The Magical Cave III: At the Burrow

The girls just stood rooted to the spot, their feet firmly planted on the ground. Vinod turned back and ran towards the girl. “What are you standing here for? Get moving, girls!

We are not done yet. We have still not even glanced into the accessory stores, the perfume stores and jewel stores.

We have no time for all that. If we don’t leave immediately, we will be stuck in this land.

“But we have so many coupons. All of them will go waste. Maybe we can go in quickly and use these coupons.” Ramya had a stubborn look and Navneeta had a pleading look on her face.

No, we have exactly 5 minutes. If you are not coming, we are leaving without you,” Vinod said firmly and moved decisively towards the exit.

The girls looked at each other for a couple of minutes and came running to join the others. Soon they were back in the cave. It was pitch dark inside. It must be night already. What would they do now? As they stood thinking, suddenly the cave lit up. One of the little men held a lantern in his hands. 

It is an unearthly hour to stir outside. May we make you welcome in our humble abode till dawn?” It was the man with the glasses. 

We are already so cramped up in our burrow without inviting every gatecrasher in as well.

Come on, Grumpy. Where is your hospitability? Don’t mind him, kiddos. This will be good fun. Come along.

Achoo Achoo Achoo!” The kids neatly stepped out of harm’s way as the little fellow with the ruddy nose let loose a torrent. 

Vinod hesitated a bit. “We don’t even know you. Would it be fair to accept your hospitality?

Let us remedy it then. We are the seven gnomes – I am Happy, this is Doc, this is Grumpy, that quiet one is Bashful, that confused one is Dopey, the one with drooping eyes is Sleepy and the one keeps sneezing is of course Sneezy.

Aren’t you those dwarves from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” Ramya exclaimed.

 “Well, we may be from the line of those that you mention from that old legend. But we object to our noble race be called by the derogatory term that refers to stunted ones of your race. We are gnomes not dwarves

The children introduced themselves and they walked up to gnomes’ dwelling place. Soon they were close to what looked like a large hole. The gnomes dropped in without much difficulty. The children were not too sure if they would fit into these holes. But on encouragement from Happy and Doc, Vinod lay on his stomach and crawled in. He was not at all prepared for the sight that greeted him. It was not at all cramped like Grumpy had mentioned. It was a proper home from medieval times, cozily furnished. 

Everyone come on inside. It is all right,” he called. Ramya emerged through the hole, followed by Navneeta and then Ajay. 

The house was beautifully furnished. As they were looking around, Vinod heard a creaking sound. He turned around to see one of the chairs near the dining table collapsing under Ajay’s weight. “I am sorry. I didn’t realize it was so fragile.

The gnome called Bashful looked like he was about to burst into tears. “See, Doc. This is what comes of inviting these unruly vermin into our home.” It was Grumpy again.

We shall get you a new seat, Bashful. Our guests are unfamiliar with our abode. Let us not judge them to hastily, Grumpy. I am sorry, my dear guests. We do not have right furniture to entertain you today. We have to make do with what we have.”

The children had to have their meal on the floor. But then they were used to it as they often had food sitting on the floor in their homes as well. So they were surprised why the gnomes were being so apologetic. They did not know what the ingredients were but the food was just delicious. The gnomes had also assured them that it was all plant based food with no meat in it. Then they settled down to sleep on the mattresses the gnomes laid down for them in the floor.

Next morning, they set out to leave early in the morning. Though the gnomes wanted them to stay for breakfast, the children felt their parents may be getting worried and they wanted to get home as early as possible. Doc and Dopey accompanied them to show them the way. Dopey, a quiet gnome who always looked lost was apparently an expert in finding ways. To the children’s surprise and delight, they emerged out of the caves close to the bottom of the hillock. So they did not have to climb all the way down again.

Do give us an opportunity to host you at our abode again. Also Sleepy has dreamt that the next land that will be coming is Kisanpur.  I hope we can escort you that delghtful and delectable land.” said Doc as the children prepared to be on their way.

The children liked the sound of this new land. “Sure we will try to come,” said Ramya.

Dopey who had been quiet so far pointed to a small hole near the entrance. Then he put his mouth close to it and made a non-comprehensible noise.

“Thanks, my friend Dopey for reminding me of this, “said Doc and turned to the children. “Do you see yon hole? When thee shall come seeking our hospitality, all you have to do is to say these words at the hole: Abracadabra. Open the Sesame.
Ramya looked excited, “Will the words open a magic door like the story of Alibaba and the forty thieves.

That it shalt not, my lady. But this hole can carry thine voice right up to our abode and it can bring one of us down there to make thee welcome.

The children nodded understandingly. Their minds were filled with excitement as they walked towards civilization to catch the bus to Bangalore. They hoped their parents would not be too worried and they be able to plan an excursion the following weekend as well.

The Magical Cave I: A Cave in the Hills <<<<   The Magical Cave II: The Land of Bargains <<  >> The Magical Cave IV: Welcome to Kissanpur

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The Magical Cave II: The Land of Bargains

An hour passed by. Two hours passed by. Still there was no sign of the boys. Navneeta was feeling scared. Ramya was blazing in fury. “One can never trust boys! Always irresponsible! They must have totally forgotten about us.” Navneeta was praying they were safe. Then suddenly they heard footsteps. Was it the boys? But, no! The sound was coming from behind them and there were definitely more than two pairs of footsteps. She felt a shiver down her spine. Her parents had warned her of dangerous elements who lurked in such solitary places waiting to prey on innocents venturing into their lair. The risk was all the more for girls. She stood frozen to the spot.

Who is there?” Ramya shouted out. She was a gutsy one. Navneeta wished she could be like her friend.

There was no reply but they did not wait for long to see the owner of the footsteps. Some figures could be seen approaching in the dim light of the torch. There looked like small children by their heights. But their gait was not the playful stumbling gait of children but the more steady solemn one of adults. As they came nearer, she noticed their worn out faces with long beards.

Hail thee, yon fair maiden. What bringeth thee to our humble abode?” Navneeta looked at the speaker. A pair of kind, intelligent eyes stared out of his Pince-Nez.

Our friends have gone through that cloud over there. We are waiting for them to return.

Come on with us, dearies. We will take you to your friends. We are anyways going in there. The more the merrier. Ho Ho Ho!” This was a fellow who looked like a miniature version of Santa Claus.

How many times have I told you not to talk to strangers, Happy!” This from a fellow with a flaming red beard and eyes blazing like cinders!

Achoo! Aaahchool! Whoosh!” The girls found themselves swept of their feet and flying through air as they just caught a glimpse of one of the men, his nose red, sneezing compulsively.

They landed on the ground with a thud and found themselves lying near the feet of the two boys.

Don’t you girls even have this much patience. We are hardly been here five minutes and you choose to come sniffing at our heels.” Navneeta was surprised to see the usually level headed and sensible Vinod showing a hint of irritation.

What do you mean five minutes? You have been away for two hours now.

I note thine befuddlement, fair maiden. But father time keeps a different count here and a different one there.” The seven little men walked in.

Seeing their confused look, the happy looking fellow spoke up. “Ho Ho Ho. Don’t you get it? You can pass time much faster in this land. In 5 minutes, your friends were able to pass 2 hours of boredom. Isn’t that cool?

Yeah, for 5 minutes here, you lost 2 hours of your life time in your real world.

Grumpy always has an eye for issues, eh? Ho Ho Ho. Well, you gain time in some lands, you lose in some. Overall it balances out if you keep visiting lands. Anyways let us not waste the precious hours. Go grab yourself a bargain?

Bargain?” All four of them looked puzzled.

Yes. This is the land of bargains. You can shop here to your heart’s content.

At the mention of the word shopping, both the girls’ faces lit up for a moment and then fell. “But we didn’t bring much money.

No problem dearies. You can pay in cash backs and coupons.

What are they?

Well – cashback is the opposite of cash. Taking a ‘cashback’ has the same effect as giving cash. The cashback will remain with you till you have some cash and as and when you have equivalent cash, it will cancel itself out and vanish.

And what is a coupon?

A coupon is like cash but with some strings attached. A coupon may be valid for only certain duration of time, or valid to buy only certain types of goods or usable only with certain merchants.”

Enough, Happy! We have already wasted enough time. Let us get going on our business.” It was Grumpy again.

The little men disappeared and the children were by themselves.

Well?” said Vinod.

What are we waiting for?” said Ramya.

There were stores of all kinds: apparel stores, perfume stores, electronic stores, book stores, art stores and stores selling almost every item you could think of! They went about window shopping for a while looking at these strange shops. The shops were teeming with customers. All the shop keepers as well of customers were strange looking beings, most of them the size of children, with strange looking features that were not exactly human. Some had strange pointed ears, some had pencil like noses, some had animal like features.

The girls decided to check out one of the apparel stores and the boys headed to the electronic store. The girls’ eyes popped out when they saw the range of merchandise on offer. There were dresses of silk, cotton, chiffon, satin, wool and every other material one could think of. The designs were just mind blowing and there was clothing for every ethnicity: frocks and gowns, chudidhars, kimonos, sarongs and kanzus. And as far as colors went, they only had to name any hue and there it was. The girls had a time of their life going parsing through the range of dresses and bargaining over the prices. The strange creatures at the shop seemed so patient. They did not hassle them or rush them into making choices. They kept displaying garment after garment. Before the girls knew what happened, it was evening and they found themselves with large bags filled with clothing, thousands of rupees worth of cash backs and another thousands worth of coupons for perfumes and jewelry. As they happily headed towards the perfume store, they felt a strange wind blowing. Before they could give it a thought they saw the seven short men running, with huge sacks on their back and the two boys, right behind them.

Hurry up. We are already too late,” they yelled at the girls.

Picture Credit: Shopping Street
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The Magical Cave I: A Cave in the Hills

Ajay was furious. Why did Vinod want the girls along? That too that domineering Ramya of all people! What did Vinod see in her? Why not Niranjan or Gaurav instead? But then what was new? When did Vinod ever listen to Ajay? But then Vinod was his best friend and like always he would humor him, even if it meant putting up with the likes of Ramya and Navneeta. Well, come to think of it, Navneeta was not too bad for a girl, Ajay reflected. She had good taste – she always laughed at his jokes. Anyways what was done was done. This was supposed to be fun and he did not want to ruin the fun by brooding over his best friend’s choice of companions.

Ajay shivered a bit as the breeze brushed past his skin gently. It was still dawn. They had decided to start quite early as it would be difficult to climb once the sun came out. The fresh unpolluted air kind of lightened his mood as they trudged on silently. Vinod lead the way, followed by Ramya, then Navneeta and then Ajay. One good thing about trekking was that it took away all your breath – you hardly had any left to talk. One could enjoy the serene silence. The monsoon had just ended and the hillside was lush with greenery. One could hear the twitter of birds chirping away merrily. Ajay felt a kind of oneness with the nature.

His reverie was halted by a sudden grating sound: a human voice. “I think we should stop here and have our breakfast.” He looked at Ramya in irritation. But she did not seem to notice. Soon they were seated on the hard dry ground. Navneeta took out the bread packet from her knapsack and handed out slices to everyone. After the strenuous walk, bread with cheese and fresh vegetables tasted heavenly.

This is fun. It feels so much like an Enid Blyton adventure”, Ramya gushed. “Maybe we should call ourselves the adventurous four.

Who knows? Maybe some smuggling activities might be going on in the hills. Let us keep our eyes and ears open.

Ajay groaned. Once Ramya and Vinod started this Enid Blyton talk, there would be no end to it. Reading the school books was itself such a chore. How could these guys spend so much time on non-school books and talk about them with so much excitement as well? He tried to ignore them and focus on the bread.

Ajay gave out a sigh of relief as the breakfast came to an end and they were back on their path. The sun had fully come out by now and it was blazing brightly. It had been a good decision to start off early. The sound of birds had ceased. The heat had possibly caused the birds to beat the retreat. The breeze had also stopped. There was complete pin drop silence.

Suddenly Vinod yelled. “Look there.” They all looked in the direction Vinod was pointing. There was a small hole in the rocks.

That must be an entrance to a cave. Let us explore.” Ramya was glowing with excitement.

Navneeta looked a bit unsure. “I have heard there are usually bats in caves.

Come on, Navneeta. Don’t be a wet blanket. Why are you scared of bats? Bats are just mice with wings.

Well – I am scared of rats!

A typical girl.” Ramya’s nostrils had flared up. “We should have let you stay at home and play with your Barbie dolls.

Vinod looked towards her. “Come on, Navneeta. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. We are with you. We won’t let the bats harms you, will we, Ajay?

Somehow Ajay also did not like idea of bats hovering above him. But he did not want to show himself a weeny in front of Ramya and get ridiculed. So he said bravely, “Yeah – I and Vinod will just swat them away like mosquitoes.

Vinod eased himself into the hole, followed by Ramya. Navneeta looked back hesitantly at Ajay. He gave her a reassuring nod. He felt a kinship with this girl for being a victim of her best friend’s fancies.

She gingerly dropped in and Ajay followed. There was limited light inside and it became darker as they moved further away from the entrance.

This is so exciting,” Ramya squealed.

This is so exciting. This is so exciting. This is so exciting.” Eerie echoes engulfed them.

Please don’t Ramya,” Navneeta whispered.

I think we should go back. It is dark to see around us and the pathways are getting too complicated. We might get lost in here,” Vinod whispered.

Don’t worry. I have come prepared,” said Ramya. She put a hand into her bag and brought out a flash torch and a piece of chalk. “We will keep marking the walls of the cave as we move ahead. We can follow the chalk marks back."

She switched on the torch and the cave lit up. Vinod nodded his head in approval. Ajay shrugged his shoulder. Navneeta’s face looked pale. They walked on ahead for a while. Then Vinod suddenly stopped. All the others gathered around him. Right ahead of them was a thick blanket of smoke like a cloud. They could not see through it despite flashing the torch through it.

Ajay did not like the expression on Vinod and Ramya’s faces. Navneeta spoke what was in his mind. “I think we should turn back. That seems like a dead end.

She could have as well told a dog to stay away from the bone than tell this to Vinod and Ramya. Vinod spoke up. “I want to see what is beyond the smoke. You both girls stay here. I and Ajay will go ahead and investigate.

Ramya pouted and was about to speak up when Navneeta stepped closer to her and clung on to her hand. She looked for a while into Navneeta’s frightened eyes and held on to her tongue. Ajay wished he could also hold on to Vinod’s hand and stop him. But that did not work with boys. Vinod had made up his mind. He had to follow after him into danger or lose his friend’s respect. He chose the former.

One moment they stepped into the cloud and the next moment they found themselves in bright day light. In front of them was a busy street of a city filled with shops.

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The Malhotra Bride - Spotlight

The Malhotra Bride by Sundari Venkatraman</ span>

The Blurb

Sunita Rishi’s just turned twenty, having completed her graduation. She wants to fly free as a bird, explore career options and travel the world. Does she have a choice when Mamma & Pappa insist on arranging her marriage? Born in a rich business family steeped in tradition, Sunita has a tough job on her hands. Can she stop the tide? </

Tall, dark and handsome, Akshay Malhotra is the catch of the decade. The only son of Billionaire Raj Malhotra, he’s in a strange fix. His father’s keen that Akshay meets Sunita with marriage in mind. He’s too close to his parents to say ‘no’ for the preliminary meeting. And then he comes face-to-face with Sunita…. 

Will Sunita be falling from the frying pan into the fire when she agrees to become The Malhotra Bride?

Buy @

The Malhotra Bride by Sundari Venkatraman (Romance-Drama)

Meet the author

The Author's Thoughts

Even as a kid, she absolutely loved the 'lived happily ever after' syndrome as Sundari grew up reading all the fairy tales she could lay her hands on, Phantom comics, Mandrake comics and the like. It was always about good triumphing over evil and a happy end. Soon, into her teens, she switched her attention from fairy tales to Mills & Boon. While she loved reading both of these, she kept visualising what would have happened if there were similar situations happening in India; to a local hero and heroine.</ span>

Her imagination took flight and she always lived in a rosy cocoon of romance over the years. Then came the writing - a true bolt out of the blue! She could never string two sentences together. While her spoken English had always been excellent - thanks to her Grandpa - she could not write to save her life. She was bad at writing essays in both school and college. Later, when it was time to teach her kids, she could manage everything from Science to Mathematics and History & Geography.</

When it came to writing compositions, her kids found her of no help at all. All this changed suddenly one fine day in the year 2000. She had just quit her job at a school's office and did not know what to do with her life. She was saturated with simply reading books. That's when she got home one evening after her walk and took some sheets of paper and began writing. It was like watching a movie that was running in her head - all those years of visualising Indian heroes and heroines needed an outlet and had to be put into words. That's how her first novel, The Malhotra Bride, took shape.

While she felt discouraged when publishing did not happen, it was her husband who kept encouraging her not to give up. There was no looking back after that. While publishing took a long time happening, Sundari continued to write novels and then short stories. Her luck turned when Indireads approached her to write for them and Double Jeopardy was born.

Then came the self-publishing on Amazon. The 2nd edition of THE MALHOTRA BRIDE has been successfully published on Amazon and is available as an ebook since February 2014. The book has been very well received by the reading public.

You can stalk her @


Escape into an Asian Paradise

Have you heard of a Penanggalan? A Langsuir? A Toyol? Probably not, I guess. I know what you must be thinking – exotic dishes of a foreign land, eh? Isn't that what anything sounding weird usually turns out to be, especially in travel posts. I am sorry to disappoint you, my dear reader – these are just the opposite of what you are thinking of – they are not the ones whose sight will make your mouth water. On the contrary, the sight of you will make their mouth water. For these are malicious beings, from Malay local folklore, that love to feast on human blood. Then we have headhunters. No, these are not the cute girls and aunties who contact you on Linked in with opportunities from the world’s leading banks and IT companies. These headhunters are the dreaded Dayak and Dusun tribes who wouldn't flinch to detach your head from your body and take home to their warlord as a trophy. Few years back I read a nice adventure book having all these elements. It was a refreshing change from Tolkien's elves and dwarves or Stephanie Meyer's vampires and werewolves. Ever since I have read that book, I have somehow developed a fascination for the Eastern part of Malaysia – the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the Borneo Island. I know this may sound as stupid as someone saying they want to visit India because they are fascinated with the idea of snake charmers and Fakirs sleeping on beds of nails or visit Germany due to their fascination with the legends of little folk of the Black Forest. But that is how I am and these kinds of things add a magical aura to a place.

I did get an opportunity to visit Malaysia a couple of years back but my trip was confined to Western parts – Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. While I really enjoyed the visit to the bird park in Kuala Lumpur and the boat ride along the mangrove jungles of Langkawi, I came to know these attractions were rather tame compared to what Sabah and Sarawak had to offer. That reignited my old desire to visit these regions. However I have somehow not liked planning trips – I find it more fun when they just happen. I like to see myself more as an explorer or an adventurer rather than a tourist. But I guess unless one works for National Geographic, such opportunities may not come one’s way. So the best option is possibly a vacation trip only and to let one’s imagination to do the rest. When doing a vacation trip, definitely at least some high level planning is required. So I began to give a thought to identify at least 5 things I may like to do in Eastern Malaysia.

Given that my initial fascination for Malaysia began with fascination for local tribal traditions and folklore, I would definitely like to know more of the local culture right from the horse’s mouth. The living cultural museum – Sarawak Cultural Village would be a good place to indulge my fascination. Who knows? It may give me material to write the next Lord of the Rings.

During my days as a software engineer I have been an avid trekking enthusiast. I have somehow been drifting away from this passion of mine the last few years. What better place to rediscover my lost love than Borneo’s largest peak – Kinabulu Park. Trekking in the Amazons has always been one of my dreams. Though Amazons are romanticized more, I guess the experience here would be more or less the same as trekking through Amazon’s rain forests - maybe lesser in terms of danger quotient though.

As I mentioned earlier, I loved the boat trip along mangrove forests in Langkawi but was disappointed at not sighting too many animals. From what I have seen in reviews, a river trip along Kinabatangan River would not disappoint in this area. An opportunity to see exotic species such as proboscis monkeys, Asian Elephant and Sumatran Rhinos does indeed sound promising. And of course the species that can be found only in this region: Orangutans. They are a fascinating species: an intelligent species introduced to me by my mother in my childhood in the context of similarity in facial expression between me and these primates. The Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary and rehabilitation center would be an interesting place for a closer study of these nesting monkeys. Yes. That is right. Nesting monkeys! Contrary to popular beliefs that monkeys know only to destroy nests, there are monkeys that build nests too.

I have heard it said the beauty of nature under oceans surpasses that on land. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park with its opportunities for good snorkeling seems like an ideal place to grab a glimpse of what lies beneath.

I do hope I get an opportunity some day to savor these bounties of nature generously offered by the island of Borneo.

I am participating in the MalaysiaJao Blogathon Contest in association with
All pictures used have been tagged free to use or share by Google. Find below credits for the same.
Tribals;  RafflesiaOrangutan

An Unexpected Greek Odyssey

If we put masala in dosa, it becomes masala dosa. If we put onion in Kulcha, it becomes onion kulcha. But apparently, this Indian logic does not work in Greece. I discovered this the hard way during my maiden Greek vacation. The restaurant guy offered me a choice of souvlaki and chicken souvlaki. I was not feeling like having non vegetarian, and decided to go without the chicken. However my two friends opted for the chicken. My initial suspicions were aroused when my dish did not look too different from what my friends were having. When I bit into it, it gave a funny taste. I decided not to go by first impression and gave it a second bite. It continued to taste funny. Then I tried a third and a fourth bite! And guess what? It still tasted funny. So I decided to call the waiter, and checkup. What I heard made my stomach churn in horror – souvlaki was traditionally a pork dish wherein chicken was substituted for pork in chicken souvlaki. So trying to avoid chicken, I had ended up consuming pork.

From then on, I was careful to seek all necessary information before venturing into culinary adventures. And that did help me, for if I had not, my aversion to consumption of mutton would have kept me off some wonderful goat yoghurt with honey. Apparently no goat had to sacrifice its life for this cause – it was just yoghurt made out of goat milk. Lest the reader assume this trip was nothing but food, let me move on to other things. but not before a passing mention of the wonderful Greek coffee offered by our hosts. However I must mention I am no coffee connoisseur, and all I can say is it was some kind of dark coffee - not the usual espresso, and it tasted good.

Let us now go back and start where it all began like one of those lengthy English classics. It all started one lazy afternoon at the 18th floor of the tallest building in Bonn, the erstwhile capital of West Germany. I was doing my summer internship and the coming 4 day weekend had sapped away any enthusiasm for work. I was idly browsing through travel websites when suddenly an offer caught my eye. To and fro tickets to some place called Kavala for a mere 99 Euros! I had never even heard the name of the place but a true blooded Indian I would have grabbed a journey to burning pits of hell with both hands if only it came cheap. A bit of internet research showed me that Kavala was the closest airport to a Greek island called Thassos. We had never heard of that island either but we were able to book an economical bed and breakfast place through If we could book accommodation through the internet, the place must be having internet. And any place having internet can’t be too bad, eh?

I had traveled a bit around Europe and thought I had a good measure of the continent. But I was not at all prepared for the sights that greeted me at Thassos. The vegetation, the housing, the people – everything was so different. Lovely looking olive trees dotted the entire landscape. The buildings were exactly like those of Greek Civilization in the ‘Age of Empires’ game. Looking at those buildings from my window, I almost expected hoplites and phalanxes to emerge out of those buildings. The people there seemed larger than rest of Europe and friendlier. Most of the people we met seemed so eager to make our acquaintance and were very chatty in their singsong Greek accents. The place had a nice rustic feel to it with a hill at the center and the sea all around. It was a small island that we could traverse entirely on foot.

One interesting thing I noted about the place was that I did not see a single Indian during our entire three days stay. In case one fails to see the significance of this fact, let me contrast it with my experience in rest of the Europe – nowhere else in Europe have I walked more than 10 minutes without catching sight of an Indian face! That took away the whole novelty and special feeling of doing something different. But in this island, the utter lack of Indians made us feel almost like the first men on moon – the first people to hoist the Indian flag on this Greek island. We were further flattered by the attention the locals were giving us. As we walked through some interior streets, old grandmas, lovely village lasses and children could be seen peering at us in wonder from balconies and windows. We felt grand like some adventurers landed on an unexplored alien planet.

The Mediterranean cuisine coupled with anise flavor of Ouzo completed our culinary experience while the fragrance of olives combined with the fresh sea and hill air to enrich our olfactory experience. The scenic beauty was balm to the eyes while the gentle Mediterranean breeze gently caressed our hands, feet and faces. Greek music playing everywhere from taxis to shops to restaurants completed the entire spectrum of sensory experiences. Seeing our fascination with their music, the guy at the restaurant was kind enough to gift us a CD containing the songs that were playing to take back home as a souvenir. That was just one of the numerous experiences we had of Greek generosity.

The entire trip was like a dream and it hardly cost us anything with flights booked at an offer price and lodging at a home converted into a bed and breakfast place. I really wish I could experience the whole thing again sometime.

This post is for a contest sponsored by Sky Scanner where they have asked us to write about out dream travel destination for 2014 and how we will travel smart. I am not sure what destination I want to travel to, but would definitely like a trip to a surprise destination with experiences similar to the one I have described here. The accompanying picture is not clicked by me but a free for use or share taken from here.

A Diabolic Conspiracy

Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.” We were doing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as part of English curriculum during high school and the above line somehow captured my imagination. I have somehow had a kind of fatal attraction for characters with shades of darkness in their characters and Cassius just fascinated me. I would spend hours daily imagining myself as Cassius, hatching a master conspiracy to dispatch off a tyrant. But then how long can one be satisfied with merely enacting one’s fantasies within one’s mind? My fantasies yearned to manifest themselves in the real world.

A fortuitous circumstance presented itself in the form of a classmate Vinay who had been consistently annoying a lot of our fellow classmates, some to an extent even to wish an end to his mortal existence. I decided to channel these sentiments into a diabolical plot like my idol Cassius must have done centuries back. The foremost challenge in putting myself as the originator of this conspiracy and have men follow me was my image. In school usually, we have good boys and bad boys. Good boys tend to read a lot, do well in their academics, are well behaved and liked by teachers. Bad boys on the other hand, did not care about studies, not much into reading, got into all kinds of unacceptable behaviors and often found themselves in trouble with the teachers. While my wavelength would have matched with the former, they could hardly be relied upon to side with me on the unimaginable felonies I had in my mind. So I had to look to the latter. But I was considered to be one of the good boys. So how was I to make myself acceptable to the bad boys? It was probably the same problem Cassius must have toyed with ages back and the solution that presented itself was the same – Brutus!

While Cassius sought someone reputable, I sought someone of disrepute. Tony seemed to have all the qualifications I was looking for. He was well respected amongst the antisocial elements at school. He had been a close friend of Vinay and had lately had a serious tiff with him. I had a reasonably good rapport with him and he seemed the right person to put in front to rally the conspirators. His plans to leave school in a month presented an additional advantage. Once the forces were rallied, he would be gone and I would lead on his behalf with him as the symbolic leader of the gang. Not that I was power hungry but the men of the sort I had chosen to associate with, not being so well read, tended not to observe the right forms. They tended to jump too hastily into action. They needed an artistic leader who could understand and appreciate the finer nuances of an intricate conspiracy.

Things went as per plan and in a month’s time I found myself the de facto leader of a gang of 5. Assault and theft were key elements of our initial strategy to counter Vinay. We would take turns at provoking him daily and take the opportunity of the fight to inflict injuries on his person. We would sneak into the classrooms during games periods to deprive him of some of his property. In order to prove myself to my fellow conspirators, I launched myself enthusiastically into the field of action, securing a few scars of valor in the process. (My mother might have thought entire school was a skating rink given the number of times I claimed to have slipped and fallen and hurt myself) While the thefts could happen behind the scenes, the fights had to happen in the open and tended to lower my currency amongst the good boys. But then one could not have the cake and eat it too.

By and by, we were getting bored of doing the same old routine of fights and petty thefts. If anything, our punitive strikes only served to worsen Vinay’s behavior. He in fact seemed to enjoy the fights. We always fought him one on one: never as a group as it was against our code of honor. For we wanted to “carve him as a dish fit for the gods, not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds”. So it was time we took more drastic action. By then, the English class had moved on to the ides of March and the scene of Caesar’s assassination. Yes, that was the answer – assassination! We spent hours discussing how we could dispatch off Vinay for good. My fellow conspirators surprised me with their vivid imagination. I realized imagination was not the sole preserve of the well-read. Our plans ranged from procuring poisons from the biology lab to drowning him in the school well to explosions in the Chemistry lab.

Somehow though I loved conspiracy, murder was not really my cup of tea. It was nice to discuss but we had beaten the topic to death and now it was time to do the same to the victim and I did not feel up to it. I doubt if any of my fellows also really had the stomach for such a gory venture. I felt it was time I directed my team’s energies in a different direction. Cassius’ charm was slowly fading and Robin Hood emerged as a serious contender for my attention. I decided we were done with being Roman conspirators and in one sweep we decided to transform ourselves into English brigands. This change however did not change our modus operandi much: it only served to expand our market segment. Instead of focusing on Vinay alone, we turned our attention to some of our other classmates as well. I developed a code of ethics, mostly centered on right form of behavior with respect to our female classmates. Any of our male classmates found not to be confirming to the same made suitable targets for our strikes.

There was however one minor glitch in playing Robin Hood – while we stole from the rich, we had no poor to give it away to. My fellow merry men considered themselves to be suitable candidates to benefit from this ill begotten wealth. But Robin Hood would have none of it. All the stolen goods would either have to be destroyed or sold and proceeds donated to a charitable cause. We were crusaders for a cause and could not allow our noble cause to be tainted by acting like common thieves. Some of the merry men, who had been in this business right from kindergarten, thought I was crazy. But they were by now used to my leadership and decided to fall in line.

We continued like this till the end of the year. But then, the academic burden of the ICSE syllabus was already telling on my merry men as well as most of our victims. The next year, the entire crew deserted the ship leaving the captain to fend all by himself in the land of savages: the good boys. And so it came about another glorious or infamous chapter of my life, depending on how you see it, came to an end.

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Love's Labor by Andy Paula

The Blurb

Piali Roy has run away from home and the two stubborn men who love her. One is her beloved Baba; a rigid traditionalist, he refuses to accept anyone from outside her caste and community. And then there is Sathya, the unsuitable outsider. He loves her truly, madly, deeply and has even called off his marriage for her sake. Neither man will budge, and the small town of Jampot, where everyone knows everything, is not big enough for the two of them.

Away from their unreasonable demands, Piali strives to find peace in the mountains. But within six months, her lover tracks her down. Once again, she betrays the one by trusting the other.

Will her labor in the name of love be in vain, or will love transcend all differences?

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     The Book Club Presents Andy Paula's Love's Labour</ b> 

Meet the Author

Andy Paula is a corporate trainer by profession and a writer by vocation. After the innumerable essays, poems, articles, editorials, congratulations & condolence letters she wrote for herself and others refused to satiate her writer's Self, she finally put herself seriously to the task and wrote Love's Labor,a romance novella that is now on Goodreads. 
To know more about the versatile author click here.

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