When two worlds collide – A #ReleaseDay post by Author Reet Singh

Ever wondered what would happen if two characters from your two favourite books meet? I do that all the time. Reet Singh, has gone a yard ahead and has written this lively conversation between two of her protagonists – Mita from ‘Take One Fake Fiancé’ meets Mohini from ‘No Escape from Love’.

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Reet is a doctor by profession and a successful novelist published by Harper Collins.She recently discovered the Indie world and has made quite an entry with her “No escape from Love.”

And today is the launch day of Take One Fake Fiance!

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Read the conversation below and Take your pick. I’d say pick both books of hers 🙂

‘Excuse me, but I think I know you from somewhere…’

‘Oh,’ Mita looks up from the Lehenga she’s admiring and shakes her head politely. ‘I don’t know – I would remember if we’d met before.’

She would – the girl standing to one side and gazing at her with perplexed curiosity has a face that would launch a thousand ships. Difficult to forget – and then there’s her hair – gorgeous and dark and cascading all the way to her waist.

The girl laughs, a deep, full-throated laugh, and it makes Mita smile in response. ‘What’s so funny?’ she asks, unable to take offense at the lovely creature. ‘I’m Mita, by the way.’

‘Mohini,’ the other girl says, and they shake hands awkwardly considering that Mita has a couple of lehengas in one hand and Mohini has a whole bunch of colorful silk outfits over an arm.

‘Sorry – I just remembered where I might have seen you – weren’t you at the Sheraton in Delhi last month?’

‘I was,’ Mita responds, piqued but still unable to place Mohini.

‘I was there, too, on my honeymoon,’ Mohini says, blushing sweetly. ‘You were having an argument with a rather dashing man about something if I remember correctly. We were passing by and we happened to overhear some of it…’

‘Oh lord, yes. I was forever at war with him – he was the most aggravating man I had ever met.’

‘We had the suite next to yours, incidentally, and your room happened to be on our way to the lifts. Aalok – that’s my husband – and I, we had no choice but to walk by your door.’

Mita grimaces. ‘Was I awful? I hope I didn’t scare you into asking for a change of room?’

‘No, no,’ Mohini giggles. ‘What’s interesting is that one minute you were mad and the next you were kissing him as if there was no tomorrow.’

‘Oh no! You saw that?’

‘Well, your door was wide open…and…’ Mohini frowns. ‘I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it.’

‘No, not at all,’ Mita grins. ‘If it’s any consolation to you, I’m now married to that man, although I loathed him then.’

‘Aw, how romantic.’

‘It is,’ Mita smiles. ‘Listen, Mohini, I’ve promised to join Tanay for a drink before dinner. Why don’t you join us? Bring your Aalok – we’d love to meet him.’

‘Sure. Does Pinkish the pub suit? We could be there at seven.’

‘Sounds good,’ Mita says. ‘Sounds very good.’

About the book

The Blurb

Mita Ramphul is single and fancy-free – and she wants to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Living and working on the idyllic island of Mauritius is the stuff dreams are made of – until she bumps into a man who threatens to destroy it all.

Tanay Devkumar is cynical and shuttered – events in his past have cast a long and deep shadow. Convinced that Mita Ramphul represents a threat to his sister’s happiness, he seeks her out, determined to block her nefarious plans.

They meet in circumstances that can only be described as hostile – suspicions abound and resentments flare on both sides, even as attraction simmers beneath the surface. A series of disastrous events follow and they are compelled to pretend that they are in love and wish to marry.

It is meant to be a temporary engagement – but will Mita be able to resist her fake fiancé or will his scorching kisses make her yearn for something more permanent?

Originally published as “Scorched by His Fire” by Harlequin India, 2014

Take One Fake Fiancé is a refurbished, revamped, remodelled, updated version of Scorched and is available on Kindle.

 

 

Spotlight : Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love by Sudesna Ghosh

Happy to present an excerpt from this hilarious novella, “Crazy Cat Lady Finds Love” by the Journalist turned author and friend, Sudesna (Sue) Ghosh! Having read Sue’s previous books, I am expecting another very lively read. 

Guess the below excerpt proves it!

Would Navin think I was pretty? Would he hold my hand? Maybe he would kiss me if we got some privacy?

“Too many questions, Sue,” I told myself, as the cab rolled on.

Navin sent me a text saying he would be at the café in 15 minutes. He added another text saying he couldn’t wait to meet me finally. Aww. Genuine excitement or was he being polite? I wasn’t the insecure kind but this online dating thing just filled relationships with so much mystery. Never tried it in my 20s.

The Crazy Cat Ladies Club group had three messages; one from each of the ladies, telling me to relax and give them details after he left. I wrote back asking Sunita to let us know about Vivek’s visit that night too. She replied: I will. Sigh.

Turning off my mobile data, I felt my stomach churn as we pulled up at my destination. There stood my date, dressed immaculately in a polo neck tee and dark jeans, feeding a street dog biscuits. The dog wagged his tail and Navin’s eyes said it all – he had the same look in them that I’d seen in my friends’ eyes when we were with animals. Love. It was pure, beautiful love.

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What Amazon readers are saying:

“The author has a wry observational voice that makes me chuckle every time I read her. The cats are cute too and the dude is extra cute! Five full stars.”

“Along with men trouble, dating issues, canine problems, and Cat man, Navin, this book makes the perfect satisfying read for pet lovers and others, alike. if you haven’t considered keeping a pet, you may be tempted to after reading this. very refreshing and a fun great read!”

Author bio

Sudesna or Sue, is a multi-genre author based in Kolkata, India. She has penned My Singapore Fling, A Perfect New York Christmas, Can a Fat Girl Get a First Kiss? and many other books. Her short stories have been published in magazines across India. When she isn’t reading or writing, you can find her trying to keep her rescue cats happy.

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Do grab your copy from Amazon

Book Release Post. PI Agency by Neelabh Pratap Singh

Wishing all the best to friend and author Neelabh Pratap Singh upon the release of his second novel, PI Agency.

I love reading crime thrillers with female detectives or investigators. The cover seems intriguing!

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BLURB

A LADY DETECTIVE. A CLANDESTINE CARTEL. A CROOKED BATTLE.

Rashmi Purohit is a failed CBI aspirant. With no future in Indian law enforcement, she turned to working alongside the law. Now running her own agency out of her claustrophobic basement, Rashmi is dying for a notable case and a big break.

A wealthy entrepreneur with a troubled, drug-addicted son seems like the perfect client. But when Rashmi and her impetuous, barely-competent employees stumble into a Dark Web-based investment conspiracy, the detective knows she has kicked a hornet’s nest. Rashmi might just solve the case – but only if it doesn’t kill her, destroy her agency, or make her betray her father’s legacy one last time.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

For the fourth time, Rashmi Purohit called her subordinate, Akshay, but much to her disdain, he didn’t pick up the call.

Where the fuck have these idiots gone? Rashmi thought, throwing the mobile phone on the table. She checked the time on the table clock kept to her right. Bhupender Bhatia might come at any time.

A moment later, Rashmi heard a beep sound. The alarm beeped whenever anyone opened the office’s main door. She quickly glanced at the CCTV monitor. Bhatia is here.

A few weeks ago, a girl named Priya had hired Rashmi to inquire about her boyfriend, with whom she was planning a wedding. Priya suspected that her boyfriend was involved in an affair. She shared a screenshot of WhatsApp chats sent to her by another girl—her boyfriend’s colleague—with whom Priya’s boyfriend appeared to be cheating. The chats clearly showed her boyfriend having romantic talks with his colleague, and she’d sought Rashmi’s help to provide evidence. Rashmi shadowed the guy for a few weeks and concluded the case. Before she contacted Priya, she had dropped a message with the guy’s father, Bhupender Bhatia.

Bhatia stormed into the office.

“Ms Purohit, what a pathetic joke is this?” Bhatia said, his right hand stretched forward holding his mobile phone. The mobile phone showed Rashmi’s message, which she had sent a few hours ago.

Rashmi observed Bhatia’s hand trembling. He is afraid, Rashmi thought. “The truth, Mr. Bhatia.”

“You think it was I who had planned everything?” Bhatia clenched his teeth, putting his mobile phone back inside his pocket.

Rashmi noticed Bhatia’s balled fist inside his pocket. He was standing still, his shoulders raised. Okay, so you want some action. Rashmi tied her hair behind her neck into a ponytail. “Apparently, yes. I didn’t tell anything to your son or his girlfriend, Priya. I called you here to advise you to get things sorted between your son and his love, and I will not tell anyone anything.”

“What do you mean you won’t tell anyone anything? As if you would be in a position to tell anyone anything.” Bhatia swung his fist.

Rashmi jerked back sharply. I was expecting it.

“Long ago, when I was not the head of a transport company,” Bhatia growled, “I rumbled with ten men. You don’t stand a chance, ladki.”

She’d marginally escaped the first blow, but she wasn’t quick enough to dodge the second one. Her mind blacked out for a moment, and she began to fall. She held the edge of the table. She heard her phone ringing. The name displayed ‘Akshay Arora’.

The phone ring distracted Bhatia for a moment, and Rashmi noticed that. She grabbed the table clock and threw it at Bhatia. She tapped on the call accept button on the mobile phone and put it on the loudspeaker. “Arora, where the hell are you guys?”

“Boss, we are out for golgappas,” Akshay’s electronic voice radiated out of the mobile phone’s loudspeaker.

Rashmi had deliberately picked the call and put the call on loudspeaker. She hoped that it would distract Bhatia, and was also optimistic that Bhatia might stop after hearing someone else’s voice.

But only the former happened. A table clock wasn’t enough to hurt Bhatia, let alone stopping him.

Bhatia looked down at the fallen table clock and smirked. “What are you going to do next? Attack me with a toy?”

“Arora, I want you here in two minutes, or else I’ll pull off your golgappas,” Rashmi swore as she picked up a rolling chair and threw it at Bhatia.

Bhatia tried to duck, but the chair hit him anyway.

“Oh, the toy seemed to hit you quite hard.”

Bhatia looked even more furious now. He approached Rashmi, swinging alternatively and aggressively, like a maniac.

Rashmi blocked every blow with her forearms. Enough of the self-defence, Rashmi thought. She lifted her right leg and struck it sharply against the left side of Bhatia’s ribcage. Bhatia bent down a little, crying in pain. Without putting her right leg on to the ground, Rashmi repeated the action, but this time, against Bhatia’s left thigh. Bhatia collapsed on the floor like a demolished building.

Rashmi caught her breath for a while and watched Bhatia lying crumpled on the floor. “I was just respecting your age, uncle,” Rashmi said, finally punching Bhatia’s face.

Intrigued? I am reading the book and it sure promises to be a great read to all detective fiction lovers. Buy your copy from Amazon

ABOUT AUTHOR

Neelabh Pratap Singh is a mechanical engineer by profession and works with the premium British motorcycle manufacturer, Triumph Motorcycles. Apart from being surrounded by superbikes, he keeps himself surrounded with books. He is an avid reader and a passionate storyteller. He started writing as a blogger, writing short stories for various platforms. His passion for storytelling led him to take up the gargantuan task of writing a full-fledged novel. The Resurrection of Evil is his debut book. He lives in Gurgaon with his wife.

Connect with the author:

Email: neelabhpratap.singh@gmail.com

Facebook: /authorneelabh

Twitter: @authorneelabh

Instagram: @authorneelabh

 

Spotlight : The Princess and the Superstar by Preethi Venugopala

Wishing my friend and author Preethi Venugopala, the best upon the release of the second book of her Sravanapura Royals series. The first book, A Royal Affair had ruled the bestseller lists upon its release and true to her unique style and voice, the new book has also claimed its rightful place among the romance bestsellers in multiple markets!

Really delighted and proud to be spotlighting the blurb and excerpt of the book below:

A Princess in love with a Bollywood Superstar

Saketh Rao aka SR, India’s latest Bollywood heartthrob, has bagged the role of a lifetime: to play Hari Varman, the doomed royal scion.

When he arrives at Sravanapura Palace with his director friend Rajeev Ratnam, little does he know that his life is about to change forever!

Princess Kritika is overjoyed that Saketh Rao will play the role of her ancestor. But when she comes face to face with the arrogant superstar she is determined to scuttle the project.

Fate, however, has different plans for them. The feisty couple is soon head over heels in love with each other.

As they uncover the secrets of Hari Varman’s life, Saketh makes a discovery that can rip them apart and their new-found love.

Will the secrets and lies of the past deny them a future together? Or will they overcome the obstacles to true love?

Get the book from Amazon by clicking here

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Excerpt

Kritika checked the time. It was nearing seven thirty. She was a bit late than usual. But she still had plenty of time to pamper herself and get ready to meet the superstar, who seemed to have won hearts all over the world if she were to believe the fan videos posted on YouTube and various blogs. Yes, she had shamelessly checked the many YouTube videos about him to know more about him. It seemed perfectly normal to stalk his Twitter and Facebook page. He had come across as a friendly and warm person who retweeted his fans often and replied to interesting comments on his FB Page.

She knew half of his persona online was created by his PR team. His social media profiles might be maintained by dedicated teams who would present only the best aspects about him to the public. The real Saketh Rao might turn out to be a total jerk. Yet, she was looking forward to meeting the star in person and decide for herself.

When she stepped on to the road that led to the residential wing of the palace, she was surprised to hear the horn of a car. She whirled around and watched as a silver Mercedes Benz came around a bend in the road and raced towards her.

Vijay had renovated a number of unused rooms in the palace and turned them into luxury hotel suites, thus creating one more gem in his hotel business chain. The only snag in the entire setup was that guests often sneaked into the palace’s residential areas, even though they were marked as no entry zones and had to be turned away by the palace guards. And it irked her very much. She wondered how this car had escaped the scrutiny of the guards. She needed to talk with the head of security. But for now, she would tackle this herself.

She gripped the straps of her backpack and stood in the middle of the road facing the car that seemed to have no intention of slowing down. It came to halt at a mere metre in front of her and she heard the driver swear. She narrowed her eyes and continued to stare at the car, daring the occupants to come out and face her. The passenger door of the car opened and a handsome youth, who looked as though he was jet-lagged and badly in need of a leisurely bath and sleep, got out. He seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place him immediately.

“Please, miss. May I know why you are blocking our path?” he asked, his mellow tone bringing Kritika’s anger a few notches down.

“This road leads to the residential areas of the palace and is not accessible for guests at the hotel. Kindly turn around and go away.”

“But miss-”

“Enough, no need to explain.” Kritika raised her right hand to stop him from talking any further and snapped at him. The fact that he was trying to justify his action, brought her anger back.

“But we are-”

“As I said, I don’t want to hear any further explanation. Instruct your driver to reverse the car and get the hell out of here.”

The driver of the car opened his door and got out. Kritika’s jaw dropped and her mouth formed an O because she recognised the driver instantly. Saketh Rao, clean shaven, casually attired in a t-shirt and jeans, all six feet two inches of male glory. He removed his sunglasses and walked towards her, his lips curved into his characteristic lopsided smile. He was clearly enjoying her distress. And then the last piece of the puzzle fell into place when she recognised the handsome youth with him as Rajeev Ratnam. Kritika felt her heart racing. If Saketh came near her now, her excited heart would undergo a heart attack.

“Who are you to block our path? We have the adequate permission papers and we were let in by the guards. Move your heavy butt out of our way and allow us to pass.”

His arrogant talk snapped Kritika out of the trance she was falling into. The arrogant snob.

And he had made a personal comment. About her butt!

“Mr! Watch your language.”

“Are you going to get in? Why are you listening to this annoying, attention seeking female?” Saketh was ignoring her outright and addressing his friend.

“How dare you?” Kritika took a step forward and slapped him. He stopped her hand in mid-air and in one swift move, yanked her towards him, momentarily taking the wind out of her lungs.

When she attempted to step back, he tightened his grip on her arm and held her other arm with his right hand. His nearness was doing strange things to her composure. His touch was making her heart stutter, sending electric impulses rushing through her body.

If it was not for the revulsion he had evoked with his arrogance, she certainly would have enjoyed the sensation of being held by him. But now, she regretted the hours she had spent browsing the internet to know more about him. As she had feared, he had turned out to be an outright jerk. She didn’t want to waste her energy arguing with him.

She pushed him with all her strength and then broke into a run, determined to never to cross his path again. She heard him chuckle and it enraged her further.

She wanted to see how they were going to make a film about her ancestor. She would see to it that it got an early grave.

Hope you liked the excerpt! Don’t forget to check the book on Amazon Kindle

Book Review : Saraswati’s Intelligence by Vamsee Juluri

I had originally written the review for First Post where it was first published. Republishing here with their permission.

The fantasy genre is known to take a story-teller’s imagination to a pinnacle. In the cosmos of richly descriptive Ancient World fiction, Saraswati’s Intelligence, book one of The Kishkindha Chronicles, stays true to the promise of “intelligence” in its title and sets itself apart. The edge that this novel has over its Western literary counterparts is most of all the presence of the original superhero, Hanuman himself.  Hanuman is a multi-faceted personality, and in Saraswati’s Intelligence, the action and adventure associated with him also meet intellect and a commitment to a universal ethical ethos.

What Vamsee Juluri does in Saraswati’s Intelligence fundamentally is to offer a story-teller’s tribute to civilization, to the roots and to the forces that have sustained and evolved mankind through the ages.

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Set in a world (Kishkindha, inspired by the ancient Indian subcontinent) that espoused an unbreachable code called Parama Dharma (read “Ahimsa” here), Saraswati’s Intelligence starts on a contemplative note where an adolescent Hanuman faces banishment by his scheming aunt, the Empress Riksharaja ,who takes advantage of a superficial breach of Parama Dharma. In the journey that ensues, filled with a variety of memorable encounters, Hanuman finds himself facing the dark forces that know no morals and threaten to upset the creation of Saraswati, the Supreme Goddess.

While Hanuman makes for an endearing protagonist, the narration brims with reverence towards the feminine universe. The world creation (or call it exploration) of the author is a soulful cognizance of how various species depend on each other and connect themselves to the ultimate source, the Mother of Knowledge. The pages carrying the description of River Saraswati worshipped as the source of life are a delight to every nature lover. To quote a belief of the Kishkindhans about creation:
“In the old days, when much of the world was covered with fire, they say the Goddess herself appeared in the form of a river, and she cooled the fire down slowly, into steam, into water, into earth, and then, into our ancestors, Shiva and Vishnu.”

While the love for nature remains an important aspect in the story, it is refreshing to see that this love is very unlike some of the patronizing and superfluous current day animal protection activism which exhibits overzealous intrusiveness in unnecessary places and callous negligence where action is most needed. The nature worship of the Kishkindhans is rooted in a deeper connect that the various beings such as the Ganeshas and the Jatayus, feel towards each other despite their diversity. ‘Some of us move, some of us lie in wait. Some of us have speed, some have strength. But we all have dharma at heart. So we must think. What is the best way for all our races to work together now? What is the best way for us to work with the forces of land and climate, and not walk into more opposition than we really need to now?’ can be seen as a commentary on the vibrant civilization that was Ancient India and will stay with me for long. Does this universe of Kishkindha espouse everything that we had in the past and everything that we stand to lose in the turmoil of today’s rush to “progress”? I lost track of the number of times I asked myself this question while reading the book and for that reason alone, the book deserves to be read by the young and old alike. Saraswati’s Intelligence is that call from the past to realise what we were and to rediscover what we ought to be.

The story is not a racy, read-and-forget tale that some action and adventure readers might expect it to be. I would advise the readers to be prepared to have their deeper beliefs challenged and coaxed into contemplation to appreciate the nuanced narrative of what Parama Dharma is. Ahimsa, to my delight, is not interpreted as pacifist nonviolence that defeats itself, but it is instead the assertion of vibrant coexistence that pins down the dangerous characteristics of lust, oppression and greed.

One would expect that this ideal universe which recognizes the need to coexist would not run into trouble. But power games, invasions by blood-feeding beings, weaknesses of those whose strength is taken for granted, all form a layered plot skilfully built upon the various shades of the characters. Anjana and Kesari evoke an unearthly reverence as indulgent and yet unattached parents.

Among the well etched characters, Vishwamitra and Vaishnavi (the author’s name given to the Puranic character of Suvarchala) are my favourites, given their stimulating conversations with Hanuman as well as their ability to take quick decisions on their feet. The companionship woven between Vaishnavi and Hanuman (Yes, Hanuman HAS a romantic side and hold on, you will love that!) throws up some interesting debates on Dharma. It made me root for them as a couple and yet…. No spoilers given. One should read the book and travel through the universe of Kishkindha to know what happens.

Saraswati’s Intelligence invokes the rich ancient Indic art of story-telling and cannot be cast into a single genre. Action, Adventure, Spiritualism, War, Romance, Politics, all aspects that take the world of the narrative forward are dealt with through aesthetic storytelling. The book deserves special praise for defying the commercial genre tropes of fantasy like blood, gore and objectification that have unfortunately become a rage in the Western fantasy sphere.  To those under-informed commentaries on why Indian fantasy writing sticks to its ancient scriptures, Saraswati’s Intelligence is the intellectual answer. While the commercial fantasy tropes draw from two-dimensional character motivations dominated by Artha and Kama, the Indic fantasy provides the complete cycle of motivation adding Dharma and Moksha to the carnal side making a story worth its letters.

Interested readers can order Saraswati’s Intelligence from Amazon

Prof Vamsee Juluri is also the author of the Best Selling Rearming Hinduism

Book Review – Arjun Without a doubt by Dr. Sweety Shinde

Re-telling of Mahabharata from individual perspectives has been an ever-green favourite of the Indian literary segment. Arjun without a Doubt by the debutante Sweety Shinde stands out of the rest, giving a voice to the ever inspirational Arjuna while admirably balancing the macro narrative. It is not surprising that the author actually chose that perspective which refreshingly does not blame the world for his misfortunes. In a unique approach to balance the male and female (perhaps) narratives, the author chose to retell the epic through the eyes of Draupadi and Arjuna.

Warning, I am going to rave about the book, it finally retells Mahabharata as I loved it since childhood.

This is in contrast to the various other books which retell Mahabharata from many individual points of view like Draupadi, Karna, Bheema, Duryodhana and so on.  While each of these books have a passionate narrative and raise uncomfortable questions, most of them heavily fall short on doing justice to the macro narrative. Bringing out the macro-narrative of this immortal epic is possible only with multiple perspectives (something that the SL Bhyrappa did with scholarly élan in his critically acclaimed Parva which became the reference to most of the new authors and in the recent years, Krishna Udayasankar attempted with a unique macro plot though with a fantasy approach).

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What stands out in Sweety’s Arjun is his aptitude for intellectual and philosophical discussions and his way of dwelling on each of the challenges he faced, every misery making him stronger and wiser than before. Adhering to the allegory of Nara-Narayana, Arjun comes across as a befitting comparison to Krishna. His valour, obviously is peerless. But Arjun is not someone who flaunts his expertise in archery to prove a point to this world. In fact, the skill of archery is his passion, his love and his solace and the Gandeeva, his ‘bride’ that would always be by his side after he lost Draupadi to the complex marital predicament. That apart, he perpetually strives to be worthy of Draupadi’s acceptance while being sensitive of Subhadra’s love. I liked the way Karna was dealt with the contempt he really deserves. Arjun is shown too busy facing his own intrigues inside and out to care for the wannabe rants of Karna. While Karna’s aim was to better Arjuna in archery, Arjuna’s love for archery was not for fame but an endeavour to discover his own self, something that he achieves without disappointing those who believed in him. This is one book I can thrust on the faces of Karna’s admirers with complete confidence. I would have loved it more if the author had elaborated more on the episode of Kiratarjuniya and the killing of Jayadrata. The numb shock that casts him into a daze during the gambling scene could have been dealt with a bit more detail.

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Draupadi

“Oh My God! Not again!” was my initial reaction after learning that the book carried a Draupadi centric narrative. But Sweety’s Draupadi is amazingly refreshing. This Draupadi loves Arjun and not Karna (No sane woman would love an eternal cribber in a perpetual battle mode like Karna and even thinking of a strong woman like her falling for the loser is such an insult to her personality!) as some popular literary works speculate. This fits with the narrative of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, keeping in mind, Draupadi’s reaction about Subhadra wedding Arjuna and Yudhishtira’s last words about Draupadi. She is a heroine, a true Kathanaayika blossoming from a bewildered bride braving a complex marital relationship to an empress that held the family together through hopelessly miserable situations. What I loved the most is the author’s portrayal of Draupadi’s facing the ignominious and horrifying episode of dice and disrobing. The Empress of Bharatavarsha is not a distressed helpless woman calling out to Krishna. She is not numbed by the shock of being wagered, lost and branded as a slave. That is the moment she behaves as the true Samragni who realizes that she is the only one to stand between the Kauravas and the women of the Pandava family (who might be put to a greater misery than her as she speculates). She was not the victim, she was the saviour! Could not help tears of sheer admiration reading that episode. Different shades of her character surface during various incidents and Draupadi never fails to intrigue and inspire.

Where I disagreed

Subhadra’s demure personality somehow did not go well with me. Felt that the author could have portrayed a more vivacious and endearing woman in her and still retained Draupadi’s superiority if I may say so. To me, Subhadra is always that sister of Krishna who is a befitting comrade in all his quests and her greatness need not be in clash with that of Draupadi.

Yudhishtira is someone I feel is a character who is always dealt a raw deal from the poets and authors. The author, in fact, tried to balance with a redeeming last chapter. But the root problem I feel is that not only her but most other authors including the literary scholars also see Yudhishtira only from a collection of perceptions and not as an individual himself. Any modern author who dares to sympathize with him will have to face the eternal battle with the feminist rage of the world: D (Kidding, or am I?).

Final word: Arjun is a must read for those aiming to draw inspiration from the epic of Mahabharata. Interested readers can buy the book from Amazon

Short story – Behind every successful woman is a…

The car halted for the fifteenth time barely covering a kilometre in the last forty minutes. At five in the evening, this was not unusual on the Road #1, Banjara Hills. Rukmini sighed stretching against her seat, glancing at her husband on the wheel. If there was an award for showing patience in Hyderabad traffic, Vasu would have been a permanent recipient. She smiled and lay a hand over his, perched on the hand gear. No amount of traffic would ruin her mood today. Winning the gold medal at the state level Kuchipudi solo competition had been a dream she had nurtured for years. The age limit for the participation was 25 and three months down the line, she would cross the age limit. This had been Rukmini’s last chance at the competition and to her delight and that of her family’s she had done it.

Bhaamane…. Satyabhaamane… The phone rang. Rukmini answered it reminding herself to change the ring tone. It was her mother’s favourite song and the very song to which she had performed in the finale of the competitions and won the award. But now, she did yearn for a break from the monotony as the song had totally occupied her life in the last couple of months.

“Amma!” Rukmini chirped. “Yes, we are on the way to Ravindra Bharati Auditorium for the prize distribution.”

“Wish I were there Ammulu.” Her mother’s voice sounded forlorn. “Aren’t they streaming it on any Youtube Channel?”

“One month in the US and you have developed way too high expectations.” Rukmini chuckled. “I’ll try and get a recording Amma. How is Vishva doing? Katya is due in the next month no?”

The conversation continued about her sister in law who was expecting. Meanwhile, the traffic on the road showed no mercy. Rukmini felt thankful to Vasu for insisting that they start early enough so that the delay does not make them late for the event. She was about to hang up when her mother suddenly asked. “Rukku, did you share the news with Radha?”

“I put it up on Facebook no, Amma. She liked and commented on that.”

“You should have asked her to come to the function today.”

“How will Radha come with her baby Amma?” Rukmini retorted and immediately bit her lip hoping that the conversation would not go towards her having children now.

“At least tell her to restart dancing. I still remember how nicely you both used to dance…” the voice trailed away for a moment before her mother muttered a hasty goodbye citing a domestic excuse and hung up.

“Radha was your dance buddy in Vijayawada right?” Vasu asked.

“Hmmmm” Rukmini nodded. The traffic only seemed to worsen as they made their way towards the Dwaraka Circle. Ravindra Bharati was a couple of kilometres away from there. A facebook message popped up.

“Wow, think of the…” Rukmini exclaimed. Devil wasn’t the word she preferred to use for Radha. “Look what I found…” The message said followed by a couple of attachments. “Vasu! look at this! Radha sent me now!” Rukmini thrust the phone before him. Vasu’s smile became more pronounced seeing the picture. “You both were like 15-16 years old? That Krishna’s costume suited you.”

“Fourteen. In Std 9.” Rukmini replied looking lost in the memory. I remember as I behaved like a sore loser after this performance.

Vasu had an amused look and hauled his brows. “What did you do?”

“Well, typical adolescent jealousy. Radha’s mudras, poses and transition between varying rhythms, everything had finesse. She was a natural. You know, Amma was almost like her fan. And I was a bit tired of the constant comparison. This was one performance where I snapped.”

“Were you both performing Madhura Nagarilo?”

Rukmini nodded. Her glance hovered aimlessly fighting the sharp surge of embarrassment. “She played the role of Radha and there was this viewer who commented that the Radha commanded the stage so well that the Krishna seemed totally redundant. I snapped. Swore to my mother that as long as Radha dances, I am not even going to wear anklets, leave along dancing.”

Vasu’s surprise was palpable. So was some relief realizing that the girl he married seemed a far less fierce version of what she used to be. “And Amma listened to you?”

“Come on! It is Amma and her dream of seeing me become an accomplished dancer. She won eventually.”

“So Radha stopped dancing?” Vasu’s gaze showed that he fervently hoped that the turn of events was not as melodramatic as he feared.

“Friendship is stronger than jealousy, boss. We patched up soon after.”Rukmini laughed. But after that, we shifted to Hyderabad. The Senior Secondary School pressure gave me the welcome break from dance. But thanks to Amma’s ceaseless efforts, I rediscovered my passion for dancing, free of competitive pressures. So here I am.

Sadly, fate had different plans for Radha. Guess she achieved a pinnacle too early in life. Her arangetram at the age of nineteen ironically was her last major public performance.”

“What? Why?”

“Conservative family.” Rukmini sighed heavily with a slight shrug. Her parents did not realize the value of her talent. They married her to some US-returned guy when she was barely twenty-two and marriage sealed any possible opportunity of her return to dance.”

Either words failed him or the dense traffic commanded the bulk of his attention, Vasu remained quiet. Rukmini swallowed admitting to herself. Had Radha too taken part in this competition, she would never have won this prize.

bhamakalapam

(Picture Credit : Bhamakalapam from Kuchipudi Vaibhavam blog)

Sensing that they could not afford to feel sad just before Rukmini was to have her proud moments, Vasu reached out to the music player. Their car had a storage of discs full of old Telugu movie songs. Vasu was a huge fan of the yesteryear singer Ghantasala. Rukmini more or less shared his tastes. He blindly selected a disc and thrust it into the player.

Kaaru lo, Shikaarukelle Paala buggala pasiditaana

Bugga meeda gulaabi rangu ela vacheno cheppagalavaa

(O maiden enjoying the ride in your car,

can you say from where the rosy blush on your cheeks came?)

With an audible gasp, Vasu reached out to stop the song. Rukmini held his hand. “Let it play,” she chuckled. He gave in with a shrug. They had almost reached the venue. The song played on.

Ninnu minchina kannelandaru mandutendalo maadipothe

vaari buggala nikku neeku vachchi cherenu telusuko

(As the girls more deserving than you, suffer in the scorching sun,

the pink due on their cheeks found its way onto yours)


Rukmini held the mic close facing the audience, her other hand clutching to the prized trophy of the bronze Nataraja mounted on a wooden stand that bore her name with the title “Natya Mayuri.”

The screen behind her flashed selected scenes of her final round performance. She had indeed trained hard to give her best sequence of the complex jatis for the lines.

Bhaamane padiyaaru vela komalulandarilo, lalana, cheliya, maguva, sakhiya, Raamaro,

Gopaala devuni Premanu dochina Satya bhaamane Satya bhaamane

(I am that Bhama, who out of the sixteen thousand beautiful damsels,

managed to steal the heart of Gopala Deva, Mind you, I am Satyabhama).

The Video that carried the final sequence of Jatis earned a resounding rounding applause. The sound of claps tapered off as Rukmini cleared her throat to give a thank you speech. “Behind every successful woman,…. she paused and smiled before pointing her hand towards Vasu sitting in the first row, who for a moment became the centre of attention as the applause grew louder. Had he not taken care of the mundane chores in the last couple of months, believe me, I would not have been able to do that.

“Behind every successful woman, is a strong mother who believes in the potential of her child early in life. You all might not have believed. I had given up on dance, let alone giving performances, about a decade back and it was Amma who inspired and goaded me to test my limits and reach where I have come today.

“Behind every successful woman, are those scores of women who did not get the opportunity to be themselves. I remember a dear friend of mine who excelled me in every Kuchipudi performance we gave as children. Who knows if she had participated in these competitions, I might not have stood a chance. But…” Rukmini’s voice trailed and the audience waited for her to complete. Being the dancer she was, her expressions tended to be pronounced. Even more so as the feeling erupted from her heart. The scorn was palpable when she concluded. “Behind every successful Rukmini, there are those narrow-minded and conservative families which stopped their Radhas from having their due.”

Book Review – The Guardians of the Halahala by Shatrujeet Nath

The evergreen genre of historical fantasy can survive for eternity on the treasury of Indian literature right from the lore of scriptures to the untapped folklore. Every story has something unique to offer and every retelling explores an untold perspective of the said legend.

Guardians of Halahala is a culmination of the infinite perspectives of Indic lore and a masterful storytelling by the author Shatrujeet Nath. The book being the first of the Vikramaditya trilogy came as a suggestion by my editor when we had started editing the final draft of my debut fiction Abhaya. Her conviction that Shatrujeet’s handling of a multi-character driven epic would have a lot to offer to the newbie writers made me go for the book. This would be one of those reviews where I would also focus on what an aspiring writer can learn from the novel.

The author weaves a tale that extensively draws storylines and characters from history, folklore as well as the Puranas. Those who are particular about compliance to historicity might have a lot of reservations about the contents of the novel. But beyond the debates of historicity, the story has enough and more to offer to a reader who loves the craft of story-telling.

Unlike many novels of the genre which start with an adolescent protagonist struggling to find his or her purpose, Guardians of Haalahala starts at the pinnacle of the protagonist’s achievements. Emperor Vikramaditya’s Rajasuya could have been the finale of an adventure ridden tale of the most beloved king of the bards. But the author chose to delve into the fresh set of intrigues that follow a man’s ascent to ultimate power. It is like the author wants to send a strong message about how retaining the stability of an empire is much trickier than the ascent to the position of an emperor. The readers get a taste of the multiple forces that can neutralize the so-called power.

We are introduced to multi-layered characters who weave their own sub-threads of the story and I felt myself liking each of them immensely. Those who we only know as the patronized, luxury-pampered poets like Kalidasa also appear with jaw-droppingly different personalities.

The plot revolves around the dagger of ‘immense value’ that could potentially destroy the universe that Lord Shiva entrusts Vikramaditya to protect. The cause attracts newer enemies of supernatural nature, adding to the already existing invasion threat by the dreaded Hunas. Adding to these, there are a variety of riveting political intrigues that keep the pages turning.the-guardians-of-the-halahala-original-imaefctgqaazuhza

The language is another aspect worth dwelling upon. While the gripping plot pushes the reader’s gaze towards what happens next, the savory poetical descriptions add to the flesh of the novel. I really loved the bit where Vikramaditya and his half-brother Vararuchi have a Veena ‘jugalbandi’ which immediately brought to life, the diya lit palace of Vikramaditya in front of my eyes. In retrospect, the Veena scene wasn’t crucial to the plot, but it mirrored the cultural image of the times, the multifaceted skills of the kings as well as the delicateness of the complicated relationships.

As a reader, I look forward to social commentary and in my opinion, that is what differentiates a folklore from an enduring legend. But storytellers have a hard job of introducing social commentaries without slowing down the plot. Often it has to be an added dimension to the core plot, the character structures and the relationships between them. I liked the face-off shown between the supernatural ‘healing’ and actual scientific medicine (of those days) in the spat between Shukracharya and Dhanvantari.

Like any good trilogy, the plot goes only deeper as the book ends and left me waiting for the second book of the series, The conspiracy at Meru. Above all, this is the kind of writing craft I would love to learn and practice – intertwining an independent and intriguing plot with the Puranic concepts.

There is little that I can complain about the book except for minor technical detail. One is the interchangeable usage of terms Rakshasas and Asuras (which even ancient authors and poets have done). I always believed that ‘Rakshasa’ was a derogatory term used for Asuras who are otherwise not very differentiable from the Suras. But then, the premises either way is debatable. Another thing is a couple of formatting errors I came across which Jaico Publishers need to take care of. There was a paragraph repeated and some needless line spaces and a rare typo here and there. I don’t know if that is just in the kindle version. Given the excellent writing craft, the proofreaders need to pay more attention to it.

My Rating 4.5/5

Do buy the book from Amazon

Book Review – Gods, Kings and Slaves by Venkatesh Ramakrishnan

Historical fiction is an ever green genre in India. The regional literature with had got into the genre quite early and has established its mark. The classics by the likes of Kalki R Krishnamurthi, Vishvanatha Satyanarayana, KM Munshi have remained all time favourites and some of their works have groomed fan cults. Indian English literature has begun to get into historical fiction quite late and is quite welcome.

Gods, Kings and Slaves, The siege of Madurai by Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, a Chennai based historian and author dwells on the conflict between Malik Kafur, the slave and trusted war general of the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji and Veera Pandya, the King of Madurai.

Starting with an engrossing narrative of the individual travails of both the characters in their early youth, the book sketches their journey upwards. The reader can be moved by the making of Malik Kafur and inspired by the ambitious Prince Veera. The tale of Malik Kafur that transformed an innocent love lorn youth into a stone hearted manipulative war general who knows no defeat was quite eye opening. The dramatization of Veera’s exploits at a crisp pace makes this book a page turner.

The book also dwells into the internal conflicts of the Royal Pandya family. Being the son of a courtesan by the Pandya King, Prince Veera is not considered a natural heir to the throne of Madurai against his step brother Sundara Pandya. But a dramatic turn of events sees Veera ascend the throne but the power comes at a high cost, at the cost of love and friendship. The book alternates between the individual tales of Malik Kafur (I am almost tempted to give his real name away, but that would be a spoiler 😉 and Veera Pandya and I personally found the alternating narrative quite gripping.

Gods Kings and Slaves

One highlight of the book with regards to the war scenes was the balance struck between dramatic narrative and attention to detail be it the description of the fortress of Warangal or strategies that made Prince Veera secure a crucial victory at Lanka. A history enthusiast could have his interest rekindled about the many dynasties the author mentions that most of us would not have studied in high school history. His description of Warangal actually made me want to visit the place the very following weekend. (I was in Hyderabad then).

The author’s way of handling the after effects of a battle is another noteworthy aspect. One can empathize with Veera Pandya’s broken heart at losing Madurai to invaders and his unspoken grief in seeing the changed layout of the city when he visits the erstwhile Pandya capital in incognito. May be as a poetic justice (oops a spoiler!) all does not go well with Malik Kafur back at Delhi after his victorious conquest of medieval India. The idol of Goddess Meenakshi that he is smitten with which he takes from the temple of Madurai has her own ways of working.

The mystique touch at the end of the novel was the lone thing which I felt was out of sync with the rest of the book which does not have a super natural angle. (It might be just me). But then with Kings and Slaves dominating the story, the gods had to show themselves sometime and it happens in the last few pages. The book ends with a brief epilogue about Kumara Kampana, the Vijaya Nagara Prince reclaiming Madurai.

I personally liked the strong female characters along the novel, be it Tara, Sunanda, Radhika or Vani. Readers could wonder about who the male protagonist of the book is when it alternates between the stories of Veera and Kafur. But each of the women make it clear to the reader that they are all here as heroines of their own mettle.

In the authors note, we get to know that ‘Madura Vijayam’ a 14th Century work written by Queen Gangamba was the inspiration for the book. Or rather the book might work as a sequel to the events described in Madura Vijayam. As a history lover I hope that R Venketesh does take to writing the sequel of reclaiming Madurai too.

Venketesh is a bilingual author and has penned Kaviri Maithan, the Tamizh sequel to Kalki R Krishnamurthi’s block buster classic, Ponniyin Selvan. Gods, Kings and Slaves – The siege of Madurai happens to be his first novel in English. The novel did reignite my enthusiasm for the medieval Indian history, especially that of South India and got me reading about the rise and fall of many kingdoms and dynasties that my school curriculum had by passed. If you are a history lover, then go for it on Amazon.

Book Review – Kaal Trilogy by Sangeeta Bahadur

I had picked up the Book One (Jaal) of the Kaal Trilogy in a serendipitous moment in a Bangalore based book store. As I read through I realized that it was more than a novel (in present day fiction standards). Reading Jaal was a total experience in itself. The totally new universe created by the author with its own Pantheon of divinity, super natural beings, mystics and the ever lively characters make for an intriguing and yet a pleasing read. I should mention that this series is definitely not for a racy reader and it demands a greater attention span from the reader while returning a unique experience.

Jaal starts with a cosmic situation where the pantheon of the universe is faced with the peril of facing the wrath of Aushij, the wayward God of Maya. Arihant, the protagonist is the nemesis to Aushij chosen by the Gods. But his destiny comes along with a mixed path of obstacles, assassins , devoted friends, enigmatic mentors and breathtaking confrontations. Jaal is about the journey of Arihant as he begins to discover that the idyllic life of his cosy village was not what he was meant for and leaves everything dear to him behind to find the answer to his questions.

The reader is also presented with the political dynamics of the continent of Hastipeeth where righteous and the wicked are on a constant strife. The exiled Queen Vagdatta, the devoted friend Brihadrath and the enigmatic Vakrini stand out of the rest. There are the sages who work in tandem with the pantheon for the good of the universe. There are intriguing mythical beings, each of them adding his or her own bit to the greater cause. And the spectacular highlight of Jaal is the revelation of the Supreme Goddess. Without spoilers, I can say that I was reminded of the Saundarya Lahari and Mahishasuramardini hymns where contrasting aspects of Adi Shakti reveal themselves

Jaal
Jaal left me waiting for Vikraal, the second of the series which finally came out in March. The Author Sangeeta Bahadur has made the wait worth it. I could feel the characters growing as the story plot evolved. Arihant grows honing his acquired mystic skills. We find him experiencing new phases of life as he finds the love of his heart. With Jaal, the first book giving sufficient clue for the romantic story that would ensue, I was waiting for it to happen in Vikraal. I expect the reader to be pleasantly surprised as here, the woman is the first to profess her love. Aagneyi’s character comes of as something worth admiration on multiple fronts. Revealing anything more might just spoil the fun.

The plot of Vikraal sees the various kingdoms of the continent Hastipeeth becoming aware of the impending conflict between Arihant and Aushij. Adventures and surprises (some pleasant and some not so pleasant) are a part and parcel of Arihant’s journey. We also get to see more of Raudra, the high priestess and warrior on the side of Aushij with her side of the story, intriguing, touching and yet something which stokes fear.

Two parts of the book that can awe the reader from a philosophical point of view are the commentary about Vikaaras or what we know as the six internal enemies and the conversation that Arihant has with another mystic entity about discovering his own self. Philosophically, this is a treat to the reader. The name Arihant started to make more sense as I read more about these internal enemies. The physical journey of Arihant would then seem to each of us like our own virtual journey combating our weaknesses in search of the ‘self’ each of us is.

Vikraal1The greatest aspect that sets the series apart from the rest is the rich descriptive language. It is something which transports the reader into that universe and experience the story. At the same time I fear the description could hamper the pace of the story, especially in nail biting situations of combat and battle. I found it a bit challenging to stay focused when the story shifted to multiple perspectives of each of the many kingdoms. But I think multiple perspectives are key to what become epics. At places I also found the language a bit too modern for the look and feel of the universe of Kaal. (Might be just my perspective)

Vikraal ends on an almost tragic note while leaving a faint hope for something miraculous to happen in the third book Mahakaal. As a reader I found myself praying for that ‘moment’ and am waiting for Mahakaal to come out soon! Buck up Sangeeta, you have loads of readers waiting I am sure!

You can buy Jaal and Vikraal from Amazon.