The following is the text from the novel “Earthbound” (excerpt from chapter 13). You can download the book for free only on the 25th December, 2012 from Amazon by clicking here. Have a great vacation!
Mani Shankar sat in the reading room which adjoined the famous artifact store in Paros. During the past few years that he had been away, the room had been stripped off a vast number of books and it now looked barren and desolate.
When Mani Shankar had stepped inside it a few days ago, after a long gap of ten years, he was stunned by its appearance. The familiar faces were no longer there. Neither was there the absorbing aroma of coffee that used to linger in the air. The old paintings still remained on the walls. The book shelves were empty except for a few stray copies of the latest bestsellers, a handful of magazines and a lot of newspapers.
Mani Shankar sat leafing through a newspaper when coffee was brought to him. He was somehow relieved by the fact that this part of the old culture was retained.
He sipped his coffee and gazed at the empty chair across the table. It used to be his usual table. He remembered Loki. Whenever he thought of her, fresh pangs of pain emanated from somewhere deep within him. He had not been able to put her out of his mind ever since the fateful day he saw her daughter, Maitrayee. Maitrayee had walked across the broad road after climbing out of a tourist bus and had leaned against the rails of an old waterfall. He had stared in disbelief, convinced that it was Loki herself. He wondered if she had somehow survived. It had to be someone else that they had found in the water.
But it all seem ludicrous when he saw the Maitrayee walk away from the water fall, a wry expression on her face as she studied him carefully. He was convinced that she did not know who he was or did not want to be associated with him. He had followed the bus. When it had stalled in Paros, he parked his car discreetly and tried to convince himself that it couldn’t be Loki. She could not have been the same after almost two decades.
He wondered if the girl was at all related to her. To ascertain the fact, he endeavoured to walk over to the bus and talk to her. He knew he’d be welcomed by an expression of displeasure from the girl if he’d simply barge upon her and start talking about, ‘Loki’. He saw the look of surprise the girl tried to conceal from him. He casually glanced over to her seat by the window. The plump seats and the large windows offered him a good view of an old notebook that lay coyly under a shawl; visible enough for him to read a part of the owner’s name. He needed no time to recognize the notebook. He arched himself swiftly and with an athletic leap grabbed the notebook and went off with it. He was mildly ashamed to having done so but he knew it had to be done in order to prevent any misunderstanding which might arise in due course of time.
His mind now rested unwavering at the empty chair which used to be Loki’s usual seat whenever she came down to the reading room. He remembered her distinctly. She had walked in during one sunny morning in a ochre yellow kurta which had glass beads and sequins stitched artistically along the neck-line. She was carrying her usual gray bag and her curly hair hung loosely around her face and shoulders.
He had almost stood up in awe. She had turned to him and said, “I knew you would be here. Your study room back home is just for show, your sister says!”
“Ahelya is my half-sister,” he had reminded her.
Loki had looked at him abruptly. “I know,” she said, “Did the two of you fight again?”
Mani Shankar gave a slight nod, “But it was not about the usual thing.”
“Really? It wasn’t about not going to the university?
What did you fight about?”
“You,” he had replied quietly.
He saw her countenance change. There was a startling blankness in her face. No one could understand what was going on in her mind. “The two of you take me by surprise sometimes,” she said. As far as Mani knew her, he knew that this indicated the end of the topic. She took out a wad of typed sheets from her bag along with her notebook that bore her name in golden letters. She placed them on the table. Mani Shankar studied her name on the notebook as he had often done before. It seemed highly improbable to him that it should be her name at all. She never gave any other name and her few friends in this part of the country knew her as ‘Loki Kanoi’, a highly unusual name that she had picked out for herself.
She pushed the typed pages to him.
“Here; I have made you some notes from my observations. I copied them out of my notebook. They are of no particular use to me,” she had said. “It might help you with your book.”
“It’s already finished,” Mani had said.
“Already finished?” she retorted, surprised. “I’ve not been able to finish the work I had started when I was in college and you say you have already finished a book in less than a month’s time? You must be crazy!”
“I had to finish it. I need the money to establish my law practice.”
“Then I suggest that you study your law textbooks. You’ll be able to set yourself up properly,” she said gravely. “And as for finishing the book in a month, I’d only suggest that don’t dare insult your mind. I am well aware of the mushy stuff one can churn out in a month but not a work like ‘The Fabled Land’. The idea for the book, as you related it to me, was too grand to be tossed into mere words hastily stuffed in a bunch of paper in mere months’ time. I read a few chapters, and if you’d ask me, I did not like it.”
“Ahelya no doubt made you read it?”
Loki did not reply immediately.
“She seems to think I am bad influence for you,” she said quietly, “that I am distracting you from your designated course of study ever since last month when we first met. Your sister said she was sorry for the sad jumbled-up state that you are in now. Am I really harming you Mani? If what your sister says is right then let this be a parting gift. You and I shall go on as casual acquaintances from now on. You will study your law and not be desperate to try to publish a badly written book. Don’t insult your intellect. For god’s sake, you are only nineteen.”
Mani Shankar watched silently as she rose to leave; the towering goddess whose power was infinite. She made him mute in her presence. He banged his fist on the table just as she was gone. The two other men in the room had looked at him. He then rolled up the sheets that she had left and walked out of the place.
He strolled around the river-bank for some time. The bright afternoon had soon dipped into a calm evening. After a while he went to his usual restaurant and ordered a light meal. He sat thinking about the oddity of the situation he had brought on himself. He was unquestionably in love with a twenty-two year old woman who had a husband and a two-month old child. He tried very hard to convince himself that he was wrong to think they could be together. The assimilated tips of moral sobriety sent out pangs of fear and anger down his stomach. He had fallen in love with her the instant he had first seen her with Ahelya. She was a sort of person he’d never come across before. When he found that she was married and was already a mother, he felt a gradual lump rising in his throat, constricting him, depriving him of the very air he needed to survive. When he started to know her better, he was convinced that there could not be another person like her; sensual, beautiful and erratic: an indomitable goddess. She was wild and ravaging as nature herself. During their trips to the hills, when she was looking for a suitable place to stay or rather disappear into; he could not distinguish one from the other.
After having finished his meal, he had walked in an agitated manner for over half an hour gathering up all the courage he possessed. He had decided to pay her a visit and try to set the wheels in motion. He soon found himself near one of the large white apartment buildings, ran up a flight of stairs and rang her doorbell twice.
You can download the entire novel (Earthbound) for free on the 25th of December, 2012. (12:00AM – 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time)
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Text from Chapter 13, Earthbound. ©Ananya Mukherjee, 2012. ©The Idea Bucket, 2012.