Reading room

Chatura Rao

Illustration: Achala Rane

Drowsy eyes on backlit text,
one coughs, one drums a leg,
one smiles into a coffee cup;
I wait for them to settle down
and read the story I love.

Scale the steeps of Ariel 10,
descend a valley of deeds,
where men and clones must mine the gut
of a whimsical beast:
planet Libra, under siege, implodes,
buries nine but misses three,
in the story I love.

The two survivors, sorrowing,
console the shattered clone
until he speaks in a faltering tone
of a wish to be akin, be whole –

I glance around the chilly room
grey in the December light.
Stilled in their seats, faces rapt
journeying across space-time…
Young readers, tentative and sage,
make kinship with this dusty page
where mirrors sewn in metre and phrase
light our darkening way,
in the story we love.

Inspired from a class on Humans and Data for Bachelor of Design students. We read and discussed Ursula K le Guin’s science fiction story ‘Nine Lives’ (1969) that day.

The author is a children’s and adult fiction author, a journalist, and a teacher. Her writing centres around community practises, gender, and education. Her reportage has won Laadli Awards for gender sensitive reporting. Her recent picture book, The Sweet Shop Wars, is shortlisted for a 2023 Neev Book Award. She can be reached at

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