Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The year that was 2013

2013 was a tumultuous year for me. Lots of ups and downs and hopefully, I have managed to swim against the current to reach the shores of 2014, my body and soul intact. (Please note, I can't swim in reality, and that is a resolution to rectify in the new year!)

I’d like to concentrate on my writing year, which has been very fruitful and given me reason to believe in myself as a writer. I had the brilliant news in March that finally my novel, Crossing Borders, was accepted by Parthian books for publication next year. After struggling for years to find an agent or publisher, it was funny how the book was noticed by an editor through Facebook!

I had had a short story, Growing Tomatoes, published in Planet-The Welsh Internationalist in 2012. Someone read it and commented on Facebook. It was brought to the attention of the editor of Parthian Books, Susie Wild, who approached me. It was like winning the lottery! But it goes to show that editors do look around, and word does get around, and the more you write, the more you will be read. So thank you, Susie, for envisioning a future for my book.


I had short stories published in Litro, Thick Jam, Running Out of Ink, Tears in the Fence, The Lakeview International Journal and Penguin Unplugged. Thank you all. I was duly rejected by Mslexia, once again. Sixth year running. Thank you Mslexia, I shall not give up!

I had a very interesting experience of recording my own story, 'Growing Tomatoes’, for SouthWest’s Literature Development Organisation, LiteratureWorks. The voice in the recording does not sound like me at all! Another very different project was the wonderful Stories with Pictures, where Cassandra Parkin wrote a story, The Wrong Kind of Boy, for my image, and then I wrote a story, A study of a boy with an aeroplane, for a painting by Andy Winter.


But the highlights of the year have got to be the absolute highs I got for contributing to three anthologies, all launched in December.


The first anthology, Foreign and Far Away, an anthology by Writers’ Abroad, a community of expat writers, dedicated all proceeds towards Book Aid International , which supports education, literacy and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Total money raised so far: £525.00.


Stories for Homes was another great anthology I am proud to be a part of. All proceeds from this goes to Shelter, a charity for the homeless. The editors Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood did an incredible job producing the book and marketing it. I wasn’t able to attend the launch, but I could see from the blog and the pictures, it was a huge success. The contributors to the anthology also helped out with the promotions and sales with radio interviews, news stories, blog blasts, and the sales went up to an incredible £1,500 at the launch.


Photo courtesy: http://owainpaciuszko.com/2013/12/18/stories-for-homes-paperback-launched/

And lastly, Rarebit-New Welsh Writing was launched on 21st December, National Short Story Day. I went along to Cardiff to be a part of the literary tour. It was an incredible experience, joining fellow writers on a literary walk around my favourite city, warming up against the chill with mulled wind and Christmas cheer. Rarebit is Waterstones’ book of the month for January 2014.


Photo Courtesy: Daniel Tyte http://dantyte.com/category/happenings/


With a few more short stories in the pipeline for next year and the excitement of working towards the birth of Crossing Borders, 2014 already seems ripe with promise and a lot of fun along the way.


Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Book Blast: Stories for Homes

pic courtesy: Third Force News
I've been reading books on Homelessness of late, and am proud to be a contributer to the anthology: Stories for Homes for raising awareness and donations for the Shelter Charity.

Where I come from, in India, homelessness is apparent everywhere one casts an eye. On the street where I lived, generations grew up under a railway bridge. They ate, slept, lived and reproduced in that very space for years and years.

When I moved to the UK, I was shocked to see homeless people in this land of plenty. Wasn't this the country where the government helped out with benefits, so that no one ever went hungry? But obviously I was a naive newcomer and I am now a bit more knowledgeable!

Available on Amazon.co.uk
Yes, 80,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas. And that is just the tip of the ice-berg. Homelessness is not just about not having a roof over one's head. There are related issues that come out of this tragedy: abuse, neglect, violence, hunger, vulnerability and death.

The charity, Shelter, works with the homeless and the community to rescue, spread awareness and educate people about this sad truth in society.

Stories for Homes, an anthology of short stories and poems by 63 writers and poets, was put together by Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood  as a small contribution towards helping out the situation with homelessness.

Artwork by David Vallade
To buy a copy would mean all the royalties would go straight to the Shelter charity.

The book launch will be at the Bookseller- Crow on the Hill on the 13th of December. Do buy the book, spread the word on social media, and remember, this is not just for Christmas. it would make a world of difference to somebody at a very low point in their life.


Monday, 9 December 2013

Review of Word on the Street: a novel by Romy Wood

WORD ON THE STREET, a darkly comic reflection on homelessness, life writing and dermatology.

I love a good, darkly comic book, so when I got Word on the Street by Romy Wood, I knew I was in good hands. It is a difficult subject to read, the premise is grim. It makes one feel guilty for ignoring the homeless
man shuffling on the street, pulling his mangy dog behind him. But the way Wood handles the theme; it makes the reader warm up to the strange mix of characters, their madness and their scheming ways. It makes the reader want to take Shona, the main character, by her shoulders and shake her hard.

Shona Davies works for a homeless shelter. She is, in her own words, stocky, chunky, porky and definitely not girly. A disease has broken out in the homeless shelters in Cardiff, and she is quarantined, unable to get out. She’s stuck in the shelter with a few of the homeless and her boss, Gloria, who is definitely not happy to be imprisoned with the vagrants she is supposed to be protecting.

There are a few memorable characters, such as Colin, who’s dog is dead but still lying in his doggy bed days after rigor mortis has set in. There’s utterly hairless Paul, with not a hair to his name, who does a runner from the quarantined shelter and is let loose into the city. Ffleur, beautiful sophisticated Ffleur, who is perhaps pretending to be homeless. What is her secret? And why is she latching on to Shona? Nain, Shona’s hypochondriac grandmother, who lives on tinned food and has a year’s supply of bleach in her cupboard. Shona’s mother, who did a runner herself and has a now-I-hate-you-now-I-don’t relationship with her family. And above all, Dan, Shona’s love, the journalist who wants to save the world from this pestilence that’s about to destroy everybody.

The story moves back and forth from the days of the quarantine and its aftermath to Shona’s time in a  prison hospital. The spread of the disease and the race to find its cure is swept up into a frenzy by the media and politicians use it as a ploy to gain votes.

We follow Shona as she struggles to face the true nature of the world. When faced with a calamity, true colours of people are usually revealed. We learn about her mental state and its destined path to self-destruction. We support her love for Dan and for her blind faith in him. But is it enough to make the world alright again?

Romy’s experience as a recovering bipolar person brings authenticity into the world of Shona and her actions and reactions. Her language is precise and self-deprecating, bringing to life the comic moments of politicians putting their foot in the mouth and the power of money talking. Cardiff, as the suffering city, is bleak and unsure. Bad things happen in the dark, afraid to show up the dirty facts in broad daylight.  This is a social commentary of the way things are, the society we live in. After reading it, will you ever look at a homeless person as part of the brickwork of the wall he shelters against?


It is a story of homelessness and disease. Of suspicion and vice. Of greed and selfishness. Politics. Medicine. Mental illness. And above all, love.

www.romywood.co.uk

Word on the Street is available from most online retailers and selected bookstores. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Mrs Jhaveri Investigates Part 5

She walked as fast as she possibly could. She’d have to get to the bottom of this. She changed quickly into a white sari and dashed to the Morgan’s home. People had already started dropping in. She saw Mrs Jones by the buffet table, helping herself to canapes.

“Hello, Mrs Jones,” she said quietly.

“Quite a gathering,” said Mrs Jones, biting into a smoked salmon blini. She wiped away an absent tear. “Who would have said we had gathered for a celebration a couple of nights ago?”

“True.”  Mrs Jhaveri wrung her hands together. Where would she get any clues?

“Did you try the canapes, Mrs…er… Mrs J?” Mrs Jones smiled.

“Oh no, thank you.” Mrs Jhaveri was shocked to see this gathering was more like a party. No mourning and wailing. No one in white clothes. She stood out in her Vanish Oxy Action white. People were giving her funny stares.

Well, who cares. In my country, one should wear white, she thought defiantly and went to find Mr Morgan. He was talking to the cleaning woman/cousin in the kitchen. Rather softly and urgently. Certainly not asking her to hoover the crumbs off the carpet, she thought. She watched them. They seemed to be arguing about something. The woman had her arms crossed and she leaned against the back door. Like a flash of lightening, an image streaked through Mrs Jhaveri’s head. The nurse… in the hospital… she used to stand like that by Mr Morgan’s bed every time they visited. Yes, yes…. Confused, shaken by her discovery, Mrs Jhaveri backed out into the hallway. She made her way to the shoe closet, and opened it. It was as if she knew it would be there.

A pair of cream coloured satin shoes, wedged in a corner, behind a pair of boots. They had not been there yesterday. They had been stuffed there today, after she had mentioned the shoes to Mrs Jones at the burial service. And who had been eavesdropping then? The cleaning woman. The nurse. Certainly not a cousin. Mr Morgan’s lover. The killer.

Mrs Jhaveri stepped back, trembling.

“Are you alright?” A man touched her shoulder, supporting her. “Are you alright, madam?”

“Yes, I am.” Mrs Jhaveri whispered. “I just found out who murdered Sian Morgan. I need to call the police.”

The man stared at her, then back at his salmon canapé. He turned pale and nodded. He led her towards the telephone.

***

“Mum,” Monica shouted over the blaring television. “You’re on telly.”

Rani squealed and positioned herself in front of the television. “Nani, Nani, you’re famous,” she chanted.

Mrs Jhaveri sat dumb-struck on the sofa. She looked at herself on the screen through narrowed eyes. She was talking to the news reporter in a high-pitched voice. It wasn’t her voice at all. It was all a bit much for her.

“Super sleuth from India,” shouted Monica, gleefully. “Mum, you’re a star.”

“So,” the reporter was saying. “How did you know who the killer was?”

“Well,” Mrs Jhaveri heard herself say. “I knew something was wrong when I heard Mrs Morgan had worn black shoes with her purple dress and pearls. That didn’t seem right. And then, the shoes were by her head, not on her feet.”

The journalist nodded. Rani clapped her hands and whooped for joy. The cameras focused on Mrs Jhaveri again. She stood stiffly and stared into the camera. She had that horrible fleece on. Mrs Jhaveri winced. She desperately needed a shopping trip if she was going to be famous.

The camera panned back to the journalist. He continued.

“Mr Morgan has confessed to the murder. He has been arrested. He and Miss Alison Smith, a nurse, connived together to kill Sian Morgan. They met two years ago when Mr Morgan had been admitted to the hospital after a heart attack. He was there for nearly a month and that’s where he met Nurse Alison Smith…”

“The bastard,” whispered Monica.

Mrs Jhaveri shifted uneasily in her chair. She shot a glance at Rani, but the child was staring gleefully at the television screen.

“They had an affair, you know,” she said quietly. “They fell in love when he was in hospital, and she would wait outside, hating us, hating Sian for being his wife.”

“Would you believe that?” Monica shouted. “Shameless old man.”

“Well, he did say he felt betrayed by Sian. She never wanted children And he did. And then when he met the nurse, there was a future there. She wanted to have his baby. It was a big temptation for him.”

“That woman is his daughter’s age, if he had one,” Monica said. “But why kill Sian? Couldn’t he just divorce her?”

“Yes. But greed came in the way. When Sian inherited her father’s money, the nurse thought that money would come into use in bringing up the child. Mr Morgan didn’t have money. Sian was the rich one. Probably that’s why he had to cook.”

“Oh-oh. It always boils down to money, doesn’t it?” Money chewed on her lip.

“Yes. So on the day of the anniversary party, Mr Morgan made that special mushroom soup for his wife. The nurse planned it all. And then they had the champagne for the party at night.” Mrs Jhaveri wiped her eyes. She couldn’t bear to think of her friend’s dreadful end.

“She literally toasted to her death.”

“Yes, that was awful.” Monica continued. “Just awful. The poison reacted when she went to the bathroom.”

“Yes, she was dying when the nurse … that spiteful woman, came up to her and whispered that she’d be in her shoes soon. And literally, took off Sian’s shoes and wore them. What a horrible thing to do. Sian died knowing the ghastly truth.”

“Didn’t Mrs Jones hear all this? I mean, she was in the loo as well.” Monica looked puzzled.

“Yes, she was. But she was too drunk to register much. Why, she even joked with Sian while she was dying. Silly woman.” Mrs Jhaveri shook her head. “Well, that’s that. The two of them thought they had managed to go scot free. Not knowing that Alison’s one stupid gesture cost them their freedom.”

“Yes,” Monica smiled and hugged her mother. “They didn’t know that Sian Morgan had such a clever neighbour, a certain Mrs Jhaveri, who did not believe a woman could wear the wrong shoes to a party.”

They laughed and Mrs Jhaveri hugged her back. “I am glad I found out the truth. For my friend, Sian. Alison Smith will never get into her shoes ever.”

“Amen to that,” smiled Monica. “So, who wants to go out for dinner tonight? Who wants to go out with a celebrity?”

“Me, me, me,” shouted Rani, jumping on the sofa.


“Well,” laughed Mrs Jhaveri. “Let’s go to that restaurant in Cardiff Bay then. Sian would have liked us to celebrate with her there.”

The End

Mrs Jhaveri Investigates:Part 4

In the hallway, she paused by the shoe closet. She heard Mr Morgan talking on the telephone. She opened the closet. The rows and rows of beautiful shoes glinted back at her. They were of every colour and shape and material possible. She drew her breath sharply. Imagine owning all that. She had just two pairs of shoes in Cardiff. Bedroom slippers, and the thickest pair of trainers to keep the chilblains at bay. Her eyes scanned the rows, trying to understand why Sian couldn’t have worn the right pair of shoes. There was a cream coloured pair, but with diamond studs on them. No, not those. Another pair of off-white pumps. No. She would wear heels for a dinner party, for sure. Violet satin heels. Not too bad. But they had to be the exact shade of her dress then. She checked the soles of the shoes. Not a mark on them. The price sticker was still on. Brand new. Untouched. She shut the closet and left the house.

The burial took place in the church cemetry next to Rani’s school. Mrs Jhaveri got there just as the pastor concluded his prayers and sprinkled earth on the coffin. She watched with interest as Mr Morgan threw a few clumps of earth and wiped a tear. She saw Mrs Jones sniffing loudly into her lace handkerchief and she inched slowly towards her. The cleaning woman was there as well. Looking rather white and tired. The Morgans did not have any children, and the only other family member present was Sian’s ailing sister. She was wheeled towards the coffin and her shoulders shook violently as she threw earth on the coffin.

“Poor dear,” whispered Mrs Jones. “She doesn’t have much time left either.” She looked at Mrs Jhaveri and nodded. “Sian’s sister there, Sue, she never got married. Looked after their father, you know. He died only last year, at the ripe old age of ninety. And would you believe it? Sue fell down the stairs a week later and ended up being an invalid herself.”

“Very sad,” Mrs Jhaveri whispered back.

“Indeed, especially after inheriting the house and not being able to enjoy it. Right shame it is.” Mrs Jones sniffed her disapproval. “Sian herself inherited a tidy sum herself. They went to Thailand couple of months ago.”

“I know. Sian showed me the elephant statues she bought from there…”

The cleaning woman, or rather, Mr Morgan's distant cousin, turned around and glared at them. Mrs Jones went red and sniffed loudly into her handkerchief. Mrs Jhaveri glared back at her. How dare she eavesdrop on their conversation and then have the cheek to show her disapproval. She had no right to butt in.

“Mrs Jones,” she whispered back deliberately. “I think Sian didn’t die of a heart attack. She was murdered.” There, that should knock the socks off curdle-face.

Mrs Jones gasped and dropped her handbag. The cousin squared her shoulders but did not turn around.

What are you saying, Mrs… Mrs…? Mrs Jones coughed.

“Mrs Jhaveri.”

“Oh yes, Mrs Javier?”

“Jha-ve-ri.”

“I’m so sorry, Mrs Jhavieri. But why do you think that?” Mrs Jones clutched her handbag to her chest. “I didn’t see anyone there in the toilet that night.”

“Simple. The shoes. Remember you mentioned her black suede shoes, lying by her head?”

Mrs Jones nodded vigorously.

“Well, the killer killed her, then ran away with her shoes. Think about it. Why would Sian wear black shoes with her purple dress?”

Mrs Jones’ eyes bulged. Her mouth opened, but shut again.

“Anyway, you may not believe it. I think so.” Mrs Jhaveri stated firmly. An westerly wind was beginning to blow and the tips of her fingers were beginning to go numb. She’d have to go back indoors soon.

Mrs Jones laughed politely. “Oh, Mrs Ja-va-rey. You’ve been watching too many detective dramas on telly. She definitely wasn’t murdered. She died in front of me… of a heart attack.” She patted Mrs Jhaveri gently on her shoulders. Mrs Jhaveri nodded politely but her lips were set in a thin line. She would prove it. She excused herself and walked out of the churchyard.  It was a quarter to eleven and the children were on their break. She slowed down by the school to see if she could spot Rani. Yes, there she was, running around in the playground, laughing with her friends. She hadn’t got her mittens on. Mrs Jhaveri grimaced and flexed her own frozen fingers. This cold would be the death of her.

As she walked past the surgery, an idea flashed through her mind.

“Hang on a minute,” she muttered, imitating Rani. “I have an idea.”

She entered the surgery and asked to see her doctor. A long wait was imminent, so she sat in a corner and decided to think things out carefully.

Dr Davies saw her forty minutes later. She was the last appointment for the morning. She liked this quiet, young doctor with his large hands and ginger hair. She saw him regularly thanks to Rani’s sniffles and tickles. That’s what he called it. Sniffles and tickles and Rani would collapse into giggles.

“Good afternoon, Dr Davies.” Mrs Jhaveri smiled sweetly at him.

“Afternoon, Mrs Jhaveri,” he replied, rubbing his hands together. “Where’s the little princess? Or is it you this time?”

Mrs Jhaveri laughed nervously. “Actually, doctor, I don’t have a problem… medical problem, I mean. But if you could help me, I’d be very grateful.”

“Oh.” Dr Davies looked confused. “How can I help?”

“Doctor, please don’t think I am crazy. I really need to ask you this.” She was sure he’d send her packing.

“Oh no, you go on. What’s the problem?”

“Well, you know, doctor… I am a bit confused over some facts. Can a person die of heart attack, but which is actually not heart attack?” Mrs Jhaveri bit her lip. This was not going the right way.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.” Dr Davies looked at her and frowned.

“Okay, I’ll try again.” Mrs Jhaveri cleared her throat and closed her eyes. “My friend died recently of a heart attack. But, I think it was not heart attack. She was killed. Something strange about the situation makes me believe she was killed. Am I making sense?”  She waved her hands about helplessly.

“Wait a minute,” Dr Davies said. “Are you trying to tell me that someone was murdered but it was made to look like this person died of a heart attack?”

“Yes,” Mrs Jhaveri clapped her hands. “You understood? Good.”

“Well, if that’s what you are implying.”

“Doctor, how can one achieve this? How?”

“But why does that interest you?” Asked Dr Davies, narrowing his eyes.

“I’m – I’m writing a novel,” Mrs Jhaveri said, looking into his eyes. “In Hindi. You can’t read it. Sorry.”
“I didn’t know you write,” Dr Davies smiled. “Crime fiction, huh? Have you been published?”
“I will be, if you help me out with the verdict, doctor,” Mrs Jhaveri muttered, and then smiled sweetly at him. “I’ll give you a signed copy. In Hindi. I don’t write in English.”

Dr Davies laughed and looked excited. Poor man, he needed to go out a bit more. Maybe Monica and he – Mrs Jhavery forced herself to concentrate on the task at hand.

“Well, certain chemicals, substances, if ingested… eaten can trigger a heart attack,” he said.

“Oh, like what chemicals?”

“Certain painkillers, if taken irresponsibly. Wait a minute… who are you talking about?”

Dr Davies looked at her and frowned. He tapped his fingers on his desk and waited.

“Sian Morgan,” she said quietly.

“Hmmm. Why do you suspect murder, Mrs Jhaveri.”

“If you can give me an answer, doctor, I would be able to give you mine.” She was playing mind games with the doctor now and quite enjoying it.

“Well, so I’ve said some chemicals. But they’re hard to get by easily.”

“What about natural stuff?” she prodded. “I saw on telly the other night, someone was poisoned by mushrooms.”

Dr Davies smiled at her. “You watch too many detective dramas. Ma’am. But you are right. Coprinopsis atramentaria. The Inky Cap mushroom.”

“A-ha. That’s a start. How does one use it?”

“Well, in itself, it can’t do anything. But if any alcohol is consumed later, it could be fatal. The Tippler’s Bane, another name for it.” Dr Davies typed it up on Google. “Let’s see what else we can find.”

“But who would want to kill her?” asked Mrs Jhaveri. “She didn’t have any enemies. I don’t know.”

“Her husband – suspect number one, of course.” Dr Davies smiled at her, teasing her.

Mrs Jhaveri shook her head absently. “They were married for forty years. Far too long for a man to wait. It was a woman, for sure.”

“Why do you say that?” Dr Davie frowned. Mrs Jhaveri seemed very serious.


“Because, the killer ran away with Sian Morgan’s shoes.”

“Oh, here it is,” Dr Davies looked at the computer screen and read aloud to her.

Consumed with alcohol, Coprinopsis atramentaria is toxic. Symptoms include facial reddening, nausea, vomiting, malaise agitation and palpitations and arise 20 minutes to 2 hours after consumption. The fungus contains coprine, which blocks the action of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, allowing the buildup of acetaldehyde in the body…”

Okay, so in English it means…?” Asked Mrs Jhaveri impatiently.

“Just that. It’s dangerous to drink alcohol after eating the Inky cap. But, I would suggest, you shouldn’t worry about it. The coroner must have done a thorough job. She’d have died of a heart attack, no doubt.”

“Yes, yes. Of course,” Mrs Jhaveri said quickly. She didn’t want to upset the doctor. Besides she had to know what Sian had for lunch on the afternoon of that fateful day. “I must go now. Sorry to have taken up your time. I have to be present for the wake at the Morgans’ place.”

She rushed out of the surgery. Sian had inherited some money, didn’t Mrs Jones say that? What if Mr Morgan killed her for that? She clicked her tongue in irritation. Of course, he wouldn’t. He didn’t seem to hate her. Though she had just found out, that he always did the cooking at home. What if he had killed her by mistake? But that wouldn’t explain the shoes. That had to be a woman’s work. Or was it Mr Morgan, trying to take the attention off himself, just in case?

To be continued ...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Mrs Jhaveri Investigates Part 3


Mrs Jhaveri got home and put the kettle on. She was proud of herself, talking to an actual policeman and sharing confidences with him. Of course, Sian Morgan didn’t die of a heart attack! Or maybe she did, realising she had the wrong shoes on her feet. She suffocated a chortle in her throat. That was not funny. The poor woman was dead. But why had Mr Morgan ignored her, looked through her as if he didn’t even know her? Poor man, he must be really distraught. She decided to visit him again later that evening. She could make her famous lamb stew for him. Back home, whenever there was death in a family, there could be no cooking in that household until the funeral. Neighbours or relatives usually brought food in for the bereaved family. Yes, she would be the good neighbour and help Mr Morgan once again. He would definitely appreciate that.

Feeling happy to be of some use to him, Mr Jhaveri set about making lamb stew. As she stirred the pot, her brain dredged up memories from her last visit, when she had interacted with the Morgans more often. She remembered those trips to the hospital. Sian seemed to need her support a lot. She didn't have much help by way of family. They didn't have children. The two of them would visit Mr Morgan everyday at five o’clock. It had seemed odd, sitting there with the couple, listening to their daily patter about nothing in particular. But then she realised that Sian was afraid of hospitals, terrified even. It had taken her a great amount of courage to set foot in one. And she really had needed Mrs Jhaveri to hold her hand and walk through those double doors every day for a whole month.

When Mr Morgan finally returned home, he had been quite weak and irritable. He stopped talking to his wife for a long time. And if he did, he only shouted, accused her of being selfish and mean. He was diagnosed with depression. So once again. Mrs Jhaveri became the shoulder on which Sian Morgan could cry on. And play Bezique with. And win. She always fixed lovely teas for Mrs Jhaveri whenever she visited. Those dainty sandwiches, salmon and cucumber. Egg and Cress. Light, fluffy cakes and Earl Grey tea. Mrs Jhaveri didn’t like the tea, it smelled odd, but that didn’t matter. She was happy to be of ‘emotional’ support to Sian.

Mrs Jhaveri added seasoning to her stew and stirred. The vegetables were done and the meat was falling off the bone. Ah, the warm rich aroma of lamb stew filled the kitchen. Rani was in for a treat that evening, she thought and smiled.

But what was wrong with the shoes? Her thoughts kept going back to the shoes. She hadn’t even seen them. She had seen those pearls, though. Sian wore them often. They were almost buttery in colour. Three lovely strands of perfect roundness and glow. Surely, a similar coloured pair of shoes would set them off. Satin shoes, that had a pearly sheen as well. Not black suede. And why were they by her head? Why would Sian take off her shoes before collapsing? That did not fit any theory.

She peered out of the window and saw the police car drive away. Good, she wiped her hands on the edge of her apron and turned off the cooker. Here was her chance. She dashed out and made her way to the Morgan’s front door. The lights were on inside. She peeped innocuously through the window and saw Mr Morgan hunched in front of the television. Good, he’s home – alone.

She knocked and waited. It was a while before Mr Morgan opened the door. He smiled in a tired sort of way.

“Ah, Mrs Jhaveri,” he said. “You managed to dodge the police this time.” He winked and showed her in.

“Oh, Mr Morgan. I am so sorry about this tragedy.” Tears sprung to her eyes and she wiped it with the corner of her pallu. “I truly am very sorry.” She burst into tears and Mr Morgan clasped and unclasped his hands.

“Please, please,” he cried anxiously. “Sit down, Mrs Jhaveri. It’s alright.”

“Sian was such a beautiful lady. Such a beautiful heart… and soul.”  She shook her head and dried her tears. “But why did the police come here?”

“Huh?” Mr Morgan started and sat down heavily beside her. “To check on her medical history etc etc… to be sure…”

“Sure if what?” asked Mrs Jhaveri.

“I don’t know. Routine work, he said. Since she died in a public place.”

“And are you okay? How are you eating? Who’s cooking for you?”

Mr Morgan looked surprised. “I’m fine, thank you for asking. I can cook. I’ve been cooking all these years.”

“Really? You cooked instead of Sian?” asked Mrs Jhaveri, shocked.

 Her husband had never entered the kitchen. Rather, she’d never let him. It just wasn’t right for men to be in a kitchen. It was okay for them to cook and all, but who did the clearing up after, she had always argued. So best to draw the territorial lines early on in the marriage. TV remote, his. The cooker, hers. So Monica had been right, after all. Men were different in this country.

“Yes,” Mr Morgan laughed. “Sian never entered the kitchen.  She couldn’t tell a peach from a plum!”

“But… but she always made such lovely sandwiches and cakes for me…” She felt she had to defend Sian somehow.

Mr Morgan threw back his head and laughed. “Marks and Spencer, my dear. You never realised that? No? No wonder she loved you!”


Mrs Jhaveri stared at him. He stopped laughing and his eyes glinted angrily.  “Sian, bless her soul, was not as perfect as you thought her to be.”

She shifted in her seat. One did not speak ill of the dead, especially one’s own wife. His eyes filled and he looked away.

“Don’t listen to me. I’m too upset.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I’ve made some lamb stew for you. Do you remember?”

Mr Morgan smiled kindly at her. “I do,” he whispered. “The hospital. Some things do happen for the better.”

Mrs Jhaveri stood up. “I must go now. Have to pick up Rani from school. We will come to the funeral tomorrow. The cleaning woman told me.”

Mr Morgan looked up, frowning. “Cleaning woman? Oh. Aah, you met her?”

“Yes, I came by yesterday. So did Mrs Jones.”

“Oh, I didn’t know. She's actually a distant cousin. Helping me out.”

"I see," said Mrs Jhaveri. No wonder she behaved like she owned the place.

The telephone rang just then. “I’ll see myself out,” said Mrs Jhaveri and walked away.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Mrs Jhaveri Investigates Part 2

“It was a heart attack,” she told Monica that evening. “Poor thing died of a heart attack.”

“Oh no,” said Monica, pouring herself some coffee. “She would be in her sixties, na? Her husband must be devastated. Did you see him in the morning?”

“No. He wasn’t in …”
“Forty years together. Amazing.” Monica rolled her eyes and muttered something Mrs Jhaveri couldn’t quite catch, but she could be sure it was about Akhil, her ex-husband.

“Poor Mr Morgan,” she said hurriedly, in an attempt to get Monica’s mind off that taboo subject. “He had a stroke a couple of years back. I was here then.”

“Yes,” Monica stirred her coffee absently. “He was in the hospital for a long time. You visited him, right? With his wife?”

“That’s right. I went every other day with Sian. I used to make lamb stew for him, and we’d smuggle it to his bed.” She smiled at the memory. She remembered having to dodge a particular nurse who always seemed to station herself by Mr Morgan’s bed during visiting hours. It felt like such an achievement to get the food past her.

“Well, who’s going to look after him now?” she wondered.

“Ma,” Monica said, sharply. “This is not India. He doesn’t need anyone to look after him. Men are much more independent here. Not molly-coddled by their wives. He’ll probably get married again. You watch and see.”

“Monica,” exclaimed Mrs Jhaveri. “What nonsense. He’s an old man. Show him some respect. Don’t let your bitterness get in the way of everything, beti.”

Monica jumped up and threw the coffee into the sink. Her eyes flashed in the fluorescent light and she stomped out of the room.
Mrs Jhaveri sighed.  Her daughter needed time to sort herself out. Akhil had left her for an older woman. A white woman with two children and who wore war-paint for make-up. Monica’s self-esteem had been shattered. The beauty with the brains had not been good enough for him.

How can I help her? This was Mrs Jhaveri’s mantra. Her daily chant. How can I help my daughter?

She went up to Rani’s room. She was sleeping. A smaller version of Monica, with her black, shining hair and ivory skin. She slept blissfully on, unaware of all the tumbles of life. Or, maybe not. At five years of age, what explanation could convince a child of her father’s absence? Of her mother’s progression towards a breakdown?

“Fortieth wedding anniversary,” whispered Mrs Jhaveri. “Mine ended at thirty-five. Monica’s ended at six.” She brushed aside her tears and closed the door. She lay down on her side of the bed and stroked Rani’s hair. She thought about Sian and whispered a prayer for her. Finally she settled down to sleep.

At two o’clock Mrs Jhaveri woke up with a start. The moonlight seeped in through a gap in the curtains. Like pearl shine. She shot up in bed, and immediately groaned. Her back rebelled against any sudden actions.

She knew what had been niggling at her brain. She had dreamt of Mrs Jones and her conversation with her. She dreamt of Sian, on the floor, her pearls scattered across the bathroom, her violet dress bleeding onto the floor. But the shoes were not right. Sian could never have worn black shoes with her violet dress and off-white pearls. She was a very fashionable woman. She was always well turned out, even at her home, whenever Mrs Jhaveri visited her for elevenses. She had once opened her shoe closet in the hall by mistake, thinking it to be a toilet. And she had been amazed to see rows and rows of beautiful shoes in there. Mrs Morgan had laughed self-consciously and said she could open a shoe shop with her collection. It was her only indulgence. Mrs Jhaveri had smiled politely and tucked her sandals under her sari. They had been quite tired-looking.

“Sian Morgan could never have worn black suede shoes with her dress. She had to have matching shoes to off-set her pearls. Didn’t Mrs Jones say they were not on her feet?” Mrs Jhaveri muttered to herself. “Something is very strange going on here.”

She stumbled across to Monica’s room, brimming with excitement. But Monica was snoring ever so softly under the duvet. Her heart reached out to her poor, troubled daughter. No, let her sleep, she thought. It’s probably one of the few nights that she’s restfully sleeping.

She went back to bed, and planned to visit Mr Morgan the next day.


The next morning, after struggling with Rani’s breakfast and getting her into two mismatched shoes, she managed to reach the school gates by ten to nine. She also tracked down the child wearing two right-footed shoes and got her to exchange one with Rani’s. Then she plodded back to see if Mr Morgan was at home.

He was. But so was a tall, scrawny policeman who kept shifting from one foot to another.

“Sorry, m’am,” he said. “But, I’m afraid you’ll have to visit some other time.”

“Why?” gasped Mrs Jhaveri. “Is something happening? Mr Morgan, are you ok?”

Mr Morgan looked at her blankly and turned away. The policeman led her towards the gate. “Now, m’am, we don’t want any rumours spreading. This is just routine work.”

Mrs Jhaveri nodded. “Of course, of course. I just wanted to see if Mr Morgan was alright, that’s all.” She started to walk away, then suddenly she turned around and looked up into the policeman’s eyes.

“Do you really think she died of a heart attack?” she asked. “I think not. It’s very strange business.”

The policeman stopped. “What do you mean?”


She smiled at him and mumbled. “Well, one doesn’t wear black suede shoes with a lilac dress. Certainly not Sian.” She walked away as fast as she could. There, she had said it. Sown the seeds of doubt in the policeman’s mind. Now it was up to him to uncover the truth. 

To be continued...