Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Senses

The first thing she notices when she enters the room is the way it smells. Not a strong signature scent but apple-jilebi. Banana-rose. Milk-disinfectant. Whifflings born from the copulation of several distinct odours. She inhales the bouquet deeply and in return offers the room her own – a mixture of fear, sweat and sickly sweet perfume.

The door shuts gently behind her. Blocking out the girlish giggles of the family's 60 year old matrons and draping the room in darkness. She shuffles forward and makes a haphazard left, unsure of her way. Her soft feet squish against the worn, grimy floor, seeking out the well-defined borders of each square tile. She pauses and fingers (toes?) a tiny crater she chances upon at the corner of a slab.

Her jangling anklets are halted as she bumps in to something hard. The bed. Her mother-in-law had pointed at this ageing four-poster behemoth earlier and cracked a ribald joke that had made her blush.

A quilt has been thrown over the mattress in an attempt to disguise its hard and lumpy terrain. The bed is high and she is forced to clamber inelegantly upon it. She puts a tentative hand out to explore the quilt. Softness and then a little bump. Softness. Another bump. It is embroidered. She seeks out the trail of tiny thread hillocks trying to decipher what they form. A blue elephant? A gaudy pink paisley? A mythical white swan? She turns her face and is gently slapped by a long, snakelike garland of flowers – rose, jasmine, marigold. They wind their way across the beams of the bed. Benign serpents that cast off their perfumed skin on every available surface.

As she lets out a soft sigh a stronger gust of air blows through an open window behind the bed. It brings with it dust, clues about the neighbour's dinner and the strains of an old film song. She jumps off her perch, boredom driving her to explore her new surroundings. No longer afraid she makes her way around the bed. Keeping one hand on it though. Just in case.

The bed ends and she puts her arms out front. Playing blind mans bluff with the dark. She stops when her fingers find a wall and gropes the surface. It is flaky and leaves her fingertips coated with a chalky powder. Cheap distemper. A half-hearted attempt to spruce up an old room for a new bride. She walks on dragging her fingers over the wall leaving in her wake paint slivers and the occasional stray flower from her headdress.

The wall gives way to a surface of smoother finish. A cold, metallic handle forces itself in to her hand, begging to be pulled. She pauses waiting for the room to give her – its new mistress some indication of its approval. But it remains dark and silent. Almost hostile. Taking this as a sign she moves on, leaving the mysterious door for another day.

Her nose guides her to where the sweets and fruits have been kept. She knows that they are arranged on the ornate silver plates that are a part of her dowry. Sweets rich in milk,ghee, saffron and coconut. Ripe bananas, guavas and apples.
The banana doubling as an incense stick holder. Hungry, she reaches out touching sticky, soft treats until her fingers close over the coiled body of a jilebi.

The door suddenly opens and she hears the click of the light switch. She shuts her eyes blocking out the two intruders. Her new husband. And the light.

The assignment

Describe a room. It can be any room. Imagined, remembered, dreaded, loved, public, private, empty, full of people, fictional, personal...

Know your room before you start writing about it.

Your audience should be able to know your room as well as you do. They should be able to see it, smell it, feel it. If you don’t know your room inside-out, your uncertainty will leak through tiny cracks in the prose.

Each student has the additional task of writing within specified stylistic restrictions.

Mine was to write WITH ALL SENSES EXCEPT SIGHT (BUT NOT BLIND)

Not sure if I've managed to carry out the task fully. I feel as though something is missing. Feedback as always is appreciated!

31 comments:

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

The previous one was trite. This one is wonderful. I suspect a lot of people are learning along with you.

Interesting - when I was first tested for a creative / copy job, I had an almost identical assignment. Though I had to describe from the point of view of a blind person. (I got the job)

Shruthi said...

Very descriptive. Could feel the room. Felt that I have been there :) There, I think your assignment is complete :)
Seriously, it was very well-written.
Been reading your blog for a while. I enjoy it.

shyam said...

Nothing missing, my friend, nothing at all. Nice one!

TomCruiseChellum said...

Vely good one la

Falstaff said...

Very nice. I loved the benign serpents casting off their perfumed skin bit.

I do think you may need to think moe carefully about some of the action given that she can't see anything. For instance, would you really jump off an unfamiliar bed if you couldn't see anything - wouldn't you be more likely to ease yourself back down to the floor. Or again, in a completely dark room, would you really know that you were leaving a trail of flowers and paint slivers behind you? I suppose it's possible, but it just struck me as a little odd. Lovely stuff on the whole though.

Anonymous said...

It's very well written. Addresses the assignment perfectly.
Also, falstaff, of course she would climb on the bed. She is supposed to. Hm, just imagine the husband coming in and finding his new bride sitting on the floor. :)

Btw shoefiend, the ending is superb. Awesome.

alpha said...

very well done. yeah, she wud be perched on the bed. I like the fact that she was exploring the room in complete darkness. Things that you might miss when the lights are on can be captured. But considering the window was open, I am curious if there was some light wafting from the outside that wouldn't have made her all that sightless... when it isn't pitch dark anymore.

overall, i think it's great. last line was nice..almost wanted her to keep exploring.

Minal said...

Missing? I did not find anything missing. Could imagine the room!
Good stuff:-)

Ash said...

Oh, this is great !

... said...

Beautiful. For some reason, I kept imagining it as one of the rooms in my village house...

Very well written.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

arthur - Thanks! I'm very curious about which agency you're with now! Oh and for my first copy test I had to write a jingle for nappies!

Shruthi, Syham, TCC, - Thanks!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Falstaff - You're right about the 'jumping' off the bed bit. I changed that for the class. Did you feel that the room was described from the girl's pov?

Anon - Thanks alot! And I think Falstaff meant her act of getting off the bed not getting on it! Glad you liked the ending - a lot of the other students did too!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Alpha - Good point! I totally missed the light coming through the window (thankfully so did my class :)) I think I cheated a little though - making the room a dark one. It's been suggested I describe the same room full lit -
which will be a lot harder.

Minal - Glad you think so!

Ash - thanks!

Keya - Good! I wanted the room to come across as a little rustic!

MumbaiGirl said...

Nice-I felt like eating some of the mithai too!

Sujatha said...

Hi SF, wonderful detail, just what the assignment asked for. As for feedback, I would try to eliminate as much of the passive voice as I could unless it was absolutely necessary (which in my book is almost never). In these sentences, for example:

"Her jangling anklets are halted as she bumps in to something hard."

"A quilt has been thrown over the mattress in an attempt to disguise its hard and lumpy terrain."

Falstaff said...

Shoe-fiend: I don't know. I have to admit that reading it the first time I didn't get a particularly strong sense of it being from the girl's pov, though reading it again I can see the bits where that comes in. I would say there are large parts of it where the girl's pov does come across but if you're really trying for that (and I'm not entirely convinced you need to be) than I think you may need to think through it a little more. I think Sujatha's comment makes a lot of sense in that regard - I mean your paragraph starts by explaining that there's a quilt thrown over the bed to disguise its hard and lumpy terrain. But if this is truly the girl's pov (and presumably she's never been on this bed before) then how does she know that? If you really wanted to do the girl's pov she needs to discover the hardness of the bed underneath just as she discovers the embroidery. Again, if the room is dark how can she tell that the flowers slapping her face are rose, jasmine and marigold. Can she smell them? And how does she know they wind their way across the beams of the bed (I suppose she could remember that). If it really were the girl's pov I would expect her to be a little more surprised when they first touched her.

As I said earlier, I'm not sure that's the way to go though - it's a more interesting writing challenge, of course, but I'm not sure it would add anything to the piece, if anything, it might end up being distracting.

Interesting new template btw

Inkblot said...

Very evocative. I can touch it, feel it, smell...the curiosity, confusion and... fear, faint revulsion? Leaves you wondering how the room reacted to her and the sudden but inevitable intrusion.

Mali&Madhu said...

Loved it. Some of Falstaff's criticism is valid, but just as easily addressed with minor restructuring. For instance, consider your sequence "A quilt has been thrown over the mattress in an attempt to disguise its hard and lumpy terrain. The bed is high and she is forced to clamber inelegantly upon it. She puts a tentative hand out to explore the quilt." Instead a little rearrangement makes this "The bed is high and she is forced to clamber inelegantly upon it. Even as she put a tentative hand out to explore the hard lumps, she realized a quilt has been thrown over the mattress in an attempt to disguise its lumpy terrain."

Mali&Madhu said...

Furthermore "She turns her face and is gently slapped by a long, snakelike garland of flowers – rose, jasmine, marigold. They wind their way across the beams of the bed. Benign serpents that cast off their perfumed skin on every available surface." when readjusted becomes "She turns her face and the fragrant odours slap her face an instant before the long, snakelike garland of flowers do – rose, jasmine, marigold. Her mind's eye sees them wind their way across the beams of the bed. Benign serpents that cast off their perfumed skin on every available surface." and ties together the concept that the odours and memories defining the object but it may be very different in reality.

San said...

as usual another beautiful post :)

Nessa said...

Very well written , SF..

However, I was wondering how It is flaky and leaves her fingertips coated with a chalky powder. happened when she played blind mans bluff with the dark.

Disclaimer: I might be biased, 'coz I was trying to recover from the shock of unexpected red that hit me in the eye when I clicked on your link..

ammani said...

Great post. Loved the comments. It shows that people care enough to go beyond just 'wonderful writing' and 'lovely post'.
Sadly, I do not know enough to critique. But I'll say it's very evocative and much better constructed than a few of the earlier posts which were a touch contrived.

... said...

Me like the new look. Very "you" - lacy background and all :-)

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Mumbai Girl - Thanks! :)

Sujatha - Thanks for the feedback... I have to admit I wasn't concious of what voice (active/passive) I was writing in. I will take more care in the future.

Falstaff - The reason I asked was that I didn't intend for the piece to be from the pov of the girl. Like I mentioned in the previous comment I was totally oblivious to the voice I used(terrible of me).
More attention to such detail will be paid from now on. Thanks taking the time to respond in such detail. And hope this comment made some sense :)
P.sThe rose/jasmine/marigold point was raised in class too.

Inkblot - The class commented on the subtext of fear too.Glad you liked it!

Anjali said...

SF, love the details. I like the reference to the banana being used as an agarbatti stand.

as to the new look of the blog....don't really like it all that much. but it's your blog, so just ignore us critics.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

mali&madhu - thank you for that. I think I'll try writing the piece from the girl's pov and see how it turns out. Just as an exercise and also to improve my obviously poor foundation in grammar:)

sangeeta - thanks

nessa - I guess since the piece comes across as pov of the girl it does jar. Will fix the bits!
Ps Does that mean you like the new look or not?? :)

Ammani - I know! It's great that people have taken the time to tell me what they think! Thank you too! :)


Keya - thanks!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

anjali - The banana/incense stand came to me through old S.Ve Shekar joke! Thanks for the feedback on the template - honesty is always appreciated:)

shub said...

love the last part :)
and jus yest I think I was admiring the old layout and thinking even though its a standard template...somehow its very you, and very 'your writing'
:)n whoaa..whatta drastic change! :)

Nessa said...

I'm still deciding :P

Sue said...

Awesome post! I think you captured the room very well.

The only thing I don't know about the room is how big it is - I would go with the small, but I am not very sure. Also, at the stage where you mentioned the neighbour's dinner, I yearned to know what was cooking (as that smell is also part of what makes the room.)

Anyways, I absolutely loved your post! I am sure most people (including me) cant do half as well, so I hope you dont mind my suggestions..:)

LAK said...

Hi shoefie, The template was a surprise, the background is good, but the maroon doesn't go very well with the red. I liked the ending very much---it suggests that just like she wants to shut out the dark, she also wants to shut out the husband, for a while at least which in turn implies her trepidation. I don't know if you meant it that way. I always find that critics read more meaning into a piece than the writer meannt, which is what makes all criticism welcome! Also the banana incence stick reminds me of so many poojas and so many old south indian movies with the suhaag-raat scene!