(Dedicated to my Vivekananda College classmate Praveen, who nagged the hell out of me, short of jumping on my head, to write this)
This is a short story I had submitted to the Times of India ‘Write for Anita’ contest (Author Anita Nair) which was written within the following constraints.
7 May – 30 May, 2016
Passage by Anita Nair
Title of the Story:
How Blue is my Sapphire
All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am…..
Rules by the Author
1) Name of the Story: How Blue is my Sapphire
2) Must be literary fiction that leaps off the page. Literary fiction is best defined as “works that offer deliberate social commentary or political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.”
3) The story shouldn’t have more than four characters and an animal
4) The story should play out in 24 hours.
Write India Contest Rules
- Read carefully the passage provided by the author to help kickstart your story.You can use this passage at the beginning, anywhere in the middle, or the end of your story, but you must use it.
- Each author has provided some rules he/she would like you to follow. Stick to the rules please.
HOW BLUE IS MY SAPPHIRE
(This is a fictional account, loosely based on real life events which took place more than half a century ago)
I nervously made my entrance, super slow step by super slow step, into a place I had never seen before – not even on the Warner Brothers back lot.
The butterflies in my solar plexus did a Salsa – none of the training in posture, voice carry and theatrical gesture prepared me for this. Not even the training in reacting to cues……because……. there was NO cue !
“ Dont just stand around waiting to say your lines…….learn to LISTEN”, Mr.Chaplin had said once. But listen to what ? The low murmur of curiously excited 500 middle aged male voices like a Mexican wave ? I even resisted the temptation to dig into my memory and reproduce the Cinderella enters the Palace for the first time look. It would have seemed so artificial and elicited the reaction “Yeah ….She did that….JUST like we thought she would”. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Our actions become our past and for better or worse we have to live with our past – every little bit of it.
So I just fixed a somber, small grave smile on my face.
I needn’t have worried so much. The entire “congregation” stood up slowly but purposefully and applauded drowning out the Speaker of the House of Representatives’ brief words of welcome.
I finally responded to THIS cue and slightly widened the smile and looked around like a speaker about to address her audience.
Actually I used this moment to satisfy my curiosity and took in the large hall, the various entrances, and the well of the huge hall in which I stood.
Cary never told me about this. Neither did Hitch. Though both of them had been in here before.
I finally sat down after being graciously motioned to do so.
So………….THIS was what the legislature of the United States looked like.
It was done. I had made it here – the last place in the world I would have dreamed of visiting.
Life is one big To Do List.
Strike off one and another takes its place. And unfortunately no bells ring when the aforementioned “one” is struck off.
My thoughts went back to last night to my arrival at the airport. I had stayed put in my seat even after all the passengers had disembarked.
Was that another item on my To Do List ? Unlike today I had waited seven years for that moment last night.
Can anyone even imagine what it must feel like to be united with one’s daughter after seven years ? And this was not just a physical reunion. My daughter and I were estranged. After all my years of penance and penitence she was coming around to understand why I left her father. She was beginning to understand that it was the only way I could have been honest to myself and to him.
I did try with all my might to walk in her soul the best I could.
It was no small burden for her to carry.
Overnight she had become both daughter AND surrogate mother to her father, my ex-husband, a renowned surgeon.
As if his bitter monologues to my daughter weren’t enough , the newspapers and magazines didn’t help either. The churches didn’t want to be cut out of the latest cottage industry – holding services to “pray for the soul” of this witch (myself) while simultaneously burning her at the stake. This witch whom they had mistaken for an angel – this witch who had defiled and betrayed the minds of millions of Americans – who left her husband and daughter to marry a man in an alien land and bear his child out of wedlock
All the letters I had written her from my new home – not to blame her father but to make her understand why what I did was the most honest thing I could have done under those circumstances, seemed to have answered my prayers.
Last night I begged the authorities and the crew to allow my daughter to come on board the plane when it landed. They were magnanimous and extended this privilege and understood that this one time my daughter and I needed our privacy in this moment of our lives.
I waited for what seemed a million years and buried a prayer under the feet of every passenger leaving the plane, alternating between impatience, anguish and fatalism, praying that their sympathy alone would keep my daughter’s mind from swerving after I had caught up with her emotionally.
I could see my daughter from a distance making her way to the aircraft surrounded by the authorities and shielded by security men.
My mind darted like a crazy ball. Oh what would my daughter think ? Would she be put off by this whole “scene” of being “brought to meet her mother” like denizens of the royal court doing the bidding of a shameless monarch ? Would she think me presumptuous and arrogant ? Did she really understand why I did what I did ?
She had written several letters to me over the years reproving me and stating that that she was doing whatever she was doing only for her father’s sake. And that I was a callous mother leaving her father forlorn and helpless. He in turn reproached me for spoiling his career which up to this point didn’t have a single blemish.
All because of my brazen behaviour. All his colleagues and the people whom he commanded at the hospital whispered behind his back. It was a miracle, he said, that his patients were not affected by his personal anguish and hellfire.
I quickly thought about something else. My daughter was fast approaching .
I saw the theatre where I had performed more than a decade on my way to the hotel last night and remembered the “Whites Only” sign outside the entrance. I was seething with anger when I saw that.
When I told the press the next day that I’d never come back to this city some people in the audience spat outside my dressing room and scribbled insults on the door.
My daughter was fast approaching the plane.
I’d written to her on more than one occasion that I’d reserved a room in the house especially for her with her name engraved on the door. Would she finally come to visit and meet her brother and twin sisters for the first time in her life ?
She was much older than they. How would she react to them?
I was getting ahead of myself – how would she react to ME !!
My pulse and heart beat pounded in my head. Should I keep sticking to my seat on the plane ? my comfort zone ? Oh what would my daughter think ?
The acid poured into my stomach, formed a roll like the bony remnants of a python s victim and sped towards my mouth. I swallowed with all my will power and made a decision. I left the seat and walked anxiously to the plane door.
The steps were empty and a security man motioned chivalrously to my daughter. She was confused and slowly climbed the steps. It was then that i threw the huge gorilla off my back and ran down the steps to meet her. I hugged her tightly again and again to make sure she was really there.
We both wept.
It appears that you are damned if you do and damned if you dont. Many times I felt I was impelled to follow a certain route at a fork in the road and subsequently faced such consequences that I felt waves of regret and an urge to turn the clock back. This was one such time.
Even the simple decision to run out and meet my daughter had its consequences. This morning’s papers gave a lot of coverage to our “reunion” – not all of it complimentary.
“A PUBLICITY COUP” ran one headline. ” She doesn’t stop at using her daughter for publicity to resurrect her career” the scribe went on.
I was emotionally spent to a certain degree and shrugged. It helped that at long last my daughter was beside me to touch and reassure me. That was all that mattered at this time.
The papers could go and drown at the bottom of the ocean. I had once contemplated jumping into the oil slick filled waters at the docks in the town where I grew up because I mistakenly thought I had not been selected to the Royal Dramatic Theatre.
That seemed ridiculous now.
My daughter seemed to read my thoughts and gave me a smile which was somewhere between triumphant and tragic.
I squeezed her hand more to focus on the here and now.
This place, this legislature was where I’d been denounced seven years ago after the public outcry against my action by a senator, a representative of the American public.
“ It is a heartening thought” he stated eloquently bringing his excoriation of me to a dramatic finish. ” It is a heartening thought that there is a silver lining in the dark stormy clouds…… that from the ashes of this fallen woman will arise a New Hollywood”.
At that time I was too preoccupied fighting for my daughter’s mind. But it still festered in a corner of my brain.
That was THEN. And wonder of wonders. Here I was at the invitation of the SAME Senate House !
I’d rehearsed my lines and was waiting, not in the sidelines this time, but right at the centre……..for my CUE.
Just like I was waiting for my cue at the press conference a decade ago to register my protest of the racist policy of disallowing a certain class of people from entering the theatre to watch our play.
A senator was making a speech now.
” Madame….we realize the pain, hardship and anguish caused by the remarks of one of our members here on the floor of this house. We now wish to publicly apologize and acknowledge the great contribution you have made to this great nation’s art and culture through your performances on screen and the stage.”
THERE it was ! ……my CUE !!
Its nice to be magnanimous and I couldn’t wait to deliver the lines I’d been rehearsing for the past seven years.
“Honourable members of the House”, I began. “I thank you for your gracious apology and retraction. Its wiped away my hurt to a large degree. “
I continued. “When you mention Hollywood I cant help but observe that many things have changed in these last few years. Many things have been turned upside down.”
“ For instance the studios at MGM have been purchased by a TV star, Lucille Ball. The other studios are struggling while going down under fighting the multiple threats from Television and other forms of entertainment. “
“It is ironic that we are now presiding over the demise of Hollywood when the senator in his denunciation of me years ago on the floor of this House stated “From the ashes of Hollywood will arise a New Hollywood””
I stopped and looked around waiting for the audience’ s reaction. There were beatific smiles all around. Some of the smiles were vacuous bordering on confusion.
Now I was perplexed. Did I communicate exactly what I had wanted to. Slowly the realization dawned on me.
I had laid a huge egg. I had said ” from HOLLYWOOD’s ashes will arise a New Hollywood” and NOT “from INGRID BERGMAN’s ashes will arise a New Hollywood”.
I was the only actress who had waited seven years to deliver a line and BLOWN IT !!
Without realizing it I had exorcized my resentment.
I had stumbled on the formula for happiness – Good health and a Bad Memory.
All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am……..