Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Short review of The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Divakaruni

After reading an ass of a book named Asura, first Chanakya's Chant and then this really brought my spirits up.

History has never been kind to women. Its never too easy to be called the reason behind a war which was all about male warrior ego, ambitions, righteousness, , loyalty, a war which was bound to happen no matter what. Its infuriating why would Draupadi's comment be called the reason for Mahabharat when Duryodhan was merely waiting for an opportunity.

The writer has done a tremendous job in weaving a story all from female perspective. Not only Draupadi, the story follows all the female characters in Mahabharat. Some very critical events are just mentioned merely because they didn't have any woman involved, while few very unimportant ones are elaborated because it involved either Draupadi or Kunti. The writer must be applauded for the same.

I didnt particularly like the Draupadi-Karna love angle, but to be fair to Draupadi, she was in a tight spot the moment she was married, so that angle does bring out her sensitive side.

Pandavas are shown weak, which is fair as they were not really Gods. Krishna is portrayed brilliantly, an air of mysticism around him, just as you would want him to be.

This by far was the best I have read on mythological fiction. The writer never changes the story or characters as per her needs, yet weaves excellent fiction around them.

Rating 5/5

You can purchase the book from here

Monday, 12 June 2017

Short Story Contest powered by Half Baked Beans- Ibadat

The team at Half Baked Beans hosted UNNS-The Captivation inspired short story contest. The theme was to write one story each on the seven stages of love.

Here is the winning entry on the third stage of love-Worship by Sai Shikha

Black Ice

“What is it about crowded places that makes people claustrophobic?”, Mrinal had often wondered, but she found her answer today, on the corridors of ‘BLACK ICE VINTAGE HOME’. The thought of coming across a thousand unfamiliar faces and watch her own reflection in their scars made her resolve cringe.
‘ BLACK ICE’ had its own reputation as a personality building centre that helped young women, most of them, acid attack survivors, and others with any slackening mishap or abnormality, to regain their confidence and take life in their stride.  A lab accident at school brought sixteen year old mrinal here, with sulphuric acid burning a part of her face and leaving her scarred, not just physically. Mrinal was skeptical about this place, where she would wake up to see faces much like hers, disfigured and shaken, virtual mirrors that would taunt her in a silent undertone.
She was asked to see Mrs.Sunaina Gupta, founder of BLACK ICE, as she personally looked into fresh admissions. Mrinal flipped few brochures while waiting in the lobby for her turn. A few minutes later, she was ushered into a simple office with caramel furnishings.
“Come in, mrinal”
Mrinal saw Mrs. Sunaina for the first time. She had a milky complexion, doe eyes and a straight nose and most of all, an angelic smile. But, what betrayed all that beauty was a long burn scar over her left cheek.
“Fill it up, here”, she extended a proforma.
“I don’t want to be here. I am absolutely fine.”, mrinal sighed.
“Of course, your file says you missed your board exams because you feel intimidated by the looks people pass on your face. You have trouble falling asleep, and you wake up to night sweats. That’s quite a deep explanation for ‘fine’, don’t you think?”
“Okay, all that’s true. But, I don’t need those counseling stuff from someone who barely knows me, to be okay.”, Mrinal fumed with anger. “Why did you even start this sort of organization? Is it a sin to make truce with what a person’s life has become! Why is regaining normalcy such an obsession?”, she rattled on.
“Interesting question. Ready for an answer?”, Mrs. Sunaina replied, and began---  “I used to be a passionate dancer. After several auditions, I was selected as the lead dancer of ‘Dance India Group’, and had to perform a stage show at World Cultural Meet, San Francisco. But, three days prior to the event, a rogue infatuated with me spilled vitriol on my face.”, Mrinal listened aghast.
Mrs. Gupta continued, “What followed next was the assassination of all my dreams of being a renowned dancer. They never see your moves and rhythm before your face. When the priority is scarred, then so is the entire life throbbing behind it. I plunged into an abyss of depression and attempted suicide thrice. Nothing could make me feel better in my own skin and bones, until one day, Mr. Atul Gupta stepped into my life. He was the coordinator of ‘Swag Dance Troupe’ and he roped me in for an international concert being held at Dubai. I was elated beyond reprise. The performance happened to be a dance-drama, where I had to play the role of the protagonist. I was stupefied thinking how someone could easily look past my scarred face and give me this huge opportunity. But, that overwhelming realization fled with the announcement of mask theme. All dancers were supposed to cover their faces with masks, which obviously would conceal my hideous face. Yet, I was happy about the ephemeral anonymity as well. On stage, my performance outshined others and my bruised esteem somewhere began to heal with the loud accolades and ‘once more’ hooting from the audience. There was a moment of stupor, when I forgot about my scars, while basking in the stardom and glitterati.”
Mrinal was listening attentively but her expressions changed after hearing Sunaina’s following words. “Moments after the euphoria, the ground under my feet slipped when the chief guest asked me to uncover my mask, as he wanted to click a selfie with the star of the night. I stood there, rooted with downcast eyes. Perhaps, the moment of detour to reality had knocked. I decided on an escape plan, and ran away towards the back door. I was sprinting fast, but a firm grip on my arm halted me. I turned around to see Mr. Atul Gupta holding my hands.”
 “Go to the stage and don’t fear removing your mask”, he barked at me.
“Are you crazy? They would see my face and all those praises and adulation would turn meaningless. I don’t want to return with a sour splash of criticism after so much of hard work.”
He still didn’t let go of my hand. “You are what you think yourself to be. Thoughts become actions and actions build life. Don’t betray that brave Sunaina inside you who yearns to be known for what she really is. Gather a bit of courage and let the world know the real you. Please try, for me, for that hope brimming within you”, his words carried meaning in the mist over his eyes as well.
“With a heavy heart, I retraced my steps towards the stage, an unknown clumsiness descending upon my nerves. Then, with great effort, I removed the mask.”
“What happened then?”’ Mrinal sprang up from her chair.
“There were a few seconds of absolute silence, but the applause boomed the theatre again, this time, several decibels higher”, Mrs. Sunaina beamed.
Hence, your answer is – “Since God finds it cumbersome to reach each one of us, he sends Samaritans as his Gabriels. One such person was Atul, who has been my anchorthroughout the tough sails. He wasn't the shield that protected me, rather he became the sword that made my fingers yield to the fierce grip.I worship him for the confidence he lured out of me. Today, if I am able to speak up on the crests and troughs of my past without an ounce of regret, that is because i met someone like him, a man who sees a self-made woman in me. We worked together, our hearts gave away and we have been married since 10 years. And, I am trying to be someone'sGabriel too, through this foundation.”, she smiled.
Mrinal was left with tears streaming down her cheeks. She had a tough time signing the form, thanks to blurry vision from the bubble of tears. She flashed a smile, and walked back to the door, but stopped midway to ask, “Why did you name it ‘BLACK ICE’? Quite a weird name”.

Mrs. Sunaina smiled again. “Well, ice is cold and rigid. But, black ice has a bit of warmth, as well”, she winked.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Short Story Contest powered by Half Baked Beans- Aqeedat

The team at Half Baked Beans hosted UNNS-The Captivation inspired short story contest. The theme was to write one story each on the seven stages of love.

Here is the winning entry on the third stage of love-Reverence by Sudarshan Nair.

"Do you love me ?"

They stood on the hill, overlooking the banquet. The sight was quite similar, but they knew something changed.
It took a lot out of her to ask the question, and what followed wasn't astonishment, but silence. It seemed that even the breeze was caught by surprise, as it stopped brushing their cheeks under the sunlight. Her eyes were filled with tears of doubt that seemed to hold on to her eyelids somehow. She pushed on and tried to catch his line of sight, as his eyes wandered between the space that separated them. He hardly managed to look into her eyes, but that daunting look gave him a strange fright. He looked away into the bright sky, and took a deep breath, exhaling whilst closing his eyes. He swallowed the lump that had built up in his throat and as he cleared his voice, he responded
  "Why do you ask ?"

For a moment she looked to her feet and with a dense emotion, she went on
   "I still remember the first time you said that you liked me, and i reacted shockingly. I wasn't expecting you to do so, maybe that was why i got scared and tried to keep as much distance away from you as i could. I know i told you to never think of us like that again, but surprisingly you never did so. You have always been there as a pillar, and to make me feel better you also have managed to keep distance. Even to my ignorance you have done lot of things that have made me happy and sad, so is there nothing that you feel?"

Clearly in a state of shock, he felt happy even in the moment that she did realize the importance of all those little things he did for her. He never asked her for her time although he longed to be with her and talk to her about life, but he felt that she was not supposed to be bound by anything or anyone and believed that she should spend her time and her life as she wanted to. Not riding on his emotions he took a deep breath and with a sweet smile he asked her.
  "Why do you ask now, does it make a difference?"
She leaned in a bit forward, she was expecting this to follow up she held her hand against her chest and said
"Yes it does!, i couldn't live with the fact that i threw away something like this, it took me time but i do realize the efforts and patience it takes to love and respect a person by not expecting anything in return, please don't push it, just tell me."

He should have just thrown away everything and shattered through the chains that kept him a slave to his emotions, instead he seemed to be at peace. He experienced the hilly breeze comforting him. It felt like nature was wiping away all the sweat on his face, all the tension and stress. His hands and feet felt numb and cold, his heart beating like a para-diddle. He was confused, he loved her, he always had, and he only wanted her to be happy. He knew if he told her how he felt, everything about what he thought and all those words he wrote for her, she would be broken, and to even think about telling her all those little things that he did for her. Ohh! he felt miserable, and those eyes, how could he throw away the look in her eyes, still in doubt, still looking for answers. He got a grip on the situation, and for a moment he let it sink in,it was the first time ever that someone had ever realized what he felt, and he knew she would feel the same way if he told her. She was getting desperate by now, he sensed it. It was very difficult for him, but with all the courage and out of utter respect and love for her and with a peaceful grin he spoke
     "Hey, you are doing the right thing here; what has happened is in the past, nothing changes between us, i promise that."

It may have earned him a great deal of good deeds, but he wasn't concerned about it. Seeing her happy was all that he wanted, and he never wanted things to get ugly, although it made him morose and a little happy too. He felt at peace when she hugged him and smiled at him. She secretly knew that he loved her a lot, and was doing all of this just to make her happy. She prayed that he would find someone far better than herself, and that person would realize his importance, she realized how silence could speak when words could not, together they walked down the hill once again, but as the bride and the best man, the same hill where they had their first trip together, where his best friend confessed how he felt about her.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Short Story Contest powered by Half Baked Beans- Love

The team at Half Baked Beans hosted UNNS-The Captivation inspired short story contest. The theme was to write one story each on the seven stages of love.

Here is the winning entry on the third stage of love-Love by Nabodita Ganguly.

The fact that relationships can last for more than a year, has always been scary to me. Don’t people get bored after a long time? Isn’t it claustrophobic? Everytime I get cynical towards love, my sister says it is love which will resusciate me back to its power. I always ignore her, because to be honest; the idea of forever is very strange to me.
Now that it’s my ninth relation, and it has lasted for nearly a year; my girl friend asked me to marry her.

She is a woman of dignity, witty, real. However the very idea of marriage makes me suffocated. She repeatedly asked me to marry her, and I kept on telling her that I don’t like all this. She gave me examples of perfect couples whose marriage worked, she told me how love increases forever, she told me that marriage is only a name of love; but I didn’t listen to her.
Conversations of this type always way lay me with sadness, nervousness. Slowly, I noticed that there was irritation in her tone. She kept asking me why I didn’t want to marry.
“Because I don’t understand this concept of love. I do not believe this very concept of forever,” I shouted loudly.
She looked at me and gave a sarcastic smile. She said that she would wait for a week for an answer. She would tame her wild soul with the hope that I will accept her, but if I didn’t, she would break our little world, and depart.

I didn’t know what to say, or how to say. I kept on sweating, just then she said, “When we are in love, we look into the person’s eyes and we instantly fall for them. We vow to protect them by our love, we promise to stay with them for forever. Because everyday, we discover a new person from the person we love.”
As she kept saying, my phone rang, and my brother in law said that it was time. Hearing it, I left the spot and rushed my way to the hospital. I didn’t even say a proper “goodbye” to the person who was madly in love with my soul.
By the time I entered the hospital, it was born. Rather she was born, my sister gave birth to a baby girl. My mother gave the child in my lap.

As I took her, there was vicissitude in me. I became responsible, took her properly. I never imagined something so beautiful can be born. She looked total like a nymphet, looking at her face I fell for her. Looking into her small eyes, I vowed to protect her for forever. I promised to mollify her with my love for forever.

It was this infant soul, who made me accept my girlfriend’s proposal. It was she who made me realise the true aura of love. My sister was right, it was love which made me understand it’s true value.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Short Story Contest powered by Half Baked Beans- Captivation

The team at Half Baked Beans hosted UNNS-The Captivation inspired short story contest. The theme was to write one story each on the seven stages of love.

Here is the winning entry on the second stage of love-Captivation by Sreeja Deb.

Why do they call it a “crush”? Is it because that is the way you feel when he doesn’t feel the same in return! Well maybe....
But the concern every word of his reflects, his anger when he says to me that I should not let anyone make fun of me, his dominance over me while fighting, his child-like smile that turned disastrous days into sweet memories, his laughter that makes me realize what is the thing that I want in my life....I wish all these were absent in my life! These things make me feel empty and hollow from deep inside and a voice loud and clear shouts in my ears”NOT IN YOUR REACH !”. Life would have been much easier to deal with if you did not ask me that question, and I, being in the drift, had not answered it so easily. Why on earth did you ask the name...the name of the person who has thrown life into me, who has captivated me by his charm, and why did I tell you, God knows! After confessing deep secrets hidden inside this tiny soul, believe me it was not that easy to say, “It’s not possible between us”, and to add to my troubles you asked me “Why do you think it’s not possible?” with a look as if you were reading my soul by peering through my eyes. I just had to break the eye contact, else the gravitation governed by your eyes would have pulled more secrets apart from me.The dilemma running through my mind like a hurricane, when I wished that you feel everything by yourself without me intruding into your thoughts, and on the other hand I was scared to accept my own feelings and my fake thoughts-that nothing has happened- continued to prevail over my feelings. You thought that your promise to be friends always and let nothing turn awkward between us would cheer me up, but my heart said that you were wrong for the first time in your life, rather it made my heart scatter into pieces.

We were good friends, still I don’t know what forced something to change between us. The loud laughter had turned into eye contacts and a smile followed by lowering of eyes from both the sides, the friendly touch suddenly began to soothe injuries, the pain started and ended into two different souls, the mention of a name startled me, the wait for a like on Facebook brought more excitement, the smile was of a different kind that came from reading old messages.

I had never expected him to take me on dinner dates, rather he took me out for walks along the deserted and not so explored roads. Just a call on my phone and he asking me,”Where are you?....wanna join me for a walk?” and I used to get one more chance to peep into his heart a bit more. But I could never understand whether they were just walks or something more for him. Although he said they were just casual walks, when he is free from his daily routine, but whenever I used to question my importance in his life , he always mentioned those walks and said that he does not go walking with every random person in the world! Leave it be ......I had never let these things hover in my mind for long, they always take away the essence of the moment!

He walking by my side and his playlist reveal more to me than his deceiving eyes do. There are times when both of us are silent and he breaks it with some stupid topic or mere words like,”So, what else?”just to avoid me, pulling more secrets out of his silence. I still remember the first walk we had.....although it was to sort out our differences but that day I could see a whole new person in front of me, sharing his whole life page by page ,word by word. His ex-crushes that caused pain to him, his childhood that was no less than a nightmare, his difficulties as a village origin, his defense of being a grammar Nazi,his best friends, instances when he was low, moments when he cried, times when he was elated....and what not! He himself accepted that he had never shared those memories with anyone, only friends who were with him since long have got a key to these secret emotions. I understand, he in a drift of emotions opened up his heart in front of me, to acknowledge my feelings that I had expressed to him.

He once promised me a chocolate, and God knows why on earth he wanted me to have ‘his’ favorite chocolate. Every time I poked him, his defense was,”I am still searching for that particular chocolate!” Finally he gave up and settled with some other chocolate(not that I cared for the flavor of chocolate, rather my interest was in this flavor of our friendship!). It was some other random day and I as always making fun of him regarding the chocolate.....he suddenly popped the chocolate into my mouth. But my bad luck....I dropped half of it.....Doesn’t matter that eventually added to my laughter! The funniest part is that we fight like cats and dogs. Every other person who see us walking would take us to be insane completely. Every emotion is wrapped up in innocence for us. We at times blur out many intense things which might seem to be completely illogical for anyone else but that makes deep impact on our hearts, for just we know what we said and what we actually meant ! We go on speaking rubbish but all that gets added to my memory that I am going to cherish for life. I never show that I agree with him or my thoughts resonate with that of his. I love the feeling when he goes on correcting me. My happiness does not reside in his victory, rather its there when I loose before him. His smile when he feels triumphant over me is just enough for me to forget the tiredness and irritation of day long.I always wait for a ring on my phone flashing his name around the evening. Because I know it would not be just a would be two souls talking rather than two bodies walking!

He has always been a mystery to me,a kind of a mystery which I don’t feel like chasing, because its beautiful the way it is. He  tries to keep his doors shut to all emotions and don’t even let them flow, but his eyes say it all. He is different from the rest, and that is what attracts people towards him. Now let it be his aura, his innocent eyes or the childlike smile, that makes me feel a positive vibe around him. Everything he does or comes up with is enchanting! As if he has thrown life into anything he touches....the Midas touch. His smile gives me ways to find happiness. He is a person who can cross seas and jump boundaries to help others, he is too outgoing. This selfless nature of his had put a charm on me. This may sound insane but the accident I met once turned into a memory, not because of the cuts and bruises, but because of him standing by my side and soothing them. I don’t know the reason but I was on cloud nine when the mental trauma got healed in a moment after he touched me. He was at the same time scolding me, telling me to be careful from the next time, and caressing my injured arm. It was quite evident from those flickering eyes that he himself was sharing a part of my pain. At the hospital the tetanus injection felt less painful as he was standing beside me. Injections have always been a matter of fear from my childhood, but he standing by my side and caressing my forehead like a baby, made me just gaze at him.The feelings came all over again and I was confused whether my physical wounds were healing or soul falling apart! The more I try to resist those feelings, the more caring he becomes. You now ! have to stop this, else my brain and heart would soon begin a war against each other.