Featured Story: Huldi by Tara L. Masih

20 May 2010
Featured Story: Huldi by Tara L. Masih
Huldi (India, 1990)

Day 1, twilight
Surrounded by voices murmuring, laughing, and giggling as skin makes unaccustomed contact with her. She is the center of it all, sari radiating from her anointed body in iridescent petal folds. Women—relatives, friends, neighbors—hover about in a hum like honeybees eager to stroke and gather. What do they want? she wonders. What is that in their eyes? She is expected to be pale, fey, to keep her eyes modestly downcast, but she looks up through her lashes into Aunty’s eyes. She is not sure, but thinks she sees a sadness or a weariness behind the dark-mirrored pupils. In an old neighbor’s yellowing eyes she sees a craving, as if smoothing her preconnubial skin will smooth the neighbor’s skin, bring something back to life. The handfuls of dough roll up her arms, calves, face, the aromatic oil hypnotizing. Resistant at first, coiling back at first, not used to being touched, she gradually gives in, tension draining. Someone is beating rhythmically on a drum; her heart begins to follow.

Day 2, dusk
She gives herself up more quickly. It is easier to play the timid bride-to-be tonight. She is leaving home in two days. Leaving Mama, Papa, Sarita, and her dog, who barks at mountain lions and keeps her awake at night. Leaving her room with its cot and dresser and movie pictures pasted to the walls. Leaving the garden where she reads, cosmos and marigolds from the States as bright as small suns. Leaving to live at her in-laws’ home, in a bedroom prepared for her. She will be their obedient daughter. Someone is dancing and singing. She opens her eyes. Everything is distant, fewer people than yesterday. She watches tea and laddus being passed. They are her favorite sweet, but she turns her head when Sarita puts one to her lips. She looks at her own skin, and it is someone else’s skin, being smoothed and buffed and colored by the mustard oil and turmeric she’d mixed into chickpea flour. Extra turmeric speeds up the coloring process. Mama remarks on how fair her skin is becoming. She hears the voice, but it is coming from far away.

Day 3, night
She gives herself up completely. The mahandi is painted onto her hands and feet. The henna paste is green but will leave a red stain. The swirls wind like snakes around her palms and fingers, up her wrists. She likes the feel of the soft brush caressing her skin. A place at the base of her spine tingles pleasantly. She will wash on the morning of her wedding day. Wash away the green paste and the layers of oil from three nights of huldi. The women leave and Mama comes in, closing the curtain. Mama removes her sari, petticoat, bodice. Rubs her whole body—her back, stomach, breasts, thighs. Her match is outside in the garden, eating and drinking in celebration. She is not to see him until tomorrow. His laugh floats through the garden, along the strings of a Sitar, into her open window. She closes her eyes, imagines that Mama’s hands are his.

In this impressive debut collection, Tara Masih shows an intimate sense of understanding her characters’ innermost feelings, creating a memorable map of diverse characters that span the globe and several eras. Ghosts dance, butterflies swarm, men crystallize, the sun disappears, and water plays a role in both destruction and repair of the soul. With an unflinching eye, a mythical awareness of the natural world, and poetic, crafted prose, Masih examines the dark recesses of the mind and heart, which often leads to a small or great triumph or illumination that will resonate long after the last page is turned.

“This is a rich and surprising collection. I loved how—whether they are set in Dominica, Montana, Holland, the Mexican Border, New England, India, or the territory of schizophrenia—these stories are all concerned with seeking to find, or to lose—or simply to come to terms with—love and the self. The characters are wildly varied and wonderfully inhabited; the settings are intensely observed and believable.” — Grace Dane Mazur, author of Silk and Trespass

“Revitalizing themselves in far-flung corners of the globe, Masih’s characters emerge at crossroads in their lives, groping to discover intimacies situated in the small spaces of vast landscapes. . . . [A] wise and beautifully written collection imbued with a sharp February 2010 awareness that makes her subtle, emotionally honest portrayals haunting and powerful.” — Michael Hartnett, author of Universal Remote

Tara L. Masih grew up in the small harbor town of Northport, situated along the Long Island Sound. Much of her time was spent on the beaches and in the woods, and as a result her writing is often set within the framework of nature and place. She has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (such as Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, New Millennium Writings, Red River Review, Night Train, and The Caribbean Writer), and her essays have been reprinted in college textbooks and read on NPR. Several limited edition and illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest, second place in Jane’s Stories Flash Fiction contest, a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. She judges the intercultural essay prize for the annual Soul-Making Literary Contest, and is editor of the acclaimed Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (2009). She received her MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College, was a former editor for Bedford Books, and now works as a freelance book editor in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit Tara’s website at www.taramasih.com.

More information about the book here.
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