युवा कथाकार गीताश्री अपनी कहानियों के द्वारा बहुत ही बेबाकी से उन रास्तों से गुजरती हैं जहाँ स्त्रियों के लिए प्रवेश वर्जित है। इन्हे सिर्फ स्त्री मुक्ति की कहानियाँ कहना इन कहानियों के विस्तृत फ़लक को संकुचित कर देना होगा क्योंकि जहाँ स्त्री विमर्श रुक कर साँसे लेता है और पीछे घूम कर देखता है कि आगे बढ़ने के लिए पुरुषवादी समाज द्वारा बनाये सिद्धांतों और आदर्शों की वैशाखी थाम सके, वहाँ से यह कहानियाँ ज़िंदा होती हैं, साँसे लेती है और स्तब्ध करती हैं अपनी सोच से । गीताश्री की कहानियाँ स्त्री को सिर्फ देह की खोल से नहीं दिमाग से भी आज़ाद करती हैं। उसके लिए रोशनी की वह दुनिया बुनती हैं जहाँ बेधड़क प्रवेश के लिए किसी से अनुमति नहीं लेनी होती और बिना किसी सहारे, बिना किसी जस्टीफ़िकेशन के अपनी आत्मा, अपने औरत होने को सेलिब्रट करतीं हैं ....कभी कभी तो इस हद्द तक कि शुचितावादियों के माथे पर आ जाती है असंख्य शिकनें और स्त्री मुक्ति के नारे तले अपना स्वार्थ साधने वाले भेड़ियों को आ जाता है पसीना ... पढ़िये उनकी ताज़ा-तरीन कहानी “मलाई" । वही मलाई जो हमारे गालों पर तो चुपड़ी गयी ताकि हमारी चिकनी त्वचा उनके इस्तेमाल के लिए तैयार हो सके लेकिन जिसके स्वाद से अक्सर अंजान रहे हम। वही मलाई जो हम ही बिलोते रहे ताकि उनके तन और जीभ पर छाई रहे गुलाबी लेकिन खुद कभी उसे छक कर खा नहीं सके। आज भी 36-24-36 के फिगर के लिए मरी जाती लड़कियां नहीं जानती उसका अपूर्व स्वाद...हमें वंचित रखने के नए तरीके ईज़ाद कर लिए गए हैं बड़ी ही सूक्ष्मता से ... कहानी ऐसे कई सवाल छोड़ जाएगी आपके ज़ेहन में ...पढ़ें और टटोलें अपने अंदर ....आपकी आत्मा पर भी तो नहीं छाई मलाई की परतें .... गिरहों की तरह… 
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सब लोग हैरान, अचानक सुरीलिया को क्या हो गया है। सुरीलिया की ठसक देखते बन रही है। वह घर के बाहर चौकी पर धम्म से बैठ गई। घर के अंदर से उसका सारा संसार बाहर आ चुका था। मां को इंतजार था कि सीधे घर में घुसेगी तो पहली पगार उसके हाथ पर धर देगी जैसे अक्सर कमाऊ पूत किया करते हैं। बेटे अपनी पहली कमाई मां के हाथों में देकर इतने सुकून से भर जाते हैं मानो मातृत्व का मोल चुका दिया हो। सुरीलिया से भी ऐसी ही उम्मीद लगाए मां बाहर टकटकी लगाए बैठी थी। बाबूजी के आने से पहले या उनके सामने ही जब वह पैसे उसकी हथेली पर धरेगी तब कितना आहलाद होगा उसे। पहली संतान की कमाई। आह..कितना सुखद लग रहा है। बेटी है तो क्या हुआ, शादी हो जाएगी तो नहीं लेंगे। वैसे भी कौन-सा हर महीने सुरीलिया देगी हमें। हम तो कहेंगे कि अपनी शादी के लिए पैसे जमा करे। जो जी में आएगा, खरीदेगी। हारी-बीमारी में जमा पैसा ही काम आता है। सारा ऊंच-नीच समझाना होगा उसे। छोटी ही तो है, कपड़े लत्ते में न उड़ा दे पैसे। आज मिठाई लेकर तो जरुर ही आएगी। मुहल्ले में कुछ लोगो के यहां बैना भिजवा देंगे। उधर बेटी के भीतर पल रहे दूधिया, चिकने, अरमानो से बेखबर, इधर सोच सोच कर ही रोमांचित हो रही है सुरीली की मां सरस्वती देवी।
लेकिन यहां नजारा तो दूसरा ही है। सुरीलिया अंदर आई ही नहीं। उसे घर में असली नाम से कोई नहीं पुकारता था। बड़ी हो गई, जवान हो गई, कल से स्कूल में शिक्षामित्र का काम भी मिल गया है। करना धरना कुछ नहीं, 1500 रुपये हर महीने जेब में। मुश्किल से तो कटवारिया थाने के रोबीले सिपाही यानी उसके बाबूजी ने इजाजत दी थी। लड़कीजात का नौकरी करना अभी भी उन्हें गंवारा नहीं। वे मुगलकाल में जी रहे थे। भाई बहनो की भीड़ में शादी के लिए अकेली बची सुरीलिया अब बुनियादी स्कूल में सुरीली सुमन के नाम से जानी जा रही है फिर भी घरवालो ने सुरीलिया कहना नहीं छोड़ा। घरवालो का सुन सुन कर दो छोटे भाई भी दीदी नहीं, सुरीलिया दीदी कह कर ज्यादा आत्मीयता जताते रहते। सुरीली आखिर उनकी तीमारदारी जो करती थी। उन्हें रात को सोने से पहले दूध का गलास भर भर के सुरीली ही देती थी, मोटी मोटी मलाई छलछलाती रहती थी जिसमें।
माई कहती-“तू भी पी ले सुरो..मलाई निकाल देना। खा मत जाना।“
माई का फरमान सुनकर सुरीली के तनबदन में मलाई दौड़ जाती...गीली गीली..मीठी मीठी..मोटी मोटी..चिकनी चिकनी..त्वचा सी मुलायम, रेशमी मलाई। जो अक्सर उसके सपनो में आकर सारे दृश्य मलाईदार कर जाती। सपने नहीं मलाई के छोटे छोटे उल्का पिंड थे, जो रात भर आकाश से टूट टूट कर बरसते थे, उसके होठो पर। दूध से मलाई हटाते हुए उसका दिल मलाई की चिकनाई पर फिसलता रहता। आंखों में मलाई छा जाती और देर तक दूध दिखना बंद हो जाता। पानी मिले दूध को परे रख कर चुपचाप निकल जाती। “हाय रे मलाई..तू दिल से न गई।“   गाढा, छलियाए दूध को देखकर उसका मन कैसा कैसा तो होने लगता। हद तो तब होती जब रोज शाम को बिना नागा बाबूजी पसीने से गंधाती वर्दी दरवाजे पर धरी, युगो युगो से पड़ी, आधी जमीन में धंसी हुई चौकी(तख्त) पर फेंक कर माई को आवाज लगाते।
“अजी सुनती हो...ले जाओ वरदी...सरफ में डालो..रात भर में सूखना चाहिए..अभिए फींच कर पसार दो..अउर रमेसरा भेजा है हमारा सामान कि नहीं...लाओ..दो तो.”
गरमी की शाम में बनियान तक उतार कर फेंक देने वाले, लुंगीधारक पिता चौकी पर महंत जी की तरह जम जाते। उनकी गोरी-गोरी मांसल पीठ पर माई रोज महकता पाउडर लगाती। जैसे पीठ न हो, देव-स्थान हो जिसे गाय के गोबर से लीप रही हों। हौले हौले..माई हाथ चलाती और पिता कटोरा भर मलाई  चप चप करके खाते। उस मलाई में किसी को दिलचस्पी नहीं थी सिवाए सुरीली के। कटोरा भर मलाई खाते बाबूजी को देखती तो उसका मन होता उन गोरी मांसल पीठ पर हबक्का लगा दे। अपने नुकीले दांत से काट खाए उन्हें। मलाई का ही नतीजा तो था कि दिन भर धूप में जलने वाले, धूल में लसराने वाले बाबूजी शाम को भी उतने ही चमकते, भक्क भक्क गोरे। माई की संवलाई पर पिता भारी पड़ते थे। शाम को पाउडर की पुताई का भी बड़ा योगदान था। मलाई खाते खाते बाबूजी दिनभर के किस्से पड़ोसी किशोरीलाल जी को सुनाते जिनकी परचून की दूकान मोहल्ले में सबसे ज्यादा पोपुलर थी। किशोरी लाल पान चबाते चबाते तरह के ग्राहको के बारे में अपने अनुभव सुनाते, उनके किस्से कहानियां कभी खत्म न होंतीं। बाबूजी के पास चोर, लंपटो और उठाईगिरो के अलावा अपने हाकिम की भी बहुत कहानियां होतीं।
  उस “मलाई-टाइम” में देश की पोलिटिक्स भी बहस का हिस्सा होती पर बाबूजी सत्तारुढ दल की आलोचना से बचते। उनका ध्यान चम्मच से धीरे धीरे खाती हुई मलाई पर ज्यादा जमी रहती। उनका मलाई-प्रेम आसपास सबको पता चल गया था। दरवाजे पर ही बैठ कर खुलेआम खाते थे सो पता कैसे न चलें। मलाई चाहे कैसी भी हो, दूध की हो या बातों की, पहुंचती दूर दूर तक है। काम दूर दूर तक करती है।
अपने काम में बाबूजी मलाई कि चिकनाई का कितना इस्तेमाल कर पाते थे, पता नहीं चल पाया सुरीली को पर वह मलाई दूध से ज्यादा उसके मन पर जम रही थी-मोटी मोटी,..खुरदुरी सतह वाली..। रमेसरा का छोटू बाहर बाहर ही मलाई दे जाता जिसे पाउडर पुतवाते हुए बाबूजी निपटा देते। घर के अंदर मलाई कभी आ ही नहीं पाई। घर के दूध में जो मोटी मलाई पड़ती, जिसे माई छाली कहती थी, उसे घी बनाने के लिए माई निकाल कर रख लेती। छाली रहित दूध या दही सुरीली को कभी भाया नहीं। उसका तो “मन लागो मेरो मलाई में ” की तर्ज पर जीवन कट रहा था।
कई बार माई से सहमते हुए कहा – “मुझे भी मलाई खाना है। बाबूजी खाते हैं, वैसा ही..कटोरी में..मेरे लिए भी मंगवा दो ना।“
माई चौंकी जैसे क्या अनहोनी बात कह दी।
“छाली ?? तुम छाली खाओगी ??  लड़कीजात..छाली खाके कहां जाएगी। देखती नहीं कैसी बेल-सी बढी चली जा रही है.”
“एक बार में कौन सा पहाड़ टूट पड़ेगा माई..? एक बार कटोरा भर खाकर देखना चाहती हूं...तुम कभी खाने नहीं देती..”
“इतना मन है तो दूध से निकाल कर खा लिया कर”
माई थोड़ा पिघली।
“नहीं..घरवाले छाली में वो बात नहीं, वो स्वाद नहीं, रमेसरा हलवाई के यहां से जो आता है..मुझे वह मलाई चाहिए..हल्की जमी हुई..बाबूजी मना करेंगे क्या..पैसे ज्यादा लगते हैं..? ”
उसका मलाई प्रेम प्रकट हुआ और माई की आंखों में कुछ तैरता-सा दिखा। वहां भी मलाई की छाया थी जिसने उनकी आंखों की रौशनी पर असर डाला था। वे चुप लगा गईं। अक्सर बड़बड़ करते रहने वाली माई सिर्फ बाबूजी के सामने ही चुप रहा करती हैं। सुरीली ने महसूस किया कि दोनों के बीच अभियुक्त-जेलर का सा रिश्ता है। माई बाबूजी के बारे में ज्यादा देर सोचना नहीं चाहती थी। दिमाग खराब होने लगता था। उसे तो बस जल्दी बीए पास करके इस कैद से निकल भागना था। इंटरमिडिएट तक किसी तरह लड़झगड़ कर पहुंची थी। बाबूजी तो सब बहनो भाईयो को दसवीं करवा करवा के चलता करते रहे। आखिर पूरी टोली का भार उतारना तो था। तीन बहने जा चुकी थीं, तीन बचे थे। सुरीली और दो छोटे भाई। वह जानती थी कि बेटो के इंतजार में उसकी इंट्री इस दुनिया में हुई। अच्छी बात ये कि बाबूजी कभी सुरीली के सामने उसे बोझ नहीं कहते या समझते थे। बस वे उदासीन से थे सबसे। अपना काम और शाम को गप्प गोष्ठी। माई घर चलाएं, देखें, समझे। बाबूजी को फ्री रखें तमाम घरेलू जिम्मेदारियों से। सुरीली बड़ी हो गई थी सो माई की कुछ दिक्कते कम हो गई थीं। बाबूजी कभी  कभार शादी की बात चलाने लगे थे। उसे नहीं करनी थी शादी। उसके सपने में शादी नहीं, खुला मैदान आता था जहां वह अकेली फिरा करती थी, हाथ में चमचाता कटोरा होता और उसमें सफेद सा कुछ जमा हुआ..। सपने से बाहर आकर वह कटोरी में रखी सफेद चीज के स्वाद के बारे में सोचा करती। कभी कभी आधी रात को नींद उचटती तो उसे अपने लड़की होने पर कोफ्त होती। लड़की है तभी तो उसकी जात हमेशा माई याद दिलाती रहती है। बाबूजी उससे दूरी रखते हैं, गर्ल्स कालेज में पढने जाती है, साये की तरह भाई साथ रहता है, कस्बे में सबकी निगाहे उसे घूरती हैं। माई टकटकी लगाए दरवाजे पर उसका इंतजार करती है, हर बात पर टोकती है..”ज्यादा जोर से मत हंस, जोर से मत बोल, सुबह जल्दी उठा कर, दूसरे घर में जाएगी तो क्या करेगी। नाक कटवाएगी क्या हमारा। देख तेरी दोनों बहनें कितने सुख से रह रही हैं। कोई शिकायत नहीं आती उनकी..एक तू है, रत्ती भर भी परवाह नहीं कि लड़कीजात है..”
“लड़कीजात..लड़कीजात..हमारी तो जात ही अलग है। फिर हमें क्यों गिनते हो अपनी बिरादरी में..जाने दो न हमें..”
भीतर से विद्रोह का बुलबुला उठता और फूटता..वह खौलते अदहन की तरह देर तक भपाती रहती। उसके तपते मन को सिर्फ सफेद कटोरी शांत करती। कई बार मन हुआ कि रमेसरा के यहां जाकर खरीद लाए और इसी तरह दरवाजे पर बैठ कर ठाठ से खाए। मौहल्ले की सबसे बड़ी कूटनी शीला दाई जरा देखें आंखें फाड़ फाड़ के...। कह दे जिससे जो कहना हो...
बस एक बार वह बाबूजी हो जाना चाहती थी। खयालो में तो अक्सर बाबूजी की तरह होती। बस अपनी नंगी पीठ की कल्पना नही कर पाती। उसे खुद देख नहीं पाती थी। चाहती तो बहुत थी कि दूर खड़ी होकर अपनी पीठ देखे। पर कैसे ? पीठ पर पाउडर की पुताई...कौन करेगा ? अरे..क्या सोच रही है..? वह लड़कीजात है..नहीं कैसे..? पीठ ही नहीं, अग्रभाग भी खुलेगा ना जिसे ढंकने के लिए तमाम कपड़े इजाद किए गए हैं। कई मोर्चो पर लड़ने वाली सुरीली को अपनी बहनो के अंजाम तक नहीं पहुंचना है। उसे अपनी देह और अपने स्वाद को बराबर रखना है। पर कैसे ?? इसी उधेड़बुन में जिंदगी बीतती जा रही थी। सबका अतीत डार्क होता है, सुरीली को भी अपना भविष्य डार्क नजर आ रहा है। सीधी सपाट पढाई किसी दिशा में कहां ले जाएगी। होमसाइंस, इतिहास और नागरिक शास्त्र। इस कांबीनेशन से करियर की कौन-सी दिशा मिलेगी, उसे क्या पता। उसे इतना मालूम चल गया था कि पढाई ही उसकी मुक्ति का मार्ग है और पढाई से हुई कमाई ही उसका स्वाद बचा कर रख पाएगी।
पहली कमाई ने उसे सबसे पहले रमेसर हलवाई की दूकान पर पहुंचा दिया। स्कूल से लौटते समय थोड़ी देर हो गई थी। उसे अंदेशा था कि बाबूजी घर पहुंच कर दरवाजे पर जम गए होंगे। जमने दो...सुरीली ने सोचने के सारे दिमागी बटन बंद कर दिए।
माई ने भयभीत आंखो से देखा, दोनों अनगढ भाईयों ने फटी फटी आंखों से देखा, बाबूजी ने क्रुध्द दृष्टि से और किशोरीलाल ने विचित्र निगाहो से देखा, साम्राज्ञी की तरह सुरीलिया के हाथ में चमचमाता कटोरा और उसमें बर्फ-सी सफेद कोई चीज जिसे उसी चौकी पर बैठ कर हथेलियो में भर भर कर खा रही है, चाट रही है। उसका स्वाद उसके अंग अंग को पुलकित कर रहा था। वह उस वक्त अपने सपनो से बाहर थी।  
आंखों में छायाएं थीं, अनगिन, मां की छवियां, जो अक्सर मलाई के नाम खुरचन उसके मुंह में ठूंस देतीं या थोड़ी सी मलाई होठो तक लाते लाते उसके दोनों गालो पर मल देतीं.
”.खाने से अच्छा गाल पर लगा लें, गोरी हो जाएगी। क्या दिन भर फेयर एंड लवली लगाती रहती है।“
उस वक्त वह तड़प कर रह जाती। मां क्यों नहीं समझती उसके दिल का हाल। एक ही चीज तो धंसी है उसके भीतर। आज मलाई उसके हाथ आई है, पहले तो वह ठिठकी...क्या इसे खा जाए या बेसन हल्दी मिला कर, थोड़ा चेहरे पर भी मल ले...नहीं..उसे गोरपन की क्या जरुरत। वह पहले खाएगी, बाकी बाद में देखेंगे। उसकी आंखों के सामने कड़ाह में कई मन दूध उबल रहे हैं। कुछ कड़ाह में दूध ठंडे हो रहे हैं, उन पर जमने लगी है मोटी मोटी खुरदुरी मलाईयां...। उसकी आखें भी दूधिया रौशनी से भरी थीं।
ठीक उसी वक्त, हल्के अन्हियारे में मोहल्ले की सबसे महान कूटनी शीला दाई उधर से गुजरी, आहलाद से भरी सुरीली ने उसे देखा ही नहीं, देखती तो देख पाती कि सबसे ज्यादा सुख उसकी आंखों में था।

= = = =
A saga of disappointment, discrimination, targeting, othering, otherness…
 – A review of Pankhuri Sinha’s Anthology “Prison Talkies” by Akanksha Singh



FOREWORD
My Green Card was in labor clearance stage, when I dropped it for F1, which was cancelled while I was in India. Have still not been able to seek legal advice on the situation of being fired while being out of the country, during Visa change, but its clearly problematic, if based on a harassment report, filed by a professor who was following the student, and filed the report upon being asked, how was he doing so?
Dr. Andreas Daum had been following me. I still don’t know how.
A huge legal task lies in front of me. This is what happened to me. This is my story. There were many stories in the prison. These poems are about encountering them. They are also about encountering justice, injustice, discrimination, crime, and the systematic construction of both prison and borders. However, any character or event described in the poetry is purely fictional. Any resemblance is coincidental. However, this is not a book about wrongful detention only. It does not argue that prison is a place where just the poor, the weak, and the strong, opponents of regimes, activists, human rights workers are detained. This book strongly agrees with the fact, that crime is real, and so is correction. However, the irony is that, many big criminals totally evade it. They escape prison. As in, not run away, but never get to it. Nevertheless, the prison abounds with criminals, murderers, rapists, people who have committed brutal torture. It certainly is no longer a place, where freedom fighters are spending days, asking for a free voice. But are there not such people? Yes, there are. The prison is the most effective, coercive and deadly weapon in the hands of the state. Prison can kill, it can maim our souls. But to make prison a more humane place, is a very emphatic call of modernity. It is also a call to reduce crime, criminality, without ignoring it, without causing it. It is a call to make states less totalitarian. To divest them of some powers, to decentralize power. In the age of Immigration, and some very strange wars, that is turning many people into refugees, and asylum seekers, it is a plea to not invest powers in certain
citizens, that do not belong to them. That are not theirs. The poems are also an attempt to get over the stigma of prison. To cross over, into that other side, to merge. What the poems actually describe though, is the disappointment, the discrimination, the targeting, the othering, the otherness.



REVIEW
Reading poetry is always pleasurable but when the poems in question are as beautiful as Pankhuri Sinha’s, the joy multiplies. Pankhuri Sinha’s debut poetry collection in English is very aptly titled ‘Prison talkies’ as it tells the tale of a prison and its inmates. The poetess begins the collection with a dedication worth mentioning which captures the essence of the entire book in a few lines. She begins with the lines,
To,
The girl who shared my cell on the night I was detained
by Immigration, May 16th, 2007….”

This anthology is not just a random collection of poems, it tells a story. A disjointed story, no doubt but a story in poems of a girl, Suzannah who is bounded by the shackles of society and patriarchy, a girl who suffers huge torment in the name of justice – her trials and tribulations through the actual physical jail and also the metaphorical one created by society and her attempts to survive despite all odds. As the poetess says in the dedication,
“I remember asking her to hold my hand,
And I remember what that human touch had felt like,
After the handcuffs”

The vagaries of human emotions are rampant in the poems and the survival of faint remains of humanity – like the beckoning morning sun rays that herald the dawn of a new day.

The poems are not arranged in any particular order or chronology but they tell the tale of a girl’s journey (the protagonist - Suzannah) from her peaceful home to wrongful conviction and all that she faced in-between. Every poem is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and the reader is forced to read till the end so as to find the proper place of each piece and view the larger picture.

While most poems like – “Of Prison Darkness”, ”The Sergeants and the Female Ward “,  “The Day Lucy Got a Bail”, ”The Crime Equations in Prison” etc. are dedicated solely to the life and lifestyle of prison inmates, the others talk about a variety of other topics.

The predominant theme in these is the betrayal that the protagonist has suffered at the hands of all those she trusted – her loved ones, the country and above all justice. The loneliness of being in a foreign country surrounded by strangers, the helplessness of losing all rights, the pain at the betrayal of people you trust, the unexpected warmth found even in a prison cell, the pleasure that nature provides no matter where you are – all these and many other hues are imbued in this eclectic collection of poems.

So what if you lived here for years,
Your rights were taken away”

The law structure governing immigrants is a recurring theme in Pankhuri Sinha’s poems. She brings out the pathetic condition of immigrants in foreign countries where they are denied even the most basic human rights. They are treated with the same callousness shown towards criminals and thugs. They do not have a say in this new Global World where their skills are appreciated but their rights are neglected. 
“The thing called justice,
Seemed very far away in the prison,”
For those who have been abandoned to the dark and lonely prison cells, the existence of the term justice is also questionable.
“Of the immigrant infiltrating homes,
The immigrant of color,
Complaining instead,
Of control,
Of Surveillance and of a hijacking,”

The political leaders make tall claims of no racism and equality for all but the truth is far from it. This is depicted very clearly in Pankhuri’s poems where she tries to give voice to the injustice suffered by immigrants.
The poetess talks of the protagonist's prison days and how the sound of the rain or the song of a bird helped distract her and made her forget the hunger pangs and other atrocities of the prison.
A major portion of the poems also deals with the patriarchal system that we are following and how the protagonist was not only demeaned for being an immigrant but also for her crime of being a woman. She has no rights as a woman but must be ruled by her husband. Various references make it clear that she is another victim of society’s unfair treatment of women. Love is just a mirage and underneath it you will find a dominant jailkeeper waiting to bring the wayward wife back on track. In every sphere – not just her domestic life but also her professional life, she finds that males try to assert their authority.
“ALL REFERENCES MADE
TO HEATHCLIFF
In reading,
Writing,
Speaking,
Are wanted back,
For I have been doing all explanations,
All chores.”

“And the declaration of my lover,
My now husband,
As boss,
And the reason of all happenings,
In my life”

The protagonist finds herself disillusioned with all the lies that have been told to her over and over again. Her dreams have been lost – shattered by the injustice that she – as a  woman and as an immigrant suffers and she is fighting to stay alive – to carry on.
“Exhausted dreams,
Finished moments,
Unmaterialized plans,
Of years robbed,
Of lies told,
Of ongoing misdirections.”

“The morning gone,
All mornings gone.
Still,
There remains a promise.
A promise made years and years ago”

 You cannot help but sympathize with the protagonist as she recounts the tale of how she had built a safe haven, only to have it smashed in a heartbeat.

“The music that was,
It had taken so long to build it,
Years together,
Of building things”
“Hearing it loud and clear,
Its over,
Your chance to conceive,
As the rain pours outside,
In the beautiful garden,
And over the cross of the church,
A sight most tranquil,
The church building seen from the kitchen sink,
As tranquil as an unknown prayer.
As healing as prayers chanted in incomprehensible words.”

The pain of a mother, a woman and a human being all are very poignantly described in the poems of Pankhuri Sinha. My favourite poem talks about how a woman is wronged and mistreated for having a voice, for having the misconception that she is human. She is a victim and she cannot even prove it, because it is her destiny.
TO NOT EVEN WRITE POETRY
Do nothing,
Just make babies,
And raise them,
Make lunch boxes,
Send them to school,
The noblest job on earth.
Taken away,
From some,
Very cleverly,
May we file a report?
But of what kind?
How do we gather evidence?
Against that very clever crime?
Being committed in bits and pieces,
So small,
We can’t pick the particles?
We just know,
Its happening,
This minute.

And finally her mistreatment in the name of law and justice. The protagonist is faced with lurid interrogations with no respect for her rights or privacy as she is tried for her crime of being an illegal immigrant. Questions arise and she is left speechless with the bold claims that are made about private moments of her life. She is the object of spying, of injustice – all in the name of justice. She has tried to unmask the unjust ways in which justice is implemented.
“To my knowledge,
To the best of my knowledge,
In front of my life,
Right in front of my eyes,
An entire life stolen,
In front of my blank stare,
My wide open eyes.”

But the protagonist does not lose hope despite countless setbacks. She has the power to appreciate the beauty of the rain and the sun even in these dark moments. She tells us that she hasn't abandoned hope and she is still fighting. Kind words and solidarity are still to be found even amongst the darkest prison cells.
While the life-story of Suzannah is interspersed in the collection, the majority of the poems deal with the life of a prisoner. The way prisoners are treated, their routine, their lifestyle, their hopes, their  trails and give voice to not just the narrator’s pain but of all those prison inmates, innocent or guilty, who have been locked away for good.
Pankhuri Sinha has written a poignant tale through  poetry. Her poetic form also deserves mention as she has used all tools in her arsenal to make the poems more beautiful and detailed. Her writing style is varied and while some poems are written in blank verse, the others can be attributed to concrete poetry. She has not only used words but geometric patterns to lend force to those words. Her poems, “Trusting the system” and “The unlived moments” are best examples of this.
Pankhuri has used imagery to colour her tales and the reader is transported to the prison as he reads her vivid accounts.  
Her story has found a voice through these poems. The anthology is a must read for everyone who wishes to live one more life – this one in a prison. Poetry aficionados will find that putting this anthology down without crying at least once is almost impossible.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NAME                     
Pankhuri Sinha
DATE OF BIRTH          
18th June 1975
EDUCATION             
·        Incomplete Phd, History, from University of Calgary, 2012
·        M.A. History, SUNY Buffalo, 200
·        P.G. Diploma:  Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication, Pune, India, 1998
·        B.A., History Honors, Indraprastha College, Delhi University, 1996
PUBLICATIONS                                                                                   
·        ‘Koi-bhi-Din’ and ‘Kissa-e-Kohinoor’, two books, both collections of literary stories published in 2005 and 2008, by Gyanpith, a reputed name in Hindi literary publishing.
·        Prison Talkies, a collection of poems, published by Xlibris, Indiana, July 2013
·        ‘Dear Suzannah’, second collection of poems soon to be published by     Xlibris, Indiana
·        Collection of poems in Hindi, soon to be published
·        Poetries and Stories published in widely circulated Hindi literary magazines and web magazines in India, Yuddharat Aam Adami, Hans, Vagarth, Naya Gyanoday, Kathadesh, Hastakshep, Janjwar, Hindi Chetna, Kathakrama, Pahal, Saakshatkaar, Vasudha, Bela, Sara Sach, Lamhi, Shabdankan, Sitab Diyara, Likho Yahan Wahan, Nai Ebarat, Pehli Baar, Purvai London, Purvai India, Anunaad, Sahitya Darshan, Sahitya Ragini and many others                       
AWARDS
·        Chitra Kumar Shailesh Matiyani Award for the first collection of stories in 2008
·        Script writing for the documentary film Cobra: God at Mercy, which received the best UGC film award 1998
·        Girija Kumar Mathur Smriti Puraskaar, for poetry in 1995
·        Fall 2008 Dean’s Entrance Scholarship, University of Calgary
·        Rajeev Gandhi Excellence Award for creative writing in Hindi, June 2013
·        And many other prestigious awards
CONTACT
A-- 204, Prakriti Apartments, Sector 6, Plot 26, Dwarka, New Delhi 110075


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Once upon a time, there was an ugly girl. She was short and dumpy, had one leg a bit shorter than the other, and her eyebrows met in the middle. The ugly girl gutted fish for a living, so her hands smelt funny and her dress was covered in scales. She had no mother or brother, no father, sister, or any friends. She lived in a ramshackle house on the outskirts of the village, and she never complained.
     One by one, the village girls married the local lads, and up the path to the church they'd prance, smiling all the way. At the weddings, the ugly girl always stood at the back of the church, smelling slightly of brine. The village women gossiped about the ugly girl. They wondered what she did with the money she earnt. The ugly girl never bought a new frock, never made repairs to the house, and never drank in the village tavern.
     Now, it so happened that outside the village, in a great damp swamp, lived an old basket-maker who was famed for the quality of his work. One day the old basket-maker heard a knock on his door. When he opened it, the ugly girl stood there. In her hand, she held six gold coins.
     'I want you to make me a husband,' she said.
     'Come back in a month,' he replied.
     Well, the old basket-maker was greatly moved that the ugly girl had entrusted him with such an important task. He resolved to make her the best husband he could. He made the wicker husband broad of shoulder and long of leg, and all the other things women like. He made him strong of arm and elegant of neck, and his brows were wide and well-spaced. His hair was a fine dark brown, his eyes a greenish hazel.
     When the day came, the ugly girl knocked on the basket-maker's door.
     'He says today is too soon. He will be in the church tomorrow, at ten,' said the basket-maker. The ugly girl went away, and spent the day scraping scales from her dress.
     Later that night, there was a knock on the door of the village tailor. When the tailor opened it, the wicker husband stood outside.
     'Lend me a suit,' he said. 'I am getting married in the morning, and I cannot go to church naked.'
     'Aaaaaaargh!' yelled the tailor, and ran out the back door.
     The tailor's wife came out, wiping her hands. 'What's going on?' she said.
     'Lend me a suit,' said the wicker husband. 'I am getting married tomorrow, and I cannot go to my wedding naked.'
     The tailor's wife gave him a suit, and slammed the door in his face.
     Next, there was a knock on the door of the village shoe-maker. When the shoe-maker opened it, the wicker husband stood there.
     'Lend me some shoes,' he said. 'I am getting married in the morning, and I cannot go to church barefoot.'
     'Aaaaaaargh!' yelled the shoe-maker, and he ran out the back door.
     The shoe-maker's wife came out, her hands trembling.
     'What do you want?' she said.
     'Lend me some shoes,' said the wicker husband. 'I am getting married in the morning, and I cannot go to my wedding barefoot.'
     The shoe-maker's wife gave him a pair of shoes, and slammed the door in his face. Next, the wicker husband went to the village inn.
     'Give me a drink,' said the wicker husband. 'I am getting married tomorrow, and I wish to celebrate.'
     'Aaaaaaargh!' yelled the inn-keeper and all his customers, and out they ran. The poor wicker husband went behind the bar, and poured himself a drink.
     When the ugly girl got to church in the morning, she was mighty pleased to find her husband so handsome, and so well turned-out.

When the couple had enjoyed their first night of marriage, the wicker husband said to his wife: 'This bed is broken. Bring me a chisel: I will fix it.'
     So like a good husband, he began to fix the bed. The ugly girl went out to gut fish. When she came back at the end of the day, the wicker husband looked at her, and said: 'I was made to be with you.'
     When the couple had enjoyed their second night of marriage, the wicker husband said: 'This roof is leaky. Bring me a ladder: I will fix it.'
     So, like a good husband, he climbed up and began to fix the thatch. The ugly girl went out to gut fish. When she returned in the evening, the wicker husband looked at his wife, and said: 'Without you, I should never have seen the sun on the water, or the clouds in the sky.'
     When the couple had enjoyed their third night of marriage, the ugly girl got ready to out. 'The chimney needs cleaning,' she said, hopefully, 'And the fire could be laid...' But at this, the wicker husband - she was just beginning to learn his expressions - looked completely terrified. From this, the ugly girl came to understand that there are some things you cannot ask a man to do, even if he is very kind.
     Over the weeks, the villagers began to notice a change in the ugly girl. If one of her legs was still shorter than the other, her hips moved with a swing that didn't please them. If she still smelt funny, she sang while she gutted the fish. She bought a new frock and wore flowers in her hair. Even her eyebrows no longer met in the middle: the wicker husband had pulled them out with his strong, withied fingers. When the villagers passed the ugly girl's house, they saw it had been painted anew, the windows sparkled, and the door no longer hung askew. You might think that all these changes pleased the villagers, but oh no. Instead, wives pointed out to husbands that their doors needed fixing, and why didn't they offer? The men retorted that maybe if their wives made an effort with new frocks and flowers in their hair, then maybe they'd feel like fixing the house, and everybody grumbled and cursed each other, but secretly, in their hearts, they blamed the ugly girl and her husband.
     As to the ugly girl, she didn't notice all the jealousy. She was too busy growing accustomed to married life, and was finding that the advantages of a wicker husband outweighed his few shortcomings. The wicker husband didn't eat, and never complained that his dinner was late. He only drank water, the muddier the better. She was a little sad that she could not cook him dinner like an ordinary man, and watch him while he ate. In the cold nights, she hoped they would sit together close to the fire, but he preferred the darkness, far from the flames. The ugly girl got in the habit of calling across the room all the things she had to say to him. As winter turned to spring, and rain pelted down, the wicker husband became a little mouldy, and the ugly girl had to scrub him down with a brush and a bottle of vinegar. Spring turned to summer, and June was very dry. The wicker husband complained of stiffness in his joints, and spent the hottest hour of the day lying in the stream. The ugly girl took her fish-gutting, and sat on the bank, keeping him company.
     Eventually the villagers were too ridden with curiosity to stand it any longer. There was a wedding in the village: the ugly girl and her husband were invited. At the wedding, there was music and dancing, and food and wine. As the musicians struck up, the wicker husband and the ugly girl went to dance. The villagers could not help staring: the wicker husband moved so fine. He lifted his dumpy wife like she was nought but a feather, and swung her round and round. He swayed and shimmered; he was elegant, he was graceful. As for the ugly girl: she was in heaven.
     The women began to whisper behind their hands. Now, the blacksmith's wife was boldest, and she resolved to ask the wicker husband to dance. When the music paused she went towards the couple. The ugly girl was sitting in the wicker husband's lap, so he creaked a little. The blacksmith's wife was about to tap the wicker husband on the shoulder, but his arms were wrapped round the ugly girl.
     'You are the only reason that I live and breathe,' the wicker husband said to his wife.
     The blacksmith's wife heard what he said, and went off, sulking. The next day there were many frayed tempers in the village.
     'You've got two left feet!' shouted the shoe-maker's wife at her husband.
     'You never tell me anything nice!' yelled the blacksmith's wife.
     'All you do is look at other women!' shouted the baker's wife, though how she knew was a mystery, as she'd done nothing but stare at the wicker husband all night. The husbands fled their homes and congregated in the tavern.
     'T'aint right,' they muttered, 'T'isn't natural.'
     'E's showing us up.'
     'Painting doors.'
     'Fixing thatch.'
     'Murmuring sweet nothings.'
     'Dancing!' muttered the blacksmith, and they all spat.
     'He's not really a man,' muttered the baker. 'An abomination!'
     'He don't eat.'
     'He don't grumble.'
     'He don't even fart,' added the tailor, gloomily.
     The men shook their heads, and agreed that it couldn't go on.
     Meanwhile the women congregated in each other's kitchens.
     'It's not right,' they muttered. 'Why does she deserve him?'
     'It's an enchantment,' they whispered. 'She bewitched him.'
     'She'll be onto our husbands next, I expect,' said the baker's wife. 'We should be careful.'
     'She needs to be brought down a peg or two.'
     'Fancies that she's better than the rest of us, I reckon.'
     'Flowers in her hair!!'
     'Did you see her dancing?'
     And they all agreed that it couldn't go on.
     One day the wicker husband was on his way back from checking the fish-traps, when he was accosted by the baker.
     'Hello,' said the baker. The wicker husband was a little surprised: the baker never bothered to speak to him. 'You made an impression the other night.'
     'I did?' said the wicker husband.
     'Oh yes,' continued the baker. 'The women are all aflutter. Don't you ever think - well...'
     'What?' said the wicker husband, completely confused.
     'Man like you,' said the baker. 'Could do well for himself. A lot of opportunities...' He leaned forward, so the wicker husband recoiled. The baker's breath smelt of dough, which he found unpleasant. 'Butcher's wife,' added the baker meaningfully. 'Very taken. I know for a fact that he's not at home. Gone to visit his brother in the city. Why don't you go round?'
     'I can't,' said the wicker husband. 'My wife's waiting for me at home.' And he strode off, up the lane. The baker went home, annoyed.
     Now the wicker husband, who was too trusting, thought less of this of this than he should, and did not warn his wife that trouble was brewing. About a week later, the ugly girl was picking berries in the hedgerow, when the tailor's wife sidled up. Her own basket was empty, which made the ugly girl suspicious.
     'My dear!' cried the tailor's wife, fluttering her hands.
     'What d'you want?' said the ugly girl.
     The tailor's wife wiped away a fake tear, and looked in both directions. 'My dear,' she whispered. 'I'm only here to warn you. Your husband - he's been seen with other women.'
     'What other women?' said the ugly girl.
     The tailor's wife fluttered her hands. This wasn't going as she intended. 'My dear, you can't trust men. They're all the same. And you can't expect - a man like him, and a woman like you - frankly -'
     The ugly girl was so angry that she hit the tailor's wife with her basket, and ran off, up the lane. The ugly girl went home, and - knowing more of cruelty than her husband did - thought on this too much and too long. But she did not want to upset her husband, so she said nothing.
     The tailor's wife came home fuming, with scratches all over her face. That night, the wives and husbands of the village all agreed - for once - that something drastic had to be done.

A few days later the old basket-maker heard a knocking at his door. When he opened it, the villagers stood outside. Right on cue, the tailor's wife began to weep, pitifully.
     'What's the matter?' said the old basket-maker.
     'She's childless,' said the baker's wife, sniffing.
     'Not a son,' said the tailor, sadly.
     'Or a daughter.'
     'No-one to comfort them in their old age,' added the butcher.
     'It's breaking their hearts,' went on the baker.
     'So we've come to ask -'
     'If you'll make us a baby. Out of wicker.'
     And they held out a bag of gold.
     'Very well,' said the old basket-maker. 'Come back in a month.'
     Well, one dusky day in autumn, the ugly girl was sitting by the fire, when there came a knock at the door. The wicker husband opened it. Outside, stood the villagers. The tailor's wife bore a bundle in her arms, and the bundle began to whimper.
     'What's that?' said the ugly girl.
     'This is all your fault,' hissed the butcher, pointing at the wicker husband.
     'Look what you've done!' shouted the baker.
     'It's an abomination,' sneered the inn-keeper. 'Not even human!'
     The tailor pulled away the blanket. The ugly girl saw that the baby was made of wicker. It had the same shaped nose, the same green eyes that her husband did.
     'Tell me it's not true!' she cried.
     But the wicker husband said nothing. He just stared at the baby. He had never seen one of his own kind before, and now - his heart filled up with tenderness. When the ugly girl saw this on his face, a great cloud of bitterness came upon her. She sank to the floor, moaning.
     'Filthy, foul, creature!' cried the tailor. 'I should burn it!' He seized the baby, and made to fling it into the blaze. At this, the wicker husband let out a yell. Forward he leapt.
     The ugly girl let out a terrible cry. She took the lamp, and flung it straight at her husband. The lamp burst in shards of glass. Oil went everywhere. Flames began to lick at the wicker husband's chest, up his neck, into his face. He tried to beat at the flames, but his fingers grew oily, and burst into fire. Out he ran, shrieking, and plunged into the river.
     'Well, that worked well,' said the butcher, in a satisfied manner.
     The villagers did not spare a second glance for the ugly girl, but went home again to their dinners. On the way, the tailor's wife threw the wicker baby in the ditch. She stamped on its face. 'Ugh,' she said. 'Horrible thing.'
     The next day the ugly girl wandered the highways, weeping, her face smeared in ashes.
     'Have you seen my husband?' she asked passing travellers, but they saw madness in her eyes, and spurred their horses on. Dusk fell. Stumbling home, scarce knowing where she was, the ugly girl heard a sound in the ditch. Kneeling, she found the wicker baby. It wailed and thrashed, and held up its hands. The ugly girl saw in its face her husband's eyes, and her husband's nose. She coddled it to her chest and took it home.
     Now, the old basket maker knew nothing of all this. One day, the old man took it into his head to see how his creations were faring. He walked into town, and knocked on the tailor's door. The wife answered.
     'How is the baby?' he said.
     'Oh that,' she said. 'It died.' And she shut the door in his face. The old basket-maker walked on, till he came to the ugly girl's place. The door was closed, the garden untended, and dirt smeared the windows. The old basket-maker knocked on the door. No-one answered, though he waited a very long time.
     The old-basket maker went home, disheartened. He was walking the long dark road into the swamp, when he heard something in the rushes. At first he was afraid: he wrapped his scarf closer round his face. But the thing seemed to follow him. From time to time, it groaned.
     'Who's there?' called the old man.
     Out onto the roadway staggered the most broken and bedraggled, the most pathetic and pitiful thing. The old basket-maker stared at what was left of the wicker husband: his hands consumed by fire, his face equally gone. Dark pits of scorched wood marred his chest. Where he had burnt, he had started to rot.
     'What have they done to my children?' cried the old basket-maker.
     The wicker husband said nothing: he had lost his tongue.
     The old basket-maker took the wicker husband home. As daylight came, the old basket-maker sat down to repair him. But as he worked, his heart grew hot with anger.
     'I made you, but I failed you,' he said. 'I will not send you there again.'
     Eventually, the wicker husband looked as good as new, though the smell of burning still clung. But as the days passed, a damp black mould began to grow on him. The old basket-maker pulled out the rotting withies and replaced them. But it seemed useless: the wicker husband rotted from the inside, outwards.
     At last, the old basket-maker saw there was nothing else to be done. He took up his travelling cloak, set out at night, and passed through the village. He came to the ugly girl's house. In the garden, wreathed in filth, stood the ugly girl, cuddling a child. She was singing the saddest lullaby he had ever heard. The old basket-maker saw that the child was the one he'd made, and his heart softened a little. He stepped out of the shadows.
     'Why do you keep the baby,' he said, 'when you cast your husband from home?'
     The ugly girl cried out, to hear someone speak to her.
     'It is all I have left of my husband,' she said at last. 'Though it is proof he betrayed me, I could not leave it in the ditch to die.'
     'You are a fool,' he said. 'It was I that made the child. Your husband is innocent.'
     At this, the ugly girl let out a cry, and ran towards the river. But old basket-maker caught her arm. 'Wait - I have something to show you,' he said.
     The ugly girl walked behind him, through the swamp where the water sucked and burbled, carrying the baby. As the sun rose, she saw that its features were only those of the old basket-maker, who, like any maker, had passed down his face to his creations.
     When they came to the dwelling, the ugly girl opened the door, and saw her husband, sitting in darkness.
     'It cannot be you,' she said. 'You are dead. I know: I killed you myself.'
     'I was made for you alone,' said the wicker husband, 'But you threw me away.'
     The ugly girl let out a cry so loud, birds surfaced from the marches for miles around, and threw herself at her husband's feet.

A few days later, the villagers were surprised to see the old basket-maker standing outside the church.
     'I have something to say,' he said. 'Soon I will retire. But first, I am making my masterwork - a woman made of wicker. If you want her, you can have her. But you must bring me a gift for my retirement. Whoever brings me the best gift can have the wicker woman.'
     Then he turned round and went back to the swamp.
     Behind him, the villagers began to whisper. Hadn't the wicker husband been tall and graceful? Hadn't he been a hard worker? Hadn't he been handsome, and eager to please his wife?
     Next day, the entire village denied any interest in the wicker lady, but secretly began to plan. Men eyed up prize cows; women sneaked open jewellery boxes.
     'That wicker husband worked like a slave, and never even ate,' said the shoe-maker's wife to her husband. 'Get me the wicker woman as a servant, I'll live like a lady, never lift a finger.'
     'That wicker husband never quarrelled with anyone, never even raised his voice. Not like you, you old fishwife,' the inn-keeper said to his wife.
     'That wicker husband never tired, and never had a headache,' said the butcher to the baker. 'Imagine...!'
     'Lend me a shilling, cousin,' said the shoe-maker's wife. 'I need a new petticoat.'
     'I can't,' lied the blacksmith's wife. 'I spent it on medicine. The child was very sick.'
     'I need that back-rent you owe me,' said the butcher, who owned the tailor's house.
     'Been a very bad season in the tailoring trade,' muttered the tailor. 'You'll get it soon.'
     The butcher went into town, hired a lawyer, and got the tailor evicted from his house. The tailor and his wife had to go and live in the shoe-maker's shed.
     'But what are you going to do with the empty house?' asked the butcher's wife.
     'Nothing,' said the butcher, who thought the place would do admirably to keep a mistress. The butcher's wife and the tailor's wife had a fight in the market, and went home with black eyes. In the tavern, no-one spoke, but only eyed each other, suspiciously. The lawyer was still in town. Rumour had it that the tailor's wife was suing for divorce: the inn-keeper's wife had her husband arrested after she found the stairs had been greased. In short, the fields went uncut, the cows went unmilked, ovens uncleaned: the village was obsessed.
     When the day came, the old basket-maker came to town, and sat on the churchyard wall. The villagers brought their gifts. First the tailor, who'd made a luxurious coat. Next the miller, bringing twelve sacks of grain. The baker made the most extravagant cake; the carpenter brought a table and chairs, the carter a good strong horse. The blacksmith's wife staggered up with a cheese the size of a millwheel. Her cousin, the tailor's wife, arrived with a bag of gold.
     'Where d'you get that, wife?' said her husband, amazed.
     'Never you mind,' she snapped.
     The inn-keeper's wife wasn't there: she'd slipped while climbing the stairs.
     Last to come was the butcher. He'd really outdone the others: two oxen, four cows, and a dozen sheep.
     The old-basket maker looked around him. 'Well,' he said. 'I think the prize goes to... the butcher. I'll just take these and be back, with the wicker lady.'
     The butcher was so pleased, spittle ran from his mouth.
     'Can I have my grain back?' said the miller.
     'No no,' said the old man. 'That wasn't the bargain.' And he began to load all the goods onto the horse. The villagers would have fallen on each other, fighting, but they were so desperate to see the wicker lady, they just stood there, to wait.
     It was dusk by the time the basket-maker returned. The wicker woman was seated on the horse, shrouded in a cloak, veiled like a bride. From under the cloak, white flowers fell. As she passed the villagers, a most marvellous smell drifted down.
     The butcher stood outside the tailor's old house. He'd locked his wife in the coal cellar in preparation.
     The old basket-maker held out a hand, and helped the lady dismount. The butcher smelt her fragrance. From under the veil, he thought he saw her give him a saucy glance. He was so excited, he hopped from foot to foot.
     The wicker lady lifted her veil: she took off her cloak. The butcher stared at her. The wicker lady was short of stature and twisted of limb, her face was dark and rough. But worse than that - from head to foot, she was covered in thorns.
     'What have you done?' shrieked the butcher.
     'Ah,' said the old basket-maker. 'The wicker husband was made of willow. Willow is the kindest of trees: tall, elegant, pliable, of much assistance in easing pain. But I saw that you did not like him. Therefore I made you the wicker lady from blackthorn. Blackthorn is cold, hard, and thorny - it will not be killed, either by fire or frost.'
     The villagers would have fallen on the old basket-maker there and then, had not the wicker lady stepped forward. She seized hold of the butcher and reached up to kiss him. The butcher let out a howl. When he pulled his lips away, they were shredded and tattered: blood ran down his chin. Then, with a bang, the butcher's wife broke out of the coal cellar, and ran down the road. Seeing the wicker lady kissing her husband, she screamed, and fell on her. The two of them rolled in the gutter, howling and scratching.
     Just then, the lawyer piped up. 'Didn't you check the details first?' he said. 'It's very important. You should always check the small print.'
     The men of the village took their butcher's knives and pitchforks and tailoring shears, and chased the lawyer out of town. When they'd run out of breath, they stopped.
     'That old fraud the basket-maker,' said the baker. 'He tricked us.'
     So they turned round and began to go back in the other direction, on the road into the swamp. In the darkness they stumbled and squelched, lost their way and nearly drowned. It was light by the time they came to the old basket-maker's dwelling, but the old basket-maker, the wicker husband, the ugly girl and the baby, as well as all the villagers' goods, had already upped, and gone.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Photo (c) Louise Gethin
Ursula Wills-Jones grew up in Stroud in Gloucestershire, and now lives in Bristol, England. She has a degree in Development Studies from the University of Liverpool, and an MA in Creative Writing from BathSpa, making her ideally qualified to make up completely untrue but heart-rendingly convincing statistics about poor countries.

She has worked as a manager on a variety of community and arts projects in Bristol over the last ten years. 

Her fiction writing has been featured on:
  • The Guardian - Vusi Makusi, runner-up 2011 short story competition
  • Radio 4 - The Truth About Me and Dick Whittington (short story)
  • Bristol Old Vic - Fermentation (short play)
  • On East of the Web (short stories)
  • And live at festivals including Port Eliot Lit Fest, the Green Man Festival, End of the Road Festival, and the Secret Garden Party. 
Her non-fiction writing has appeared on:
  • Comment is Free (the Guardian)
  • The Big Issue in the North
  • New Internationalist magazine
She also set up and runs Heads & Tales, which produces live and accessible literature. Heads & Tales have work with writers, artists and community groups across the South-West.

Copyrights of the story rest with the author.
For more information about Ursula, please visit her blog: www.ursulawrites.blogspot.in