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Book excerpt: The familiarity of dreams

In this excerpt from ‘Notes On A Marriage’, a novella about the nature of marriage, Anju, who has been married for 20 years, considers the nature of stability and dreams

'Snow can do that to people—make them believe the world is standing still, expunged of depravity, restored to its pristine state.'(Pexels/Liana Tril)

By Selma Carvalho

LAST PUBLISHED 23.01.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

Snow arrives in a fury. It falls softly at first, gracefully, and then without warning it whips into a blind storm—trees flapping, roofs buried, cars stranded. London shuts down, barricades itself. Everywhere is a scattering of snow, muffling the town into submission. A certain ennui descends, an overwhelming heaviness, an unbearable waiting. Anju sighs. She scrapes the snow from the windscreen where it’s cottoned thickly, and still the snow falls all around in great dustings, sheathing the skins of trees until they silver against the sky. The feathered flakes sink into her flesh, a cold fire spreading calmly through her fingers and feet. She gets in and reverses the car, skidding slightly. Before her, a road of ploughed sludge wends its way through swirls of flurries turning hedges into crystal crenellations of brilliant white.

She turns off the radio, letting the brightly lit silence seep through her. Driving through snow, through its softness, its rutted whiteness, long stretches of time lapse without her realising it. Snow can do that to people—make them believe the world is standing still, expunged of depravity, restored to its pristine state. She parks the car and sees her husband waiting for her, his pale English face showing only the slightest signs of irritation at her timekeeping. They walk together, heads bent, unusually subdued. The town has not come to a complete standstill. There are still protestors outside the Civic Centre. They are all over, a clump of floating placards and the solidity of an angry chant. He distances himself as quickly as he can from the throng and taking Anju by the hand, they cross the road.

In his younger days, Alfred Hughes had been quite the Nineties revolutionary at William Byrd University, clad in faded army fatigues and smoking Cuban cigars. Che Freddo, che Freddo pequeño, that’s what they called him at university and the name had stuck. He even had photographs of himself brandishing a double-barrel rifle—two triggers, curved buttstock—taken at his mother’s farm in Sussex. The problem was the photos were more important to him than the actual rifle. Che Freddo and his fellow revolutionary, Nido, who threatened to beat up capitalist, fascist pigs, disbanded soon after that god-awful mess with Eugenia.

'Notes On A Marriage', by Selma Carvalho. Published by Speaking Tiger, 160 pages, 499.

Anju doesn’t like to think of her time at Byrd University. She’d orbited Freddo’s constellation of mates and passions, and really, she’d found Freddo’s narcissism attractive. Every man’s narcissism—self-indulgent and cruel—presented a challenge to Anju, an opportunity to steer mankind towards a bend, a possible divergence from its natural flow. So, she became the only surviving member of his revolution.

Back then, the drive from London to his mother’s farm took much longer. Look at this place, Freddo would say, as they approached the South Downs, this is solitude, this is thinking country; what are they doing digging it up and planting tomatoes? Virginia Woolf and her friends had the right idea—Bloomsbury-on-the-sea.

They’d splutter past the pale-faced cliffs, the woods, the scrub, getting more disgruntled with the banality of country life, and life in general. But arriving at the farm, to its brick and briar, its rose-aproned walls, the familiar and predictable presence of Freddo’s mother, always cheered them up. The farmhouse lay at the fork-end of a hammock road, past the birch and brushed-back bushes, past the Empire Antiques Shoppe and Ginny’s lavender tea-room. His mother would emerge from the depths of a lace-curtained gloom, smelling of dead wood, all smiles and warm hands. Hello there, she’d say, her thick, hardworking hands taking hold of Freddo by the shoulders, what brings you city-folk out here? Freddo would smile back, loosening his mother’s mudsplattered grip, and gathering Anju into the crook of his arm, reply, the need for restoration. It was curious that Freddo sought restoration in the very numbness of the deep countryside he had fled. But Anju understood this need to flee and then return. Her father had left India when he was nineteen but now spoke endlessly of India as if he had never left, as if India’s politics was still central to his life, as if the tower trunks of mango trees, the tangy taste of green mandarin, the woody smell of bathwater, were all right there in their living room at Horton Hall. We are, in essence, in perpetual flight, she thought, and our desire to return to homelands as if they were newfound lands, to retain of them an unmoving memory, was not surprising.

‘Well, this is the right place for restoration. Come on in, I’ll put the kettle on,’ his mother would say to the prodigals. During one of those trips, Anju convinced Freddo to put his degree in English Literature to good use. He caved in, transitioned his revolutionary zeal into a proper career with a pension plan, as a college professor. The thing about dreams is, they have a sequence to them, they keep forming stories even though they’re just random, unrelated thoughts popping in the head.

Excerpted with permission from Notes on a Marriage by Selma Carvalho, Speaking Tiger Books.

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