The Contemplation of a Joker by Manas Mukul: Book Review

Title: The Contemplation of a Joker

Author: Manas Mukul

Genre: Short Stories

The Contemplation of a Joker is a collection of 12 tales, with the overarching theme of love and loss. It touches on the various facets in relationships, about the coming together and the moving apart.

Review

The book starts off well with ‘Made for Each Other‘, a story that spans an entire lifetime. There is a deep pathos in love. I could also relate very well to the cultural background of this one and it stayed my favourite through the reading.

Most precious gift of God‘ is a lovely little tale of sibling love. There are others that are impressive, ‘Somebody that I Used to Know, ‘The Shortest Story of my Life‘ and ‘The Absence of her Fragrance‘, among others.

There are stories which have more rounded characters, ‘The First 100 kisses‘ and ‘With Love, from Russia‘.

The writing style of the book is very good. The language is easy to understand; it is colloquial and contemporary which gives the book a kind of lightness and relatability.

Most characters are drawn well, are likeable and the reader can root for them.

The stories are written with a lot of passion and emotion. There is much detail which draws the reader in.

However, I found a sameness in the theme, throughout the book. Also, the stories seem like the retelling of incidents. In many places, they feel half finished, with either the beginning or the middle missing.

The cover art is good, colourful, drawing the reader’s attention and the style elements put it into sync with the title. But the book fails to come up to the explanation of the word ‘Joker’ in the title.

About the Author

Mukul always liked stories but he loves telling them even more. He believes things are better said than kept behind curtains; that emotions are meaningful with expressions, and
so are thoughts which are of no use till they have words to support them.

You can connect with him on his blog-The Contemplation of a Joker.

You can write to him at mukul.manas@gmail.com

Social media links:

Twitter: @manasmukul
Instagram
Facebook

Verdict

Love stories with a twist. For the ones who have loved deeply and the ones who dream of a deep love.

Download the book for free(for a limited period) from the Blogchatter website.

5 Ways to Bid Adieu

Bidding farewell is always hard, unless you are longing to move on from your present circumstances. Usually, the pull of ‘status quo’ is too strong and all we wish is to stay where we are, with people we are used to and with our routines that we have stuck to.
It has happened to me often that I have had to bid adieu to places. For all of my childhood and much of my adulthood, I have hopped from one place to another and in the process had a rich life of new experiences, different cultures and mind expanding circumstances. I am ready to move on, to adapt, to see the new, to view the different all because of the valuable experiences that change brings.

 
Due to a quirk of fate, the past few years saw me moving less and less. Although, I was always ready to leave, one foot in the door, always looking at what lay beyond, I had started putting down roots. But life is nothing but a movement and there is a time when we have to move on.
Even though it is painful to go from places that we invest so much in, it is also important to say goodbyes completely so that we can look back after a few years and remember only the good.
In the process of moving on, here are the things I wish we can do for peace. 

One
, say goodbye to the people that have mattered. Deep and close relationships are the bedrock of a stable and fulfilling life. Even though the world is networked as never before and talking to someone is as easy as the push of the ‘call’ button on the phone, yet to cease sharing the most insignificant details of your life with someone and let the frequent belly laughs subside because you no longer go through the same days can feel bad. So, acknowledge that this is going to happen and that your relationship is going to change. Say thank you to all those who have shared your world. And pledge to stay in touch and have a deeper relationship that defies distance.

Two
, say goodbye to the places as well. It may seem weird but we are as attached to the places we visit frequently. So, say goodbye to the parks you frequent, the restaurants you loved eating in, the theatres and the art galleries you have lingered in and the bends in the road that give you the first glimpse of your favourite landmark.

Three
, take memories with you. Of course, you have been making memories all along. Now, just gather them in your camera, in your scrapbook and as souvenirs. For you and your new friends.

Four
, plan to come back. Never say never. Life, with its unexpected twists and surprises may just bring you back. It has happened to me and with very pleasant results.

Five
, stay Grateful. Say good bye and at the same time, stay grateful for the wonderful memories and the learning. You were meant to be here and you were meant to move on. It is all a part of the Universe’s grandiose plan for you.
I just wish that this time I am ready to let go with grace and love. 

Dear Reader, tell me of the times that you have had to say goodbye to the things that mattered. Tell me how you managed. Tell me how to be accepting and graceful. 

This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 


The Inflatable Pillow

Today, as I lay down for my nap, I let my mind drift before sleep overcame my senses. The chores, the pleasant talks and the unpleasant danced around in my head and then I saw clearly a vision. I saw dad lowering himself on a jute bed, his head finally resting on a beige inflatable pillow.

This must have happened some 30 years ago. I was startled because this had nothing to do with my present reality yet I could see the scene clearly. This was the time dad was constructing our house and we would go and check on the progress every weekend, spending the morning and the afternoon there. I could feel the mild heat, see the uncemented brick walls and the workers getting on with the work. It was not a huge house; the first floor of the house seemed almost claustrophobic even to my young and carefree self. I could see the walls encroaching on the open space and water storage tanks being put in. Those were the days of concrete tanks, the ubiquitous black plastic tanks were yet to make an appearance and when they did I was mesmerised by the black cylindrical structures that sat atop all roofs. For the moment though – the moment of the inflatable pillow, I liked those tanks. We put rusted cans on the bottom and jumped in; standing atop the cans and enjoying a dip. It was all done when mom was not around because that would have meant behaving in the most ladylike manner.

So, I saw dad in the unfinished house-the house that is all furnished and cared for and in which he lives now. I did not call him today to wish a happy father’s day because that is not what our relationship is like. We don’t believe in days that celebrate a relationship. We believe in being father and daughter. We are not chums- not the high fiving, backslapping friends. For me he is just dad. To be obeyed, respected, loved but not in an open, brash manner. He is just always there, like a rock, like a foundation on which I stand, like a vision I draw my identity from. He is doing all that a father is supposed to do. And I hope that he sees some of the things in me that he wanted in a daughter of his.

Love

I don’t understand love
It is highly regarded
Yet has been vilified
Love really frees the soul
But why are lovers persecuted?

Love should transcend all
Age, background, intellect and gender?
Love is peace and pleasure
But lovers are in shackles
Would I ever understand love?

I have been nominated by Umber to share my interpretation of Love ( in 10 lines of 4 words each). Okay, I bent the rules a little bit on that. I have been asked to share my favourite quote on love. Again, instead of a quote I am sharing my favourite painting that seems to sum up the word for me. I am also asked to invite 10 other bloggers to share Love in 10 lines of 4 words each. Also share your favourite quote on love.

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Sohni Mahiwal- Painting by Sobha Singh

This painting (painted in the 1940s) by the renowned painter Sobha Singh (1901-1986) depicts the lovers Sohni and Mahiwal by the riverside. The iconic painting immortalised the most popular tragic romance in Punjab’s folklore.

As for nominating to carry on this love chain, here is an open invitation to my readers to share their views on love. Draw, write, paint, sing, share.

Rule of Thirds

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Rather than this being a wonderful photo post in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge on the WordPress, it is a rumination on how we take the things we love for granted.

I tried to click a great picture with the subject off center and a beautiful bokeh but I failed miserably. Instead I clicked away with what I thought looked captivating. So, after an entire day of taking unaesthetic pictures, I tried to relax in my favourite spot in the house. Or rather outside. In the balcony.

It overlooks some hills and a verdant valley. I usually enjoy the morning sun shining on the tops of trees in the distance. I look at the skies to gauge the day. Brilliant blue on good days and gray on the rainy days. Yet, I keep waiting for the first glint on a tin roof for proof of a sunny day. All day, when I am home, I periodically look out of my window to see the sun advancing, illuminating its path, then overhead in its full glory, making the cedar forest off to the left inviting and later in the afternoon the dance of the shadows.

Everyday objects, the houses, the cottages, the tree stumps, the bushes are brought to life and I admire it all.

Does the beauty lose its charm after a while? It does. It is human nature to take beauty for granted. And good fortune. And our blessings. I am aware of this and periodically I remind myself to stop, shut down the internal chatter and ‘just be’ in nature’s lap. And at the same time, renew my thoughts, emotions so that I can enjoy the bounty of God with a renewed feeling of peace and gratitude.

The Wedding Bells- Part 13

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Once again, a group of writers from different geographical regions gather together to create a wonderful story. The photograph above serves as the inspirational theme for the 6th Flash Fiction Chain hosted by Jithin of Photrablogger. Give his beautiful site a visit and feast your eyes on the inspirational photos or read about his adventures.

A comprehensive list of characters in the story: (Main)

Anna Brighton- 32 year old CEO who owns and runs a publishing company

Alex Burns – well established author, Anna’s ex, Toby Blackwell’s cousin

Melissa Doyle –the bride, Anna’s dear friend

Toby Blackwell – co-owns the Blackwell estate, Alex’s cousin

(Supporting characters)

Jenny- Anna’s secretary

Adam – Owner of Adam and Eve’s

Harrison – Melissa’s fiance.

Percy Tuppence – Owner of the ring shop

Part 1 : Written by Sona

Part 2 : Written by Yinglan

Part 3 : Written by Priceless Joy

Part 4 : Written by Frenesthetist

Part 5 : Written by Dr. KO

Part 6 : Written by Sweety

Part 7 : Written by Tobias

Part 8 : Written by Ruth

Part 9 : Written by Austin

Part 10: Written by Rashmi

Part 11: Written by Phaena

Part 12: Written by Manvi

Do read these parts before mine to get a clear picture of the story!

The Wedding Bells-Part 13

Anna waved furiously to the newly wedded couple in the gleaming red limousine, about to leave. She held one hand up to her temple, pressing it with her perfumed handkerchief. Perfumes always made her ill; it was no doubt she had a headache. Why on earth had she worn a perfume instead of her usual deo she could not fathom herself. She looked down at her now crumpled dress held together at the back rather cleverly by pins that Alex helped her with.

“God! What a mess”, she thought. “One dress, two wardrobe malfunctions in a single wedding ceremony! Wonder what my luck would be at my own wedding”, she half muttered as the smiling flower girl, Sara skipped towards her. “Hey, Anna! You have crumpled the bouquet too much! It is good luck! You are the next to get married!”, chirped little Sara.

Anna squinted against the afternoon sun to see who had overheard them. She was in a group of people all excitedly chattering about the just married Melissa and Harrison, now off to their honeymoon destination. Anna felt a strange emptiness. The anticipation of the wedding was now over, and so was the adrenaline pumping through her body all morning because of her journey to fetch the bride’s ring and her subsequent encounter with Ms. Beaumount which turned ummm.. rather violent. Anna was amazed at herself. She, the sensible businesswoman, away from all matters of the heart and frivolous behaviour was at that very day been acting like a… giddy teenager!

She coloured a bright crimson at the thought of her stolen kisses with Toby and the memory of their physical closeness and the possibilities made her go weak in her knees all over again. At the same time, guilt stabbed at her, for she could not get Alex’s speculative look out of her mind. His tenderness as he helped her with her dress zipper the second time it came apart was too sweet to be dismissed. No sparks flew; his fingers did not linger on her body; his breath was not hot and urgent but his face screwed up in concentration with pins in his mouth reminded her sweetly of their high school dating years. She could hear their shared laughter and innocent jokes as they walked hand in hand beside the lake near her parent’s house.

Anna came out of her reverie with a start. There was raucous laughter behind her as the group of Alex’s friends and cousins came closer. She heard Toby before she saw him. He was obviously drunk with a wild look in his eyes. They were making jokes about the married couple and Toby’s smirk left her shaken.

” Miss Brighton, there is a call for you on the telephone in the house”, managed the breathless housemaid. Anna stared at the flowers in the maid’s hair as she followed her back into the rambling Blackwell Estate. It was difficult for Anna to locate the library where the telephone was situated on her own. The entire staff was dressed in their finery on account of the wedding reception, the remnants of which were being cleared from the mansion’s grounds.

“Dad!”, Anna shouted into the telephone receiver. “It has been the best wedding ever and Melissa looked such a stunning beauty!”

“Yes, Dad, they received your congratulatory telegram and I miss you and Mom so much.”

“Yes, I can visit you now that I am here, nearer home but I need to get back to office to work out things. My business is suffering.”

“Umm, OK, I suppose so, if this means just another day… but I can make it some other time. There are deals that need to be signed”, intoned Anna weakly as it brought to her mind the contract that had been signed with the eminent author Alex.

“Uh, Dad, just book my flight for the next day from home. I sure must come and see you both”, said Anna twisting the telephone wire around her fingers.

” Damn”, said Anna angrily as she ended the call and tried to reason her own elation at seeing Alex again at work. She badly needed her parent’s comfortable and sensible presence to pull her out of this vortex of emotions.

Anna raced up the stairs to her own room to get her cell phone. She had to inform Jenny, her personal secretary of her absence of another day and to find out if there were any other pressing issues at work.

As she pushed open the door to her room, Anna staggered back in shock. There was Toby, unmistakably charming with ruffled hair, kissing the housemaid. She stared at the now crumpled flowers in her hair, her head spinning.

“Ah, Anna! I was looking for you”, smiled Toby, slurring his words. Anna felt her cheeks flush from the anger in her.
“You are drunk. You are kissing the maid in my room”, said Anna coldly.

” Just looking for you, darling!”.
“And as you said, I am a little drunk, so the confusion”, winked Toby at the housemaid, patting her bottom. The maid rushed past Anna to go out of the room.

“Out”, said Anna to Toby gesturing at the still open door, her voice cracking a little. She was losing her composure again, she realised.

Toby lurched towards Anna and held her waist in a vice like grip, almost leering. That was when she heard someone walk in. She turned with a desperate look in her eyes and saw Alex.

To be continued by Yinglan

The Wedding Bells-Flash Fiction Chain # 6

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The beautiful photograph above serves as a photo prompt for Flash Fiction Chain #6 hosted by Jithin of Photrablogger. In this chain, many authors from around the world and from different time zones participate, writing consecutive parts in a beautifully orchestrated story telling.

The present chain chronicles a love tale.

I am writing the first part of the story.

The Wedding Bells

Characters in the story

Anna-a 32 year old publisher

Alex- a well established author

Jenny- Anna’s personal secretary

Anna walked briskly among the cubicles nodding her greetings to her coworkers. She could hear her desk phone ringing even as she swung open the door to her office and flicked the light on.

“Anna Brighton”, she said in a clipped accent.

She listened on, frowning and then relaxing a bit. “Fine, in that case I will get in touch with Alex and sign him on”. Next, Anna dialed a number from memory and tapped anxiously on the table, waiting for her call to be answered. The phone went unanswered and she slammed down the phone receiver.

“Bastard”, she muttered.

There was a tap on her door and her personal secretary, Jenny walked in. “Here is today’s mail and this bunch needs immediate attention.” Jenny placed two piles of mail on Anna’s table. She also slid that day’s newspapers across the huge mahogany desk.

Anna liked to peruse many newspapers and magazines to keep herself updated. As the founder-CEO of the publishing house, she had to be sharp and in tune with the market trends. This business was her baby and her passion. She had nurtured it and fought a competitive battle to bring it to this enviable position.

The day wore on; and it was a typical day for Anna. Strategy meetings, operational decisions and the day to day running of the company. Anna lunched alone, at her desk, one hand holding a sandwich and the other some business papers.

” Come in”, she intoned as there was a knock on the door but no one entered. Then the door opened noiselessly, and in strode a tall man with chiseled features.

“Alex”, she gasped, almost springing out of her chair. “Anna”, drawled the man. They stared at each other for a few moments before Anna broke the silence. “I called you this morning”.

“And that is the reason I am here”.

” Ah, I thought you did not want to talk”, said Anna with a suddenly dry throat.

“I could not take your call but I understood it had to do something with the contract I am going to sign with your company. So, I dropped in.”

“Yes, please take a seat”, said Anna recovering her composure. She asked Jenny to come in with the contract that had been made ready. Anna’s heart beat fast. Alex was one of the most sought after authors and his association with her publishing house would catapult her into the big names of the business. But that was not the only reason Anna was excited.

Anna’s association with Alex went back to her school days. They were together at school and even lived in the same neighbourhood. They had a common friend circle. Although they played together as children and went to the same church with their parents, they were not particularly close. But that changed when Anna entered her teens. Suddenly aware of her popularity amongst the opposite sex, she became attentive towards her more ardent admirers. And Alex was one of them.

The attraction was mutual and they were a couple when she graduated from school. Life soon took them their separate ways as they pursued further education. They had gotten over each other, she thought and maybe he felt the same, Anna rued but the attraction wasn’t completely dulled whenever she went visiting her parents and met him in their hometown. And now their paths had crossed once again with the future indicating more interaction and collaboration.

Alex finished signing the papers and walked out after shaking hands with Anna. That little touch alone made her nerves tingle. The unexpected encounter had left her emotionally unsure and on edge when the musical tones of her cell phone sounded.

“Dad”, Anna nearly shouted into the phone. “How are you?”, she asked joyfully. After a long and animated conversation with her father, Anna called in Jenny and announced, “I would be out for 3 days.”

“Three?”, Jenny was surprised.

” Yes, best friend’s wedding”, said Anna twirling her short black hair that framed her youthful face. “I am going to be away from my work after a long time”.

“No, this is the first time you are going to be away”, said Jenny firmly with a smile in her voice.

“Anyway, I am rather looking forward to it. Melissa is such a dear and she deserves all the happiness of this world. She is marrying her childhood sweetheart. The wedding is to be held in their private estate and I am sure to run into more of my friends”, said Anna dreamily.

“Ah, just a hitch! My mother goes crazy at the sound of wedding bells. She starts talking of when I am going to get married-as if I have the time!”, said Anna rolling her eyes.

“Well, have a great time”, said Jenny as Anna turned to go out of her office. “You might meet someone interesting”.

“Let’s see”, laughed Anna which was a rare sound.

Would Anna meet someone special? Would love blossom for her here at the office?
Read on. The next part is by Yinglan.

Sometimes I clutch my head…

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Let Parenting be a Joy

Sometimes, even a couple of kids at home can be a handful. They may be doing their own thing and still drive you up the wall. Fighting amongst themselves, playing musical toys with only one key being pushed insistently, making a grand mess with blocks, soft toys and other assorted entertaining contraptions that you bought in a moment of indulgence ( or sometimes, to assuage your guilt) starts your brain ticking away at a dangerous speed.

Parenting can be such a great challenge even when you love your kids, want to spend quality time (and also quantity) with them and help them become responsible and emotionally mature adults. There are times when our human failings become all too apparent even though deep in our hearts we want to be just good parents.

I am not an expert in academic terms but still I act as one because I am a long time parent ( and this long time seems very, very long in my memory) and I learn every day by being in the battlefield. I keep observing what works and what does not. You learn every moment, with every child because all children are different and you are a learner forever.

A couple of things I would still like to share, that in my opinion work well across ages and temperaments.

Be Attentive.
Cast away your worries and day-to-day stresses every once in a while and be attentive to your child. To his/her needs, whims, moods. Let us start with young children. Mood tantrums, fussy eating, destructive behaviour? Pay attention to what are the underlying reasons. If you take out a little time and do things as your child wants done, the child would become reassured over a period of time of your love and care. Your instructions and suggestions would be better received.

Lead.
This could be expressed in many other ways. As in, “Set an Example”. The important thing is to acknowledge that you are the parent at most times, a friend and a co-conspirator only for very little time. You need to decide about acceptable behaviour, limits and the values to be inculcated. Sure, you need to do the same things to set an example but most of the times and especially in formative years, children need to be guided gently, again and again. If they slip up, the course correction needs to be on your side as well as theirs.

Yes, I know this actually sounds harder than running a marathon but that is how it is as all parents would testify. As for would be parents, this post would get ignored and tossed in the bin (if it is possible to toss an electronic device) with a shrug.

I heard them say

Two conversations come to my mind when I think of the influences that shaped me. I was not a participant in either of them. Rather, I was a shameless eavesdropper. The conversations stayed with me for a long time. I turned them around in my mind dozens of times exploring new angles and arriving at different conclusions.

Time is a strange entity. I was never at peace with it. I always had trouble structuring my days. I dreaded clocks and calendars. Any time I was asked to plan for the future, I broke out in a sweat. Planning for the next five or ten years made no sense to me. I could not think where I was going, what were my goals and how I would reach them.

But these conversations morphed in my mind into something personal. These fragments became my compass in times of doubt. Time still is unmerciful to my mind but nostalgia colours events into something more comfortable.

The first conversation that affected me deeply was when we were vacationing in the hills. I, now, live in the hills and often think back to that time. There was a bend in the road with a couple of small shops. We stopped at one to buy batteries for the camera. And then, there they were, in the patch of sunlight peering through the dense tree cover. An elegantly dressed young woman with a much older man. My adolescent self caught a snippet as they walked by. She was talking about a recent law and order event and how the situation had been brought under control. She was confident and articulate. He looked every inch a man of the world, attentive and captivated.

That brief scene became the inspiration of my endeavour to change myself into an intelligent and articulate person. Where once I was scared of the future and of any kind of planning, now I credited the young woman for shaping my personality.

The second important conversation occurred at a railway station. This was much later in years when I had bid adieu to my tumultuous teens. I felt I had a mature understanding of matters. Still, I struggled in my relationships especially with my near ones.

At the station, dusk was falling and the chatter of pigeons beneath the sheds was loud. The platform teemed with people. Normally, I find railway stations romantic, with whiffs of adventure and uncertainty hanging in the air. It was here that Anna had met Vronsky (I had read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy at age 16). But, this day, time was heavy on my hands. Having visited my family, I was travelling back to my workplace. There had been misunderstandings and altercations.

I stood next to a group of well dressed young men. I could see they were siblings, come to see off their youngest brother. He looked sullen. And they started talking. I heard the eldest talk about their parents and the perceived favouritism. They talked of the simmering resentment within the family. They talked of the unmet expectations and the fractured relationships.

Listening on, I could put my own relationship with my parents in perspective. I could then understand that strife was a natural part of all families. But love had the power to bind. I mended my relations at home having learnt that lesson.

At some level, both conversations had affected me deeply at crucial times in my life. I came away learning from them. It worked better than a heart-to-heart talk.