Pishacha - Review

Horror is not a genre I normally favor. But when I heard an Indian author has attempted this genre, I was curious to pick up the book. And Maya’s New Husband did not disappoint me. Having seen the author’s display of writing skills in Maya’s New Husband, picking up his next offering ‘Pishacha’ was a no brainer. Pishacha in some ways has the horror much more toned down making the book accessible to a wider audience. While it too has its share of killings, the author does not delve deep into the minutiae in graphic detail. Also a ‘Pischacha’ does not feel as real to a reader as a flesh and blood mentally deranged man who could be living in our midst passing off as a normal colleague or neighbor.

The premise of the story as the title suggests is about an undead being returning from death to claim the love of his life from the days of his mortal existence. She is now reborn in modern times while he is a supernatural being who has to kill humans and feed on their flesh and blood to keep himself animated. The story takes us through the Pishacha’s journey to bridge this gap between life and death – a journey filled with blood and gore. Meanwhile we are introduced to the life of the lady in question – “Neetika”. We get to know of her boyfriend, her father and her friends. We also see the impact the Pishacha’s intervention has on her life and her attempts to understand and deal with the effects of the same. We also seem to have a seemingly unrelated arc of Nakul going on that ties in nearly towards the end.

The best thing about Neil’s works is the writing. The reader can cut through his writing smoothly like a knife through butter. The whole narrative flows smoothly without any bumps and potholes – the reader can finish the entire book in a single setting. The language level is just right – neither high flowing and flowery that has you rushing for a dictionary every second page nor completely watered down to cater to the tastes of the lowest common denominator. The descriptions are also pretty well done and gives the reader a holistic audio visual olfactory experience.

The other thing I like about Neil’s works is the novelty of the concepts in his book and how he draws from not so well known aspects of local folklore. Last time he took on the concept of aghoris. This time he takes on the concept of pishachas. He has also built a bit of mythos around what exactly is a pishacha as against the other paranormal beings. In this work, we encounter other beings such as rakshashas, dayans and kalinis as well.

People who watch Bollywood paranormal flicks may find the general direction of the plot quite familiar. Ancient love story in the time of kings. Love triangles. Tragic untimely deaths. Characters returning in present times as paranormal beings and reincarnates. Where Neil differentiates himself is in the quality of writing and a bit more fleshing out of the logic of paranormal occurrences. Of course as a hardcore science fiction and fantasy buff, I still find the paranormal world building logic not strong enough. But then this book is for the regular folks not the fantasy buffs. So from that angle it stands notches above Bollywood.

As far as characterization goes, this is again an area of Neil’s strength. He has managed to create multiple memorable characters, all of who remain in the reader’s mind even after completing the book. But one grouse would be that I did not relate to any of the characters of the book. So I was not overtly concerned about the fate of any of them. In fact, the sadistic part of my mind was hoping all characters would commit mass seppukku together towards the end. Of course the pishacha would have found it challenging being already dead. But then he was trying to become mortal again.

Overall a pretty engaging light read that I would recommend to most people. And I am eagerly waiting to see what Neil comes up with next after Aghoris and Pishachas.

Rain - Review

Around 12 years back, I read a book called Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham that made me rethink my priorities in life and see the whole idea of the meaning of life from a new perspective. It is one of those rare books that I can claim influenced me deeply. Somehow reading Rain by Sriram Subramanium reminded me of that book. Of course the protagonist's character and circumstances that lead him on a unusual journey in the physical work are quite different in the two books. However both the journeys in the real world, lead to bigger journeys in the spiritual world for the respective protagonists. Here again there is a deviation in the final destination of the two. But parallels do exist.

Let me start with the things I liked most about the book and move on to things that in my opinion could have been better. The character of Jai Dubey seemed very real and someone I could relate to. The clash between ideals and monetary requirements for maintaining prestige in family circles, the disgust with certain ways of the world while being forced to play along, temptations and human failings are all things every person goes through at some point in his or her life. All these were brought out really well. The secondary characters -his wife Sarika, his in laws, his friends, his coworkers, the street boy Raju and his mother, his clients, local politicians - every one of them was really well etched and one can remember them distinctly after finishing the story. An unique primary character and distinct secondary characters are definitively one of the strongest points of the book.

I found the language to be quite good and the narration flowed smoothly. While remaining simple, the language was still elegant with absolutely no crassness. The pacing was perfect and the book can easily be finished in a single setting. The author manages to maintain the interest throughout, leading the reader effortlessly from one event to the other. The use of right amount of Indian words at appropriate locations also manages to give the local flavor.

The plot is interesting. The protagonist is an architect who on one hand wants to opt out of the rat race and the demands of  society but at the same time wants to prove himself to his wife's family. The story starts off with the protagonist taking an ambitious and challenging project to earn money quickly to build a house for his wife. But there are challenges and early rains can play spoil sport to all his plans. Thus the title of the story. As the story progresses, we discover what role the rains play in the protagonist's life and the strange twists and turns it takes him through as well as the mental demons from his dark past and the role they play.

The book also has some philosophy in it, most of which I tended to agree with. However I felt the philosophy did not blend seamlessly with the story line. At places the philosophy seemed to stand apart as a digression from the story. I felt the same about some of the detailed descriptions as well. While the descriptions were really well done, recreating most of the story surroundings in the reader's mind, at places they seemed to distract from the plot.

Talking of the plot, I did feel there were a few loose ends. Quite a few of the minor elements in the story did not find closure. Probably the author intended it that way. But I generally like everything to be neatly tied up. The other thing I found was some of the decisions by the protagonist seemed abrupt. I am not sure though if it is a problem with the plotting or just the character of the protagonist to take impulsive decisions without much thought that I am not able to relate to, given my own temperament. Also some of the events in the story seemed a tad too cinematic to me - the ones that involved local politicians and policemen. It is of course possible that is how the real world works and I am not exposed to that side of the world.

I also felt the title did not do proper justice to the story. It somehow seems too drab and immensely forgettable. It does not intrigue the reader and grab the attention. Nor is it related to a deeper philosophical undercurrent running across the story.

Overall I would say it is definitely a book worth reading. Possibly a second reading as well. It managed to remain light and breezy while at the same time giving some food for thought. 

A Frog's Tale

We frogs are such pitiable creatures. Always living in fear. Fear of storks. Fear of snakes. Fear of humans. Living in ignorance. You must have heard of stories of frogs in the well. I used to be a frog in the well too. Once upon a time. Not anymore. Now I have roamed the length and breadth of the land and am much wiser. I at least hope so. After all I am no longer a frog in the well. So it surely must mean I have become wiser? No? If not what was the moral of the whole story? Anyways all that is a story for another day.

Today I was reminiscing the times I was still a frog in the well. Literally and figuratively both. We were a huge family of frogs. Things were going well till some of our fellow frogs started turning arrogant and elitist. These fellows had gone out of the well a bit and seen some world and come. So they started acting as if they were all knowing and the rest of us were idiots. With every passing day their behavior was becoming more and more intolerable. Most of us were just honest, hardworking frogs who went about our business. But these frogs would not just let us be. They wanted to poke their nose everywhere. They wanted to challenge every one of our customs and traditions. They did not miss a single opportunity to belittle us. We did not know what to do.

Then one day a group of frogs came to meet me.

“Something has to be done about these frogs. We can’t let them continue like this. They will destroy all our old ways and bring all of us to ruin.”

“We are already running short of food and they are talking of inviting toads and lizards to our well.”

“Indeed if there is drought in the land above, it is their bad luck. Probably a result of their sins in their last birth. We have been leading a virtuous life. That is why God has not taken away the water from our well. Should we now share it with those sinners?”

“The lizards and toads are highly despicable creatures. The lizards are poisonous and sneak about creepily. And the toads! Even their very mention gives me shudders. They are full of disgusting warts and they shoot out a disgusting green stuff if offended. They will make our lives a living hell.”

I patiently listened to all their complaints. Some of them were bigoted and too rigid in their ways – you know the proverbial frog in the well kinds we were talking about earlier. They just did not want anything to change and they blindly hated any animal that was not a frog. Maybe even frogs from distant lands or even frogs from other wells. Such people have always been there. And we have learnt to live with them. But there were others with genuine concerns as well.

“Some of our own children are starving. How can we share with lizards and toads?”

“We would at least feel good and noble if they treated us well. But these new age frogs call us all kind of nasty names. We are feeling so low. They make us feel like we are the filth of the earth.”

“And what is harm in following traditions? We don’t harm anyone. The traditions give us a sense of comfort. A sense of continuity with our past. A sense of stability. Why do these frogs want to come and disrupt all that? If they don’t believe let them not. We are not asking them to believe or follow. But can’t they just let us be?”

A good many of the frogs were raising concerns. So I decided something had to be done. These new frogs, when they were not berating and belittling us, told us lot of fascinating stories of the world above. Some of them were scary too. One of the stories was about a creature called “the snake”. One could sense a fear in their tone at the very mention of this “snake”. If there was anything that could keep these insolent rogues in place, it was this “snake”. Maybe I should go to the world outside and find one. The very idea of leaving the well scared my wits out of me. But I had to act for the good of my fellow frogs.

I broached the idea to my fellow frogs and they agreed enthusiastically.

“Yes. I think that will teach them a lesson.”

“If they fear this creature, then it must surely be good. Anything they like is sure to be despicable and anything they hate and fear is sure to be good.”

“Go on, my friend. Go and find this creature.”

So I set out on my journey. I had heard they frequented holes. So I went around every hole I could find shouting, “Brother Snake, are you in?” After lot of unsuccessful attempts I got a response at one of the holes.

“Who is this now disturbing my sleep? Go away.”

“I am a frog. I have come to invite you over to our well.”

“A frog? What the bloody hell! A frog actually comes looking for a snake! What has the world come to? ”

“Please listen me out, friend Snake. I know frogs are real scared of your kind. And that is precisely the reason I have come to you.”

I poured out my entire tale of woe. About those frogs returned from the world above and their newfangled ideas. Their constant belittling of our ways. Despite the initial rudeness, as I launched into the story, the snake listened keenly. He seemed to become more and more amiable and understanding with every passing moment.

“I understand your plight, friend frog. These kind of traitors exist in our kind too. The snakes – as we call them figuratively. Of course not us literal guys. The figurative guys are the trouble in every species. I would be glad to be service to you. Tell me what you want me to do.”

“Can you come to the well with me and give these fellows a fright? That will shake them up and bring them down to the earth.”

“Of course I would be glad to. But you know it is possible that after I scare them once and go away, they might revert back to how they were before.”

“You are right. What do we do?”

“I suggest I come and live in your well. I don’t eat insects, slugs and snails. So I won’t be a drain on your resources like those evil toads and lizards you mentioned. Just take me into your well and find me a nice hole. I will just settle there and live peacefully, now and then emerging out to give those adversaries of yours a good scare.”

“That would be wonderful, Mr. Snake. I never thought you would do so much for us.”

“I am always there to help the little creatures. Come, let us go!”

The methods adopted by the snake were rather draconian but the results were good. I had just wanted him to frighten those fellows. But Mr. Snake just gobbled away a couple of them. When I made known my concern, the snake reassured me. “Don’t worry. Actions speak louder than words. I had to make an example of a couple of them to strike fear into the hearts of the rest. Don’t you see a marked improvement in their behavior?”

He was right. There was no more any spring in their leaps – that arrogance, that dominance. They had mellowed down greatly and some even cowered in fear. I guess loss of one or two of them was not such a bad thing in the interest of the greater cause.

But the thing was Mr. Snake kept gobbling away at them. I again remonstrated. But he again mollified me. “You know what my friend – the key is to just not let up on them. You need to keep the pressure on. The minute you turn lenient, they will once again show their true colors. Just listen to me. I know what I am doing.”

Somehow it did not feel right. So I called my fellow frogs for a meeting. Some of the more hawkish ones were still buoyant. “Mr. Snake is right. Let him clean out all the vermin.”

But most were tentative. “But is there something we can do?”

I said, “We are still so many in number. We could get together and throw out the snake. But it doesn’t feel right to do that to someone who is doing us a favor.”

So we decided to let things be and continued on. Then one day, all our foes were wiped out and to our shock and horror the snake gobbled one of our numbers. Can you imagine? He gobbled one of us. Us who were the ones who welcomed him in the first place!

I again went to speak to the snake. When I spoke up, he looked indignant. “Come on. I have done you such a great favor. Don’t you guys owe me a reward? See it this way. That fellow I gobbled was a weak, puny one who was a burden to you guys anyways. The lesser they are of these free riders, the more the rest of you all can live in prosperity. “

This didn’t sound right at all. But I was not going to argue with Mr. Snake. He no longer looked all that benevolent any more. I was feeling a bit scared.

As the days passed by, our members began to disappear down the snake’s maw with increasing regularity. So the few of us who were left called a meeting.

“There is nothing we can do now. We are too few in number now to have any hope against him. We are done for.”

I thought for a while and said, “The only way for us is to try and escape from this place.”

Some of the more rigid, traditional ones refused to budge. “This is our well. We have lived here from ancient times. We can’t leave it.”

“God made us to live in this well. If we leave, we shall incur the wrath of God.”

So we had no other way but to leave them behind. So I discussed with the rest and made my plans. I again approached the snake. “Mr. Snake, our numbers have dwindled so much that hardly any of us remain?”

“And you blame me for it?”

“No, no. Not at all, Mr. Snake. In fact we appreciate all that you have done for us and we owe you this and more. We were actually thinking more about you. What would happen if all of us were wiped out one day? Wouldn’t you have to go hungry?”

Mr. Snake got a worried look on his face. “I never thought of that. It is a valid concern. What do I do then?”

I continued on. “So we thought some of us will go out as scouts and welcome more frogs from outside. You know a road trip of sorts where we hand out brochures and spell out all the attractive features of our well and stuff.”

“Very good idea, my friend. I like the way you think. Please go ahead.”

Thus it came about that some of us managed to escape the clutches of this vile monster. I know what you are all thinking. It was all my fault. If I had not invited the snake in, none of this would have come to pass. I agree. But see it from my side. I was just a frog in the well. How could I have known of the dangers the creatures like these snakes posed. I mean we could have listened to those smart frogs who had been to the outside world and all. But who can put up with constant humiliation! Couldn’t they have told us things in a more soft polite way? Did they have to rub it in all the time? I know some of us were rigid and totally closed of mind. But they were the ones who remained in the well to die. As for the rest of us we might have listened and even eventually turned around to their view point  if but they had been more sympathetic of us and our ways instead of being so high handed and treading over our toes all the time. They were so full of themselves that we hardly ever even  heard their words. All we could hear was the arrogance and a general contempt towards us. How could we have just let that pass? We were not saints. We were not even intellectuals. We were just frogs. Frogs in the well.

Anyways what has happened has happened. We have all learnt our lessons. The hard way.

Solomon Kane and the Medusa Curse

“This upstart thinks he is the new God of love. And it almost seems as if he is. The girls are all so crazy over him.”

“Calm down, son! And tell your mother everything right from the beginning.”

Adonis poured out his entire tale of woe to his mother Aphrodite. Solomon was a theater artist who had made his debut with the iconic play “I made love.” From thereon he had gone on to do more plays - “Are you my brother’s keeper?”, “Stone Blossoms” and “The stud”. With every passing play his popularity had been growing by leaps and bounds. All the girls were totally charmed with his melting puppy eyes and were laughing themselves silly over his feeble jokes and childish pranks. He was becoming the new icon of love and the God of love feared being displaced from his position.

“This is nothing new for us, my dear. Many of these earthly beings forget themselves and try to raise themselves to the levels of Gods and Goddesses. We have shown every one of them their place as we will this new lover boy.”

“I want to make him pay dearly for his audacity, mother.”

“Do you remember Medusa, dear?”

A smile lit up on Adonis’ face.

                                                                    * * * * * * *

“I am home, dear.”

A comely lass came rushing towards him and flung herself into his arms. After passing his hands over various regions of her anatomy, he loosened his grip and stepped aside to pull out his sweaty shirt. The anticipation in the girl’s eyes to feast themselves upon his ripping muscles and well-toned abdomen was unmistakable.

But the moment his naked skin came into view, the admiration and anticipation turned into horror. Like in a trance she walked towards him, pulled out the belt from around his waist and began to whip herself with it.

“Please stop, dear. Please stop!”

But she went on whipping herself and red welts began to appear all over her exposed skin. He snatched the belt from her.

“What are you doing?”

The front door was open and there stood one of his theater colleagues Roy of the Obers.

“Is this how you abuse one of our fellow colleagues, Solomon? I never thought this of you.”

“No. I didn’t….”

Her trance broken, she ran into the newcomer’s arms and he led her away. The whole incident had scared her so much that she began to avoid Solomon. Whenever he tried to approach her or Roy to explain, they raised the alarm. The story of him being caught mistreating his lover had spread all over town and people were turning against him.

One of the things he liked to do when he was upset was to go for a ride in the woods. That had such a soothing effect on him. He decided to take a ride to forget all the worries over his lover’s puzzling behavior.

The woods were lovely, dark and deep. But it was summer and the sun too beat on relentlessly, its rays cutting their way relentlessly through the canopy of trees. He was sweating profusely and his shirt had become wet and sticking close to his body. He decided to pull out his shirt to make himself more comfortable.

The moment he pulled out his shirt, a couple of deer that were strolling leisurely in the vicinity, stopped in their tracks as if turned to stone. Then right in front of his eyes, they impaled themselves on their antlers and fell dead. Before he could recover from the shock of what he had seen, he was surrounded by the king’s guards.

Everyone refused to believe his story. He was accused for hunting in the king’s forests and was thrown in prison like a common criminal. His luck was going from bad to worse. But all was not lost. The king happened to be a patron of theater and arts. So in view of Solomon’s exemplary services towards the cause of development of arts in the kingdom, he decided to issue a royal pardon.

Though he was a free man, his popularity had now dipped to its nadir. If we walked on the streets, people just shrank away like cockroaches into their holes when a dark room was lit. His fellow actors avoided him like plague. No playwrights came up to him new play offers.

He too began to confine himself to his quarters, spending his time brooding over his fate. Why had this happened to him? To one such as him with heart of the purest gold! He decided to lie low and avoid coming in public view. Maybe with time everything would blow over and he would regain his place in the people's hearts. After all they were human as was he. And short public memory was the essence of being human.

The next few days passed by uneventfully. Then one day he was overcome by a desire to go on a ride around the city. He decided to do the tour in the night when the streets would be empty. That way he wouldn’t have to face the hostile crowds.

As he rode through the streets old memories flooded his mind. The days when his chariot passed through the busy streets and how everyone would throng around it to catch a glimpse of him. He would then take off his shirt and wave to them and the girls would go into hysterical shrieking. Oh  for those days! If but just one more time he could experience such a moment. Still lost in those dreams, he had pulled of his shirt and waving to the empty streets.

Before he knew what was happening, two men in ragged clothes emerged out of nowhere and fell in front of the chariot’s wheels.

“Stop! Stop!” he yelled. But it was too late. The heavy wooden wheels had rolled over the two of them and instantly relieved them of their earthly miseries. Now he would be blamed for this too. And this time it was murder. What was he to do? The faulty was in his stars.

                                                                           * * * * * *

“That was a master stroke, my dear son. You have made the Gods proud. Even Athena could not have thought of something so diabolical.”

Adonis had a contented smile like a cat that had had its fill of cream.

“I got the idea from your mention of Medusa, mother. I just improvised upon it."

Kissing Circles - Review

For long I have stopped taking books for reviews. But now and then I take up one if someone I am well acquainted with has written a book and wants me to review it for them. So here comes my review of the book “Kissing Circles.” by Nitin Tewari. I picked up the Kindle copy . So I can’t comment on the cover design, paper texture and other production values. Therefore I will straight away get on to the story.

My overall impression about this book I would say was quite positive. I found this book much better than many of the popular Indian best sellers published by the big publishing houses while catering to more or less the same audience. Why I found it so, we will get there presently and also have a look at some of the things that could have greatly improved the book.

The overall story line was quite sound. The theme of two North Indian boys going to Kerala to join as trainees at an IT company and through their association with a local colleague, getting involved in a high Adrenalin drama pertaining to a local tradition is quite an interesting theme. The author has done a good job taking us through the characters of the two North Indian boys, their Keralite colleague and the protagonist of the local drama – the captain of one of the boat teams for the annual race. He displays very good understanding of the characters of his protagonists and brings out their desires, aspirations and thoughts very well. The drama builds up nicely from around a third of the book and manages to keep the reader hooked.

The other strong element of the book is the research the author has done on the local culture and traditions. We get to learn the history of the local people, their traditions, the origins and the social milieu. So if nothing, somebody who has read this book would have learnt something useful about Kerala. 

The language in the book is decent but quite inconsistent. At some places, it looks simple and in others it looks more refined. I am not sure if this has to do with the author’s innovative approach of having each chapter told from a  different point of view - first person narrative of the main characters, omniscient third person point of view, third person object on the wall narrative and also actual narratives by Gods and odd objects. Talking of this narrative approach itself, while I appreciate the author’s attempt to innovate, this did not work out so strongly. There was no obvious reason why this form of narrative had to be chosen from a storytelling perspective except for the sake of sheer novelty. And the writing by itself did not stand out so differently between the various narratives for the reader to be able to recognize immediately who is narrating without seeing the chapter title.

The book title "Kissing Circles" was something I really liked. It is really intriguing and has the reader thinking.The explanation for this that comes around mid way through the book and the way author links it at a physical and metaphorical level was interesting. I would have probably liked to see more of the kissing circle idea thread through the story.

The starting was a bit slow and many readers may be tempted to put off the book at this stage itself. While reading about the life of trainee engineers in a software company brought back some old memories for me, I did not find these chapters particularly interesting. Nor was I too keen to learn about the competitive landscape in the software industry and tit bits about the software industry  keep popping up regularly throughout the story. If the author had started in the middle with the boat races coming in the first chapter itself, things might have been much more interesting.

The book has no strong female characters and might feel a bit misogynistic in the overall tone, especially in the sections narrated by the two north Indian boys. But then that is exactly how the mindset of young Indian engineering graduates tends to be. I can vouch for that having been through that phase. So it can be justified as a realistic portrayal of the characters he has made the protagonists of his story.

In terms of plot and narrative, I feel he could have done a much better job in the sequencing of events, blending exposition with the story line, deciding between realism and fantasy, choosing which events to highlight and which to push to the background etc. A strong developmental editor would have really helped in all these elements and added much value.

Overall a light breezy read that I would recommend to most people. If someone doesn't find the initial few pages interesting, I would suggest to skim through and hang on till at least till the boat races make their appearance.

The book can be purchased here on Amazon.

An Elf's Lament

The dark one is rising. We stand by and watch helplessly. We alone cannot stand against him. He is too powerful for us. We need the other races to stand with us when we make the final stand against him. Especially the dwarves! If the dwarves stand with us, we have a good chance of preventing his ascent. Together we can banish him from the earth. But the filthy dwarves just don’t understand. Why do they not see the greater cause? Why do they still continue to hold those petty grudges? We have treated them with disdain in the past and have caused lot of affront to their race. But there was no real malice on our part. It was just the natural order of things. As higher races, we have greater understanding of the world, a greater empathy towards all life. The behavior of creatures driven by their baser instincts sometimes infuriates us. In our frustration, we might have said or done things that they may have perceived as insults to them. But do these kind of minor irritants matter when we are faced with such grave danger?

Many of our elves also do not understand the need to bring around the dwarves. They still continue to rile against the dwarves and spew venom against them day in an day out. Don’t they understand we need the dwarves if we are to have a real fighting chance against the dark one? I absolutely agree with them that dwarves are a filthy, violent race with a natural disposition towards evil. But still shouldn’t we at least make an attempt to bring them over? I have tried talking to them and telling them to tone down their rhetoric. They say the dwarves just do not care about the future of the world. That they are unconcerned about what evil the dark one will wreak upon this earth. That we need to consider them as minions of the dark one and go for all-out war against them. Exterminate the vermin before they go and join their master. I fully understand their sentiments. However one must see things from the perspective of the low life as well. It is not true that the dwarves do not care about anything at all. They do care. They care about their own pitiful pelts. They care about their own pathetic clans and families, their base craft and their fragile egos. The key to winning them over is to listen to them and understand them. Even a cur desires to be understood. He doesn’t just come over and fawn at your feet on his own accord. One needs to think from his perspective, his need for food and his need for love. Once you understand and throw him some crumbs, maybe even a bone and give a few pats, he is yours.

I am doing my bit to reach out to the dwarves. I have organized banquets and sent invitations to the world below asking the dwarves to come and join us. I have made it clear to them that my door is open to even the basest and filthiest of them. Still hardly any of them ever turn up. I wonder why. Is the hatred against elves so deep rooted in them? They always say we don’t respect them. We don’t treat them as equals. But when I try to reach out to them, when I attempt to humor them, they just don’t seem to respond. I even had my last messenger explicitly tell them that I would even welcome evil servants of the dark. Still not one turned up. How much more can one do?

As the days pass by, I am losing hope. The signs are becoming more ominous. We stand alone watching helplessly as the dark one looms dangerously across the horizon. The more belligerent of our kind are growing louder by the day. And rightly so given the behavior of those vile dwarves. But I am still trying to convince them to be more reconciliatory. That we need the dwarves on our side. On my part, I continue to reach out to the dwarves and keep sending out messages, even though they seem to be falling on deaf ears. I don’t know what the fate awaits the world. But till my breath holds, I shall do my part.

The Tournament

I hate this place. I totally hate this place! What a majestic being I was supposed to be and what these humans have reduced me to! We were supposed to be the king of the skies and our very appearance used to strike fear in the hearts of these puny humans. I wouldn’t know though. I have only heard the old ridgeback in the next stall talk about those times.  This stall is all I remember from the day I was born. Except of course the tournament.

Ah! The tournament! That was one of those occasions I really felt like myself. There would be an entire field for me to move around. And there would be a young human who would play with me. Even in my pathetic state, I can easily kill the human with a single swipe of my claws if I choose to. But we dragons traditionally liked to play with our food. Not that the human would be our food though. I have been advised not to get too adventurous in the games. The old Ridgeback has told me scary tales of adventurous dragons being put down for winning the tournament. Apparently it is rigged in such a way that the human always wins. If a human wins, he is celebrated. If a dragon wins, he is a put to death.   It is good exercise though as long as we don’t kill or seriously maim the human- the nearest I shall ever get to our true legacy. Anyways thinking about legacy does not help. For it is lost to us for good. From glorious hunters we were reduced to game animals – these humans hunted us mercilessly. Initially that was fine – we enjoyed the game too. More often than not it was the dragon hunter who wound up dead. Till their weapons got more powerful.

But that was not the end. From being hunted, we were tamed and made into steeds to fly the humans around the sky. But the worst was yet to come. Now the humans have better means to fly. So they have no use for us anymore. Well, not exactly. We still have some use for them. Or rather our blood does. Apparently it has magical properties. That is the sole reason they still keep us alive. Like plants. Bloody plants. Blood producing plants. That is what we are for them. That is why they don’t even give us names these days. Whoever had heard of a plant or a machine having names?

My reverie was disturbed by humans shouting outside. “We fight for the right of magical beasts to a dignified life!”

Yes! I liked the sound of it. Dignified life! For starters they could let me hunt my own food instead of feeding me bucket loads of dead fowl. The dead chickens are so bland and tasteless. Like my life. 
“This whole thing is so disgusting.  Magical people for magical animals won’t stand for it.”

Yeah! That’s the spirit. Come, my dear human. Come and get me released. I have had enough of this prison life. There is hardly room even to flap my wings. It is a wonder they have not just withered away. Apparently we dragons were famous for our fire. And I grew up without even knowing what fire was. They maintain our stalls so cold that we can hardly produce any fire. But the tournament is different. We are out in the open and we are free to give vent to all the fire that has been burning within our belly for years. I wish the tournament rules allowed us to kill the human though. That would have been fun. Come on! It is fair game. The humans are allowed to kill us. So why not the other way round?

“We find this whole idea repulsive. A magical beast is not a play thing to be used for sport. We will not allow the tournament to take place. Down with the tournament!”

What! No tournament? Is that what these humans are protesting against? And not a word against the farms? Indeed! We are not a plaything to be used for sport; we are blood producing machines. I should have known better. The tournament is a trivial thing for them. Probably the ones protesting don't even like any form of sports. But blood for their magic is a different thing, eh? When it comes to that, who care about the dignity of animals and such stuff? As they say blood is thicker than water. What else can you expect from these humans? My little pleasure also denied. I really wish I could kill some humans.  

A Tale of few Cities

"You are a complete wastrel of a husband. You just go to the counting house from morning to evening and then come back and lie around doing nothing.”

Why does she keep nagging me all the time? If I were a real wastrel I would be at home entire day. But I knew better than to tell her that. Sometime silence is best.

“Now see Hadhod next door. How much he does for his family! Last month he got his wife a diamond necklace. Last week he got her a brand new satin gown stitched specially for her by the town’s most famous seamstress. And even yesterday he got her earrings studded with exotic stones the likes of which I have never seen.”

Jewels, golds, diamonds! It is always about these useless metal and stone trinkets, isn’t it? All these things require money. Does she think money grows on trees? Always Hathod this, Hathod that. That fellow Hathod is actually the real wastrel. He does not even go to work. He just sits around home all day claiming to be waiting for the muse whatever that is. Then he writes some incomprehensible verses and takes them to the merchants, the courtiers and even to the king. And they are all praises and shower him with wealth. I doubt even if those idiots even understand half the things he writes.

I went to the bed, lay down and pretended to sleep. I usually find that the most effective means to shut her up. After all talking to a sleeping man is like talking to oneself, isn’t it? And which sane woman would want to do that? Not that I would accusing her of being sane.

“I know you are not sleeping. You just don’t want to listen to me. Now take Pelendur two houses away.”

Now why would I take him? I am not into men. Though now I wish I had been. Then I would never have married. That would have saved me all this trouble. Day in and day out I have to listen to the same nagging.

“Did you know he took his wife on a vacation by the sea last month? And do you know the number of servants they keep at home?”

Now why would I be interested in all these details? I already have enough of them to handle at the counting house - the number of staff, the daily income, the taxes due etc. Why will I unnecessarily keep track of these details of our neighbors as well?

“I am talking to you. Are you listening?”

It felt like a minor tremor as she held me by robe and shook me.

“What! What! What happened? Anyone trying to break into our house? Tell me fast.” I valiantly tried to create an appearance of waking up from sleep.

“Stop your cheap drama. I know you too well.”

I said nothing. She continued on.

“Are all my words just falling on deaf ears? Why don’t you do something to earn more?”

“Ok. I heard the guards at the palace say that they are short of men for the night watch. Let me ask them about it.”

The night watchman job would take away some of my sleep. But it was not like I was getting much of it at home either. The dark roads would any day be better than all this nagging.

“Why, you idiot? Does your mind always think only of these kind of lowly jobs? Aren’t you supposed to be educated? At least that’s what my father thought when he got me married to you.”

I mumbled something incoherently.

She continued on. “Every Wednesday the king listens to some works from the general public. You also go and present something there like Hathod and Pelendur”

Not them again!

These sessions by the king were open to public also. So I decided to go and check out what is it that these good neighbors of mine were presenting.

The first week it was Hathod.

“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Armenelos is feminine. So is Haysend. Mithlond is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Hurin. Pelargir, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”

Everyone broke into applause. So this was it. One had to say something about different cities. I was not too sure what he was trying to say though. I decide to watch a few more weeks.

One of the weeks, I got to see Pelendur as well.

“Your majesty I have done detailed survey of all our cities. Armenelos has the highest literacy index while Pelargir scores high on culture index. The crime to population ratio is highest in Mithlond.”

He went on to reel out a large number of indexes and ratios with some fancy prefixes. Everyone watched spell bound. Everyone appreciated his scientific spirit and the rigor of his research. I wondered if anyone really understood these indexes and ratios and what they implied.

But I was right. One had to say something about cities  to get rewarded. Even I could do that. Maybe finally I would be able to do something to save me weeks if not months of nagging. I spoke with lot of people about the various cities and reflected over my own experiences in the cities and things I had heard in the past. Finally I was ready. Now all I had to do was request for a slot for one of the weeks.

“Armenelos and Pelargir are nice cities with lot of libraries, museums and theaters. They are quite safe for the tourist from other parts. Mithlond and Nindamos are however known to be dangerous for the tourist and one has to be cautious.”

I was never allowed to complete.

Somebody from the audience shouted, “Look at the temerity of that fellow. He calls all people of Mithond as criminals.”

“Such a bigot. Next he will be saying people of Armenelos and Pelargir belong to superior race and us folks from Mithlond and Nindamos are vermin.”

“Does he think no crime happens in Armenelos and Pelargir? Instead of supporting the law enforcement, he is trying to put the blame on the cities.”

“Lynch him! Lynch that scoundrel!”

Sticks, stones and all manner of rubble began to fly my way. I might not have survived if the king had not ordered his soldiers to grab me and have me thrown outside the city. Later in the evening I trudged home, my clothes in complete tatters.

I do not know what went wrong. I had just faithfully reported all that I heard. Hathod and Pelendur also spoke about the differences between the different cities. I also did the same.  But why did I get such a response? My luck I guess! One consolation from the whole incident though was that my wife did not nag me that day. She did have a softer side to her after all. At least I had achieved what I had really set out to.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces