‘Fire Under Ash’ by Saskya Jain: A Secret Moment in the Life of Ashwin


Ashwin is one of the protagonists of Saskya Jain’s novel, ‘Fire Under Ash’, and it is he who triggers a chain of events that lead to tragedy. Here is a moment in his life that you won’t find in the novel.

Earlier that night, Ashwin had stood on the terrace with his hands locked at the nape of his neck and watched the Delhi metro fly past on the bridge in front of their house. It was still a new sight: the illuminated carriage windows whisking past like a second of film slowed down to each frame. The body of the train, silver sleek, burst in and out of view, bearing the beginning of a silver screen story: Slumdogs, sex gods, emotional atyachar. Social chameleon, permanently antebellum. The metropolitan spirit. Goosebumps had chased up Ashwin’s arms. It was the urban dream come true: to keep watch over the city by night, unseen but not invisible, the windows to peep into delivered to and removed from your private optical range at Japanese-made intervals. The box-like windows also reminded Ashwin of the dioramas he had pressed his nose up against as a boy during summer holidays at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Ashwin thought, Put a frame around something and time freezes within like juice around a stick. Please turn to exhibit Ex Ex Oh: The Delhi Commuter in His Unnatural Habitat. It was an age of show and tell. The falling darkness was not new. It had always been like this for as long as Ashwin could remember, uneven like bad skin, premature and grey from the smoke and dust. But the sound was new, too. The purr of the tracks, the howl that followed the silver streak as it dove into the earth, leaving behind an echo, the short blasts of the horn (sounding nothing like the melodious toots of the TATA trucks and the laboured blows of the Shatabdi trains that were around since before he was born. But there was a time, he knew, when those, too, had sounded strange to people). Ashwin had lived his entire life in this house in Chhattarpur set amidst a lawn that sprawled effortlessly, with the nonchalance of something guilty proven innocent. The Complete Chootiya’s Guide to Delhi, circulated orally among Delhiites following an ancient (some claim Vedic) tradition and into which Ashwin was yet to be fully initiated, says that the settlement was built illegally in the 1980s on land reserved for farmers. Next, look up the word “illegal.” In Delhi, it simply refers to those aspects of life in which the law is stone dead asleep, like Kumbhakarna. It is sleeping so soundly that, so Delhi’s richest reason, this state of affairs must indeed have been created by divine and therefore indisputable order, misunderstanding or not. Ashwin was worldly enough to know that his home was a typical Delhi farm, where not much was cultivated other than desire and a few bunches of Mrs. Mehta’s Portuguese arugula. But desire, coupled with curiosity, can give rise to love, and love can be confusing, especially for an eighteen-year-old, especially for a city of eighteen million. Especially if that city is stacked like Matryoshka dolls—that is, if you could carve a set where the innermost piece was, in fact, the biggest. Standing on the terrace of the farmhouse, Ashwin was still mostly unaware of the cities within the city of Delhi. Watching the metro zip past before driving to his graduation party, Ashwin had been gripped by a sense of perspective, of an almost dizzying depth, and, fleetingly and egotistically, he had thought, If I were to walk out those gates right now, I would learn something about myself that I’ve always wanted to know. The Brazilian Girls had been playing in his head. Sabina Sciubba’s voice filled his ears. After listening to it for a few lines, Ashwin started singing out aloud. He had stood on the terrace waiting for the dioramas of the Delhi metro to fly by him again. He heard the bridge rumble before the train flashed into his field of vision. The sound of the train and his voice had both floated above the ground, but not quite high enough to touch the sky, grey and spotty, which darkness now evened out with the same promise of renewal as Mrs. Mehta’s $ 70 anti-wrinkle night cream bought at an airport duty free shop during a transatlantic stopover. His singing had been eclipsed halfway through the chorus as the train had shot by their farm, as if his voice, too, had dove into the tunnel and disappeared. ————— Buy your copy of ‘Fire Under Ash’ by Saskya Jain here: http://bit.ly/1xSDkFm —————

The Penguin India Blog

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