Looking forward and back - 31 Dec 2012

I have never understood the fuss about special days such as anniversaries, birthday, new year etc. After all they are just like any other day. But then come to think of it, they probably do serve some purpose. They are probably time markers where you stand like the two headed Roman God Janus (incidentally after who the month January is also named) looking to your past and the future. A time to reflect on the years gone past and the years to come!

I have wanted to do this kind of a yearend post for my blog. But have somehow missed out every year so far. I would not be honest if I said due to lack of time. In my opinion, there is nothing called lack of time. It is just lack of will or different priorities. This year however I decided to put up a post on how this year went by as a writer. Please note I have said writer and not blogger. Early this year, somebody had posted a question (at a blogger’s forum) on whether you are a writer who blogs or a blogger who writes. This made me think- though I am not sure if the distinction really exists. In my opinion, a writer is more an artist who tries to create works of art and uses blog as a medium to bring it out to the public for the lack of a better medium. A blogger on the other hand is someone who seeks more to stand up and be counted among a circle wider than his friends and family circle.

These two are by no means the only classification of bloggers. We have techies who blog, travelers who blog, artists who blog, photographers who blog, cooks who blog, visual content creators who blog etc. But the point is sometimes people get lost in the maze called blog-o-sphere and forget their core identity. Time markers like New Year are a good time to sit back and reflect to see if one can make out some method in this madness. That is what I seek to do in this post.

This year has indeed been momentous as a writer like last year. It started off with a frenzy of contests. Contests and prompts are what that has kept me going continuously for the past 22 months without a single month’s break. Before that my blogging used to happen in spurts with 5-6 months of blogging followed by 3-4 months of silence and then again another 5-6 months of blogging. Contests and prompts also help open up a new vista of topics to write on for a newbie blogger who has exhausted all his or her ammunition of memorable experiences and strong opinions in the first few posts. I must definitely acknowledge the role of contests in my development as a writer. Also the few contests I won kind of helped reaffirm my faith in my writing skills.

Having said that, I am reminded one of the sayings of Swami Vivekananda. “It is good to be born in a church, but it is bad to die there. It is good to be born a child, but bad to remain a child. Churches, ceremonies, symbols are good for children; but when the child is grown up, he must burst, either the church or himself. The end of all religion is the realization of God” In a way, I feel the same about contests and prompts from a writer’s perspective. It is good for a writer to start with contests and prompts, but bad to remain bound by them for eternity. So I think time has come for me to bid adieu to contests and prompts. At this point in my evolution as a writer, I think they are more likely to strangle me and stunt my further development as a writer.

Having declared what I won’t do, let me now outline what I do plan to do. I have started this Hogwarts Origins series which I consider my practice novel. Other than that I hope to write a lot of nostalgia posts. That is something close to my heart. They are all those wonderful moments from my life that I do not want to take to my grave with me. I am also planning to do a series on the cities I have visited. I have started out with the most recent one: Kodaikanal. Travel blogging is something I have long wanted to take up, not so much for itself, but more to help me develop the skills to create realistic backdrops for my fiction. Hopefully it will also make me more observant during my trips which might in turn help me enjoy trips better.

The post seems to have fanned out much longer than I expected. So I need to do it two parts I guess. I have so much more to say and it would be such a pity to wind it up hastily. So continuing with the image of the two faced Janus I started this post with, let me do it in two parts, one in the last day of the year past and the second in the first day of the year to come.

Before I close, I have a request of folks who are reading this. There are some who opine that the ones who comment on posts are not true readers but just other bloggers who are trying to pull you over to their blog. Apparently there exist another set of silent readers lurking in the dark; quietly stalking your blog and they are the true readers. If any such readers exist, I tell you “speak now or forever hold your peace”. I know it is difficult to comment on all posts. Though you may have liked a post, there is not much you really have to say about it. And it does not feel right to say something just for the heck with the only purpose being to let the writer know you have read him. But then the writer also needs to know there are people out there reading and appreciating his work. So this kind of post is the chance to express your love and encourage me to keep writing.

I hope though none of you will say, “You write very well. Wish you a great year ahead. Now can you please check out my blog?” At least not for this post! That will just decimate my heart into zillions of microscopic pulsating particles! But if anyways back scratching was your intention, let me not pass any value judgment on you. Instead let me suggest something more mutually beneficial. Here is the link for promoting my story for Harper Collins.

Link to promote my Harper Collins Entry

You can promote it and leave a comment letting me know you have done the needful and the link to something you want me to read or promote or whatever in return. However please note: offer open only till stocks last. In other words only as long as the voting lines are open. As of now the date is January 23.

A trip to Kodaikanal

For long time I have wanted to try my hand at travelogues. But somehow whenever I got down to writing it, I did not find it all that interesting and gave up mid way. Usually two approaches present themselves when one gets down to writing a travelogue – factual or chronological, neither of which I found particularly appealing. A factual approach somehow feels like a text book while a chronological approach ends up capturing lot of mundane uninteresting details. So I thought I will attempt what I call a stream of thought approach, just drawing upon salient aspects from my memories as they emerge naturally from my mind. If this is successful, I may try more travelogues in this style. Another distinguishing feature is going to be the lack of photographs. Though I take a camera on my trips and click some random snaps, photography is clearly not my forte. So I would rather spare my readers my photographic marvels.

Ooty and Kodaikanal are the popular summer vacation haunts of any typical south Indian family. Whereas Ooty was lucky enough to register my foot print within a decade of my terrestrial existence, Kodaikanal had to wait three full decades and survive a threat of the world coming to an end without being graced by my august presence.

One of the popular attractions in both Ooty as well as Kodaikanal is boating in the lake. Actually, almost every water body in the country that calls itself a lake has these pedal boats which couples take for a romantic spin around the lake. Seeing all the people going around on those boats, it all seemed so cliched  so mundane; I just could not bring myself to step into one of them. It seemed a better idea to just leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the lake. Most of the perimeter was dotted with dirty little shops, vending homemade chocolates, local oils, woolen sweaters and a few knick knacks. But the lake is quite huge with the perimeter stretching over 4 – 5 Km. So we managed to discover some peaceful sections with clear blue water on one side and the green hills on the other only occasionally disturbed by the enthusiastic boater in the water or the cyclist on the land. Talking of cyclists, they have this weird bicycle called a tandem cycle which is like two cycles smashed together to be ridden by two cyclists pedaling in tandem. I could not for the life of me figure the point of these ugly contraptions. But seeing the number of couples riding them, I can only surmise that these things had some romantic angle to them.

The best aspect of the lakeside stroll was a little shop in a relatively calmer stretch that sold art works and tea. We could however afford only the tea. We satisfied ourselves by gazing at the art works while sipping the tea, pretending we were planning to buy one. Some of them were real good – a few carvings of animals and what looked like a carving of a wood goblin on a piece of wood. What we could afford however were some homemade chocolates and a couple of sweaters in one of the dirty little shops in the crowded stretch. Our joys on thus promoting local artisans were cut short, when the shop woman proudly told us that we need not worry about the quality as the local ‘artisans’ had a stringent quality check on the consignments from the woolen factories in Ludhiana.

Coaker’s walk and Bryant Park are other attractions in the vicinity of the lake. Coaker’s walk has a few good valley views. It also offers other attractions such as groundnuts and target practice, giving the place a kind of seaside feel. Bird watchers may also find this place interesting. However I hope mention of birds immediately after beach does not conjure a wrong image of the kind of birds I am talking about. Possibly the use of the technical term ‘ornithologist’ can help avoid confusion but that makes the whole thing sound so nerdy - which is one of the reasons I restrain myself from reeling off names of bird species I observed here. The only memorable thing about Byrant Park was a shooting that was going on for some low budget Tamil serial. There were these two sets of couples in marriage attire who were made to run towards each other again and again while a bored cameraman sitting on a large statue of a duck struggled to capture it right, though I am not sure what is so dandy about a man and woman running towards each other that it can even go wrong. But then who am I to judge these things? For all I know there might be droves of housewives in Tamil Nadu shedding tears of admiration over this great work of art.

Whereas it is easy to see animals in a zoo, spotting an animal in the wild is a really different type of experience. I have been to quite a few animal sanctuaries claiming to be the habitat of all kinds of exotic wild beats. But I have never got to see anything beyond deer and monkeys unless you count stray dogs as wild and exotic as well. So I had no big expectations when the hotel guys mentioned bison and foxes may be seen in the vicinity of the lake. Kodai Lake definitely did not look like the kind of lake where you could see anything except stray dogs in the surroundings. Then I found out there was another lake called Berijam Lake within the reserved forest, 21 Km from the city. You need forest department’s permission to enter this jungle but local tour operators have permits. On the trip to this lake I got to see a bison in the wild at real close quarters. That was indeed an amazing experience. The animal looked real majestic. That one sighting made the whole trip worthwhile.

There were a couple of other interesting sights on the trip to Berijam Lake as well all included in the price of Rs. 250 per head. One was a medicine forest that could be seen in the valley below. Apparently the trees give out a fragrance that can be hallucinogenic. Then there is this misty place called caps valley into which you can throw something light like a cap and the air from inside the valley throws it back to you. Also the entire hillside around the town was covered with creepers blooming with purple and violet bell shaped flowers and there were other smaller flowers of various hues. That and the various breathtaking valleys views were indeed good. But that was kind of expected and I guess it is out there for anyone to see in any written accounts or photos on the internet.

The Sky and the Earth - my entry to the GetPublished contest

The story is about college love. But the boy and the girl are not at the same college. They are miles away – the boy at a premium engineering college in Chennai and the girl at a medical college in Kerala. Still a most unlikely romance blooms between the two young hearts, separated by miles in a world where internet is yet to make an impact. It was probably the last decade when romance still expressed itself on paper by the scratch of a pen and was carried to its destination faithfully by the postman .If things had just worked out fine between them, there would have been no love story to tell. After all what is a romance with no resistance or a story with no conflict! A serious resistance the romance does face. The story focuses on this bone of contention between them and how they resolve it finally with the tale of romance itself more in the background makings its appearance through recollections by the protagonists. The title is a metaphor to represent the magnitude of the differences between them. It is based on the myth of the unrequited love between the sky and the earth.

Well, there are real things and then there are manufactured things. Real things are real because they are real. Manufactured things are the ones that need to prove that they are ‘real like’. Paradoxically a popular juice in the market brands itself as 100% real, when it evident to everyone that is anything but real. My story like all real things is real because it is based entirely on real life incidents. I have used my imagination however to construct appropriate scenes to bring out the story and the ending has been dramatized for greater impact.

Below are a couple of extracts from the story.

Reba: I did not get along too well with my hostel mates at that time. It was the first time I was away from my home and I was feeling very lonely. Even you were busy with your own college, Susan. There was no one to listen to my problems. I found in him a willing pair of ears. He would patiently read my long letters and offer me his counsel as well as try to keep my spirits up. I can’t imagine how I would have survived my first year at medical college without him.

Phani: I can’t imagine how I can live without her. I have spent most part of the last one year entirely in her thoughts. You know how much effort I used to put in writing every one of those letters to her. If I had put that much efforts into my studies, I would have easily been the branch topper rather than wallowing close to the bottom of the class. Sure this is going to hurt a lot and in all probability the scars in my mind will remain for life.

This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal and HarperCollins India.

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 8: Sins of the Fathers

Darkness had engulfed the night. Without the moon, there was little the twinkling stars could do to dispel the darkness. Now and then the sounds of the crickets chirping merrily were interrupted by whooshing noise as the wind shook the trees or the tap of the night watchman’s stick as he patrolled the street. A keener ear would make out the sound of wolves howling in the distant forests. Similarly a keener eye would have made out the silhouette of a tall man of sturdy build pacing restlessly across the garden.

In spite of the restlessness, the gait seemed to have a majestic feel to it. However one could sense certain unsteadiness in the steps, possibly as a result of age. He suddenly he stopped in his tracks, drew out his sword and turned around in a quick motion. In front of him stood an older man in a strange gown and pointed hat. The stars seemed to illuminate his long snow white beard.

Well, Arthur. Age does not seem to have mellowed down your reflexes. You definitely need them to survive in the current times, though.

Here you are, finally, Merlin! Never the one bound by time or by rules, eh? The mighty magician always lives in his own time and by his own rules.

Don’t rebuke me so, my king. Give an old man some slack.

The rumors I have been hearing about your dalliances do not seem to suggest age had done anything to the vitality of our royal wizard.

I don’t know who has been besmirching my name to you, his highness. But let us keep that for another time. I suppose you have not summoned me to this lonely place at this unearthly hour to discuss this topic.

You surmise rightly, Merlin. I indeed have graver matters to confer with you on. Serious mischief is afoot in our kingdom and I fear if we let things fester further, we will soon lose everything we have strived to build over the years.

I understand your concerns, my king. I am also partly responsible for letting such things come to pass. I should have checked my vices in my youth. While age has withered away my body and my magic, my desire has only grown stronger and wilder like the weeds in an unattended garden. Now they have taken a vice like grip over me and have led me to neglect my duties. I stand guilty before you, Arthur.

Don’t be unfair to yourself, Merlin. I share the blame too. My indulgence as a father has blinded me of my duties to my kingdom. But I have not stirred you from your bed at this late hour of the night to apportion blame. The reason I called you is to reprise each other of the delicate manner in which things are poised in the kingdom at this moment and decide how we can remedy things.

You speak words of wisdom, Arthur. It is indeed time for us to act like we have so many times in the past to mitigate the threats to the kingdom. Age has now left its mark on both of us. But we need to summon all our remaining strength to tide through this situation as well.

Morgana is growing bolder by the day. In the last month itself, I have survived three attempts on my life. In spite of my age, I can hold my own in a pitched face to face battle even today. But attacks on my back are a different proposition. If this continues, sooner or later a dagger is definitely going to find my back. I have lived my life and don’t fear death. But she will definitely weave her net of intrigue and will not rest till her son Mordred is on the royal throne.

Things are indeed spinning out of control, my king. However it is now too late for a direct approach, Arthur. If you have Mordred or Morgana arrested, it will lead to civil war. Most of the wizards, few of the knights and a good number of common people are also on their side. The wizards were always fearful and suspicious of the king and the church since the great purge of Uther. You and I managed to allay their fears and win their support. But over the years, I have grown careless. Morgana has been working on their fears."

Also, I am sorry to tell you this, my king. But the people’s confidence in you has continuously eroded over the years. Everyone has been hearing rumors about illicit liaisons between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere and most have begun to believe it. But your lack of any action against them over so many years is showing you in poor light. People are saying, how can a man who can’t keep his own wife in check be expected to defend a country? Some say you fear the might of Lancelot. Further your lack of any action against Morgana and Mordred has further emboldened your adversaries.

Arthur’s shoulders drooped and his head hung in shame. His voice had become weak and weary.

I know it all, my friend. It has all been my fault. How difficult it is to build something! But it takes one mistake, a moment of weakness to wreck it all! That one moment of passion years back sowed the seed of the evil that faces us today. I wish I had resisted the temptation to lie with her that stormy night. The guilt has haunted me for years since.

The guilt of my own adultery has prevented me from acting against Guinevere and Lancelot. The same guilt and a father’s love have shielded Mordred and his mother all these years. I have deluded myself and tried not to see what a monster he has been growing into. But now I must act decisively.

As must I, my king. I have given myself to my passion for too long. But not anymore! Passion and fatherly love has been the undoing of both of us. But now we need to make amends.

He was interrupted by a loud hooting sound as an own flitted by.

I am too old now and my magic has grown weak. I am no match for the powerful magic of Mordred. Mordred has the blood of the high king and the elder race running through his veins, giving him the best of both the humans as well as the elder race. That makes him extremely powerful. I know only one who can stand up to his power: my son, Salazar!

Salazar? But you always considered him of no consequence. You mocked all his claims of magic prowess. You even refused to acknowledge him as your son. It was you who had me banish him from the kingdom for his insolence!

Father’s love works in strange ways, my king. I knew the dangers he faced if he took on the mantle destiny had woven for him. I foolishly thought I could shield him from his responsibilities and protect him. Scorning him was the only way to get him out of harm’s way and keep the eyes of the enemies off him. In spite of all my efforts, he has not escaped Morgana’s attention. My spies tell me she had sent assassins after him in Egypt.

But it is not going to be easy. He must hate me so much for what I have done to him. I cannot summon him just like that. He has his own will and a strong one at that. I need to think of a way to convince him. Before that I must convince myself that we really stand a chance and I am not sacrificing a son at the altar of a lost cause.

How age has beset with us with fears and doubts, my friend. Haven’t we so many times in the past fought against greater odds and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? Aren't we still the same Arthur and Merlin? We never know how things will turn out. But we can’t just sit idly and watch everything we have lived for destroyed in front of our eyes. We have to wrest the initiative and try to win one last battle before we go down in one magnificent blaze.

Arthur stood erect with his head held high and his body quivered with emotion as he spoke.

That’s like my old Arthur. Your spirit brings me back fond memories of our days of adventure. How wonderful indeed were those days! I wish we could relive those days one last time. Yes, we shall do our best. If anything, history will definitely not find us wanting in action.

Arthur’s gait had lost all its unsteadiness and a sense of purpose could be seen in his sure steps as he laid out his plan.

Before I take on Mordred openly, I need to win back the faith of my people. First thing I am going to do in the morning is to bring Lancelot and Guinevere to trial. Their brazen adultery shall not go unpunished any longer. I have suffered a lot for my sins. They should be made to pay for their sins as well. The people should know the kingdom still has a rule of law and a king powerful enough to enforce it, even against his queen and his most powerful knight!

He paused to let Merlin take in what he had just said and then continued.

You might not like what I am going to propose next. But at this hour of dire need, we need help from every quarter. And the church has always been the staunchest supporter of the king. At this juncture, when the people’s confidence in the king is dipping, only the church can help in restoring public confidence. I know this will antagonize the wizards further. But they have forced my hand by throwing in their lot with Mordred. and I have no other option but to ally with the church. The church will also help limit the fallout of action against Lancelot. I cannot fight against the wizard, the church and the knights loyal to Lancelot at the same time. So I need the church absolutely behind me.”

I understand your precarious situation, my king. But I request you to give me one last chance. There are still some wizards who hold me in esteem. I will try talking to them. If I can convince them as well as bring Salazar back, maybe we may not have all the wizards against us. That way we can still maintain the balance between magic and religion. You know what tragedies were wrought upon this country by your father’s great purge. Shouldn't we try to avoid it if we can?

Time is something we sorely lack and you ask me for time! But we have been through so much together and you have my unwavering trust. So I cannot deny you. And I even I hate needless bloodshed and would like to avoid it if I can. A week is all I can give you while I deal with Lancelot. Make best use of the time and do what you can. After a week, if you have not had much success, I will pay a visit to Cardinal Erasatz and the second great purge shall begin!

Arthur’s voice had by now taken a tone of menace. Then his voice softened a bit.

I need you to do one more thing for me, Merlin. You need to use all you remaining magic and protect little Geraint at all costs. If something were to happen to me, he is the only one who stands between Mordred and the throne."

I shall protect your grandson with my life, my king. And have faith in me. A week is a lot of time and you will find age has not completely stolen my talent to work miracles.

The city clock stuck five times. A silver lining could be seen through the dark clouds as the sun tried to make its way through the dawn sky. Merlin slunk away into the darkness. King Arthur retired to his chambers to use the remaining hours before the start of another hectic to catch a few quick hours of sleep.

Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter  6 Chapter 7 Chapter 9

Picture Credit : http://www.incredipedia.info/2009/01/legend-of-king-arthur.html

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 7: A House Elf's Tale

Turin, bring me my shoes”, boomed Sir Sagramore, a stout man in his late forties. He towered six feet above the ground. His flaming red hair and the thick red moustache on the large red face gave him a menacing look. His narrow green eyes fell on the table. His favorite silver plate was on it. Placed on it neatly were his shoes! What the hell! The stupid elf!

What is the meaning of this, Turin?” he yelled

A thin little creature, around four feet in height with aquiline features and long pointed ears made its appearance as if out of thin air. It was fair as snow and would have been handsome if its face was not marred by the numerous scars. A pillow cover had been adapted into a garment for him. “Master, yesterday night you said asked to serve whatever you asked for neatly in a plate.

Now he remembered. The previous night he had asked the elf to get him some dessert. The elf had brought the cake in his dirty hands and dumped it into his plate. He had given the elf a sound hiding and had given a standing order that all food items were to be brought neatly in a plate. The elf had now automatically extended the order to include the shoe as well. Sir Sagramore pulled out his whip. It was once again time for some discipline. The elf stood straight and received his punishment without even filching slightly. Sir Sagramore whipped him with all his fury and blood trickled down the elf’s back and neck and stained the pillow cover. But the elf’s eyes looked on in proud defiance. He never understood the elf. The elf seemed to be exactly his opposite. He loved to inflict pain on others. The elf seemed to love pain being inflicted upon it. He always looked for an opportunity to punish his servants and bondsmen. It seemed to always look for opportunities to get punished. He never felt comfortable with the elf around. It made him feel insecure. He would have gladly released it of its services. But his pride would not let him do that.

When he was done with the disciplining, he had the elf get his carriage ready. He had been invited as a guest at the ball in the castle of Sir Lockhart. He enjoyed the visits to these small time Lords in the outlands. He would Lord over them and they would grovel at his feet. He knew none of them liked him. But he also knew they dared earn his displeasure. As the right hand man of Morgana, the king’s sister, he was one of the most powerful knights in the kingdom next only to Sir Lancelot. So every two to three months, they had to entertain him at their castle whether they liked it or not.

It was an overnight journey. He had a faster means of transport at his disposal if he chose. The elf could have used his magic to teleport him in a jiffy. But he did not trust the elf with this kind of powerful magic. None of the knights and wizards really trusted elves with powerful magic. The elves were mostly confined to domestic tasks. Initially the elves had been used in war. There had been battle elves and house elves. But letting the elves loose with powerful magic had turned out to be too dangerous. If they were not careful in their instructions, the elves tended to twist the orders and the magic would rebound on the elves’ masters. So it was decided to confine elves only to domestic chores and now there were only house elves. The amount of harm that could be inflicted in a household was limited. But Turin had lately been testing the limits.

Ride fast, Turin. We need to reach the inn before the sun sets.

The minute he said that the horse began to run like it was possessed. His head was spinning. The horse kept running faster and faster. Did the elf mean to kill him?

Stop! Stop!” he yelled. The carriage came to a halt. “Go slow,” he commanded. The horse now trotted at a snail’s pace. At this rate it would take months before he reached the castle. This was the problem with the elf. He had to give precise instructions. Little by little he had the elf increase the speed of the horse till he finally had the right speed. “Phew!” The elf was such a nuisance.

Stop. Stop!” he yelled again. His sword had slipped off the scabbard and fallen on the wayside. The elf had made no attempt to retrieve it. The elf could have easily retrieved it magically without even stopping if it had wanted. But he had to give explicit instructions. “Whenever anything falls off, ensure you retrieve it and give it to me. Understood?” he yelled. He badly wanted to give elf a sound thrashing. But they had to speed on to reach the inn before sun fall. The elf probably realized that. No wonder he was behaving worse than normal.

Thankfully the rest of the journey was uneventful and they reached the inn. The entire inn had been reserved for him. All other guests had been turned away that day. It had been fully decorated to welcome the knight. A royal banquet had been prepared for him. As he sat down to savor the delicious food, he found a beautifully wrapped parcel next to his plate of food. It smelt a bit strange though. He wondered what it was. His curiosity got the better of him and he unwrapped the parcel. An unseemly sight greeted him. It was filled with horse shit infested with worms and flies. He felt sick. What little food was in his stomach retched out violently! He had lost appetite for the night. He felt too weak even to summon Turin. He just wanted to retire to bed for the night.

What the hell was that parcel, last night?

You only asked to retrieve everything that fell of the carriage and hand them to you. That is exactly what I did.

Sagramore was furious. Once again the instructions had been misinterpreted. Things had gone too far this time. A mere whipping would no longer suffice. Time had come to permanently dispose of this insolent elf. But that had to wait till he reached the Lockhart castle.

The grand reception at the Lockhart castle helped erase some of the unpleasantness of the journey. But Sagramore was not the person either to forget or forgive. Once he had had some rest and some spirits had lightened his spirits, he roared, “Lockhart, get me a heated iron!

Sir Lockhard had no idea why Sagramore needed an iron. But he knew better than to question the order of Sagramore and soon a bond man came bearing a hot iron.

The elf also watched curiously what his master was up to. He did not at all like the expression on his face. Turin did not have long to find out for his master turn to him and commanded, “Stand still where you are and do not move from here till I command you to!

The elf stood rooted on the spot like a statue. Sagramore’s face now had a broad smile as he took the iron in his hand and approached the elf.

As the iron approached Turin’s eye for the first time, insolence was replaced by fear. But elf was bound by the command to stang still and let his master burn out his eyes. This would teach the elf an unforgettable lesson for its years of defiance overs. Sagramore was just loving this moment and he wanted to savor every bit of it. So he took his time and let the anticipation build up and the fear grow in the elf’s mind.

Another moment and the iron would have made contact with the elf’s eye. But a plump hand knocked the iron off his hand and it hit the floor with a clang.

Please don’t hurt the poor creature,” a female voice said.

He turned around and saw a homely looking peasant girl standing next to him.

He was furious. “Who let this dirty sow into the castle?

No one replied. He looked around. He noticed that Lord Lockhart’s youngest son Gilderoy had also joined them. From his guilty expression, he surmised that he had something to do with the appearance of the serving wench. He had always felt the young man was not fit to be a nobleman’s son. Now his opinion was confirmed. But he would deal with him later. First the wench had to be taught a lesson.

He looked towards two of the bondsmen and shouted, “Get hold of that ugly bitch

She tried to resist but they were too strong for her. They easily overpowered her. Sagramore advanced towards her. He had temporarily forgotten the elf who still stood glued to the spot waiting for the order to move.

He turned to the guests at the castle, “We seem to have an uninvited guest here. But now that she is here, let us make the best of it. What say we have some mirth, sires?

Many of the guests had already been drinking and were feeling rather light. They were well acquainted with Sagramore’s idea of fun and knew what he had in mind. They all roared, “Go on, Lord Sagramore. We are waiting.

The girl still continued to struggle as the men held her to the wall. “Let go of me, you, brutes! You are hurting me

Please let her go, Sir Sagramore. She is here as my guest. She is ignorant of the ways of the castle. Please forgive her.”

It was the young whelp, the second son of Lord Lockhart. How dare he speak up out of turn! Sagramore turned around and struck him. It was a heavy blow for the lanky young man and his lips started bleeding. His gaunt face was now looking red and flushed.

He pulled out his sword, “You insult my honor as a knight, Sir Sagramore. I will not let this go unavenged I challenge you to a duel.

Lord Sagramore burst into laughter. “You? A knight? Was that supposed to be a joke?” He swatted aside the young man’s hand as if he were a fly. The sword fell off his hand.

The whole hall broke into laughter. “What a weakling of a son you have raised, Sir Lockhart? You should be ashamed of him.

Lord Lockhart stood quietly, his head bowed down in shame.

The young man flew at Sagramore and tried to attack him with bare hands. Sagramore caught hold of him by his neck, lifted him high and shook him like a rat. Then he flung him to the ground. Before he could get up, he gave him two hard kicks on his belly. He doubled up in pain.

Throw this ill-mannered cur out of the castle.

The bondsmen did not move. He was after all the son of their lord. They looked expectantly at Lord Lockhart. He sadly shook his head and signaled them to obey. They picked up the young man and lead him out of the castle.

Now Sagramore’s attention was once again turned to the girl. “What is it about you that has put spirit into the weakling? Maybe you have something hidden inside, eh? We would also like to see what you have shown the idiot. Don’t we, sires?

Her walked up to her and seized her bodice and threw it aside scornfully, exposing her gown. His hand then reached out to the neck of her gown. All the guests in the hall were watching with anticipation, cheering loudly. He ripped apart the gown. All the guests caught a glimpse of her inner garments for a second and the gown became whole again.

Enough, human! Lay your hands off her!” It was the elf. He held the bodice in his hands.

It was the elf’s first act of open defiance. Sagramore could not understand what was happening. An elf was not supposed to disobey his master.

Stay where you are, elf! I command you! I am your master,” he yelled as the elf advanced on him menacingly.

The elf’s lips twitched a little. “You were my master, “it corrected. “Not anymore. Thank you for releasing me from your services. I am extremely grateful to you.” The elf bowed mockingly and waved the bodice annoyingly in front of its master’s face.

Sagramore’s face contorted in fury as understanding dawned upon him. An elf was released from his master’s service by the gift of clothing. The elf must have caught the bodice and treated it as a gift of clothing. The cunning creature!

Seize that insolent elf,” he shouted. The men rushed to capture the elf

The elf made some motions with his hand, uttering some strange words. Suddenly the hall was filled with grunts. The girl suddenly found the hold on her released suddenly. She looked around. The hall was filled with hogs. Sir Lockhart and all his guests had disappeared. Sir Sagramore also could not be seen any more.

The elf bowed down to her. “Turin at you service, fair maiden. Thanks to you, I am free. I have dealt with these vile humans as they deserved. Let us leave this place now.

Seeing her concerned look, he added, “Don’t worry about them. They will be back to normal in a few hours. We are not a vindictive race like you, humans. Let us make use of the time we have and put some distance from them.

He held out his hand to her.

I am glad I could help you, Turin. You can call me, Helga. I am also grateful to you for rescuing me. You can come home with me

Click for other chapters: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter  6 Chapter 8

Picture Credit: http://social.bioware.com/

Banquet on the Dead

As someone who has dabbled in fiction writing, I must say a whodunit is one of the toughest genres to write. The whole point is to keep the readers guessing till the last page. In order to achieve this effect, you need an ensemble of characters and the situations designed in such a way that some amount of suspicion points in everyone’s direction. It can be really tricky to maintain the balance between making the story sound real and still maintain the suspense. In this aspect, I must say Sharath Komarraju does a commendable job in his book ‘Banquet on the Dead

I have seen some reviewers comment on the paper quality, the cover etc. I usually do not find it relevant but here I must say the cover design was done excellently. As a reader, sampling an unknown author, sometimes the cover can be the decider. Seeing the cover of this book I definitely felt like picking up this book. The title is also quite intriguing. But again, when choosing a title for a story, there is this fine line of balance between relevance and allure. Here I must say the balance tipped in the favor of allure.

Let me start of with some of the things I liked most about this book. The brilliant attempt to create an altogether new Indian private detective ‘Hamid Pasha’ is the first thing that comes to my mind. With so much detective literature already written, it is indeed very difficult to avoid falling to the temptation of borrowing from some of the popular works. Sharath has definitely tried not to go by the stereotypes and sketch his own unique character. The next aspect I must appreciate is the effort that has gone into sketching out so many different unique characters. The reader can distinctly remember each one of the characters, even the minor ones. Then of course we have the elaborate manner in which the whole crime was committed. Readers of crime expect a crime to be intellectually appealing. A simple case of knifing does not make an interesting story. The novelty of the manner in which the crime was committed in this story is indeed undeniable and it is not entirely unbelievable either.

There is nothing called a perfect work of art. As they say even the moon has dark spots. A review cannot be complete without pointing out some of the failings. To start with, none of the characters manage to establish an emotional connect with the reader. Frankly I would not have given a damn even if somebody had run a knife through the Hamid Pasha and he had died at the end of the story. Then there is no back story in the main story. A short detective story can relentlessly pursue on track of the investigation. But a novel needs some drama in between. This story brings in the drama where it is least needed: towards the end. The idea of lining up suspects and throwing suspicions one after the other is so cliched and formulaic and hardly the idea of drama that can excite a reader. Overall this novel has little of interest outside of the facts related to the crime, which makes it a bit of a dry read. Here and there, one can see some halfhearted attempts to describe the history of the family, to give interesting snippets about the environs and to build some kind of chemistry between police officer Nagarajan and detective Pasha. I feel the author should have taken one or more of these aspects and infused more life into them.

Last but not the least, I found all the ‘Miyan’, ‘Sab’, ‘Babu’ etc. quite artificial and grating. It is nice to have people easily distinguishable by their way of speech and to add distinct local flavor. But mixing languages arbitrarily does not cut much ice with me. A man speaking English with local accent would have been interesting. But in this story, none of the conversations happen in English. So why have all these vernacular form of addresses in a translated conversation?

Overall, I must say it is nice to see a murder mystery by a young Indian writer, writing in English. I feel most of the English writing by Indian authors have been of a more serious nature. The only entertainment literature genre in English to have taken off in a big way is campus romance. So it is heartening to see publishers encouraging genres like murder mysteries, fantasy and science fiction. With time, these genres will evolve and Indian writers will stand tall among their global counterparts. I sincerely hope publishers continue to encourage this kind of fiction from Indian authors. As readers, we must patronize writers like Sharat to help Indian English entertainment fiction evolve beyond campus romances.

An Elegy for a dying relationship

Some of us bloggers have got together and started a joint initiative to improve our story writing skills. The way it works is like this. Each time we have a panel of 3 judges who give the group an exercise that focuses on certain aspects of story telling. The rest of us attempt the exercise. The judges share their feedback and select the top 3 who take over as judges for the next episode.

This is the Third edition. The winners of last round - Radha Sawana, Medha Kapoor & Leo are officiating as the judges. Leo has given us a basic plot which we have to flesh out with details and narrate in our own distinct styles. This will be judged and critiqued by the three of them.

My entry for this round - An Elegy for a Dying Relationship. Do click the link to check out my entry. It is once again a theme very different from what I usually write on and quite out of my comfort zone - a story centering around a relationship.This is the link to the basic plot given by Leo.

Anyone wishing to be part of this group can request to join this facebook community. Please note your request will only be approved if you are known to any of the members or I find you genuine based on blog and FB profile.

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 6: Struggle in the Seas

Sadat remembered his time in the garden of paradise. He now knew it was all just a drug induced hallucination: a wet dream. But it had been good while it had lasted. Sometimes he kind of missed the experience of wine, the tobacco and the women. The master Salazar was an amazing man and he was absolutely devoted to him. But his austerity was too much for Sadat. It had been months since Sadat had even seen anything remotely feminine. When they disembarked at ports, everyone rushed off to the whorehouses to relieve themselves of the built up heat. Sadat however usually chose to stay by his master’s side. The master had no use for whorehouses or taverns. He just sought out libraries and devoted himself to his studies. Sadat just stood silently by his side, keeping watch over him. The master actually did not ask anything of him and treated him like a friend. But that made him only even more loyal to him. He had given his word to his master and he had to keep his word. So he stood silently by his master's side forsaking of wine and women.

Now in the safety of the boat, he had no fear for his master’s life. So he could afford to indulge himself. So far there had been no opportunities. But now an opportunity had presented itself – the lovely girl the master had rescued. She looked so vulnerable – sleeping innocently in the the cabin the master had allotted to her. Sadat was filled with anticipation as he gazed at her from the opening in the hatch. He had never been with a real woman. And this woman looked even better than the drug induced succubi. He slowly pushed the hatch open to enter without waking her up. As he stepped closer to her, he was startled by a sudden sound. It was a terrible sound as if a hundred women were wailing. Indeed heart rending wails they were! The wails resounded all over the boat. All the other sailors were gathering around him. So much for secrecy!

The sound had woken her also up. Her dark eyes were blazing in fury. “What you think you are doing, Chaplado? You think I am a curva for the taking?

Sadat was shell shocked, first by the wailing sound and then by the sudden outburst. “Well. Er. I just came to check if you needed dinner”, he stammered and tried to back off. All the others were watching with interest. The wailing still continued unabated.

You think you a Drabamni would not know what your wanted? For thine Bezex , a Farmechiv upon thee!” Her eyes blazed with fury. She began to make strange gestures with her hand uttering some intelligible words. Suddenly Sadat’s body froze as if he was standing in attention and he fell to the floor like a toy soldier.

By now Salazar had joined the crowd, “I should have known. Little girl always wants to be the center of all attraction, eh?

He just clicked his fingers and uttered a quick word. Sadat was up on his feet. “Come, Sadat. If you are done with your carousal, can we get back to work?

Rowena was left fuming as the crowd flowed away like water down a slope. Everyone got back to their work as if nothing happened. But Sadat had learnt his lesson. Rowena was not a woman to mess with. A month back he had been smug and over confident as the most dangerous assassin of Egypt. Now within a month he had been bested not once but twice. And by the least likeliest of adversaries! A frail untidy middle aged scholar and a chit of a girl hardly fitted his description of formidable foes. He had better get used to the fact that there were more powerful people in the world than him and that one can not gauge someone's power by their external appearances.

His reflections were rudely disturbed by a sudden jerk. Something had hit the hull. He stood up and looked. It was a war galley with catapults and archers on board ready for assault. They would be drowned in no time. He ran to find Salazar. Salazar as usual received the news in his attitude of unperturbed calm. He then walked up to the board without adding the slightest pace to his gait as if he was used to marine battles on a day to day basis. He reached the board of the galley and made some hissing noises. Suddenly the water around the war galley seemed to come alive. The water stirred furiously and then suddenly around twenty to thirty long serpentine heads emerged from the water. In moments, battle fortunes had shifted and attacker had turned defender under siege by huge sea serpents.

All the people aboard Salazar’s ship cheered as they saw the war galley going down. But their happiness was short lived for they could see a complete fleet of war galleys and fire triremes emerging across the horizon. Even the snakes could not stand up to such a force. They would all be slaughtered. Salazar still seemed to maintain his composure. Everyone looked on to him anxiously. After seeing repeated display of his power, Sadat and the entire crew had developed an unshakable faith in him, almost bordering on worship. They were sure he could get them out of this crisis as well.

But with time, it began to become evident that Salazar had no more aces up his sleeves. The enemy was quickly gaining on them and a fire ball had just fallen too close for comfort. Salazar’s calmness seemed to be just a facade. He seemed to have resigned himself to his fate. He kept summoning snakes but then there are only so many snakes that can exist in an area. One can not perpetually keeping creating snakes out of thin air. One or two enemy ships went down but the snakes were getting gutted by the fire triremes and their numbers were dwindling fast.

A fire trireme had just rammed into the galley and it had caught fire. They would all be dead soon. Any amount of personal power was useless against the brute force of numbers that a prince could command. Salazar had bitten off more than he could chew by taking on a prince. And all for that vicious and ungrateful bitch!

But right at the moment of peril, it seemed Salazar had managed to once again pull a rabbit out of his hat. The attacks came to a halt all of a sudden. There was confusion in the enemy ranks. The crew quickly made use of the opportunity to douse the fire. The enemy ships seemed to be meandering around aimlessly and firing arrows and fire bolts into thin air. The crew wondered what was happening. But self-preservation came before curiosity. So they made use of the chaos to make their gateway. They soon began to put some distance between themselves and the enemy ships. There was no attempt of pursuit. Once again Salazar had saved the day. The crew’s faith in the master was re-established.

Sadat, who had been closely watching his master’s countenance, had noticed a look of surprise flit through Salazar’s expressionless face. Salazar seemed to have been equally puzzled by the enemy’s strange behavior as his crew. So clearly Salazar had not been responsible for the great escape. If it was not Salazar, there was only one other person of such power on the ship. Sadat had experienced her power first hand. Salazar had apparently come to a similar conclusion. Sadat could see him take purposeful strides towards Rowena who stood near the stern gazing intently at the stars.

How did you do that?” he asked. Salazar was not the one to waste words. He always got straight to the point.

Do what?” she replied in a sing song voice. It was now Rowena’s turn to extract her pound of flesh.

Ok. I am sorry. I had underestimated your power. I acknowledge your power. I am curious to know how you could control the mind of so many people. I consider myself something of an expert in the field of mind control. And I can usually control one or at the most two to three minds at a time. I have never been able to influence a whole crowd like that.

She rolled back her head and laughed derisively. “I not controliz anyone’s mind, Kako. I put no Famrechiv on enemiya. I put Famrechiv on ship. I make ship invisible. Any Romaniya can do this to protectiz his tsera from athingonoi.

Salazar gave her a short bow. “You are clearly a master at your trade, madam. There is a lot I need to learn from each you.

That iz gut, Kako. And you will teach Rowena how to mind controliz and snake Famrechiv?

Definitely I shall, Rowena. I shall teach you my magic and you shall teach me yours. I am extremely fascinated with your gypsy magic. Talking of which you don’t really look like a gypsy.

No, Kako. I am not Romani. I am from the glens close to the Afon Rhymni river.  Romani take me from my  familiya. Then prince take me from Romani. And you take me from prince. Now you send me to gonime on next port. I have no tsera, no familiya.” A drop of tear rolled down her cheek.

Forget what I said about disembarking you on the next port. You can stay with us as long as you wish. I can understand your feeling of abandonment and loneliness. It has been the same with me. You were snatched all your life while I was abandoned all my life. I was abandoned by my mother at birth. My father found me too shameful to acknowledge as his son. My country drove me out and even now sends minions to take my life. But one day I will be the most powerful man in the world. All of those who refused to acknowledge me will come and lick my spit. Come, join me in my quest! We will not be game for the world anymore. We will make the world our game.

Sadat listened with fascination as he listened to the conversation between Salazar and Rowena from the shadows. This was the longest speech Salazar had ever given. Rowena somehow had managed to make Salazar more vocal. Sadat was also surprised to see so much emotion from him. So far he had considered Salazar a cold fish. He could also in fact personally relate to Salazar’s feelings. In some ways he too was like Salazar and Rowena. No wonder Salazar had always been so kind to him.

The speech was having a similar effect on Rowena. Sadat could see the expression on her face had visibly softened. “I owe you my life, kako. I stay with you always. You are my tsera, my familiya now.” She moved closer and threw her arms around him, embracing him in a tight hug.

Salazar looked uncomfortable. He was not used to these kinds of display of affection. He had no idea how to handle them. The feelings they stirred in him made him feel strangely vulnerable. His face again became blank and he stood frozen as if Rowena had used the spell she had earlier used on Sadat on him now.

In few minutes she released her hold on him. “Let us begin the magic lessons tomorrow,” he said gruffly, turned and walked away.

Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

Note: I had initially planned to let one of my blogger friends Kirti Nemani write this chapter as a guest post. But somehow she could not get time to complete it keeping fully with my requirements. However I have borrowed some ideas from the draft she had submitted to me. So let me credit her for the same.

Picture Credit: Trireme

Sweet Somethingz

I usually tend to most of my reviews with a quote. Maybe a hangover from the times of school English essays. The below lines form Alice in Wonderland came to my mind when I started out on the review of this particular blog.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. 
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice. 
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat. 
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation. 
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." 

Interestingly the blogger in question is also a cute little girl like Alice, who has appropriately named her blog ‘Sweet Somethingz’ Most of the blogs I have reviewed so far had a clear niche, a purpose. So from that perspective I try to see what the blogger could do better to achieve the stated purpose. But when a blog is a personal blog with the purpose being for the blogger to express oneself, then in some ways the blog becomes an extension of the person. So asking for a review is like asking for a review of the person. How would it feel if somebody came up to you and asked to review him/her as a person? That is the situation I find myself in reviewing this blog.

Since the blogger is a sweet little girl and has specially requested for this review as a gift on her birthday, I will do the best I can, given the constraints I have mentioned in reviewing a personal blog. Going back to the analogy of reviewing a person, if I had to do that, I can only talk about things skin deep and say if the person is reasonably good looking, well dressed, appears educated and has good manners or not. My review can at best stay at that level of depth only.

If you consider the blog as an extension of the persona of teenage girl, I must say it is just perfect. The name has been well chosen. It is short, catchy, and memorable and conveys exactly what the blog is about. Additionally it has a kind of feel good about it. With such an excellent title, a catch line possibly is not even necessary. Coming to the blog background, it is one of the most beautifully done ones I have encountered in blog-o-sphere. The color combination, the teddy bear, the roses and other things in the background are kind of things you would relate with a teenage girl. So the background theme is very much in sync with the contents of the blog. Moving on to the content, every post is right out of her heart and it feels as if she is talking straight to the reader. Her writings are mostly personal ramblings, but there are also a few stories, poems and reviews. All of her writings except probably the reviews have a childlike innocence to them and can bring a smile on the face of the reader. Interesting she does use a lot of smileys.

Usually I cover a lot about navigation. Here the labels and archives are the only navigation constructs. However I would say that is sufficient given the nature of the content. One would either like to read her latest post or randomly pick up a poem or a rambling. It is highly unlikely there would be a reader looking for something specific on this blog. So the current navigation is more than enough in my opinion. Coming to the final aspect of interaction, it is quite good. She replies to every comment and tries to connect with her readers.

All in all I would give Princess Pooja 100% marks for her blog with a disclaimer that paper was easy. The only challenge she would possibly face is that the genre itself places a limit on its growth in terms of traffic and readership. Otherwise it is just perfect and I would recommend any reader who wants to feel refreshed by reading the innocent thoughts of a sweet little girl should definitely visit this blog. I present below a small bouquet of five flowers from her garden.

Shadows Galore

I am not sure if there is a difference between a website and a blog. Initially I though there existed some distinction. But I have increasingly begun to feel there is no clear black and white demarcation and there are lot of them that occupy the space between a pure commercial website and a personal blog. Most of the blogs I have reviewed so far were more like personal blogs. Shadows Galore I feel comes closer to a commercial website. I was very impressed by its professional design and content management. So I shall review the blog from two angles: one as a professional website and other of Puru, the main blog author as a writer.

As a professional website, the blog has lot of content. It covers a whole gamut of places in India and abroad. It is well organized and rich in content from multiple guest authors. The general appearance is quite attractive and the posts are all well formatted and the posts have a good balance between text and photos. The navigation is excellent and site is well maintained with good interaction with readers. However as a professional site, I feel the blog lacks clear focus. In my opinion it should narrow down its focus and try to be a one stop shop for information on travel to any destination in the world. The other sections such as memoirs, reviews seem to be diluting the focus. Too many topics also create too many items to navigate, making it a bit confusing. On the topic of navigation, it would also be nice to have a search functionality to search by specific key words and also for navigation by type of places like hill stations, jungles, trekking etc.

In terms of the blog name, it is an intriguing name and attracts attention but does not clearly convey to a new visitor what the blog is all about. Also it would be nice to have a catch phrase for the blog, some kind of one liner to go with the title.

Now to talk about Puru’s writing style, most of the posts are well written and cover all the necessary information. The language is good and it is quite easy to read. The photos are brilliant and stand out as the strongest point. An area that can be considered for development is to add a bit more of an artistic touch to the writings. The current writings tend to be more factual and at times are like reviews of places. Whereas this makes the write-ups extremely useful, it does not make the writings an interesting read for a reader who is not looking for travel information on a specific place. So if the blogger wishes to make his travelogues interesting to the general reader, it needs some artistry. It could be poetry, some kind of philosophy, humor or weaving the travel events with local myths and telling it like a story. Different travelogues writers have tried different things. I would recommend that the blogger read authors like William Dalrymple, Gerald Durrell, R L Stevenson etc., explore the possibilities and try out what works best for him.

Overall I feel the site is a great place to find interesting experiences on different places. I especially recommend the site for the range of coverage and the excellent presentation of posts. It’s a testimonial of my high regard for the blog that I have chosen to write a guest post for the blog and shall probably consider doing so in future as well. Please find below a sample of Puru’s writings from Shadow Galore.

In Defense of Rama

So one more Dasara comes and goes. Somehow Dasara and Diwali both have been associated with God Rama. In my childhood however I was taught by mother that both were associated with the mother Goddess. Navaratri to honor the victory of Goddess Durga over a demon. Diwali to honor the Earth Goddess for killing her own son when he turned evil. I don’t know how Ram got associated with both these festivals. I associate Rama more with Rama Navami. But anyways, somehow the association seems to have happened. Based on this association, this Dasara I observed a popular trend of Rama bashing on social networks. Ram has been favorite God during my childhood days. So I thought I should present his defense against the allegations being hurled at him.

First let us set the ground rules. Our epics clearly state that Rama was not aware of his divinity. So he should be treated as a human with human failings and the analysis should be only from the point of view of a person occupying the office of king. The second aspect to be kept in mind is the laws and social conventions of the time. I have my own theory of why such laws and conventions were natural steps in the evolution from the jungle ape to the current civilized urban man or woman. But I will keep that for another post. Also note I am referring to social conventions and laws in the same breath. This is because there was no detailed constitution and Indian Penal Code at that time. So laws and social conventions were kind of mutable. Given the conditions at that time, I would like to analyze whether Rama did the best he could have or not.

The two main accusations against Rama were his treatment of Sita and his use of deceit to defeat Vali. Both these instances involve questionable behavior on the part of Rama. But I want to plead that it was unavoidable. They were what one calls a situation of an ethical dilemma. Ethical dilemma is defined as a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another. When everything is in black and white and the right choice is obvious, one needs no leaders. True leaders are needed in order to make an optimal choice between the devil and the deep sea. That is why one often finds a question about handling of ethical dilemmas in interviews for corporate leadership roles as well. Here I would like to present the choices Rama faced and how the decision he made was the best possible in my opinion.

First consider the case of Vali. The situation is this: Injustice had been done to Sugreeva the brother of Vali and Rama has promised to help him seek justice. After giving the promise, Rama discovers that Vali is aided by magic that makes him invincible in direct combat. So Rama is presented with three choices:-

a. Go back on his promise to Sugreeva and let the injustice remain.

b. Fight Vali in direct combat and be defeated and killed.

c. Defeat and kill Vali by deceit violating the laws of fair combat.

Promises were highly valued at that time and it was considered a grave sin to break a promise. Also it was against the code of a warrior to not fight against injustice. So the first choice was not an option. The second option was impractical and suicidal. It would just have served to maintain Rama’s honor but would have served none. Sugreeva would still have not got justice, Sita would continue to languish in Ravana’s captivity and the kingdom would have lost a prospective king. So there remained only the third option of breaking the laws of fair combat, the least of the three evils.

Now let us consider the more important accusation of injustice to Sita. At that time, the sacredness of marriage as an institution had to be upheld and the onus fell on the woman to do so by maintaining her chastity. So any unchaste act by a woman was frowned upon and considered to undermine the institution of marriage. This might be considered unfair in the current context. But let us accept that was how it was in the time of Rama. It was clearly not Rama who established this convention. So here Rama is faced with a situation where circumstantial evidence suggests Sita has been unchaste. As an individual he might have been willing to trust in her character or even willing to accept her even if she had indeed been violated. But as a king in the role of judge, he had to keep personal feelings aside and go objectively by evidence at hand. In the role of king as the role model for society, he had to lead the way in adherence to the law and social conventions.

Since no earthly evidence could be produced to say with certainty that through the entire one year, Ravana had not had an opportunity to violate Sita’s chastity, the divine test of the fire was invoked. But to a common man, who did not have direct interaction with God on a day today basis, imagine how this would have seemed. How does it seem to us when our politicians talk of taking the test of truth at a temple when accused of corruption? Wouldn't it seem like the ruler is resorting to some charlatanry to veil his chicanery. That is what Rama discovered from the conversation between the washer man and his wife. He found that the citizens were not entirely convinced by the test of fire and felt Rama was just using powers as king to protect his loved ones.

So now Rama had two choices:-

a. Set a precedent of the king misusing his powers to flout law and let the rule of law be undermined.

b. Let injustice be done to himself and his dear one

So clearly given the choice, Rama chose to put the interests of the state above his own. Clearly it is mentioned throughout Ramayana, how separation from Sita deeply hurt him. But still he chose to take this painful decision in the greater interest of the state. As a sensitive human with human emotions, he just could not bear to break this terrible news of his tough choice to his beloved. So he had Lakshmana lead her away to a jungle hamlet secretly.

So in my opinion what Rama represents is the ideal of putting one’s duty towards the society at large above personal interests. Rama is Plato’s ideal of the philosopher king, a person who reluctantly takes upon himself the painful duty of king. Kingship is not supposed to be something to be enjoyed. It is a sacrifice a person makes of his personal interests for the greater good of the society. All the rich accommodation, clothes and honor he receives are just frills of the job to lighten his heavy burden. This is probably difficult to understand in the current age where every little position of power is seen as a means to self-aggrandizement.

Hallowed be thy Name

Some of us bloggers have got together and started a joint initiative to improve our story writing skills. The way it works is like this. Each time we have a panel of 3 judges who give the group an exercise that focuses on certain aspects of story telling. The rest of us attempt the exercise. The judges share their feedback and select the top 3 who take over as judges for the next episode.

As the initiators of the idea, I and Suresh who blogs at Life is Like This officiated as judges for the first exercise. Sandeep Nair, Deepa Duraiswamy and Indolent Insomniac who blog respectively at SandySpeak, Deepa's kaleidoscope and Semi Coherent Ramblings and Such emerged as winners and are judges for second edition. Sandeep Nair has given us a basic plot which we have to flesh out with details and narrate in our own distinct styles. This will be judged and critiqued by the three of them.

My entry for this round - Hallowed be thy Name. Do click the link to check out my entry. It is quite different from my usual style and quite out of my comfort zone.This is the link to the basic plot given by Sandy.

Anyone wishing to be part of this group can request to join this facebook community. Please note your request will only be approved if you are known to any of the members or I find you genuine based on blog and FB profile. 

Hogwarts Origins Chapter 5: Litany of the Holy Knight

You are unarmed now. Yield now, fall at my feet and beg for your life. I may yet let you live. For the Decantae are merciful to their dogs.

A holy knight I am. And a knight’s honor I shall hold to my last breath.

The sword whizzed through the air and came to strike him. In that single moment the sword was about to strike him, it seemed as if something opened a dyke gate within his mind. Within that fraction of a second, it seemed as if a sudden surge of resistance had built up against the sword that came to strike him. “Expelliarmus,” he cried as he released the entire power built up with his mind.

The wooden sword was snatched violently from his adversary’s hand and he was thrown back forcefully ten feet back. Gawain himself was too shocked at what had happened. As he slowly gained composure, he walked up to his adversary, a twelve year old boy and tried to help him up.

Stay away from me, you demon spawn.” The boy on the ground had fear in his eyes and his voice was filled with hatred.

I am sorry, Gaelen. I don’t know how it happened. I did not mean to hurt you.” There was genuine regret in the smaller boy’s green eyes. But Gaelen just backed away as Gawain came near him. He got himself off the ground and ran as if possessed.

Gawain was bewildered at the turn of events. What had he done that his best friend now feared and hated him so much. He felt guilty and scared that he had done something terribly wrong. He trudged home sadly and threw himself into his bed. But he did not get sleep. He wondered why his friend called him demon spawn. He had heard the term before. His father had used them once in reference to Merlin’s wizards. Now was Gawain one of them? How could he be demon spawn being his father’s son. His father was one of the greatest of the knights of God. There was no match for him in bravery and devotion to God. Being the son of such an illustrious father, how could he be demon spawn?

His thoughts went to his mother. He had never seen her. He had been told that she had died during childbirth. His father never spoke about her. Nobody in the hold ever mentioned her. He wondered if she was one of the wizards. Is that why no one spoke of her? Now was he also one of them? Would his father hate him now?

He could not bear the thought of his father hating him. His father was his hero. How he wished he could grow up and become like his father! He wanted his father to be proud of him one day. And now it seemed that, far from being proud  his father might be ashamed of him and disown him. He had decided. He would not tell his father anything. He had never hidden anything from his father before. He felt very bad about deceiving his father. But his friend’s reaction had scared him. What would his father do if he came to know what he was! He could not bear to think of life despised by his father. He had no other go. He had to keep the terrible secret within his head.

As he lay pondering on his bed, he could hear heavy footsteps. It was his father. He had learnt to recognize his father’s footsteps.

Gawain! Gawain! Where are you my boy? See what I have got for you!

Every day he would run joyfully to welcome his father and open his rucksack and rummage it to see what gifts his father had got for him. Every day his father did surprise him with gifts for he was the apple of his father’s eye. Some days it would be sweets. On other days it would be toys. On still other days it would be books. Today somehow Gawain’s heart was too heavy to rush out to welcome his father. But he still got up from his bed and slowly walked towards his father. He did not want his father to be suspicious. But being a child, he was not very good at hiding his emotions.

So the moment Sir Percivale saw his son’s forlorn face and listless gait, he guessed something was wrong. He immediately picked up Gawain in his arms. “What is bothering my little knight? Tell your pa.

Gawain had a lot to tell and also a lot of questions to ask. Especially about this mother! But he was scared and words just did not come out. Sir Percivale sat him on his lap and spoke to him for a while. That seemed to calm the boy a little. He then gave the boy his gift, a cleverly crafted wooden doll of a wizard holding a crystal ball. But to his surprise the boy did not at all seem happy with the gift. He just backed away as if it was a venomous snake. Though he loved his son more than his life, he was a warrior not a nurse maid. Beyond a point he had no patience for the small kid’s tantrums. So he gently carried him to his bed room, tucked him into bed, gently ruffled his red hair, blew out the candles and retired to his own room.

The next morning he had to be at the abbey. Cardinal Erasatz had asked him to be there early. It was not a surprise as he had been working closely with the cardinal and had been secretly helping him raise an army of loyal knights to defend the kingdom against the forces of the dark. But the surprising thing was he had asked him to bring Gawain along. He wondered what he wanted with Gawain. He somehow did not like it. There was a nagging feeling at the back of his mind that something was not right. He always relied on his gut feelings and he had almost always been right. This was one time he wished he were wrong.

One thing about small children is that sleep just erases all worries of the previous night and they get up the next morning bright and shining. The next morning Sir Percivale to his relief found him to be old Gawain, a vivacious child with no care in life chattering away to his father from nineteen to a dozen. Of course the boy still had a little bit of worry at the back of his mind but now that he was well refreshed and in his father’s inspiring presence, he felt secure. Looking into his father’s eyes, he could fathom the depth of his father’s love for him and he knew his father would not abandon him under any circumstances. With his father by his side, he did not fear even if the whole world stood against him.

So he hopped gaily alongside his father as they walked to the stable. He loved riding alongside his father. His father had promised him his own horse for his eleventh birthday. He was very excited and he was already imagining himself striding the length and breadth of the country side on his horse.

Cardinal Erasatz was waiting for them at the abbey. Bishop Benford sat next to him. They seemed to be deeply involved in some theological discussion. The abbey was otherwise empty. Only on Sundays at these times, it would be thronged by those of the faith. Both the holy men ceased their dialogue as they heard the sound of footsteps.

Welcome, Godric. Good to see you. And is this your son, Gawain?” The cardinal bent down and pinched the little boy’s cheek with a smile. But there was something about the cardinal the boy did not like and he withdrew from the cardinal and clung tightly to his father’s legs.

Sir Percivale bowed before the cardinal. “I come before you as per your bidding, your holiness. And I have here with me my son, Gawain, the oasis in the parched desert of his father’s heart. I have brought him as you have ordered. I wait for your next command.

You’re the church’s truest defender of faith, my son. The staunchest of heart and steadiest of faith! We know you will never fail us. But today I have for you a challenge greater than any you have ever faced.

Then he turned to the little boy. “Your father’s training you well to be a holy knight?

The little boy nodded his head.

Your father’s taught you the litany of the holy Knight?

The boy again nodded his head.

Can you recite for us?

The boy started shyly and his voice grew in confidence as the words filled him with spirit.

I am the knight of the holy order 
Staunchest of heart and truest of faith 
My heart is not my own but my family’s 
My life I shall give in their defense 
My body is not my own but my king’s 
My family and I shall our lives 
Lay down at the king’s bidding 
My soul is not my own but God’s 
Glory of the Lord is my life’s mission 
Body, heart or soul, family, land or king 
Means naught to me if serve God not 
For the work of God and his church 
Is my sole mission on this Earth 

The cardinal turned to Sir Percivale, “You have taught your son well, Godric. You must be proud of him. But are they empty words or do they mean something?

Sir Percivale looked offended at such a question but did not say anything. He wondered where the cardinal was driving at.

I don’t question your faith, Godric . But there are times when our faith is sorely tested. As it shall be presently! For God asks of you what he asked of the great prophet Abraham.

Sir Percivale gave a blank look. He was a warrior not a scholar. Evidently he did not understand the allusion.

The cardinal explained, “My brave knight, God asked Abraham the prophet from ancient times to sacrifice his dear son Isaac at his alter. The great Abraham without slightest hesitation offered his son unto God. Today God asks the same of you. Will you give God your son? 

Sir Percivale could not believe what he was hearing. He had been asked to decapitate his son with his own hands! “But his holiness, what wrong has my son done? Not my son, please. Spare him. Ask anything else of me and I shall gladly oblige. Ask me to run myself over with the sword and I shall gladly do so. But let my son live.

I understand how tough this is for you, son. But you can't give your life. God has other plans for you. It is your son whose fate it is to be sacrificed. And would you question God’s reasons. Isn’t the fact that God wants it so, good enough reason? Do you think I would even dream of asking of you something so terrible unless it was absolutely essential to protect the kingdom and maintain the glory of God?

Gawain was shocked beyond words when he heard the priest’s request. He knew the reason though. Word must have reached the cardinal about him being a demon spawn. But he was touched by his father’s concern for him. He did not want his father to hear why he had to be killed. He would rather die loved by his father than live despised by his father. So he spoke up,

Father, who are we to go against God’s wishes? We are knights dedicated to the service of the almighty. I don’t want to see my father derelict in his duties. Do what you must, father.

Once again Gawain started reciting the litany of the holy knight.

I am the knight of the holy order
Staunchest of heart and truest of faith
My heart is not my own but my family’s
My life I shall give in their defense

Sir Percivale also added his voice to his son’s voice. Father and son recited in unison.

My body is not my own but my king’s 
Me and my family shall our lives 
Lay down at the king’s bidding

Tears streamed down Sir Percivale’s green eyes as they continued on

My soul is not my own but God’s 
Glory of the Lord is my life’s mission 
Body, heart or soul, family, land or king 
Means naught to me if serve God not 
For the work of God and his church 
Is my sole mission on this Earth 

The last word was followed by a flash as the sword stuck and then there was pin drop silence. Gawain’s head rolled on the floor. A few drops of blood had splattered on Lord Percivale’s face pale with anguish. It had got over in a matter of seconds. It had been a clean cut, the head severed from the body in a single stroke. Such was the strength of his strike. The death had been painless. The sword sparkled in all its glory. The blood had not stained it. But Sir Percivale was in no condition to notice his sword. He felt as if a part of his soul had been wrenched away from him.

Finally Cardinal Erasatz broke the silence. “You have done well son. You have proved your devotion to the cause of God. We need men like you to defeat the dark forces that besiege us. Go forth now and strike fear of God into the hearts of our enemies.

Now the cardinal and the bishop were alone. Bishop Benford’s eyes had tears in them. “Was this necessary, your excellency?

Do you think I relish needless killing of innocents. But we are opposed by strong forces and we need strength to oppose strength. A strong sacrifice and blood of an innocent have the greatest power in this world. The sword of Godric has been enriched by both now. It has made the sword both invincible and incorruptible, the ultimate weapon of the warrior of the light. Our victory is now almost certain. And as far as the boy is concerned, he has gained for himself a place in the Kingdom of Heaven by sacrificing his life"

Something about the whole thing struck a wrong chord with the bishop. But he knew better than to argue with his superior on theological matters.

Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8

Picture Credit: Jan H Anderson

The Greatest Story Ever told

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 32; the thirty-second edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is 'An Untold Story'

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Post Story Note

So that was the greatest story ever told. I hope you enjoyed it. I thought I would add a small note giving some background information about this story. These days internet and other technologies are changing the entire face of the storytelling landscape. I recently read a book where the ending was kept dynamic and readers could log into a web site and choose an ending of their choice. So I decided to take things to a different level and make an adaptive story - a story that adapts itself to the intelligence and emotional level of the reader. I have designed a special widget and added to my blog which will probe your mind and assess your intellectual and emotional capabilities and accordingly adapt the story based on your capabilities.

This is not something all together new. The idea has been thought of by many people people and also implemented in small ways. J K Rowling in her famous Harry Potter series mentions this room of requirements that can adapt itself as per the need of the user. Competitive exams such as GRE, GMAT present examples of more skeletal implementations of the idea where the computerizes adaptive testing customizes questions to the intelligence level of the test taker.

One small drawback with this technology is that there is a minimum level of aptitude required to comprehend the story. If the widget assesses your mind to be below the required thresholds, the story shall remain untold as far as you are concerned. But you need not have to worry for even if you had been told the story, you would not have comprehended.

I do look forward to all your feedback after reading my story. It will be fascinating to see how the story has presented itself to each one of you. If I don't see your comments here or don't see you voting for my story,  I can understand. After all not everyone is equally gifted.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Introduced By: BLOGGER NAME, Participation Count: 18

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces