By Zee Monodee
I’ve always been a fan of soap operas and family sagas. My mother and I butted heads on more topics than we agreed on...but Dynasty, Dallas, and Eastenders time was sacred; our very own cease fire moment. Later on, I ‘graduated’ to the ongoing The Bold and The Beautiful while she drifted into the numerous Zee TV and Star Network Bollywood-type Indian soapies; shows that she still tries to rope me into every time I spend the day at her place.
But what is it that lured both of us to these worlds of ongoing dramas and petty domestic intrigues?
I guess, along the way, we started to identify with the families in the storylines; they became an extension of us, people we feel we ‘know’ and identify with. Their family becomes your family, and you start to live for their tribulations, trials, and triumphs, as if they were your own.
Is it any surprise, then, that when I started writing, I invented my very own soapie-style family? They were the Hemants. Well-to-do upper middle class, Indian origin folks from Mauritius. Cardiac surgeon dad too busy with his glorious career to be much of a presence at home...leaving the field wide open for his tradition-stickler and convention-manic homemaker wife to run the roost. Said roost comprised of 3 daughters – Lara, Neha, Diya – born over a 10-year period while the family lived in England. Then, when the eldest, Lara, was sixteen, they all returned to Mauritius...and that’s where the true backstory of each girl starts, because Mauritius is the place that proves a cesspit of outdated mores and customs that throws them all into prisons of societal and cultural conformity that will define how each girl will turn out.
Each book in this saga-style trilogy can be read alone, but it is, at the heart of it, a saga...so you’ll find echoes of each sister’s conflict in the other’s story, and there is a family conflict arc that spans over the 3 books. My very own soapie. Rest assured, though, that it all comes to a conclusion in the last book; I wrapped up that generation’s issues and conflicts. Not with a pretty bow, I like to think, but in way that echoes reality and the true interaction that happens in families and sisterhood.
Here’s an excerpt where you get to meet all three Hemant sisters – it’s taken from the start of The Other Side, the first book, which is also Lara’s story.
A piercing wail sliced through the air, similar to the mind-numbing bombing sirens one heard on the BBC newsreels during live broadcasts from places like Baghdad and Sarajevo. The roar of a kitten thinking it was a fierce lion came on the coattails of the screech, and she could also make out sounds of loud sobbing.
The kitchen door flew open, the sole of the little kid who’d kicked it in still in the air. Lara travelled her gaze over the mini-man with the Mohawk, before sliding to the side onto the pigtailed little girl with tear-stained cheeks. A huge stretch of dull grey stood behind the children. Oh no, this couldn’t be….
Her mother tore out of her seat to march toward the door. “For God’s sake, Neha. What have you done to this poor baby to get him to scream like so?”
I thought she gave birth two months ago. Her younger sister seemed ready to burst. When, and how, had she put on so much weight?
Their mother deftly ripped the swaddled lump from Neha’s arms. With a jerky rocking motion, she got the baby to stop screaming.
“This is how you do it, Neha. I would believe you’d know by now.”
Neha bit her lip, before she nodded.
She still allows herself to be bossed around. Hard for Lara to view her twenty-four-year-old sibling as an independent woman, which Neha should be, seeing as how she’d already been married for seven years and had popped out three kids.
And did she imagine this, or did her sister give her a false, forced smile?
“Lara. We weren’t expecting you before Monday,” Neha said.
“It was a surprise,” she replied.
Another forced smile. What was wrong with her?
A loud kick resounded from the kitchen door. Lara leaned to the side to catch sight of the little boy practicing karate chops on the wood panel. “That’s Kunal, innit?”
She turned to the still-sobbing girl. “And you must be Suzanne.”
Terrors, the lot of them. She shivered when she imagined this could’ve been her fate. There’d been talks of an arranged match between her and their neighbour, Rahul, who’d ended up as Neha’s husband.
“And why is she crying now?” Auntie Ruby asked. “Anyone would think you terrorize the poor child, Neha.”
Neha lowered her eyelids, and a faint blush crept over her cheeks. “I can’t get her to stop,” she said in a low voice. “Since her father left for Madagascar this morning, she hasn’t let up.”
Feeling sorry for her sister at the defeat in the tone, Lara had an idea. “Wait. I know exactly what will cheer her up.”
She dashed out to the car, where she pulled out the large shopping bag full of gifts she had brought with her. And with her head stuck inside the potpourri-scented vehicle, she took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. Hopefully, Neha’s arrival with the children would prove to be distraction enough for the aunties, and they’d leave Lara alone. Fat chance, but she could hope. Hope is what idiots live on, as the French saying went.
With the handle in her grip, she traipsed back to the kitchen. Once inside, she rummaged into the bag and pulled out a wide, flat case which she handed to her niece. “This is for you.”
The sobs stopped, and the little girl gingerly reached out for the offering. She blinked once she closed her hands on the box then let out a screech loud enough to burst an adult’s eardrum.
“It’s got all the Disney princesses in there, even Mulan! Thank you, Auntie Lara.”
Lara had to smile at the unbridled enthusiasm. Out of the corner of her eye, the little boy stealthily approached. Reaching into the bag again, she extracted a large plastic carton of X-Men action figures. “And this is yours.”
His eyes grew wide, and he jumped up and down. Lara didn’t know at what point he wrapped his bony arms around her neck. In his eagerness, he nearly snapped her neck in two as he pulled her to his level. Then, just as abruptly, he released her and plopped himself down on the rug in front of the dining room door, where Suzanne was tearing out the contents of her gift.
Finally, Lara handed a flat package with a baby blanket inside to her sister. “This for the baby.”
“His name is Rishi,” Neha said in a clipped voice.
“For Rishi, then.”
Another squeal ripped through the kitchen as the back door slammed open. Lara glanced up only long enough to brace herself for the energy bolt heading straight for her.
“I can’t believe you’re here already!” her youngest sister, Diya, shouted as she hugged Lara and made them both hop like bunnies on steroids.
Lara reeled to get her balance back when the girl released her. How could such a petite woman who could pass for a life-size doll pack so much energy and zest into her tiny body? She would swear she grew drained simply from listening to the teenager talk a mile a minute.
“Oooh, is this the goodie bag?” Diya asked. “Please, please, please tell me you got the CD I asked you for. I wasn’t sure you got my last email—”
“I got it,” she said simply to make the girl shut up.
“And the Body Shop basket? And the Boots hand cream? Oh, and tell me you made the Boxing Day sales and got me those killer sandals from NEXT—”
“Yes, yes, and yes.” She pulled out the Enigma The Screen Behind The Mirror album from the bag. “Here you go. The rest is coming by cargo.”
“Oooh, you’re the best!” Diya grabbed the CD before she hugged Lara again. “Okay, gotta be off. Everyone will kill to be in my shoes when they see I got this.”
“And where do you think you are going, young lady?” their mother asked.
“Meeting with some friends at KFC. Be back for dinner, or else ask Daddy to come pick me up when he gets home from work. Oooh, look what Suzanne got. No, sweetie, wait. That’s not how you apply blusher.”
Neha gasped. “You got her makeup?”
“It’s kid-friendly. I double-checked after the salesgirl at the Disney shop assured me it was safe.”
“She’s six years old. Much too young for all this.”
“Oh, don’t be such a ninny, Neha. I started wearing makeup when I was her age, and I’m none the worse for wear, am I?” Diya asked with a roll of her dark eyes.
“That’s what has me worried,” Neha said under her breath, but loud enough for Lara to hear. “And I can’t believe you got Kunal dolls.”
“They’re action figures, sis,” Diya said as she breezed past them on the way to the door. “Take a chill pill, will you? Tata, ye all!”
The quiet in Diya’s wake felt strangely anticlimactic, as if all the air in the room had been sucked out. Neha kept her reproachful glare on Lara, who, to escape the malevolent scrutiny—after all, what was her sister’s problem?—turned toward their mother and the aunties. Bad move.
“We better get you settled. Not yet one hour since your return and you three are already back to bickering like children.”
“We aren’t bickering—” both Lara and Neha said at the same time.
“Are, too,” their mother said with finality in her tone.
Quite something, innit? Lara wants to be anywhere but here, in Mauritius, but she has no other choice as she is running away from the specter of her ex-husband’s remarriage and pregnant new wife. Diya has created her very own little bubble where nothing can get to hyperactive her, while Neha.... She comes across as rude and holier-than-thou, doesn’t she? But then, too, how would you treat the woman you believe your husband, whom you adore, has always loved?
From Mauritius with love,
Check out my Hemant Family saga in the Island Girls Trilogy now available at Decadent Publishing and all major retailers!
Here’s where you can find the books:
The Other Side
Amazon US (Ebook & Print) ~ Amazon UK ~ Amazon CA (ebook & Print) ~ Barnes & Noble (Nook & Paperback) ~ Smashwords ~ Kobo ~ AllRomance Ebooks ~ Decadent (ebook) ~ Decadent (Paperback) ~ Kalahari (Paperback)
Light My World
Winds of Change
Amazon US ~ Amazon UK ~ Decadent Publishing ~ Barnes & Noble (Nook) ~ AllRomance Ebooks ~ Smashwords
#zeemonodee, #decadentpub, #islandgirls