The Magical Cave VII: A Foul turn of Events

The burning smell grew stronger and a strong suffocating smell of brimstone seemed to joining it. They felt themselves being pushed by what seemed like arms. It was still pitch dark and they could not see anything nor hear anything except their own breathing. But whatever was pushing them did not seem entirely solid. The children felt an eerie feeling of making physical contact with a ghost. They found themselves lead in a particular direction. Though the arms pushing them were not solid, they were firm like a thick column of gas and they could not push past them. Then, suddenly without a warning,  the pressure ceased and they found the smell also slowly receding away. Ramya summoned courage and flicked on her flashlight. She looked around. They were in what seemed like a small room. Her three friends were standing close to her. The gnomes were not far off. Bashful was huddled close to Bracken, who was also sharing their prison.

I was always telling you. These children are nothing but trouble. See where they have landed us.” Grumpy who had been uncharacteristically quiet all this while was suddenly becoming vociferous. Ramya fumed at the unfairness of the accusation. What did they have to do with these weird beings of the land of odors? Why was Grumpy blaming them? But she did not have to ponder long for soon she had her answer.
Don’t the parents of human children teach them to control their farts when part of a social gathering? What ill-mannered kids! Because of one of them's lack of sphincter control, we have give grave offence to our hosts.” Then it dawned on her. That is what had triggered all their trouble! Her flash light involuntarily flashed on Ajay’s face. It was contorted with guilt.

Why does it have to be me? It could have been you. Is our Miss Goody Two shoe so conscientious that she is even above breaking wind? Anything goes wrong, put the blame on Ajay. Why else do you people drag me along for?

He was clearly fighting a losing battle. The loudness of his voice was not matched by conviction. Naveneeta spoke up gently. “Please do not fight. I am feeling scared. I want to go home.

We are gnomes, not genies. We can’t grant you your wishes just because you want them. Whether you want to go home or stay here, you are stuck here. And so are we, thanks to you!

Grumpy’s tirade was interrupted by a scraping sound. Braken seemed to be putting his paws into the ground and making some strange gestures as if he was digging. Bashful was looking at him intently. It seemed as if Bracken was communicating with Bashful. After sometime Bashful turned towards the others and spoke up. “Bracken says he can help us get out of here.

And how may that be, my friend? I know he has a strong sense of smell. But that does not break the bars of our cell. So how does he propose to get us out?

Ah! Don’t you get it, Grumpy? Observe the ground below us.” Happy’s face was glowing with excitement.
They all looked down at the earth below their feet. It was regular mud. The children wondered what was so special about this mud that Happy was getting so excited. Seeing their puzzled faces, Happy spoke up again. “Well, out friend Mole is a master digger. He cannot break bars. But he can dig us out of here. He is an expert in making tunnels. He can lead us right back to our home."

But won’t these odor creatures hear us digging and get alerted?” Vinod was always the one to anticipate situations.
Well, my dear friend, you forget the people of this land are not gifted with a sense of hearing.

But they will definitely catch the smell of fresh earth.” For once Grumpy’s inherent pessimism was serving a productive purpose. How could they shield the smell of fresh earth?
I have an idea,” said Ramya and turned towards Ajay and looked at him intently, a mischevious glint in her eyes.

No. No. You can't mean..... I can’t possibly do it. Come on! You can’t seriously mean it!” His face was all red and flushed.
Vinod spoke up calmly. “This is not the time to act coy, Ajay. Our lives depend on you.

Ajay shrugged his shoulders in resignation. There was a small sound and the room was filled with foul odor. Once he overcame his self-consciousness, Ajay was in his elements and the sounds got louder - everyone had to cover their noses with their handkerchief.
The children watched fascinated as Bracken began to dig. Soon a tunnel was formed and they began to make their way following in a single file one after the other with Bracken leading the way. They had walked for twenty minutes when they felt a strange wind blowing.

Oh, no! The land is moving away.” Navneeta’s voice was almost a hysterical shriek.
And before they could react to that, suddenly they caught a strong smell of decay as if some small rodent had died in the vicinity.

The Magical Cave VI: The Land of Odors

A huge gate loomed in front of them. A demon like creature awaited them at the entrance. The very sight of this creature made the children wish they had never entered this land. But none of them wanted to be the one to chicken out. Ajay looked hopefully at Navneeta. But she was not going to play the fall girl. If Ajay was scared, let him say so. She looked away from him. Even Ramya’s and Vinod’s faces had turned pale. Only the gnomes looked completely unfazed. The demon pointed towards a chamber. The children looked hesitant.

Then Doc spoke up. “If thou seeketh to gain admittance to the land of odors, though hath to adhere to the protocol of the land. They require that thou shed all your garments and enter the land clean.

But we are not dirty,” Ramya protested.

It is not about dirt, my dear. It is about the odor. The people of this land are indeed very sensitive to smells.  They even talk to each other through smells. So unless we remove all unnecessary smells from our bodies, there may be serious miscommunications with the people of the land.

Soon the children entered the bath chambers, cleaned themselves, put on the grey single piece garments each of them were given as per their size, deposited their own clothes with the demon guard and entered the land of odors.

The moment they stepped into the land, they were greeted by pin drop silence and complete darkness. They groped around and touched each other. Doc addressed them in a low voice. “The people of this land are without gift of sight of sound – so they deny the same to their visitors as well. But their strong sense of smell more than makes up for the other two missing senses.  It is said they can even smell your thoughts. So be careful what you think here.”
The idea of their thoughts being smelt scared the children. Soon they caught a whiff of a scent: a sweet gentle smell. Soon there was another smell that was also sweet and gentle but was different from the first. Soon the whole air was flooded with sweet welcoming smells.  The children felt a general nice cosy feeling of being welcome.

Doc whispered to the children, “The people of the land have come. They are welcoming us. Please think some friendly thoughts to thank them for their welcome. They put up slightly stronger smells for your benefit. But they can smell even the slightest odors generated by your thoughts.
Ramya looked puzzled. “Ah! That is indeed interesting. I have read that our body generates pheromones based on our emotions. Normally our sense of smell is not fine enough to sense all the finer body odors caused by these pheromones. But the people of this land seemed to have perfected this art. This is extremely fascinating.” All three of them let out a groan at once as Vinod seemed all set to launch into one of his long scientific lectures.

The children sensed that smell had changed. The air was filled with smell of pastries and other confectionaries. “They are inviting us to join them for a meal,” said Happy.

The children felt their way through what seemed like buildings and seated themselves on what seemed like chairs with tables in front of them. Within moments of being seated, plates had appeared on the tables like magic. They could feel something metallic like spoons. They picked the spoons up and moved it through some sticky and solid substances on the plates in front of them. The children felt unsure of eating something they could not see.
Happy nudged them. “Quickly eat or they will take offence.  Don’t worry – the food will not be poisoned. If they mean any ill to us, our friend Bracken will be able to warn us.”

When they overcame their diffidence and began to eat, they found the food was indeed delicious. Most of the food seemed to be bakery items with the sticky substance being some sort of marmalade made from exotic fruits they had never tasted before. The children were quietly enjoying their meal when the silence was interrupted by a short sound of wind being released from a pressurized balloon. They could smell a slight unpleasant smell which disappeared within moments. But it was followed by a sudden whiff of strong burning smell.  The children found themselves suddenly filled with fear.

A most fascinating portrayal of a Villain

Anybody can create a hero but it takes real talent to create a fascinating villain. Different villains can elicit different emotions from reader: disgust, dread, hatred and anger are some of the obvious emotions. Then there are villains who can inspire sympathy and sometimes even admiration. One of the most fascinating villains I have encountered in literature is Arch Deacon Claude Frollo in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre dame.  He is one character who continues to stay with me even a decade and a half after I have read the book. The characters who remain with us are the ones that hold a strong personal significance for oneself. And the Arch Deacon was exactly that for me.
For those who have not read this particular book, let me give a brief run through of the character of Arch Deacon. He is a lustful, egoistic and sadistic priest at the church of Notre Dame. He has his eyes on an innocent and beautiful girl called Esmeralda. He tries to use various vile means to possess her and in the end when she stays firm and refuses to yield to his lust, he ends up destroying her, sending her to death by gallows branded as a witch. Now, you may ask, what is fascinating about all this? Isn’t that how all villains are? Well, from what I have described so far, so it may seem. But there is more to this: his early years. The book also takes us back to the Arch Deacon’s younger days. There we see an idealistic young man, who renounces worldly life to devote himself to the study of theology. We see a rational philosopher who dares to question theology and enter the realms of science. We see a loving brother who dotes over his step brother. We see a Good Samaritan, who picks up a deformed child abandoned by his parents as a monstrosity and brings him up as his own.

How does one explain such a dichotomy in character between Frollo’s earlier years and later years? Some people may even actually dismiss the transformation as an unrealistic portrayal by the author. But I did not find it so, because I could personally relate to that character. At that age, I was very much like Frollo: young and idealistic, looking to take up a monastic vocation to devote myself to study and contemplation away from the cares and vain struggles of the world. The monstrous evolution of Frollo was a rude wake up call for me, for I could see the seeds of the same evil that had grown to monstrous propositions in Frollo’s mind hiding in the recesses of my mind as well. I realized one can’t wish away the darkness that has taken residence in some corner of one’s soul away by artificially elevating oneself to a position of nobility higher than where one truly belongs. If anything that would only make you over confident and the evil tendencies can slowly find nourishment at the back of your mind and then one fine day suddenly catch you off guard and engulf you like how it did with Frollo.

In some ways, this story kind of initiated in me the thought process that eventually led me to abandon my monastic aspirations. The other characters in the story kind of provided an interesting contrast to the character of Frollo and offered me clues on what could possibly be a better way of life. Esmeralda for instance appears frail, weak and silly, but displays exemplary strength of character. She goes to the extent of marrying an unknown person just to save his life. But she stands firm when it comes to a question of principles and is willing to forsake her own life rather than yield to Frollo’s lust. Quasimodo, the titular hunchback, is another character whose one particular characteristic I admired: his single minded love and devotion. He initially is devoted to his master Frollo and an act of kindness on the part of Esmeralda makes him fall in love with her.  His love is pure, unconditional and with expectation of no return, bordering on a dog’s feelings for its master. Though I have not really experienced it personally, I have caught glimpses of it at times and find that indeed a fascinating emotion and might be wonderful to experience. It occurred to me that it might be a better idea to accept myself as I am faults and all, continue my life and work consciously to make myself a better person over time, possibly aspiring towards some of the nobler character traits portrayed by Esmeralda and Quasimodo.
When I read about all these fake saints and errant priests we see in the news every day, I sometimes wonder if they were not fraudsters after all from the outset, but rather like Frollo. Isn’t it possible that they may have started with lofty ideals and gone wrong along the way, maybe due to pushing themselves too hard or trying to attain to those ideals that were way beyond their reach too fast? Maybe some of them deserve sympathy for what they strived to become and what they have ended up becoming? I dread to think what if I had joined one of their ranks. At other times, I wonder if it had to be that way or maybe I would not have fallen by the wayside like the rest and already reached the state that I aspired towards if I had continued along the path I was heading. I guess I will never find out the answer.

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The Magical Cave V: Bracken

But how did fourteen sneezes come all of a sudden?” Ramya looked puzzled.

I think the relative rate of flow of time between the worlds is in a state of constant flux. Time in the land we were in must have suddenly slowed down compared to our world. So within minutes there, time moved 3-4 hours in our land and hence Sneezy’s fit of sneezes.” Vinod’s tone had taken on an air of a professor addressing his students.

The other three still looked confused. But they decided not to press it any further for the fear of Vinod launching into another of his long lectures filled with scientific mumbo jumbo. What they clearly understood was time moved weirdly in the strange lands and if they were not careful, they might come home late and would end up making their parent’s suspicious.

I wonder what kind of land will be there today,” said Navneeta.

We should have checked with the gnomes. Sleepy might have seen it in his dreams.

What is the fun knowing beforehand, Ajay? Don’t you have a sense of adventure? How much more fun to land there and discover the lands?

Ajay remained silent. Silence was the best approach with Ramya.

They were soon at the cave entrance. They called out at the hollow and waited. It was a long time before Dopey arrived. As usual, he was silent, lost and efficient. They soon found themselves at the Burrow.

To what do we owe this honor of your esteemed visits, friends” asked Doc.

We had a free Saturday. We thought we will come and spend time with you guys and maybe visit a new land. We really loved the Land of Bargains and Kissanpur

Well, my dear friends, even a rose bush comes with thorns. Not all lands that come offer us joy.

Maybe we can just take a peak,” said Ramya.

But you must definitely be careful when you are in an unknown land. One needs caution when venturing into unknown lands. Fools rush in where angels fear to trend.

Sure, we will be.” Ramya was all charged up.

While we get ready, may we offer you our hospitality?

The children made themselves comfortable on the floor. Soon each had a small bowl of some mashed up substance that had the smell of potatoes and olive oil. They tasted it and it was indeed delicious though they could not make out the ingredients. They had never tasted something like this before.

Navneeta could feel tiny fingers tugging at her hair. She turned around to find the cutest of the gnomes, the only one without a beard: the one they called ‘Bashful’. He reminded her of one of the dolls she had when she was much younger. She smiled at him. Her smile seemed to send him into raptures of delight. He jumped up and down excitedly and uttered squealing sounds. Then suddenly he caught hold of her hands and pulled. He seemed to want her to come along with him. Strangely most of the gnomes other than Happy, Grumpy and Doc seemed very taciturn. And Bashful being Bashful was more so.

He led her to the back of the cave where there was a little door. He opened it and beckoned Navneeta to follow. She had to stoop to be able to pass through the door. They waked through a narrow passage and then they emerged into a dimly lit area. Bashful puffed his cheeks and made some gentle noises. She could hear some movement in the distance. In a few moments a dark form emerged. It was some kind of animal, almost Navneeta’s size. For a moment she froze in fear. Had Bashful brought her here to be fed to some underworld monster? She should have never come with him alone.

However as the creature came into view, her fears were put to rest. The creature moved with a gentle grace and its eyes with dark circles around it had a benign calmness to it. The creatures fur looked like the finest velvet and despite her fears, Navneeta could not resist the urge to extend her arms and run her fingers through the smooth fur. It felt so soft and nice. The creature did not seem to at all mind this unwanted intrusion on its self. It responded by gently rubbing its snout on Navneeta’s face. This seemed to be a nice animal like a pet dog.

“Grandfather mole,” said bashful proudly. Ah! That is what this was. She had seen pictures of moles in her books. She surveyed the creature, looking closely at its spade like front paws and its twitching snout with smart whiskers. It seemed too large for a regular mole but then nothing was regular inside this cave.

By the time they decided it was time to go back, the mole had got quite friendly with her and followed them to the burrow.

The other children were surprised to see the new visitor. The gnomes however showed no sign of surprise. Apparently it was usual for the mole to pay them a visit.

‘”Welcome to out humble abode, great Bracken. We are honored.”

All the gnomes rose to welcome him. The children looked surprised.

“These entire networks of caves were built by the race of giant moles. They are the real rulers of this place. But most of them died out due to infighting, disease and other disasters. Bracken is one of the last surviving members of this ancient race. He knows the entire network of caves like you know the back of your hand.”

The children nodded. They were a bit scared but felt reassured seeing how Navneeta was comfortable around the creature.

They were soon ready to visit the land.

“Sleepy told us about this new land. It is called the land of odors. While it is not a particularly dangerous land, it is not likely to be a very pleasant one either. I also have a feeling our friend Bracken with his excellent sense of smell would be very useful to have around.  So what are we waiting for? Let us march on ahead my, Yeomen. Ho Ho Ho.” 

The Magical Cabe I: A Cave in the Hills <<<<  The Magical Cave IV: Welcome to Kissanpur <<  >> The Magical Cave VI: The Land of Odors

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Prophecy of Trivine Spotlight

The Prophecy of Trivine 
 Tnahsin Garg,  Srivatsan Sridharan and  Pulkit Gupta

An emissary of an advanced alien race travels to the Earth to undertake responsibility of an experiment that has gone out of control. The outcome of this fateful experiment, which was conceived millions of years ago by her species, now rests in her hands. As she prepares to deliver her final judgment, she comes across three young men in a sacred forest who change her life forever. 
These three men- a scientist, a hacker and an artist, happen to take refuge in that forest, trying to escape from the oddities of their own unfair lives. Struggling with their dreams and demons, they begin to explore the dark and paranormal behavior of the forest by forging a companionship. From the rare flora and fauna breathing alive on the ground to the deadly wide expanse of the whimsy black sky, everything they find is yet another puzzle unsolved. 
Little did they know that four of them hold in their hands the future of mankind and much beyond imagination, they are connected through an ancient Prophecy that was long lost in the sands of time

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Meeth the Authors 

Srivatsan Sridharan 
Srivatsan is a Computer Scientist, who recently graduated with a Masters degree from Purdue University in the United States. He completed his Bachelors in Engineering from Thapar University, India in 2010. Along with computers, he is extremely passionate about writing. Most of his artistic ideas have taken shape in the form of short stories, speeches, travelogues, and essays. Some of them can be found in his BLOG
Tnahsin Garg 
Tnahsin was born and brought up in India where he got a Bachelor's degree in engineering. After that he travelled to United States in search of higher education and adventure, and ended up getting a Master's degree in 2012.  When tired of his scientific pursuits, he's often found scribbling something unintelligible on some decayed corner of the Internet. You can find him in his BLOG
 Pulkit Gupta
Pulkit is a Computer Science professional who completed his Bachelors in Engineering from Thapar University, India in 2011. He has been an avid reader and an enthusiastic writer since his childhood days. He maintains a number of blogs which are in various stages of decay, but his most recent short story work can be found on his recently created BLOG

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The Magical Cave IV: Welcome to Kissanpur

Once again they were all set to return to the caves. The last time the parents had been worried when they had turned up only the following day. But they had made an excuse of staying over at each other’s places and luckily their parents did not call up and check with each other. It felt bad deceiving the parents when they trusted them so much but they could not afford to tell their parents about all the strange things they had seen. Either they would refuse to believe them or They might totally forbid from ever going anywhere near the caves.

Did you people notice one strange thing about our experience last time?

Vinod was a thinker. That is what Ramya liked about him. “What was that?

Well – when I and Ajay were inside that strange land and you girls outside, 5 minutes for us was 2 hours for you.

Didn’t the gnomes explain that time moves differently in the two lands?

Well – but if 5 minutes in that land was 2 hours in our world, then 3 hours must have been 2 days.

She looked at him. Why hadn’t she thought of that? 

Maybe the time difference keeps changing." Then she paused and continued knitting her eyebrows, "That would make it hard for us to keep track of time and be back in time to reach home before nightfall.

Soon they were near the caves and Vinod called out through the hollow Doc had shown him during the previous visit. They did not have to wait long before Dopey made his appearance.

Hello Dopey,” the children chorused. He gave them a glazed confused look as if he did not know who they were and then turned around and began walking. The children followed close behind. Soon they were outside the gnomes’ burrow. All six of them were waiting outside with their sacks.

It is indeed wonderful to see you all again, my friends,” said Doc. “Ho Ho Ho. Welcome! Welcome!” said Happy. None of the others said anything. They all began to walk towards the cloud which would lead them to the strange land.

As they neared the cloud, they heard lot of noises of people moving around. They looked at the gnomes questioningly. “Is anyone out there?

Of course, there are numerous denizens of these underground passages.

When they reached the cloud, there wasn’t anyone. Though they had been through the cloud before, the transition from the darkness of the caves to the brightness on the other side still surprised them.

Suddenly Ramya stopped. “We have to be back before evening. Is there any way we can keep track of time in our word?

Doc looked at them for a minute and said, “That should not be very difficult. Just keep count of Sneezy’s sneezes. Every four corresponds to one hour in our world. At his nineteenth sneeze, we can be on our way back.


One,” the children chorused.

They began to look around the land. There was a board that said, “Welcome to Kissanpur”. The land was filled with all kinds of strangely colorful trees and plants they had never seen before. 

What is this land about?” asked Ramya.

This land encourages you to make friends with nature. There are absolutely no artificial substances here. Everything is real and natural here. Come along. Let us grab a good snack. Ho Ho Ho.

Happy lead them to a tree that seemed to have white porous rectangular leaves. When they neared, they noticed, the leaves were in fact bread slices. They plucked a few slices. Just close to the tree, they noticed some white and yellow colored lumps with flimsy wings attached floating around.

What are those?” 

They are the butterflies. Let us catch some.” The gnomes pulled out nets and caught some of the flying creatures. When the children examined them closely they turned out to be slabs of butter with wings attached. After ascertaining that it was butter indeed, the children spread it on the bread and took a bite. It was delicious.

Let us go and get some jam as well,” said Happy. Within minutes, they gnomes scaled up the tree. The children stood there looking up hesitantly.

Come on up, dearies,” said Happy.

Well, we don’t know to climb trees.

No problem. Just watch how we climb. We would have loved to get you some jam. But in this land, you have to take everything you want from nature directly. The jam bees nest high and the only way to reach the jam hives is by climbing.

Gingerly the children climbed helped by Happy and Bashful. They were soon close to what looked like highly colorful honeycombs. The gnomes squeezed the different colored honeycombs and different colored jam came out – there were pineapple, strawberry, raspberry, orange and blackberry flavors. Each of them tasted so authentic and delicious.

 “Why doesn’t the jam in our world taste like this?” exclaimed Navneeta.

“In your world, everything is made in factories. Here each and everything comes directly from nature’s bosom.” The children nodded.

 “What would you like to have next?

Some Samosas maybe?” said Ajay.

Doc looked at Dopey and he started walking. They followed him till he stopped next to some bushes. The children bent down and peered under the bushes. To their joy, they found Samosas hanging from the bushes. Each one plucked a Samosa.

If but we had some ketchup to go with the Samosas.

Right here,” said Happy pointing to a tree. The children looked at the dark red colored tree. But there was no sign of any ketchup anywhere. Then Doc walked up, pulled out a knife and made a cut in the tree bark. From the cut, thick orange sauce began to ooze out. They dipped the Samosas in the viscous liquid and stuffed it into their mouth. Whenever the flow stopped, Doc made another cut and they had Samosas with ketchup to the heart’s fill.

What next? Anyone wants tea or coffee?

The children nodded. It was quite a long walk. 


Four,” the children chorused. It had seems like two to three hours but from Sneezy’s clock it was apparently still only an hour back in their world. So they still had plenty of time.

They could hear loud mooing noises as they neared a building that looked like a dairy farm. They were greeted by an amazing sight on entering the building. There were cows of different colors – orange, various hues of brown, pink, green etc. 

What would you like to drink?” Happy asked.

Each of them gave their preferences. “There that one gives coffee, that one tea and this one hot chocolate,” said Happy pointing out to different cows.

The children were puzzled what to do with the cows. Happy moved to the pink colored cow, bent under her and gently tugged at the cow’s udders. Bubbly pink liquid collected in the cup he held. The children tasted it – it was delicious strawberry milk. Happy then took them to the tea, coffee and chocolate cows and showed them how the milking was done. Once they got the hang of it, it was quite easy and soon they were enjoying their drinks.

They were suddenly interrupted by a fit of sneezes. It was Sneezy again. Fourteen sneezes came one after the other. The children looked at each other. It was time to return.
This post is an entry for a contest sponsored by Kissan. The picture in the post belongs to them as well.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces