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.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces