“The Tombstone in my Garden” by Temsula Ao
This is the story of a lily that refused to bloom one season because she was dislodged from her accustomed position in the garden bed and crammed into an ornate pot so that she could be entered in a forthcoming flower show. For this rare beauty, it was an act of violation of her natural rights because she believed that she belonged on the earth, untrammelled by the confines of a pot, not matter how beautiful or ornate it was. She was sad and angry at first because she could not understand why she had been treated so. Every seasons she gave of her best; her blooms were radiant, long-lasting and even mysterious with her unusual colour-combination. She also missed her companions in the garden bed from whom she had been so forcefully separated. She felt she was condemned to a prison, away from the freedom of the open spaces around her. What she did not know at that time was the fact that ever since her mistress realized how rare a beauty this unusual flower was, she became obsesessed with the idea of winning the first prize in the annual flower show organized by the Ladies Flower Club and has thus callously ordered this exquisite beauty’s dislocation from her natural habitat.
…inside the dilapidated shed, Snow-Green stood proud and happy in her pot for the first time in years, with her last=breath efflorescence. There were dewey sparkles like tears on the petals in this ultimate show of splendour as though a misty-eyed little girl, holding her breath in protest, had relented and was at least breathing easy and smiling. In paying this final tribute to a friend and mentor, the resurgent beauty was honouring the sacred pledge she had given him. And a benign peace seemed to emanate from her to envelop all around her.
Award-winning writer, Temsula Ao’s The Tombstone in my Garden: Stories from Nagaland is a collection of five stories ( Speaking Tiger Books). Each very different from the other. Unexpectedly so. Many short stories collections tend to blend into one another in terms of authorial style but in this case it is not so. Ranging from the rise in communal violence in the north eastern parts of India to stories that have a very strong folklore element to them, the stories are astonishingly mesmerising. In all the years that I have known Temsula and have been reading her stories, she never ceases to surprise the reader with her vast repertoire of storytelling skills. Her most extraordinary gift is being able to tell the story in the mode that befits it best rather than adhering to a rigid storytelling structure. So if “The Saga of a Cloth” requires a gentle pace intermingled with narrator’s voice or “Snow-Green” has a very distinctive folk lore and modern setting or “The Platform” that is a mix of reportage and journalistic storytelling or the title story being the interior monologue of a woman, Temsula Ao offers it all to the reader. She does not seem to hesitate in mixing forms to suit the content as long as it has the desired effect upon the reader. In this case, the variety of styles work.
The Tombstone in my Garden is a gorgeous read. Buy it.
4 Feb 2022