Poetry | ‘Covid’ by John L. Gronbeck-Tedesco | Issue 42, March 2023


I am a murmur surrounded by space—
others always at a medicinal distance
(of six feet or more) prescribed for survival.

I am a vague shadow,
a bit of motion
in another’s peripheral vision.

Even as we become more
solitary, we congeal
homogenized into dots and lines
embedded in graphs and charts.

Each of us is a minute pin prick
on the map of a disease
without center or borders—
a disease that hoards us to death.

Our statistical affinities define us:
the well, the sick, the dead, distributed
across geographies of horror.

Tell me.
Is hope only another naive insult
to whatever in wounded nature
lives resentful and insatiable?

Or, amidst this brutish desolation,
will we learn one breath at a time?

John L. Gronbeck-Tedesco’s lives in the U. S. and is Professor Emeritus from the University of Kansas.  His work has appeared in a variety of publications and venues, including The Connecticut River ReviewFrontier Magazine, the Muddy River Review, Tuck Magazine, Scintilla, Better than Starbucks, MonologueBank, Angry Old Men Magazine, Madness Muse MagazineOutsider Poetry, San Francesco, la rivista della basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, The Kansas City Fringe Festival, Business Casual Productions (New York City), Karamu House (Cleveland, Ohio) and the Cleveland.

Poetry | ‘Lemon Tart’ by Priyadarshini Gogoi (she/her) | Issue 42, March 2023

Lemon Tart

Because it was hot, and because we were sweaty,
you sweatier because you are hairier than me;
because you said, “Wait, not yet,”
when I reached to embrace you again,
I rolled off my bed,
and ran butt-naked to the fridge
and took out what I had kept, it seemed,
for this exact, very moment.

Then I tiptoed back, and presented it to you—
a paper box with a single lemon tart inside it.
Soon, you were carving your spoon
into the edge of the soft yellow portion,
then you whittled at the biscuit until
you had just the right proportion
of cream to crust.

I watched as you took bite after bite,
steel in gleaming motion,
mouth opening, chewing, pursing,
swallowing in meditation.
I marvelled at your capacity
to have been just now just here, panting,
and then just as easily, suddenly there, slouched, nude and cross-legged,
absorbed reverently in ritual,
lost to the world, present only to tart;
how I loved you then, my heart fit to burst,
you digging your way, bit by focussed by bit,
to the center of your dessert.

Priyadarshini Gogoi is a writer, poet, children’s author and editor from Assam, India. Her poetry has been published on platforms such as The Shoreline Review and The LiveWire, and two of her picture books have been published by Pratham Books, with a few more releasing this year. Several children have told her that she’s cool.

Short Fiction | ‘Wretched’ by Anuja Chandramouli | Issue 42, March 2023


         She felt miserable. It was how she felt on the best of days, so it would be accurate to say that she felt more wretchedly miserable than was usual even for her. It wasn’t only the strands of silver that grew atop her head in an increasingly dense thatch, the burgeoning waistline from all the comfort eating she was prone too, her non – existent life or career prospects at the ripe old age of thirty-something or even the fact that she lived with her evil grandmother in a shoebox on a desolate stretch of a shitty little town which might as well have been nowhere. 

         The achy sinuses, scratchy throat, leaky nose, throbbing temples, rising temperature and sneezing fits that plagued her as she sat hunched miserably over her laptop on a wet and foul night struggling to find the words that were hopelessly lost to her for the manuscript, she had been working on for what felt like a century and a half might have been the obvious cause for the heightened sense of angst, but there was more. It was the encroaching sense of hopelessness that had crept up on her and she no longer had her grandiose, extremely improbable dreams to fend them off.

         Ordinarily, she tried not to encourage her tendency to feel sorry for herself, but since she was suffering from a wicked bout of the flu (could it be some mutant strain of the dreaded Covid – 19 virus that was likely to wipe out all of humanity in a single fell blow?) she had given herself permission to wallow in a bottomless abyss of misery and self-pity. So, she ate everything in sight (not even the bubonic plague could curb her appetite it seemed), swallowed down the self – prescribed antibiotic and paracetamol with cough syrup while pondering morosely about lost dreams, unfinished manuscripts and a wasted life that might as well have been flushed down the toilet from the get-go. 

         Such dreams they had been… before they had been relegated unceremoniously to the trash heap of her existence. Big, beautiful dreams that featured her living a glorious life and loving every single moment of it. In the realms of fantasy, she was a fabulously wealthy, award winning, bestselling author who never ran out of words or ideas, living in an opulent beach house exactly like the one Tony Stark had in Iron Man. 

         There were lovers aplenty in La La Land, of the sporty as well as arty variety. Some of them had even been resurrected from the dead or brought to life from fiction to fuel her sex – soaked fantasies. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus, Richard Burton, Oscar Wilde, Raja Raja Chozhan, Prithviraj Chauhan, Kobe Bryant, Rhett Butler, Aragorn, Legolas, Sherlock Holmes… How she had loved in those dreams! And been loved back! It was all very intimate, memorable and simply marvellous. Sometimes, it was nasty. Entirely devoid of anything but pornographic value. A fornication-fest of orgiastic bliss with her afloat on a sea of seminal fluids. Which was even better.  

         She was effortlessly skinny in her dreams and always impeccably groomed. She travelled the length and breadth of the world on carefully curated book tours where her admirers hung on every word she uttered, begged for her autograph and clicked selfies with her. Publishing houses fought over the rights to her books and the chance to enrich her even further. Ivy League colleges begged her to address their students, tempting her with indecently fat cheques. Studio executives began a bidding war to buy the movie rights to her books and begged her to star in them. 

         Of course, she acceded. But only after they had agreed to pay her an arm and a leg. Soon she was accepting the Academy award and delivering a witty speech togged out in haute-couture duds specially designed for her by some hotshot couturier accessorized with some classy Cartier diamonds and those high – heeled shoes made by sadistic men who believed walking should be a painful experience and running, next to impossible. 

         It wasn’t always about books, money, fame, art or sex. Sometimes, she was a criminal psychologist/profiler who put serial killers behind bars. Or an explorer and intrepid traveller like Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta, journeying to the remote reaches of the cosmos and seeing all the marvels there were to see!

         In those mesmerizing dreams, where she could be anything and everything, she sang, danced, acted her heart out, and made love with wildly fascinating people. Sometimes the fabulous folks who wandered into her dreams became her closest friends who held her in their arms and listened to whatever shit popped into her head and spilled out of her mouth. They had the best conversations about everything and nothing over steaming cups of milky coffee and cake. She went wherever her whims led her and was delirious with joy. For in her dreams, she was never afraid. And always happier than she could bear.

         If only she could have really lived in her dreams! But it was hard to carry on dreaming. Especially when reality with its unvarnished ugliness forced its way into her system like an unwelcome virus and refused to get lost. Thanks, or no thanks to the heart-breaking beauty of her dreams, her singularly dismal existence had become even more so and there was no escaping it. Slowly but inexorably, she sank into a quagmire of depression and despair.  

         Past hurts and losses resurfaced to keep her company in her sorrow, and she kept the painful memories close. She had lost both her parents while still a child. Wicked grandmother had kindly taken her in. Only to hold her captive forever more in the aforementioned shoebox, where the old bat had resided ever since her own husband had kicked the bucket, a long time ago. The harridan had never forgiven her only son for marrying against her wishes, compounding his error by dying young and foisting the fruit of his loins on her. Grandmother had hated her daughter – in – law, whom she considered ill – omened. Since she was an uglier version of her mom, grandmother dearest hated her too. 

         She continued her studies in a cloistered all – girls school chosen and grudgingly paid for by the matriarch. Later, grumbling incessantly, grandmother shelled out for a seat in an all – girls college, the only one in their god-awful town. She used to dream of running away to greener pastures with a handsome stranger but no handsome strangers crossed her path. Or even sleazy slime balls, would – be rapists or others of that ilk. 

         The belligerent bitch was fully committed to preserving her virtue, so there were no men in her life. Unless you counted the crusty old chauffeur who was loyal to the old fart and her ancient manservant, who hoicked up his lungi to expose his colourful underwear and spent the days pretending to sweep and swab the shoebox when in reality he did little more than sneakily smoke his beedis, hawk up phlegm and spit it out in a grotesque projectile onto their veggie patch. 

         Her life would have been even more pathetic if it hadn’t been for her late father’s collection of books, carefully preserved by his grouch of a mum. The nag encouraged her to read to her heart’s content and even ensured that there was a steady supply of snacks for her to munch on as she swam across entire oceans of words. Only belatedly did she realize that the harpy had figured that chubby girls with their noses buried in books were less likely to elope with the first member of the opposite sex who was ready, willing and able. Too bad she wasn’t a lesbian. It would have given the old crone the cardiac arrest she so richly deserved!

         There had been a few marriage proposals. But the tyrant had rejected them all. Even the somewhat decent looking neurosurgeon who lived in Switzerland. Thereby, depriving her of a lifetime spent stuffing her face with gourmet chocolate and getting hopped up on sugar and fondue while gambolling in snow – clad mountain slopes. She had never forgiven her for it. 

         How dare the old crow reject a neurosurgeon from Switzerland? Everyone said it was because her evil grandmother had gotten used to bossing her around and needed her granddaughter around to nurse her through the advanced stages of old age, decrepitude, and the rest of it, till death did them part. She had a bad feeling that the ancient one would outlive them all. Even if the apocalypse struck and took everything including the cockroaches, the ornery Ogress would live on forever, parasitically feeding on anyone and everything in her immediate vicinity. 

         Admittedly the good doctor had been the only good prospect. The rest were mostly losers with blood – shot eyes, balding heads and bulging paunches. She felt only mildly bad for appraising them on the strength of their physical attributes given her own shortcomings in that department. 

         Soon the offers dried up when word got out the martinet had handed over all her land and jewellery to her evill-er daughter and shameless son – in -law who never visited except for that one time when they arrived with stale murukkus and a lawyer in tow bearing truckloads of deeds and documents for the old fool to sign. She could do nothing about it except fight the temptation to burn the shoebox with the lot of them in it and run away to the Himalayas and live among those naked yogis in the bracing cold. 

         The dastardly dame did not think it was a good idea for her to accept the teaching job offered to her from her stupid school. Whatever would people say if she actually worked for a living like some grubby peasant? So, she had tried to make it as a writer and failed spectacularly. Not that she had expected anything else. It was only in her dreams that she had ever managed to succeed. Life had always been a less than stirring litany of abject failure. Some of her stories and articles were published in modest to respectable publications for embarrassingly measly sums and sometimes just for ‘the honour of being published’ but there was no steady work for her. 

         She would have probably made more as a hooker in the red-light districts. But she looked even more hideous with her clothes off and doubted her sojourn as a whore would be any more successful than her writing career. Although it was worth considering, if only to piss off her old fashioned, ridiculously moralistic grandmother who nevertheless took the time to leer at her manservant and insist he massage her neck and feet, every single day, moaning and groaning like a porn star as he ran his grubby paws over her. 

         Eventually, she did land a soul – sapping gig with an entertainment website. Now her job was to stalk celebs on social media and write gossipy/click bait crap about them for a pittance. It was the best she could do, so she looked at pics of the glitterati living it up in exotic locales, wrote about their affairs, boob jobs, drug habits, adorable kids, diet secrets, fitness regimes, current projects and wished all the while that she were dead. Death by envy, frustration and bitterness. A suitably wretched ending to an existence, shorn of all things worth having. Or maybe a rape and robbery gone wrong, ending in her murder would be a better way to go. 

         In a bid to distract herself from thoughts of dying, she had taken a stab at writing the great Indian novel. The ideas were there but for the life of her she couldn’t find the fracking words to express them with anything close to literary merit. She recalled that the likes of Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King and Danielle Steel wrote compulsively for a few hours every day and she was determined to follow in their footsteps even if it killed her. 

         She made the time to write when she was not taking care of the old curmudgeon who had rescued her from the frying pan only to toss her into the fire or trawling through social media to see what the celebs were up to, sometimes staying up all night to pound away at her laptop, praying it would churn out gold. Or silver. Or something. Or anything at all but the endless nothings. 

         There were glorious days when she managed as many as twenty pages of pure, unadulterated brilliance. But when she re – read the damn thing, it was always the same. It was bilge. Garbage. Utter drivel. Sewage. It was true. The entire thing was worthless. So there was nothing to do but to delete everything. And start over. Over and over. Till she got it right. If she got it right. Ever. Then she would agonize over why she had nothing to show for all that effort. So much wasted effort. It was her fate. A slow death by the endless expenditure of exhausting, unrewarding effort. 

         She didn’t think she was properly suicidal. It was true that on some days, she did go to sleep thinking it would be a blessing if she didn’t wake up in the morning. But the funny thing was, she thought a lot about dying without ever getting off her fat butt to do anything about it. Not surprisingly, like everything else in her life, her suicidal tendencies had the dubious distinction of being half – arsed. She probably ought to see a shrink, but nobody believed in shrinks in her neck of the woods including herself. Crazy grandma who could have probably used a shrink herself believed there was nothing a visit to the temple and a dose of castor oil couldn’t fix. Even bad genes inherited from an ill – omened daughter – in – law. So, they visited one too many temples and she tried to shit away her overall dissatisfaction. 

         It was all very hopeless. But she continued to muck her way through a life she didn’t want. Sans the dreams that had made it worth a damn. She forced herself to crawl out of bed every day, remembering the brilliant pages she had written the previous night and so heedlessly deleted promising herself that she would never again delete a single word she wrote, even if it was utterly worthless, knowing that she would not, could not keep her word to herself. 

         Then she would shrug aside the self – loathing with difficulty and get cracking with her dull routine which included making coffee and breakfast, lunch, dinner for the old lady and herself in addition to dusting, sweeping and swabbing. Her evilness had always been parsimonious and did not believe in hiring maids or cooks, especially since her granddaughter could be counted on to take care of cleaning and maintenance with a little help from her manservant who had the unique gift for making a place dirtier as he pretended to clean it. Before the crone fell in the loo and dislocated her shoulder and smashed her hip bone, she had lorded it over in the kitchen and produced many a delicious if fattening meal but now that her withered body was on the verge of quitting, urged otherwise by a will of steel, it fell to her to take care of meals as well. 

         So, she cooked, cleaned, wrote her abominable articles on the glam brigade, worked on her book, deleted her efforts almost as soon as they were laboriously expended and saw the rest of her life play out in this unchanging spool of utter meaninglessness. And it would have gone down that way too, if she had not been hunched over her laptop on that bitter night, groping for the words she would eventually erase with the brutal click of a button. She wished the damn flu would ease up. So, she could slip into the always troubled slumber from which she hoped never to wake up. 

         It was while rubbing her eyes in weary frustration that she espied the real witch, complete with the warty, hooked nose, unkempt hair, cracked fingernails, and shapeless garments, helping herself to some food from the fridge. The foul fiend had even got her claws on the chocolate caramel brownies she had intended to devour later, to feel better about the state of her writing. 

         She did not have the energy to scream in horror like those big – breasted women with disproportionately tiny waists in scary films, as she watched the wicked witch chow down. Her head was throbbing from the depredations of a hostile viral takeover and was not up to dealing with the ramifications, if delusions and hallucinations were the latest symptoms of the life – threatening illness she was most certainly dealing with. 

         So, she sneezed into a tissue, examined the contents with mounting irritation and hardened her resolve to do absolutely nothing to save herself even if it meant being dragged down to the fires of hell and getting sodomized with a pitchfork. The part of her that wanted to somehow survive hoped that whatever it was would fade away into the shadow realm even as she turned back to her unforgiving screen and searched blindly in the hollow pit of nothingness for the words that would not come. 

         The witch cackled. It was such a cliché, but she jumped, hoping that the creature would settle for her grandmother’s soul, sucking it out of her desiccated husk of a body, after it had been drained of the blood and fluids that were surely past the expiry date and leave her alone. Perhaps she should try her hand at horror.

Perhaps you should. The witch said. And cackled again. 

Why are you here? I doubt you are here to grant three wishes… she whined, not bothering to ask how the witch knew what she had been thinking. What if she was granted three wishes? She would ask for success, fame, and romance, she decided. If those choices weren’t safe as shit, she didn’t know what was.

         Mercifully, the witch did not cackle for the damn creature was engaged in licking her claws (talons?) clean. I am not a lumbering genie in a lamp, in case you are confused, the abomination sneered. But I can give you everything that pathetic little heart of yours ever wanted in return for something that you would gladly part with. 


 Almost everything. The witch smirked. At the end of our little transaction, you will have a completed manuscript which will be a bestseller and later, your precious script will be made into a movie, the culmination of a record – breaking deal if you play your cards right. Hell, you will even recover from the ailments that plague your mind and body, spared from the infernal angst and melodramatic agony that has been your lot in life. In return, all I ask is that you give me the only thing of any worth you have. Your worthless old grandmother who already has one foot in the grave. 

         She was surprised when she hesitated. It sounded too good to be true and therefore, it was almost certainly too good to be true. Wasn’t it? But what did she have to lose? And the witch was right. Her grandmother was at death’s door even though she insisted on clinging to life with her gnarly old hands. Still, she paused.

I haven’t got all night! What will it be? Your dreams in exchange for your grandmother who is already as good as dead or not? The witch began to fade like an amateurish CGI job.

Wait! She said quickly. I will find the words to finish my novel, won’t I? My book will go on to be a massive bestseller and a gargantuan blockbuster? (She wondered if she should insist that her book win critical acclaim as well and a slew of prestigious as frick awards) You can guarantee that? 

         She was glad that the dreams were back. Though it sucked that she had the worst of colds even in that state of sublime fantasy which had formerly been sacrosanct, free from interlopers who wanted to damn her forever. 

Of course! The witch rolled her grotesque eyes. I give you a personal guarantee though you will do well to remember that nobody can predict the future. Not even the countless Gods out there. But with my help, you, who have always had nothing, will finally have everything you have ever wanted. If you are willing to get off that well – fed backside of yours and do the needful that is.  

         She recoiled. Was this monstrosity expecting her to snuff the life out of old flatulence with a pillow or something? Or maybe poison her? Or stick a knife in her heart? Was she supposed to get her hands dirty?

         The demon spawn laughed out loud. You don’t have to do anything of the sort. The creature looked at her appraisingly. All you have to do is agree to trade her life which is almost at an end in exchange for the fulfilment of your desires. Just say the word and we will have a deal.

           She did not hesitate this time. I will do it. You can have HER. She flinched inwardly. Deals made under duress when you were experiencing what was clearly a fever dream did not count did they?

         Wise decision! The witch cackled one last time. And it does count

         The dispenser of desires disappeared in a puff of green smoke. Of all the fricking clichés, this one was the worst!

         She wrote thirty pages that night. And it was good. Even better, she did not feel the irresistible urge to delete them all before she fell asleep. Because it was genuinely good. For the first time in forever, she fell asleep with the merest hint of a smile on her lips.

         When she came to, it was not in her own bed, but the one in the guest bedroom downstairs. Grandmother’s family doctor was long gone but his handsome son ministered to her needs now and he was talking to the old she – devil who was looking better than ever and leering lasciviously at Doc Handsome, who was assuring her that her granddaughter would live now that she had been fed intravenously and the fever had broken. She felt the needle in her vein and resisted the urge to pull it out and stick it in her eye. 

         Of course, it had been a fever dream! Too bad the crushing disappointment on seeing the old hag, hale and hearty would not kill her. Handsome was telling the bitch that if she came for weekly check – ups as per usual, there was no reason she wouldn’t live forever now that her hip and shoulder had mended perfectly. She did not doubt him and sighed aloud. 

         Doctor Handsome heard her. You gave us all a scare, he scolded her gently. The kindness in his eyes made her want to bawl. He was always nice and made her feel like a real person and not the sack of shit she always saw in the mirror. At that moment, she loved him with all her heart, and would have gladly become his whore, if he wished to cheat on his wife. You really shouldn’t self-medicate, he told her mock – severely. He handed her a bar of white Toblerone. And winked at her. 

         She was touched he remembered her mentioning that it was her favourite. Most folks would have nodded and glanced meaningfully at her corpulent form but not Handsome. He told her he had a weakness for the stuff too and despite Doc’s orders he continued to indulge his taste for it. She tried to croak her thanks, but he merely shook her hand, smiled his kind smile and was gone, with her stupid ass grandmother in tow. 

         To her surprise, she made a speedy recovery. To her relief (and only mild disappointment), grandmother dearest was in fine fettle too, spinning like a dervish, cooking and baking up a storm. She had more time to write and to her surprise, the words did not elude her. Thirty pages became three hundred and eighty pages, as she worked with a joyful abandon that was the best of boons. She was so busy writing; she forgot to hate herself and fill the aching emptiness inside with all the food she could eat. 

         The months rolled by in a haze of profound euphoria as the floodwaters of her creativity spilled forth in a merry rush. And she wrote and wrote and wrote. Who needed fricking witches and their contracts that demanded signatures of blood? Not her, that was for sure. All she had needed was confidence. When she finally, typed the last word of her manuscript she thought her heart would explode with happiness. In fact, she was so glad it was almost possible to ignore the unease that was lurking just by the periphery of conscious thought and bounded rationality. Besides, her wonderful grandmother was looking positively robust.

         As for herself, she looked great and felt great. For once, stalking celebs paid off and she got the name of Priyanka Chopra’s literary agent. She emailed the guy, following the submission guidelines down to the very last letter. Ordinarily, she would have died off anxiety, but she was now an inhabitant of the top of the world and she knew no fear. Of course, he replied and said that it was WUNDERBAR. He was confident they would get a decent advance. And she did. More than fairly decent. Her happiness was now complete. It was even more complete when the big studios expressed more than a passing interest in her manuscript and began a bidding war for the rights. 

         There was more. The old dear had been working on finding a match for her with a vengeance and soon her efforts paid off and she was engaged to a software dude, (what exactly did those chaps do anyway?) based in Singapore. He was bald (in the manner of Jason Statham) and charming as frick. Not only did he buy her one of those ridiculously expensive Android phones, but he also patiently taught her how to use it. If that were not enough, he sent her flowers, chocolates, perfumes, soft toys, Anokhi Kurtas (anarkalis, which flattered her form) and sparkly thingies in classy, gift – wrapped boxes. He flew down every once in a while, to take her out to lunch and make out with her in his car (A silver Audi, he had rented). 

         He was proud as frack that he was marrying an author and was almost as excited as she was since the book was scheduled for a summer release, just after their honeymoon (they were going to Europe for three glorious weeks!) It was all too magical for words. Her beloved grandmother famed for her parsimony, showed her the trousseau she had put together for her wedding. It was a Queen’s ransom. There were silk saris, silverware enough to fill a truck and so many diamonds, it was indecent. This was in addition to the prime property the wonderful soul had bequeathed to her and an apartment in the city which was being rented out at present. She was officially rich now!

         It was all too perfect for words. So perfect, it was easy to brush aside the stray tendrils of encroaching dread. What happened in fever dreams did not count, she assured herself. And witches were merely a figment torn loose from nightmares. The way fairy godmothers did not exist outside of fairy tales. She devoured a second helping of roast chicken placed before her by the old sweetheart, who smiled encouragingly and said that a healthy appetite produced healthy babies. 

         She swallowed and said nothing. They went for grandmother’s hospital visit together. It was reassuring to note that the grand dame did not need the assistance of a cane. Dressed in one of her finest silks and dripping with diamonds, she might well have been visiting the Queen rather than her doctor. 

         Handsome was waiting at the entrance, waving cheerily at them. He didn’t have to, of course, but it was just like him. They were inside when grandmother pulled her aside. I am getting forgetful dear, will you run down to the car and bring back that gift box of assorted nuts and treats? It is the very least I can do for this nice boy who has restored me to full health. A good boy! Just like his father before him.

         She didn’t have to be told twice. There was a skip in her step as she made her way down the winding path to the parking lot. It was best to hurry, if she wished to make it to the car before the chauffeur took off on one of his ridiculously lengthy tea breaks.  

         She felt the explosion before she heard it. When she turned back, the hospital was still standing but it had lost entire chunks of itself.  She took in the gaping holes, billowing smoke, flying bits of concrete, sudden sparks, ear – splitting shrieks and the distant wail of a clanging alarm, praying that it was a nightmare which would dissipate the second she woke up.

         In a daze, she ran towards the scorching inferno. Her grandmother was afraid of dying alone. She needed to be there for her. It was the very least she could do. A Good Samaritan, tried to hold her back with a surprisingly fierce grip for such an ancient crone, her cracked, soot – stained fingernails digging painfully into her flesh. Prising herself free and shoving the do-gooder aside with violence borne of her terror and guilt, she was running full – tilt towards the remains of the hospital when the second blast tore through the barely standing hospital, obliterating it and all in the immediate vicinity entirely. 

         The witch did not cackle. It was such a pity after all. But these things happen, the termagant mused to herself as she cast one last withering look at the scene of utter ruin and devastation, before simply vanishing from the scene. 

Anuja Chandramouli is a bestselling author and new age Indian classicist widely regarded as one of the finest writers in mythology, historical fiction and fantasy. She followed up her highly acclaimed debut novel, Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince, which was named as one of the top 5 sellers in the Indian writing category for the year 2012 by Amazon India with Kamadeva: The God of DesireShakti: The Divine Feminine, Yama’s Lieutenant and its sequel, Yama’s Lieutenant and the Stone Witch.  Her articles, short stories and book reviews appear in various publications like The New Indian Express, The Hindu, Scroll.in and Femina. Some of her other books are Kartikeya: The Destroyer’s SonPrithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of HeartsPadmavati: The Burning Queen, Ganga: The Constant Goddess and Muhammad Bin Tughlaq: Tale of a Tyrant. Mohini: The Enchantress is her latest work of mythological fiction and winner of the prestigious Popular Choice AutHer award. Her books are also available as audiobooks and have been translated into Hindi.

An accomplished TEDx speaker and storyteller, Anuja Chandramouli, regularly conducts workshops on creative writing, mythology and empowerment in schools and colleges across the country. Her Mahabharata and Ramayana with Anuja storytelling series is now available on YouTube. She is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. This mother of two little girls lives in Sivakasi, TN, India.

Excerpt (Fiction) | from ‘Arzu’ by Riva Razdan (Hachette 2022) | Issue 42, March 2023

Excerpted with permission from Arzu by Riva Razdan, published by Hachette India

Parul Bua was appalled by this new development, as she is by all new developments, but less so when Rohit came over and pronounced my final dish of a salad of roasted sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin to be ‘quite nice’. Then, she was recounting her own summer at Cordon Bleu in Paris, and boasting of her famous poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce that Brij Uncle fell in love with, instead of pretending that she was too rich to ever have needed to acquire a skill. I think if I ask her to tell me a story from your childhood in Meerut in front of the Gargs, she will explode like the yolk of an overheated egg.

I’m sorry I haven’t written to you in such a long time. The truth is that I had been finding it quite tough to write anything at all. Everything that I put on paper seemed frivolous or uninteresting. After all, what could an erudite entrepreneur like you care about my mornings in ‘Poise and Social Grace’. But then, I was recently told by your star employee to be less concerned with impressing my reader and more concerned with speaking my truth. Counter-intuitive as it seemed at first, it has allowed an easier flow to writing for me and (I hope) for the reader too. Here are some of my ‘tales’ from New York.

Finishing school flutters on with all the excitement of a folded napkin swan. We recently had a week of art history that was interesting, but the curriculum was focused on being able to talk about art at a party instead of actually appreciating or studying it. The more time I spend at Mme Viv’s, the more I become aware that all I am supposed to do is appear to know things, not to actually know them, or formulate an opinion of my own. I am tired of being decorative. I think Sarah is too. So, we decided to sign up for a media and communications class at her father’s college. It’s not too demanding, nor is it a certification of any kind, yet it is fun to learn about the impact of the constantly evolving visual communications industry of the twentieth century. I’ve learnt to use a professional camera – although I’m not nearly as good as Sarah at setting it up and taking pictures. She can fit simple things into a camera frame in a way that suddenly renders them vivid and interesting. I’m attaching a few pictures she took during our photo-walk in Brooklyn last weekend so you can see what I mean. The knee poking out of the window on the fire escape is mine! Don’t turn your nose up at the denim skirt. Corduroy, plaid and denim are the only acceptable fabrics for fall in New York, and I’m not going to be the only one who isn’t part of the party.

Even though I’m not a maestro like Sarah, I’m enjoying this class. There’s something very satisfying about sequencing pictures and videos together on a timeline to illustrate a story. And as much as I love a well- written article, I can see just how wonderfully democratic the news process becomes when information is fed to you through picture and sound. It’s too bad we only have one news channel back home with such a contrived, boring format. There are so many things one can do with video editing and reportage to make information interesting to a viewer, especially an illiterate one. Just imagine if we could creatively deliver India’s affairs to the thousands of uneducated people who can’t read our papers so that they might understand how to use their votes to improve their circumstances! Plus, now I control this huge computer, with two big screens and all these different dials to play with in class, and it makes me feel very important and knowledgeable, like I’m controlling the world at NASA. Sarah has started calling me Mistress of the Machine, and I will confess that I quite like the term. I’m looking forward to coming home, but I’ll admit that I am going to miss the tech facilities we have access to in New York. There is so much we can do news-wise with this technology, it’s mind-boggling.

Thank you for refusing the Gargs’ invitation on my behalf. As much as I enjoy their company, I find myself requiring a respite from their undivided attention these days. Mrs Garg is so kind that it is nearly impossible to turn down her invitation to dine with them every other evening and join them at brunch on the weekend. Rohit Garg is around, a lot too, and he is a very nice, upstanding, charming man. But between school, my media class and him, I haven’t had much time to myself, to wander around the city, discovering pockets of life in little alleyways as I used to. He has an exclusively expensive taste so we’re always shopping for something fine. Art, furniture, clothes, cars. We’re either at auctions of priceless things or talking of his next purchase. Not to say that he isn’t hard-working. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time at business dinners with his clients, watching him woo them into buying his diamonds at his price while plying them with the best steak at the Waldorf Astoria. While the negotiations were all interesting and novel at first, I find that I have gotten quite tired of watching. I’m restless and impatient and as bursting for change as an oak tree in October. Plus, there are only so many cocktail peanuts your daughter can eat without going up a dress size. My Saturdays spent lolling on the Stewarts’ couch with a good novel in my hand have come to a regrettable end too. Still, Rohit is a good friend and a kind man, and I’m sure I will miss his company terribly when he leaves for Belgium this week.

Fortunately, my time spent reading at the library occupies my afternoons so that I can go to bed feeling somewhat fulfilled. I’m reading some interesting journalistic pieces from the New Yorker’s archives at the moment. I think you’d enjoy them.

I cannot wait to see you. I have so much more to share that neither a letter nor a phone call could convey. Send me news, both of yourself and of Bombay.

Lots of love,


Ajit Agarwal was ruminating over his daughter’s letter for so long that morning that he missed his second game of squash at the club. It was just as well, since he couldn’t concentrate on his serve when he was overcome by this queer mixture of pride, curiosity and concern. He sat by the pool in his white shorts with his racquet by his side, and reread the letter, trying to puzzle out the veiled meaning that lurked under her bright attitude. He was happy that she was becoming more independent in her thinking every day, but still, he sensed that something was amiss. There was a restraint in her sentences that removed him from the complete truth of her life in New York and her friendship with the Garg boy.

Formerly, he had appreciated the secrecy. It shielded him from the uncomfortable particulars of his daughter’s puberty, the affairs of her adolescence and her relationship with Prabhu. He remembered when at thirteen, his young daughter had tiptoed into his study to ask him to phone Parul Bua. A shock, considering that they barely got along at the time. The two had rushed into her room along with a maid who was instructed to bring fresh sheets. Ajit had been grateful to his daughter and sister at the time, for excluding him from the process.

But now he realized that he had forced his daughter to remain at arm’s length by expecting her to maintain a facade for his benefit. Now, he did not know whether she was content or discontent. Whether this Rohit fellow respected and encouraged her, or whether he thought of her as a fine object to have, like he thought about all his art and cars and whatnot.

Ajit bristled, shifting in his poolside chair. He strongly suspected that his sister was making a mess of things again.

Still, what had he expected of Parul? She had done what she thought was best for Arzu with Prabhu, and was continuing to do her best by flinging this diamond merchant’s son at her like a lifeboat in the capricious sea of Bombay’s society. It was his own fault for trying to dodge the duty of a single parent by pretending that his daughter didn’t inhabit a world where the malicious intrigue around a jilted girl could start dictating the terms of her life. When had he ever sat down with Arzu and insisted that she discuss her ambitions and desires with him? He had been so engulfed by his work and so convinced by her good grades that she would make the right decisions for herself, that he hadn’t thought any guidance necessary. Afreen was probably screaming in indignation right now, at the cool indifference he had shown their daughter. At the carelessness with which he had sent her off to America, to finishing school, of all places! When a mind like hers most needed moulding at an institution of learning, he had sent her to a charm school that would quell all of her wonderful, original thought to create a perfectly charmless partner for some intrepid businessman. What did this Rohit Garg know of the human spirit, if he couldn’t weather the lack of air conditioning long enough to walk the streets of a great city like New York?

Riva Razdan is an author based in Mumbai. She is also a screenwriter for Anil Kapoor Films and Saffron Films. As a writer, she is determined to create romantic-feminist fiction that encourages, supports and comforts young Indian women. Her work has been featured in The Hindu Business LineGrazia India and The Telegraph. Her debut novel, Arzu, was published by Hachette India in February 2021. Her new novel, The Naani Diaries, is represented by A Suitable Agency.

Poetry | 3 Poems by SJ Sindu | Issue 42, March 2023

Sun God

In the Mahabharata Karna the infant
is set afloat in a basket

illegitimate son of a princess
and the sun, raised by a merchant

his real story is one of self-destruction
I try to be an expert on this subject

Karna grows up to be an archer
the finest in the world

until his little half-brother
comes along to best him

Karna finally makes a friend
just his luck it’s the villain of our tale

and now he’s on the wrong side of a holy war
all the gods get involved

even his mother comes to him
the mother he yearns for

but now she’s come and revealed herself
only to ask him not to kill his half-brother

Karna is no Moses
and he will have no redemption

no hordes of followers
no one to pray over him

no, he will be a symbol
of how even the sun will abandon us

of how the wrong birth
is deserving of pity but not hero-hood

and how exactly did the sun
get a woman pregnant

is what I want to know
I’m told this is a bad question

I’m full of bad questions
like if I peel open my labia in the light

will I too have to send away a child
in a basket on the river

and what about masturbation
was the princess being punished

for digging inside herself
for her own deep pleasure

why can’t women step inside the temple
when they’re bleeding

I imagine little Karna sits at breakfast
while his adoptive mother stirs the sambar

and he is full of bad questions like
if you’re my real mother

then why do I feel like a god
and what I wanted to know at his age

was if one man’s freedom fighter
is another man’s terrorist

then are we on the wrong side of this war
but this a bad question


Pant Hoot

after Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

yesterday a man
visited my class
taught us all
how to laugh
like chimpanzees
together we vocalized


invoking survivor chimps
in a sanctuary
outside Montreal
I wanted to know
how often they laugh

chimps freed from labs
cut open every week
shot up with tranquilizers
injected with HIV
housed in floating cages

Rachel the saved chimp
has episodes she chews
on herself bites
her own fingers bloody
only last week I laid in bed

screaming and hitting
myself in the face
until my partner spread
his body out over mine
like a gravity blanket

in middle school I poked
my wrists with needles
planting seeds or venting
steam surviving doesn’t always
mean you’re healed

when they’re not ramming
shoulders into cage bars
or spinning themselves
in endless stress circles
the chimps laugh



Girls from the Island

at Christmas with my family
we scan our faces through an app
to see what we’ll look like in ten,
twenty, forty years

I’ll look like my mother,
then like her mother,
sagging caramel face
slowly bleaching white
like driftwood
left too long on a beach

a bird’s foot
caught in its own nest

women in my family never die
if only from stubbornness

later during quarantine
my grandmother calls with ideas
she’s been talking to someone
who heard from someone
whose friend knows ayurvedic medicine

here are four ways
to keep disease at bay
no global pandemic
can penetrate the sheer will
of my grandmother’s wishingunder her direction
my pregnant cousin

strings beads of dried asafetida gum
into a necklace and wears it
to her pre-natal appointment

Grandmother makes all us cousins
promise to mix equal parts
red rice flour, white flour,
and turmeric with water
sculpt a diya lamp
the size of an open palm
fill with oil
place it in our doorways
and the virus will burn from our faith

she tells me, cut up an onion
and keep the pieces around the house
boil a fistful of dried red chili peppers
with tablets of camphor
until smoke fills me

the British ended matriarchy in Sri Lanka
but only on paper
even across the water in India
they tell young grooms
not to marry a girl from the island

my grandmother gave me
bad knees and panic attacks
when my grandfather had a stroke
my grandmother thought
she was having one too
her fingers turned icicle
her heart broke her chest open
the world held no air

my grandmother
thought she would die with him
this mindset is what I’ve inherited
along with her female-pattern baldness

but I’ve resisted whatever gene
makes her believe a flower garland
draped across a god’s picture in a gilded frame
will grow if you pray hard enough
and a Ganesh statue
in some temple across the world
is drinking the milk offered by devotees

this, my grandmother tells me
is true faith
this, her legacy

SJ Sindu is a Tamil diaspora author of two literary novels (Marriage of a Thousand Lies, which won the Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award; and Blue-Skinned Gods, which was an Indie Next Pick and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award), two hybrid chapbooks (I Once Met You But You Were Dead, which won the Split Lip Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest; and Dominant Genes, which won the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Contest), two forthcoming graphic novels (Shakti and Tall Water), and one forthcoming collection of short stories (The Goth House Experiment). Sindu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Excerpt | from ‘The Plague Upon Us’ by ‘The Plague Upon Us’ by Shabir Ahmad Mir (Hachette, 2020) | Issue 42, March 2023

‘Excerpted with permission from The Plague Upon Us by Shabir Ahmad Mir, published by Hachette India’



Once upon a harsh  winter, in the  house of Hamid Puj, a baby girl was born. She was named Sabia.

Hamid Puj was a butcher only in name. True, his forefathers dating back to an ancestor named Nabir Puj had been butchers, but at a very early age Hamid had noticed how people smirked at the mention of the word ‘puj’. So he decided that come what may he would be a puj no more and vowed he would do whatever it took to make an Abdul Hamid out of a Hamid Puj. Thus, as soon as Hamid thought he had come of age, he asked his father for some cash as his inheritance so he could start a business.

‘What is wrong with being a butcher?’ his father asked. ‘There is good money in butchery.’

Hamid could not explain himself well, and his words made his father feel that he was abusing his ancestors for being butchers. So he told his son quite clearly that he could go and grind his arse at whatever business he liked, but he wouldn’t get a single penny from his father unless he repented and swore lifelong fidelity to the family knives. But Hamid could not take such an oath; the distaste left by the sneers and scowls he had faced all his life was too strong to be overcome by his father’s threats. As soon as he was married, he decided to put his resolve into action. Now more than ever, he wanted to give up being a puj.

As the first step towards his purported journey of moving away from being a puj, Hamid started to work as an apprentice to a carpenter. One morning, the master carpenter called Hamid aside and asked him to accompany him to the army camp that had been set up on the periphery of the village.

The army needed carpenters for some work on the roofs of the structures in their camp. Army camps, as everybody knew, were localized black holes. A man could walk into one of them, willingly or unwillingly, but no one could be sure if he would walk back out. Consequently, neither the junior carpenters nor the apprentices were willing to go there. They could afford to refuse – it was the master carpenter who had been summoned by the camp, not them. The master could not force them either – what if something happened to one of them? Their families would hold him solely responsible, because nobody would ever hold the army responsible for anything. It was unthinkable.

Hamid thought about the master carpenter’s request. It was risky; the summons may or may not be about the work – one could never be sure. Even if it was indeed about the roof, he would be paid next to nothing, if he was paid at all. After all, who could dare to ask the army for compensation?

But, Hamid thought, this was just as much an opportunity. For one, he would now be in the good books of the master carpenter. More importantly, he felt he could try to work out a business proposition at the army camp. There was great potential for doing business there. The soldiers stationed at the camp were men, after all, and strangers to the land and climate

– they must have needs; needs that Hamid could cater to, with a neat margin of profit of course. Carpentry was too slow and too unreliable a way out of being a puj, and now that Hamid had children to raise he was not particularly averse to taking risks. So he agreed to go along with the master carpenter.

Once he got past the barricade and the obligatory frisking, Hamid realized the army camp was mainly the village’s old school building and a few sheds that had been erected haphazardly around it in apparent haste. The new structure, a secondary two-storey building, had been built on what had once been the school playground. From its appearance, it was obvious that the new building had been constructed by the men in the camp. It resembled the houses in the plains from where these men came, and stood quite in contrast to the old building. In the plains the houses did not need tin roofs to survive the snow and the winter; here, in the mountains, they did. And it was to build a tin roof that the expertise of a local carpenter was required.

It took about a week for the work on the roof to be completed. During this time, Hamid discovered, much to his dismay, that the men stationed at the camp did not need anyone to fulfil their needs. They were often outside the camp, not just for search operations but also to patrol the streets, establishing what was called ‘area dominance’. And, while they were out there, they took whatever they needed, both out of necessity and to reinforce their authority.

Nevertheless, Hamid found a way to do some business on the side. The camp had a defense canteen outlet, where a wide range of products – shampoo, soap, perfumes, clothes, biscuits, chocolates and shoes, among other things – were sold at subsidized prices. Hamid worked out a friendly association with Bittu, the canteen salesman. He started to buy products from Bittu at the subsidized rates and sell them outside the camp at less than their open-market price but more than what he had paid for them at the canteen, pocketing a neat profit for himself.

Once the roof was complete, the master carpenter said his prayers at the nearest shrine in thankfulness for his safe week at the camp and left the premises. But Hamid kept going back, ferrying goods from the canteen out to the village, and to keep his business going he wove a fine web of alliances with the men at the camp. Any new person he encountered on his way into or out of the camp would receive half a kilogram of almonds or walnuts packed in a blue polythene bag. Soon it was difficult to find a man at the camp who had not received one of Hamid Puj’s blue polythene bags.

It was not long before Hamid’s business expanded widely and he began to receive orders from beyond his village, and for products beyond the essentials, such as watches and electronics, which Bittu had to procure from the military canteen depot located at the city garrison. The size of the blue polythene bags Hamid presented to Bittu also increased commensurately.

One day, when Hamid needed a particularly big consignment, he brought along a box of apples in place of the regular bags of nuts. The problem with the nuts, Hamid had realized, was that even if he packed a lot of them into a bag, the size of the packets was never large. In a world where size mattered most, a box of apples looked like a more substantial gift. But, to his surprise, there was no Bittu at the canteen. He had been replaced by a cleft-lipped man with a perpetual scowl on his face whom everybody called Trivedi-ji.

Hamid approached the dour Trivedi-ji with the box of apples.

‘So…you must be Hamid?’ Trivedi-ji said without moving his lower lip, his scowl intact.

Hamid nodded earnestly, hoping that Bittu had already initiated Trivedi-ji into the business arrangement that Hamid had with the canteen. It would be quite daunting to start afresh, and particularly with a man as ominous as Trivedi-ji.


Shabir Ahmed Mir is a writer and poet and has been awarded the Reuel International Prize for fiction in 2017. This is his first novel.

Masterclass (6.2.7) with Dr. Piia Mustamaki

The Flaneuse: Women Walking and Writing the City

The Bombay Review has been publishing some great writers and poets since 2014, and conducts regular Masterclass sessions for its reading and writing community. TBR has a selection of faculty for different sessions of the Masterclass series, and all of these are conducted by Professors teaching in (or having taught at) MFA Creative Writing degree programs in USA, Australia or UK for more than 5 years.

This Masterclass is in collaboration with Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT)

About Masterclass 6.2.7:

To write about a city, you have to experience it on foot; walk it. In most parts of the world, this can be a complicated affair if you are a woman. Dr Piia, a traveller and experienced travel writer will talk about her cities, her writing, and share practical knowledge, tools, and strategy for better access to and experience of the cities. “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” ― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

  • Learn to be aware of the effect of gender in cities  
  • Describe vividly, balancing personal experience and detailed observation  
  • Write with all five senses 
  • The city and you

About the speaker:

Dr. Piia Mustamäki is an academic wanderluster, currently located in Abu Dhabi, where she teaches at New York University’s Writing Program. Originally from Finland, she lived in New York City for two decades and holds a Ph.D. in Literatures in English from Rutgers University. She has travelled in about ninety countries and her travel writing has been published in PunctuateThe Cultureist and Matador Network. Her academic writing has appeared in The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and Neohelicon



Registrations will close when spots are filled. First priority will be given to participants who were waitlisted for previous session.

Date of session: 17th September, 2021
Time: 7:30 pm IST to 9:30 pm IST
Duration: 2 hours (The last session had extended due to other factors, and the primary segment of this one will be tightly packed into the duration itself) Please check the meeting link AND your email 30 minutes prior to the session.

Cost | Refund

INR 250
Payment Deadline: 15th September, 2021 (12 Noon IST) or when spots fill.
This fee is non refundable for no-show, or any other reasons other than cancellation from The Bombay Review itself. A video will not be shared post session.

Mode + Details

Via Zoom
Please note: The meeting will be locked once it begins – and late joinees will not be able to attend or claim a refund. Your payment + sign up should be done from your Zoom ID only, and not any other email ID. The link will be sent to the ID that you put in on Instamojo/Payment portal, and which has a Zoom account.  

1. 15 minutes after the session starts, the meeting will be locked and you will not be able to enter.
2. In the above case, there will not be a refund, and unfortunately, nor will it be possible to share a recording with you due to policy constraints.
3. Please make sure you don’t ‘leave’ the meeting by mistake before time, since a re-entry might take a lot of time.
4. You can only join the meeting from the email ID used to make the payment, or, the one where you receive this email.
5. For questions, you can send them via the chat box of Zoom (right side). We will be curating from there (*might be delayed)
6. Please ensure a stable internet connection.
7. While the link is locked and encrypted, sharing confidential details with others (+ accounts that belong to you) will be considered a breach of Zoom/Masterclass policies, and forwarded to the legal department. 
8. Please login to the Zoom portal fifteen minutes before the session starts, ie, 7 pm IST.
9. Your cameras will have to be switched on, you can prefer to be on mute.

NOTE: Payment confirmation will be sent by the Payment portal itself: Instamojo/Stripe.
If you receive an email from them (Check other/updates folder as well), your participation is confirmed and details will be sent to you directly. Please don’t email/DM us (The Bombay Review), notifying about the payment or seeking confirmation. If the payment went through, your participation is confirmed.

The link will be shared with you 6-12 hours before session time only. A query prior to that might not be answered due to unavailibility of resource persons (ref: pandemic).


*This is a learning space and unwarranted communication during session might result in expulsion from the session; apart from seeing comments being moderated.

Previous Masterclasses of 2021

Masterclass (6.2.5) Literary Magazine Submissions

How to submit your writing to literary magazines: By The Bombay Review (Repeat session)

Some reviews of this Masterclass (Session date: 5th September, 2021)

The Bombay Review has been publishing some great writers and poets since 2014, and conducts an annual masterclass about ‘Literary Magazine submissions’ based on our experience in the industry. 

This session will discuss:

  • Cover letters (Email body)
  • Do’s and Don’ts of submissions
  • Resources to keep an eye on
  • Tailoring each submission
  • Finding markets, magazines, and more
  • About submissions fees and payments
  • Guidelines, magazine familiarity and editorial vision
  • Rejections
  • Simultaneous submissions, previously published pieces, reprints
  • Presentation and design
  • Studying sample magazines
  • NOTE: It will not discuss the content of your piece itself

People involved with and published by The Bombay Review have had really interesting writing and academic careers! Here is what they have been up to, and why we believe this Masterclass can be helpful to you:

Published in:

TBR co.

Won or been shortlisted for: Pulitzer Award, the International Booker Prize, Pen/Open Book Award, Man Asian Literary Prize, Pen/Hemingway Award, Toto Award, National Book Award, Betty Trask Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize, among others.

Published by: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan Publishers, Simon & Schuster, , Sahitya Academy, Rupa Publishing House, Aleph Book Review, Katha, Faber and Faber, W. W. Norton and Company, Zubaan, Sahitya Academy, Picador.

Teach or have studied in: University of Oxford, Harvard University, Cambridge University, Stanford University, Durham University, New York University, University of Toronto, Texas State University, University of Victoria, Kingston University, University of Mumbai, University of Cape Town, Louisiana Tech University, University of Melbourne, Arizona State University, The New School, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, University of Bath, Allen University, Rutgers University, University of East Anglia, University of Delhi, Emory University, The University of Edinburgh, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Iowa, Brooklyn College, Queensland University, among many, many more!



Registrations will close when spots are filled. First priority will be given to participants who were waitlisted for the earlier session.

Date of session: 11th September, 2021
Time: 7 pm IST to 9 pm IST
Duration: 2 hours (The last session had extended due to other factors, and the primary segment of this one will be tightly packed into the duration itself) Please check the meeting link AND your email 30 minutes prior to the session.

Cost | Refund

INR 500
Payment Deadline: Midnight of 9th September, 2021 (12 am IST)
This fee is non refundable for no-show, or any other reasons other than cancellation from The Bombay Review itself. Unfortunately, a video will not be shared post session.

There is a group discount if 4 people apply together. Please email us with your name plus the names of the people in your group, along with phone numbers. (contact@thebombayreview.com)

Mode + Details

Via Zoom
Please note: The meeting will be locked once it begins – and late joinees will not be able to attend or claim a refund. Your payment + sign up should be done from your Zoom ID only, and not any other email ID. The link will be sent to the ID that you put in on Instamojo/Payment portal, and which has a Zoom account.  Your cameras will have to be switched on, you can prefer to be on mute.

1. 15 minutes after the session starts, the meeting will be locked and you will not be able to enter.
2. In the above case, there will not be a refund, and unfortunately, nor will it be possible to share a recording with you due to policy constraints.
3. Please make sure you don’t ‘leave’ the meeting by mistake before time, since a re-entry might take a lot of time.
4. You can only join the meeting from the email ID used to make the payment, or, the one where you receive this email.
5. For questions, you can send them via the chat box of Zoom (right side). We will be curating from there (*might be delayed)
6. Please ensure a stable internet connection.
7. While the link is locked and encrypted, sharing confidential details with others (+ accounts that belong to you) will be considered a breach of Zoom/Masterclass policies, and forwarded to the legal department. 
8. Please login to the Zoom portal fifteen minutes before the session starts, ie, 7 pm IST.
9. Your cameras will have to be switched on, you can prefer to be on mute.

NOTE: Payment confirmation will be sent by the Payment portal itself: Instamojo/Stripe.
If you receive an email from them (Check other/updates folder as well), your participation is confirmed and details will be sent to you directly. Please don’t email/DM us (The Bombay Review), notifying about the payment or seeking confirmation. If the payment went through, your participation is confirmed.

The link will be shared with you 6-12 hours before session time only. A query prior to that might not be answered due to unavailibility of resource persons (ref: pandemic). Please do not email us or DM us asking for the link.


*This is a learning space and unwarranted communication during session might result in expulsion from the session; apart from seeing comments being moderated.

Previous Masterclasses of 2021

Fiction | ‘Dog Days’ by Vivek Santhosh | Creative Writing Workshop

“I will marry George.”

Paru’s words echoed through the living room as RK grasped the armrests of a wooden chair and sat down with a thump. Bhagyam, his wife, rushed towards him with a rising wail, almost like an approaching ambulance siren.

She wiped his temple with the end of her saree. He winced when the coarse bleached cotton scratched his skin.

“Oh, stop it!” RK said, pushing her aside. “I’m not dying.”

He turned and glared at his daughter.

“But I might as well!” he continued. “Are you listening?”

Paru stood by the sofa across the room, staring at the floor, studying the pattern on the dim mosaic tiles.

“Please don’t say such inauspicious things,” Bhagyam pleaded, her eyes welling up.

RK ignored her. His tailbone was hurting from the hard landing.. Both of them knew that an interfaith marriage would be social suicide in their small town of Vittoor. A bony, wrinkled finger wagged in front of RK’s eyes, that of his long-dead father. “Don’t put the family name to shame, son,” the old man rasped.

Bhagyam thrust a glass of water in RK’s face. He took big noisy gulps, all the while watching Paru, tracing shapes with her big toe. So nonchalant.

Shiva, shiva! Did she just draw a heart sign?

 “Paru, have you thought about us, your parents?” he asked slowly. “What this means for us?”

“This is the twenty-first century,” Paru said, not looking up. “You’ll be just fine.”

But this is Vittoor, RK thought, not the big city, or any city for that matter.

“But more than that,” Paru continued, “we’re in love.”

 “Isn’t there,” RK tried again, “a slight possibility you haven’t thought this through?”

“Jesus, Dad!” She looked up, incredulous. “I’m not a little child.”

Bhagyam gasped at the mention of the Messiah.

“I’ll ask his parents to give you a call,” Paru said, and went upstairs to her room.

Bhagyam collapsed in the chair next to him, sobbing. RK stared at the ceiling blankly. The leaves of the fan turned slowly, circulating the oppressive summer heat within the four walls.

Caesar, their chocolate Labrador, padded into the living room. Grass from the front yard stuck out of his fur like antennae. He studied the devastated couple with his large brown eyes.  Probably sensing something bad had happened, he curled up at RK’s feet and shut his eyes.


A light mist hung over Vittoor park that Saturday. After days of being cooped up at home in shame, RK had ventured out on his morning walk. He avoided the usual east loop. Being closer to the temple, that route had a lot more foot traffic. In pre-George times, RK had used his morning walks to meet neighbors and friends. But word had gotten around rather quickly about Paru’s ‘affair’ with a non-Hindu.

Caesar raised a hind leg and rained on a rose bush. How unabashedly the dog went about his business, RK thought. Who society, what society, he could care less.

“You’re the bad influence in this family,” RK told Caesar. “Paru’s just like you, you know. She couldn’t care less about what others think, least of all her own parents.”

As they passed the peacock fountain, RK spotted a huddle of men on the lawn. Ramanan was dealing cards onto a white cotton cloth laid out on the grass. RK’s heart jumped instantly, and he pulled at Caesar’s leash to make him turn around. Caesar barked, his disagreement carrying through the quietness of the garden.

Ramanan looked up. A wide smirk swept his face.

“Look who it is,” Ramanan said loudly. His friends looked in RK’s direction.

The men hauled themselves up and walked towards him.

RK pulled harder at Caesar’s leash. The dog obeyed this time. He turned around and broke into a light jog the way they had come. Ramanan and his friends followed, half-running, half-walking.

“Treasurer-e!” Ramanan called after RK. “I haven’t forgotten what you called me three years ago.” His belly heaved like a sack of rice. “A traitor to Vittoor, wasn’t it? What does that make you now?”

RK was the sitting treasurer of the temple committee. Ramanan had been Secretary when his son eloped with a Muslim girl and the committee had ousted Ramanan on the grounds that only ‘exemplary devotees’ should be allowed to hold office. RK had been the most vocal one on the issue then, calling for rapid and decisive action on the matter.

RK’s cheeks flushed. His ears burned. Beads of sweat ran down his back.

“Leave me alone, Ramana,” he said, not breaking his jog.

The men launched into a breathy, winded version of a popular Malayalam mass. RK stopped and turned around. He brought Caesar in between him and the men.

“I’ll let go of the leash,” he threatened.

Caesar, meanwhile, eyed another rose bush for potential relief. The men watched warily as the big dog sniffed his way towards them. They didn’t know what was really on the big dog’s mind.

After a few tense moments, they backed off. RK hurried back to the safety of his home. 


“I’ll be in the hall, you take the extension,” Bhagyam said.

“Don’t agree to anything just yet,” RK reminded her.

He pulled up a chair next to the bed stand, and stared at the moss-green instrument. The numbers on the rotary dial had faded; there was a crack on the faceplate as well. So what if you had to guess the numbers, he thought. It did what a phone was supposed to do.

Two years ago when she was in the sixth semester of college, Paru had asked for a cellphone. It’s very useful to coordinate group projects, she had said. RK had reluctantly shelled out five thousand precious rupees from his retirement savings for a Nokia phone. If only he had known what it had really been for.

When the phone finally rang that day, RK picked it up in a half-ring, immediately regretting coming off as overeager.

“Hello? Hello, I’m Radhakrishnan, Paru’s father. My wife, Bhagyam, is on the line too.”

“Hello,” the voice cleared his throat. “Yes, Thomas and Annamma here.”

RK noticed his leg was shaking during the initial exchange of pleasantries. Would they ask for dowry? But this was a love marriage, why would such a question even arise?

“Look at what the kids have done,” Thomas chortled. “George tells us he cannot live without Paru. Imagine if we had told such a thing to our parents,” he laughed.

RK agreed with him on that. He found the whole love business ridiculous. If there was one being RK couldn’t live without, it was Caesar.

“Paru’s our only child, as you know,” RK said. “While we would have liked her to marry a Hindu, she has fallen for your son.” RK covered the mouthpiece and let out a long exhale. “We welcome your son George into our tiny family.”

“Thank you for that, we weren’t thinking it would be something like this either.” Thomas said, before adding, “By the way, Radhakrishnan, we Christians aren’t bad, you know. Your daughter will be the princess of our home.”

And that’s where she will be, RK thought. Gone away from them forever.

“Even when Thomas and George are away in Munnar,” Annamma said. “I’ll be at home. Paru has nothing to worry about.”

“We’re so glad to hear that,” Bhagyam replied.

“Well, then,” Thomas said, “let us not delay anymore. Shall we drive down or would you like to visit our home?”

“We’d be happy to host you at our humble home,” RK said.

It was decided that George and his parents would drive down the following weekend for a formal meeting between the families.


At the temple committee meeting, the president pulled RK aside before the session started.

“I heard about your daughter.” His tone was grave, like an oncologist delivering bad news. “It’s a damn shame.”

“That’s no big deal, Menon Sir.” RK waved his hand in the air, as if dispelling the president’s concerns. “We raised her to be independent, after all.”

“Did her upbringing include disrespecting one’s own culture?” asked the president sternly.

RK averted his gaze from the bulbous eyes staring down at him. While RK had joined the temple committee after he retired from a long career as a bank officer, the president was a career temple administrator. He took the temple, the working, the administration – all of it very seriously. He shook his head in disapproval, just like how RK’s austere father would have reacted to the disgrace he had brought upon the family name and their little community.

“But everyone finds their own these days, Menon Sir,” RK said, trying again but this time with a line borrowed from his wife. The night Paru broke the news to them, Bhagyam had consoled herself saying many of her friends’ kids had married outside norms. But why did she have to find a non-Hindu? RK had said. Why did you have to put her in a Catholic college? Bhagyam shot back. RK was incredulous. Because they provide great education. Not so she could go around with guys!

The president smiled sympathetically and hobbled into the meeting room, leaving RK alone in the hallway as he fought back tears of frustration. For the first time in his life, he craved a sense of anonymity that a big city gave its people. His little town was too claustrophobic – to answer every person he met on the street, to receive their contempt or sympathy, to not be able to tell them to mind their own business. In a city like Mumbai or Delhi, he could have maybe moved houses, even if it was just a couple of bus stops down, and dissolved in an ocean of  millions of people. Lacking the energy to field any more questions or concerns, he skipped the meeting and went home.


“What is this nonsense, Radha?” RK’s elder sister was on the phone from New Delhi. Calling from the national capital in her bossy voice, her calls always felt like the Central Government ordering a state to clean up its mess.

“Paru has made her choice.” RK had repeated this so many times in the last two weeks he said it without thinking. “What can we do?”

“It’s a problem with her upbringing, don’t you think?”

“What? That is not fair! We brought her up just right.”

“You didn’t beat her enough.”

His sister went on about the flaws in Paru’s upbringing, about things that RK and Bhagyam should have done differently; starting from when she had been born. After a couple of minutes, RK set the green earpiece down on the pillow and left the room.


The family from Pala arrived in two gleaming-white vintage Contessas. Thomas, tall and rugged, was clearly the kind of man who spent much of his time outdoors, probably working plantations. He was dressed in a white mundu and golden-yellow silk shirt, with a thick gold chain around his neck. When RK shook hands with him, he noticed the gold watch and two diamond-studded rings on each hand. George stepped out of the driver seat. Tall like his father; he was slim, wore glasses and was clean-shaven. He wore a navy-blue shirt and a white mundu. RK was dwarfed by the two men.

George’s aunts and grandaunts had come along as well. Once they settled down in the living room, Paru stepped out of the kitchen with a tray of tea. She wore a blue-green saree, the same that Bhagyam had worn on the day she first met RK’s parents twenty-eight years ago.

RK noticed Thomas stealing looks out the window into his backyard. After tea and snacks, while the ladies talked in the living room, RK invited Thomas for a walk around the property. 

Thomas surveyed the four coconut palms and ten banana trees. He draped an arm around RK and asked, “Will you be gifting your daughter any gold?”

RK eyed the rings, forever trapped in the fat between Thomas’s knuckles. How much would be enough for such a man? He thought.

“Of course,” RK said.

“How much?”

RK couldn’t conceal his surprise.

“I’m joking,” Thomas grinned.

RK laughed politely. Like every girl’s parents, Bhagyam and RK had saved up money and gold jewelry for Paru over the years. Though asking for dowry was a punishable legal offence in the country, the practice of receiving ‘gifts’ from a girl’s family had never been outlawed.

They walked among the banana trees, trying to keep to the shade as much as possible. It was a hot day. Big sweaty circles grew around Thomas’s underarms.

“We would like to have a church wedding,” he said.

“After the ceremonies at the temple?”

“Yes, yes, afterwards. Paru would have to be baptized though.”

RK’s heart sank. There went the grandchildren too.

“I hope that’s okay with you,” Thomas said. “Of course, it is,” he added without waiting for RK’s reply. “What is this, the eighteenth century?”

Right back at you, RK thought. He managed a smile.

Things moved quite fast. That afternoon, the families decided on a date for the Hindu wedding, giving RK and Bhagyam four months to make arrangements. The church wedding would take place shortly thereafter in George’s hometown of Pala.


It was a rainy night. RK parked his LML Vespa outside the temple, flicked on a torchlight and ran into the administration building. He was fifteen minutes late to the board meeting. He burst into the room, interrupting the president’s speech. All eyes turned to RK. The president shook his head in irritation as RK excused himself and took his usual spot next to the Secretary, wiping water from his face and hands with a handkerchief. He looked around the room; Ramanan was watching him with a self-assured smirk on his face.

RK was incredulous. He nudged the Secretary and pointed in Ramanan’s direction. How did he get back in? The Secretary held up her hand to RK, shushing him, and turned back to the president.

“… and ensure every devotee feels welcome in this humble abode of Lord Shiva,” the president was saying, “so he can share his joys, sorrows, and grief without fear or shame.”

RK’s mind raced to make sense. About a week after the last board meeting, which he had skipped, Bhagyam had handed him a handwritten note from the Secretary announcing a special committee meeting that night. He had chosen to meet with the wedding caterers over the committee. Not once in his seven years as Treasurer had he missed two consecutive meetings.

“Three years ago, we made a hasty decision against an exemplary devotee, whose family has played an integral part in the smooth running of this temple for three generations. I cannot emphasize how fortunate we are to have him back.”

Ramanan rose, beaming at the room. Everyone smiled in appreciation.

“Today, I would like to right that wrong and welcome Ramanan back to the executive committee.” The President shook Ramanan’s hand to a round of cheer and applause. RK felt a lump rising in his throat.

“As you know, our beloved RK has urgent family matters to attend to, a decision the committee fully understands and supports.”

RK raised his hand in protest. “No, no, Menon Sir, I can manage my responsibilities just fine…”

“That’s alright, RK. At this time, you need to concentrate your time and energy on the state of your family. Ramanan will take over as Treasurer immediately.”

RK’s cheeks were crimson.

“We will continue to look for,” the president concluded, “your enthusiasm and dedication in temple activities as a proactive volunteer.”

After the meeting, the President whispered a few words to the Secretary and left immediately. RK went over to her.

“You cannot just decide things in my absence.”

“You cannot just abscond from meetings.”

“Did you vote on this? Or was it one of his,” RK jerked a finger at the president’s chair, “executive decisions?”

“The president suggested and all of us agreed. It was the right thing to do, RK.”

“Just like that,” RK said. “After having worked together for so many years.”

“I’ve to go home and feed my kids,” the secretary said; impatient.

He heard a familiar whistle from behind him. Ramanan hummed the Malayalam mass he had sung in the park, not looking up from the temple’s books; a permanent grin plastered on his face.


“It’s just you and me now, Caesar.”

RK sat in a reclining chair on the front porch and petted the dog, listening to the rain pattering on the roof. The southwest monsoon was in full swing already. The sky would be mostly overcast for the next three months.

A month had passed since Paru’s wedding. The Hindu ceremonies had gone as planned. The only close family member who was missing had been RK’s elder sister, who refused to attend. Most others who attended came to eat and criticize the food afterwards. Paru had left with George to Pala the next day, where she was baptized. They called her Rebecca. RK and Bhagyam traveled to Pala the following day for the church wedding. Walking her down the aisle, RK had been conscious of his ill-fitting suit the entire time. He had never worn one before. He tugged at his pants whenever the minister wasn’t looking. But it didn’t matter; his daughter was the happiest he had seen her since the time he had gifted her the damned cellphone.

A few days later, Bhagyam had left for Munnar for two days with Paru, George, Thomas and Annamma. She had a way of dealing with things as they came, a sort of naïve optimism that kept her going. When he had lost the temple job, Bhagyam had reminded him about the reason he had taken it up six years back – not as a source of sustenance, but to keep his mind occupied in retirement. RK, had excused himself from the Munnar trip saying the monsoon and the high altitude in Munnar would wreak havoc on his sinuses. The truth was he needed some time to himself.

He got up and paced around the house. Caesar followed him, sniffing things at his level, lapping up leftovers or bits of food from the floor. RK dreaded how life would be from now on. He feared boredom the most. He hadn’t realized how busy the temple activities, and lately the wedding preparations, had kept him. These days, he read the paper from end to end – even the sports section of which he had no interest in – took Caesar out for walks, or played fetch with him. Boredom, yes that was what killed most old people, not disease. The second leading cause of death was insignificance.

RK noticed a leak from the ceiling in the corner of the living room. He sighed. Another expense, he thought and made his way up to the terrace one level above. The torrential downpour had given way to a light drizzle. Caesar followed, hesitating at the terrace entrance. He liked to stay as dry as possible. Then, curiosity got the better of him.

RK walked on the wet floor carefully. There was a crack in the cement between the low, two-foot-high parapet and the floor.A mason would have to be called for this. He proceeded to check along the edge for other cracks.

Then he noticed the sliced banana Bhagyam had set out to dry on a newspaper out in the front yard. She had asked him to bring it in before the rain. It was drenched. 

“Oh, no!” he exclaimed to himself, stepping forward. He slipped, tripping on the parapet, and fell.

The wind whistled in his ears for a fraction of a second, ending as soon as it began. He screamed in agony as pain erupted through his body. Caesar barked from the edge, then ran down the stairs and out to his groaning, writhing master lying on the lawn. He pulled at RK’s shirtsleeve in an effort to sit him up. After a few attempts, Caesar sprinted off, leash trailing behind him.


When RK came about, he felt as if his skull had been sawed open. His torso was stiff and heavy, his eyelids heavy from the sedation. Bhagyam sat next to him, her hand on his, her eyes puffy. “Why would you do such a thing?” she said.

“I was… Caesar…”

“Caesar called the neighbors, who brought you here to the hospital.”

RK squeezed his wife’s hand in response. He thanked Caesar in his mind, his true best friend.

“Was the temple job that important?”

At first, he thought he didn’t hear her right.

“Or was it Paru and George?” she continued.

“No, Bhagyam,” RK said. “I didn’t try to… I slipped…”

“Shh, life isn’t so bad. Look,” Bhagyam pointed to the glass window on his left looking out into the thickly populated hallway. He recognized a lot of faces. Paru and George, Thomas and Annamma, even the president, were all waiting outside to see him.

Of all the people, he hadn’t counted the president as one of his well-wishers.

“I genuinely slipped,” RK repeated.

“Did you?” Bhagyam’s eyes narrowed.

RK pressed Bhagyam’s hand.

“Anyway,” Bhagyam said, still not convinced. She leaned closer. “As I was leaving for the hospital, the President came by with a job offer.”

“I.. what?” RK blinked, confused.

“Turns out,” Bhagyam whispered, “the Secretary’s sixteen-year-old daughter is pregnant.” 

Vivek Santhosh‘s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Litro Magazine and India Currents. He lives in Sunnyvale, USA and is currently working on a novel.