One badly groomed day

“Dear K, you have been registered for a course in Communication skills. This is based on a comprehensive assessment  carried out with all project managers.”

I was shell shocked. Poor communication skills! What the heck! Here I was, Vice President, Education at the Company’s Toastmasters Club and I had been nominated for a communications training program. If the people at the club came to know, they would laugh at me. The president may actually demand my resignation if he got to know. How could they have a Vice President, Education with poor communication skills?

My shock turned to resentment. How could Abilash have done this to me? I had always looked up to him like an elder brother or father and he had stabbed me in my back! What had I done to him that he had done this to me? No wonder I had not got my promotion as well. Or were my communication skills really that poor and I was refusing to acknowledge?

After some deep thought, I decided the best thing to do was to broach the topic directly with him instead of letting the wound fester in my mind. I set up a call with him that evening.

“Hi K, how are things going on in India?” He sounded so nice and cheerful. Would he of all people have done this to me? I made small talk for a few minutes and then cut to the issue bothering me. 

“What was that about? I don’t remember recommending you for any communication course. You are pretty decent. I don’t think you need to take any such course.”

“But the Learning and Development department has sent me a mail that says they have identified me for this training based on your feedback on that survey.”

“Oh, now I remember. I had not paid much attention to my responses on that survey. It was on that day you know -the day when I was pissed with you!”

I remembered that day pretty well. He had been pissed with me just once. I still remembered that day vividly. We had had that client meeting. I had forgotten to shave for 3 days running. And that day I had gotten up late and in my hurry to come to office, forgotten to comb as well. As if that was not enough, I had pulled on the old moth eaten looking sweater that was meant for home use. In short, I looked a complete ragamuffin. No wonder he had been so pissed to see me like that in the review meeting. That evening I had gotten a nasty dressing down. The survey must have come in that evening and it seemed like he had vented it out there.

But luckily for me, he was quite gracious. “Don’t worry. I will drop a note to the L&D team and tell them you are not required to take that program.”

Phew! That had been close. That one badly groomed day might have turned out a complete disaster for my career.

This post is a part of #WillYouShave activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette

I am acknowledging the tag by Ranjith

Kitna chain hota hai na sachchai mein

“So, tell me – why did you quit your last job within 8 months?”

Finally! This question had to come! I had been preparing the answer for the last 3 months. So it should be a cake walk. But shouldn’t it have anyways been a cake walk, you may ask. After all I was not being asked to explain the theory of relativity, right? There must have been some reason why I quit my job. I just have to state it. How difficult can that be? Unless of course I want to do a David Copperfield and start from the events leading to my birth and narrate the chain of events that eventually lead to my quitting the job!

To answer the question, we need to go back 3 months. A plump lady with double chins is sitting in front of me. “What do you want us to say in your relieving letter – that we are letting go off you or that you are resigning?”

I was still under the trauma of losing my job. I was not sure what to say. Seeing my blank stare, she decided to take initiative on my behalf. “Ok – we will make it that you have resigned. That way it would be easier for you to find a new job. Many companies do not view layoffs too positively.”

I could only nod in agreement. 

Then the job search began. It was peak of recession and there were limited opportunities for a person to be gainfully employed. E-mails carrying resumes disappeared into black holes. Phone companies seemed to have developed a heuristic to cut calls the moment the taboo word ‘job’ was mentioned. The only people interested in me were the sales executives of the job portal whose ever alert noses seemed to have sniffed my increased activity on their sites. Seeing no success from my individual efforts, I finally yielded to their charms and loosened my purse strings to them. While my CV came back, hardly recognizable, decked with all fancy words that made me sound like someone else, the luck with jobs continued to remain the same.

Then I decided to change my strategy and leverage Linked In. I began to look up senior folks in companies in my area of expertise and began to seek introductions through common contacts. This strategy worked and finally I landed an interview. I cleared the recruitment screening and the technical interview. Now I was in front of the business unit head. I had managed to establish a reasonable connection with him and things had gone on smoothly. And then suddenly – this much dreaded question!

Of course I had prepared and practiced it so many times. “My aged parents are not keeping good health. So I wanted to find a job in my home city.”

Simple and elegant, isn’t it? And vague enough to be true in a broader sense! But then was that the truth? Was that why I had quit the job? Or for that matter was it I who had quit my job?

I mean what harm was I doing to anyone with this little white lie? Hadn’t even the GM, HR of my last company suggested I do that? Hadn’t she even given me relieving letter to support my claim? Maybe this is the way of the corporate world. Why do I have to act eccentric and miss out this one opportunity I had got after so much effort? 

I had always prided myself on my truthfulness. Not like I am the paragon of truth or anything. But this was deliberate willful lying for personal gain.

Then again this was but a small lie. In fact it was not even really a lie – just a minor rearrangement of facts – why was it such an issue? Wasn’t I trying to live by unrealistic ideals?

“I wanted to know the reason for your leaving the services of your last employer,” he repeated.

“I did not leave their service. I was retrenched.”

I felt light and carefree as if a load had been lifted off my head. I quickly answered his remaining questions and returned home. I no longer seemed to care if I got the job or not.

 But then problem with any kind of high is that it lasts only for limited period of time. By that night, all the good feeling had evaporated. I was cursing myself for my stupidity. My family would be so disappointed with me. The recession was getting worse. God knows when I would get another interview call. Ideals don’t fill empty stomachs. Well, I have this habit of dramatizing – I had savings to at least keep the wolf from the door. Basic necessities were not going to be an issue. At least not immediately!

The next day my phone rang. Some strange lady was on the phone sounding like one of those call center ones selling credit card. “Is it Mr.K ? “

“Yes?”

“Sir – we are happy to let you know that xyz has decided to extend you an offer. Can you please come down to our office and collect your offer letter? “

Phew! I had not been penalized for saying the truth. I don’t know if truth always triumphs. But definitely there are people in this world who value truth. 

This post is part of a promotional campaign organized by Kinley. Click here to visit their website and find below the promotional video.
 

Blogging - The Genesis


I am nearing the completion of the 7th year of my blogging. Over these years I have made so many friends. One of them is Saravana Kumar Murugan who blogs at Few Miles. He is celebrating completion of 5 years of his blogging journey and he asked me to write a guest post for him, one of the rare requests I have received in my 7 years. So here goes - the tale of how it all started - the tale of Genesis of blogging.

This was a long time ago. A very long time ago! There were people then and people now. But all that people then did was going to office. Every day they got up in the morning, brushed their teeth, finished their morning ablutions, had breakfast and went to office. From morning to evening, they slogged and came back home, tired. Waiting for them at home, was this small box, made especially for idiots. It held them glued till they feel asleep. Next morning they got up, again brushed their teeth, finished their morning ablutions, had breakfast and went to office. So their life went on and on, never ending in its drudgery.

Some of the people tired of their wretched lives escaped from the concrete jungles into the mazes of imagination and prayed. They did severe penance for years and years till finally the Great God Intahnato appeared before them. They told Him their tale of woe and sought salvation. He thought for a while and then said, “Let there be blogs.” And then there were blogs. Over the next five days, the God worked without rest – creating blogs of every genre – tech blogs, fashion blogs, satire blogs, travel blogs, literary blogs. On the seventh day, tired after his toil, He sat down to rest. As He rested He broke out into a song.

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home


Click here to read the rest.

Picture Credit : https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7422/9116314504_2603c6da70_b.jpg

 

Puppeteers of Palem - Review and Giveaway



A good story must have a good concept, a well-knit plot, memorable characters and a strong narrative. Usually readers are partial to one of the three elements. I generally tilt towards concept, more so because I am hard core science fiction and fantasy buff. At times, I even forgive a plot full of holes, a dry narrative and cardboard characters if but I find some novelty in the concept. That way Sharath Komarraju’s ‘Puppeteers of Palem’ stuck the right chord with me at the very outset due to the interesting concept. The aptly chosen title and beautifully drawn cover image aptly reinforce the theme of the story and kind of intrigue the reader, making him or her involuntarily pick up the book for reading.

The story is structured in a jigsaw puzzle style with different timelines running in parallel. The ending is already known in the beginning. A mood of suspense is created right from the beginning and is maintained till the very end. At the start of the book, we come to know what happens to the protagonists in the end. The main hook that holds the reader till the end is the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of it. The story starts with the mysterious murder of six people. We also come to know the last one to be murdered and the how he is murdered. The story then cuts back and forth between the investigations following the murder, the events just before the murder and the events many years before the murder. Then there is this air of supernatural evil lurking behind the scenes promises to be something more sinister than a typical ghost. So the story creates a strong curiosity to find out more about the origin of this evil. While we know the evil being is somehow related to the death of a woman who had died many years ago, the author drops some hints of it being something more akin to an alien monster out to destroy the entire planet rather than a mere dissatisfied soul seeking personal vengeance.
One of the things the author does very well is descriptions. He vividly describes various things seen in the village, evoking all of the five senses. The metaphors he uses are all dark setting a depressing mood that goes with the overall dark tone of the story. In the very first chapter we are presented with the imagery of an old man killing a moth with his hands. Later we are presented with the disturbing imagery of a murder of crows attacking, killing and eating one of their dissident members. We have more imagery like this that invokes horror in the mind of the reader. Another thing he has done well is to give the place a realistic feel by drawing upon his personal memories of rural Andhra Pradesh. The authentic Indian settings are something which Indians can really relate to. It is something I am sure many of us would welcome after reading most of our stories set somewhere in Britain or America.

Of course there were some areas which I would have liked to have been better. While the idea was novel, somehow the final explanation did not entirely meet my expectation. I felt things could have been tied up more neatly. I found the narration at times too forced and formal. But I guess that is a matter of personal preference – I usually prefer to read a more friendly, informal style that I can relate to. The characters were all interesting and unique. But there were too many of them and we did not get to know any of them deeply enough and I definitely could not relate to even one of the characters. The characters were also I guess by design unpleasant people who the reader would not want to root for and the focus was more on the atmosphere and mystery.

Overall I would say this book is a decent read for a casual reader looking for some chills and thrills.
And now the interesting part: if you felt you liked my review and want to read this book, you don't have to shell out you hard earned dough. Just leave a comment on this post to give yourself a chance to get a free signed copy of the book from the author himself.
Book Blurb:
The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens, and tells her tale.

Five friends return to the village of their childhood to find that nothing seems to have changed, and at the same time everything has. Whose voice is it that called them back, and whose hand is it that now hunts them down, one by one?

Palem’s grand old man, a Brahmin landlord, their childhood storyteller, makes one last ditch attempt to save his village from ruin at her hands. Will he succeed or will his past catch up with him and demand fair price?

Two boys, one blind and the other lame, skirt the village borders at the old Shivalayam, listening, staring. On their faces they wear smiles of contentment. They sleep well. They see happy dreams.

A TV reporter arrives to study the village, only to sink deeper into the mystery with each passing day.

And hovering above all of these is the shadow of Lachi, who is believed to haunt the old Shivalayam on full moon nights. Some say she’s consumed by lust, others call it madness, but all catch the red glint in her eye and the icy calm in her voice as she croons a sad, lonely song. The one thing she hungers for, that will satisfy her soul, is the fire that will burn Palem down to ashes.

The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens, and tells her tale. Listen closely. It will chill you to the bone.
The book can be purchased at Flipkart or Amazon. Also check out the book on Goodreads.

And here is something more - a sample from the book to decide whether you want it - the first 3 chapter.

God is a Gamer - Review



‘God is a Gamer’ is the second book of Ravi Subramanian that I happened to pick up after ‘If God was a Banker’ around 3 years back. He, Amish and Chethan are three writers I closely follow as they are the trinity who have kind of made writing an alternate career path for IIM alumni – each of them having chosen a completely different genre to shine in. Ravi Subramanian has often been called India’s own John Grisham. While Chethan created reading interest through his campus romances and Amish had opened up the genre of mythology based fiction, Ravi has pioneered a completely new genre – thrillers around specialized professions. What John Grisham has done for law and Dick Francis for horse racing, Ravi Subramanian has done for banking. Though in terms of pure writing alone, I would hesitate to compare him with his Western counterparts, he is definitely one of the best homegrown writers of commercial / genre fiction.

‘God is a Gamer’ I found was different from ‘If God was a Banker’ in the sense that the author is trying to step out of his comfort zone of banking and step into the world of politics, investigating agencies, organized crime, technology and online gaming. That way the book presents a novelty factor while the author still continues to leverage his rich knowledge of the world of finance and banking. Being a sucker for series stories, I was happy to see some of the characters from ‘If God was a Banker’ make their appearance again in this series: however, here they form part of the supporting cast.

The things I liked most about this book are the pace and simplicity of language that make it a real light, breezy read. There is never a dull moment. This book proceeds at break neck speed with murders, robbery, frauds happening all over. The chapters are all short and the story keeps swinging like a pendulum from US to India and back. This book is one hell of a roller coaster ride – pure unadulterated escapist fiction. I saw some of the other reviews calling the ending predictable. I did not find it so. It did throw up some surprises without completely pulling a Jack out of the box. 

One of the things which I usually like in escapist fiction that was missing in this book was a strong protagonist. The story had a huge cast of characters and all of them were given equal importance. So the reader did not have any one character to root for. One can of course bring up the example of Game of Thrones. But that is epic fantasy that runs over thousands of pages giving readers sufficient scope to familiarize themselves with each of the characters and choose their own hero or heroine. The author of a short thriller does not have that luxury. Also all the characters were stereotypical and none had any distinguishing trait that could really endear them to the reader.

While some of the concepts like bitcoins and the dynamics of the gaming industry were introduced, I felt the coverage was at best superficial. Also the plot was not perfect and a few gaps were visible hampering the suspension of disbelief that good fiction requires. I also found the narrative quite ordinary with lot of tell and less of show. But none of these should deter a casual Indian reader looking for a light read. They might actually, on the contrary, work to the book’s advantage. 

Overall I would say this is an excellent light travel read. It could be easily made into a script for a good Bollywood action thriller movie like say ‘Kahani’.

The book was given to me for review as part of the book tour organized by 'The Book Club' of which I am a member.

The Book Blurb:

Aditya runs a gaming company that is struggling to break even. A banker slips off a highrise building, plunging to her death. The finance minister has made some promises that he is finding hard to keep. The LTTE has unleashed terror in America that sends the FBI on a wild goose chase, bringing them to Mumbai.

Enter Varun, parttime drug dealer and fulltime genius. He turns around the gaming company before disaster strikes. Meanwhile, the investigators plunge headlong into the shady world of bitcoins and the Dark Net, websites that only exist for illegal transactions—drugs, sex and money. God Is a Gamer culminates in a stunning climax where money means nothing, assassination is taught by the ancient Greeks, and nothing is as it seems.

Rise above Fear

What was I going to do? The numbers were stacked heavily against me. Every year only 5-6 people from my entire town achieved success. And I? I was not even in the top 10 ranks in my school.  This was way beyond me. Why did I kid myself into thinking I could do it? Shouldn’t I instead be focusing on something more within my capacity?  Was I going to lose the bird in hand in quest of two in a bush?

These were my thoughts when I was preparing for IIT JEE exam during my higher secondary.  But then there was a stubborn part of me that responded. I shall not accept mediocrity. I have made up my mind I want to get into IIT and that is where I shall get into. I am not going to hedge my bets. I am going to stake everything on this one thing I desire most and win it. I shall win because I have the determination to win. IIT is the only place I want to get into and it does not matter if I do not get into engineering anywhere else if I fail. I shall give everything I have to this one goal.

Yes or NO to Pre-Marital Sex?



“Yes or No to Pre-Marital Sex? Are you for it or against it?” – At the outset, it hardly appeared like a topic I would be interested in writing about. Also I am not writing much for contests these days and whenever I write, I usually like something fictional or zany. I hardly write article type posts. But following the discussions on the topic set me thinking. The discussion seemed to indicate that the topic was a no brainer. The answer was obvious – an overwhelming ‘Yes’. So what is the point of a debate if there aren’t equally strong arguments on both sides?

Thinking further, I realized a very similar trend in all debates of conservatism v/s radicalism. Generally the radicals are the cool ones – the young, the energetic, the intellectuals. The conservative space usually looks to be occupied by the old coots unwilling to change, the fanatics, the bigots. One can see in all the arguments – the radicals walk in with a flourish and present argument after argument to demolish the conservatives. The conservatives look to be on the defensive – they either tend to hold stubbornly that their view is right just because it is right and no arguments can be encouraged. Or they quote the authority of some holy book or a religious figure whose authority is inviolate and cannot be questioned. In worst cases they can turn to personal attacks against the individual radicals. So for a neutral person watching this battle, it not difficult to see which side would look more attractive. But does that mean status quo is always wrong and change always right?
Do even the extreme radicals really want a life where everything is under a constant state of flux with absolutely no certainties in life? Don’t they also long for some kind of anchor of certainty that they can hold on to and stay afloat?  
Change in my opinion is good when it happens at the right pace at which human society can take the change. It if happens too fast, it can destroy the sanity of individuals and the fabric of human society. That is why conservatives are needed – to put a break on the pace of change and let it come at a tolerable pace. So in a debate between conservative and radical views on any issue, the discussion should be around the original purpose of the societal or cultural norm that is proposed to be changed and its relevance in the context of the current times.

So here the societal norm being challenged is that of the taboo against sexual relationships outside the institution of marriage. This argument will have two aspects to it –the negative impact of societal approval for such relationships on the stability of the institution of marriage and the relevance of the institution of marriage itself in the current age. A discussion on the second would not be necessary if the first were to throw up the answer that the impact is minimal or that the impact is positive.
So what exactly is the institution of marriage at a fundamental level? It is a pledge of a monogamous relationship between two persons. So by the very definition, any extraneous relationship can be considered an antithesis to this institution. The obvious question would be how a pact can be violated before its formalization. Well, technically the argument holds. But it can be considered a violation of the spirit of the marriage vow. If a person intends to be bound by the vow and views it to be possessed of intrinsic value, then he or she would probably not feel the need to violate it. The need to violate indicates that marriage is perceived more as something forced by law, social pressure or religion than something of value in itself. Case in point to support the argument is Europe, where social sanction for pre-marital relationships has been accompanied by a widespread reduction in number of marriages.

So we do need to explore the relevance and need for marriages. To understand the need, we may have to go back to its time of origin. Since mankind felt the need to introduce such an institution, it follows that there must have been some logic to it. The logic that comes to my mind is the creation of the family structure which provides a support system for the elderly and younger ones.  Another aspect possibly could be to provide people some kind of security in their relationship to be able to devote time to other pursuits free from the constant struggle for mates. 
If I were to consider these aspects, I really do not see our society having alternate systems to support the care of the young and the old. And while we do not have concrete evidence to say that without marriages, people will end up spending too much time fighting hard to get and keep mates resulting in overall reduction of productive contribution to the progress of mankind, I feel the possibility does exist. So it is my opinion that society is yet to evolve to a stage where we can do away with marriages.
So, on the basis of these two analyses, I infer that society cannot sanction pre-marital relationships. There is of course this question of whether an individual needs the sanction. That is up to the individual and not a topic for discussion and debate. The aspect of individual freedom versus societal norms is however something that can be discussed. But I would prefer  to consider that in a different blog post.

Image is free to use or share from wikimedia. Contest sponsored by author Poonam Uppal as part of the promotion of her book  - 'A Passionate Gospel of Love'. Click here to see contest sponsor link.

Matches Made in Heaven - Cover Reveal


Cover Reveal:

MATCHES MADE IN HEAVEN

Romantic Short Stories by

Sundari Venkatraman

Sneak Peak

Swayamwar on TV reality show; Dating Clubs; Matchmaking websites; parents setting up their children with one another; friends getting married and more – there are many ways that couples get together for hopefully a “Happily Ever After” experience. MATCHES MADE IN HEAVEN explores the various premises in the form of short stories that one can relate to in everyday life. There is even one based on Gods falling in love. Shh! I am not going to say anything further. It’s for you to find out.

And there are thirteen of them. While many insist that “13” is an unlucky number, I am quite fascinated by it. I absolutely believe that it’s a lucky number for me. That’s why I decided to publish this anthology with 13 romantic stories. 


About the author

Sundari Venkatraman has authored four novels and a short story anthology till now, Matches Made In Heaven (anthology) being the latest. The Malhotra Bride; Meghna; The Runaway Bridegroom; Flaming Sun Collection 1: Happily Ever Afters From India (Box Set) and Matches Made In Heaven have all been self-published on Amazon under the banner of Flaming Sun. The three novels are regularly seen on Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers’ Contemporary Romances list. The Box Set and Anthology are bound to catch up soon. 


A great fan of Mills & Boon romances over the past four decades, Sundari has always believed in ‘Happily Ever Afters’ and all her books promise happy endings. 

Matches Made In Heaven is a compilation of thirteen short stories – all romantic – based on many situations anyone can come upon in their day-to-day lives. The stories revolve around the different ways a couple can get to meet and tie the knot in a culture rich country like India. Those reading the stories will definitely be able to connect realising that one of the situations has definitely been a part of their lives. 

So here you go........

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Book Launch by:



Write a Novel in 21 Days


Well, not exactly! It took me two days more – 23 days to be precise. But I guess 10% tolerance is acceptable in blog posts. So coming to the point, yes – I completed writing a novel in 23 days. Obviously one does not become a Java Solution Architect by following the book ‘Teach Yourself Java in 21 days’. Nor do I have a publishable manuscript in 23 days that I am going to start spamming publishers with from today afternoon. Far from it! But then around 58,000 words have been written that I fondly hope resembles a story and makes sense at least somewhat remotely. I now have my task cut out to go over it piece by piece, get the plot in line, eliminate all kinds of inconsistencies, decide on the right tone of narrative, create character profiles, fix the dialogues to make them sound more natural, get some background information in place such as the history and geography of the land where the story takes place and make the narrative more interesting and vivid. After that I have to proof read to eliminate all the unnecessary words, get rid of typos and get the grammar right. I foresee this to be a long drawn process spanning over the next 7-8 months at the least. (Of course I will be regaling you all with the gory and excruciating details of the same right here on my blog till you start petitions for Google to take my blog down.)
So what is this story about? I don’t know if any of you will ask, but I am anyways going to tell. Why else would I be writing this blog post? Well – this story is about three Management Consultants. So what is the big deal about management consultants you may ask. It is the same big deal about IITs and IIMs that established the writing career of a certain gentleman who has passed through the portals of these elite institutions established by the founder of our country’s ruling family. For Banks and Management consultants have been the favored hunting grounds of the folk of the aforesaid gentleman’s ilk till he discovered the virgin territory of literature for us to exploit. Another gentleman already beat me to the Banks. And anyways all I know about banks is what my relationship manager and various other miscellaneous callers tell me. I doubt if that would make an interesting story.
Ok – so management consultants it is. But does that make me an equal of this esteemed gentleman? “I have steamy romance sequences. I have tried and tested Bollywood storylines. I have the language that the Indian common man relates to. What do you have?” he may ask me reminiscent of a popular dialogue in one of the Bollywood movies of yester years. My reply is, “I have Harry Potter.” Well, not exactly. Let me clarify before J K Rowling comes after me with a law suit for stealing her franchise. My story has an alternate universe very much like J K Rowling’s world of witches and wizards. Magical monsters, cool weapons that look like a cross between swords and tube lights, dark villains who have made a hobby out of the business of death – I have all that and more in my story.
So that is it about what the novel is about. But why did I have to write it in within a month? It is not like I have signed a deal with a publisher and his blood hounds are snapping away at my heels. Well – that is the whole point. As one English gentleman has postulated centuries back – “Any object in motion will continue in motion and any object at rest will continue at rest unless acted upon by an external force.” So my work on my novel which was at rest would have remained at rest if not for this initiative called National Novel Writing Month which acts as the external force getting hold of people and getting them to write 50,000 words within a month. They have a website, online forums, Facebook groups and pages and volunteers from every part of the world they call Municipal Liaisons, who act as the school teachers driving people to complete their homework.  So, thanks to this initiative, my novel is now in motion and hopefully some external forces at work or home will not act to bring it to rest.
Well - I will close off with a veiled threat that this is not the last you are going to hear about my novel in progress ‘Heroism Consultants.”

The Heroism Consultants



They say everything happens when the right time comes. I have heard of this thing called National Novel Writing Month years back. But somehow I have kept back from participating in the same. This year I reluctantly joined the FB community of the participants – just to participate in interactions related to reading and writing. I guess being in their company gave me the extra push and here I am – participating in the NanoWrimo 2014.
The story is also one that has been waiting long to be written. The original idea for this story was conceived on this very blog more than two years back. Those days I was really into blogger contests. There was this contest organized by Vodafone titled ‘Internet is fun’. I did a mini novella – a series of 14 posts detailing the adventures of a MBA student in ancient Greece. It was a humorously narrated tale, a spoof on the twelve tasks of Hercules where the protagonist uses internet, mobile phone apps and his zany creativity to accomplish the tasks. It was one crazy hell of a tale and one of my friends has been telling me it is a great idea that deserves to be expanded into a full-fledged novel. But it was a very casually written free flowing tale and I was skeptical about how I would expand it into a novel. So I have kept postponing.

Somehow this November brought about the convergence of both these ideas. I decided to do the Singer Series as my novel for NanoWrimo 2014. I remember asking another friend of mine to read the Singer series. He suggested to eliminate the use of internet and mobile phone and to make the fantasy world a bit more serious if I wanted to make a novel out of this. When I heard that from him it seemed as if it would take away the very essence of the tale. But not only have I decided to do precisely that but also eliminate the main character Singer who was based on a friend from my B-School and instead bring in four Management consultants as the protagonists. And thus was born ‘The Heroism Consultants’. I don’t know what else will change as the story evolves. For all I know, absolutely nothing of the original story will remain but will still be inspired by the same. Rather like Ship of Theseus.  
As of now I have completed 15000 words – three quests have completed. The five characters are beginning to come to life as they interact with each other.  A new world is also emerging in a parallel universe with its own history. Hercules feats are getting remodeled to give them a more science fiction feel. Initially my idea was to introduce management consulting frameworks to solve the quests. But then I decided against it as most people would not be familiar with the same and that would restrict the readership. Instead I have chosen to only bring in the generic approach to projects which people in many other knowledge professions and service industries can easily relate to as well – typical boss behavior, various types of people on teams and team dynamics.

I hope I will complete 50,000 words by November end. That will hopefully give me the required momentum to edit, rewrite, rewrite over the next one year and whip it into ship shape with a consistent plot, engaging narrative with a tinge of humor and interesting believable characters. Once I get to that stage then begins the usual debate of approaching traditional publishers versus self-publishing. But then if I begin to think so far, I will probably lose enthusiasm and not even write. So one step at a time is how I have to move. But will be giving updates here as I proceed.
One of the casualties of my new found enthusiasm is going to be this blog. Some of my regular readers, if any, may have seen that my frequency of posting has reduced drastically. This was due to my hectic work schedule over the past few months. In what little time I get, I give priority to my science fiction and fantasy blog where I have committed to bring out one post every Tuesday come sun or rain. This I have been managing thanks to guest posts and cannibalization of some posts from this blog. In the next week or so, work at office is again expected to pick up momentum and with this novel in works, very little is going to be coming up out here.  I also had plans to eventually move to two posts per week on the Fantasy blog and also start a new nostalgic reminiscences blog. Both these plans have been put on the backburner back by this novel.

I will still be trying to keep one blog post per month going out here. The posts are likely to be updates like this one, book reviews on special request or on rare ocassions some nostalgic reminiscence.   People who want to read my fiction or thoughts on my favorite works of fiction can check me out here from now on.

Lucifer's Lungi - Book Review

 
Having given me the first opportunity to see myself in print in their anthology ‘Ten Shades of Life’, Fablery Publications shall always remain close to my heart. So naturally I was keen on tracking their progress and I was keen to pick up their books but unfortunately my hectic schedule at work kept me from it. Though I did read a lot the past few days, I generally prefer tried and tested authors when under stress. Finally however I decided to pick up this book when it was put up as part of the book tour program of the Book Club group that I have associated myself with. 

To start with the title is quite intriguing. But at the same time I feel it works as a double edged sword. For a book touted as a psychological or paranormal thriller, this kind of title has some kind of flippancy to it that gives away the direction the story is likely to take. The title straight away sets an expectation of humor or spoof and takes away some of the surprise element the writer might have hoped to achieve. Of course this could have turned to be a red herring if the story indeed had real ghosts and demons in it. But it doesn’t and I guess I am not giving away a spoiler by stating that as the blurb talks about superstitions etc. which tells you there is unlikely to be any paranormal element.

The overall premise is quite interesting. A North Indian IT Professional working in Chennai travels around the Tamil hinterland to de-stress during the weekends. One of his journeys takes him to a totally remote village steeped in superstitions. The story goes on to describe the rational minded protagonist’s interactions with the superstitious villagers and how their strong beliefs ends up swaying an educated person like him as well. This tale comes as a breath of fresh air amidst the oft repeated themes that keep surfacing in the Indian book market all the time.

The thing I liked most about this story was the tone of the narrative. The writer has such a unique and engaging voice that keeps the reader engaged even though hardly anything happens through the first half of the book. Most people can relate to the stress and boredom the modern corporate life creates and the desire to break away into the wilderness. I liked how the author keeps taking the reader into the mind of the protagonist and shows us his experience in rural Tamil Nadu through the lens of a city bred IT professional. Talking of rural Tamil Nadu, I must say the village and its people have been portrayed very well and I could immediately visualize the scenes from some of the village based Tamil movies.

One think I must say is that for a short book of 100 pages, the author has tried to do too many things. As I mentioned earlier the title and blurb blunted the edge of the horror element. Moreover the sequence of narrative also does not really work on the mind of the reader. I would have liked the story to start with the protagonist stranded in the jungle in the middle of the night and cut back and forth revealing to the reader snippets of his journey to the village and interactions with the villagers. The chronological sequencing leaves the reader clueless as to the direction the story is heading till reader is half way through. After that I had no expectation of any major surprises to come as there were only 30-40 pages remaining. 

Also the author has fallen into a trap which Bollywood comedy often falls into – he tends to mix humor with being preachy. I understand that the author had a message to convey about shunning superstitions which is a laudable objective indeed. However I feel it would have been more appealing if the author had taken a more tangential approach conveying it through the ludicrous situations rather than having the protagonist spell it out directly in the face of the reader. In my opinion the book would have been much more impactful if the reader had chosen one of the two – horror or humor and stuck to it. Message oriented is a third choice I would not prefer. I am not particularly fond of preachy books as such though I myself tend to get preachy at times in my stories. 

Overall I must say for a first time author it is a commendable effort. Some of the things I have pointed out are actually easier said than done. However as an aspiring author myself, I was thinking of this story from the point of view of how I would have liked to write it. The book has quite a juicy premise that I would have loved to get my teeth into and I must appreciate Nethra for identifying such gems. On a closing note, I would say I definitely recommend everyone to give this book a try. It stands up very well in comparison to most of the contemporary Indian books. It is not heavily taxing on your wallet or your clock as such and definitely worth every penny and second you invest on it.

The Stamp Collector - 2



Click here to read from the beginning.

He proceeded to explain. "Do you remember the second week after you had come back?"

"Yes. What about that?"

"Do you remember a conversation you had with Kazim?"

"Not really? What was it about?"

"You went and told him I had called Muslims crocodiles."

"Ah! That one? I mean you did mention that the Kannada word for crocodile sounded like Muslim, didn't you? I just mentioned it to Kazim for fun."

"It might have been fun for you. But Kazim did not take it that way. He told all his Muslim friends and they ganged up and thrashed me that day."

"But why didn't you tell me?"

"I was angry with you. I wanted revenge."

"And so you decided to cheat me?"

"And you are no longer angry with me?"

"We are even."

I thought for a while. I found his argument fair enough. "Ok, tell me how you cheated me."

"The first time was not much. You made a fool of yourself giving away that valuable stamp for that useless stamp I bought from the store attracted by the colorful pictures.  I was just testing waters and I realized you were a total sucker who went by impulse. So I had to somehow catch your fancy. So I subtly dangled Zanzibar before you and chewed the bait."

"But Zanzibar stamps are rare, aren't they?"

"Yes. Zanzibar stamps are." He seemed to emphasize the word stamps.

"The stamp you gave me was not attractive. So it must be a valuable rare one, right?"

Vikas laughed. "Goodness, no! That was not even a stamp. That was something I had forged specially for you."

I was caught by surprise. "You can forge stamps?"

"Yes. It is very easy once you know how to do it. All you need is some pictures of exotic stamps, lots of Indian stamps for the edges, black paint, a brush and some overseas postal envelopes."

My interest was stirred. "Will you teach me how to do it?"

He was surprised. "You want to learn to be a fraud like me?"

"Why not? We are friends, aren't we?"

After a few bad attempts finally I had made a passable imitation of New Falkland Islands stamp. Now was the time to test it on the ground. The school had a thriving stamp exchange going on during the breaks between classes. Each class had 5 sections with 60 students each and students from sixth to eighth were actively into stamp trade. That was a total of 1200 students of which at least 10% collected stamps which meant 120 people to trade with, many of who were strangers - the best people to pass on forgeries to. We soon located a victim. Vikas seemed as much an expert on stamp collectors as he was on stamps. He pointed out to me a stout North Indian chap flaunting a large stamp album and asked me to approach him alone. I went up to him with my stamps.

He looked derisively at the stamps in my hand. "Do you have something worthy of exchange with me? What country stamps are those?"

"New Falkland Islands," I replied hesitantly.

"Here. Let me have a look at them," he said carelessly.

But before he could take them, Vikas appeared out of nowhere. "What? Did you say New Falkland Island? Really? What do you want for it?"

I was surpised but decided to play along. "What will you give for it?"

"Will a Hungarian triangle do?"

Before I could answer the other boy spoke up, "I will give a Burkino Faso Triangle"

Vikas replied immedeately, " A Hungarian traingle and a Mongolian diamond."

The other boy was not to be outdone. "A complete Bhutanese Jungle Book set with a Hungarian Triangle thrown in as well."

Before I knew what happened, my forged stamp was whisked away from my hand and I found myself with 7 Bhutanese and 1 Hungarian stamp as the school bell rang and we rushed to the class.

"Beginner's Luck," Vikas whispered in my ear.

The Stamp Collector


The summer of '89 had come and gone. The monsoon had begun and that year the rain Gods were unleashing their full fury. It was my first day at the new school - a full two months after the beginning of the term. An unfortunate accident had me hospitalized for 2 months and my foot was still in bandage as I went to school. The only vacant seat was in the last row next to a tall boy in a blue sweater, tousled hair and teeth sticking out. That was when I met Vikas for the first time.

I was not sure what to say to him. But you had to talk to the boy who sat next to you in class though the teacher did not want you to of course. Went through the customery drill. All the usual stuff - where we lived, what our parents did, our siblings. Things that are so important and at the same time so incosequential. Now that I knew that both his parents were docors, he lived in Basaweshwaranagar, had no siblings, was I wiser in any regard? The fact that he too was a new boy to the school made me feel some kind of kinship with him. Other than that he still felt as much a stranger after 2 months as he did the first day. But then to strike gold, one has to keep digging through drivel. Patience is the key. We perserved on uninterestedly till finally we found common ground - stamp collection!

I think I have never mentioned about my hobby of collecting stamps. It was actually not a naturally developed but an acquired hobby. My uncle had been an ardent collector who had managed to build a huge collection and had passed it on to me. It was such a vast collection with so many stamps that only thing I needed to do was to calalog and maintain the stamps. There was no need for me to acquire any more new ones as such. But I felt a feeling of restlessness and desire to contribute my bit. I guess that was the closest I ever came to feeling what these scions of the rich business familes feel when they have everything handed to them on a platter.

Coming back to Vikas - he had no generous uncle. He was a self made man who had built his collection from scratch. He had saved up his pocket money to buy some stamps from the store and then been developing his collection through exchange with other collectors and further purchases whenever he saved up enough. I liked this whole idea of exchanging stamps and immedeately wanted to get into this business of exchanging stamps. I did not know how that would help in enhancing the stamp collection but it just sounded like a cool idea and I too wanted to do it.

The first exchange was an old Polish stamp from my uncle's collection for a brand new Cambodian stamp. It was a nice looking stamp and I was very happy with the deal. There was also this added excitement of sneaking the stamp out of my home without my parent's knowledge. My parents never approved of me taking anything to school other than my school books and they would never dream of me exchanging any of the valuable stamps given by my uncle.

We continued to talk about stamps. While Vikas was a dunce as far as academics went, he was a master on the topic of stamps. He knew so much about stamps, how to determine their value, how to distinguish real ones from fakes. I just drunk in whatever he said. Among the rare countries he had listed one caught my attention - Zanzibar. I was suddenly overcome by desire to possess a stamp of this nation. I began to badger Vikas to get me one of them. He said he knew someone who had it but a suitable exchange would be needed. He rejected most of my offerings till I came up with something that caught his interest - a triangular Hungarian stamp. Yes. That would do the trick, he had said. He would now carry my proposal to his friend.

The next day he told me I would have to first give him my stamp so that he could take it and exchange with his friend near his home. Having had nasty experiences with a boy few years earlier in the matter of coins, I was a bit suspicious. But Vikas was nothing like the vile Nagaraj. So I decided to give him my stamp.

One day passed. Another passed and then a third. Still I had not got my Zanzibar stamp. Vikas had some excuse everyday. On the fourth day my stamp arrived. I was so disappointed. It was a dull faded stamp with picture of some berries. Evern the writing of the country name and denomination was not very clear. But Vikas assured me that this was because it was an old rare stamp. I convinced myself and took the stamp.

I kept looking at the stamp for the next three to four days. But something did not feel good about it. So one day I went back to Vikas and asked him to take back this stamp and give me my original stamp back. The expression on his face changed immedeately as if I had said something blasphemous.

"An exchange is an exchange. Once done it can't be reversed. That is the rule of exchanges," he declared emphatically. There was a sense of finality in his tone. I was stuck with the Zanzibar stamp. I tried to like it. But somehow could not.

A few weeks passed and the event was forgotten. I wanted to again go in for an exchange and broached the topic with Vikas. He somehow did not seem interested and kept evading. When I continued to be persistent, he said he did not want to exchange with me. When I pestered him for the reason, he said, "Because you are my friend."

I did not get it. I looked at him surprised. He also looked a bit confused. He had blurted out something he had not wanted to say. But now it was done. So he had to explain.

"You have often asked me how does exchange help in growing a stamp collection. Let me give you the answer. Because exchanges are never fair. Exchanges are always meant to give you an advantage. At least that is what exchanges are to me."

It took me a few minutes to absorb what he was saying. Vikas was a cheat - Nagaraj all over again!

"But you did exchange with me few months back."

"Yes. Then you were not my friend. In fact I hated you then and wanted revenge."

Revenge? What was all this melodrama? Where did revenge come into the picture? What did I do to him that he wanted revenge on me?

Click here to read on.

My Forays into the world of Fiction Writing


 
My journey through the world of fiction writing has been slow and patchy. It started way back in 2009, when I gave my first short at fiction for a contest and one of my entries was short listed for the final round and finished 7th among the 15 short listed ones. That gave me confidence to start writing fiction.

Then I continued to dabble in fiction on and off with limited success – winning a few accolades in different blogger contests. But the next real break came in 2012 when my story was selected in the science fiction genre of Fablery’s multi-genre anthology ‘Ten Shades of Life’. That gave me the opportunity to see myself in print for the first time.

Then in 2013, I made an attempt at self-publishing along with two co-authors Radha and Suresh. We managed a Kindle book 'Sirens Spell Danger' with 3 novella size story that got decent acclaim in blog-o-sphere, a humungous number of free downloads and enough sales to break even.

For 2014, amidst a busy schedule that is threatening to put paid to my writing hobby, one of my stories has made it to the short list of yet another writing contest. (in paranormal genre) Here is the link to the story.
Would be needing reader votes to make it to the next level of the contest where 3 of the 5 would be shortlisted based on votes and 1 will be chosen for a book publishing contract. So people wanting to see me moving to the level of publishing an entire book by myself in 2015, can click the link, scroll down and click the little heart there to vote for me.  Of course the other stories in fray are quite  good too. So if you have time you can read through all of them and vote for all those you like.

The Silver Lining in Every Cloud


We have heard of the saying “Every cloud has a silver lining”. Many of us take it with a pinch of salt or consider it philosophizing to just avoid facing the harsh realities of life. But off late, I am beginning to think it is possibly true. I am going through a tough phase in my professional life these days and that made me reflect about the worst times I have had in my life.

One of the really worst things to happen to me was being run over by a truck when I was ten years olf. I was running across the road being chased by one of my friends – can’t actually call him a friend, more a rival. I have mentioned him in some of my childhood memory posts. Anyways it doesn’t matter who he was but what he did. A truck was parked on the road and I just crossed it when he caught hold of my shirt collar and pulled me back. It so happened at the same moment, the truck driver chose to start the vehicle. I was pulled clear of the truck. But unfortunately the same could not be said of my foot. It got caught right under the front wheel of the truck. I somehow managed to tug my leg off with such force that it came free of the truck without a minor fracture. But the wheel managed to retain all the flesh of my foot and my foot came out clean with the bone exposed. 

That heralded the start of two most horrifying months of my life. Immediately I was rushed to the hospital to have my leg stitched up. But that clearly was not enough and I had to remain bed ridden for the next few weeks. By then the doctor passed the verdict that no way was all the flesh going to grow back on its own. So they had to take out flesh from my thigh and graft it to my foot. That brought me under the scalpel for the second time. The anesthesia time was limited and most of it would be consumed in performing the graft. In order for the graft to be accepted, apparently the dry tissue had to be scraped off and the tender flesh had to be exposed. This operation of scraping it had to be performed with me in a state of full consciousness before the operation. So I was held down screaming by 5 nurses while the sixth one went about scraping up the old wounds.

Well – now where is the silver lining in this entire thing one may ask? I was coming to that. Without the darkness of the cloud being described in detail the silver lining can’t be appreciated, right? Now when I think about this period, the memories that come to my mind are not those of the operations and lying helpless on the bed unless I deliberately rake them up. On the contrary the memories I hold of this time are very pleasant ones that I cherish. How could that be, eh?

Well – somebody had to be with me at the hospital all the time. My mother stayed with me during the day time but in the evening she had to go home to get some rest and freshen up. Initially my dad used to stay in the evenings and nights. But then his leaves got exhausted and he could not stay with me through the night and go back to office the next day. So the lot fell upon my maternal grandfather. That was when the good times started. My grandfather had been a voracious reader since his childhood. So he knew many stories and used to narrate them to me. I really used to love the stories but could never get enough of them as either I would be busy with school work or he would be busy supporting my grandmother with household chores. So the stories used to be rare treats for me. But this accident changed things. Every evening I would have the entire evening with my grandfather with nothing to come between us and the stories. Every day we would take up a new story – Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Puranas, Shakespeare, Alexander Dumas, to name a few. In addition to these that he read over the years, I had him read some of the Enid Blyton books gifted to me and narrate the story to me. Then he used to narrate the historic events from World War 1 and 2, the Napoleonic wars, the Indian freedom struggle etc. My grandfather was an inexhaustible resource of stories and every evening during those days was literally a flight of fantasy for me forgetting the hospital and my foot to soar high into the skies and explore different worlds. 

That is just one example. But when I think back to the different tough periods of my life, I find something to cherish. That is probably a reason why somehow I seem to relish reliving my past so much. 

Picture Credit: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/103/294085637_5f4753972b_o.jpg

The Tale of my World Conquest




I have often envied people who have experience of global travel in their childhood. I for one had not even boarded a flight till the age of 24, when thanks to the IT revolution I set foot in an airplane for the first time to leave the shores of the country. But then reflecting I realized I did have quite some global exposure in my childhood.

My first exposure was to Russia. My Aunt’s office was close to the Russian embassy and she knew I was fond of books. So whenever my grandparents came visiting, she would send a few Russian story books. So I grew up developing familiarity with Ivans, Tsars, devil dragons and Baba Yaga. Then came Enid Blyton bringing England to my door step. I traversed across various parts of England along with Fatty, Snubby, Jack, Phillip and numerous other memorable Enid Blyton characters. Then there were school and farm stories that took me into English schools and right into the English countryside. I knew of voles, badgers, weasels, red squirrels, otters and shrews. I experienced the English breakfast of bacon, eggs, cake, marmalade, scones and other items that were just words to me but sounded delicious nevertheless. I was so surprised years later when I read English food was one of the worst in the world.

If England has come into your home, can USA be far behind. There was Tom Sawyer, Hardy Boys and Three Investigators who took me to America. Central Europe was represented by Asterix, Obelix and the rest of the gang. Arabian tales was my window to the Middle East as was another book – Haji Baba of Ispahan. Anime and Manga were my gateway to Japan. Age of Empires with Mayan and Aztec Empires and some of the Tintin stories exposed me to Latin America. Africa found representation through wild life movies and regular wildlife programs on Television. God must be Crazy was one movie that I remember that took me on a ride through Africa and in books, Gerald Durrell, Willard Price and King Solomon’s mines did the trick. 

Australia somehow seemed more a cricket team than a country as did West Indies. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia were all coins and stamps as were many other countries.

That is the story of the first quarter of my life. In the second quarter of my life, fate has been kind to me and my job has taken me to 16 countries so far spanning 3 continents. Africa, Australia and Latin America still remain unconquered. England and Russia still remain countries from my childhood tales. Sometimes I feel I have lost the fascination to travel to distant parts of the world. At other times, I feel more the countries I visit; the more my appetite for foreign travel will be stirred. Sometimes it all seems just a tick in the box to boast to people about the countries I have visited. After all one can learn about countries through books, television and internet. What does one accomplish by physically being present?


There is this talk of interacting with people and imbibing their culture. I did want to do that. I had a great fascination for interacting with foreigners. I remember I first acted on it when first exposed to Yahoo chat rooms. I used to spend hours chatting up foreigners. Ever since, I have worked for German clients. I also did a summer internship at Germany during my MBA. I did an exchange term at Japan where I had opportunity to have as class mates students from 52 nations. I was especially close with some Europeans. In fact I developed a close friendship with a German. I visited him once in Germany and once in Switzerland and he visited me twice at India. He got to visit my home and meet my family. I got to visit him and meet his family. Then there were people from across the world I interacted with during global training programs of my company of which I attended three. I worked with clients and colleagues from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Argentina, USA, France, Netherlands, Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon, Norway and China. But then my introvert nature often asserts itself and I find more comfort being by myself with just one or two close friends or a book or a Television Program. Too much people interaction seems to tire me. Also I have begun to feel fundamentally all people are the same. So do I still want to talk to foreigners or don’t I anymore?

Given my fascination for anything foreign, it is conceivable that I would have settled abroad. But paradoxically all my cousins to the last one is settled in USA and I am the one who has chosen to stay back in my homeland. That is the story of my tryst with the globe.

Picture Credit:  http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5049/5297415689_f597f8e7a7_o.jpg

The Magical Cave XI: The Land of Knowledge




By now visiting the cave in the hills had become a regular Saturday activity. The children’s parents had been convinced as well that the children were spending time in the hills as part of the school’s nature club activities. It was good for the children however that they did not inquired more deeply into the activities of the nature club during the parents teachers association meetings for they would have discovered that though the nature club did exist, it’s activities were limited to strolls within the school lawns followed by boring lectures by the botany teacher.

That week the children were excited for they were going to be visiting a new land. But the excitement was mixed with anxiety for the children wanted to help Smelly who they had begun to consider as friend by now. They hoped they could find the necessary information in the land of knowledge and be able to use the knowledge to take their friend back to his home. The gnomes were ready by the time they reached and they wasted no time in setting out on their mission. Smelly accompanied them while Bracken was not with them.

As they stepped into the cloud, they were greeted by huge glass buildings towering over the landscape. As they entered one of the buildings, they found the view inside even more breathtaking than the outside. The place looked really plush with granite flooring and posh sofas to accommodate guests. There were Liquid Crystal Display screens all over the walls flashing all kinds of information. A smart looking woman in business suit sat at a desk in the middle of the room. Fierce looking guards stood on either side of her. The children slowly approached her. “We have come to seek some information

She lifted her nose in the air and addressed one of the guards, “Take them to one of the LCD machines and ask them to key in the details.” With that she turned away from them and began to look intently at the computer screen in front of her. The guard led them to one of the terminals and taught them how to enter the information. The screen has an user friendly interface which meant they could easily answer the questions that were being asked; however they were clueless why they were being asked so many questions and what they had to do with their business in hand. But they patiently answered question after question and finally the screen came out with a response. “Please deposit Twenty thousand credits and you shall receive the date and time of your appointment with our Information Officer.

The children looked at each other. They did not have much money. The boys had some 300-400 Rs. each. The girls had nothing. Off late the girls seemed to have developed a propensity for losing money. Later on discussion with the gnomes they had found out that it was the effect of the pay backs from the land of bargains. They would continue to lose their money till all their pay backs were cleared. The children looked at the gnomes. They looked equally clueless.

Then Doc spoke up, “This land eagerly gathers information from all the lands. Maybe we can trade some of the knowledge from our land for some credits.” They went up to the nearest terminal to figure if there was a possibility of submitting knowledge. The machine directed them to another building. With great difficulty they found their way to the mentioned building. Every building looked so like the others. Even the inside looked exactly the same. They were again prompted a barrage of questions and then given bar coded slips and directed to knowledge booths in yet another building.

Again they were back to building hunting. This land was getting to be too tiresome. It seemed liked they had spent 3-4 hours with hardly any progress. Finally they managed to get to the booths and submitted information about their world, the latest news in the world and their personal lives. It took them two hours before they were done and they were again directed to yet another building to collect the credits they had earned. They made their way to this building and finally they obtained the credits. They counted the credits – they had exactly twenty nine thousand and five hundred credits. They heaved a sigh of relief and went back to the first building.

They once again had to feed all the information. Finally they were back to the screen asking for money and this time they were asked for twenty three thousand. Seemed like time increased the value of information! Anyways they had no option but to cough up the dough. When they deposited the amount, the message propped up – “Your appointment with the Information officer is schedule in 288 hours from now at Building 14. Please be there on time.

288 Hours! That was twelve days! Surely the land would have moved off by then. No way could they wait till then. One of the other applicants saw their forlorn faces and came up to help. On hearing about their problem he replied, “Why don’t you try the express service option.” He helped them find the right option on the terminal and soon another message popped up, “Please submit ten million credits for an immediate appointment.

Grumpy got so furious that he gave the machine a violent kick. For once the others kind of empathized with his behavior. They too felt like smashing all those greedy blood sucking machines into pieces. No way could they find this kind of money. As they walked out with their heads hanging down, they heard a voice behind them. “Psst

A thin man with an unshaven face, a battered hat and a greasy old coat was peeking at them from behind a large truck. He motioned them to follow him. They did not like the idea of following this shady looking fellow. But they did not really feel like returning empty handed. They wanted to try every last resort and were curious to see what this strange man wanted with them. Even if his intent was malicious, they outnumbered him by a large number.

The Magical Cave I: A Cave in the Hills <<<< The Magical Cave X: An Serious Discussion <<   >> The Magical Cave XII: Omnius

The Magical Cave X: A Serious Discussion




Ramya was very fond of her grandparents and usually looked forward to their visit. But when they turned up that weekend, she was anything but excited. For it meant she was grounded that weekend. Navneeta also could not stir out of the house as her parents were very conservative and would not allow her to spend the day with the boys. So it was just the boys who went to visit the gnomes that week.

When they reached the borough, they were greeted by a smell of dampness and decay. A very old and tired looking dog sat in the corner looking at them mournfully out of its shaggy eye brows. For a moment they wondered where this new animal had come from. Then they realized – It was of course their old friend ‘Smelly’. That was the name they had given to the creature from the Land of Odors.  The general mood in the borough was that of gloom and doom.  Even Happy was no longer smiling nor Doc launching into one of his long drawn lectures.

So was Sleepy able to find out when the Land of Odors will be back here again?” asked Vinod hesitantly.

The general mood conveyed what the answer would be. “Yes. It will be here again in twenty five years.

That was too bad. What would they do now? Would Smelly have to stay with them for twenty five years? Vinod could not imagine Smelly living in their world for so many years. He was already so depressed. It would only get worse and he would transmit the mood to the gnomes as well. This was not at all good. They had to do something.

Isn’t there any other way to reach that land?” asked Vinod.

“Well, there are a few ways I can think of. But then there are challenges,” said Doc mournfully.

Anyways let us explore the options. What are the other ways?

Well, there is the Wishing Chair.

Wishing Chair?

Yes – it is a magical chair. If you sit on it and wish to be somewhere, it can take you there in a trice.

Where can we find this wishing chair?

We have no idea. It was last rumored to be in the possession of some children in Britain. But that was ages back. They chair would have left them the moment they grew up and stopped believing in magic.

Stopped believing in magic?” The boys looked puzzled.

Yes. In the earlier times, all the people of the earth were aware of us magical folks and the working of magical artifacts. So they abandoned all enterprise and began to depend entirely on magical artifacts.

The Elder race had nearly perished out of over dependence on magic and the dark race had turned evil due to their greed for use of more and more magic. So the remaining members of the Elder race decided to save you people from being corrupted by my magic. So they cast a subtle spell to hide the magic. But still there was a loophole. Children continued to be able to perceive the magic. It took some years before the spell worked on them.

But won’t the children who have perceived the magic in their childhood retain memories of the same?

That is a very good question! You are right. The Elder race thought of this as well. To remedy that they tinkered with your educational system and ensured that it is designed in such a way to make you forget your experiences.

But what about those who have not gone to school?” Once Vinod got his teeth into an issue, he would not leave any angle unexplored.

 Well – basically the educated people set the norms for the society. They call the memories of the others superstitions and scoff at them. So the illiterate people also try and forget these memories to avoid being called clods and oafs.

So what do we do about Smelly?” Ajay was finding all these theoretical discussions boring. He was the one who lived by the moment.

You are right, Ajay. We should think of something. So what are the other options?

A flying broom!

We do not have one of that at our disposal or any means of procuring one I believe.

We can buy one from the Land of Spells.

Would that land be coming soon?

We did not check. But it is definitely not the land that is currently here.

What is the Land that is there now?” asked Ajay, his curiosity aroused.

It is the Land of Knowledge.

Does not sound like a very useful land for our purpose, eh?

“It isn’t. However you might find it a very fascinating place, Vinod. You can get most of your questions answered there.

Yeah, that sounds interesting. But I guess we need to focus on the problem at hand. Is there any other way of reaching the Land of Odors?

Well – we have heard that this is not the only portal between our lands. This one is known as the portal of the earth. We have four more portals.

Where are those portals?

We have no idea about them. Ever since we came into your world, we have lived in these caves. We do not know any other place on your world?

You do not belong to our world?

No-we are from the land of gems. We came to your world to explore and got marooned here. It is more than seven decades and our land is yet to make its reappearance. We have long given up hopes of ever returning and have more or less established our lives here. Maybe Smelly can do the same thing.

The smell of dampness intensified and a strong feeling of sadness swept through the minds of Vinod and Ajay. Bashful and Dopey broke out into tears. Grumpy spoke up, “No. That won’t do. His world is too different from ours. He would not be able to manage. Also we were seven of us. There aren’t any others of his kind in this world. To remain in this world would be a cruel fate for him.

Then Vinod spoke up, “You said we can find any information we seek in the Land of Knowledge?

Yes.

Maybe we can find out from there where the other portals are.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces