Friday, May 24, 2013

You're Only Loony Once


“YOLO,” the young man yelled, waking his fellow-students sleeping in the hostel, before plunging the syringe into the fleshy folds of his upper arm. He didn’t know that the word was his last.



Write Tribe Prompt“YOLO,” the dean stretched the word around his tongue the way his students chewed gum. But he couldn’t abide the taste and spat it out in disgust.

“It means You Only Live Once,” the young professor of psychology volunteered. The most popular faculty member, he felt duty-bound to express the students’ view.

“I know what it means,” the dean snarled. “It means living life fully, using every ounce of talent God has given you, making a difference, striving for your dreams, so that death arrives to find you without regret. These fools have let it degenerate into an excuse for trying anything that their idle minds come up with. For them, it's You're Only Loony Once, and then it's the end. No more chances.”

“That’s true,” said the professor of mathematics. “This is the third YOLO death in four months. The students are quick to declare their dead classmate a martyr, inspiring others to do equally foolish things. Drinking, doing drugs, sleeping around, fast driving in the name of YOLO.”

The dean nodded. “I’ve always hated acronyms for this reason. Where is the beauty embedded in that truth, You only live once? Where is the call to action? The very phrase has been twisted into candy drops that can be swallowed without thinking.”

“That’s how these kids are,” said the professor of sociology, who prided himself on understanding student behaviour. “They are always in a hurry, and they like to save time by making an acronym out of everything.”

“Don’t call them kids,” snorted the professor of philosophy. “They are old enough to vote, marry and drive. Why aren’t they old enough to think responsibly for themselves?”

“That’s right,” said the dean. “We need to take the grotesque YOLO out of their vocabulary, and remind them that they only live once, and that youth is transient. They must do something worthwhile with their lives, use their college years fruitfully so that decades hence, they can look back on this time with satisfaction.”

“Shall we ban the use of YOLO?” The popular professor was keen to redeem himself in the eyes of the dean. The idea was met with silence. Snubbed, the professor shut up.

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” said the professor of English Literature. “Make YOLO and others of its kind part of our own vocabularies. The lure of these phrases lies in the fact that they are frowned upon by the faculty and administration, fuelling the students’ illusions that they are anti-Establishment rebels. If we appear to adopt these mantras, they will need no more inducement to abandon them.”

Soon the faculty adopted YOLO as if it gave meaning to their life. Before the month was up, the students lost interest in YOLO. It wasn’t cool anymore. How could it be if the fuddy-duddies raved about it?



And that is how YOLO lost its hold over the students.





 
This story was written for the Write Tribe - Prompt 3.


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Warmth of My Un-cool Mother

When I was in high school, I would often hear girls rave about how cool their mothers were. How they shared wardrobes and shoes with their mothers, how their mothers trusted them completely. How their friends loved to hang out with their mothers. I could never relate to such conversations.

In those days, I never thought of my mother as cool. She had strict rules governing the complex business of raising little ones and she watched us just as a hawk watches over her young.

I knew girls who would go out for parties and stay overnight at their friends’ homes. Mine would be out in the balcony, eyes peeled, if I didn’t show up five minutes after the time by which I should have been home, down to the minute. If I remembered to call and tell her the reason for my delay with a revised time of return, I would be let off. If not…

Like all teenagers, I used to think of myself as something of a rebel, and would wonder why I was being tethered down when other girls of my age wore what they wanted, spoke to and hung around with anyone and did whatever took their fancy.

During my brief stint in a newspaper, we often had to work the late night shift which would end at 1 am. Female employees would then get dropped home by the office car. Since it was one car dropping five or six of us home, I, who stayed the furthest, would reach home no earlier than 3 or 3.30 am. My colleagues often told me about how they would let themselves in, with their own latch keys, mind you, into their quiet, sleeping homes.

When I asked my mother for a key, she told me there was no need for it; she would open the door for me. And sure enough, whenever the office car came to a halt outside our building gate, I would see her sitting in the balcony, unwilling to go to bed until her daughter was safe home.

I asked her once why she took the trouble to sit up and lose precious sleep, waiting for me, she told me that she couldn’t possibly sleep until all her dear ones were safely home. Then she smiled and added that the day I got married, she would stop worrying about me. She added, “Your husband and in-laws can worry about where and how you are. I shan’t bother at all.”

I was too immature to understand the import of her words then. It was only much later that I realized the comfort of knowing that someone at home loved you enough to worry about you not being home.

Behind the relieved laughter in her voice, I still recall the worry in her eyes, the fear that something might happen to someone she loved. When nightmares like these assailed her waking thoughts, she would pray with all the strength of her simple faith that her fears may not come to pass.

Having returned home in the early hours of the morning, I would go to bed and not wake up until hours later. She, of course, would be up by 6, getting breakfast ready for the whole family and generally preparing for the day.

In today’s day, she would have been considered a Work-at-Home-Mother, every bit of the work she does calibrated and recognised. Back then, she was only considered a housewife. The label was derogatory, at least I thought so. When asked what she did, she would cheerfully reply, “I’m a housewife,” omitting to mention the successful sewing enterprise that she ran from the confines of our tiny home, while simultaneously managing the household, cooking, washing and cleaning, looking after the family and playing an active role in our home education. She had also nursed to health an old relative who had suffered two separate accidents and become bedridden for more than eight months each time.

During Diwali and Christmas especially, she would have so many orders that often she would end up working until 1 or even 2 am, then waking up at 4.30 am to literally pick up the thread where she had left it. In spite of having so much to do, she managed to do justice to every task she undertook. Food was always on the table at meal times. The pantry was always stocked. We never ran out of anything. She was always in control of every situation.

All through my growing years, I was blissfully unaware of the many sacrifices that she must have had to make to ensure that the household ran smoothly.

These included the tiny things she gave up, a little sweet something she had prepared that my brothers and me wanted more helpings of, that she suddenly didn’t seem to be in the mood to have. In fact, for a long time, I didn’t even know what her favourite foods were.

And then there were the big sacrifices, the dreams that she must have put on the back burner as she dreamed great things for us. Rejoiced in our victories. Grieved over our losses.

Today I am a mother of two kids, and yet I dutifully call her once every day. It is a comfort to know that in a world where so much goes wrong every day, there is one little corner where I continue to be loved as I always have been. She waits for my call and worries if I don’t call. I guess, you don’t ever retire from a calling as a mother.

Such big shoes I have to fit into. I wonder if my little La Niña will think of me as un-cool someday.



‘I am writing a Tribute to Mom in association with Parentous.com‘






Book Review: OLLIE CHANDLER COLLECTION: DEADLINE, DOMINION, DECEPTION




I clearly knew that I was biting off more than I could chew when I embarked on the opus that is the Ollie Chandler Series: Deadline, Dominion and Deception by Randy Alcorn. The omnibus was a whopping 1800+ pages, and it seemed highly unlikely that I would ever succeed in plodding through it given the fact that like any harried working mother, I chase after too many goals at the same time.


Fortunately, once I started reading it, I realized that this book didn’t require plodding at all. It grabbed my attention and retained it all through. Reading it wasn’t a breeze, of course, and there were many times when I had to back-track and read a particular passage or a section of a chapter all over again. The writing made that extra effort on my part worthwhile.

If you thought that a piece of fiction that centred on religion, would necessarily be boring and humdrum, you would be in for a surprise. In this series, Alcorn manages to marry the two strangers-to-each-other genres of faith and mystery, without ever letting the reader’s attention flag or falter.

Alcorn’s prose brings the scene alive every time. Whether he is re-creating life in a newspaper office or amid the gangbangers and drug-infested streets or at the scene of a homicide, he clearly has a knack for description.

DEADLINE

In Deadline, Jake Woods is a politically correct syndicated columnist at the Oregon Tribune whose relationships with his ex-wife and daughter have deteriorated, leaving him feeling empty and purposeless. His childhood best friends, Finney, a businessman, and Doc, a surgeon, are the only two relationships that he can still treasure. When the car in which the three are travelling meets with an accident which claims the lives of Doc and Finney, but leaves him with a few scratches, Jake is plagued by sorrow for his friends and guilt for having been spared.

When he gets a note in the mail, saying it wasn’t an accident, Jake contacts Portland Police department detective Ollie Chandler with the information. A casual investigation of the mangled Suburban in which they were travelling reveals sabotage.

Jake becomes increasingly convinced that foul play has been responsible for the deaths of his best friends. He is determined to discover the identity of the culprits and bring them to book. But it isn’t long before he learns that the search for truth can be dangerous.

Written from the third person viewpoint of Jake, the book takes us into the mind of a newspaperman, whose passion for his job is seen in the fonts he analyses and the audacity he brings to his activities. Reading Deadline brought back memories of the seven months I spent working in a newspaper and the caffeine induced rush that it was. There are analogies to be drawn between life and newspapers, particularly to do with mistakes and final editions and deadlines, and Alcorn draws them here. The book offers a clear picture of the world today, the hectic hurriedness, the deadline driven world where nothing is constant, the meaning and meaninglessness of death.

The characters of Doc, Jake and Finney were fleshed out in detail, each rendered tremendously likeable, with a dash of humour.

Diehard fans of mystery fiction will enjoy Alcorn’s writing. The book is worth reading even if you don’t subscribe to its philosophy. Alcorn, a Christian fiction and non-fiction writer, offers a detailed picture of Christian morality. A lot of the time, at least for me, it was like preaching to the choir. Of course, the tone never gets weighty or preachy and those who want their cup of mystery fiction undiluted with philosophy, spirituality or morality would still enjoy the story.

His prose, well crafted throughout the series, very often takes on the garb of poetry as when he says, “War seemed neat and tidy until you were in one,” or “He savored every word from home as if each were a drop of dew collected by a man dying of thirst.

I got a clear understanding of what it must feel like when the breath of life deserts the body. Even though this is a fictional representation, I felt comforted by it. I got a sense of the joy that would come of meeting one’s long-lost people again. 

The description of hell as a place where God is not and therefore where nothing good that comes from God can ever be seemed far more realistic that the flames of fire that we grew up hearing about. There were sections when Alcorn described the miracle of conception in a manner that seemed awe-inspiring, and brought a thin film of tears to my eyes. Deadline also throws light on issues such as abortion and the suffering of good people.

Since this novel is a part of the Ollie Chandler collection, how can we omit any mention of the overweight, raspy voiced, food-obsessed, ketchup-stained tie-wearing detective? The man talks clear language, knows right from wrong and steadfastly chases after the wrong to bring it to book. His witty one-liners make him a detective quite unlike any other. At least he didn’t make the reader feel inadequate as fictional detectives often do, by seeming to solve murder mysteries just by conjuring up speculative theories out of their hats.

Deadline is a warm, sensitively told story that stays with you.



DOMINION

Dominion is the sequel to Deadline, born out of the overwhelming response to the book. Having gotten used to Jake as the hero, it is initially unsettling to see him reduced to a bit role while Clarence Abernathy, his sports columnist colleague at the Tribune, assumes centre stage. But as you go on, Alcorn succeeds in convincing you to see the world through Clarence’s eyes.

When Clarence’s younger sister Dani and her two daughters are shot at in a gangbangers episode that claims the lives of Dani and her little daughter, Felicia, Clarence immerses himself in detective Chandler’s efforts to find out who it was that killed them and why anyone would want to do that.

I learned a lot about black history and pride, the aggressions suffered by people for the colour of their skin, and how ever so often we continue are unconsciously and unknowingly racist.

The dominion of the title refers to the gangbangers’ attempts to set and enforce their territorial limits through force, and how this whole world is ultimately a dominion of God.

DECEPTION

Deception sees the spotlight centre on Chandler, and about time too, considering that the series is named after him. This is the first person account of Chandler and gives us a full dose of his trademark humour, of which we’ve already got a familiarity in the previous two books.

Since this is Chandler’s account, Alcorn gets into the heart of the murder investigation, wasting no time in setting the context or back story, as in the case of Deadline and Dominion. Each chapter is introduced with a quote from a different novel or short story of the Sherlock Holmes series, of which Chandler is an avowed fan.

Ten years after Dominion, Clarence and Ollie aren’t comfortable with each other anymore. The chief of the Portland police, keen on enhancing his own image in the eye of the public, agrees to get an Oregon Tribune columnist to trail one of his detectives through a murder investigation and to write about it in his columns. Clarence is sent to trail Chandler, a task that neither is happy about.

The investigation of the murder of William Palladine, a philosophy professor, using multiple methods, is assigned to Chandler. The investigation quickly points to someone from the police department when a detective’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. The case gets even more convoluted when it seems that every one of the detectives is implicated in some of the other. Chandler himself is not sure about his own whereabouts at the time of the murder. The finding of his own brand of gum wrapper at the scene of the crime makes him wonder if he himself is the killer.

The chief, unwilling to jeopardize the image of the department, tries to smother the investigation. But Chandler is determined to uncover the truth, in spite of three attempts on his life.

Because this is Chandler’s viewpoint, the narrative gets even more entertaining. We have lines like “My heart pounding like a dryer full of Army boots” and “His voice was a hacksaw cutting a rain gutter.

There is a strain of spirituality running through as when Jake and Clarence try to convince Chandler to give God a chance to work in his life. Like Chandler, you can choose to turn off when these parts come up. But even he does begin to pay attention towards the end, so you might as well too.

The deception of the title relates to the deception practiced at the scene of the crime, when the murderer manages to implicate almost everyone in the police department, completely confounding Chandler. It also refers to the deception of evil that pervades our lives.



Alcorn’s research is amazingly meticulous, whether relating to blacks, the medical mafia, the newspaper business or police investigative techniques. He succeeds in giving us the larger picture relating to these big realities while getting us intimately involved in the lives of his protagonists.

Don’t forget that this is a murder mystery, so there are plenty of arguments, controversies and other excitement to keep the adrenaline rush.

I would heartily recommend this one.



I received a copy of Ollie Chandler Collection Three Detective Novels for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.




Thursday, May 16, 2013

Memories on tap

It was the second birthday of M, my younger brother. Mum had lovingly baked a cake in our very own jugaad oven. Dad had pitched in to prepare the icing, as per the recipe offered by my maternal uncle, M, who was then the chief steward on a passenger liner. Dad and A, my older brother, had arranged the halves of sweetened cherries around the periphery of the cake for some added visual effect.

And then it was time to cut the cake. Almost everyone was shy about being in the picture, ceding the limelight to the birthday boy. Except for the bespectacled, nerdy ten-year-old in the right-hand side of the picture.

Apparently, at least four of the cherry halves on the cake had been placed by her, and that fact gave her the right to position herself strategically next to what she considered her handiwork. If you look very closely, you will notice that there are four halves that are slightly off, as compared to the disciplined ‘red ants’ in that circle.

Nevertheless I was fiercely proud of my contribution to that cake.


Lest you get worried at the thought of that little two-year-old holding the knife so close to his face, I’ll have you know, that knife was completely harmless. You couldn’t have cut a slab of butter from the fridge with it. Butter left out too long, now that’s another story.

It was a simple birthday. Homemade cake, homemade snacks and homemade food, Boney M, Abba and the BeeGees playing on the humble Bush tape recorder and loads of fun, laughter and reminiscing about this, that and the other, not to mention the antics of the little fellow.

Memories captured on film by my Uncle M’s Fuji camera.

Memories on tap – even decades later.





"This post is my entry for the 'One Picture From My Photo Album' contest conducted by My Yatra Diary and CupoNation."
I am nominating Afshan, Shilpa and Bhavya to participate in this contest-cum-giveaway.


The Marked Man


Image Courtesy: Fotolia
I looked up and down the street, and swore. Every house looked exactly alike. The same blue lintel flanked the sides of the same brown doors with the same black latticework. Except for that cactus plant outside this door, which might have been a great marker if only this were the house Ali Baba lived in.


The Sardar had been livid ever since we’d returned to the cave to find some of the jewels missing and a wimp of a man, scared out of his wits, cowering behind one of the casks. The Sardar wasted no time in getting his story and Cassim was quick to blab about his brother, Ali Baba, in exchange for his life.

But the Sardar was not in a forgiving mood. Security had been breached. I smirked inwardly, resisting the temptation to say, I told you so, to the Sardar. I had told him last year that passwords, even oral ones, must be alphanumeric and at least 30-odd characters long, but no. He had his heart set on “Open Sesame” and “Close Sesame.”

The Sardar slashed Cassim’s throat in one swoop. As the man fell, the emeralds and rubies that he had stuffed into the pockets of his tunic rolled out. But it was too soon to exhale with relief.

The Sardar sent five of us to the surrounding villages to find out if someone had suddenly become rich overnight. To my bad luck, it was the village assigned to me that yielded Ali Baba. I say bad luck because in our kind of work, safety lies in numbers. You are safe when you work as part of a team. On your own, the slightest mistake could cost you not only your job but also your life. We are the forty thieves but not the same forty thieves.

Ali Baba’s house is two doors to the left of this one. I considered marking it with a chalk, but I can’t risk any kids drawing the same mark on other houses. It would be a tactical error.

What to do? Whatever it is must be done fast. The man is marked. If only it were as easy to mark his house.

It is noon now and everyone is indoors. But any movement, someone coming out to see if the clothes on the line have dried, or someone going to fetch water, could get me into serious trouble. Should I pick up that cactus and place it near the door of Ali Baba? But what if the rightful owner finds it and takes it back to his home between now and tonight? I cannot afford to make mistakes.

And then it came to me.

Write Tribe Prompt




The Sardar would likely do this job alone, with me to guide him. He would not risk the sound of forty horses’ hooves trampling through the cobbled streets. What if I led him but not to Ali Baba’s house? Of course, “thirty-nine thieves” does not have the same ring to it, but what the heck? Ali Baba can meet his Maker later.

It’s time for a coronation.



This story was written for the Write Tribe - Prompt 2.




Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: FACEBOOK PHANTOM

Author: Suzanne Sangi
Publisher: Duckbill


Facebook Phantom by Suzanne Sangi is chilling precisely because it brings an element of other-worldliness into the world of social media, a world of happy self-promotion and blatant ego-massaging. Who says you only need decrepit houses and creaking doors to exude fear and menace?

The horror here does not come from unexplained noises in the dark but from technology and social media where all or us spend so much of our waking hours. The spookiness comes from the fact that our modern lives are not proof against the paranormal.

Sonali Machado, Li, for short, Neel Sarathy and Joanne Leslie are best friends living in Bangalore. They have just appeared for their Class X Board exams. While Neel and Joanne are interested in fashion trends and celebrity events, Sonali turns to Facebook to help her get through her surplus leisure time.

A message from Omi Daan, a name she has never heard of, even though he is her FB friend, wanting to know if she is happy takes her down a new path. Omi makes a claim on her friendship, adding that his little sister, long dead, was also called Sonali. Before long, Sonali, deeply and desperately in love with Omi, cuts herself off from Neel and Joanne, her closest friends, and family members, and seems to come alive only when she is chatting with Omi.

Attempting to know more about the guy who has captivated his best friend so completely, Neel is flummoxed to learn that Omi is nowhere to be found on FB. What begins as a harmless friendship on FB soon morphs into a deadly game of life and death as Sonali and Neel discover that Omi is not who he claims to be and that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Suzanne has done a great job of recreating the emotions that must run rampant in a young girl’s mind as she begins to respond to the overtures of a handsome stranger on Facebook. For the most part, the book is the first person account of Sonali. Midway through the account, the viewpoint changes and we begin to see the unfolding events through Neel’s eyes. The account gets a distinctly creepy tone and a supernatural element kicks in.

At first, I thought it was another of those novels about teenagers and their interests, including Facebook, shopping, movies etc. I was almost put off by the first chapter, and I wondered why I had agreed to read and review this book, when I was clearly the wrong target audience. The author and the characters are in their teens, and I’m, let’s be charitable, years removed from that age.

Once I got past the initial stage setting and character introductions, however, I could not stop reading. I felt compelled to read on. There was no doubt about who Omi was, but I was curious to know how it would all pan out.

The writing is fast paced and the quick movements of Omi in the dream sequences, though reminiscent of vampire romances in recent times, are nevertheless well depicted. Suzanne has shown a rare maturity in handling the horror scenes, but her youth shows endearingly at the portions which Sonali finds amusing, depicted by the ‘heehee’.

Being a teenager herself, Suzanne has the adolescent preoccupations down to a T. You get an interesting account of the types that populate Facebook. Subconsciously, Facebook Phantom sounds a warning note to teenagers who invest too much of their time and energy into online relationships and end up revealing personal and intimate details to a charming profile picture that may well hide a psychopath or a paedophile. That the note of warning has been sounded by a teenager herself is commendable.

Full marks to Duckbill for the presentation, an aspect of the book that most other publishers don’t put so much effort into. The bridge on the cover page is sufficiently forbidding and draws you in. Even on the PDF, it seemed as if the dream portions were in grey. 

The headers for each of the chapter viewpoints are also attractive, complete with profile photo and header. A little fine-tooth-combed editing would have helped eliminate some proofing errors that were scattered through the PDF version of this book. I hope they weren’t there in the printed one.

I have some minor grouses though. There are some things that are mentioned in passing and then never referred to again. Sonali, we are told, writes poetry, but we never actually see any evidence of her writing. Nor does Sonali’s family come across as very involved in her life initially. Single mother Nita does a much better job of being present in Neel’s life.

The ending wasn’t quite satisfying. I wish Suzanne had given us a little more of the torment that caused Omi to kill himself. Also, a little more of the interactions in the Void and the motivations of the Void, and what actually happened to Omi’s little sister were little loose ends that weren’t completely tied up.

But the great thing is that in spite of her youth and inexperience (she apparently wrote this book after her Class X exams), this young author has managed to write a gripping tale about a very dangerous fascination.

Congratulations, Suzanne! I look forward to more creepy stuff from you. 



The PDF version of this book was given to me by Duckbill for the purpose of reading and reviewing it.



Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Do-gooder


Picture courtesy: Morguefile
I stood in the lobby of the Emergency ward of the hospital. Just a few moments ago there was a wild commotion about this place. Now there was a stillness. Did that mean it was all over? My heart beat in trepidation.

A nurse looked out through the door. Her uniform was crumpled, and there was a tired look in her eyes. “You brought the hit-and-run patient in? He’s responded well to surgery, but the danger is not yet over. Let’s hope for the best.”

I smiled my thanks. She didn’t need to tell me to hope for the best. I’d been agonising over the outcome all day. Ever since I had lifted his bleeding body and put it in the backseat of my truck. He had been cruising a little below the speed limit and someone had knocked him from behind. His car turned turtle, once or twice, I don’t know. It threshed and shuddered and then fell silent, like a huge balloon suddenly deflated. All around cars were honking madly and in the ensuing confusion, the disciplined four-lane traffic went haywire. Some cars sped away, skipping nimbly out of the mess in the nick of time.

I could have gone too, but I didn’t. There was so much confusion. No one was thinking straight. I volunteered to drive him to the hospital.

He was losing blood. I tried not to think of the upholstery. I could tell he was sinking.

Fortunately it was a good hospital, and the attendants were ready when I charged into the driveway. Someone must have called to let them know we were coming. He was wheeled in. I waited, trying to calm the storm within me.

The hours passed. The clock on the wall behind the reception desk kept time. The 14-inch TV was turned on mute. I gave up trying to decipher the happenings onscreen. By this time, the police must have found his papers in the glove compartment of the mangled car. They’d know his identity – if the papers were genuine. I doubted it. He didn’t look like he owned the car. A stolen one maybe. But the blood that was spilled was his for sure.

The telephone on the reception desk let out a shrill cry. Answering the phone, the elderly receptionist looked at me. I strained my ears to hear what she was saying. She put the phone down, and slowly turned to me, clearly relishing the fact that I was waiting with bated breath. Some people are clearly starved for real-life drama.

She said, “The patient you brought in has succumbed to his injuries.” She added, “I’m sorry,” matter-of-factly, which meant she wasn’t sorry in the least.

That was fine with me. I wasn’t about to grieve either.

The phone in my pocket rang, showing an unknown caller. “You’re a sorry excuse for a hit-man. The deal’s off.” the voice barked.

“No, it’s not,” I smiled. “He’s dead now.”



 
Write Tribe Prompt
(This story was written for the Write Tribe - Prompt 1)





Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Guns and Roses

The newspapers last week brought a piece of news that I found particularly distressing. The two players in the tragedy reported were a brother-sister duo, five and two years old respectively, the same ages as my La Niña and El Niño. For some reason, that frightened me even more.


A five-year-old boy from Kentucky, USA, accidentally shot and killed his two-year-old sister, identified as Caroline Sparks, with a .22 calibre Crickett rifle that he had received as a gift on his birthday. The little girl was immediately rushed to hospital and doctors spent an anxious hour trying to revive her, but their efforts were unsuccessful. The little one was already beyond the might of modern medical science.

At the time of the tragedy, the children had been playing together in a room in which the gun, loaded with a single shell, was stowed. It was an accident waiting to happen.

The children's mother had been busy cleaning the house at that time. She had just stepped out of the house and onto the porch when she heard the gun go off. It had been no more than three minutes. The longest three minutes of her life that the unfortunate mother will very probably regret as long as she breathes.

The coroner who investigated the accident revealed that the boy was familiar with the intricacies of gun use and had often accompanied his father on shooting expeditions on their property. He added that it was a tragic situation.

This is not the first accident of its kind. Earlier, a six-year-old boy in the US died after his four-year-old playmate shot him by mistake during a playing session gone wrong. In another instance, a four-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed a 48-year-old woman.

My first thought on reading the news was about the enormity of the tragedy. No matter that only one child had died, it was still a tragedy. A travesty of innocence.

I'm not really informed about the gun control debate that is on in the US. I don't understand why guns are necessary, why not letting people pack them is a violation of their rights and why the Constitution ought to sanction something as heinous as the possession of arms. All that I understand is that, as a mother, I am deeply saddened by the senseless death of two-year-old Caroline, as also by the painful, sudden yet irrevocable manner in which her older brother's life has been, for all practical purposes, cut short, arrested mid-development, forever. I wonder how many years of guilt and therapy lie in wait for him.

There are some things that I can’t even begin to understand. Why would anyone gift a child a gun? Why would anyone think a gun is an ideal toy for a five-year-old? Why would anyone keep a loaded gun within reach of not just one but two children?

The Crickett rifle responsible for this tragedy was marketed by a Pennsylvania-based company called Keystone Sporting Arms, a company well known for selling guns specifically for children. The company’s campaign, “My first rifle,” aims to make rifles and guns seem attractive to children. The colours in which these death-machines are available, blue and green, and pink for girls, entice kids and fool grownup fools into thinking of it as a cute, little educational toy that couldn’t possibly do any real harm.

In fact, the company’s website used to reiterate that it aimed "to instill gun safety in the minds of youth shooters."

The site has been taken down since in response to the furore raised in the wake of the tragedy. However, the pictures hosted on the Kid’s Corner section of the website are available for viewing on MotherJones.

The website and the opinion of the gun lobby seem to suggest that the way to keep a young child safe is by teaching him/her to properly load and unload a gun and shoot. In my opinion, the way to keep a young child safe is by keeping the gun far away and locked so children cannot get at it.

I don't understand why there has to be a romance created around a first rifle, the way there is around a first pen, watch or car, a sort of initiation into adulthood.

David Mann, the uncle of the children, said of the tragedy, "It's something that you can't prepare for," even as the little girl’s grandmother said, “It was her time to go.” A Kentucky State Police Trooper said, "It's just one of those nightmares, a quick thing that happens when you turn your back."

Responses such as these seem to suggest that the child’s death was inevitable, when the truth is that it could so easily have been prevented just by keeping the offending weapon out of reach on that fateful day, and every day.

Who is at fault here?

The company for peddling these vicious candy-flossed death traps to children? For creating a market for guns owned by children and encouraging the belief that the possession of a gun invests the owner with bravado and machismo? For snatching innocents from their cradles and hurtling them towards their graves?

Or the parents for not keeping them unloaded and hidden, for underestimating the danger?

Or the children themselves for believing the spiel?

Children today live far more imperiled lives than we did when we were their age. That is a sad fact of our times. Shouldn’t we, as responsible parents and grownups, mitigate the danger to their lives by keeping firearms away from them?

Isn’t it ironic that the same people who go to great lengths to childproof their homes think nothing of bringing a live, loaded weapon into their children’s lives?



 

Friday, May 03, 2013

A to Z is over. What next? 1, 2, 3...?

It was the third Friday in April. The time was a few minutes short of midnight. La Niña and El Niño were patiently waiting for me to finish uploading my post on R is for Responsibility.

La Niña watched me, bleary eyed, patience battling against sleep, and finally asked, "Mamma, after you finish S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z, will you start with 1, 2 and 3..?"

I burst out laughing at that. Her innocent question underlined her fears about whether her mamma, who seemed to have contracted a virulent attack by the blogging bug, would ever recover.

For the entire duration of the month, she had been my companion, offering suggestions on what object to highlight through the image, looking at her English Reader for inspiration. She had sat up with me every night, except Sundays, when the A to Z April Blogging Challenge very kindly gave us a day off. The strain was beginning to tell on her, as it was on me.

My theme for the challenge had emerged out of a long-ago promise I had made to myself: that I would someday share my feeble wisdom with my 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son through hand-written letters. When I heard of the challenge, it occurred to me that I could use this forum to share much, much more than I could put into a few hand-written notes and letters.

Then began the mad scramble in my head. The rush for thinking up suitable values that I could share with them, then categorising them alphabetically to make sure that no two words expressed the same idea and that as many values as possible could be covered through the 26 letters of the English alphabet.

The rhythm of the theme helped me, kept me sane. Without it, I would have lost interest, floundered in the sea of letters and words that is the English language.


Another thing that buttressed my efforts and sustained me through the entire challenge was the encouragement of fellow-travellers on this journey. They came from everywhere, some from the A to Zers group created on Facebook by Corinne Rodrigues, others from other places in the world, and how they propped up my spirits.

Thank you to all those who took time out to read my posts and those who left a comment on them. You motivated me, and made me feel good about myself. You caused my page views to soar through the roof, and you re-ignited a dream that I had put into my back pocket.

Thank you, Arlee Bird, for initiating this magnificent challenge. It taught me that the Muse isn't as fickle as I like to believe, that if I roll up my sleeves and pretend that I mean business, she will come and sit by me, and together we will have a blast.

The end of the challenge has created an empty space where once there was vacant staring into distances, frantic writing on scraps of paper, and checking and commenting of other gems in the blog world.

How will I keep myself busy until next April when the madness and the frenzy will consume me again? I hope you'll keep dropping in to find out.






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