A cup of tea

I love short stories and it is my preferred form of fiction. So, its not surprising that the very first post I wrote for “The Sunday Book Club’s Blog” in July 2013 was on short stories. Actually, it was on one short story and one of my favourites, in particular. I reproduce that post here with some minor modifications.

A Cup of Tea by Katherine Mansfield was first published in 1992, and it remains one of Mansfield’s best known stories today. The plot is fairly simple:

It is a cold and wet day in London. After a visit to the shops, Rosemary Fell is about to get into her chauffeur-driven car, when she is approached by a penniless young girl, Miss Smith, for money that would buy her a cup of tea.

‘… It’s a cup of tea I want, madam.’ And she burst into tears.

Rosemary is intrigued as she cannot believe that a person cannot have money to buy a cup of tea. Inspired to do more — she persuades the young Ms. Smith to come home with her  — she visualises transforming the poor girl’s life, and becoming the talk of the high society she moves in. When she reaches home, Philip, Rosemary’s husband, is surprised to see Ms. Smith and also hear about Rosemary’s plans for the girl’s future. He leaves Rosemary and Ms. Smith, but not before mentioning to Rosemary that the girl was

‘…so astonishingly pretty.’

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Heidi: My friend, philosopher and guide

Heidi was the first book ever purchased for me. I was about 6 or 7 years old at that time, the same age that Heidi is when her story begins. Heidi was also the 16th and the 73rd book bought for me. Yes, you read it right. Till date, I have owned 3 Heidi books and each one has a story attached to it.

Heidi-1 was with me for just a day. Raju, my maternal uncle, had just received his first pay cheque and in a fit of generosity decided to buy something for his 8 nephews and nieces. So what does he do? He goes and buys some books, one of which is Heidi. Only, Heidi is not one book here — it is a serialised version spread over 6 palm-sized books with tiny illustrations and microscopic lettering. He then distributes these 6 “Heidis” to 3 of his nieces and nephews in a random manner. I am one of the recipients and get books 2 and 5 of Heidi.

We 3 recipients of the Heidi books were so thrilled with the gift that neither its random distribution nor the impossibly small lettering bothered us. We could squint and read, couldn’t we? It was a Saturday that day, so we didn’t have to worry about school either. After lunch that day, we got down to reading the books in serial order, with each one reading his or her books aloud for the others. I still remember the instant connection I felt with Heidi — her spirit, loyalty, adventures and love for her family and friends proved irresistible. At the risk of sounding corny, I knew that I had made a friend.

I am not sure whose mother discovered the books that evening. The small lettering was deemed unsuitable for us children and were confiscated, never to be seen again. My poor uncle got an earful from all our mothers for buying something so child-unfriendly. And that was the rather dramatic end of Heidi-1.

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