14. Singer's Swan Song

Congratulations, human. You have passed all our tests with flying colors. We will now leave the human race in peace and depart to our dimension. In appreciation of all your feats, we also want to give you a special gift.

Of course they did not say so in as many words. But this is how Harvi’s mind interpreted their telepathic communication.

Harvi’s heart was racing. What were they going to give him? He hoped they would give him lot of wealth so that he need not study or work the rest of his life. Or maybe some cool device that would make him popular with his peers. Or still better they would make him super brilliant like that alien in that Hrithik Roshan movie.

The aliens continued,” We are going to give you the most precious substance in the universe: time.” A curse escaped Harvi’s mind. What the hell! And what did they mean when they said they were going to give him time? Maybe a time travel machine? That sounded cool.

Suddenly the castle descended and strong winds began to blow. Harvi’s consciousness began to fade and soon he went blank. The next thing he heard was loud banging at his door. His friends were knocking his door to wake him up to get ready for the exam. He was back to the same day when he had made contact with the aliens.Is that what the aliens meant by giving him time? Had they given him back all the time he had spent on the quests and taken him back to the time before the quests?

He did not have time for all these contemplations as he had only 15 minutes to brush his teeth, take bath and change into something more decent than the faded t-shirt and jaded shorts. The exam was a tough one as usual. All the old frustrations were returning! There was another exam the next day. He was getting back to the old rut. He had not come back to a rousing hero’s welcome. It seemed as if nothing had happened: no aliens, no adventures, no saving the world. He wanted to sing out aloud. But his heavy heart seemed to drag down the songs like a heavy weight and they never reached his lips.

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces,
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

He was back with all the same old guys, the first year guys busy with their assignments and quizzes, the second year students busy preparing for interviews, everyone competing with each other for the grades and jobs. If earlier, he did not relate with his batch mates, now he found them all positively repulsive. He was badly missing his adventuring days. With every passing day, it all seemed like a distant dream. At times, he wondered if it all had really been only a dream after all. But the void in his heart felt so real and the sadness just lingered on like a bad smell.

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No Expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

He had kind of completely lost interest in life. The aliens had called time a gift. That is assuming the aliens had been real and not just a figment of his imagination. But time seemed like a curse here. It just would not pass. Life seemed an eternal torture. Everything was so mundane and meaningless.

As they say time is the best healer. Time did heal some of his hollowness. He was beginning to feel more grounded in reality at least to some extent. In good time too for it was the most critical time in the life of a B-Schooler: placements. Though he did not have high hopes he applied to all the companies. As expected he did not figure in most of the Day 0 shortlists. But surprising one firm had shortlisted him: McKinsey and company. This was a surprise. Finally things were looking up. He attended the case interviews workshop and prepared himself well for the interview.

Soon the D-day arrived and he was facing the interview panel. Two men in black suits and black sun glasses sat in front of him, black suitcases by their side. They motioned him to sit down and gave him the case to read. As he read the case a sudden shiver shot up his spine. The case read

A corporation from the alien world of Mabus seeks to obtain an ancient artifact called the apple of innovation from the world of the human race. What should be the best acquisition strategy?”

He got up with a start. One of the men spoke up, “Not so fast Mr. Singh. Please remain seated. We are called the Men in Black. Our organization polices all alien activity in Earth’s vicinity. We came to know you have recently been having liaisons with aliens. So we came to investigate

But I thought you were partners at a consulting firm.

Yes that too.  But that is just a cover. This is the main job. Try and use your head Do you seriously imagine anyone would pay us shit loads of  dough for fancy presentations telling clients things that they already know? ” One of them laughed derisively.

Well, as far as Harvi was concerned there was good news and bad news. The good news was that aliens were not a dream. The bad news was that the Men in Block were turning out to be a nightmare.These guys were thorough in their methods and he felt as if he was facing a Spanish inquisition.

I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Singh, we will have to take you into our custody. You have committed treason against humanity by abetting aliens in stealing one of humanity’s most ancient artifacts. Your act has put the future of the human race at grave risk

This was becoming too much for Harvi to handle and he was beginning to feel claustrophobic. He wanted to just break lose and run. As he started to sprint, he heard a click followed by a thud as something hit his back. He felt intense pain for a few seconds and then it went numb. Comfortably numb! He no longer felt any sadness, fear or anger. A strange kind of bliss engulfed his whole being. Was this the ultimate peace everyone yearned for? He could hear the slow melancholy song fade into distance as his vision dispersed into nothingness.

And I kind of find it funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world, mad World

2012 had been a great year for B-school placements. All newspapers blared loudly about the flood of offers and incessant rain of wealth showering on the students that year. Only one local newspaper carried a small column in a corner of the third page about a student reported missing, feared to be dead. Harvinder Kuldip Singh, the man with the blue turban, the singer who had sung his swan song.

Previous Part of the Story  : Singer upsets the Apple Cart
First Part of the Story        : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Swan Picture
Song Credit  Mad Mad World Song by Jules Gary

13. Can Singer upset the Apple Cart?

When they returned to the palace in Mycenae they found the palace completely abandoned. However a scroll lying at the entrance caught Harvi’s eye. He picked it up and unfurled it. A weird pattern was inscribed on it. Harvi had seen this somewhere. Suddenly it came to him. It looked like those QR codes he had heard about. He quickly installed the Bar code scanner application and scanned the scroll. It said ‘Seek the apple of innovation and you shall find your planet’s salvation

He had no clue how to go about this. Google search also did not yield anything tangible. So he decided to try twitter. Soon a viral started on twitter spreading seeking information on the apple of innovation. After running into quite a few blind alleys, finally he had a promising lead – a hacker with handle @nereus. He began to track this person closely and finally cornered him one day. He was willing to reveal information about the apple of innovation if Harvi defeated him in a game of counter strike. Harvi’s heart leapt up. The only worthwhile thing he had done at college was winning the counter strike championship. But this guy turned out to be real good. Harvi had to play out of his skin and still managed to beat him only by a whisker. But what mattered was he had won and now he could get the information he sought.

I discovered about the apple of innovation when I hacked into some of the Apple servers. It is some kind of an alien artifact. It is rumored to be the original apple whose replicas don every Apple device. It is kept in a high security area somewhere. There is just one man who knows its location: Julian Assange.

Julian Asange was currently in prison in UK. If they expected his assistance, they would have to get him out of prison somehow. Harvi and Eros formulated a plan. The first stop was Sweden where lived the two women who had filed charges against Julian Assange. Eros used his love arrows to make them fall madly in love with Assange. The lovelorn women withdrew their charges against him and he was out of jail in the next few days. Eros and Harvi waited outside prison in UK to receive him.

Thanks a lot, guys. I really appreciate what you have done for me. I do have files on Apple’s secret base where this device is held. It is a remote island in the Pacific. But the security is so tight even the entire US army can’t breach it. However there is one person who has free access to the base, a privilege given to him for his close association with late Apple founder Steve Jobs: Bill Gates. If somehow you can enlist his help, your task will be accomplished. Best of luck for your quests! I have my own set of quests to attend to now. So I am off.

Soon the muck fortress was flying to the Microsoft headquarters at Redmond. They had to get through the tight security to reach the one man who could help them: Bill Gates. They still had an ace up their sleeve to help them breach the security, a security expert himself: Cerberus. The aliens had not been there to take him. So he was still very much with them. So they sent the hell hound ahead to raise hell and spread chaos to create a distraction. Meantime they slipped in unnoticed.

Bill Gates patiently listened to their story and was willing to help. But if he was away from work for one day, Microsoft's losses would run into millions. So if someone could take the burden of running the company for a day, he would gladly go and get the apple of innovation for them. Harvi had always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and at last he had his chance albeit for a day. So he was only too happy take on the responsibility.

One day passed. Two days passed. A whole week passed. Still no sign of Bill Gates! Harvi had by now begun to realize how difficult running a company can be. He had always thought CEO s had fun playing golf and attending parties while the junior executives slogged their asses off. Now he was realizing that on the contrary, a CEO’s life was much tougher. This job was totally sucking his life and vitality away. He was about to let out his hair and start singing when Bill Gates finally arrived looking completely refreshed and probably 10 years younger.

I had so much fun without the pressures of running a company. I really enjoyed the last 10 days. Why don’t you continue being the CEO of Microsoft while I go and hand over the apple of innovation to the aliens and save the world?

Harvi did not know what to say. No way he could continue this even for a minute. “That is an excellent idea, Bill! But I still need to finish my MBA. Can I take over after I complete my MBA?

What is there in a MBA? I myself am a college dropout. They are not going to teach you anything useful at B-School. B-Schools are only good for producing losers and charlatans. Only the temperature and pressure of the forge of the big bad world of business produces true winners.

That is true, Bill. Give me 3-4 days to formally complete the drop out formalities so that the college authorities do not raise a missing complaint about me at the local police station.

Bill Gates agreed and once again took over the running of the company. Harvi decided to make hay while the sun shone and took the apple of innovation and bolted. He had learnt one thing clearly. Being a CEO was not his cup of tea. Probably he should consider some other career options, a management Guru for instance.

Soon the muck castle was in flight again. They had hardly flown a few minutes when Eros and Cerberus came up to him.

You can now hand over the apple to me,” said Eros with a smile.

Harvi wondered what his new game was. But he did not have to wait too long to discover for in next few moments both Eros as well as Cerberus began to melt away and in their place stood two reptilian aliens.

Concluding Part of the Story : Singer's Swan Song
Previous Part of the Story     : Singer shows dogged determination
First Part of the Story           : The Singer on the Roof 

Picture credit : Golden Apple Picture

12. Singer shows dogged Determination

Harvi’s mood was upbeat. The next task was to fetch a doggie from Hades. Doggie had a weird name though, Cerberus or something like that. Why such a complicated name for a mere dog! Why not something simple like Jimmy, Tiger or Julie, he wondered. Eros apparently did not share the same excitement about the visit to Hades.

Hades is not exactly a holiday location. It is the land of the dead. And I am not sure if a fierce guard dog with three heads is exactly your idea of a poodle.

Harvi’s face turned pale. Every time there had to be some fine print. Why couldn’t he have got at least one easy quest for a change. Even MBA had some easy courses. But he had no options. He resigned himself to his fate as he headed towards Hades.

He checked out on the internet and found to his surprise that Hades had its own dedicated portal with all information. There was a ferry service on which advanced bookings could be made online. One could also book accommodation and meals online. However Eros warned against availing of this option as people who availed of this never returned back to the world of the living.

They reached the pickup point. Harvi was very impressed with the professionalism of the boatman Charon. Apparently in the earlier days, he used to charge a gold coin for the trip. But he was willing to accept payment from Harvi through his mobile wallet. There were no bookings for return journeys. But Charon told them that that was a complimentary service for whoever managed to return.

They were soon in front of the dog at the entrance. It did look pretty scary. And its bark was so ferocious that even if its bark were worse than its bite, the bite would not be something Harvi wanted to risk. And Eros had informed him that he would have to get permission from the lord of the underworld to borrow his dog. For that they had to get past the dog and enter Hades. They would be grabbing the dog only on the way back.

Once again, one of his mobile phones was to play the savior. He downloaded an application called 'Tom Cat', activated it and threw the mobile phone some distance from the dog. Every time Cerberus barked, Tom Cat barked back louder and in a funny mocking manner. This made Cerberus mad and he barked even louder. Tom Cat responded in kind. Soon Cerberus was fully engaged in a barking match with Tom Cat. They quickly used the opportunity to sneak in before the charge on the cell phone ran out.

Even the fact that Hades had a website and he could book a passage online had not prepared Harvi for the level of modernization he would find here. Eros was even more amazed. Hades had changed completely from the time he had been here last. Everyone carried sleek mobile phones and were constantly glancing into them or keying something. Entire Hades was Wi-Fi enabled. All the records of the people entering the world were completely digitalized. A software with a complex optimization algorithm decided on assignment of the new entrants to one of the three regions: Plains of Asphodel, Elysian Fields or the Pit of Tartarus.

They spoke to one of the customer service representatives and were told that all these changes had happened in the last few months ever since a person called Steve Jobs had entered this world. He had completely changed the face of the underworld with his constant innovation. He was now the prime minister and IT adviser of the Lord of the underworld. They asked her about meeting the Lord of the underworld. She quickly keyed into her tablet to check up and fixed an appointment for the next morning. Meantime she offered to arrange a tour of the underworld for them to pass time.

Elysian Fields was like a holiday resort with beaches, massage parlors, high end restaurants, sporting complexes, virtual reality cinema theaters and all kind of fun things you could dream of. This place was for all the heroes. After these quests Harvi hoped he would count as a hero. This was just the kind of place he had always dreamed of.

Plains of Asphodel were for most ordinary folks who just got on with their life and did nothing of significance in their life time. It had huge glass building running to many floors. The place was full of cubicles. Hordes of people were sitting with their noses down their systems tapping away to glory. Most of the people here had forgotten their past and mechanically carried out their tasks. Apparently the entire underworld IT infrastructure was maintained here.

Tartarus was the place reserved for the worst sinners of the likes of Osama, Saddam and Gaddafi. Various kinds of punishment had been devised for the different sinners. There was a king Sisyphus who was supposed to write a blog post using his QWERTY keyboard phone confessing all his sins to seek redemption. Every time he completed it, the operating system would crash and he had to start all over again. Then there was this fellow called Tantalus who was waiting for mail. Every minute the new mail icon would pop up. When he checked it eagerly, it would turn out to be a spam mail from a dating website or a selling Viagra. He had been waiting since eternity for the mail that never came. Then there were the sisters Danaids who were to read blog posts and post comments on 1000 blogs to be redeemed of their sins. But after they wrote their comment, an almost impossible to decipher word verification (captcha) would come up and their comment would be rejected. Then they would go on to read another blog and this would again be repeated.

As Eros had warned him against eating anything, Harvi had to go to bed hungry. Again he had to refuse refreshments during the audience with the Lord of the Underworld. The Lord turned out to be very amiable. They could have Cerberus for a few days as long as they did not use any force on him or hurt him in any manner. In return he needed a favor. His marriage was experiencing a seven millennium itch and he wanted Eros to help out in reviving the romance in his marriage. Eros was only too glad to oblige.

There still remained the final hurdle of convincing Cerberus himself to come along. They both leaving the place without being ripped apart by  Cerberus , itself was going to be a challenge. By now the Tom Cat mobile would have run out of charge. But Harvi had a plan. From a distance he showed Cerberus a few Vodafone commercials and then made him an offer he could not refuse. If he came with them, Harvi could get the pug fired and have Cerberus in its place. The moment the advertising deal was mentioned, Cerberus lost all his ferocity and came running over to them fawning like a common cur.

Next Part of the Story        : Can Singer upset the Apple Cart?
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer is a Lady Killer
First Part of the Story        : The Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Cerberus Picture

11. Singer is a Lady Killer

He was back at home. It was time to get up in the morning. His mother was gently ruffling his hair to wake him up. What an amazing dream it had all been! He slowly opened his eyes. This was not his home. And it was not a dream. But still a few gentle fingers were running through his hair. He suddenly became alert and turned around. It was Santos! What the hell!

You have been lying to me, haven’t you? You are Mynakos only, right? Tell me the truth and I will be merciful and just throw you out. The whole truth mind you this time.” he roared

And if I don’t tell the truth?” asked the boy in a singsong voice.

I shall sing you a song before I throw you out

No, please! I will tell you everything. I am Eros, the God of love. Mynakos and Santos are two different aspects of my personality symbolizing the two different types of love. One of the occupation hazards of my profession is I myself fall victim to love at times. But I assure you, I mean you no harm.

Harvi could not believe it. What was happening to his life? He had always thought MBA was the craziest thing that happened so far to his life. But now he was in a strange land inside a flying fortress made of muck, full of cows and horses like Noah’s ark. As if that was not enough, his sole companion was turning out to be a love God with a multiple personality disorder. Could things get crazier than this?

But then he was to discover that craziness had no limits  for his next assignment was to steal a golden girdle from the waist of the queen of the Amazons. To what levels did he have to degrade himself to save the world? He felt like singing his heart out. But he knew that would only make things worse. What he needed now was to think with a clear head. So he decided to take a strategic time out. He and Eros huddled together and discussed for hours and finally came up with a plan. As the first phase of the plan Eros was to assume his Mynakos form and make contact with the Amazons.

For once he was glad to have Mynakos with him. It might be lot of men's fantasy to be surrounded by a horde of amorous women. But in reality, being the sole male among a tribe of predatory women completely starved of male company would be nothing short of a nightmare. Women tended to be territorial when it came to men and he would be literally torn to pieces. Mynakos on the other hand could safely approach them in the guise of a gay fashion designer.

The first part of the plan worked extremely well and Mynakos was admitted into the tribe. Harvi had given him a mobile phone and taught him how to use it. He constantly kept in touch with him through instant messaging and chats. The second part of the plan also had a commercial aspect to it. It involved creation of a market for mobile handsets. Myankos introduced the women to Web Television, Qvendo, Victoria’s secrets and fashion blogs. The mobile phones began to sell like hot cakes. Harvi priced them with margins 10-15 times the cost price and made a huge killing. Soon all the women were completely addicted to mobile phones. They spent all the time watching sitcoms on WebTV, researching the latest fashion or chatting with each other through the phones. Harvi was sure that Vodafone also would be making a small fortune from these women’s usage.

Now it was time to launch phase 3 of the plan. As the royal fashion designer Myankos had the power over the fashion trends in the Amazon tribe. He used his clout to popularize golden girdles like the one the queen wore. Soon almost every woman in the tribe was wearing a girdle similar to the one the queen wore. Harvi morphed pictures of women on the internet to include a similar girdle in their attire as well. Mynakos had to casually bring the attention of the queen to these pictures. Over time the queen began to feel the girdle was no longer the in thing and was becoming down market and common. Almost every Jane, Sarah and Mary was wearing it. So one day she got fed up of the girdle, took it off and flung it away disdainfully.

Now was their opportunity. Harvi decided to infiltrate the Amazon camp to steal the girdle that the queen had cast away so carelessly. Most of the women had got themselves too preoccupied with the pleasures of mobile internet and the security had become very lax. But just at the moment they were about to sneak out successfully, one of the women's mobile phone chose to run out of charge. She noticed them slinking away and raised the alarm.

The spell of the internet mobile was broken and they all came at him like a swarm of fierce bees. The fear of the viragos immediately unblocked a passage way inside Harvi’s head and all his emotions began to flow out freely in the form of songs. The women never know what hit them. They just stopped in their tracks, turned around and ran hither and thither. Eros was cowering inside the fortress in a corner with his ears covered. Most of the trees in the vicinity dropped all their leaves in fear. Finally when Harvi was done, the whole world sighed a breath of relief.

Soon Harvi and Eros were back to Mycenae with the girdle. The Greek king took the girdle gingerly. Harvi wondered what he did with everything he was delivering. He could see no sign of the deer, the mares or the cows anywhere. Possibly they were all put up in the stable he had cleaned. Anyways that was none of his business. He had to finish two more tasks and get back home.

Next Part of the Story       : Singer shows dogged determination
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer the Cowboy
First Part of the Story        : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Amazons Picture

10. Singer the Cowboy

With the muck fortress at their disposal, it was not much of a challenge to pick up the stallions. And money was not much of a problem since money was still pouring in through the snake oil sales on e-bay. However it would soon run out. He had to quickly think of another way to fund his remaining adventures. He had seen how internet on mobile had helped him so much. So he could sense the need for the product in this world. And he would have absolute monopoly in this market. So he searched on the internet for best deals on mobile phones and invested money in buying 20-25 handsets and Vodafone internet connection packs for all of them.

They then reached the island of Diomedes. Santos led the stallions out to lure the mares. Harvi waited for him at the fortress. But hours passed by and there was no sign of Santos. Harvi wondered what had happened to him. So he decided to go himself and investigate.

He just took a few steps and the sight that greeted him made him furious. Santos had of course brought back the mares. The stallions and mares were gleefully cavorting with each other and Santos lay on the grass in a relaxed manner watching their love play intently as if it were midnight Masala on television. The lazy pervert!

Santos, get the mares on board quickly. We have just one more day to get the cows from Geryon.

Geryon turned out to be a grotesque freak with three heads and three pairs of hands. But it turned out appearances can be deceptive for he turned out to be quite an amiable fellow. He was quite frustrated with his job. It was upsetting his work life balance and giving him high blood pressure. So he was only too willing to let Harvi have the cows. But he had two conditions. First was that Harvi had to help him find another job and the second was that Harvi had to demonstrate competency in handling the cows.

The first condition was not much of a challenge as Harvi knew just the place to find jobs for monsters like Geryon: monster.com. He found multiple listing for freaks at circuses, hosts for reality shows and as mascots for sporting teams. Harvi helped Geryon prepare his resume and apply to all these jobs. He also gifted him one of the cell phones with a Vodafone internet connection to keep track of the employer responses and the interview schedules. He taught Geryon how to use Google calendar to keep track of his appointments. In the first task , he had far exceeded Geryon's expectations. There still remained the matter of the cows to be taken care of.

Harvi had to match the record set by Geryon in daily milk collections to demonstrate his competency in handling the cows. The key challenge here was that unlike the cows on Harvi’s world, these cows could think. So essentially Harvi was faced with the same problem Henry Ford was faced with many years back, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?

Each cow had her own need. No wonder Geyron needed so many heads and hands to handle them. Harvi did not have so many heads and hands but luckily he had multiple mobile phones with internet connections. He downloaded a linkin park album from iTunes on one of the phones for Daisy who loved music. He had to live stream a few episodes of ‘Just Dance’ on YouTube for Buttercup who loved dance. He had to look up cookery blogs to find a nice grass recipe for Violet. Rosy was unable to concentrate on her work unless she got constant updates on the cricket match.

Then there were other issues. Clover was generally feeling low on confidence. So he had to play Robin Sharma’s speech on YouTube to pep her up. Holly on the other hand just did not want to work. So downloaded a whip cracker app on his mobile phone and used that to scare her to keep her in line. Then Iris was being bothered by flies. So Harvi downloaded the fly repellent app and used that to keep the flies at bay.

Now that the basic needs were satisfied he needed to find ways to motivate them to the next level of performance in order to meet the targets set by Geryon. He set up a competition between the cows promising a date with the Cretan Bull for the top performer. That made them all scale up their performance. However competition had its own undesirable consequences as well. Lily was a typical trouble maker who was trying to undermine the other cows’ performance to stay ahead of the book. He had to identify and isolate her to keep her from de-motivating the others. Hazel and Lavender did not get along with each other and their constant bickering was creating a hostile atmosphere lowering team performance. So he had to keep them in stalls as far away from each other as possible.

By the time the day was done, Harvi was dog tired. This had been by far the toughest quest of all. He measured the milk collected for the day. He was still just short of the target set by Geryon. He quickly put in some water to make up for the deficit and he was good to go. Geryon was impressed with his performance and the cows joined the mares and stallions on the muck fortress. Harvi was all set to make it on time for his date with his old friend, the Greek king also known as the reptilian alien shape changer.

Next Part of the Story       : Singer is a Lady Killer
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer on his High Horses
First Part of the Story        : The Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Cows Picture

The Devotion of Suspect X - Review

Japan is a country with scarce natural resources. So they can  hardly afford any waste. Their cuisine tries to find use for almost every part of the plant or animal that is being cooked. Toyota gave the world the lean principles whose main focus is elimination of waste. The book ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ embodies this Japanese ethos. There is not a portion of the book that goes waste. Even seemingly insignificant portions contribute to the overall story. In the end I got a wow feeling how everything tied in so neatly.

Usually literature and science are considered two different worlds. This book kind of bridges the gap between the two. The two protagonists are men of science – one, Ishigami a mathematician and the other Yukawa a physicist. The story is a murder mystery skillfully woven around mathematical concepts. Somehow the entire story revolves in some way or the other around two problems of mathematical logic. Whether or not it is as easy to determine the accuracy of another person’s result as it is to solve the problem yourself? Which is harder: devising an unsolvable problem or solving that problem?

For those tired of stories set in US and Britain, a story set in Japan comes as a breath of fresh air. Sake, Sushi, bento boxes and karaoke build up the typical Japanese environment. The people, their emotions, their motive are all so typically Japanese. For those who are not much associated with Japanese culture, these things might appear strange. But they add an element of unpredictability to a story that makes it more interesting.

In most detective stories, we know what the problem is and the mystery is typically around the solution. And usually the options are clear. But it becomes more interesting when you don’t know what the problem is. That is the strongest element of the story. All along the book, it looks like an open and shut case that is going to be resolved in the next few pages and you wonder what is going to happen in the rest of the book. But it is like an optical illusion. Every time you seem to have come near it, you find it is still a little way ahead. And then a totally unexpected end comes right out of the blue.

Compared to traditional novels, one may not be able to relate so closely with the characters in this story. The characters remain closed and distant. Also the final fate of the characters might not be satisfying to all readers. But somebody well acquainted with Japanese culture can kind of relate.

In the final analysis, I totally love this book. But it is a book that appeals more to the head than the heart. And you need some love for theoretical mathematics or logic to be able to fully enjoy this book. However what will appeal to every reader is the quick pace and the easy flow which makes it an effortless read. Touchy feely folks who are sure they hate logic and mathematics can definitely give this book a miss. I would recommend all others to definitely give this book a try.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

9. Singer on his High Horse

Harvi’s face flushed with anger. Hadn’t that one slap been enough? Why was this fellow still stalking him? And how had he found him here? Mynakos pre-empted the numerous other questions that would have arisen in his head.

I know what you must be thinking. But don’t judge me hastily. Listen to what I have to say.

Harvi could see where this has heading. Once again patience, heaven and all that! He rued the day he took the seat next to this fellow at the theater.

I am not Mynakos. I am his twin brother Santos. I came to apologize for my brother’s behavior. At times he is not able to control his feelings. But I gave him a good piece of my mind when he told me what transpired between you both. He feels very ashamed about his behavior now.

Harvi was not sure what to make of this. The story seemed a wee too cinematic to be true. But then it was not completely implausible either. So he decided to give Santos a benefit of doubt. Soon they were talking. Santos was a very good listener and Harvi poured out his entire story to him. If singing was his first love, talking was his second. For days he had not been able to talk to anyone. Now at last he was getting an opportunity. He grabbed it with both hands. He narrated all his adventures taking some creative license here and there to make himself seem more heroic.

Santos seemed clearly impressed. “You are a hero indeed. I wish I could also have such adventures. Will you take me on as your apprentice?

Harvi was not much of a team player and was not really too inclined to have a companion. But when he saw Santos’ sincere pleading expression, his heart melted. Also having a sidekick made one feel more like a real hero.

Now they had to start thinking about the two remaining quests. He was still not sure whether he should go after the mares or the cows. These damn aliens seemed to be well versed in all the management tricks! This was a popular management trick when you wanted someone to fail: to give multiple tasks at the same time. The person would end up wasting most of his time deciding which one to start on and would have precious little left for the task itself. It was easy for him to decide on the first task as he knew the location where the bull could be found. But he had only names of the owners of the cows and mares. Google did not throw up any useful results on Diomedes or Geryon. The Wikipedia entries on them were just stubs. He got an ominous feeling about the whole thing. Did it mean that so far none who met them had returned alive to update the Wikpedia entry?

Probably the best idea was to not even go anywhere. He could quickly but some Trojan mares and cows, fill them with snake oil and bull shit and be done. But that would be pushing the aliens too far. They had been quite liberal with him so far. But after the bashing he had got them at the hands of the Gauls, he was not too sure.Also he was running out of both snake oil and bullshit. He was also short on money to pay the Trojan. These Trojans knew how to extract every last pound of Flesh.  Last but not the least, Santos' enthusiasm was another reason. Santos had got all excited about the adventure and was being too proactive. Harvi did not like it at all. He had never liked proactive people. They were a pain in the ass. They also worked and made you also work. But he could not afford to appear un-hero like in front of Santos. So he had to play along.

Santos knew where both these guys were and he also made the decision for him. First stop was going to be Diomedes. Santos also had lot of information to share about the mares.

They are known to be very dangerous, hot tempered and breathe fire.

That sounds like my boss at the IT Company I used to work for.

Santos had either not heard of or not interested in what happened inside IT companies. He was more intent on the task at hand. “Diomedes loves his mares too much. He will never willingly part with them no matter what we offer him in return. We will have to steal them.

Ok, we will steal them then,” replied Harvi in a matter of fact manner. He was not the one for any of those minor moral compunctions at a micro level. They were for lesser mortals. He was a big picture man.

But were you even listening to what I was saying earlier on? The mares are bad tempered and dangerous.

Once again his thoughts returned to his former boss. She was one of the reasons he had been forced to quit his job and go for a MBA. Otherwise he was not the one to take unnecessary initiatives. He believed in the law of conservation of energy. His thoughts lingered about his ex-boss. He recollected what some of his colleagues used to say about her. They said her bitchiness was was a result of failed relationships and her not having a boy friend or a family to temper her. He wondered if it was the same with the mares as well.

Thinking on these lines, he remarked to Santos, “A philosopher in my world has said most human behavior is a result of their underlying sexual tendencies. Maybe it is the same with horses as well. So if we resolve their sexual conflicts, maybe they will get placated and may become easier to handle.

Santos’ ears had perked up at the mention of the word ‘sex’ and he was listening keenly.

So we need to find mates for the mares and I know the right place to find them,” Harvi concluded looking fondly at his mobile phone.

They logged on to simplymarey.com, horsemaretimony.com, horsymareysaathi.com and various other matrimonial sites and browsed through profiles of thousands of stallions. Finally they shortlisted three of the most eligible candidates. Harvi however had his own doubts.

Should we have backup candidates ready in case the mares do not like our selections?

Don’t worry. I am sure they will love the ones we have chosen.

There was a strange kind of confidence and finality in Santos’ manner that reassured Harvi. Anyway they did not have all the time in the world to line up candidates for the mares to interview and select. So without harboring any further doubts, he set out to pick up the stallions.

Next Part of the Story       : Singer the Cowboy
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer takes the Bull by its Horns
First Part of the Story        : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Horse Picture

8. Singer takes the bull by its horns

The Greek King looked visibly shaken to see Harvi arriving aboard the muck fortress. This was clearly not going as per the aliens’ expectations. Harvi had performed far beyond their expectations. So it was time to apply Peter’s principle and try to discover Harvi’s level of incompetence. So this time the number of tasks was increased to three.

"In the next 2 days you shall return here with the Cretan Bull, the Mares of Diomedes and the cows of Geryon"

What the hell! This was Farmville or what? Cows, bulls, horses, eh? So many times he had laughed at the stupidity of people posting on face book about farm animals being given, taken, lost, found and stolen. Now he himself had to doing that stuff. What an irony of fate! He wished he had played Farmville. That would have given his some ideas. With a two day deadline it was too late to start playing now. He had to go by his gut feel and literally take the bull by its horns.

Harvi boarded his castle and zoomed off to Crete. There he was greeted by a most curious spectacle. An angry bull was wresting a ferocious bear along a river bank. The bull was trying to toss the bear up and the bear was trying to beat the bull down. A group of men were standing close to the bank and watching intently. Harvi noticed one of them nearby who looked wise and friendly. He approached him and accosted him thus, “Good, sir, can you please enlighten me on what is going on here.

Don’t you know?” He stared at Harvi incredulously as if he could not believe there would be someone so ignorant and continues, “This is the eternal battle between the the bull and the bear. The fate of the entire earth depends on the balance between these two opposing forces. There are a huge army of smartest people on various worlds with sophisticated computing tools closely observing and analyzing this battle. Pages and pages are written about every little movement. People bet fortunes on predictions related to the course of this battle.

What happens if one of them wins?

The man’s face turned pale as if he had said something extremely shocking “That would be catastrophic. The balance of the cosmos would be upset and the fabric of space time continuum would be torn apart. All worlds feel tremors of even small shifts in balance of power between the two. An outright victory for one over the other would mean end of this world

Harvi notices the bear was having a slight advantage and was slowly cowing the bull down. No wonder the world was in recession and Greece was worst hit of all places.

And who are those men standing there?” asked Harvi pointing to them men standing close to the bank watching the fight intently

They are the bankers.” He pointed out to a man with thick golden chain, golden tooth filling and golden rings on every finger “That is the gold man” Then he pointed towards a weak battered looking man standing in a corner. “That is lay man (Lehman). He tried to get into the ring and manipulate the fight. He got mauled badly by the bear. He is now no more a (Nomura) top banker

Well friend. Let me get to the point. I am an adventurer and a client has given me an assignment to fetch the bull. Can you help me with the same?

Don’t even dream of going anywhere near the bear and the bull. You might end up endangering the entire world. I will tell you what to do. Do you see over there?” He was pointing to a place that looked like a shrine. He could see a long line of people in front of the shrine.

Harvi nodded his head. “What is that place?

They are distributing the bull’s manure there. That gives people solution to most of their problems. It may solve your problems too. But remember you need to make an offering to the divine bull in order to be bestowed with its divine manure

He stood in the line thinking what to offer. Again his mobile phone came to his rescue. The phone gave him the latest stock market trends and stock tips that he offered at the shrine. The abbot at the temple, a man in pin stripe suit with red horns and a pointed tail was very happy with the offering and gave him a generous helping of bull manure.

He took some of it and applied on his forehead. Immediately his brain started working at top gear. It suddenly dawned on him that the manure was more important than the bull. He realized how the whole world ran on bovine excreta. It went by fancy names such as strategy, business consulting, vision etc. But it was all the same. All that mattered was a fancy external appearance.

All he had to do was to buy a life size hollow statue of the bull and fill it with the manure. He wondered where he could get such a bull. He decided to ask on Quora where he would get one in ancient Greece. 'Troy' was voted as the best answer. The Trojans were famous for their hollow horses. No reason why they could not make hollow bulls as well. He activated the GPS on his mobile phone and connected to his fortress. He found himself whizzing away towards Troy. He spoke with the Trojans and soon had a deal. But it costed him almost all the remaining bottles of snake oil. He mixed the remains of the snake oil with the manure and filled the bull. And Lo behold! It stood in front of him larger than life.

As he lead the bull away to his muck fortress, he noticed someone was waiting for him at the entrance of his fortress. The person looked kind of familiar. It was Mynakos!

Next Part of the Story       : Singer on his High Horse
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer does a Flying Sikh Act
First Part of the Story         : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Bull Picture

7. Singer does a Flying Sikh Act

Angry birds gave him a few ideas but that was clearly not enough. He could of course sit and ponder but he knew nothing was going to come out of it.  He was not going to find diamonds by stirring up all the muck in the stable. Unfortunately imagination and originality did not figure in his repertoire of skills. He was no Leonardo da Vinci.  So it was simple. When you cannot find something within, you need to look without. And the only place he could turn to at this point was his mobile phone. And there was no harm having fun while working as well, was there? After all so many companies these days were talking about fun at work. So he decided to stream some movies through YouTube and watch them to see if he could get some ideas.

The first movie he watched was an ancient Alfred Hitchcock thriller titled ‘Birds’. The movie did not give him any ideas as such but there was one clear takeaway: as long you are on the ground, you are helpless against the denizens of the sky. He then decided to watch something more recent. So he chose Avatar. That was a bit more helpful. He realized that in the world of birds, height was everything. The bird that flew the highest was the king of the skies. He then chose two Japanese movies: ‘Howl’s moving castle’ and ‘Laputa: Castle in the sky’. At the end of the movies he had a Eureka moment. A Eureka vacuum cleaner would have been more useful however for cleaning up the stables. That aside, he had finally did have a brainwave.

All he needed to defeat the raptors was a castle in the air. But where would he get that? Even Amazon would not have those for sale. But that was not a problem. The day dreamer that he was, he was good at building castles in the air. So he would build one himself. He just had to sit down, take a deep breath, relax and let his dreams take wings. As he sat and defocused, all the muck and dirt in the stable began to rise up and coalesce together, forming into some kind a structure. All the shreds of civil engineering knowledge left over in the recesses of this brain from his engineering days found expression as the muck fortress began to take shape.

Soon a floating fortress of muck stood ready. The cockroaches provided the floatation and the rats worked the dynamo to generate power to move the castle. The spiders with their webs manned the castle defenses. Harvi was now all set to take on the birds.

The moment the castle neared the birds’ territory, they flew out in all force to attack. Whereas their beaks could cut through metal and wood, they got stuck in the impregnable muck walls. The spiders immediately set to work entangling them in their webs. Soon the muck fortress towered right over the main nesting area. The birds had by now realized the futility of putting up any kind of resistance and took flight. The whole area was soon cleared of the birds. This had been such a cake walk after all!

Now it was time to return and clean up the stable. With all the muck and vermin going into raising the muck castle, what was left was hardly a challenge for any normal person. But Harvi was no normal person. He had never cleaned anything all his life and he had never intended to either. And now he had to undertake this challenging task. Two things were critical for success: technique and motivation. He knew just the person who could provide both: his mother.

Mrs. Singh was pleasantly surprised to get a call from her son after 2 months.

How are you doing, ma?

So you finally condescended to check up if your old mother is still alive!

I was very busy with project work, mother!

Ha, ha, ha! Tell all this crap to your idiot of a father who dotes over you. I know what project work you will do. You will make all others do your work and just sit on your ass day dreaming!

No, Ma! I am turning over a new leaf. You know what? I have even decided to clean my room.

Don’t give me a heart attack, Puttar. You and cleaning! I remember last time I came to your room. It was like the city garbage dump. I spent hours cleaning it up for you.

You see how my room looks next time you come. Now tell me how to clean.

Stupid fellow! Twenty four years and still you want your mother to tell you how to clean your room.

Nothing like his mother’s constant nagging to keep him focused. She kept giving him instructions and he kept  doing as he was told the first time in his life. In the next few hours, the stable was looking spic and span. At the end mother was feeling so proud of her son. At last he had reformed.

He boarded his muck fortress and was all set to return to the palace in Mycenae. He had now exactly half way in his quests . In MBA terms, he had cleared his first year. Usually the first year was the toughest. Second year was usually fun. But he could not imagine any of the tasks set by aliens being even remotely fun.

Next Part of the Story        : Singer takes the Bull by its Horns
Previous Part of the Story   : Singer in a Dirty Picture
First Part of the Story         : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/02/miniature-flyin.html

6. Singer in a Dirty Picture

Phew! Four quests within a week! It had been really tiring. Finally he could grab some rest now. Greece was a beautiful country with Mediterranean climate, seas and mountains. Add to it the architectural marvels – it was indeed a tourist’s delight. But then Harvi was not too really a touristy kind of person. Not for him all the fancy exotic stuff! All he wanted was a sumptuous meal, a nice movie and a relaxing 11 hour sleep.

How he wished he could have a plate of hot Parathas and a large glass of cool Lassi. He used the restaurant locator function on his mobile phone to locate the nearest eatery. But, alas! Ancient Greece was yet to invent the most amazing invention of all times: washing machines to churn out liters and liters of amazing Lassi. So he had to make do with goat yoghurt. Pita bread was the closest he could get to Parathas. These ancient Greeks really needed a lot of catching up to do in the area of cuisine. With this kind of food, it was not surprising why most of these guys either became philosophers or went and killed themselves fighting wars. If Greeks had discovered Paratha and Lassi, it would have changed the course of European history.

After lunch, it was time for a movie. Again the mobile phone came to his rescue, pointing out to him the nearest theater. Though movies were yet to be discovered, ancient Greeks were great patrons of plays. He bought a ticket and found himself a comfortable seat. Man! These Greek tragedies were so intense! They reached out straight to his heart in spite of the inconvenience of having to use his mobile phone to translate Greek to Punjabi. But after sometime that was also no longer needed. Emotions had no language. He was soon weeping profusely. He was such an emotional and the play just brought forth his entire entire vent up emotions. The handsome boy sitting next to him offered him a handkerchief. He took it gratefully and gave it back to him completely wet, tears dripping all over. The boy gave him a comforting tap on his back. By the end of the movie Harvi had a friend. The boy was called Mynakos.

After the movie, the boy spoke to him, “There is a very nice spa nearby. I am heading there now. You want to come along?

Sounds good. Let us go.

The spa was amazing. The massages were so relaxing and Harvi was completely relieved of all the stress from the quests. One thing he noticed was that his friend kept stealing glances at him now and then. Possibly that is how these Greeks were.

After the spa, Mynakos invited him home for dinner. Greeks were such hospitable folks. Dinner of course turned out to be lousy. What else could one expect from a Greek dinner? But the wine was good. After that Mynakos took him by hand to lead him somewhere. He wondered what the boy was up to. But he had been such a gracious host. He decided to humor him.

It was the sleeping chambers. The boy seated him gently on the bed with a smile and came and sat close to him. He gently ran his hand over him as he spoke. He felt a bit uncomfortable but then he dismissed it in the interest of cross cultural sensitivities. The cultural differences became irreconcilable when a hand snaked out towards the wrong area? There was nothing wrong with the area as such. What was wrong was the gender of the hand's owner. He immediately jumped up from the bed with a start.

The boy seemed dismayed at this sudden aggressive transformation in his friend’s demeanor. He tried to hold on to his hand and calm him.

Be seated, friend. Don’t leave me. Heaven awaits you. Patience is all I ask.

That did it. The normally relaxed and non violent Sardar was now a lion, a hydra and a wild boar all combined into one. He came down upon the boy in all his righteous fury and gave him a resounding slap. Before the boy could recover he was out of the house running like a deer.

He had had enough. Ancient Greece clearly was no place for a decent gentleman to have fun. He had to finish the quests as quickly as possible and get back home. He wondered what form the alien would have taken this time. But when he reached the palace, he found that the old Greek king had returned. The mauling at the hands of the Gauls had clearly take away all of the aliens’ appetite for masquerade balls or fancy dress competitions.

I can see you are as eager to get done with the challenges as quickly as possible as are we. So to save time let us do some parallel processing. Your next two challenges are to clean the Augean stables and drive away the Stymphalian birds.” Though it did sound a innocuous and mundane as ‘shoo the pigeons and clean the shed’, the previous quests had shown him it was not going to be that simple.

He decided to first check out the stables. He soon reached the Augean stables guided by Google maps as usual. As he neared the stable , his nose could catch a whiff of some kind of a foul stench. He was filled with apprehension as he opened the door of the stable. The place was in a terrible mess. The roof was lined with cob webs. Cockroaches were scurrying around and one could catch a glimpse of a rat or two as well. It was difficult to find a single spot on the floor, walls or ceiling free from dirt and muck. However this place gave him a kind of déjà vu feeling. He had seen this place somewhere.

It was going to take ages to clean this place. It would be more efficient time management to go after the birds first. One always finished the tasks with shorter lead times first. As he settled down in a corner of the place to think of the strategy against the Stymphalian birds, he realized why the place felt so familiar. This was exactly how his own hostel room looked! That was another reason to postpone the cleaning. This kind of atmosphere was conducive for creative thinking!

He began to give a thought on the action plan for the birds’ quest. As an angry bird player, he did have experience in dealing with ferocious birds with sharp beaks that could pierce through wood and metal and dropped dung bombs. But the problem was that he was used to doing this the other way round. He always played the attacking birds. Now he had to turn the logic on top of its head and think from the point of view of the pigs that the birds were attacking in the 'Angry Birds' game. Staying in a place that stank like a sty would definitely help him think like a pig. One more reason why he should postpone cleaning this place, eh?

Next Part of the Story        : Singer does a Flying Sikh Act
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer on a Boaring Quest
First Part of the Story        :  Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Dark Dusty Room Picture

5. The Singer on a 'Boar'ing Quest

The Erymanthian boar had built itself a reputation for the destruction it could wreck. But Harvi had nothing to fear. His snake oil income ensured he had the money to buy the most sophisticated hunting gear against which the boar’s might would be but a joke. But availability of capital and technology alone did not guarantee the success of a venture. The regulatory framework also had a critical role to play. And that was the constraint here. If he tried something funny he would fall foul of Diana again as the boar was a wild animal and would fall very much under her domain. And even a Goddess does not fall for the same trick twice. So he had to think of an alternative.

He remembered one of his friends mentioning a site called oDesk where you can hire freelancers for your projects. He logged on to the site using internet on his mobile phone and posted the hunting assignment. Now he just had to wait for someone to pick up the project. He would outsource the dirty work to them while he relaxed. When the job was finally done, he just had to front end with the aliens for the final presentation.

Computers seem to have made people too lazy. Everyone wanted only desk jobs. There didn't seem to be any takers for field assignments. However one French team finally agreed to take up the assignment. They would be arriving there for the briefing next morning. But there was a small catch. They did not want to be paid in cash. They instead wanted some of the boar meat as payment. This was going to be a challenge but he would cross the bridge when it came.

The Frenchmen were dressed in odd looking clothes and looking likes buffoons escaped from a circus. One was a huge fellow with a large belly, thick red whiskers and long red hair braided into pig tails on either side. The other one was a spunky little one with yellow hair hidden by a helmet, thick yellow whiskers, a leather pouch hanging from his belt and a sword by his side.

The smart one spoke up, “Greetings, friend. I am Asterix and this is my friend Obelix. We hail from Armorica, a  little fishing village in the land of Gaul.

And this is our friend Dogmatrix. He just loves trees”, added the large one pointing to the little dog accompanying them.

Harvi checked his Google maps and gave them directions to Erymanthos. As he saw them disappear into the jungles, he began to wonder if he knew these guys from somewhere. They looked oddly familiar. Then suddenly it came to him. Ah! The comic he had seen in his friend’s room the other day was about these guys only. Asterix and Obelix, eh?

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” He remembered his strategy professor's favorite Sun Tzu quote.  He knew himself too well, the scoundrel that he was. So he would definitely not succumb in every battle. But in order to ensure victory every time, he had to know the other party as well.

He decided to put the waiting time to good use: researching about these two guys. He searched the internet for all Asterix comics available on bit torrent and downloaded them. By the time he had been through 4-5 of them, he knew everything he needed to know.

These guys had a magic potion which made them invincible. The big one had fallen into a cauldron of magic potion when he was still a baby. So he was superhumanly strong though a bit addled in the head. The smaller one on the other had was goddamn smart but needed to take swigs of the potion for invincibility. These Gauls had two ruling passions: one of them was boar meat. That was the problem. The other passion: the solution lay there. But he had to take a gamble. And a gambler he was, indeed. Only the gambler, who went all in blind, raked in the big bucks. Having made his plans, he waited. He did not have to wait  too long  however. It was not long before he could hear the stomping sound of Obelix’s large feet and Dogmatrix’s barking in the distance. These guys seemed to real pros who knew their business well.

Here is your boar, friend. We are hungry. Light up a fire and let us start the cooking.

Harvi had his answer ready, “Be patient, friends. Let us have the feast in Mycenae. My friends are waiting for me there with the cooking pot ready. I also have an additional surprise waiting for you there.

As they neared Mycenae a glorious spectacle greeted them. A huge Roman army was arrayed there with an impressive leader at the head. This was exactly what Harvi had been hoping for. He had been right in assuming after Cleopatra, the alien would assume the form of Julius Caesar. The gamble had paid off. Obelix let out a whoop of joy on seeing the Roman army. He dropped the boar and rushed headlong into the army. Asterix also took a quick drought of the potion from his pouch and rushed after Obelix. Soon Roman soldiers were flying in all directions. That was the other passion of the Gauls: bashing up Romans soldiers!

Harvi made use of the opportunity to retrieve the boar and slip in through the lines to the leader of the army who was cowering at the back.

He handed over the boar to Julius Caesar. “Here is your Erymanthian boar. Four tasks down, eight more to go, eh?

The alien was still too stunned from the bashing they were receiving from the Gauls to even say something. The battle had been carried to the aliens now. They must now be realizing how grossly the had underestimated the human race.

Next Part of the Story         : Singer in a Dirty Picture
Previous Part of the Story   :  Singer on a Wild Deer Chase
First Part of the Story         :  Singer on the Roof 

Picture credit : Boar Picture

4. The Singer on a Wild Deer Chase

The face that launched a thousand ships was the face waiting to welcome him in Mycenae. His heart skipped a beat. Was this a reward for successfully completing two quests? But the charm somehow had a frightening quality to it. He felt helpless like a moth hurtling towards the candle flame. The face was like a marble statue, blemishless in its perfection, cold as ice and the beauty far beyond the reaches of time’s ravages. As he was lost in awe, her perfectly carved lips parted to let out sweet words like the melodies from a flute.

Dear, a beautiful deer I just saw. Antlers of gold, hoofs of bronze, skin like velvet has the Ceryneian Hind. Swifter than the wind is she in flight. I beseech you to bind her and bring her to me as a token of true love.

He would have given her his life if she had asked for it. So spell bound was he in her hypnotic charms. A mere deer was the price to be near his dear. He was filled with energy as he set out behind the Ceryneian hind.

Though technology has made hunting easy, one still needed to know the tricks of the trade. Hunting unfortunately had not been one of Harvi’s hobbies. So he had to get help from the experts. He decided to log on to Linked-in on his mobile to look for hunting communities. But unfortunately Linked-in had no hunters, only head hunters. So he moved on to Facebook. Luckily he stumbled upon a couple of hunting forums there where he could get some hunting tips.

Money was no longer a constraint with the sales of snake oil on e-bay rocketing to the skies. So he got on to Amazon.com and got himself some advanced hunting gear: a heat seeking dart gun, an engine powered roller skates, gold detector etc. With all this gear, the deer had absolutely no chance. The deer had been a sitting duck. Thinking of duck reminded him of book someone had written about her filmmaking experiences titled 'Bombay duck is a Fish'. He wondered how it would be if he wrote a book about his hunting experiences titled 'Greek duck is a Deer'. But then there would be nothing to write. Technology had made it all too easy. That was one of the reasons he hated technology. Technology just sucked romance out of life.

His musings were cut short by his arrival at Mycenae. She was no longer there. But one of comparable if not greater beauty awaited him. She had such a lovely nose, which if it had been shorter would have changed the course of history. If the earlier one was ice, this one was fire. Passion was written all over her face. With a regal gesture of the hand, she motioned him to leave the deer in one of the palace rooms.

I am planning to host a royal banquet soon”, she announced imperiously. “Have the Erymathion boar in the kitchen ready for the royal cooks in a week’s time from now” So saying she dismissed him with a flick of her wrist. Wow! This was turning out much easier than he had expected. The third task had been really easy and fourth one was just a repetition of the third task with a find and replace 'deer' with 'boar'. He was good at cut copy paste and find replace.

He had walked a few steps from Mycenae when he ran into a third stunner. He wondered if someone had slipped good luck charm into his morning tea. One quest completed and on the way to complete the next and meeting not one, but three of the most beautiful women who had ever graced the earth in a single day! After Helen of Troy and Cleopatra, who was this? Princess Diana?

It turned out to be Diana indeed. However it was not princess Diana as he expected but Goddess Diana, the virgin Goddess of the hunt. All wild animals fell under her domain. He had trespassed into her domain and hunted the animal most sacred to her – the golden hind. He would now have to pay for his crime.

I am sorry, Goddess. I am a stranger to this land and I was not guided properly about the rules and regulations here.

But you have committed a grave offence and I cannot let you get away unpunished

I will willingly accept punishment but as a Goddess I am sure you would not deny me the right to be heard by a fair judge.

Now whereas Juno and Venus were known to be mean Goddesses, Diana had a good reputation for fairness. So she could not afford to taint her reputation.

Ok. I will let you be tried by a fair judge of your choice.

Without hesitation, Harvi replied, “I would like to be tried in an Indian court of law

Diana had not been prepared for this. “But we can’t go to your country now”, she protested

Pat came the reply, “No problem. I have a 3 G mobile phone and we can join the court proceeding through video conferencing.

The case was filed in the court and court gave a date of hearing 3 months later. Diana let him go free till the judge delivered his final verdict. Harvi knew too well how the Indian legal system worked. Hearing after hearing, hearing after hearing, the case would drag on for years together. Diana being a Goddess had no sense of time in the human world and would not even notice the delay. Meantime, he could finish his quest, return back a hero, start his business, become rich, marry, beget children, bring up his children, get them married, see grandchildren and die a peaceful death. The case would still be going on.

Now he could focus on his next quest.

Next Part of the Story        :  Singer on a Boaring Quest
Previous Part of the Story  :   Singer Sings Hydra Stings
First Part of the Story        :   Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Deer Picture

3. Singer Sings Hydra Stings

One of the things any half decent management course teaches you is the importance of presentation. As a management student, the importance of presentation had been driven hard into Harvi’s head. Now that he had got some inkling of the nature of the challenges, he realized that it was critical to present himself as a proper hero. And one of the aspects of creating the right impression was proper attire and gear. So he logged on to Amazon.com on his mobile and ordered for himself an impressive looking long sword, a majestic cloak that claimed to offer protection against physical attacks, poison and magic and a few other hero accessories. This almost wiped out all his savings. However when the goods arrived he could not help feeling it was money well spent.

In the ancient days whenever heroes had any doubts on how to proceed on their quests, they would consult the Oracle. But in the present day Oracle was nothing but a dump for useless business data. Google was the one a hero had to turn to for any kind of help in his quest. Google Maps showed the location of Lerna but there was no High Draw anywhere on the map. So he decided to use Google search for High Draw. Most of the results were related to either golf or a card game. A feeling of relief came upon Harvi on discovering that this challenge was going to be just an innocuous game of golf or cards. This was replaced by a feeling of frustration and disappointment at having wasted so much money on the hero gear. He consoled himself that he could always earn money again as long as he stayed alive

He saw a shepherd pass by him as the GPS on his mobile phone indicated he was in Lerna. He hailed the shepherd and spoke up, “Sir, can you tell me where I can find the high draw

The moment he said high draw, a frightened look came on the shepherd’s face and he hurried away without a word. He met a farm labor who responded in a similar manner. But luckily the third person he met indicated the general direction where the high draw could be found before making his quick exit.

Harvi pondered why these men were reacting that way. Possibly it was a case of class struggle. The high draw players must be from the high society and must be oppressing these poor folks. The money spent on the hero attire was not in vain after all. They would stand him in good stead with the high society crowd. By now he was more or less near the spot where the high draw was supposed to be.

He suddenly stopped in his tracks. What was the sound he was hearing? It was like hissing of a dozen snakes. And the sound was getting closer and closer. Before he could turn back a weird looking creature was upon him. It looked like a gigantic monitor lizard with 9 heads sticking out like snakes. Suddenly it dawned on him: he had got it all wrong. All along his mission had been to destroy this grotesque creature: the hydra! And now the creature was coming to destroy him!

Due to the number of heads the creature was quite clumsy. However each of the heads darted at him rapidly. He swung the sword around and slashed at each head that came close to him. The sword was indeed turning out to be a good buy. It was extremely efficient. But it was not really effective in terms of the overall objective of slaying the monster. For each head severed, two new ones kept springing up. And at the end of 3 hours, instead of a creature with 9 heads, he was faced with one with 81 heads. He finally decided to do what he always did when the pressure levels became too high.

He threw down the sword, unwrapped his turban, let down his hair and started singing is his loud hoarse voice

Tere naam se jee loon
Tere naam se marr jaaun
Teri jaan ke sadke mein kuchh aaisa kar jaaun
Tune kya kar dala marr gayi main mitt gayi main
Ho ri ha ri ho gayi main
Teri deewani deewani-
Tune kya kar dala marr gayi main mitt gayi main
Ho ri ha ri ho gayi main
Teri deewani deewani

As he sang, he was transported to a different world. He forgot about the monster, the aliens and the quests. He was one with his song and he sang his heart out. When he finished his song, he looked around. The hydra lay dead at his feet. His singing was a torture for even a single pair of ears. 81 heads meant 162 pairs of ears and snakes have sensitive ears. One can only imagine the living hell the poor creature must have experienced before receiving the final mercy of death.

Having completed the second challenge fair and square, he was about to leave, when his eyes fell on the 80 odd snake heads of the dead hydra. This gave him an idea. He was after all an entrepreneur at heart. They say a true entrepreneur sees opportunity in adversity. And Harvi could see opportunity to replenish his sagging finances in the hydra’s adversity. He quickly got down to work extracting snake oil from the lifeless snake heads and bottling them. By the time he was done, he had around 250 bottles to put up for sale on e-bay. They would sell like hot cakes. Snake oil was always in demand. Having utilized the opportunity to make a quick buck, he was back on his way to Mycenae.

Next Part of the Story         :  Singer on a Wild Deer Chase
Previous Part of the Story    : Singer and the Lion
First Part of the Story          : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Hydra Picture

2. The Singer and the Lion

What was he to do now? One option was to just sit and play ‘Angry Birds’ and hope that alien would be back. But was that a risk worth taking when the future of humanity was at stake? This was not some trivial MBA assignment to just put aside feigning ignorance. The starting point was quite clear. He had to find out where he was. He activated the GPS of his mobile phone to check. Mycenae, Greece, it said. Next step was to find out the best route to Nemea.

The Google map was so perfectly mapped that even the lion’s den was clearly marked and Harvi had no problems reaching his destination. Now came the difficult part of killing the lion. His first thoughts were to order a gun from Amazon. But then there were 2 issues. He had been pretty bad at using guns even during his NCC days. It was unlikely that there had been a sudden quantum jump in his shooting abilities. The second issue was that of funds. The heroes of the old had benevolent Gods gifting those weapons, food, steeds and what not. But these days there were no such things as free lunches. He had to depend on his own finances and he knew that a good hunting rifle would wipe out all his savings.

When everything else fails, Google comes to your rescue. So he decided to check if he could find a more economical and efficient way of killing a lion on Google. As expected the internet did give him lot of answers. The first method was called the Newton method. It said, “Let the lion kill you. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Implies you killed the lion” But then there was a small issue. If he died on the first challenge, who would take up the remaining 11 challenges? The lion? So this method would not do. Then there was the software engineer’s method. “Kill a cat and claim that your testing has proven it is a lion. If anyone comes back with issues tell that you will upgrade it to lion” This idea seemed more promising.

Harvi searched the internet for kitten sounds. It did not take much time to find one and download. He started playing it and soon a sweet little kitty was lured in. He then addressed her, “Guess what I have in this mobile?

The cat gave him a quizzical expression. He continued tantalizingly brandishing his mobile phone at her saying, “I just picked up the latest gossip on the cat fights in Bollywood. It’s all here.” The cat began to run around his legs and take mini leaps to reach the phone. But he kept the phone high above its reach. After sometime the cat could not bear the suspense any longer and dropped dead. Curiosity had killed the cat.

Next step was to take picture of the cat’s corpse with his 8.0 Megapixel camera. Then he quickly downloaded a photo editing software for mobile phones. With that he morphed it into a picture of a lion. He was sure he could carry off the deception. It was all about confidence and belief in oneself. If his marketing research professor could believe all his cooked up data why would the alien not fall for the morphed picture?

With these thoughts, he was on his way back to Mycenae. The Greek king stood at the place entrance waiting for him.

The first challenge did not take too much time, eh?” he said, his flat voice matching his expressionless face

Ready for the next one? Here you go. Destroy the Lernaean Hydra

He was here a moment and he was gone the next. He had not even asked to see any proof of completion of the first task. Then suddenly it dawned upon him. Of course! Why had he not thought of this before? The aliens could read minds. So he had directly read it all out of his own head.

But then his mind was suddenly filled with anticipation and doubts. The aliens had given no indication whether he had succeeded or failed in the first task. By the earth standards it could be deemed a success. After all fudging was the norm here. Physics teachers knew students fudged lab data. HR managers knew candidates fudged resumes. Auditors knew company accounts were fudged. Viewers knew media fudged the news. Everyone knew everything was fudged. But they pretended to believe everything was all right and carried on with life. The fudging was the glue that held together the entire human civilization. Wasn't that what sophistication all about? The day someone called the bluff the whole civilization would fall on top of each other like a cards tower. He hoped things worked the same way with alien races as well.

But this was not the time for all these philosophical musings. He had all the time in the world for that later if the world survived. Now the priority was to figure out what this hydra thingy was.

Next Part of the Story        : Singer Sings Hydra Stings
Previous Part of the Story  : Singer on the Roof

Picture credit : Lion Picture

1. The Singer on the Roof

Allah ke bande hasde allah ke bande
Allah ke bande hasde jo bhi ho kal phir aayega
Allah ke bande hasde allah ke bande
Allah ke bande hasde jo bhi ho kal phir aayega 

A thousand donkeys could not have brayed with as much gusto. There were rules in the country about noise levels in the wee hours of the night. But those laws did not hold inside the campus. Most of the students had resigned themselves to their fate. They had been subject to this torture every exam night. It was his way of letting out his exam stress.

But today the powerful voice had caught somebody else’s attention. It was going to be a defining moment in the history of mankind. Little did the well built young man with a blue turban, a flowing dark beard and thick glasses realize that soon the fate of the entire mankind would come to rest on his broad shoulders. For thanks to him an alien race had become aware of the existence of humanity. He was too lost in his own singing to notice an unidentified object descending rapidly towards him. He was caught by surprise to see a strange reptilian looking creature standing in front of him.

The aliens did not speak like humans. But they had mastered their own form of telepathic communication through which they were able to communicate. They began to send images into his head. They were a merciful race and were willing to spare the humans. However they were curious about the human race and wanted to subject them to some tests and study them. The test would consist of a series of twelve challenges to test the intelligence, ingenuity and resilience of the human race. If he successfully cleared all the hurdles, it meant humans had potential to hold their own among the advanced races of the universe. The aliens would depart in peace. If he failed, the human race was doomed.

Of course there was a third option. He could refuse and leave the aliens to pick an alternate candidate. Any sane person would have chosen the option. That way the buck would be passed to someone more capable. Maybe a world leader, a scientist or an army general would have been a more suitable representative of the human race. But then he was a Sikh. And it was mid night. So backing out from a challenge was out of question. So Harvinder Kuldeep Singh, who was finding academic pressure too hot to handle, now had the burden of the entire world on his broad shoulders! The unlikeliest of champions!

Suddenly there was a heavy gust of wind. The wind was building force by the minute. Harvi lost consciousness as he found himself seized by the eye of a tornado. He did not know how many hours had passed before he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes. What a crazy dream it had been! It was still dark. Maybe time to quickly study something for the exams.

But where were the books? He could not find them anywhere. In fact he could not find anything at all. It was not even his room. Where the hell was he! This place seemed to be much larger. As his eyes adapted to the dark, his eyes fell on the furniture in the room. The place seemed like a palace? What was happening? Was he still dreaming? But then things happened in dreams. Here nothing was happening. He was getting bored. He could not remember getting bored in a dream ever before.

He put his hand into his pocket. His fingers brushed against a flat rectangular object. Was it what he thought it was? But you never know in these weird dreams. He quickly pulled out the object. And, yes! It was his Samsung Galaxy mobile phone. At least one problem was solved. He wouldn’t be bored now. Angry birds would keep him company. He got so engrossed in the game he did not notice the light flooding into the room as the sun rose.

He looked around and the place did look like a palace indeed! He suddenly noticed that he was no longer alone. A man of regal bearing stood in front of him. He was a middle aged man with a robe woven out of the richest fabric, a neatly trimmed dark bead and a laurel wreath crown. The man walked up to him taking graceful strides.

Well young man, ready for your first challenge?” he boomed.

Harvi realized who he was talking to with a start! The aliens must be shape changers or they had abilities to create strong illusions. He was never going to find out which. He nodded his head. He had made the decision the previous night. There was no turning back now.

Your first task is to kill the Nemean lion.

To kill the Nemean what?

Lion. Panthera Leo. A carnivorous species of genus Panthera family Felidae found on the planet earth.

Harvi never even remotely imagined his challenges would be anything of this sort. He had never killed a mouse and he was now supposed to kill a lion. Before that he had to figure where this lion could be found. He turned to the alien to ask him. The alien had disappeared. He was now on his own.

Next Part of the Story: Singer and the Lion

Picture credit : http://www.allgoodseats.com/fiddler-on-the-roof-tickets.html

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces