M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Monday, July 30, 2012

"The Bottom-Pincher" by Khushwant Singh

"The Bottom-Pincher" by Khushwant Singh (2008, 7 pages)



Short Stories of The Indian Subcontinent
A Permanent Reading Life Project

Khushwant Singh

I am very pleased  that The Reading Life was recently recommended by The Economic Times of India,. the leading financial daily of The Subcontinent.   




The Reading Life Guide to The Indian Short Story


My posts on "Karma" and "Portrait of a Lady"




This is my sixth  post for a  new permanent event on The Reading Life, short stories of the Indian subcontinent.   There is no literary culture with roots older than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke for telling the English that they had no right to govern a region whose culture is much older than theirs.  Many of the geographic boundaries that created these countries were created by the British or are consequences of their misrule.       Some of the writers featured will be internationally famous, such as Salmon Rushdie, Saadat Manto,  and R. K. Narayan but most of the writers I post on will be authors on whom there are no prior book blog posts.    There are numerous books and academic conferences devoted to exploring the colonial experiences of India and Ireland and I will look at these stories partially as post colonial literature.   My main purpose here is just to open myself up to a lot more new to me writers and in this case most will be new to anyone outside of serious literary circles in the region.  Where I can I will provide links to the stories I post on but this will not always be possible.


Khushwant Singh (1915-Hadali, Khushab, British India-now Pakinstan) is one of the best known Indian writers.  .   He was born into a Sikh family and initially pursued a career as an attorney.    He was driven to begin writing in a reflective often acerbic way about life in the Indian subcontinent by his experiences of the 1947 Partition of India.   He was very traumatized when just prior to the Partition of India he encountered a platoon of soldiers of his faith who boasted to him that they had just completely massacred a  peaceful village of Muslims, men, women and children.    He has published over twenty five books  (There is more information on him here.)   He would be the first to admit that the very prim and prudish will find some of this work offensive (in fact I think he would be disappointed if it did not offend them) and he has called himself "The dirty old man of Indian Literature".   The "bottom line" (cannot always help myself) is that he has a big thing for the posteriors of women (and maybe teenage girls) at least his works seem to suggest this.   This is a common perception, not just mine.    (The texts quoted in the rest of the posts can be R-rated so be advised.


How can one not be at least interested in a story that starts out like this:


I am not a bottom-pincher, but I would like to be one. Like some people are granted freedom of a city, I would like to be granted freedom to pinch female citizens' bottoms. Pinching is not the right word. If the bottom is nicely rounded, I would like the freedom to caress it in the cup of my palm. If it is very large or very small, I would like the freedom to run a finger up its crevice. Only if it sags would I want the freedom to take the sagging flesh between my thumb and index finger and tweak it. However, no city has yet conferred such freedom on me.\
The story tellers makes sure we know he is a law abiding citizen with a decent job who is on the governing body of the YMCA.  (I am not sure if this is not a shot at Christians in India.)   Whenever he sees a woman or a girl with an attractive posterior he has to fight the impulse to stroke it by thinking of the great fuss the victim might make.   He tells us how a crowded city like Bombay provides ideal conditions for "bottom-watching".


A crowded city like Bombay provides ideal conditions for bottom-watching. And the garments in which Indian female bottoms are draped are infinitely more varied than anywhere else in the world; saris, gararas, lungis, skirts (Indian style ghaghra as well as the European full-lengths and minis), stretch pants, bell-bottom trousers, churidars—you can encounter all varieties in 15 minutes any time any place........One has to be very careful not to brush against their bosoms or bottoms. Who wants to be very careful?
As he walks the streets he describes beauifully the chaos of Bombay.   One day while on his stroll he witnesses something that shocks him and seemingly sends him into a terrible state of jealousy.   A very affluent looking man is also walking the same area, he gives money to all the beggers and as he walks along he very discretely pinches the bottoms of a few women.  When they turn around to see who did it he is lost in the crowd.   He is shocked that the man is willing to take a risk that he is not and he begins to stalk the man and follow him on his daily walk.  Everyday he gives a young blind beggar woman with an infant a rupee and in doing so he always brushes up against her breasts, an accident of course.   One day the narrator follows the man into the Chamber of Commerce building.   The way he is treated makes it clear he is a person of great import.   He  spots the man getting out of a limo and he tricks the driver into revealing to him the man's name and he calls everyone in the city phone book with that name until he finds the man's house.  One day he sees a sixteen year old girl, at most get out of the same car at the Fire temple and run up to the man shouting "Daddy".   Here is his description of the daughter.  Ponder his idea of how the other man got his obsession with the female bottom


 Very lovely too! Nut-brown hair failing on her shoulders. Healthy open-air type. And a figure right off the walls of some ancient Hindu temple; large bosom bursting out of her blouse, narrow waist and again a bottom—large protuberant and so provocative as if it were cocking the snook at the world and saying "I don't give a fart!"
No wonder our hero had such an obsession with bosoms and bottoms. Constant exposure to such temptation! Constant frustration because of not being allowed to touch them!
  


Now he begins to try to interfere in the life of the other man.   He calls his house at a time he knows he will  not be in and when the daughter answers the phone he tells her to tells her to tell her father that "Mr. Bottom-Pincher" has called.   The daughter tells her father and says "Daddy. what an odd name".   The man stops making his daily walks and the narrator feels he has triumphed over this rich and privileged person.   Then in about a month he sees him again but he looks very sad, he gives out money but no pinches, he looks behind him as if he fears he is being followed, no doubt fearing a black mailer.  Then one day the bottom pincher just cannot take it anymore.




One afternoon he was threading his way through the crammed pavement with me trailing a few yards behind him. I saw three women ahead of us examining some merchandise at a stall. Their bottoms presented a tempting variety of sizes and coverings. One was a young girl in blue skin-tight jeans; her buttocks were like two nicely rounded, unripe water melons. Beside her was an older woman in a bright-red sari. She was massive like one big pumpkin. The third in the row was a twelve-year-old Lolita in a white and so mini a skirt that when she bent down it exposed all her thigh and a bit of her bottom as well. I could see Pesi Lalkaka's left arm twitch. The triumvirate of bottoms thus served up proved too powerful a temptation to resist. His hand came out of the pocket and caressed the three in quick succession. By the time the women straightened up and turned around Pesi had gone ahead and I was directly behind the three. The old woman glowered and swore, "Badmash-rascal." Her younger companion hissed, "Mummy, don't create a scene."


The narrator is now determined to teach him a lesson so he calls the man's office and tells the secretary to leave a message saying "Mr Bottom-Pincher has called".  


I will stop telling the story here but the narrator does get punishment in the end and the bottom pincher gets his revenge.


I enjoyed reading this story.   I will not claim it was just because I like the style of Singh, which I do, or I enjoy his satire on the clay feet of the rich, as I did, but as rude as it is somehow the bottom pinching seemed a primal response to the teeming crowds in the streets of Bombay.  As the father of three teenage girls I would want anyone who did this sort of thing to them on the streets put in jail and would have to be restrained from seeking revenge on them.   




This is a very funny story.  


You can read it online HERE.  


Mel u

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Revolution" by Eddie Stack- A Short Story

"Revolution" by Eddie Stack


An Irish Quarter Event
a short story by Eddie Stack






"Revolution" by Eddie Stack

Gerard Downwave wriggled in the armchair and frisked his pockets for cigarettes.

"Everyone is in one kind of jail or the other." he preached, "what Marx had to say is interesting.."

With a sigh, his wife Mabel excused herself from the musty sitting room and left him chattering to Healer Hawkins about revolt and revolution. She politely closed the door and traipsed down the cluttered hallway to the kitchen, eternal darkness and a sinkful of dishes. Mabel sank into an old motor car seat beside the fire with a tumbler of elderberry wine. It eased the pain and mellowed the madness. Revolution, revolution, revolution. Day and night it was nothing but revolution. One time there was no talk about 'the struggle', no talk about the military. One time there was talk of nothing else but how he would be headmaster when Master Flood retired. Then he would change the world and drift through the town in a glow like Goldsmith.

He was badly shaken when the school board appointed Paddy Lynch to fill the Master's shoes. How could they do this to him? He trained the football team, played the organ in the church and started up the credit union. How could they say, "Sorry Gerard, we feel Lynch is a better man for the job."?


For more than a year they lay awake in bed night after night, going over the same old ground. Her head was addled from his stories and theories. He trusted nobody anymore and almost persuaded her there was a conspiracy against him. Mabel saw her husband turn grey in one winter. She saw his eyes change, the pupils contracted to mere pinpoints and darted with anger. But she really worried when he jolted upright from the pillow one night, babbling feverishly that he was struck by a profound enlightenment. It was then the sirens screamed inside her head.

And that was only the beginning. Not long after Dora was born, the 'visions' began and the house was plunged into hell. Every evening they prayed in the sitting room while he had his 'visions', and the room was so charged, the children cried. She cried herself and bit her lips, trying to shut out the mad blabber coming from the head of the household. It was around that time she stopped going out.

Father White visited the house when six Sundays in a row Mable failed to come to the altar rails. She burst into tears and related her months of terror living with the man who played cards with Jesus and John the Baptist every Friday night. The priest sprinkled Holy Water on her and said she needed to pray harder. He was concerned about Gerard and so were the school board, he was relaying his experiences to the pupils.

"Strange spirits dwell when God vacates, Mabel," he said when leaving.

She came to the rails the next Sunday. That was the last time she left the house, the Sunday Gerard interrupted Father White's sermon with a flourish of blue notes on the church organ. He glued everyone to the floor.

The priest calmly said,"Gerard, leave the organ alone."

Gerard continued bleating out sacrilegious scores. Some worshipers twittered, especially those who skulked behind the statues at the back of the church. Most people squirmed and there was a murmur of panic when little Irene Downwave screamed at the organist,

"Stop it, Daddy!!".


The school board dismissed him with a decent pension and the 'visions' stopped. Gerard took to the bed for weeks, weeping in the dark. Later he held public meetings in the Square and canvassed parents to boycott the school. When the dismissed schoolteacher painted slogans on the road, the police arrested him. Gerard spent ten days in the Bridewell and once released, he flew a red flag over the house and immersed himself in revolutionary rhetoric. New words buzzed around the hous: fascists, imperialism, colonialism, Trots, Lenin, Marx. When people came to visit her in those days they said it would all pass over, like a stubborn cloud. But they would not look her in the eye. Only Biddy Flanagan did that. Biddy would look her in the eye, grip her hands and blurt, "Jesus Mabel, the poor man 'ill never be the same again."

Biddy used come at all hours of the day and night with a canvas bag of bottles. Elderberry wine. They would sit weeping in the dark kitchen for hours, drinking wine while the house was torn apart by the Downwave children. Mabel knew nothing about Biddy who just came to the door one day with her bag and said, "Jesus Mabel, I'm sorry for your troubles."

It was time to make another pot of tea for the revolution.


The blinds were drawn and Mabel sat on the broken-down sofa. They took no notice of her. Gerard spoke about the printing press he was setting up in the cellar. He would print pamphlets about the way forward and distribute them outside the church on Sunday mornings. She half-listened, half-watched the sparks jump from the fire, and knew it would be another winter of making countless pots of tea for the revolution. The comrades would plot and plan. The police would raid the house a couple of times. Mysterious people would come in the night and stay for a while. They might sleep with one of her daughters and vanish at the call of duty. She worried that Irene was pregnant, another child for the revolution, another grandchild to feed and wash. It seemed to Mabel she was carrying the burden of the revolution on her shoulders. But this was her only part in it: making tea, minding grandchildren and praying it would be all over soon.

"Mabel," Gerard called, "There's a knock at the door."


It was Biddy Flanagan. The women settled in the kitchen and Biddy wept.

"Jesus Mabel," she keened, "I've something terrible to tell you. Gerard slept with Kathleen Mack above in Doyle's the other night, Mary Kate said not to tell you but what could I do?"

She hugged Mabel and prayed for her wayward husband.

"Jesus Mabel, but men can be awful bastards." she said drying tears with her scarf.

"Born bastards."

"Christ Mabel, I've an egg cup of engagement rings in the dresser at home. Give 'em an inch an they'll nail you to the bed."

Mabel said Gerard had not bedded with her for years. She still kept his clothes in the matrimonial bedroom and he changed there in the morning but never at night. He was only a lodger in the house, someone she once had an affair with, he had long ago slipped away as a husband. Gerard was gone, long gone.

"Who's in the parlour with him?" Biddy asked in a whisper.

"Some fellow called Hawkins."

"Oh Sweet Mother of Jesus an' all that's good an' holy...not the Healer Hawkins?"

"Yes."

"Oh Christ! Mabel, that fella's an awful case and he's only startin' out in life. Terrible to the world. They say he has a cure for everythin'... but he's gone from the wire rightly. God help the poor lad, but he'd drink till maidin geal. He'll make proper shit of the revolution."

"I hope you're right."

"May the Lord Jesus have mercy on Gerard Downwave," Biddy whispered, reaching for her tumbler of elderberry wine. "Like a child Mabel, Christ have mercy on him. The way sure himself and that poor boy a the Nixon's parade around the town at night is only cruel to the world. In an' out of pubs an everythin' ...they're just like the gangsters you'd see in the pictures that used t' come to the town hall long 'go before they burned it down. God help us."

"They search everywhere for the enemy, but the enemy is within themselves, hiding in their souls." Mabel said wearily. It was a line she had read somewhere, and she tried to believe it.

"Tis no life, God help us." Biddy moaned and slipped into tears again.


Rain lashed against the kitchen window and Mabel awoke slouched in the old car seat beside the fire. The house coughed and snored. It was well into the night and Biddy was gone. She was angry with herself for getting comatosed again. Elderberry wine. Biddy must have put the rug over her. All these nights ended the same. Oblivion. Life was becoming a crusade of staggers, rise and falls.

Mabel made her way along the hall, stopping by the sitting room to rake the fire. The room smelled of stale cigarettes and musty books and somebody snored on the broken-down couch. The Healer Hawkins. Biddy said he had a cure for everything. Mabel looked at him and wondered if he had a cure for loneliness. She was tempted to wake him.

In one sweep Mabel gathered all her husband's clothes from the wardrobe and flung them from her bedroom. From the chest of drawers his mother gave them as a wedding present, she emptied wads of underwear, socks, shirts, vests and woolen cardigans and heaped them on the landing outside the bathroom.

"Revolutions, like charity, begin at home," she muttered.

Mable opened the window and let night exorcise the room. She undressed and untied her hair, and naked by the window, let the wind whirl around her anxious body. A glint of light on the dressing table caught her eye, the small pewter framed wedding photograph.
Though she could not see his face, she felt Gerard's stare. He was lording over her again, smirking at the naked body he left behind a decade or more ago. A lot of lonely nights had passed through her room since then. Her heart screamed and she thought her body would burst with the rush of blood through her veins. In a wild sweep she hurtled her wedding photograph through the open window. The wind caught it and she heard the glass shatter against the wall.
Mabel Downwave shuttered the window and wondered if the Healer Hawkins was old enough to know that love was a migrant, a goodnight kiss at dawn, a sense of wonder in the fray. She dressed her bed with fresh linen and lit a stick of incense she been saving for years.




End of Guest Post



End of Guest Post



Author Bio


Eddie Stack has received several accolades for his fiction, including an American Small Press of the Year Award, and a Top 100 Irish American Award. Recognised as an outstanding short story writer, he is the author of four books —The West; Out of the Blue; HEADS and Simple Twist of Fate.

west-sml           blue-sml           heads-sm           simple-twst-sm

His work has appeared in literary reviews and anthologies worldwide, includingFiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts, Southwords and Criterion; State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology andFiction in the Classroom.


A natural storyteller, Eddie has recorded spoken word versions of his work, with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. In 2010, he integrated spoken word and printed work with art, music and song to produce an iPhone app of The West; this was the first iPhone app of Irish fiction.

You can read several samples of Eddie Stack's work on his very well done web page .

To me one of the mark's of a self-confident and generous author is the willingness to let people sample his work.   Stack has asked me to mention that he is willing to provide copies of his book to book bloggers interested in posting on his work.  (His contact information in on his web page.)

Stack is a great story teller and artist.   I look forward to reading more of his work.   

My  great thanks to Eddie Stack for honoring me by allowing me to publish four of his wonderful short stories.

Mel u

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Limbo" by Eddie Stack

"Limbo" by Eddie Stack


An Irish Quarter Event
a short story by Eddie Stack


"Limbo" by Eddie Stack

 

 Sounds from the town seeped through the tall Monastery windows and mingled with the Hail Mary. The whine of the sawmill, milk churns rattling home from the creamery. Horse carts creaking. Motor cars honking, people hailing each other. An assurance that there was another world out there after school. Some day, the Monastery would only be a memory. But now we were having a prayer break with Brother Mahon.
        Back at class he resumes the tirade, prancing around the room like Groucho Marx. Mahoney hears the little rattle as he passes and writes PILLS on the cover of his grammar book. I make a check mark with my finger: Brother was back on the pills alright, it was written all over the Monastery.
        "The trouble with ye is that ye don't want to learn," he fumed. "Now it isn't the lack of brains that's effectin' ye... and I'm sayin' that in plain English so that ye'll understand me...no...ye have brains alright...but ye're as lazy as Sin."
         He halted behind the table and waved a bundle of homework copies like a tomahawk. He glared at us and asked,
        "Have ye any shame?"
        Then he closed his eyes and leaned forward on his tiptoes. A smile ran around the class.
         "Alright," he whispered, dropping the bundle of blue copy books on the table with a dull thud. "Alright. Now a simple three-page composition called 'What I Can See from My Front Door' is not a lot to ask twenty hardy young fifteen-year-old fellows to do...I was making it easy for ye." He paused and his eyes shot open.
         "But such...such utter trash," he wailed. "Such utter filth...I have never read in my entire life. Stop grinning Horan! I'll wipe that leer from your puss when your turn comes and you can be sure of that, my boy!"
         Brother Mahon could go any way with the pills. Sometimes he jumped over desks three at a time, kicked our school bags and glared at us like he said God would on the Last Day. Other times he could be great fun and tell us stories about the world and how happy he was to be a monk. One day he played the whistle in class and we sang rebel songs, but that only happened once. It was hard to tell how the dice might roll with the pills. But things were looking grey today.
         Today he had no hope for us. He said we had nothing to look forward to but an Bád Bán ­­ the emigration boat. We were born to emigrate, he said it was in our blood. We were not worth educating: sons of small farmers and publicans, we were the flotsam left behind by the tide. His eyes closed slowly and he beckoned us to stand. Another Hail Mary for Our Lady smiling in the corner.

         Brother Mahon rapped the copy books against the table.
        "I have a few right gems here. First, O'Loughlin's. Where is O'Loughlin?"
         "Here, brother."
         "O'Loughlin...what in Hell's Blue Blazes are you doing sitting in Friel's desk?"
         "Brother O'Brien put me here."
         "Am I Brother O'Brien? Am I? Is this Brother O'Brien's class? Come up here near me! And stay in your own sty in future!"
         O'Loughlin moved like a defendant crossing the courtroom.
         "Now," began Brother Mahon, "we all know that Master O'Loughlin is descended from a great line of bards. His family were once Chief Bards to the Earl of Killty." The eyes closed slowly. "But that was a long time ago. Now O'Loughlin...tell us where you live."
         "Castletown, brother."
         "Louder."
         "CASTLETOWN."
         "Now O'Loughlin, if you live in Castletown, how in the name of God and his Blessed Mother can you see the Aran Islands from your front door? And before you answer, spell Island?"
         "O-i-l-a-n-d."
         "Dooney. Spell Island for your cousin."
         "I-s-l-a-n-d."
         "Now O'Loughlin. Remember that...you glugger head. But now, tell us how you can see Aran from your front door."
         "I was just using my imagination," he muttered.
         "Well don't bother to use your imagination...use your brains instead. Sit down and give me peace."
         He made exceptions for O'Loughlin who had an uncle in the order. O'Loughlin was timid. But not so his cousin Fanta Dooney.
         "Dooney, did you write this?"
         "I did, brother."
         "Are you sure you didn't get a bit of help from someone."
         "No, brother -- I mean, yes, brother."
         "Which is it?"
         "I did it myself brother."
         "Hand me up a copy without paw marks the next time."
         Coyne was nibbling paper when his turn came.
         "Coyne, you fathead!" bellowed the monk. " Stop chewing the cud like a good bullock."
         Coyne was a nervous wreck and fidgeted with the piece of paper he had been nibbling. A white envelope with a note from his mother which he handed to the monk.
         "What it it this time?" He mocked. "Ye ran out of candles? Or have you given me that excuse already?"
         Brother Mahon knew that Dada Coyne drank the creamery check every month and was more often in court than most lawyers. Willie could only muster up a half page about a view that was part of a nightmare. Brother Mahon read the note, closed his eyes and whispered --
         "Take this copy back and have a full page for me by Friday."
         He beckoned us to rise for another prayer.

         A few copies skimmed through the air, nothing of great substance, fair attempts conceded the monk. Then there was Murphy's. Waving Murphy's copy, he glanced around the room. Murphy had switched seats and was now sitting at Clancy's desk.
         "Murphy! Yes, you! Get back to your own stable. What in the name of God are you doing in Clancy's seat?"
         He didn't answer, just flashed a grin and zipped back to his own perch. Murphy was world-wise, smoked Woodbines, drank beer, backed horses and played poker. For him school was a place to pass adolescence, punch in time between summers and getting wiser in the ways of the outside world. He had run away from three boarding schools before joining our team, a high-risk pupil, even though he was the sergeant's son. He had the finest of vistas from his front door -- his house looked down on the town and the strand. But he ignored it all and wrote about the Monastery instead. Brother Mahon cleared his throat and read in a mocking voice:
         "The Monastery was built in 1829 by a band of monks from Dublin. It has very big gardens and one time the monks used to make cider which they sold. The monastery is across the road from the dancehall..."
         He shook his head.
         "I was waiting for him to tell me that the band of monks played in the dancehall. Trash! Murphy, what in the name of God has any of this tripe to do with anything?"
         Murphy shrugged and smiled as if saying -- life's like that. A nervous titter escaped from the back bench and Kerrigan was ordered to stand at the head of the room and face the statue of Our Lady.
         "It's the likes of you, Kerrigan, who encourage Murphy to dish up this tripe. And I wouldn't mind... but nowhere does he mention the name of the monastery -- Murphy... stand up. What is the name of this school?"
         "Saint...ahmm, the Monastery."
         The monk looked at us, his jury, and shook his head.
         "Saint Patrick's!" he howled, arching his back like a cat. "But what does it matter to you? Your father'll find your way into some job. Sit down, you clown."

         Malone's copy fell apart as it sailed over our heads, cover departing from body. Mine was next, then Friel's, then Horan's.
         "Horan, come up here to me. Do you hear me? Come up!"
         Horan edged to the head of the room and the monk withdrew the black leather cosh from his robe.
         "Out with it."
         Horan's hand trembled and the monk lashed it six times, becoming more demonic with every stroke. His eyes were blazing and his head and neck glowed when he turned around.
         "Horan," he panted, "handed me up a yarn about a football match. It had nothing to do with his front door, he titled it 'A day I will always remember.'"

         The taste of blood put Brother Mahon into another world. The animal in him was roused and he became a schoolboy's nightmare. His nostrils flared and he looked possessed, satanic. The voice got shriller and he strutted around the room pelting abuse at us. We were failures, and if we were the best our parents could produce, then God help Ireland. But while we were in class we would pay attention to him and do the correct homework, not like Horan.
         He rummaged through the copies. He was frantic and scattered them all over the table until he pulled Kerrigan's from the chaos.
         "Where are you, Kerrigan?"
         "Behind you, brother."
         "Well stand over here where we can see you...and don't always be looking like a moon calf. Kerrigan... what is the meaning of this drivel? Where do you live?"
         "Boland's Lane."
         "Boland's Lane what?"
         "Boland's Lane, brother."
         "Alright. And have you anything else to write about but a... a tinkers' brawl? Hah? How dare you hand me up this... this drivel about two families of tinkers murdering each other!"
         "That's all I could think of...we had Yanks home from Boston..."
         "Shut up, you lout, and come here to me!"
         Brother Mahon gaffed him by the ear and lifted him like a piece of meat. Kerrigan pleaded,
         "Brother, brother..."
         "Now listen to this all of ye! Kerrigan is the type of fool who is a cute fool. When he leaves here in a couple of years what will he do? Like his father before him, his first port of call will be the dole office. Then he'll put his feet up, warm his toes to the fire and wait for Wednesday, dole day. Alright...he'll get married, get a council house, free milk and shoes. His wife will give him a child every year and when they're crying for attention, our hero will be down the town... strapping pints of porter or holding up Coleman's Corner with his broad back, passing smart remarks to other cute fools like himself. Alright?"
         Kerrigan wept and wriggled with rage. He staggered loose with a scream and Brother Mahon jumped away from him.
         "Go back to your hovel, Kerrigan."

         The class was battered, beaten and humiliated. The monk closed his eyes slowly and whispered that we could always pray. Prayer could move mountains and even get us to heaven... if we were lucky. But we were too lazy to pray, he said softly. And everything began with prayer. If we didn't pray right, then nothing could be right.
         From there he wandered off to the foreign missions and explained the great work monks were doing harvesting souls in darkest Africa. He wondered aloud if any of us would like take up the work. But our heros were not in the black cloth. Anyway, seams of outside world had already permeated the class. Cigarette smoking was rife, swearing was commonplace and girls came up in conversation. There were few vocations here.
         A cloud came over his brow when he picked the last blue copy book from the table. The main feature.
         "Stand up Gregory McNamara and face the class. Now McNamara, I know all your brothers and those who went before them, but you are the worst of the brood, you great big jackass. What in the name of God do you mean by handing me up a shovel of dung like this for my breakfast? What?" His eyes darted from pupil to copy.
         "A simple essay that a nine-year-old child in the heart of London could write...and a fifteen-year-old sutach from Ballyglan can only come up with this...this manure."
         McNamara was doomed for the back streets of Soho like his brothers before him, Brother Mahon told us. Bound for sleaze and slaughter. Not even a flicker of hope for him.
         "Stand to attention McNamara and face me...and before we start...the next time you hand me up a copy, give me one without the butter and jam...spare the butter and jam for your lunch. Alright? Alright, to begin at the beginning:
         "It was only early yesterday morning that I was wondering what kind of view we would have if we had a front door to our house. We have only a back door to the kitchen..." Alright? So far, so good... but listen to this..."Our house faces north.." spelled n-o-r-d..."in the direction of Russia where Napoleon was born." His voice trailed off in horror.
         "I'll read that again, just in case ye didn't hear it..."in the direction of Russia where Napoleon was born..." and listen to what comes next..."The great monk Rasputin was Napoleon's son and a neighbor of my grandmother's knew Rasputin."
         A red flag to a bull. Brother Mahon was aghast. He closed the eyes and seemed to be praying for patience, or the school bell or maybe a pill.
         "That's true," bungled McNamara. "Oh God...my grandmother told me that."
         "You bloody bogman!" bellowed Brother Mahon, tears in his eyes. "You Heretic! How dare you insist that Napoleon was born in Russia...or that he sired Rasputin."
         McNamara blushed and looked towards the Blessed Virgin. The monk was breathing heavily, his knobbly fists clenched white.
         "And on top of all that heresy, McNamara drops this bombshell on me...'they make great vodka in Russia.' They make great vodka in Russia! What in the name of God and his Blessed Mother has all or any of this to do with the great view you have from the front door ye don't have? Answer me McNamara, you ass!"
         McNamara awkwardly shifted his weight from foot to foot and stared at his desk. Brother Mahon was tortured. Mention of drink, Rasputin and red Russia in the same page was the height of treason. He dabbed the beads of sweat from his brow.
         "ANSWER ME!" He screamed, stamping his foot.
         "I was stuck for something to say," McNamara said suddenly -- hoping to stonewall the charging monk.
         Gregory ducked Brother Mahon's fist and slid under the desk like an eel. The monk ordered him to stand by the wall, firing in threats of expulsion and terms in hell. He moved in on his prey and lashed out his boot as McNamara darted beneath the desks. We scattered out of their way and grouped at the head of the class room.
         "Jaysuz lads," whispered Murrihy, "but this is serious."

         "Come out of it, McNamara! Out!" roared Brother Mahon, kicking over school bags and thumping desks.
         "Come out of it and get up to the Superior, you pagan!"
        He flushed McNamara from cover and lunged at him with a primeval groan. Suddenly, alarm flashed across Brother Mahon's face. We saw him stagger, then tumble heavily on the floor, brought down by Murphy's schoolbag. The door banged and McNamara was home. The monk was robbed of the kill.

         Brother Mahon struggled to his feet and dusted himself. He stared at us, and looked bewildered, as if he had just fallen through the roof.
         "What are ye doing standing there like a flock of sheep?" he demanded, "Go back to your seats! Quickly!"

         We were only sitting down when he ordered us to stand and face the statue of the Blessed Virgin.
         "We are now going to offer up a decade of the rosary for those in need," he said quietly, eyes closing slowly.
         "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." began Brother Mahon, tears rolling down his face.



End of Guest Post



Author Bio


Eddie Stack has received several accolades for his fiction, including an American Small Press of the Year Award, and a Top 100 Irish American Award. Recognised as an outstanding short story writer, he is the author of four books —The West; Out of the Blue; HEADS and Simple Twist of Fate.

west-sml           blue-sml           heads-sm           simple-twst-sm

His work has appeared in literary reviews and anthologies worldwide, includingFiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts, Southwords and Criterion; State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology andFiction in the Classroom.


A natural storyteller, Eddie has recorded spoken word versions of his work, with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. In 2010, he integrated spoken word and printed work with art, music and song to produce an iPhone app of The West; this was the first iPhone app of Irish fiction.

You can read several samples of Eddie Stack's work on his very well done web page .

To me one of the mark's of a self-confident and generous author is the willingness to let people sample his work.   Stack has asked me to mention that he is willing to provide copies of his book to book bloggers interested in posting on his work.  (His contact information in on his web page.)

I am very happy to announce that Eddie Stack is allowing me to post four of the stories from this collection on The Reading Life.   They will begin appearing very soon.

Stack is a great story teller and artist.   I look forward to reading more of his work.

Mel u

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ivan Turgenev's First Short Story- "Hor and Kalinitch"

"Hor and Kalinitch" by Ivan Turgenev (1852, 21 pages)

The Short Fiction of Ivan Turgenev

A Reading Life Project

"A Sportsman's Sketches may well be the greatest collection of short stories ever written"-Frank O'Connor 

Frank O'Connor loved the short stories of Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883.)   He said if he were forced to name the two best short stories ever written they would both be by Ivan Turgenev.  (I think O'Connor is at his best when he talks of Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant.)   Ford Madox Ford said Turgenev's short stories were among the greatest of all cultural treasures of humanity, and he is including the great art and music of all time. He also said his stories were very hard to write about.  With these preliminaries out of the way (there is some background information on Turgenev in my prior posts on his work), I am very happy to announce that another Reading Life Project, The Short Fiction of Ivan Turgenev.   He wrote some 70 short stories, probably not much more than 1000 pages in all.  (As I am reading the stories on my Ipad I have to estimate the page lengths.)

"Hor and Kalinitch" is the very first short story by Turgenev.  It, like all the stories in Sportsman's Sketches is based on what he saw and learned while living on his mother's vast estate where she owned around five thousand serfs, over whom she basically held powers of life and death and whom she treated with great cruelty.   Some historians say that Turgenev's stories were in part responsible for the abolition of serfdom in Russia but I think this maybe a bit of a stretch.

In this story the narrator appears as an emotionally detached observer.    The story centers on two serfs, the title characters, owned by a small land holder.   One is very thrifty and  the other idealistic.  Going back to Frank O'Connor, author of the by far best book on the short stories (OK it will also drive you crazy), he says Turgenev's basic theme in all his work is his attempt to work out his own feelings that he was a weak ineffectual person, O'Connor says he was not, and his admiration for the "practical man" who knows how to do things.  

"Hor and Kalinitch" really is more of a sketch of life in the time and place than a plot centered work.   Turgenev's does a wonderful job of letting us see even now what it was like to live in Russia in the 1850s.   We feel like we are walking through an estate.   It is also a very funny story when it focuses on the landlord.

I have previously posted on his novel, Fathers and Sons, his novella, Diary of a Superfluous Man and his short story,  "Father Alexyei's Story".

Please share your experience with Turgenev with us.




Mel u





Thursday, July 26, 2012

Doting by Henry Green

Doting by Henry Green (1952, 1972 pages)

Doting is, just like the other five Henry Green (1905 to 1973-UK) novels I have read, is a pure delight.  OK maybe not so pure as their is a delightfully wicked man caught by his wife with a woman without a dress on scene that is wicked good fun.  Green is considered one of the great  master of dialogue.   Nobody in Doting goes on and on for hundreds of words about deep topics,  it is just real conversation as real people do it.   The people in this story are I guess upper middle class people from England, still under the post war time effects of rationing and still getting back to normal life.   In a way this book, as are others of his, is about the decline of a way of life.   I would say just read Green for fun and you can go deeper if you want.

"This sounds so exciting, I
hope I can keep awake until
the post is over"-Carmila
I do not want to give the details of the scene where the man was caught with another woman, one much younger than his wife.   He, of course, comes up with the most plausible lie he possibly can but his wife is having none of it.   She goes on and on about this and will be using it to guilt trip him the rest of their lives, only to make it all worse he never did anything with the woman and his wife is a long time adulterous.   Married men will cringe during her conversations with him about this incident.

There is more exposition in this novel than in the prior Green novel I read, Nothing.   I will pass on saying which Green novel is best, the consensus pick seems to be Loving, but I think I liked reading this one at least as much as any of the others.

The characters are very well developed and I was interested in them from the start.  Green is a wonderful prose stylist.    So far I have read six of his novels.  I will next read his first novel, Blindness, and then I will save the remaining  two for 2013 and 2014.

Please share your experience with Green with us.

Mel u


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"The Assignment" by Saadat Hasan Manto

"The Assignment" by Sadat Hasan Manto (1953, 20 pages)

Short Stories of the Indian Sub-Continent



Pakistan

A Reading Life Project


The Reading Life Guide to The Indian Short Story


My post on Manto's most famous short story, "Toba Tek Singh"

"The Assignment" can be read here.


My great thanks to Rohan for this link whose  great blog "The Rest is Still Unwritten"  I follow. Rohan's blog is  consistently a first rate very well informed and balanced  source of information on the culture and politics of the Indian Subcontinent.  


This is my fifth post for a  new permanent event on The Reading Life, short stories of the Indian subcontinent.   There is no literary culture with roots older than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke for telling the English that they had no right to govern a region whose culture is much older than theirs.  Many of the geographic boundaries that created these countries were created by the British or are consequences of their misrule.       Some of the writers featured will be internationally famous, such as Salmon Rushdie, Saadat Manto,  and R. K. Narayan but most of the writers I post on will be authors on whom there are no prior book blog posts.    There are numerous books and academic conferences devoted to exploring the colonial experiences of India and Ireland and I will look these stories partially as post colonial literature.   My main purpose here is just to open myself up to a lot more new to me writers and in this case most will be new to anyone outside of serious literary circles in the region.  Where I can I will provide links to the stories I post on but this will not always be possible.




Saadat Hasan Manto (1912 to 1955, born in Lahore, Pakistan and with long term ties to Bombay) is considered the greatest of Urdu language short story writers.   Most of his best known works centered on the horrible human costs of the partition of India).  He began his literary career as a translator of the works of writers like Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde,  Nikolai Gogol, and Anton Chekhov into Urdu.  (I think he translated the English versions of the Russian writers but I would like to be corrected if I am wrong in this.)   His stories are dark stories about a very dark period of history.   Much of the blame for what happened belongs on the shoulders of the British.  


"The Assignment" is a heartbreaking story of betrayal, of evil returned for generations of good, of senseless violence and meaningless cruelty and deaths of the innocent, deaths with no reward but the temporary satiation of blood lust and religious hatred.   

There is a sad paradox about religious hatred.  All major religions advocate kindness toward fellow humans, none advocate the killing of children of religions other than your own but this is what religious based political views lead to in India after Independence (and of course in countless other places and times in history).     


The story is a very simple one.  (I feel bad as I wish everyone could read this story but it is not, as far as I know, available online.)   A man once helped in a very important way a another man who was a member of another religious group and for many years afterwards the helped man made a gesture every year toward the family of the other man to show his gratitude.   It was a cross religious bond that meant a great deal to both families and both used it to teach their children to avoid the hate that consumes so many.   I will tell the ending here as few will be able to read it and the story is so beautifully crafted that this will not spoil it.   One day the grandson of the helped man comes in his place to the other family and tells them his grandfather is no longer able to come.   They talk of the great family bonds.  As the man leaves in a scene stark with terror, the grandson tells a group of men outside the house, carrying torches, that he has done his duty and points out the house of their religious enemies.  The men say they will now do their duty and we know the family will all, including young children with so much respect for the grandfather, probably die in the fire when their house is set ablaze.   


This is a story of horrible betrayal and pointless cruelty  told in a beautiful  way.   If you can read this story, I wish you would.


I read this story in Passages:  24 Modern Indian Short Stories edited and introduced by Barbara Solomon and Eileen Panetta.   This is a very good reasonably priced book with one serious flaw.   The table of contents lists only the story name, not the names of the authors.


Please share your experience with the work of Manto with us.


You can find more about his life here.




This is my participation for this week for Short Stories on Wednesday, a great event run by Nancy C. of Simple Clockwork.


Mel u