Brother and Sister Part 3 - Bear's Milk

They were at a bear’s cave. They were greeted by ferocious growls. When they entered, they found a large brown bear huddled in a corner with her cubs. The moment she saw them, she rose to her full height, waving her paws menacingly at anyone who dared approach. Even with Protius and Nejvada at his side, it would be a close fight. The bear would not be pinned down as easily as the wolf had been.

As they stood facing each other, the wolf cub had caught one of the bear cubs' eyes. Curiosity overcame him, and he left his mother and brothers to take a closer look at this strange animal. The two animals pawed each other and rubbed noses. Seeing their brother, the other cubs also wanted to play with the wolf cub and moved towards it. Now the mother bear was standing all alone. The cubs were by Ivanko’s side. He drew out his sword as if to kill them. The bear's attention was now torn between the two ferocious dogs in front of her and her cubs being held hostage by Ivanko. What was she to do?

The dogs took advantage of the bear’s distraction to pounce upon her and pin her down. Ivanko felt sad seeing the majestic creature held down so helplessly as he milked her. He really felt evil doing such a thing to her. But then his sister’s life depended upon it. At least she thought as much. So, he had to do it. Soon he had enough milk for his sister. The dogs let the bears go and they were on their way. As he started to ride, he saw a bear cub running by the side of his horse. It was the same one that had turned the game for him by making friends with the wolf cub. He looked back. The mother bear seemed to have no objection to the cub leaving the family. She seemed completely relieved to be left unhurt and reunited with the rest of her cubs.

He picked up the bear cub that was probably younger than the wolf cub on to his horse and rode home. He wondered if he saw a flash of disappointment on Marya’s face on seeing him arrive home or was it his imagination? There was no reason why she should not be happy to see him return. And if she was to be believed even her own life depended on it. She definitely did not show any happiness. She just quietly took the bear’s milk and drank it. For some time, she seemed recovered.

Then one day, again she was down sick. Ivanko just could not understand what was with her. Why was she behaving so strangely? Why did she keep falling sick and making strange demands all the time? Also, somehow, he did not sense the closeness that had existed between them all these years. What was happening to her? Was the illness affecting her mind in some way?

They had always been so close. Other than being brother and sister, they had been through so much together that they could not but be extremely fond of each other. He remembered how their heart had been in the sleeve as they had fled with the bull. They had feared the demon would catch up with them this time as well and he would not be that forgiving a third time. He would definitely kill one of them. Their worst fears had been realized when they had felt the blue flames from the demon’s horse a while after they had left his place. He had caught up with them again. Was this the end? Would the bull now leave them to their fate and run away like the horse and bumblebee had earlier on?

The bull however had remained calm. “Look into my left ear,” he had said calmly. Ivanko had complied.

“What do you see there?”

“Something that looks like a brush.”

“Take that and throw it between us and the demon.” He had done as the bull had bid him.

The moment the brush hit the ground a dense forest had sprung up. Just like that out of thin air between them and the demon. They were now safe. It would take months for the demon to make his way through the forest. The trees and bushes were so close together that they had to be cut down for one to make his way through it.

But the demon could only be delayed not denied. He destroyed the entire forest and was soon after them. Again, the blue flames could be felt close to the bull’s hindquarters.

“What do we do now, friend Bull? We are done for.”

“Look inside my other ear,” said the bull. “What do you see there?”

“A handkerchief.”

“Wave it in front of you.”

He did as he was told. A huge river came up in front of them.

“What have you made do, bull? We can’t proceed ahead anymore. We are literally trapped between the demon and the deep river.”

“Don’t worry. Wave the kerchief once more.”

As soon as he did it, a beautiful golden bridge formed across the water to an island right in the middle of the water.

They rode across the bridge and were soon on the island.

“Now turn and quickly wave the kerchief again.”

As soon as he waved it, the bridge disappeared. And in good time for the demon was about to climb on to the bridge.

“Now you are safe. For all evil creatures are scared of running water. The demon can’t get to you here on this island.”

They had heaved a sigh of relief.

Russian Folk Tales Review - Part 1

I have often wondered what a story at is its bare essentials. There are elements such as humor, subtext, character exploration, bringing physical scenes to life, creating moods etc. Often these elements acquire greater importance than the story itself. But still the skeleton needs to be there. Whatever fancy building one tries to build, there still needs to be beams and pillars to hold the building together. When one reads folklore and fairy tales, one can easily see the core story without the additional trappings due to their simplicity. I was introduced to Russian folk stories early in my childhood and really enjoyed these tales. After many years, I am rediscovering these stories and find I still enjoy these stories. As I read them I began to reflect what is the core of the story.

Some of the stories are parables in the tradition of Panchatantra, Aesop’s fairy tales etc. They are a different class. But let us first explore the tales of heroism - a tale where a hero is faced with a challenge and he overcomes it and emerges victorious. There are three to four key types of challenges and there are three to four key ways in which the hero overcomes the challenges. I thought I would explore each of the challenge types and the ways to resolve the challenges.

The first challenge type is a princess or a near and dear one kidnapped by an antagonist and the hero has to rescue them. In the Russian folklore, the usual antagonists are dragons, witches like Ugyr and Baba Yaga, Koschei the deathless etc. The next one is an escape challenge. The hero is held a prisoner often along with the heroine and both have to effect an escape. Then there are quests. Quests can be of multiple varieties – performance of a seemingly impossible tasks, vanquishing of a ferocious monster, capture of elusive beasts, recovery of something that is closely guarded – animals, princesses, magical or other precious objects.

In rescues, mostly physical prowess often helps, either part of the protagonist’s natural physique or enhanced by magical objects. Usually the stories take the form of smiting off of dragons’ heads, one to one melee etc. Modern fantasy describes the fights in visual details making the entire fight itself an entertaining experience. The other way of overcoming the challenge is through the use of intelligence. These are like solving a puzzle and they are difficult for a writer as they have to really think through a series of challenges and solutions to make them interesting to the reader. A third way is the intervention of benefactor – an old man or a powerful being or animals. This intervention would usually be the result of an act of kindness by the protagonist early on in the story. Sometimes the protagonists are also just lucky – a powerful being intercedes on their behalf with no inducements. Most stories fits into this framework.

It would be interesting to go story by story and analyze using this framework and see if the story fits and what other elements are there.

Let me start with the book ‘Folk Tales from the Soviet Union – The Russian Federation’.

The first story is titled ‘Marya the Fair – Plait of Golden Hair’. Here Marya is kidnapped by three dragons – one with three heads, one with six heads and one with nine heads. The hero has to indulge in three arm to arm combats – acts of pure physical prowess. The heroine Marya helps a bit by lashing the dragon with her plaits when the hero is down. The shirt of nettles knitted by his grandmother helps when the dragon attempts to bite him. At the end of the story there is a second challenge with a water carrier claiming credit for Ivan’s feats of bravery. This is overcome by the hero’s intelligence and foresight.

The second story is titled – ‘Marya Morevna’ Here again we have a Marya and Ivan. There is an initial buildup of protagonist getting his sisters married to a falcon, a raven and an eagle and Ivan’s meeting with Morevna. There is also the element of letting an evil loose into the world through one’s curiosity ala a Pandora’s box. Here the one released is Koschei the Deathless, who kidnaps Morevna. From here on the story is one of escape – Ivan tries to steal Marya from Koschei. He fails thrice and is killed the third time. Here he is aided by his bird brothers-in-law who bring him back to life. Then he goes to witch Baba Yaga to seek a powerful horse and now the story turns into a quest. She sets impossible tasks for him to accomplish in which he is aided by animals he has helped earlier. Then the escape from Baba Yaga and the final escape from Koscehi the Deathless where his powerful horse aids him.

The third story is titled – ‘Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka’ – this one doesn’t fit into the framework. It is the story of bad luck when a girl’s brother is turned into a lamb through magic. Then good luck comes in the form of a rich merchant who marries the girl. Again, bad luck strikes when a witch throws her into a river and takes her place. Her brother is the only one who know the fate of his sister but is not able to communicate to anyone. Seeing his attempts, the witch attempts to kill him. But luck favors him, and everything turns out well in the end. This story probably needs a different framework of changes in fortune – the ebbs and the waves in the drama of life.

Brother and Sister Part 2 - The Bull Sprite

All his effort had been of no avail. His sister had not been cured by the wolf’s milk. “Please, brother. It is not wolf’s milk that can cure me but bear’s milk. Get me some of it and I shall be all right.”

“Come on, dear sister. How can you possibly know that? I think I should take you back to civilization and get a doctor to see you.”

“You know we can’t do that, my dear brother. The demon will get us the moment we leave the island.”

“But it’s been so many years. Do you think the demon will still be waiting for us? I think it is time we got back to the world. I think you are homesick. That is what is making you sick. “

“No, brother. I am scared. Let’s not leave this island. It is bear’s milk I need. I saw it clearly in my dreams.”

“Like how you saw about the wolf’s milk? Do you even know how difficult it was to get hold of that animal and milk her? I also feel terrible about the way I treated that poor beast.”

“This time I am sure I have the dream right. Please get me some bear’s milk and I shall be all right. Don’t you love me anymore, brother? Will you watch me die away doing nothing?”

“Ok. I will see what I can do.”

He rode into the jungle followed by Protius and Nejvada as well as the wolf cub.

The dogs caught a scent of a bear and were soon on its trail. He was so glad to have Protius and Nejvada by his side. Nothing could harm him as long as they were there. The two dogs, his horse as well his sword – they were all magical –  gifts from the great bull sprite.

The bull sprite! He had been more of father to them than the father of his blood who had only sold them off to the demon.

The demon had taken them away and kept them in captivity for months. He had let them roam around in his yard for he was sure they could not escape. He had a magical horse which ran like the wind. However fast they ran they could not escape him.

But they had had their first hope when a horse sprite had come that way and offered to help them. “My dears, why do you stay with this terrible demon? He sacrifices small children for his magical rituals. That is how he gains his power.”

“No, dear horse. We are not staying by our own will but being held captive.”

“Come with me then. I will take you away from him.”

They had left with the horse. But hardly had they ridden for a day when demon was upon them. The demon’s horse was breathing fire and the tail of the children’s horse was aflame.

“I am sorry, children. But I will be burnt to cinders unless I go to a river and douse the flames.”

So saying the horse had left them behind and disappeared. The demon had once again seized them and taken them back to his home.

“This time I will let you off lightly but do not expect me to be merciful always.”

He had starved them for two days and given Ivanko a sound whipping. He still winced he remembered how his back had hurt.

A few days later, a giant bumblebee sprite had arrived. “What are you children doing here? The demon who owns this place is dangerous. He will keep you as slaves and work you to death. Come away with me. “

“No, dear bumblebee. We had tried escaping with a horse and the demon had caught up with us. We were badly punished. We don’t want to be caught again.”

“Do not worry. I can fly high. The demon can’t reach us in the sky.”

They had flown for two days when the demon had been upon them. The demon’s horse which now seemed to have sprouted wings and flying right behind them, had let out a stream of fire and the bumblebee’s wings had caught fire at once.

“I am really sorry my children. I can’t be of help to you anymore. I must dive into a lake to douse out the fire or I will surely die. I hope you will understand. I had underestimated the demon’s horse. I am sorry to have got you into more trouble than you already were. But there is nothing I can do.”

So saying the bumblebee had left them to the tender mercies of the demon and flown away. Once again there had been two days of starvation and even more merciless flogging for Ivanko.

“This is the last time I am going to tolerate anything of this sort. Next time no matter what creatures comes and tempts you, don’t you dare try to flee. For if I catch you fleeing, I won’t let you off with small punishments. I will boil you in the cauldron and have you for dinner. Disobedient children are too much trouble for me.”

A few more days had passed, and a bull sprite had passed that way. “What are nice children like you doing in a place like this? Don’t you know this entire land is full of dangerous magic and the demon who owns this place is one of the most dangerous beings?”

“We know. But we are held captive and can see no means of escape.”

“Maybe I can rescue you. Come along. Get on to my back.”

“No, friend bull. We have already tried to escape twice, and the demon has caught up with us. He has a most powerful horse that can even fly. It could catch up with that swift horse and bumblebee so easily. You can’t fly, nor do you possibly run as fast as a horse. We will definitely be caught. This time the demon will definitely kill us.”

“Do not underestimate me due to my physical form. For I have powerful magic and I will not abandon you like the other two. I shall be with you and fight  till then end. I am what they call a guardian spirit and I have made it my life's purpose to aid hapless beings in clutches of vile faerie beings. I shall fight for you even if that destroys me.”

“We appreciate your intention, friend bull. But we fear for our lives.”

The quite Marya, who had hardly spoke so far spoke up. “What life is this, brother that we fear to lose?  Lifelong captivity with a sword hanging over our heads. For all we know the demon may kill us any day even now. Then we will regret not even having tried to escape when we had the chance.”

“But sister…”

“Your sister is right. I at least offer you a chance for life. With the demon, you face sure death or worse. It is only a matter of time. Come with me. I am not of feeble spirit like the horse or the bumblebee. And I have my own magic you will see. Come along.”

Ivanko had needed no more goading.

Brother and Sister Part 1- In pursuit of wolf's milk

“I am seriously ill, brother. I am dying. Only you save me, my dear brother. I saw it clearly in my dream. I need to drink wolf’s milk. Get me some wolf’s milk at once or I will die.”

His sister’s words rang clearly in his ears as he rode into the forest on his steed, his two trusted dogs by his side. The wolf was a dangerous animal. And a she-wolf with cubs was doubly dangerous. And his powerful sword would be of no use against her. For dead wolves give no milk.

But however difficult, he had to do it for she was all he had. And he was all she had. They had never seen another human in the last ten years since they had fled to this island. He had vague memories of his mother and even lesser ones of his father. His father! He grimaced at the very thought of him. Than man who had been away for most of their childhood, had brought trouble as his companion the day he had finally arrived. The foolish old man had sold out his children to a dangerous creature of the faerie. To his credit, he had not even known he had children. Their mother had come to know she was pregnant only after he had left on his journey. The journey had lasted five whole years in which he had made his fortune and he was returning home to his family a man of means. Nothing would have delighted him more than to find the two new additions to his family – a pair of twins – his son and his daughter.

But as luck would have it he had managed to fall into the hands of a magical being – a malicious shape changer. The creature had kept him imprisoned for days. He had tried to tempt it by promising it all his wealth, his home and even his wife. Such was the man. Willing even to sacrifice his devoted wife to save his own skin. Ivanko thought little of this father of his. The shape changer had not agreed. Finally, the demon had made his demands, “You shall give to me that which has newly arrived at your home during your absence.” He had readily agreed, little guessing what the new additions could be.

He had been devastated when he had discovered that the new additions were the two children his wife had given birth to during his absence. He had beat his breast and wept and lamented that he would rather have let his own life be taken rather than make such a deal with the vile creature. But now looking back, Ivanko did not really believe that. After all he was one who had been willing to trade his own wife to save his life. Anyways they had made a weak attempt to save the children by digging behind their house and hiding them inside a hole.

He had acquired a pair of lambs and tried pass them away as the new additions to their home. But the demon was no fool. He had known all too well what the new additions were and had gone about looking for them while Ivanko's father and mother had watched helplessly, hoping he wouldn’t discover the children’s hiding place.

But the demon was a being of strong magic. He had brought all the things around the house to life and questioned them. The broom, the spade, the axe and the chisel. They all had staunchly stood by the couple and refused to reveal the location of their children. But the demon was an extremely cunning creature. “My dear chisel,” he had said, “Your loyalty is misplaced. The people of this house have not taken good care of you. If they had, would they have let that paint come off around that corner. They do not care for you as much as they do for the spade or the broom or the axe. “

The chisel’s head had turned, and it had revealed the location of the children. The demon had dug out the children from their hiding place, seized them and ridden away on his powerful horse. The parents had just watched helplessly. That was the last he had seen of his parents.

The dogs’ barking broke his reverie. They were outside a wolf’s den. They had hardly taken two steps inside when a ferocious howl was heard. Soon the wolf herself was before them. He leaped out of her way just in time as she sprung straight for his throat. As soon as she landed on the ground, the two large dogs were upon her. Ivanko went inside and brought out the cubs. The moment she saw Ivanko standing over her cubs, his powerful sword over them, all the fight in her was gone. The two dogs pinned her down and he milked her. Once he was done, they let her go. She rushed to her cubs and the family of wolves pawed each other and howled in pleasure.

“Come on, Protius. Come, Nejvada. Let’s go,” said Ivanko and they set out to leave. As they were leaving, one of the wolf cubs left the family and began to follow them. Somehow it seemed to have developed an affinity for Ivanko. He tried to shoo it away. But it kept following. He realized the cub was intent on being with him. He too felt fondness for the little creature -he bent down and picked up the cub and placed it on the top of his horse in front of him and rode away with him.

The Adventure Series - Review

So, I completed all 8 books of Enid Blyton’s Adventure series back to back. And here is the overall round up. The series has interesting characters, adventure, danger, joy of exploration, friendship, humor, animals and of course food. Let us look at each of the elements one by one.

Talking of the characters, Jack is oldest of the lot at thirteen. In the first book he is projected as a kind of young absent-minded professor of sorts – an ornithologist obsessed with birds to the exclusion of everything else. But he does not keep that image through the series. He comes out as level headed and calm in the face of danger, good natured and pragmatic. He cares for his little sister Lucy Ann but does not openly show all that much affection for her. His parrot Kiki provides comic relief as well as drives the plot in more than one book – getting him trapped by flying away or helping him get free and making him chase her to danger or by making sounds and distracting the villains.

Phillip is the next oldest. He is shown as a spontaneous and person endowed with a magnetic personality attractive to humans as well as animals. He is supposed to have this magical voice that can charm any animal. One of the things to look forward to in every book is what new pet he is going to acquire. His charm also extends to small children of the less advantaged sections of society. Tassie and Oola are two children who fall under his spell in Castle of Adventure and River of Adventure respectively. He shows lot of courage facing up to villains. But along with boldness, comes a dominating nature and a strong temper which get him into trouble. He draws maximum flak from the villains and often gets into squabbles with his sister as well.

Dinah is Phillip’s younger sister. She is often described as a wild cat. She has Phillip’s tuft of hair jutting out as well as his temper and dominating nature. She is generally non-sentimental, bold in her own way and takes command whenever she can. She generally takes charge of the distribution of food like a mother and often makes observations and judgement like an adult. This irritates Phillip, who in turn irritates her with his insects, rodents, lizards and reptiles that she hates. So, we often see squabbles between them that comes down to the level of slapping. Enid Blyton clearly takes Phillip’s part in these quarrels and shows a hint of disapproval of her behavior. But in modern times Dinah would be seen as a confident young girl with a spine, who is comfortable with herself and does not seek a male identity like George of Famous Five. I feel overall Blyton has not done sufficient justice to her. She plays a strong role in the first book. But as the series progresses, she recedes to the background, letting the boys take center stage. Also she is shown as irritable and impatient snapping even at Lucy Ann. She comes across as the least likeable of the four.

Lucy Ann is the child of the group – innocent, cute and adorable. She exercises a charm on most adults. She is extremely passionate and open in expressing affection. She is extremely attached to her elder brother Jack and over the series her affection extends to include the other three children as well as Mrs. Mannering, the mother of Phillip and Dinah and Bill. She is an imaginative child, a poet at heart who goes into raptures at the sight of beautiful scenery and historic places. She is generally a frightened child who is not particularly fond of the dangers the adventures entail. But exhibits great courage when her near and dear are threatened. While she does not play a strong role in the adventure, she leaves a strong impression with her sweet nature.

The children meet Bill in the first adventure and over the series develop a closer bond with him. He is a detective and often the adventures arise out of the children being in his proximity. At other times, you have strange coincidence of children engaging the same criminals he is investigating. This kind of coincidence is kind of difficult to believe. This happens all the time in Hardy Boys as well. The boys and their father Fenton Hardy start out different investigations and it always turns out both cases are the handiwork of the same gang. The children keep saying he is a great detective and all that. But except for a pull with the police department to mobilize resources, he does not come out all that impressive. In four of the eight books he ends up playing into the hands of the criminals and ends up a prisoner having to be rescued by the children. But as a person, he is extremely likeable. He is nice and friendly with the children and one of the adults who actually pays attention to children. He even decides to marry the children’s mother at the insistence of the children – becoming from close friend to father. When I was a kid I really was moved by the gesture. I had never wanted to marry but if at all I married, I wanted to marry like Bill – befriending a bunch of children and marrying their mother, getting a ready made family as Bill calls it.

While as a reader, one identifies with the children and gets really fond of them, if one were to think about it they are probably not children one wants to meet in real life. They are openly hostile towards foreign kids such as Gussy and Lucian except when the new children are subservient like Tassie or Oola. It is not any kids in particular. In general, also you see the children getting defensive at the very idea of other children joining their group.

Now coming to the exploration, this book takes us to a whole lot of places. We start with a nice scenic British countryside by the sea, then a Scottish countryside with a castle in the vicinity, then an abandoned valley in central Europe, British Isles of the north, Welsh mountains, a ship cruise across Europe included visits to Greek islands, an imaginary foreign country and last but not the least a river trip close to Syria. She does not get very descriptive as such and mostly captures the feeling of exploring a new place rather than the details. Where she goes into details are the secret passages and underground caverns. That is an exciting aspect of most of Enid Blyton’s work – interconnected secret passages through mountains and under the seas.

The danger comes both from humans and the elements. We encounter currency counterfeiters, spies, treasure hunting syndicates, gun runners, mad scientists and conspirators planning coups. Most tend to only imprison then. But some threaten their lives. The danger from elements comes in the form of being deserted in a vast uninhabited valley, being caught underground with sea flooding in, trapped under a collapsing castle, being out unexposed in a sea storm, rounded up by dangerous dogs, mauled by bears, floating along a river down a water fall to name a few. This series has maximum danger among all of Enid Blyton’s books.

Food as usual occupies a place of pride in the series. Blyton has this penchant for making bland British food seem like the most mouthwatering delicacies on earth. The less you know of what exactly the food she is talking about is, the more delectable it seems. Just the sound of the items has an exciting feel to them. She does not go descriptive like some authors are wont to and describe how exactly the item tastes and what it is made of. Mostly they are just names and the happy feelings of the people savoring the dishes. In this series, the children are kept amply supplied with food. In most cases the criminals are kind enough to let the children steal their stash of tinned food. And when children bring along a stash of packed food to last them a long journey, like the tins they bring in Sea of Adventure and all the home food in Mountain of Adventure, they manage not to lose the food. In Ship of Adventure, a fellow on a donkey comes and present them with delicious Greek food. This and the exotic local sweets presented by a hotel manager in a foreign country in River of Adventure are the only instances of mention of non-British food.

Through the course of the series Phillip manages to tame beetles, spiders, starfish, hedgehogs, mice, rats, dormice, slow worms, lizards, monkeys, foxes, puffins and snakes. He also encounters a pack of deadly dogs and circus bears. The various animals that make their appearance in this series are one of its specialty. Kiki of course is there in all the books and she is attached to Jack. She brings comic relief with her funny remarks. She both helps and hinders in the adventure while Phillip’s pets help in finding ways through mazes, carrying messages, untying knots and frightening enemies.

Last but not the least, the camaraderie among the children. The stories are rich with dialogue. The casual flow of banter makes the stories come alive and gives the reader a feeling of being with them and partaking in their fun conversations, their delights and concerns, their opinion and judgement of people they encounter, their plans and the teasing and leg pulling to say nothing of the squabbles between Dinah and Phillip.

This series is definitely one of Enid Blyton’s best books and something no Enid Blyton aficionado should dream of missing.

The River of Adventure - Review

The last books of the series and a close contender for my favorite book of the series. This one is not rich in settings like circus of Adventure where story movies from city to countryside to foreign country to circus to castle. Most of this story takes place along a river. But there is a kind of charm in a row along a river. You know like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. There is a certain peaceful feel to the idea of just relaxing in a boat that is going down the river and excitement around interesting towns that keep coming along the banks.

If Circus of Adventure was Jack's story, this one is Phillip's story. He has this magnetism that makes him attractive to humans as well as animals. He also manages to pick up an exotic pet. The children get out of most of their situations due to this prowess of Phillip. Kiki the parrot does pitch in as well.
The story has interesting settings - in the borders of Syria. Initially story is fun - visiting an exotic place with family. But this is a pleasure cum work trip for Bill - so one knows where the danger is going to come from. The villain turns out not that dangerous. Except for a risk of falling down a waterfall, even the elements don't threaten that much. Guess with Sea and Mountain, Enid Blyton decided to put danger behind her and focus more on fun.

The story ends with exploration of an underground cavern and the final encounter with antagonist as usual.
Some of the things may offend modern sensibilities. For example in the end Phillip compliments the girls that they were as good as boys. During the second part of the story when the children are on their own with native adult Tala, one sees a trace of imperialistic attitude in Phillip. Tala is an adult and ideally should be in charge. But no! English boys only have to be in charge. So Phillip makes a wrong choice going against Tala's advice just to put Tala in his place.

Of course all this was expected. But overall an enjoyable read - the second in the series I had originally read. When I had read it I had been totally puzzled who is Mrs. Cunningham taking care of the kids down with flu in the beginning of the story. In case you are wondering too, read and find out. I have tried to keep my reviews largely spoiler free. I mean this would not have been a spoiler if the book had been read in sequence. But just in case someone reads all my reviews and then starts the series.

The Circus of Adventure - Review

The seventh book has been my favorite one in the series. That has a flip side as well. While I had forgotten some of the events in the other books, I remember this one vividly and even the dialogues came to my mind before they were said. So it was not as enjoyable a read as I hoped this to be.

The series was supposed to originally conclude with the sixth book but guess given the popularity of this series, the publishers wanted more. But still she wrote only 2 more. I don't know why this did not wind up long like Find Outers series or Famous Five. More so since I consider the last two books the best in the series.

This book has it all - quaint English countryside settings as well as exotic foreign setting, lots of excitement without any peril to their lives. Lot of things happen in the story while maintaining a cheerful mood throughout. Jack does his bird watching and Phillip has a lion's share of animals - dormice, badgers and towards the end his biggest conquest yet. His abilities here however seem more realistic compared to what was seen in Mountain of Adventure.

The first part of the story is full of fun and lot of teasing and cozy family setting. A car ride from their city home to countryside, humor around their interactions with foreigner Gussy etc. But right from the beginning it is clear, there is a mystery around Gussy and things soon begin to heat up. That way the mystery begins from page 1. The story then moves to a foreign country and then a circus. A circus is a setting Enid Blyton is only too comfortable with - her famous Galliano's Circus and all that. And then there is a grand rescue and a grand escape from an enemy city where soldiers are looking for them.

One thing though - as it is the girls have limited role to play in the series. In this series, they are totally marginalized. They might have as well not been there, especially Dinah. Lucy Ann has a few sentimental moments with Bill in the beginning. Dinah does nothing except attacking Gussy in the early part of the book. As far as the adventure goes, they have absolutely no contribution. Its all a Jack and Phillip show. Even Phillip is kind of pushed to the background except for one grand act with dangerous animals. This is more or less a Jack story.

Overall a pacy read with lot of interesting elements and events. I really wish I could forget this and read it again as a new story.

The Ship of Adventure - Review

The sixth book of the series originally supposed to be the grand finale of an exciting series. After two highly adrenaline packed stories we are back to comfort zone. This time the story is set in a relaxed setting of a ship. The first third or so is just fun on the deck. The initial conflict is about getting Kiki on board. Then Phillip finds an exotic pet. The descriptions of the ship journey, the various facilities within the ship and islands in Europe they call on, make delightful read. A new character Lucien comes in providing comic relief along with Kiki the parrot and Phillip's new pet. There are no birds for Jack though. Nor are there any of the usual squabbles between Phillip and Dinah because he can't keep a bunch of insects and rodents on his person while abroad a ship. We see Lucy-Ann's ability to bond with people due to her deep empathy.

Even when the excitement starts, it is of the fun kind. There is no real danger facing the children. It is more like some of the stories in the Blyton's other series. A treasure hunt with evil men being competing adult treasure hunters. Only settings are more exciting with the search happening on a Greek island. The children are never all alone and lost and in serious danger. So overall the book has a much cozier feel compared to the earlier books. There are of course no secret passages etc. due to this story taking place most part on a ship. The treasure island has exploration of old buildings to find the treasure.
Some of the things from this books excited my imagination. I was fascinated by the idea of visiting Greek islands. I was so excited to visit an island Thassos many years later. Similarly I was fascinated by the idea of a ship in a bottle. So I got myself one while visiting Amsterdam. It was quite a small one though - not a big one like in the story.

Of course towards the end, we have some fights with the bad men, chases and escape. Phillip's pet plays a key role throughout in development of the story. Kiki plays a negative role. In the end, we have movement in the overall story with an important event happening in the life of the children - something for which grounds were being laid over the earlier 5 books.

From an overall series perspective, this book is a kind of relief after all the action and danger.

The Mountain of Adventure - Review

The fifth book of the series, even the name has a very pleasant air to it. This time Jack, Phillip, Dinah and Lucy Ann go to the Welsh mountains. We are back to the slow relaxed beginning. A jolly vacation feeling prevails. We wonder if we are back to the cozy atmosphere of the first two books. For a third of the book nothing adventurous happens. Phillip acquires two pets – interesting ones though not that exotic. There is lot of descriptions of food and eating. There is fun with Kiki and their Welsh hosts. They are safe and sound with their friend Bill and the mother of Phillip and Dinah – Mrs. Mannering. They look all set to go to a place called Vale of Butterflies on Donkeys. What can possibly go wrong, right? Wrong. In fact, after a slow start, we land ourselves the darkest story of the series.

First signs of mystery show with appearance of wolf like animals. What could they be. As Blyton takes pains to explain in most of her books, there are no such dangerous animals in Britain. Where could they have come from? This is followed by tremors in the ground. What is causing them? Then their Welsh guide starts developing strange incomprehensible fears. “Black”, “Black” – he utters. There has never been such mystery build up in an Enid Blyton book. The mystery is solved in the next few pages, but the answer is not one easy to digest. The men they encounter are no ordinary criminals trying to steal treasures. They are in a different league after. And for the first time, lives are in peril. As I had mentioned earlier, Blyton generally steers away from death in most of her book. Here she dangles the fear of death in front of the reader and how! At one point one can really feel a sense of tragedy though one knows this is a Blyton book and not some story of Genji where the author is going to kill of protagonist in the end of the story. People even had fears that J K Rowling may go that route. But not one will even think such things of Blyton.

For the people enjoying the cozy travelogue kind of feelings, this is not the best book once we got past the first third of the book. If we see, she has been increasing the danger levels from valley of adventure onwards. In valley of adventure, they are all alone in vast unsheltered landscape with burnt houses without even sufficient food. Nobody even knows where this valley is located. This kind of builds a sense of fear arising out of vast emptiness. However, there is not direct imminent danger. In Sea of Adventure, there is direct threat from the elements. Out exposed on an island with no adult company during a sea storm. And after that lost in an array of uninhabited islands with no hope of rescue. Here, humans are the main danger. The dark scary kind of humans you generally don’t see in Blyton’s books. I mean by Blyton’s standards. Nothing compared to Voldemort or some of the villains seen in some of the modern children’s fantasy to say nothing of adult thrillers.

Sometimes when things are cozy, people characters are not brought to fore. Only when things get tough, true characters emerges. Phillip comes out a true hero here showing grit and courage in the face of adversity. Also, his skill with animals almost reaches magical proportions here and that turns out to be the final fame changer. Lucy Ann is another who comes out in good light. She is always the scared little baby who never wanted any adventures. Here, even reader feels, this is a bit too much for children to be involved in. But she manages to show courage when her near and dear are threatened. A generally timid sweet child turning fiercely protective and ready to put herself at peril for her friends.

Other than the exotic settings compared to her other books, one thing about this book is that the children are thrown into situations where they are forced into adventures against their will. In others, the children from the safety of their homes, go investigating and poke around to apprehend criminals. Here the children are just going about their business and adventures seizes them and gives them no escape route. That way this is also the most dangerous series.

Another aspect we see as the series progresses is how relationship between children and Bill evolves. He is a stranger in the first book. In the second, he is just an acquaintance, who will pay them a visit when in the vicinity. In the third, he is taking them on short holidays. In the fourth he is close enough to visit their mother to leave official documents in her safe keeping and to take children on a longer vacation. In this one, he is taking them on a family vacation. This is nicely setting the stage for the sixth book.

So, Mountain of the Book is not the coziest of book. And one wonders how much more dangerous the story is going to get from here. And if they, will they truly remain Enid Blyton books? This was the last one I had read many years after I finished the series. I picked it up at a time when I was under stress and looking for something warmer. So, this did not meet my expectation. But on subsequent readings, I see how this book is special in its own way. It has the travelogue feeling, Philip’s way with animals, children showing character, danger, adventure, mystery.

The Sea of Adventure - Review

The fourth book of the series. This one has an exciting start that kind of reminds one of Sherlock Holmes’ Final Problem. Criminals are out to get Bill Cunningham the detective friend of the children Jack, Phillip, Lucy-Ann and Dina. He is trying to move around town under cover and disappear for a few days. After an exciting start, things ease out a bit as the children journey along with their friends the isles in northern Britain. This was the fun part like a travelogue. We get to see puffins. Jack as a bird lover once again comes to fore; there had been no birds for Jack in the previous story. Phillip of course has his three rats and adopts a pair of exciting pets. The pets don’t play a role in the story though. Also, we see the return of nature as a major antagonist. In the first book, we had the sea flooding in, in the second, there were landslides. However, the third did not have the children contending against the forces of nature. Here the children are stranded in an island with no shelter during a sea storm with nothing but tents to protect them. Actually, the danger feels more real when the antagonist is nature than mere bad men. Because bad men, we know in Enid Blyton’s books do not kill children.
Valley of Adventure, Sea of Adventure and Mountain of Adventure have a good sound to them being closely associated with nature. After Valley of Adventure, it took me years before I finally got to read Sea of Adventure and Mountain of Adventure. So, there was always a sense of excitement about this book. And seas do have a kind of charm about them. And we see the poetic side of Lucy-Ann. For a change, this book does not have any secret passages. While secret passages are exiting, it becomes cliched when you have them in every book. Guess Enid Blyton realized that and decided to keep this story without them. In this book they are in uninhabited isles with limited trees and cliffs. So not much scope for passages of any sort. Also, while not a foreign country, being out in the open sea away from civilization is definitely exciting.
Continuing on from last book where the children were self-reliant, this book takes things further with children actually effecting a rescue rather than being rescued every time. The story has fair amount of excitement. The adventure starts earlier than the first two books and there is excitement around boat chases, hiding from enemies and escape. Of course, luck does play a role as usual. The situations in the book are so dangerous that I guess it is difficult for the author to get the protagonists out of the situations she has put them in without a lucky break or two.
It was overall a fascinating book with a good combination of nature exploration, food and fun, danger and adventure.

The Valley of Adventure - Review

The Valley of Adventure is the third book in the series. This starts differently from the other two books. There is no relaxed fun and slow build up. It has a rapid start with Jack, Phillip, Lucy Ann and Dinah finding themselves marooned in a strange valley in the middle of nowhere with criminal elements for company. They have to figure out a way either to get out of the place or survive there while remaining out of sight of the criminals. This story kind of reminded me of Robinson Crusoe, one of the favorite reads of my childhood. Of course, the children find easier solutions for their food and clothing needs. But the idea of being in the lap of nature separated from rest of humanity is similar. The settings are much more exotic than the other books. They were quite close to their home in the first two books. In this book, they are not even in their own country – they are somewhere in the middle of Europe. That way the exoticism index is taken a few notches up.

Like in the other books, here also we have secret caves and passages. We also have a treasure hunt and we are introduced to a magical place like the caves of Aladdin and Ali Baba. This is one of the specialties of this one. This book however does not have any birds for Jack nor any interesting animals for Phillip. All he finds is a lizard that doesn’t do much except serving to irritate Dinah. Of course, Jack also finds a hen towards the end of the story. But a hen is not exactly and ornithologist’s delight. Talking of the hen, I found all the fuss the children made about the hen kind of strange and inconsistent. The children love the hen so much and fear the criminals don’t kill and eat it. But the children themselves are meat eaters and definitely eat chicken. This is one dichotomy I find in all Enid Blyton books. The characters seem to love animals so much and still eat the very same animals. And she does not even try to explain it in a philosophical way like in certain Native Indian lore.

Unlike the earlier two books, here the children manage to take on the villains on their own might without depending on their detective friend. However, they are aided by luck. While the children do attempt dangerous feats, the danger levels don’t peak suddenly like in the other books. This one maintains a steady pace through and through.

There is of course the usual fun around Kiki the parrot’s mix up of words and phrases. And food and eating as always occupies a place of importance, more so since lack of food happened to be one of the major initial concerns. I think Enid Blyton does a fabulous joy of bringing in food as a relief in the middle of intense scenes. In the real life also, there is a tendency to eat tasty food as a stress reliever. So this works really well.

I have seen it mentioned somewhere that Enid Blyton usually does not mention the war much in her books and also usually does not clearly specify the time the stories are set in. In this one however she mentions the war and that second world war is long over when this story is taking place.

Overall, I think this a more of a pure play adventure story than the earlier books and does not have much of the warmer fuzzier elements. Also, since there aren’t too many people here, we don’t see too much of the children’s character coming out in this one. It is mostly just action. That way it scores on setting and pace but loses out on some of the other aspects. So I would not have this story in running for the best book of this series.

The Castle of Adventure - Review

The Castle of Adventure is the second book of the series. This was the one I read first and got introduced to the series. This book opens at a school. That way the settings are similar to island of adventure. Isle of Adventure started at a master’s house. This one starts at the hostel of the girls’ school where Dinah and Lucy Ann study. They break off a day before the boys and arrive at a cottage Dinah’s mother has arranged for them. Once again it is a remote location away from the hustle and bustle of human activity. This kind of setting is one of the best part of Enid Blyton books. You yourself feel like you are in a relaxed peaceful vacation. The castle on the hill looms ominously in the background but once again it is a slow start with a leisurely beginning where children meet up after vacation and settle down in a new place. We are also filled in on what happened in their lives since the last book and also about the characters for people who are starting with this book. That way people can read this stand alone.
There are parallels between Isle of Adventure and this one. There, the children are led by Jack’s pursuit of Great Auks to the island of Adventure. Here they are led by Jack’s pursuit of the golden eagle. The Castle of Adventure has an even more placid start than Island of Adventure. Here it starts off with curiosity about the Castle that changes into a desire to get in when it is discovered the eagles are nesting inside the castle. Before they manage to enter the castle, they acquire a local girl as a friend and Phillip gets one of this exotic pet that is a special aspect of every book. The pet plays a major role in the story as well like his pets do in quite a few of the books of this series. I won't mention what the pet was because one of the things I looked forward to while reading every book was to discover what the pet would be. I am hoping my review would inspire someone who has not read this one to pick up and read and enjoy.
I liked this story better than Island of Adventure because here the children remain inside the Castle of Adventure for more days. That feels much more exciting. In island of adventure, the children don’t remain so much in the island of adventure. Here also, till half the book, there is no sign of any criminal activity. Like the stories about Isle of Gloom, there are stories about a wicked old man who used to live in the castle, keep prisoners and torture them.
There is the usual Comic relief of Kiki making her funny remarks that sometime make sense in a funny way. Kiki frightens the villains. Kiki in many of the stories works both ways. She flies away and has Jack follow her and gets him trapped. At the same time, she makes human and animal sounds to scare the villains and rescue him as well. I used to like Kiki so much I would pester my mother to get me talking parrot for one of my birthdays.
This book also has secret passages and hidden rooms. There is again pulse pounding action in the last part of the book - tussle with the bad guys as well as fleeing from a cataclysmic disaster.
There is just one surprise in this story and that too a small one. This was one of the reasons I liked to read it so many times – because nothing is lost by having it read it already.
One thing I find about these books though is that the criminal elements seem too soft. Enid Blyton portrays a world where sex and death do not exist. There is rarely any romantic sentiment expressed ever in her book and even the villains usually do not die. Villains always only imprison the kids and at worst whip the boys. That way it is fairy tale of sorts. Real world criminals would kill without slightest compunctions and going to lonely places like castle and islands of adventure carries a great risk of running into sexual perverts. As a child I wanted so much to emulate the children in the stories. But now as an adult, I realize how dangerous it could turn out to be. Like one of my friends told me – he prefers all adventures in dangerous jungles and all in the safety of his bed at home curled up with book rather than actually going to such places and exposing himself to real dangers. While on this point, I also wanted to mention about this talk of not exposing sisters to dangers that comes up often. In a sexless world, what extra dangers would a girl be exposed to that a boy is not? Here what is talked about is dangerous climbing and such which kind of implies women are less suited to physical exertion than men which might not go too well with modern ethos.
The characters begin to grow on us by the time we are into the second book. Jack is easy going, enterprising and sensible. And of course his crazy love for birds which contributed to plot development in both Island and Castle of Adventure. Phillip comes across as a bit more brasher and impulsive as well as dominating, given to tempers and also to teasing sometimes bordering on nastiness. He has that magnetic personality that makes him attractive not only to animals but neglected children as well. Dinah is the sensible no-nonsense girl, not a tomboy like George of Famous Five but still bold and not easily cowed down, not too sentimental, impatient and irritable. She also has a dominating nature that often brings her into conflict with her brother other than his love for animals and insects and her repulsion towards them. Lucy Ann is kind of opposite of Dinah, soft and sentimental, devoted to her near and dear ones and tendency to be easily scared. There is a strong endearing quality to her and the reader immediately feels he wants a sister like her.
This was one of my favorite books during my childhood and was devastated when my mother ripped it apart to pieces.

The Island of Adventure - Review

The Island of Adventure is the first in the Adventure series that feature Jack, Phillip, Dina, Lucy-Ann and parrot Kiki. While every book in the series is a standalone, there is a storyline related to the personal life of the children across the eight books. In this book, Jack and Lucy-Ann meet Phillip for the first time at their tutor’s house where both Phillip and Jack are getting tutored during their summer vacations. It is interesting seeing the beginning of a close friendship. Jack and Lucy-Ann don’t have parents and Phillip has only a mother and a sister Dinah who is with their uncle and aunt.

Jack and Lucy-Ann can’t go back to their uncle’s place as their uncle’s leg is fractured – they have to stay back at the tutor’s place. They don’t want to. That is the first conflict in the story. Phillip comes up with the idea that the two of them can escape and come with him to stay at his uncle’s home Craggy Tops. Craggy Tops is mentioned as an exciting place filled with birds and Jack is an amateur ornithologist. There is a general sense of excitement about the story moving to Craggy Tops. Will they manage to pull off the escape scheme?

Once that move to Craggy Tops gets settled, we start getting glimpses of Craggy Tops – the exotic house on the cliffs isolated from rest of civilization, secret underground pathways running through the cliffs and the mysterious island called Isle of Gloom. The main source of conflict is the house hold helping man Jo-Jo who seems to be at odds with the children and intent on spoiling their fun. We also start getting to know the protagonists better – Jack is a responsible sensible good-natured boy who is crazy about observing birds. Phillip is also similar to Jack, but he is extremely fond of all manner of insects and animals. While Jack mostly likes to observe, Phillip tames animals and keeps them about his person. In this book, no animal plays a major role, but we come to know of Phillip’s interest in mice, beetles, star fishes, snails etc. And he is a tease, especially with respect to his sister Dinah who doesn’t like insects, rodents, reptiles and the like. Lucy-Anny is the typical devoted young girl, who is petite and affectionate and loves her elder brother to distraction. Sharply in contrast to the relationship between Lucy-Ann and Jack, we have that between Dinah and Phillip. Dinah is very different from Lucy-Anny – a no nonsense type who is not particularly sentimental, impatient and liable to fly into rages. They also have a bond but keep squabbling with each other. That is the bunch.

Till half way through the book, there is no sign of any crime whatsoever. There are suspicious signals being exchanged between the sea and the cliff on which their house is located. There are continuous conflicts with Jo-Jo. The children befriend a mysterious man who claims to be a bird lover. He mentions the possibility of an extinct bird ‘The Great Auk’ being present in the area. Jack gets a notion that the bird may be there on the Isle of Gloom and children start trying to find ways to reach the island. That becomes the focus of the story.

Meanwhile there are lot of happy moments of picnic lunches, visit to the town, sailing trips with the stranger etc.

When they finally reach the island, they discover human presence on the island and ancient mines. That is when the mystery really starts. From there the story proceeds rapidly. The children visit the island and explore the mines and get trapped in the mines. Then there is the discovery of secret paths. Secret underground paths through rocks, under the sea and running through ancient houses – this is a standard trope of sorts in Enid Blyton stories. It is quite exciting for someone reading about them for the first time. Especially it was for me who even before I read Enid Blyton books used to imagine secret passages under the staircase, under the cots, the loft and all other dark mysterious places. I guess Enid Blyton knew about this favorite fantasy of children and pandered to it.

The end turns out very exciting with criminals gaining focus, a couple of surprises and lot of danger and action. The surprises of course lose value during re-reads. But Enid Blyton stories like those of certain other authors does not rest on the surprises alone.

Finally, the story ends with some happy developments in the personal lives of the children. After all the heart pounding action, we end with a warm fuzzy feeling.
This book tells a really interesting tale in itself but somehow this book is found not to have sufficient sheen if it is read after the following books in the series. The settings get more and more exciting book after book and the earlier books seem rather mundane compared to the later books. Also, some surprises, especially those pertaining to the personal lives of the children are surprises no more for those who have read the other books. That was one of the reasons I did not find this book all that exciting the first time I read as I read this as the third in the series after Castle of Adventure and River of Adventure. However, there was some positives also of reading it after the others. If you have already read books in the series, you see the children together and you have grown fond of them. So, it is exciting to be introduced to them when they first met each other.

If you are in the right frame of mind and are able to indulge in absolute suspension of disbelief, you will be into the story and the experience will be that of sheet ecstasy. However, if you start thinking about it, cracks will begin to show. For instance, in quite a few instances, the children are aided by luck. Also, in this story, it looks as if the criminals may have been caught even without the children’s intervention. If you are one, who likes to see their protagonists achieve success entirely through their exertion and intelligence, you may be left a bit disappointed. There are other aspects I want to touch upon. There are also other endearing aspects such as comic relief provided by the antics of Kiki the parrot that are a common thread throughout the series. But I will cover them in the reviews of one of the other books of the series.

A selfie that tells the story of an Indo

I am not much of selfie person. In fact, I am not even much of a photo person. My wife tells me the photo was the sole reason for my poor conversion ratio of 100:8. You might be wondering conversion for what? After all interviews shortlists don’t go out based on photos. And definitely I am not the model or actor types. So, conversion where? Of course, the great Indian Bride Hunt, which I have chronicled in the early days of this blog. Of the 100 girls, who saw my pics, only 8 thought it worthwhile to grant an interview. Of them, six telephonic and two in person. So, we might be looking at even poorer ratio of 100:2. But she was not the first person to mention I was doing badly when it came to photos, selfie or otherwise.

“Karthik, San – smile.”

“No. That’s not a smile. Show some teeth.”

“Come on Karthik, San. I can’t send home this picture. My mom will ask me who is this terrorist you are posing next to.”

“Ah! That’s better. Guess you can’t do better than this.”

That was my friend, Manuel San, the person you see with me in this selfie. A forthright German chap who just spoke his mind. I met him during my MBA student exchange in Japan. Friendship with him was a dream come true for me. I always had this fascination for foreign countries and getting to know foreigners and their culture. But by nature, I am an introvert and I never went out and spoke with people and made friends. Consequently, I ended up confined to my Indian community and not making a single foreign friend during my 10 months stint in Germany as a software engineer and 2 months stint again in Germany during MBA internship. Then came this exchange program – I was the only Indian exchange student in this B-School in Japan where most of the other exchange students were Europeans. Thus, I ended up with the Europeans as my group. And that was how I met Manuel, a complete extrovert, my opposite in many ways. He somehow took to me and would challenge me to breach barriers.

A year after the internship, I took up a job in Hyderabad. And during that time, he flew down to India to visit me. I took four days off from work and we had a bully time going all around Hyderabad. My company had given me chauffeured car and the driver knew all about the places in and around Hyderabad. The job was not a demanding one and there was hardly anything to do at work. So, I was completely carefree and had a wonderful time those four days. One of the places we visited during those days was the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam. That is where this selfie is taken.

I still remember some of the funny questions he asked me about India during that visit.

As soon as he arrived and saw I had a driver for my car, his first question was, “Is he your driver because he belongs to a lower caste than you?” At that time, I had laughed at the very notion. Ever since I have been associating with left liberals, reading and thinking. Probably while it was not so direct, he was not so far from the truth. I liked to pretend, I and he were equals and he was just performing a service for me in exchange for money like it would be in the case of a lawyer or doctor. But no! That is not the case. He would not sit with me and eat if we were at a restaurant. And even to me the idea seemed odd though out of politeness, I always did offer him.

Another question on seeing all the stray dogs near my house, “You people have so many stray dogs and I heard you have lot of poor people who starve to death in your country. Why don’t the people eat the dogs?” At the outset it seemed an outrageous question. Like Mary Antoinette’s, “If they don’t have bread, why don’t they eat cake.” But then it did make me think. On one side, the insensitivity of us privileged class to the lot of the poor. And pragmatically, what was taboo about the whole idea? Actually, I had heard rumors some shady hotels do serve dog meat as beef.

Then at the restaurant, when I ordered food, he would keep adding, ‘please’ whenever we ordered something, reminding me to be polite to the waiters. Some of these things that we take so much for granted, come to our notice only when pointed out by a foreigner.

Those were just a few sample memories. There was so much more. Our discussion on snakes and monkeys being worshiped as Gods in India on encountering a snake hill and monkeys at Nagarjuna Sagar Dam, our visit to the Odyssey book store, a Kerala massage place, to the malls and doing shooting games, sampling various cuisines at various kinds of places were some of the highlights. I think I saw more of Hyderabad in those four days than the rest of my 8 month stay in the city.

The trip was such a fascinating experiencing seeing myself and my country, through the eyes of a foreigner. I have had the complete cultural experience with him – seeing a country foreign to both of us together (Japan), seeing my country through his eyes and having him show me his country. (Germany and Switzerland). This selfie holds all those memories within it.

Now coming to the selfie itself, it took 3-4 shots before we got it right. We had to capture the scenery in the background, both of us and most important I had to have my teeth on display. The more a picture captures, more the memories embedded within it. That way mobi star presents an advancement in technology for capturing pictures through front camera. When the selfie shown here was taken I had an old Nokia phone that did not even have a front camera. It was my friend who had a phone with a front camera. We have come a long way even from there. From no front camera to one camera, now mobi star presents us a dual selfie camera that captures a 120° wide-angle shot. A complete selfie camera that gives a hassle free and holistic selfie experience.

You can check out more about this phone on their website here. And it can be purchased on Flipkart here 

Matsya - Review

One of the most fascinating stories from Indian mythology is that of the Ten Avatars. In some ways, it covers entire human history as per Indian myth end to end. Both the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are included as Rama and Krishna are two of the Avatars. Then we have the story of Prahalada covering two Avatars – Varaha and Narasimha. And then there is the famous story of Mahabali and Vamana. So that’s five Avatars. Parasurama the famous warrior is a sixth one. So that leaves three with tenth ‘Kalki’ yet to take place. There is a dispute on the ninth Avatar – some claim Parashurama is the one while other claim Budha is the one. Both claims have their weaknesses. Parashurama seems to occupy a subsidiary role to and is a contemporary of another Avatar Krishna. So somehow, he does not seem to have the aura of the others. Budha on the other hand seems to be a force fit of historic figure and founder of another religion into the Hindu pantheon. Anyways we are digressing – let us come back to the remaining two – the first and the second – Matsya and Kurma. When I thought about it, I realized I did not know these stories too well. So, when I came to know Sundari Venkaraman, a writer friend and popular romance author, will be writing these two stories, I was excited to pick them up.

Matsya is the first book in her Avatar series for children. It starts with an Asura stealing the Vedas from the creator Brahma. Then Vishnu takes the Avatar of a small fist to rescue the Vedas. He makes his appearance to a king Manu. The fish begins to grow in size and soon it becomes larger than a whale and seeks out the demon. Meanwhile there is also a story arc similar to Noah’s story from the old testaments.  The drowning of the whole world and rescue of key individual and representative members of each species. It is interesting how so many different myths have this particular story. Only difference here is the giant fish drags along the arc to the safety of the shore.

I felt it was comprehensive with sufficient detail covering the entire myth. The language is simple and ideal for children. The story is told in a clear manner with no confusions or complexity. The flow is well maintained and nowhere does a reader lose interest. So overall, it is quite an engaging read that also helped me know about the Matysa Avatar. I am now looking forward to the Kurma Avatar.  Definitely a recommended read for all children and even children who do not know this myth.

In pursuit of higher studies abroad

So young Padwan, all set to fly toward greener pastures? The lands of opportunity where the streets are paved with gold and rivers overflowing with milk and honey welcome you, eh, my starry-eyed lad? The foreign lands will be laying out red carpets and eagerly be awaiting your landing and comely damsels waiting to throw flowers along your path and and escort you to the waiting Rolls Royce which will drive you to your palatial quarters. Alas! My friend. If but wishes were horses…. Yes, some foreign countries do have better courses in certain specializations and general standard of living is better if one manages to migrate there. But getting the right university, then a job and finally settling down in a foreign land is no cakewalk. As they say there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Did I just bring your hopes crashing to the ground? Well, old technique of the masters you know. First bring the pupil to the ground and then slowly raise him up again. You must have seen all those Karate Kid movies, Kill Bill and all that. So, am I calling myself a master? Well, I at least helped one student though this ardent journey and got him to his Valhalla. And I have seen cousins go through this process though I myself never have. As they say if you can’t do, teach.

So, here’s where you start – decide which universities you want to apply and which countries. Don’t even imagine for a moment that you can just shoot in the dark. Each of these application forms cost upward of one grand and you can easily end up losing a fortune in the application process itself. So, choose wisely. First zero in on target countries. Primary criteria would be countries which have colleges with medium of instruction as English. If you think you are going to do a 2-week French or German or Swedish crash course and be able to sit through technical lectures in these languages, you are kidding yourself. Play it safe and pick English unless you are already master of some foreign language. Then decide why you want to go abroad. Is it for some specialization that does not exist or for dollar dreams? If it is for specialization, choices are straightforward. If it is for migration, you need to think through a lot of things. First of all, how is the country’s immigration policy? Lot of countries are tightening screws on immigrants. So last thing you want is to come back home with a useless foreign degree from an unknown foreign university to take up the same BPO job you would have got even without the said degree.

Once you have chosen the countries, you can start looking at which universities. If you are a topper, the choices are obvious. If you are not, you have to start optimizing between value of a degree from an university and your chances of getting in. For both these you have to research on the net, read the university websites and talk to students and alumni. On the value front, you must look at professors, courses, profile of fellow students and internship and final placement opportunities. For chances of getting in, look at the various criteria the college uses and profiles of past students and how much your own matches up. One you have done that you would have narrowed your choices.

The next thing you look at is costs. There is the basic tuition fee, the local housing, food and other costs. If the college provides cheaper accommodation within campus, considerable costs are saved. One must also look at scholarship options, part time jobs and loan opportunities. And most importantly how much funds you can mobilize by yourself. This will help narrow down further.

By now you will hopefully have a list of 10-12 universities. You now have to go about applying to them. Most universities require something called a Statement of Purpose. This is a whole topic in itself and is one of the most critical aspects of the application that make or break the deal. The next most important thing is recommendations from college professors and other eminent persons. Even this has lot of nuances. It is best to seek personalized guidance on how to go about these two steps as well as preparation for interview if there is one.

The other critical element is aptitude tests. Some test logical and reasoning abilities. Some test technical aptitude. Some test language aptitude. Language aptitude is where #DefinitelyPTE comes in. It is one of the newly introduced English Language Tests. The other popular tests are IELTS and TOEFL. Often universities specify which test they will consider. But often universities also offer a choice of tests. In that case #DefinitelyPTE offered by Pearson has certain distinct advantages as against the other options. Following are key advantages:-

1. Tests are conducted all 365 days a year as against the others which are available only on specific days

2. Test is entirely computer based taking away any subjectivity that comes with human involvement and makes the process also much more faster. Results are expected to be available in 5 days.

3. Pearson has a wide network of centers – so it would be easier to find a center in one’s own town probably even closer to one’s own home.

4. Scores can be sent to unlimited number of universities at no extra cost

5. A large number of universities all over the world have begun to use these scores. Almost all universities in UK, Australia and New Zealand are covered. In US and Canada as well, some top universities such as Harvard, Wharton, Purdue, Texas Agriculture and Medical, Stanford, Princeton accept these scores

6. There is also lot of options to understand the test and prepare for the same. This is the official site for prep material. There are other online and classroom courses available as well.

So that’s the part up to the application solved. Once all the applications are out, it is time to keep your fingers crossed and wait. Once an admission comes through, that is the beginning of a whole new story. There are so many more things to take care with respect to visa applications, booking tickets and accommodation and other formalities. Well if you finally managing to get to the country of your dreams after going through all the hassles, you have probably arrived literally as well as figuratively. #DefinitelyPTE simplifies one step of the whole rigmarole which is the English aptitude test if all universities you are applying to accept these scores. Rest you still have to do yourself.

There you go. Now sit back and enjoy lovely ad on #DefinitelyPTE before you get started on realizing your dreams of migrating abroad.

Rising from the Ashes - Review

Having been brought up on rich diet of Indian mythological stories told by my grandfather supplemented by Ramayana and Mahabharata serials on television and Amar Chitra Katha comics, I had almost begun to feel there could hardly be a story from Indian mythology I would not be aware of. That is one of the reasons I do not have much interest in books based on Indian mythology.  So it is always a pleasant surprise to discover a new story. When I picked up Rising from the Ashes by Rubina Ramesh, I had no idea which mythological story this book was based on. And it turned out it was based on a story I was not aware of. That way right away the book managed to excite my interest.

The story starts in an interesting manner with a lady Mayavati in the clutches of an Asura Sambara. And he is trying to force her to marry him. As usual, as is the case with most mythological stories, Narada makes an appearance to add fuel to the fire. Then we are introduced to the protagonist's dream of her would be husband and it is not Sambara. The story takes us through her emotions as she tries to figure her way out through the situation. And it is soon revealed her husband is not even born. She is to find him and raise him and then marry him. Not this is an interesting premise. I was reminded of a story of a serial on television of an older woman who married a child and there were lot of protests. There was also lot of discussion around the French President having marrying his teacher at school. So, it would have been interesting to see how this author handles this subject of love between an older woman who has been a mother figure and a child, probably not when he is a child as depicted in the serial in question but after the child has attained adulthood. But the problem is there as the woman always knows the child she is raising is going to be her husband. Literature has many more instances of the vice versa - love between a woman and a man who is a father figure.

Anyways the author does not get into the full story here in this book. This book is supposed to be a teaser to her book on mythological tales. So the story stops with the situation being revealed to her. That way this book would be a disappointment to anyone who buys it expecting a full standalone story. It is like the prologue of a book being made into a booklet and sold.

The language and narration is good and it makes an engaging read. So an interesting read for readers if they are fine being left hanging on the cliff. I am sure many readers do not mind given the huge fan following people like Robert Jordan, George R R Martin and Patrick Rothfuss have. Only this is much smaller in size than the individual books of their series.

You can buy the book here or read it for free if you have Kindle unlimited.

A Short Story: Prequel to Knitted Tales 2 
Rubina Ramesh


She was one of the most beautiful woman Asura Sambara had laid his eyes on. 

Possessing a beauty of this magnitude became his passion. Sambara kidnapped her and whisked her off to his palace. 

Mayavati knows she has no option but to bow down to his wishes. But what about the young man who always haunts her dreams? She had no clue why she was in this palace but after speaking to the mischief making Sage Narada, it all started making sense to her. 

Who was Mayavati and what was she doing in Asura’s palace? 

Was Sambara her destiny? 

Disclaimer: This short story is a mythological fiction and should be treated as such. The author does not claim it to be a retelling of the Puranas. This piece is a product of her unbridled imagination. 

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About the author

Blog Tour by The Book Club of DESTINED by Rubina Ramesh

Rubina Ramesh is an avid reader, writer, blogger, book reviewer and marketer. She is the founder of The Book Club, an online book publicity group. Her first literary work was published in her school magazine. It gave her immense pride to see her own name at the bottom of the article. She was about 8 years old at that time. She then went to complete her MBA and after her marriage to her childhood friend, her travel saga started. From The Netherlands to the British Isles she lived her life like an adventure. After a short stint in Malaysia, she finally settled down in the desert state of USA, Arizona. Living with her DH and two human kids and one doggie kid, Rubina has finally started living the life she had always dreamed about – that of a writer.

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For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces