Friday, August 10, 2012



The below mentioned chapter is an excerpt from my work- THE FOREIGNER'S GIFT  .All characters mentioned ,living or dead is fictional and any resemblance with anyone is purely coincidental




Saptarshi Basu is a gold medalist in mechanical engineering and has worked in the IT industry for the last eight years. However, writing has always been his first love, his passion.  His second novel, Autumn In My Heart was published by Vitasta Publishing with Times Group (TIMES OF INDIA) in November’11. He maintains a blog and writes screenplays for movies and columns for some online magazines.


                                           My ancestors shifted to Shikohima much before India got its independence. A small island town in Japan well connected on the sea route, it offered a perfect blissful land for trading spices. Gokuldas Shekhawat, my great grandfather had a small business of cardamoms in Kunnor which he later shifted to Shikohima- the land of two rivers. The Ota and Motitsu River crisscrossed each other in a serpentine fashion spreading fertility across its banks. Lush green it was, before little lad landed from the sky. 

                                                 The harbor used to be crowded with vessels and merchant ships whistling sharply sending vibrations in the air. I still remember my childhood spent on the banks of Motitsu playing frog jump on the serene waters with Seigo by my side. How delightedly we watched those fishermen dismantling their catches to be taken to the fish house. Seigo was my best friend. A creamy white boy with a flattened nose, he lived in the small house named ‘Heiwa’ two blocks away from our home. My mother told Heiwa meant peace .You know Shantaram, Seigo and I used to be in the same school. Early morning, when the dew drops still rested on the hibaku leaves, fishermen returning with their early catch and the nearby Shikohima plant yet to blow its morning siren, Seigo and I use to run to school. How much I miss those days, Shantaram .It was heaven .Till hell came down on earth.

                         My father, Nandalal Shekhawat worked as the chief engineer of the Shikohima automobile plant. After completing his engineering from Tokyo institute of Technology, he had joined the then newly setup plant and slowly moved up the ladder. My grandfather at times use to lament saying my father lacked both the zeal and the acumen to run our family business. A tall, well built man with a thin, finely kept moustache, he looked more of an army general than an engineer. I was quite in awe of him. My Daadi used to tell me how frantically they have searched for an Indian bride of the same caste for my father in Japan. It was tough to get one as very few Indian families lived there at that point of time. It was only through one of the close relatives in India that they came to know about my mother’s family in Kure, a nearby port city. The marriage was a lavish one as by that time my grandfather, Ramdas Shekhawat had already made a fortune. I was born after two years of their marriage .Being the only grandson of the family, I was highly adored and pampered by everyone expect my father who was of a quiet nature and a strict disciplinarian.

                                 Summer holidays were fun. I still remember those days crouching by Daadi’s side and listening to her world of stories. Full of kings, queens, giants and dwarfs. Tales of India, river Ganga and its million Gods and Goddesses. How the Rakshas king Ravana eloped Sita and how God Ram killed him. How good prevailed over evil in the end. Daadi use to fall asleep after a few hours, tired of telling stories .Then, I enchantingly watched shadow puppets all over my wall. Sometimes, it was of the ice-cream pedlar strolling with his cart .At times, it was of the lone man cycling all over my dark room on a lazy summer noon. 

                                                                The flower festival was a major attraction for people in Shikohima. The dragon kites encompassed the sky as people dressed in new clothes flocked around the harbours singing and dancing. You know Shantaram, there’s always something strangely beguiling about the sight of a kite ducking and diving with the will of the wind. It looked as if someone has painted the sky with butterflies, flapping their colourful wings all around. Each kite had a different story embedded on it. Some had beautiful Japanese women in kimono drawn on it, while some pictured dragons and even tidal floods .You know, there were about hundred different styles and types of kites, each region having its own unique shape. They were normally decorated with characters from Japanese folklore, mythology or had some religious or symbolic meaning. At times like a hawk spreading its wings .At other times, it took the shape of an angry dragon’s face throwing fire from its mouth. Painted with bright colours and Sumi which is the Japanese name for black ink, they are constructed with washi paper and bamboo. As evening slowly descended and the music catched its speed, Seigo and I use to sit for hours on the banks of Ota mesmerized by the colourful lights.

                                  Seigo’s father, Hiroshi Yamayito made a small boat for us. He was a gifted carpenter .Their house ‘Heiwa’ smelled of fresh wood carvings whenever I visited. We used to sit hours watching mesmerised how he listened to the sound of music of each wood. And then the hard pieces would slowly get soft and take beautiful shapes. He taught us how to fish, Hiroshi and made me the luckiest fishing rod. I still remember my mother keeping a keen watch on us as we rowed the small boat across the banks of Ota fishing salmons.

                                             Then the war started. Troops went passed our homes down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The violet roses of our garden turned grey and our school was closed for almost six months .The plain were rich with crops; there were many orchards of fruit trees and beyond the plain the mountains were brown and bare. There was fighting in the mountains and at night we could see the flashes from the artillery. We heard there were many victories. People worshipped the emperor as God and many civilians joined the war only for him. In the dark it was like summer lightning but never did we felt a storm was coming. Sometimes in the dark we heard the troops marching under the window and guns going past. Seigo and I use to keep a count of the aircrafts hovering in our vanilla sky. We also watched the flocking citizens crying ‘Banzai’ as the troops left the harbour. The air which once was loathed with flowery fragrance had now been replaced by strong stench of gunpowder.

                                                                       I was eighteen when dad decided to send me to America for study. My Mamaji, Amarnath Chauhan was then residing at Utah working as a physics lecturer at Broadview University. I wanted to stay back in Shikohima but the war conditions were worsening and my father didn’t want to take any risk. My mother opposed the idea of sending a teenage boy so far away from the family. My grandparents also joined. But dad was somewhat adamant, might be he gauzed something. The war was now taking a sudden turn and several residents feared its conclusion. Assured that I was going to stay with my Mamaji, my mother accepted. A week before leaving, my bags were packed with tearful eyes. Seigo came to bid me goodbye. He said that he had taken admission at the local university of Shikohima for a graduation in literature. I looked into his eyes and they were shining with tinge of tear at the corners. We promised each other to write two letters each week even if we were busy. Soon after three days, I left for Utah where I met Li Mei- my beautiful flower.