Freak Show

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I was bad luck to me and everybody else around. Nobody looked me in the eyes; they were afraid of the doom I might bring to them.

“Your presence upsets me, I hate you ”, she said. All the girls in the hostel sided with her once again, their faces grim.

I turned nonchalant, her words didn’t affect me. I was always shunned. I was beyond feeling sorry for myself.

An hour later I stared at the glassy eyes of the girls I slaughtered, mesmerized; now I was truly alone. It was just me and my bad luck.

 

Review of ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus

 

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‘The Outsider’ written by Albert Camus and translated by Joseph Laredo, is a novel that centers around a Frenchman named Meursault, who expresses no sadness at his mother’s death. Days after his mother’s death he murders a man on a whim for which he is tried in court. Meursault is tried not just for his crime but his lack of emotions, which makes him an outsider.

Meursault, the protagonist is peculiar as he attaches no value to human relationships and commits murder for no apparent reason. Sentiments like love, empathy, and concern are insignificant to him. The only time Meursault is close to being emotional is when he is imprisoned and he realizes the value of his freedom. During the initial days of his sentence he tries to devise plans that will enable him to escape from being guillotined. But right before the day of his execution, he accepts death in all its finality. He lives his life following his mother’s ideal that humanity can get used to anything, be it death or punishment. His indifferent reaction to his mother’s death is startling to the people around him, the same sort of people who would prefer deceit to truth. Meursault is not a likeable character, but then I don’t think the author intended the character to be a likeable one. Mersaults’ s defiant manner of sticking to the truth, his staunch atheism, his unwillingness to sugar-coat realities and his ability to accept his wrongs and not feel guilty about them makes him an outsider. He is an outcast as he doesn’t adhere to social norms. But it is these qualities that make him an unconventional tragic hero. Anybody who lives or behaves in a way contrary to the age-old way is shunned. To the world he is a cold-hearted murderer and according to the author himself he is just a person who doesn’t belong. A strange man who lives his life just to feel alive and nothing more. He lives through his life saying and doing things that feel right to him alone and not to the society.

Marie, the mistress of Mersault, is the only female character that has any importance in the novel, she is reduced to a pretty thing people can point at and admire. She is a woman who doesn’t seem to have any opinions of her own. Like Mersault she too is strange as she desires to marry a man who doesn’t love her but only considers her as an object to gratify his sexual desires.

Almost all the characters in the novel are idiosyncratic starting from Meursault to Salamano. Camus gives us a strange piece of fiction along the lines of absurdism which is a philosophy based on the belief that human existence is purposeless and chaotic. To Camus Meursault was a new-age Christ, a person who sacrifices himself for the truth, the kind of truth people try not to see or acknowledge.

The Outsider is as Camus states “the story of a man who, without any heroic pretensions agrees, to die for the truth.” This book left me confused but it also made me seriously ponder about the rigid, inflexible, and most often prejudiced decisions of the common public, and whether these decisions are really fair. This novel progresses like a dream, hazy but fast-paced and finally leaving you with mixed feelings.

 

 

 

Tea Party

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They huddled together inside the tent as they listened to the wind howl like a woman in anguish. They had camped under the shadow of the snow-slathered Himalayas last week with the idea of going mountain climbing. But the weather hadn’t been favourable, so they decided to spend their time sledding and taking photographs in the vicinity. They could hear the pine trees in the distance bending to the will of the mad winds as they sat with grim faces and their arms wrapped around their knees. They had run out of milk two days ago. Shwetha had managed to heat water on the campfire just before the gales began. She let the tea leaves steep and filled three cups to the brim with the amber liquid, added sugar, and handed one each to Sonu and Abirami.

Sonu opened the tent a crack and peered through it, the fire had they had made had died out and a thin tendril of smoke rose to the white sky, as she looked on fresh snow started to fall.

“Looks like we are going to stay inside for a while”, she said as she gently stirred the remaining tea in her cup. “You know I have heard that you can read a person’s fortune by looking at the patterns tea leaves form inside a cup.”

Shwetha and Abirami looked at her curious.

“Why don’t you try to read our fortunes? Then we will have firsthand knowledge of what’s in store for us and that will be handy since we can’t rely on weather reports”, said Abirami with a nervous chuckle as she tried to adjust the controls of the radio.

“Okay.. but first we have to calm our minds, forget about the snowstorm outside. I have read something about it. I will try, drink the tea until only a teaspoon is left, then swirl it around”, said Sonu.

“Alright fortune lady…” giggled Shwetha as they sipped tea. The warm fragrant liquid went down their throats spreading warmth down their cold bodies. It cheered the half-terrified amateur mountain climbers up.

They set down their cups before Sonu who drained the remaining liquid from the cups into a wide bowl and studied the patterns formed by the tea leaves .

Sonu frowned as she tried to recognize a pattern. Her eyes narrowed, “ This is strange, the pattern…the pattern is the same in both your cups, I think it represents some animal. But I can’t seem to identify which. Maybe a dog”

“How about in your own cup?” asked Abirami.

Sonu peered at her cup that she had placed down next to the radio set. She stopped when she recognized the exact shape even in her cup.

The wind had died down and suddenly they heard the blood-curdling howl of the mountain wolf and Sonu finally recognized the shape she saw. It was the shape of a wolf.

 

 

A Secret Life

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A red balloon bobbed gently in the cold night air, the girl holding it was laughing, her eyes twinkling with happiness. The father, a tall, sharp-looking man, and the lanky, bespectacled mother looked at her with a faint smile on their faces. The traffic thinned and the bus moved and the sight was replaced by rows and rows of compact but ugly apartment complexes which rose into the sky like thorns. To anyone who had seen the trio, they would have appeared to be the perfect little family. But I knew that behind the most convincing smiles were hidden the angst of years of quarrels and misunderstandings.

My parents never got divorced, it is taboo, unthinkable at that time we live in. They just weren’t on good terms, they couldn’t talk about anything without it turning into a full-fledged screaming contest. But the real reason reason was that they weren’t right for each other. During the time when the fights abated, they would tell me that it was okay as I was the only good thing out of the marriage, I was the reason that they never went separate ways. I was used to my dysfunctional life, what was dysfunctional to others was normal to me. Nobody had any clue that my family was in pieces, except for my immediate relations. It was amusing that most didn’t know, and would never know, it was like living a shady, secret life inside the four walls of the house. I never was the moping kind, wailing and moaning about why my family was like that. But then I was just too familiar with that life to start complaining about it. It was hilarious how well they acted outside, what finesse, what subtlety, some performances were just astounding. Of course I laughed alone, nobody understood the joke.

I disembarked from the bus and made my way to the Chinese restaurant at the corner of Ashok street where my parents were meeting some friends for dinner. I hurried, my handbag swinging beside me, eager to play my role to perfection.

Coffee Love

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They entered the coffee shop exhausted from the day’s work at the IT Park. The interior of the shop was painted a soft brown colour. The yellow ceiling lights on the brown walls created a perpetual dusk, some Expressionist paintings adorned the walls interspersed with witty coffee quotes. The Western instrumental music which played continuously in the cafe was drowned by chatter and the clinking of cutlery. The aroma of freshly ground coffee wafted from the kitchen stealing its way to the customers, heightening their craving for coffee. Rekha plopped herself on a comfy chair at a table next to the entrance, Rita sat opposite her.

“Nothing beats the smell of coffee! I wake up to take a whiff of this wonderful beverage.”exclaimed Rekha adjusting the pleats of her saree.

Rita laughed at her friend’s addiction to coffee.

A waiter dressed in a white shirt, black coat and pants appeared to take their order.

“Two capuccino and two croissants, do you want anything else Rita?” asked Rekha.

“No… this would do”, Rita replied.

She waited until the waiter left their side and then leaned her elbows on the table, eager to tell her friend something that has occupied her mind for days.

“You know Rekha, I really am in love,I know it. I just feel so happy, so light, it’s like I am floating among the clouds. I have never felt his good in my entire life. I find myself smiling at everything and that too for no reason, it’s like I have lost my mind… Am I making any sense to you?” Rita asked, an embarrassed grin on her face.

Rekha listened to her friend with a sad smile on her face.

“What’s with that smile of yours? Aren’t you happy for me?” Rita asked with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

Two steaming mugs of coffee and two plates of the pastry were placed on the table with a slight display of gallantry by the waiter.

“Of course I am, I am just afraid of what will happen after…”

“Oh my God Rekha, just because you got divorced, doesn’t mean that the entire world will be filled with divorces and heartbreaks!” said Rita with her hand on her head.

“You can never be too sure. Maybe even love has an expiration date, the day when love sours and turns into hate. I don’t know Rita, I don’t intend to be such a killjoy, but I will tell you this, nothing stays the same. When I married him, I was over the moon, but then years later, it became mechanical. There were days when I felt strange and uneasy. My life was just reduced to a mere routine devoid of any sentiments, any palpable feelings. I woke up in the mornings, cooked, went to work, returned home , chatted casually with my him while having dinner, slept; the same routine on repeat, it was mentally exhausting. Love had disappeared from our life without our own knowledge, like a candlelight that dies out in the day, you don’t notice it initially but then eventually you realize. We got separated on amicable terms. I was hesitant at first, you know, being an married woman in India I had to consider not just what I thought of myself, but what the society would think me if I separated from him. Anyway we got divorced, and that’s the end. But the absence of love when you recognize it, is unsettling Rita.”

“So what are you saying? Not to fall in love? No, you just said that the absence of love is unsettling. Honestly it is like you talk in circles all the time.”

“Nothing. I am just letting my tongue get the better of me. You really should be friends with girls of your age. I am like seven years older than you” , sighed Rekha as she stirred her coffee.

“Okay, stop being such a nag grandma. Just be happy for me and we will just see what happens next”, giggled Rita.

“Meanwhile let me enjoy my evening with my true love, coffee” , said Rekha as she sipped her favourite beverage.