Written in prose and poetry, C: A Novel by Anupama Raju is her debut novel. It takes readers on multiple journeys with the protagonist through time and the winding streets of the cities she is in thrall to. An excerpt:
I always knew what kind of a storyteller I wanted. It didn’t matter to me if it were a man or a woman. All I wanted was someone who would appreciate my dark, sunless skies, and nights that had played host to so many travellers over the centuries. I wanted someone who would laugh and weep with my trees; know them by sight, hear them speak, love their asymmetry, and perhaps even learn from their unspoken
language. I wanted someone who would discover the truths and secrets buried deep in my treasured ruins. I hoped it would be someone who could finally make sense of the black shadows they had grown from.
There was nothing unique about her at first sight. When I saw her making her entrance, I thought, ‘Here’s another one, one of the thousands visiting me to learn, discover, and write.’ Her rattling suitcases, boots, and coat didn’t quite set her apart from the rest. Neither did her shadow, which faded plainly into mine, and into those of my trees and my dwellers. But when she started revelling in the dark, drawing inspiration from night-studded splendour, glowing in sunless pallor, I knew she was the one. I could see how the black of my days and
nights was spilling into her imagination, though I wondered why she chose to come here.
It couldn’t have been for absolution, like my early travellers, though she seemed as lost as my sun. She couldn’t have chosen me—out of all the cities there are—for my cathedral, could she have dreamt of my trees or my ageless walls. When I learnt it was my darkness that drew her to me, all the way across oceans, I wanted it to be her.
I have seen my people suffer the night that never seems to end. Neither they nor their children have seen the sun they read about. The sun that exists in paintings and stories has denied them its yellow. They are pale as smoke. Yet, they are children and know not to stay depressed despite the dark. And so they play, laugh, grow, resilient and sturdy as my trees, while their elders shrink into melancholy and deep depression, deprived of light. I wish they could borrow some happiness from the little ones.
Yet, it is the same lack of light that inspires my storyteller the most. And I hope, for her own sake that she remains inspired during the time she spends here. Over time, I’ve seen far too many come and go, writing about my miracles, wonders, and cures. I’ve also seen how short-lived their faith has been. How brittle their enlightenment, which drove them away from me and did nothing for their souls. Perhaps wisdom gained in darkness isn’t wisdom at all.
Well before those wandering souls, the people who came here from golden empires, those fortunate sons and daughters of the sun, who lived in a world I stopped seeing ages ago, left traces of their gratitude and love for me. I know those treasures lie buried deep inside me. You just need to know where to look.
But what can be said of the traces of that love that has shone only in good times? When all goes well, when the sun shines and the sea is calm, life is simpler and affections are in plenty. I love them all, all those who made me their home, but I love the ones who thrive without the sun, more. It is their kindness that is tested; their courage that outlives rage.
So when I see someone, a woman, who loves me for who I’ve become, I’m intrigued and hopeful. Hopeful that she is the one. There is also something familiar about her. The colour of her skin, her eyes, her gait…they remind me of someone or somewhere. Somewhere she had been and loved. Somewhere she had to leave behind. She didn’t care about the present. It was the past she lived in and the future she was anxious about. Gullible as a fool and wise as an owl. Mad as a hatter. If you were to watch me, would you call me the same? Is it me she reminds me of?
I knew she was the one.
There was much to happen. Much to remember. Much to write about.
I allow her to unfold the story. I am listening.