrets, and a budding connection between two souls.

Read this exclusive excerpt that beautifully captures the essence of human connection and the power of shared moments in an ever-changing world.


Sakina's Kiss
Sakina’s Kiss || Vivek Shanbhag


That evening we aimlessly roamed the streets of Kodai. Viji was wearing a bright red cotton sari with a green border. As we went up and down the inclines, I told her how, the year I joined work, I went to Mumbai for a week-long management course. A man named Tiwari was one of the speakers, and some of us had gathered around him in the tea-break after his lecture. When I learnt his talk had been based on a book called Another World, I asked him, stupidly, where the book was available. I don’t know what he thought, but he drew a copy of the book from his bag, placed it in my hands, said ‘good luck’ and left.


I started reading it that very evening. The other world of the book was the office, and it felt like every workplace problem described in it was taken from my own office. For someone like me, who came from a village, the office had become a place of silent dread. There were foreign clients to deal with, MBAs who held everything from the west as sacred. I felt suffocated without being able to say why. This book, and then others like it, helped me. With their pages as my wings, it felt like I could fly over everything that troubled me at work. As I immersed myself in book after book, I found that the things I read in them came back to me when I found myself in those situations. Not just that, I actually heard these parts in Tiwari’s voice. ‘You know,’ I said to Viji. ‘His voice is deep and serious, perfect for a guru.’


I explained to Viji that Tiwari had entered my life at a time when I was struggling even to talk to my colleagues. On the few occasions I worked up the courage to tell them I was feeling out of place, they looked at me kindly and brushed it off saying, ‘Don’t take these things so seriously.’ There was nothing in common between me and those who had grown up in the city. If they brought up the music of their youth and mentioned Metallica or Judas Priest, I would simply go quiet. ‘Oh, you poor thing!’ Viji said. ‘You didn’t know those bands They’re not bad. But then, why should you have heard of them…’


I felt a little uneasy that she knew about that kind of music. But I also noticed that Viji paid attention to the smallest details when I told her about my life and ended up taking my side. I was overcome with affection. I yearned to unburden all my secrets to her. When I sensed Viji was willing to let me into her world, I asked, ‘Which was your first book?’


‘It was called Talk to Me. It’s about having conversations with oneself. But it will take me a long time to tell my story. It begins in childhood.’


‘What’s the rush? You can go on all day and all night if you want. I am here to listen.’


When Viji started, we were standing below a tree at a roadside teashop, her face dappled by the evening sun. Her hair was in a loose bun, held in place by a large clip. Her brown lips and the marks left by long-ago acne stood out in this light. Her nose was enticingly rounded at its tip. And how sexy a slight overbite is! She only had to part her lips a fraction to look desirable. I watched mesmerized every time she took a sip of tea and her lips moved to meet the rim of the cup. The ardour of a new marriage magnifies everything. I saw her upper lip rest on the cup’s rim, test the tea’s temperature, and then advance with a gentle quiver to take a sip. Unable to help myself, I said, ‘Hand me your cup for a second.’


‘Why?’ she asked, puzzled.


‘I’ll tell you, give it to me.’


I placed my half-empty cup on the shop’s counter, took her cup in my right hand, turned it round to where her lips had touched the cup’s rim, took a lingering sip and said, ‘Ah! So good!’


She had caught on by now. She said, teasingly, ‘What are you doing?’


I rolled my eyes coyly, said, ‘Nothing at all,’ and handed her back the cup.


Viji plunged into her story with enthusiasm. ‘You won’t believe it,’ she said. ‘But I used to talk to my self all the time as a child.’ She told me how she used to come home from school at four in the afternoon and have the house to herself until her mother returned from work at five. During this hour she stood in front of her mother’s dressing table mirror and talked to herself, complete with gestures and expressions. She would make faces, roar with laughter, abuse classmates she did not get along with. ‘You know, one day I tried to imitate the dances I had seen in films. I even took my clothes off and tossed them here and there,’ she said, laughing.



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