About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Monday, October 12, 2009

THE FARRIER- A Short Story

THE FARRIER (First published in The Cartier Street Review, April 2009)-By Nabina Das

Was Russet to live her life between the legs of horses? She could get kicked sometime, although I’m sure Russet never expected that. It’s a job she had for a long time. Russet had big hands. Her hair cut like a duckling’s tail caught in a twister. She was a farrier. With an uncommon but musical name – Russet. That’s what she told me.

We spoke while rummaging through old books on sale downtown where they’d let us take a bagful for a dollar. Shivering in the line outside on the cold concrete, for it was late November in this little Upstate New York town, I rubbed my bristly palms inside fleece gloves to a frigid drop falling from above, listening to the drone of a man explaining to someone the intricacies of a Russian fireplace. Once inside, we rummaged and I saw she held this Alberto Moravia I wanted, Two Women. Like a predatory animal I eyed her. Silently pointed towards the Moravia. She eye-browed towards the flat thin book I was holding.

“Horses.” She said. “You like horses?”

“I don’t mind them.” I said. Why talk of horses? This isn’t a farm fest. It’s a book sale.

“You’ve a horse here,” she said, leaning over and touching the book I was holding. Tock tock. She knocked on the cover twice.

The flat thin cover indeed had a horse snorting in a yellow-green cornfield. I had no idea if horses liked corn. Suddenly it hit me why horses were the topic.

“Okay,” I said, sheepishly. She handed my book to me. “This is about women,” I explained.

“You like women?” She asked the same way she had asked if I liked horses.

Yes. No. What do I say? I’m a man! I nodded. I liked women only because they are there, all around. Not in the same way I’d adore a race car. It was tough to explain.

“He’s a European writer, this Moravia. He must like women a lot … he writes a lot about them,” I said.

“In Europe they make cheese at home,” she said tilting her funny looking head to one side. “They also name their women Nana.”

“No, that’s Zola.” I said, trying to be polite, adding, “A writer by the name Zola called his heroine Nana. In fact, his book is called Nana.”

At that point she abruptly announced that she was a farrier.

“What’s that?” I was sure I had heard the word but I’d never met a farrier before.

I noticed she had big hands, a bizarre hairstyle, plus she walked with webbed gait and the stolid expression of a bored farm animal.

“Russet,” she said, holding out her right hand.

I thought she was talking about the evening sky, which we couldn’t see it from inside this book-filled musty hall.

“Fall evenings are great, especially evenings,” I said. “Do you take walks with your horses on russet evenings?”

She looked at me as if I were a silverfish worm who eats away old book pages. Tiny slithering insects you want to thrash whack whack whack, until you’re satisfied not a single one exists among your priceless collection.

“I spend most evenings working with horses,” she said. “And my name’s Russet.”

I squirmed like that silverfish worm. Oh, that was her name.

Before I could say my name she spoke about the evenings she had spent under and between horses’ legs, shoeing them. This triggered some strange scenes in my mind. Horses’ legs were spindly and long. Not human-like. They even had hooves. Russet could get kicked. Between human legs it was different. Humans didn’t require shoeing. Still one could get kicked, even with humans.

“But of course,” she said. “I could get kicked even between human legs!”

I didn’t comment. We roamed the hall filling our plastic bags. I noted her choice of books about farming and automobiles. She told me she drove an old truck and managed a farm alone. I pictured this slightly Mohawk-haired woman on a farm, grime and mobile oil all around, the hay smelling of horseshit, and her banging thud thud thud on a horseshoe.

“You do that for a job?” I said. “Shoe horses?”

These were horses whose owners found them too old or useless, she explained. Farm horses that’d never again pull carts. Racehorses discarded after they got burnt out. Show horses whose mane grew coarse. Russet made them shoes to walk in and gallop and play and she didn’t mind as long as they didn’t roll on rain-soaked hay for her to clean too often. There were days when she drove to the city to browse shops. She wore her old work jacket because she had no dates these days. Her twister-caught hairstyle didn’t have to be trimmed because there was no one to appreciate. Coming to rummage book sales was the only thing she had permitted herself in a long time. Books made her put aside her grubby boots and stack away her ‘Fresh Corns’ sign at the roadside. Driving down the winding road, doing a casual fifty-five over the forty-five-mile per hour, swerving by blackened squirrels stuck on the yellow dividing line, she came down here for books. Meanwhile her horses lounged or dozed on fresh hay that had been spread out that morning while waiting to feel her big hands. They enjoyed sniffing her and responded in charged hee hee hees. While she worked between their spindly legs, hay stalks cut her fingers, mosquitoes bit her buttocks and ear lobes, and sawdust rose in little clouds due to hammering and hitting. And the horses neighed happily. What if the horses kicked her head or chest, I imagined, shuddering.

“I like it alone,” she said.

She had a man for six months. A man who preferred worn out camel leather gloves in winter and a lime-stained jacket smelling of wood rabbits. He didn’t like horses. “A farrier’s job doesn’t pay,” he grumbled. He wanted to sell horses, the cornfields and the truck to go do city jobs. He drank and fell asleep when she was off to town doing chores. The horses went hungry many times and the two fought bitterly.

“It had to be him or the horses,” she said. “I chose my horses.”

Her four-legged friends – brown and mustard and chestnut, a few velvety black, were joyous about that decision. Russet’s horse book reminded me of Le Cheval Blanc where the white horse looked painted green. Maybe Gauguin too had lived near a green cornfield.

“What’d your type of women do in this situation?” Russet asked me abruptly.

‘Your type’ sounded like she belonged to another world. This was my chance to tell her about my world, a college professor’s world. Well, my kind read made-up tales. Zola, Moravia. Normally, my type of women would want to keep a man. They’d try very hard. Shop for pretty dresses, colors for their cheeks and tiny shoes – human shoes – to please their man. For a man they’d re-do their entire life.

“Of course, they wouldn’t know the difference unless they kept horses for a few years,” I said. Quasi-apologetic.

She eyed my trimmed hair, my pleated professorial pants and my leather moccasins, my cheeks still fragrant from my morning shave. I knew she could smell my powdered chest – we stood so close– and feel my elbow brush her hard sides. Her eyes were wide realizing that a man like me, a reading and college-teaching type, was not someone she usually met. That hurt me. I pined to tell her I loved hay, but on a painted canvas. And horses were okay as long as I didn’t have to wash or shoe them. Le Cheval Blanc wasn’t to be touched and sullied.

“Yeah, it’s different elsewhere,” she said, as if farriers lived by a separate book.

I tried convincing her otherwise, this woman with big hands who could be made to feel good and wanted. A woman named Russet, like the fall evening. Our plastic bags were full and we’d part having spent only one dollar a bag. The conversation was several more bags full.

“Mind if I invite you?” She threw the words out of her mouth with the invisible stuff she was chewing. “Bring your Moravia book to my farm. Will ya?”

I stood on the wintry sidewalk not saying anything. Her truck spewed smoke in a volley of vroom vroom vroom.

She yelled: “Can I call you Vandyke, after one my horses?”

“My name’s Ludwig,” I yelled back and saw her gesture.

“Where did you get that? That’s a horse name too!”

Suddenly unspoken warmth surrounded me. Ah, she was joking. In a good way. All my life I thought my parents were silly to name me like that. As if they knew for sure I was gonna be a sad little professor.

The women in my life and in the books I read kept cats or dogs. Fluffy, silky creatures bathed in lavender shampoo. Coats combed to a perfect gloss, fancy ribbons tied round their necks. The women talked to them in foreign tongues – oh mon petit chou. Made love while their pets watched. None of them lived by a cornfield and heard neighs all night. Alone.

“So long Vandyke!” Russet sped up.

The pickup disappeared around the bend. A russet sun gobbled it up. Her hammer striking new metal, raw and chiming, the farrier would have a visitor soon.


Please download a high resolution print quality PDF file for only $2.50 at CSR April 2009 Edition

Image from the Internet


Tim Buck said...

Yes, a cool, engrossing story, Nabina. Kept me interested to the very end. What this story impresses on me is how human beings are unique, to the point that each consciousness is practically a separate galaxy.

I like the way the characters are revealed to the reader, especially the unpretentiously eccentric Russet. Gosh, I'm waiting for the sequel. That's bound to be a strange, possibly neighing rendezvous. :)

rumjhum said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story Nabina; not only because I love horses among other animals and writers like Moravia, but also because you've captured the mood and the story is so visually arresting. Thanks for sharing!

priti aisola said...

This is truly splendid. A superb beginning and the reader is led into the story so smoothly. With neat, deft and affectionate strokes you have created the setting and the characters. It was interesting to meet both Russet and Ludwig.

Tapas Misra said...

Your review of poems by Basanta Kar drew me to your blog. Your name, Nabina, also played a role. I'm glad I came here and got rewarded with this lovely story, The Farrier. In fact I read the story before reading your profile and in mind you appeared to be a second generation Indian setlled somewhere along the US Canada border. It was amusing to see Russet tapping Ludwig's book with a 'tock tock'.

Rhett said...

I liked this story immensely. Romantic! So what happens next, I hope they end up making love on hay while horses all neigh happily and russet skies watch!

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