Friday, April 13, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Three

They came out of nowhere. Bhaskara frowned as he saw that their faces were covered. They were armed with swords and daggers. And he was unarmed.

His eyes swept the area just as the men closed on him, their strides measured. The temple was deserted at this time in the evening. The sun had already gone down.

They were very near him now.

"Who are you? What do you want?" He asked.

"We are your death!" one of them said even as he lunged at Bhaskara with his sword. Bhaskara caught the blade with one hand. The enchantment on him prevented injury to his palm, but the pain was there. He grimaced but did not relax his grip as his other hand clenched to a fist and slammed into the man's jaw in the same instant. The man's grip on the sword slackened and Bhaskara yanked it from his hand, transferring the hilt to his palm and taking a defensive stance. His attackers hung back a bit, since he was armed now. The owner of the sword snarled and lunged at him and Bhaskara slashed him across the chest.

With a shriek, he went down. One of his fellows bent down and slit his throat with his dagger.

"We don't want noises, here!" He said as he rose.

"Why are you after me?" Bhaskara asked. "Who sent you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" another one jeered.

They attacked together, with sword and dagger. Bhaskara had no time even to think as he fended them off with everything he had. But he knew that he would not be able to sustain this for long.

"Hey!" There was a shout and then an arrow pierced the heart of the man on the right flank.

"Run!" One shrieked, as they fled from the arrows.

Bhaskara thrust the sword into the ground and stood with his hand on it, breathing heavily.

"Are you all right?" Arnava sounded anxious as he came running to his brother.

Bhaskara nodded, too winded to speak.

"Who were they? Why were they attacking you?" Arnava asked.

"I have no idea," Bhaskara said as he straightened.

He looked around him. There were five corpses there, including the first man and two had arrows sticking from their bodies.

"Thank you," he said.

"Don't thank me!" Burst out Arnava. "I am sorry I didn't get them all!"

Bhaskara bent down and ripped the cloth covering the dead man's face. He frowned. The man was a total stranger.

"Do you know him?" Arnava asked.

Bhaskara shook his head.

"Let's go home," Arnava spoke, pulling at his arm. "It's getting dark. We shall send some of our guards here to remove the corpses and to examine them. There's nothing we can do here."

They walked away from the temple.

"Kill him! Why did you save him!" A voice echoed in Arnava's head.

"No! He's my brother!"

"He's your death! Kill him before he kills you!"


Friday, April 6, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter Two

"Life sucks!" Declared Abhijith to his older brother. Aditya lifted his eyebrows but did not answer. Abhijith was normally even tempered and sunny, but he too had bad days.

Abhijith was a handsome young man of around twenty. Though he was lounging on the couch, looking fairly indolent, he did have a good physique. He was tall and loose limbed. His dusky complexion only enhanced the brilliance of his eyes and smile. Aditya too looked much the same as his brother, except that he was at least ten years older and his complexion was molten gold. But apart from that, they looked exactly like the other. Abhijith had rather high cheekbones which apart from skin colour, seemed to be the only thing that set them apart. On his bad days, Abhijith used to remark sourly that their mother loved Aditya so much, she gave birth to his xerox copy ten years later. Except that the settings were off, so the copy came out dark and not quite the same. Rochan and Achla used to laugh at Abhijith's statement. But not Aditya.

Aditya wondered if it was going to be one of those days.

"It really sucks!" Abhijith repeated.

"What happened?" Aditya asked.

"That old professor of yours," Abhijith said moodily. "That Prof Alex. He’s never satisfied. Whatever I do is never enough. The other day he asked me if I was really your brother!"

Aditya chuckled. "He’s like that with everyone. He asked me once if I was really dad's son!" He winked at Abhijith. "It's his style. Don't let it get to you."

"I don't care for his style," Abhijith muttered. "Thank God he's retiring this month!"

"Who's coming to replace him, do you know?"

"No, and I don't see why you should be bothered. You are free of it!"

Aditya laughed. "Do you think only students have it tough?"

"I tend to forget you are a teacher these days," Abhijith moaned. "I don't know why teachers forget all about their own student days as soon as they stand on the other side of the desk!"

"The same reason why parents forget all about their childhood as soon as their first child is born," Aditya replied.

"That’s so true," Abhijith said, grimacing. "Talking of parents, when are dad and mom returning? Do you know?"

Aditya shook his head. "But shouldn't you be concentrating on your assignment for Professor Alex? Granted, he's retiring at the end of the month, but he's certainly going to make your life miserable for the entire month if you don't turn it in on time."

"I know," Abhijith sighed. "I've finished it. Just some fine tuning required."

"What's your plan today?"

"Nothing much. Shyam wants me to go to his place. He and Vina are planning to watch some stupid mytho show."

"And you don't want to?" Aditya looked amused.

Abhijith grimaced. "I don't dig mythos. I don't even know why they hang out with me. We’ve absolutely nothing in common."

A bit too late to gripe on that, don’t you think? The three of you have been inseparable since primary school.”

Yea, but the differences were not so glaring then. Now… it’s as if we can’t agree on anything.”

"Life might be pretty boring if everyone agreed on everything," Aditya remarked.

"Please," Abhijith groaned. "Spare me the platitudes till later in the day."

Aditya laughed as the doorbell rang.“Must be your friends,” Aditya smiled.

I’ll be going then,” Abhijith said, sounding thoroughly disgruntled as he went to open his door.

Ready?” Shyam smiled brightly.

I suppose,”

Come on, sleepy head!” Vina laughed as she dragged him to their car.

Abhijith was feeling bored. Shyam and Vina were waxing eloquent about the actors and the costumes and stuff, but all he could see were a set of people dressed up in too bright clothes and a lot of unnecessary ornaments and too much glitter. He did not like their wigs either, and the dialogues made him yawn.

"Bored?" Shyam leaned against him.

"Oh, don't mind me," he said, yawning again. "You two carry on. You know I don't like this stuff."

Vina turned to look at them and rolled her eyes. "Perhaps we should have asked your brother to come."

"Aditya?" Abhijith chuckled. "He likes this stuff even less than I do!"

"Why don't you try to know the story?" Shyam suggested, his arm snaking around Abhijith’s waist. "You might find it interesting."

"Please," Abhijith said, groaning. "I can't read anything other than thrillers. You know that."

"Imagine this is a thriller, then. It is thrilling enough." Vina smirked.

"Yea, sure!" Abhijith laughed. "If that's a thriller, then I'm Ved Vyas!"

"Impressive!" Shyam laughed too. "So you know Ved Vyas' name!"

"Ha ha!" Abhijith said. "It’s a side effect of hanging around with you two!"

"It's a start!" Vina said, winking. "We'll make a mytho lover of you yet!"

"Why can't you two just take me as I am?" Abhijith asked plaintively, as his friends broke into laughter.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Banished Secret: Chapter One

The man stood before the King, head held high.

I come seeking my destiny,” he said. “I wish to offer my services to you, your majesty.”

The King smiled at the stranger. He was handsome, with a broad forehead, finely moulded lips, an aquiline nose, sharp cheekbones and a firm chin. His moustache was dark, and he had no beard. His hair was wavy and of shoulder-length. His stance was relaxed, yet vigilant, and his body was well muscled and well proportioned with broad shoulders, narrow hips and long limbs. His complexion was golden and his eyes held no fear. A longbow was slung on his shoulder, and a quiver of arrows was on his back. He wore a sword in a plain scabbard, and a dagger was strapped to his leg. He wore no armour, but was dressed plainly, in an angavastra and an uttariya was worn around his torso.

I admire your bravery,” he said. “But you must prove your skills before you can join my army. But before all that, tell me your name.”

My name is Bhaskara,” the man replied. “I’m an orphan and has been brought up by a sage who taught me the lore of the ancients as also warfare and weaponry.”

Bhaskara,” mused the King. “Has the name been given by your adoptive father?”

The man inclined his head in what might have been agreement. “How am I to prove myself?”

You shall fight against the best warrior in my kingdom. My son and heir, Arnava. Be not ashamed if you lose, for, he is the very best warrior in all of Bharatavarsha, and it is said there is no warrior in all fourteen worlds to equal him.”

Let his weapons and skill testify to that,” Bhaskara spoke with an easy confidence that bordered on arrogance.

King Mahakarma chuckled. “I like your confidence. A combat between you and Prince Arnava shall be arranged this week itself. Where do you stay?”

In a house in the West street.”

The King frowned. “That street has only broken down old buildings. No one stays there.”

I found a house that was not in much disrepair, and made it habitable,” Bhaskara shrugged. “I like my privacy.”

I would like to know one thing more,” the King said.

Bhaskara gave an inquiring lift of his eyebrows in response.

You say you are a warrior, well versed in warcraft. Yet, how is it that your body remains unblemished? There are no scars on you that I can see.”

A powerful enchantment has been placed on me by my mother before she died. The sage who brought me up told me that she was an enchantress. The enchantment is protective in nature, and as a result, I cannot be harmed by any weapon forged by man or god or demon.”

The King gasped aloud. Surely, this could not be! He looked at the young man closely. No wonder he looked familiar.

Has the sage told you the name of your mother?” the King asked, trying hard to keep his voice from trembling. His mind was in turmoil. This young man could not be the result of his indiscretion so long ago. Malavika had warned him how it would be, but he had not listened. His lust for her was so strong, that he had forgotten he had a wife and a son.

Bhaskara’s expression turned stony. “I do not see what my mother’s name has to do with anything.”

Was her name Malavika?” the King asked. He had to know. And if this was indeed Malavika’s son, then… the King refused to think further. He prayed he was wrong, and that this stranger was the son of some other enchantress. But how many enchantresses could there be capable of weaving an enchantment that rendered its subject invulnerable to weapons, fire or water?

How do you know that?” Bhaskara’s eyes were hard and glittered with suspicion.

Because I’m your father,” King Mahakarma said. “And you… you are my eldest living son, and as such heir to this Kingdom,” his voice was heavy, but he knew Arnava would not mind. He had never been interested in being King. Sumitra would not mind either. His head was full of art, and music, and he was interested in nothing else. But he was worried about the reaction of his youngest, Maitreya. Maitreya was not ambitious for himself, but he was fiercely loyal to Arnava. If only Mahabala, his eldest had survived the childhood ailment that had foiled the best efforts of all royal physicians… He hated having to do this, but this was his son, and it was not Bhaskara’s fault that his father had been weak and lustful and unfaithful to his wife.

My father?” Bhaskara’s face held incredulity. The entire court was so silent, Mahakarma could hear his own heart beat loudly. Bhaskara looked around, as if searching for an escape route. He had a hunted look, and somehow, that made Mahakarma laugh.

Don’t look as if you’re about to be executed,” he said through chuckles. “You are the heir to the throne, after all.”

There has to be some mistake,” Bhaskara insisted, his voice quivering.

Mahakarma shook his head. “Not unless there are two Malavikas who are enchantresses and who knew an enchantment to make their subject invulnerable.”

Bhaskara looked resigned. “The sage told me he’d never heard of such an enchantment,” he admitted. “He said he knew of no one else who could have cast it.”

I know,” Mahakarma said quietly. “That was why I sought her, but she told me the enchantment would cost her her life.”

Bhaskara’s expression suddenly became vulnerable, as if someone had suddenly stabbed him, and Mahakarma felt a moment’s sorrow. “You mean she gave her life to put this enchantment on me?”

Mahakarma nodded. Neither of them spoke for a moment. Then Mahakarma rose. “Pradhanamantrin, Senapati, Sthapathi, Rajaguru, make arrangements for my son’s stay in the palace, for announcing the arrival of the Yuvaraja to the people, for conducting Pujas at the temple, and for familiarizing him with the kingdom and the army.” he paused. “Come with me, Bhaskara. I must introduce you to your brothers.” For the first time, Mahakarma was grateful that his wife was no more.

Bhaskara stood as if rooted to the spot. Two royal guards were at his side. “Your highness?” One of them prompted gently. He looked at them strangely, and then at the King. Mahakarma gestured for him to follow as he walked out of the audience hall.

Monday, March 19, 2018

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: Zemindar

Zemindar is an extremely well written book, and it is hard to believe that it is the first -and as it turned out-the only book by the author. The book follows the experiences of an English young woman, Laura Hewitt, who's accompanying her cousin, Emily, and her husband, Charles, on their bride visit to India. The Zemindar of the title is Charles' half brother, Oliver whom he had never met, and whom his mother had convinced him to meet since she- and Charles too- hopes that Oliver, rich as a nabob and a bachelor, might make Charles his heir. The bride visit falls in the year 1857, when the country is already at unrest, and soon, Laura and her party find themselves in the eye of the mutiny of 1857 that had the whole country ablaze.

What I liked: Its language. The book is around 800 pages long, and yet it doesn't make the reader lose interest at any point. The events are interesting, the dialogues are good, the descriptions are sufficient, and there's enough action. The history is well researched and quite accurate. The sense of period it evokes is enough to make one feel part of the period. The supporting cast have been portrayed extremely well, and it is they who hold our sympathy more than the main two characters, who are to me, the greatest weaknesses of the book.

What I did not like: Laura is too insipid, and too passive a character in my opinion. I could not like her somehow, for though she inwardly condemns passivity, she remains passive almost throughout the book. She grows a spine only towards the end, and even then, it doesn't feel like a natural growth. Almost every single male character in the book has been degraded in one way or other to bring home the greatness of Oliver. It seemed too contrived and too pointless to do so. Yea. Oliver is great. We get it. Why destroy everyone else to prove it? In spite of all that, Oliver remains the same in the book. The man we see at the beginning is the man we see at the end, except that he has fallen in love. Charles seems to be the only character who shows any sign of growth, but even then, it is as if the author seeks to divert the reader's attention from the fact that he has, in fact, changed for the better. Another thing is many of the historical facts do not seem to blend into the story, but seem more like treatises. The hindsight of many historians has been presented as foresight of Oliver, which made me roll my eye.

The book did not offer me any new insight into Anglo Indian relations in those time any more than any history book could have. Even Oliver who claims to love India seems to me to be more of an advocate of White Man's Burden, albeit a more selfless one, than someone who thinks that the Indians are capable of governing their own land. The book condemns the mistakes the East India Company made with regards to their dealings with India, but presupposes that the crown would be a better guardian. Bitter experience has taught Indians that the crown was worse even than the company, and I can only give a sardonic eye to the many justifications.

That said, the book is an entertaining read, and factually correct. For those not familiar with the history of those times, the book can provide an insight into those times. However, the prejudices of the author are obvious, and should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially if you are unfamiliar with the history of British rule in India.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Book Review: Faro's Daughter

It may be inaccurate to categorize Georgette Heyer's works as just romances. They do have romance in them, but none of them deal exclusively with romance. They are more of historical novels, rich in period detail and in human interest. She is a writer who can create plots that appear simple and even trivial, and yet keep a reader hooked on to the book till the last page.

The plot of Faro's Daughter may look simple, cliched and wholly predictable. A rich bachelor seeks to extricate his young cousin, a nobleman from the toils of a young woman whose aunt runs a gaming house. But Deb is hardly the traditional heroine with a sob story, and Max Ravenscar is not the philanthropic guardian angel who falls for her charms. From the beginning, it is a battle of wills between them, with neither able to get the better of the other.

Throw in Arabella, the saucy young sister of Ravenscar with a penchant for falling in love and falling just as quickly out; Lucius Kennet, an adventurer who hangs around Deb and has a way with ladies; Adrian, Ravenscar's cousin and The Earl of Mablethorpe, wholly infatuated with Deb; Lord Ormskirk, a middle aged nobleman who holds a mortgage on Lady Bellingham's house as well as her bills and who is desirous of making Deb his mistress; Sir James Filey, a repulsive man who is trying desperately to beat Ravenscar and challenges him to a race; Kit Grantham, Deb's younger brother, who is as heedless as he is expensive; Lady Belligham, Deb's feckless, but wholly practical aunt and Phoebe Laxton, a beautiful, but insipid young girl who is forced to run away from the man her parents had chosen for her; and we have a cast of unforgettable characters.

The plot starts interestingly with Adrian's worried mother importuning Ravenscar to save her son from “that female,” and unfolds with Ravenscar's visit to the gaming house and their subsequent clashes. Matters come to a head when Deb has Ravenscar kidnapped on the eve of his race with Sir James Filey and Kit forcibly takes the key from Deb and releases him since he's in love with Arabella. In the meantime, Adrian falls in love with Phoebe Laxton whom Deb had sheltered, and Lucius Kennet forms a scheme to kidnap Arabella. Georgette Heyer resolves all complications with enviable simplicity and when the predictable end comes to pass, it is with a realization that the journey has been far different from the anticipated one. Ravenscar is wholly indifferent to the world, and when Deb tells him that he cannot marry a wench out of a gaming house, he tells her that he was going to marry a wench out of a gaming house with as much pomp and ceremony as he can contrive. And since he is one of the richest men in town, we can imagine that he will contrive a great deal.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Movie Review: From Beginning to End

From Beginning to End is a Brazilian movie that had the potential to be great and yet proved to be disappointing.

The story is about a homesexual relationship between two half brothers, Thomas and Francisco aged 22 and 27. That premise, unfortunately, is the only interesting thing about the entire movie.

Having created an interesting premise, the makers just decided they couldn't be bothered to show how the real world works, opting for a fairy tale instead where everyone around them accepts homosexuality as well as incest without batting an eye.

There are indications of the boys growing unusually close even during their childhood, and their mother opts not to point out the rights or wrongs, instead simply telling them never to be ashamed. After her death, the father of the younger brother moves out of the house, giving the brothers the privacy and space required for taking their relationship to the physical level. And when an opportunity comes for Thomas to train abroad for the Olympics for three years and he asks his father for advice, he tells him that it is something the two brothers must decide together.

I was surprised that no one actually gives a damn about the incest, including Thomas and Francisco. I expected some soul searching, some conflict, both internal and external, and a lot of opposition. Instead I was rolling my eye for most of the time.

The actors have given such a convincing performance that you can feel the love that Thomas and Francisco shares. But one can't help wonder at the same time if they would have developed such an obsessive love for each other had the adults around them tried to point them elsewhere when they were still children.

That said, the movie works as a love story.  But the movie would have worked equally well as a love story had Thomas and Francisco not been brothers. Their being brothers adds no extra dimension to their relationship and frankly, once their childhood is over, there is no plot development.

Had the two ended up in a relationship in spite of opposition and in spite of their own guilt because they realized that the love they had was worth it, the movie might have been a more satisfying watch. As it was, the movie was extremely boring.

I wouldn't call it a must-watch, but if you like fairytale-like love stories with happy endings, this one's for you.

Personally, I like some dose of reality even in movies. And there was none in this.