Aparna Kaji Shah’s debut collection, The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories, was published in September 2018. Her fiction and poetry have been published in anthologies. Aparna has written a novel called, Across Boundaries (unpublished). At present, she is working on another about the impact of dislocation on people’s lives.
Although Aparna Kaji Shah will be reading from her collection, The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories for her appearance at Brockton Series next week, she would like to give you a peek into what she is immersed in at present. She has titled her work-in-progress (she is unsure whether it will be a full-length novel or a novella), The Root of the Matter. The story is about the emotional impact that displacement has on people’s lives. This subject is close to Aparna’s heart not only because her grandfather, on whom this work is partially based, moved from the city of Ajmer to Bombay in the early part of the twentieth century, but because she herself moved from India to Canada in 1985; and after nine years in Toronto, she lived in London (UK), Singapore, Mumbai and then returned to Toronto. After traipsing across the globe, she has first-hand experience of what it means to feel like an outsider.
Here is an excerpt from The Root of the Matter. The protagonist, Dr. Pandit, his wife Lilavati, and their three daughters are relocating to Bombay (where they are originally from), after many years in Ajmer:
Lilavati and the Doctor woke up early. Their train was leaving late that evening. Lilavati looked anxious, and he smiled at her. As they sat with a cup of tea on the sofa, a soft cool breeze was blowing in through the open door. He said, “What a gorgeous day, but it will be scorching by lunch time.”
Lilavati looked into his eyes. She said, “You will be okay, won’t you?”
Putting his arm around her, he said, “Of course, I will. Don’t worry. We are going to begin a new life, with a lot of love from our families. How can that go wrong?”
“But you did wake up a couple of nights ago, didn’t you?”
“I did. But that’s all in the past now; a different place, a new life…. that’s what I’m waiting for. We are going back home.” Even as he was saying that, a little voice in his head whispered, this, here, is home.
It was not yet eight o’clock, and the doorbell started ringing. There was a stream of people coming in to say farewell to the Pandits, some carrying gifts of Rajasthani specialties, like sweet gajak, or spicy kachoris. Others came with a shawl for the Doctor, or books and games for the children. “For the long train journey,” they said.
The atmosphere in the Pandits’ living room was festive, with talking and laughter, but there were also tears as people left to make room for others. Many touched the Doctor’s feet. Dr. Bajaj came to whisk the Pandits away for lunch at his place. After lunch, they came home to rest a little. Kavita and Sushmita were cranky with all the excitement around them, and Indira was angry and tearful because she had had to say goodbye to her best friend, Juliet.
When they went to the station, a large group of people had gathered to see them off. Dr. Pandit’s tennis partners slapped him on the back, and his bridge group joked about his game. It was time to get on the train and say goodbye. As the train moved forward, and Lilavati settled the children, Dr. Pandit waited at the window until the last waving figure had receded.
He turned to look at his family. The two younger ones were already asleep, but Indira’s face shone with anticipation as she looked out of the window. Lilavati’s eyes were free of the anxiety that he had seen earlier, and she smiled at him. He sat down next to her and squeezed her hand. “We did it,” he said, and watched as she closed her eyes to rest.
Dr. Pandit looked, in the descending darkness, at the cotton and tobacco fields speeding by. They passed the marble quarries of Kishangarh. They had now left behind the outskirts of the city of Ajmer, and he felt hollow in the pit of his stomach. Someone had turned on a radio; it was a classical station playing an evening raga. It was only a few hours ago that his patients had come to touch his feet. And it was just moments ago that he had said good bye to his closest friends.
He swayed to the rhythm of the turning wheels and the closing notes of raga Kamod washed over him. As the miles stretched longer and longer between him and the city he loved, he felt as if he was not all there. His chest tightened with fear and he knew that a vital part of him had been severed and left behind in Ajmer; he was moving on without it.
Aparna Kaji Shah visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Daniel Perry, Jim Nason, Kim Moritsugu, and guest speaker Zoe Whittall who will be “Talking TV and Prose.”