Douglas & McIntyre
The Silent Raga

Book details:

February 2009
ISBN 978-1-55365-405-6
Paperback - Trade
5" x 8"
464 pages
$22.95 CAD

Awards

  • 2nd place in the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design (Prose Fiction category)
  • Nomintated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book Award

Douglas & McIntyre

The Silent Raga

Excerpt / Additional Content

from

Chapter One

If I could return to that time, I would choose the mornings.

Especially the mornings after my motherís death, when my days began very early. The walk to the milk depot, with my ears tuned to the glassy murmurings of the previous dayís bottles in the jute bag, was the dreamiest part of those mornings.

I would put on a dry dhavani, fling Ammaís maroon shawl over my body and, quietly, with my teeth on my tongue, tiptoe my way through the hall to reach the front door. I would pull the bolt down without a sound and let myself out, like a fleeing ghost.

It was a good fifteen-minute walk to the milk depot and I would take my own time getting there, stretching those quiet minutes for as long as I could. The tamarind and asoka leaves shimmied and danced in the breeze and the heady fragrance from the parijatha blossoms filled the air.

Breathe it all in, Janaki, breathe it all in while you can, I would tell myself, as I filled my lungs with air, as though the perfume were some kind of anesthetic, a divine drug that would numb me through the predestined drudgery of my day. Occasionally, a cyclist would ride by with a stack of Dina Thandi newspaper tied to a wobbly carrier behind the seat. The tinny bell on the handlebar would protest in sharp, shrill notes as the cycle bumped and balanced on the red-earth road. I couldnít have known then that I would make the headline of that newspaper for three days in a row.

As I walked along the eastern bank, I would hear the priest recite shivery Sanskrit slokas while he dipped in the tank and performed his cleansing ritual before the morning puja. I would tighten my grip around the bag with the milk bottles, abruptly cutting off their delicate endearments, and quickly walk away from his sight in the direction of the main road.

In the month of Margazhi a group of vagrants and urchins sought warmth around the noxious vapors of a burning car tire or some plastic garlands snatched off the nearby cinema banner. I would avoid them and walk on the opposite footpath. I would quicken my pace to the milk depot, clutching the four cards for four bottles tightly in my left hand under the shawl. I would dart across the junction of the main roads, pass the Gandhi statue stippled with bird droppings, and finally reach my destination.

Kamala from D Block, Revathi from B Block, and a few other mamis from houses outside the agraharam would arrive around the same time as I. We would arrange ourselves in a single line along the milk co-op kiosk and exaggerate the effect of the morning chill as we waited for the delivery van to pull up. Sometimes Revathi, who had a voice like a river of honey, would sing an alaapana of abstract notes:

Ga Ma
Ga Ma Dha Ma
Ga Ma
Ga Ma Ni Dha Ma Dha
Ma Dha Ni Sa Dha
Ni Ni Ni Ni

Kamala and I would take this to be our cue and quickly join in:

Ga Ma Dha Dha Dha Dha
Ma Dha Ni Ni Ni Ni
Ma Dha Ni Ni Ni Ni

Our voices would float in the mist-cloaked landscape and little beads of water would creep around the corners of our eyes. We knew the milk van would be there in less than ten minutes. At the latest, by five-thirty. And then it would all be over. That hour of girlhood innocence, those moments of rationed independence.