#DesiReads: Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar reads from her flash collection, Morsels of Purple

Desi Books Ep 58 w/ Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar Desi Books


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Hello and welcome to Episode 58 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Today, in the #DesiReads segment, we have Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar reading from her debut flash fiction collection, Morsels of Purple.

#DESIREADS WITH SARA SIDDIQUI CHANSARKARINTRODUCTION

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She is an Information Technology professional, wife, and mother to a teenager. She writes at her blog Puny Fingers, which is filled with personal essays, poems, and fiction. Her work has been published at various venues like Hypertext, Smokelong Quarterly, Citron Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Khabar Magazine, Brown Girl Magazine, The Aerogram, and many more. She lives in Columbus, OH.

Morsels of Purple is a debut collection of fifty-four flash and microfiction stories that represent the mosaic of a woman’s life—girlhood, womanhood, wifehood, motherhood, childlessness, and more. The stories span cultural, geographical, and religious boundaries and offer glimpses into the lives of women in different situations—a young Muslim girl who doesn’t understand why her mother fasts during Ramadan, another Muslim girl who is treated differently than her brother, a Hindu girl born to a widow, an Indian girl of marriageable age who’s taught the proper wifely behavior by her mother, an immigrant woman who cannot bring a jar of achaar from India to the USA, a childless woman in Ohio who steals another woman’s baby, an American girl who drops out of school to marry her high school sweetheart, another American woman who outlines steps to deal with an alcoholic husband.

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar’s debut collection of 54 flash and microfiction stories represent the mosaic of a woman’s life. A reading by the author in #DesiReads @DesiBooks

The transcript of this excerpt is also up on the Desi Books website.

And now, here’s Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar.

DESIREADS WITH SARAJ SIDDIQUI CHANSARKAR

[Excerpted with permission from Morsels of Purple by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar. Copyright © 2021 Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar.]

After Your Wedding

Don’t call your husband by his name; address him respectfully as Sunte Ho or Ae Ji; wipe under your arms and breasts; stick a jasmine bud in your hair every night; massage his legs in bed when he’s too tired for anything else; don’t go to sleep before him; don’t wake up after him; make a fire first thing in the morning to heat water for his bath; scrub his white underwear and soak it in a solution of indigo for brightness; fold it into neat squares and stack it in little towers in his cupboard; pour him a glass of cool water from the surahi when he returns from work; make him a cup of chai; actually make chai whenever he’s sitting idle; don’t make him a watery chai—use three parts milk and one part water, crushed cardamoms for aroma, a little nutmeg for its stimulating effect; roll out soft, thin rotis for him that break with two fingers; make sure their edges are cooked and they puff up like balls on the flame; serve them hot, smeared with butter and a smile; urge him to take one more like you mean it; add a dollop of ghee to his daal; don’t surprise him by telling him you’re going to your Ma’s place when you’re homesick; ask his permission first. But can’t I visit you when I want? Toss your impulsiveness back into this house with the handful of rice grains you’ll throw overhead on your vidaai, the departure ceremony after your wedding.

Don’t forget the kitchen belongs to your mother-in-law; it’s her son you married, her roof you rest under; don’t cook without asking for instruction—how much garlic in the spinach, how brown the onions, how tender the goat; don’t serve without asking for instruction—whether to ladle the vegetable beside the rotis, whether to heap the daal over rice, whether to place the pickle to the left or to the right of the rice in the thali; add garam masala and chilli powder to your plate if the food is too bland for your taste; if it’s too spicy, adapt; serve the biggest paneer chunks and the chicken thighs to her; eat after she’s eaten; don’t water her tulsi plant when you’re bleeding; fast and pray when she does; recite Gayatri Mantra every day; embellish her kitchen shrine with roses and marigolds; visit the Shiva temple with her on Tuesdays; guard her Kolhapuri slippers while she bows to the deities; scare away the monkey that trails her for the bananas and apples in her offerings plate. But I’m afraid of monkeys. Toss your fears back into this house with the handful of rice grains you’ll throw overhead on your vidaai, the departure ceremony after your wedding.

“Don’t forget the kitchen belongs to your mother-in-law; it’s her son you married, her roof you rest under . . .” Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar reads from her debut flash collection, Morsels of Purple #DesiReads @DesiBooks

Don’t dry your laundry on the terrace; tie a clothesline in the courtyard, instead; if there’s not enough space and you have to use the terrace, secure all garments with clips so they don’t fly away to the neighbor’s side; make sure your underclothes are hidden under a sari; return immediately after hanging the clothes—don’t linger upstairs, don’t let your gaze land on anyone; don’t towel or brush your waist-long hair on the terrace; don’t lounge there on a dhurrie to sun your skin in winter; don’t lean against the parapet to catch the breeze in summer; fetch the dry clothes in the evening after the men of the neighborhood are done flying kites; don’t admire the mustached neighbor’s pigeons, their iridescent necks bent on the barley he scatters on the common parapet wall; don’t ask to hold the birds—his fingers will graze yours when he hands you a pigeon. But I love pigeons. Toss your loves back into this house with the handful of rice grains you’ll throw overhead on your vidaai, the departure ceremony after your wedding. 

***

A Tug or Two

Saturday morning, sitting in a window seat at the breakfast place by the library, pouring syrup over the pecan waffle, I feel someone pulling my hair. Not a yank but a gentle tug. I turn around and she—a baby girl seated in a high chair at the table behind me—flashes a bunny-toothed smile, wrapping my strands around her pudgy fists. I try to untangle my hair, and she blinks her blue eyes rapidly, as if trying to appease me.

Hi, baby! I say, grabbing the attention of the mother, sitting beside the little girl. The woman frees my strands from the baby’s hands, stuttering a litany of apologies. I tell her it’s no problem, and secure my hair into a quick bun. For polite conversation, I ask her the baby’s name and age.

 Emily, nine months old, the mother says, her cheeks still flushed with embarrassment.

For nine months, after I ordered the basal body thermometer, I continued to receive monthly emails about the new life supposed to be breathing inside me. A poppy seed to an orange pip to a grape to an orange to an avocado to a cucumber to a butternut squash to a lettuce head to a pineapple to a watermelon to a jackfruit to a pumpkin. My baby grew—in the emails—but my belly, set in its concavity, refused to swell.

“For nine months, after I ordered the basal body thermometer, I continued to receive monthly emails […] my baby grew—in the emails—but my belly…” Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar reads from her debut flash collection, Morsels of Purple #DesiReads @DesiBooks

Ba-ba-ba, Emily babbles as she tugs at the tassels along my poncho. I swivel my neck again and make a funny face; she blows raspberries at me. First my hair, now the poncho, this cherub is really seeking me.

I tap the mother who is busy talking to her two friends across the table, and ask to hold Emily. She looks relieved, grateful even, as she unstraps Emily and passes her to me.

Emily is light and warm like a ball of yarn, not heavy and hard like a pumpkin, as the emails suggested. I touch her cheek. Her skin is not like silk, not like cream, not like petals, not like anything I’ve ever felt beneath my fingers.

I hold the baby under the armpits as she tries to stand in my lap. A pink satin shoe slips off her foot. I have a similar pair in the stash at the bottom of my underwear drawer. Dreading that the cashiers at the registers might question my need for those, I shoplift infant clothes and shoes, then hide them at home, terrified my husband would take me to the mustached shrink again.

Emily’s tiny hands, smelling of baby lotion, play on my face. Her fingers poke my eyes, grab my nose, then linger on my lips before exploring my teeth. She brings her mouth to my face, her two incisors nibbling at my cheek, her stringy drool soaking my chin.

Last October, my next-door neighbor and I planted tulip bulbs together. This spring, her yard has green plants all around the perimeter—some have started flowering—but my soil is dormant, unyielding. My husband, seeing the despair and envy in my eyes, brought me a potted ivy houseplant. I’ve placed the clay pot on the kitchen island where the sunlight hits the strongest and stays the longest. I take care of the plant, trim away yellowing leaves, and water it when needed. It is growing profusely, some stems hanging down the granite.

I cannot birth, but I can nurture.

Emily’s mother is engrossed in conversation with her friends. The women are discussing hard-gel manicures, pastel dresses, and mauve lipsticks for the upcoming spring gala while Emily plays in my lap.

What woman ignores her baby for friends?

I squeeze the baby to my chest and kiss her strawberry curls. She’s cuddly, quiet, and pliable as if she belongs here, in my arms. The warmth inside my heart rises like bread dough when yeast is added.

I half-turn my head to peek at the mother and her friends. A waiter arrives at their table with omelets and pancakes. He’s a lively lad who engages the women in a chat: who needs cheese over the omelet, who wants milk with coffee, who has fun plans over this weekend.

Seizing the moment of opportunity, I pull my poncho over Emily’s head—she does not resist. I walk out of the restaurant, her cheek resting on my shoulder, her breath warming my ear.

***

An Eid Outfit for My Brother

On Eid, our Muslim holiday, I wake up to the aroma of seviyan, a special dessert. This hasn’t happened in the last five years. I hug Ammi, my mother, and ask for some sweet but she says she hasn’t folded in the almonds yet.

Abba, my father, is in the bathroom. Ammi asks me to iron his new kurta-pajamas for prayers at the mosque. She then pulls out another set of clothes from the wooden cupboard and lays it on the bed.

Shaheen Bhai, my elder brother, went missing five Eids ago. Still, every year, the night before Eid, Ammi loads the bobbin with white thread to sew an outfit for him to the measurement of our neighbor’s son. Between running the seams, she rests her head on the Singer’s wheel and weeps.

“Shaheen Bhai, my elder brother, went missing five Eids ago. Still, every year, the night before Eid, Ammi loads the bobbin with white thread to sew an outfit for him . . .” Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar reads from her debut flash collection, Morsels of Purple #DesiReads @DesiBooks

The never-worn sets of white kurta-pajamas, in increasing sizes, hang behind the sewing table in the tiny room on the terrace.

“I’m not doing these ones,” I protest. “I’ve to iron my clothes and wash my hair. Besides, no one is going to wear them.”

Heat rises to my cheeks. I shouldn’t have said that.

While police searched for Shaheen Bhai, my parents visited seers and sibyls, and brought back strips of cloth Ammi tied to the pomegranate tree, millet seeds she fed to the sparrows, and strings of talismans she hung around my neck. Eight years old at the time, I buttoned my school shirt to the top to avoid questions and attention.

Abba took buses to distant places: the steps of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, the courtyard of Agra’s Fort. He returned, tired and defeated, with pebbles embedded in his soles and swollen bags under his eyes. After two years, his money and energy depleted, he started working long hours. On Sundays, he listened to my poems and braided my hair.

Ammi’s hopes didn’t dwindle. She started wearing a black burqa to search unnoticed in streets and nooks, near and far, and took to fasting on Fridays.

“Fine, I’ll iron my son’s clothes,” she quips. “Can’t have him wear floppy clothes on Eid. I’ve sent him to the corner store to buy almonds for the seviyan.” Her tunic hangs on her bony shoulders like Shaheen Bhai’s kurtas on hangers.

Ammi, that was five years ago, I want to say but don’t. I hold my words.

I spread out Shaheen Bhai’s outfit on the bed. There are no tailor-chalk marks anywhere, the seams are neat, the buttonholes stitched by Ammi’s fingers, perfect.

This year, the clothes are almost the same size as Abba’s.

My brother, if he were anywhere, would be sixteen now. He’d have hair on his face, a voice as deep as Abba’s, an Adam’s apple protruding from his throat.

I smell something burning and run to the kitchen: Ammi’s standing in front of the stove as milk in the seviyan pot boils over.

***

The Morning Chai

The morning cup of chai made the right way. No instants for me. A cup of water at a rolling boil on the flame, a teaspoon of Taj Mahal tea leaves, bleeding their color, releasing their aroma into the pot, followed by one-fourth cup of milk to temper the bitterness of theine, to lend an endurable hue to my day. A strainer held over the mug to filter out the spent tea granules. The first sip, seething hot, awakens, the second enlivens, the others that follow are tepid and insipid—if I don’t tell my mind what it is that I’m ingesting, I might gag. Much like marriage. After the first few weeks when passion turns lukewarm, the togetherness becomes routine, the days and nights prosaic. But I try. I straighten my hair, trim it to frame my face, get streaks or curls added sometimes, paint my nails mulberry or cerise, wear aqua or cocoa eyeliner sometimes, just as I add different spices to my chai—cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom. But he’s set in his manner and in his choice of beverage—coffee at the press of a button. Always black. Always bitter.

***

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar’s debut collection of 54 flash and microfiction stories represent the mosaic of a woman’s life. A reading by the author in #DesiReads @DesiBooks


You’ve been listening to episode 58 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in. Today’s #DesiReads segment was with Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar reading from her debut flash fiction collection, Morsels of Purple.

Episode 59 will be up shortly. Follow on Twitter @desibooks, Instagram @desi.books, Facebook @desibooksfb. Tag the accounts if you have requests or suggestions. Please go to the website, desibooks.co, if you’d like to sign up for the free, weekly newsletter. And please share this via social media to support the writer and help raise the tide of South Asian literature. Thank you.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

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