A River On Fire

Stories of pain, passion, trust & betrayal
A River On Fire

Author: Jasvinder Sharma
Format: Paperback
Language: English
ISBN: 9788122310245
Code: 9411B
Pages: 191
Price: US$ 4.00

Published: 2008
Publisher: CEDAR BOOKS
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This bouquet of short stories presents a true-to-life picture of the society before us. Instead of an imagined world, the storyteller through these stories offers a slice of life, a down-to-earth scenario in which the reader finds himself involved unknowingly.The writer having a good understanding of basic human feelings brings them out dexterously in these tales on divergent issues. These fine, tumultuous, powerful and heartfelt sagas are not just stories; these are experiences. Reading them, the reader does not remain solely an observer; he becomes a part of them. The stories open a world of fallacy, malice and maladjustment, and take him directly to it. This is the world that is already known to him, but he very often chooses to close his eyes to it. Brimming with unlikely and colourful characters, the tales offer a fine blend of irony and humanity, with some of them replete with heart-warming humour. The world of the storyteller has the fullness of human psyche, with its dreams, passions, awe and wonder. Despite the ambience of fantasy, hardcore realism, quandaries and predicament underline his stories.

About the Author(s)

Jasvinder Sharma was born on December 16, 1958. He is a seasoned writer, who as written a number of books. His first book was Jasvinder Sharma ke Muntkhib Afsane, a collection of short stories in Urdu. After that a number of books of short stories, satire and poetry flowed from his pen. Main hi Makhan Khayo won him the first prize from Sahitya Akademi, Haryana in 2005. In 2006, the author was honoured with the Shara Katha Prize by Mr Shekhawat, the then Vice President of India. He also won the second prize in a short story competition organised in 2007 by North Zone Cultural Centre, Patiala, which included over 400 entries from five states. Many of his works have been published in various leading national dailies and magazines, such as The Pioneer, Hindustan, Navbharat Times, The Tribune, The Telegraph, Sahara Times, Jansatta, Indian Horizons, Outlook, The Sunday Indian, Kadambini, and many more. This is his first book in English.

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Contents

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1. The Rendezvous
2. Scorching Days, Frosty Nights
3. The Surrender
4. A Wild Send-Off
5. Death in the City
6. The Right Compensation
7. The Return of Uncle Sam
8. Walking Down the Nostalgia Lane
9. The Unending War
10. Now or Never
11. Tambola Tricks
12. If Winters Come
13. Breaking Away
14. A Happy Ending
15. Point Blank
16. Second Innings
17. A Perfect Butcher
18. Bohemian
19. Where Rainbows End
20. A River on Fire
21. The Beginning of an End
22. Never Say Tomorrow
23. A Suitable Bride
24. A Dog in Manger
25. Picking up

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Sample Chapters


(Following is an extract of the content from the book)
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<b>Tambola Tricks</b>

“Sweet Sixteen.”
“Murgi chor is number Four.”
Tambola was in full swing.
Kitty parties are very popular these days. There was a time when only urban elite class organised these sorts of flamboyant parties just to pass time and show each other their sprawling houses, expensive clothes and riches. Only sexy, smart and fashionably plump ladies were perfect in this game. Now these have become very common.
Uttering a number with a filthy sentence, Poonam laughed aloud and the other ladies joined her too.
Renu was irritated. She shouted, “Please don’t do this, I’ll miss my number. Poonam, shake the numbers well.”
Neha and Mrs. Nagpal sat very close to each other. Their comic whispers were on.
“Always first is number One.”
“Mota Seth is number Eight”, said Poonam.
Neha remarked smilingly and meaningfully, “Why have you stopped saying now – one fat Major number Eight. Afraid of Mrs. Nagpal?”
Poonam answered nervously, “You know, last year in the kitty of Renu, Mrs. Nagpal took it bad when I said one fat Major number Eight. For many days she didn’t speak to me. So I have changed it to mota seth.”
Mrs. Nagpal said defensively, “No, no! The game is a game. I don’t mind at all. Moreover my husband is a Brigadier now. Why should I mind for a bloody fat Major? Moreover, my hubby is quite slim and trim. He weighs just seventy kilograms.”
Sweety remarked, “Mrs. Nagpal, you are saying with such assurance as if you weigh him daily.”
Renu chirped, “After all, the weight of our husbands is no stranger to us.”
All burst out loudly. Some elder ladies were smiling shyly.
Neha said, “Please, Poonam, finish this tambola quickly.
I have to go early. You know my mother-in-law is with me
these days.”
Mrs. Nagpal remarked satirically, “Who fears the
mothers-in-law these days? On the contrary, they are afraid of us.”
Renu was sulking, “I too have to go early. I have to pick up my daughter from her school. Poonam, shake the numbers well and then announce.”
Poonam shook the bowl violently. It contained large
button-shaped plastic numbers.
She took out one and announced, “Tender age is Fourteen.”
Sweety cried loudly, “Wow! My second line is finished.”
“Come on, get it tallied from the numbers on the board.”
Neha teased her, “Poonam, Sweety is a big cheater. Declare her boggy. It will be a great fun.”
Sweety was notorious for cheating. She baffled a lot
and had been caught many times. She was fussy and
quarrelsome too.
Poonam matched her slip and this time found the number matching with the board. Sweety was given fifty rupees for the second line.
“Lovely legs is number Eleven.”
Mrs. Nagpal’s whispering was in full swing. She was cracking funny tit-bits and light jokes. Three ladies were bending over her. These ladies had more interest in her humorous volleys than in the tambola game.
Mrs. Nagpal was continuing, “You know, tambola is conducted very aptly by my friend Veena. Her style is so hilarious and amusing that while playing tambola with her, we laugh so boisterously that our bellies ache. By God, such dirty words she employs! You know, what she says to number one and sixty-nine, shit, I can’t utter in the presence of the old aunties here. I will take you there one day and you will see her sharp and witty tongue. My goodness, even downmarket men must be more sophisticated in their tongue as compared to Veena. But we fully enjoy her obscene language.”
Pushpa, rubbing her red hot nose said, “One more number and I will get the third line.”
Sweety was attempting to match numbers of her slips with those placed on the tambola board.
Neha interrupted, “What is to be done regarding the pending amount of Mrs. Verma?”
Poonam’s naughty son was playing with the unannounced numbers kept separately in the tumbler. The attention of most of the ladies was fixed up there lest he may lose any number which mattered to them. But etiquette was stopping them from scolding that impish boy.
Poonam took him to task, “Please my darling, Mera Raja Beta, go and play outside. Look there, all your new friends are around. Go and play with Nitin.”
Renu suggested in a teacher’s tone, “These kitties should be on Sundays. Men folks are around. At least they can take care of these rascal kids.”
Neha was bent on having a decision regarding Mrs. Verma’s unpaid kitty money. She said twice but no one listened.
Actually the ladies had taken for granted that there were no chances of Mrs. Verma’s return or the pending amount. Her due share of pending kitties was treated by them as a bad debt. She had run away from the city and had taken the full amount of her kitty. Her husband’s business was said to be running in loss, so they left the city silently one fine morning.
The whole epic of Mrs. Verma came to the centre stage.
“She didn’t pay two month’s rent to the landlord.”
“She had a posh villa on a reasonable rent.”
“She ditched us. How we will face her landlord now? I was interested to get that bungalow for my sister.”
“Her husband’s business was not that bad. My husband was saying that it was all a foul play. Mr. Verma wanted to change his business. He cheated his partner. Mrs. Verma too made a fool of many people and amassed good loot.”
“The owner of Vansh departmental store, the Rohila confectionery and even the lady of New Looks Boutique, all made enquiries from me. I clearly said that Mrs. Verma was just our kitty member and nothing else. We don’t know her new address. She owes fifty thousand as kitty money to us. If you find her, recover our money too. We will reward you suitably.”
“People won’t leave her.”
“My husband says, give him a chance and he will locate those cheats.”
“But how will we face her?”
“Poor unlucky fellows! Lost all the goodwill of fifteen years. Where they would have gone with this bad reputation?”
“Poor, my foot! She was very shrewd. How grand she lived!”
“She bought extravagant and expensive dresses every week.”
“Lavish parties, daily cocktails.”
“She had promised payments.”
“She had sent one or two instalments through Poonam.”
“Now Mrs. Nagpal, what is the share of our contribution to compensate for Mrs. Verma’s loot?”
Mrs. Nagpal took out the diary and started counting and writing something in it.
Renu shrieked, “Poonam, finish the tambola. I will be late in this humbug.”
Poonam took out one number at random, looked at it and satirically announced, “Badmash Number Ten.”
Neha cried excitedly, “Third line please.”
“Mix the numbers, very bad day today.”
“Hey Ram! One number and the first house will be mine.”
Poonam again started shouting like the usher standing outside a session court. Everyone was tense, holding breath, waiting for the wanted number. Their hearts were pumping heavily. The race to finish first and get a thousand rupee was going fast.
“Lucky number Seven.”
“Two little ducks Twenty-two.”
“Unlucky number Thirteen.”
And the last game was over.
They were all exhausted.
Then they attacked on the dishes prepared by Poonam.
Mrs. Nagpal took only a spoonful of everything in her plate and said softly in the ears of Renu, “People order these things from the restaurant and boast that they had prepared these delicious dishes themselves. We aren’t fools. We find out everything.”
The whole group was now moving towards the gate.
Mrs. Verma’s betrayal was still the topic of discussion. The compensating amount which every member was paying each month because of her treachery was pinching everyone.
Some ladies were suspecting that since Poonam and
Mrs. Verma were close friends, Mrs. Verma visited Poonam even now. When Mrs. Verma was a proclaimed offender, Poonam was not leaking out her secret and her new address since Mrs. Verma owed lakhs of rupees to the shopkeepers.
A few women claimed that she was still in the city and they had seen her once in an exhibition and once in a shopping mall.
They had formed groups now. One group was discussing new trends of fashion, hairstyle, new boutique, salons and slimming centres. They cared little for money.
The other one was a religious-minded group which was exchanging notes on latest trend of yoga, worship, astrologers and religious gurus.
And yet another was a group of busy ladies whose children were in primary classes. They were here but their minds were in their household chores and errands.
Soon they were leaving one by one.
“Okay bye, Poonam. See you at Renu’s kitty.”
All voices sounded in one chorus. Mrs. Nagpal was the last one to go since she had developed a close affinity with Poonam these days.
Everyone had gone.
Poonam shut the main gate securely. She rushed upstairs.
Unlocking the door, she plunged into the sofa.
Mrs. Verma’s face was pale and fatigued. She stopped turning the pages of the magazine. She was uneasy and nervous. She spoke in a depressing voice, “I heard them abusing me. Tell me what Mrs. Nagpal said. Just a few days more and I will come before them.”
Poonam said in a nervous tone, “She went in the last. I told her the truth about you. I said her husband’s business is going well now. In the next kitty, she will join us and will clear all her dues.”
Mrs. Verma rubbed her sore moist eyes. Poonam cupped her cheeks. Tears gushed down. They say even crocodiles shed tears. It was only Mrs. Verma who knew that she was not in a position to face the public.

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