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Jul 27, 2015

Tell Me A Story- Book Review



Book Title: Tell Me a Story (An Anthology)
Author (Compiled by): Ravinder Singh
Publisher: PENGUIN metro reads
My Rating: ***1/2
About the Author/s: 
Ravinder Singh who compiled this anthology is a software engineer by profession, brought up in a very small town of Orissa called Burla. 
Before editing and compiling this anthology, Ravinder Singh had also launched an anthology of Love stories titled 'Love Stories That Touched My Heart'. The author has many other published books to his credit.
The twenty one other authors who have contributed to the anthology come from different professional backgrounds but are storytellers for sure!



'Tell Me A Story'- the name of the book itself is a promising title that will compel lovers of the written word to reach out for the book. The subtitle says that the anthology has inspiring, touching, funny and heartfelt stories from life. And I'm a big sucker for true stories, so one can imagine my excitement to read this collection of short stories.

The cover is undoubtedly cute. The floral background and the flowing font translated 'touching' very aptly. And the cup of coffee by the side is just the perfect ambiance for a book lover, isn't it? It was drizzling beautifully outside when I received this book. What luck! 

I think when Penguin put me on their Book Reviewer's list and sent me the paperback for a sneak preview, it had been an extremely opportune hour. This is  a beautiful book to start off on my stint as a book reviewer for Penguin India. 

The book opens with an Editor's note that says "We all have stories to tell. And we love telling them, don't we?" And the writer in me thoroughly agrees with a vigorous nod. Tell Me a Story is a collection of heart-warming stories about events and incidents that affected or changed the lives of the contributing writers. They have narrated stories of episodes that left an indelible mark on their lives. 

Going through the table of contents, 'Pages from a Writer's Life' by Shamita Harsh immediately drew my attention. I knew, I would definitely be able to connect with that particular story and I did but before getting to it, I decided to follow the order and read the stories as they came. That would do justice to the anthology.

'The End of the Tunnel' by Krishnashish Jana is the curtain raiser story of the series. And after having finished reading it, I realised why it had been handpicked to set the ball rolling. The story is absolutely tear-jerking. Told in simple yet well chosen words, it pulls at the strings of the heart and how! Death of a loved one is not easy to face and even more difficult to understand at a tender age. Giving consolation to a grieving loved one requires unimaginable inner strength. This story was just as the title suggested  and more. 

There are some more stories in the book that are heart-wrenching stories of death and grief,of  the sorrow and struggle that a heart goes through to bear with the pain of losing a loved one. The experience of waiting in a hospital lobby, losing a parent and mourning the grave loss is not alien to me and I could relate with the author's anguish. These stories are rife with emotion, alright!

'The Smile That Said It All' by Kamalika Ray is a story with a social message. Its so easy to reach out to another soul and yet we don't! You needn't burn your pockets to 'give'. Giving is highly overrated. It should be as natural as breathing. A simple heartfelt smile of gratitude that you get in return brings so much happiness and yet we look for that elusive 'happiness' in all the wrong places. 

'And Then The Planes Came' by Sanghamitra Bose is my favourite story from this collection. It transported me into another era and also into the mind of a child. This story brought a smile to my face and also left me thinking, at the same time. On a much lighter note is the short and sweet story- 'The Untied Shoelaces' by Dalia Jane Saldanha. Children and the stories from a writer's childhood experiences, can both leave you with a smile as well as a lesson to learn. 

'Tell Me A Story' is definitely a thoughtfully compiled collection of true stories which not only make for a good read but also leave you with life lessons. I will venture to compare this book with the 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' series. Similar in genre and style, it has full potential to keep surfacing time and again because I'm sure there are many more writers out there with their own touching and riveting real life experiences to share. Only, I would like it even more if the next time around I get to read stories that touch a wider plethora of emotions. In my opinion, too many stories revolving around the death of a loved one in the same collection was the  downside here. The nit-picking critic in me sees that as one reason why the book loses a star. Besides, there were a couple of short stories that lacked the flare with which the other stories were written.

"I don't crib, complain, and curse any more. Each time I recall this twenty-minute interaction with a stranger, the soreness of my problems subside automatically. I'm sure you'll experience the same."
- Opening lines of 'We The People' by Anjali Khurana. 
Can there be a more profound quote than that? We indeed can learn a lot from the lives of others. Happy or sad, their stories teach us a thing or two, if we are ready to read and evolve as human beings.








Jul 8, 2015

When I See Your Face: Book Review


Author: Devika Fernando
Publisher: Kindle Edition
My Rating: ****
About the Author: Devika Fernando is a widely published  romance novel author and prolific writer from Sri Lanka. Having lived and completed her education in Germany, she now works as a self-employed German web content writer and also as  a translator, based in Sri Lanka. 



While reading this book I must say I felt like that child who receives the choicest confectionery and never wants it to end. Its undoubtedly sweet all over but sends a myriad delicious feelings racing through your heart. Simple yet interesting storytelling with the appropriate use of good words makes it a smooth read. 

Roughly 17 months of marriage and at least twice as many bruises later, Cathy takes courage and makes an overnight exit to a remote village. She dreams of reclaiming her life and plans to start a cake business with some help from old Mrs. Grindle- her new-found aunt who's the owner of the guesthouse she's put up at. How love comes searching for her when she least expected it is a wonder! 

The love story blossoms slowly and in an absolutely sweet way. The relationship is more emotional and that makes it more romantic. Cathy and Michael's characters develop so beautifully before our eyes, actually falling in love with each other. Hats off to the author for keeping the characters on an emotional plain instead of having them merely tangle in lust.

The author has crafted such intelligent repartee between the two that it makes the story very interesting and entertaining. The quick wit in the dialogues, the natural situations and locations make it a very believable story. All the time, while I was reading, I realised a movie based on the story was playing out, scene by scene in my mind, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. LOL! I am a die-hard romantic and totally enjoy reading such books and watching such movies. I feel the emotions, I cry along and nose-dive into the protagonist's life. 

Like I said before, Devika Fernando's stories are like sweets but I wish this one had lasted longer. I would have loved to read this as a full-blown romance novel instead of just a short story. It had all the potential to show Cathy, Michael and the antagonist flare out in all their colours before the reader's eyes.

Kaleidoscope of Hopes by Devika Fernando is yet another MUST READ love story, if I may say so! 

Jul 1, 2015

Maya's New Husband- Book Review


Book Title: Maya's New Husband
Author: Neil D'Silva
Publisher: Kindle Edition
My Rating:****
About the Author: Neil D'Silva is a teacher by profession who was bitten by the writing bug, quite early in life. Born and brought up in Mumbai he derives inspiration from the metro's idiosyncrasies. The author says " I tried to create a blend here, a blend of my penchant for writing and my astute sense of observation of the things that go around me, and weave my yarns."

Neil D'Silva has also published a small collection of short stories titled, 'The Evil Eye and The Charm'. 






Think Indian horror thriller and what instantaneously comes to mind are a slew of ghost stories, haunted places and such other clich├ęs. When I read the title of the book, I inadvertently began imagining a murdered newly- wed bride, draped in a red saree ready  to haunt the daylights out of me. Even the hand-illustrated book cover said so! If it wasn't for Neil D'Silva's previous collection of short stories- The Evil Eye and The Charm, that had impressed me through the roof, I probably wouldn't have ventured to read this novel. I am extremely thankful to the author for writing such a fantastic book and giving my interest in Indian Horror Thriller tales a 360 Degrees turn around. I couldn't help gushing through a Facebook status update- 

"Just cannot put this thing down until I finish it. Horrible, terrible and scarily delicious!

 — reading Maya's New Husband. "

What starts out as a simple story of a school teacher called Maya turns into a tale of gore within no time and in the most unexpected way. The reader journeys along with Maya through a plethora of changing emotions and one cannot help but feel intrigued by this pivotal character Bhaskar Sadachari who's also employed as a drawing teacher at the same school where Maya is the head of the Biology department. I feel Neil D'Silva's story telling was so flawless and beautiful that anything I say will only be a spoiler. Horror Thriller lovers would read and understand what a captivating book this is, top to toe.

There's so much attention to detail, in the description of scenes and characters, that I could totally visualise the incident playing out. At many points I even felt the stench being spoken of, suffusing my nostrils. Even the titles given to each new chapter were thoughtfully crafted- 'Kidney Beans on Toast','Placed like a pastry', 'Thigh Food'. I found it very amusing that the words chosen had a tongue-in-cheek humor in them, pointed at tickling the taste-buds of another kind! 
There's also a spidery 'tattoo of death' included at the top of the chapters that intrigued me to bits. Reading about it as the book progressed, had my stomach churning. 

The story shifts into top gear in the second half of the book and I found it absolutely unputdownable. The author has obviously undertaken a whole lot of research while writing this book.The seamless descriptions, twists in the story and the solid foundation of facts given to the fiction showcases the author's understanding of the lifestyle of the Aghori Sadhus. The most enjoyable fact about this book was that it keeps the reader on the edge of the seat and intelligently engaged. There's gore, there are irksome details, there are many explicitly described sexual encounters too that all came together to successfully create a growing feeling of fear in my heart, as I read it. Not a single element out of place or forced into the story for the sake of generating interest. Everything has been written with a great sense of timing and finesse. I could actually feel my mouth going dry but I was not reaching out for the bottle of water because no horror story had ever been able to get me hooked and thrilled all at the same time, like this book did.

Like I said, deliciously scary, scarily delicious, horrible, terrible book that will remain with me for quite a while. Maya's New Husband is MNF- My New Favourite! 


Jun 20, 2015

A Halo for Red Betsy (Frank Keegan #1)- Book Review

Book Title: A Halo for Red Betsy
Author: Aki Liao & Al McDermid
Publisher: Kindle Edition
My Rating: ****
About the Authors:
Aki Liao was born in Paris, France, but is a graduate of Yale University (1989) . He received his M.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (1993).

Al McDermid was born in Michigan, where he spent most of his life until joining the U.S. Navy upon graduating high school. Remaining in Hawaii when his tour ended, he attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, receiving his B.A. (1990) and M.A. (1997) in History.

There's a story in how they wrote their debut novel too which is worth reading:
Aki Liao and Al McDermid met as graduate students of the History Department of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1990. They met again in New Jersey in 1998, at which time they decided to write A Halo for Red Betsy. What an amalgamation of their individual strengths!

If I could, I'd give another +1 * for this book, for its amazing cover. Just loved the illustrated cover done by Mark Smylie, an  award winning comic book artist. Absolutely fantastic and does full justice to the story and book title. It also immediately sets the mood for the murder mystery that is to unfold in the book. 

Frank Keegan is a U.S. Navy Gunner's Mate and former San Diego Police who has returned  to Hawaii after serving a four-year tour with the Military Police in Occupied Japan but is looking forward to mustering out of the military. I loved the way this character shapes up before the reader's eyes. There's a whole lot of showing, not telling which nails it for me! The story is set in 1949 and everything, from the language to the descriptions set the mood and successfully transported me to that time in American history. 

If it was a paperback I was reading, I'd say this book is 'unputdownable'. This E-book actually played a key-role in converting a die-hard paperback lover to an E-reader. I was so averse to reading E-books before 'A Halo for Red Betsy' happened to me. I have grown up reading murder mysteries and detective stories, starting with Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys collections as a primary reader, moving onto Agatha Christie's books as a High School student and graduating onto Sidney Sheldon. For a long time I believed there can never be another like Poirot but Keegan comes very close to breaking that notion for me. He brings a whole lot of romance into the risky business. I would venture out to call Frank Keegan the 007 of a bibliophile's world. If this ever flourishes into a full blown series of books, I'd be proud to say that I'd read the very first mystery he'd solved. 

Frank Keegan gets involved in the the murder of Navy Lieutenant Elizabeth "Betsy" Vale within hours of coming ashore and gets picked up by the Honolulu Police. Although his former commanding officer, the current commander of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, pulls him out of the frying pan quite quickly , he also pitches him back into the fire by appointing Keegan as the detective to solve the case and help clear the charges against the police's prime suspect, Betsy Vale's fiance, Lieutenant-Commander Guy Beaufort.

What I most enjoyed while reading the book was the Hawaiian Creole English, known in Hawaii as Pidgin. The dialogues sound so very authentic and add flavour to the book. It also goes to show that a certain amount of research always goes into writing a good book and it always shows in the quality output! An absolute entertainer, this book kept me on the edge with its pace and style of storytelling. Never a dull moment!

So many interesting characters woven into the fabric of the story with an eye for detail and not a single piece felt out of place or forced into the scene. Sergeant Joseph Takeda (a veteran of the famed 442nd regimental combat unit, Lieutenant-Commander Guy Beaufort who needed a bit of anger-management, Chin- the Chinese gambling boss who seemed to have set off goons on Keegan chasing $10,000-missing bunch of betting money. All kept me wondering and reading, trying to beat Keegan to the real murderer and the motive for the murder for the deceased "Betsy" Vale is spoken of as an extremely kind and helpful person.

As Keegan tries to trace the murderer with bits of seemingly useless clues like one half of the gold oak leaf- a lieutenant-commander’s insignia and Betsy's missing handbag, he find himself in the middle o f a bitter dock strike, caught between a union organizer (and possible Communist agitator) and a Red-obsessed Federal agent. The plot thickens but he finds some romantic liaison with  a loose boozy officer's wife, a morphine-addicted former Navy nurse (and friend of the deceased), and a foul-mouthed young hooker. My favourite being the many rendezvous with Juliet Flynn- the Cheongsam wearing blondie.

How Keegan unravels the mystery undoubtedly involves a whole lot of  chasing, gunning down and bullet wounds too. But (here comes the spoiler)- there's some poetry involved too! Nah, even though I have written that now, you won't be able to guess who the murderer is until Keegan nails it! I like how the authors have done full justice to the book by keeping it a difficult guess and splitting it wide open at the correct moment. 

Thankyou Al McDermid for giving me a chance to read your book.  And I cannot thank NaNoWriMo 2014 enough for putting me in touch with Al McDermid.  Without being biased, I can easily say that 'A Halo for Red Betsy' is one of the best murder mystery books of our times.  I highly recommend this book to all who love to read books in this genre.

Also I would like to say that I am now dying to read the next Frank Keegan book- The Cheongsam Bombshell   




Jun 19, 2015

Untitled- A book review

Book Title: Untitled
Author : Atul Deepak Tawade
Publisher: Humming Publications LLP
My rating: ***
About the author: Calls himself a scribbler forever. Hoping to know more about the author (presently unavailable info')
This is his first book.



I love sepia toned pictures. It immediately gives me poignant nostalgia. The book cover did just that to me and will have the same effect on most readers I believe. And the silhouettes of three couples instantly told me that this book had a lot of tangled tales to tell. 

Only recently at one of the writer's forums on a social media platform, there was a major topic of discussion that saw contributors answering ten to one. They were arguing over using a simple language over bombastic words while writing. And I can see our author here clearly belongs to the first group of writers. 'Untitled' is an absolutely easy read, using the simplest of English and well-seasoned with Indian-isms that gives it mass appeal.

 As the back blurb says, this is a story about a few collegiate who start off as strangers, come together during the course of their young adulthood and together weave the story of today's present young generation. The tone of voice while narrating the story, the episodes of their lives everything has been written to give you nostalgia, if the reader had also been a collegiate a decade or so ago. The anecdotes of the many lunches and breakfasts at the college canteen, appearing for exams, making career choices, going off with a secret love-interest with an obliging friend as an alibi for the worried parents, late-night sojourns are all descriptions of a lifestyle that every college going teenager will be able to relate to. 

The many characters or couples like Aditya and Ankita, Ravi and Pooja, Naman and Amrita and their lifestyle, the choices they make, the pain they go through all make them classic examples of people you may have met in your own life, at some point or the other. Each one of them is a thread and together they weave a fabric of memories, created together as 'the gang' and leave you  reading their simple tale of camaraderie.

Though there were many high-points in the book, some tongue-in-cheek dialogues too that brought a smile to my face, what I personally feel is that the author could have done a bit more for his story-line. There came a point where I waited for an unpredictable twist but what enfolded was something that reminded me of the myriad Hindi movies or even regional Marathi movie scenes. I personally believe, the author would have done more justice with this story, if he had developed this like a drama script rather than a book. I also strongly believe that at the soul of literature lies good grammar. This book calls for a rigorous check of the Active and Passive voice, sentence structuring, paucity of figures of speech, typographic errors, etc.    

It is a tale narrating the enthusiasm of growing up, excitement of discovering oneself, exploring the different facets of youth and experiencing the world at large. Untitled is definitely a book that will make for an entertaining read displaying the Indian college culture. I liked how the author starts the book with a hint of romantic mystery and ends with the same passages, drawing the curtains on the book.

Like the back blurb, rightly sums the book up- it is an ordinary story, about ordinary people, told in an extraordinary way.

Thankyou Goodreads.com for giving me the opportunity of being a 'first-reader' for UNTITLED. I feel lucky to have bagged the paperback in the giveaway. 








Jun 17, 2015

Getting into the SPORTing spirit


If you have lived half your life like a Tomboy, this should be second nature to you!
I grew up as one, with a mop of golliwog hair and scarred knees but did that tune out my passion for fashion? No ways!
I find 'sporty chic' a more freestyle expression of your sense of fashion. It gives an equal, if not greater scope for making a style statement. And must I say, I find it extremely sexy when the girls get it right?

'Namaste!' from the land that follows a sport like a religion and can speak of many 'Gods' in this pantheon. Cricket- almost like a country cousin to baseball, was my most favourite sport, right until I entered my teens. I actively played the game with the boys with as much singular focus and intent to master the art of wielding the bat. 


At high school,my first introduction to the idea of sporty chic fashion came in the form of Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge in Archie Comics. It was like a paradigm shift for me. Baseball or no Baseball, no matter if there wasn't any real season cricket match either, I decided I was going to take a cue from Veronica and amp up my style quotient. Even though I was stepping out onto our humble playground, with a cricket bat and a softball in hand what I wore was going to be an eye-ball grabbing outfit.  I began to look forward to the next Cricket match, to step out in the best fashionable ensemble I'd rigged up. The same old shorts that I'd grunge in became a part of a sensational outfit, all coming together, in my head and then in actuality!  



It's ages since I have wielded a cricket bat now but hopping over to the stadium to watch a game, remains a huge interest. And like a true fanatic, I sport my team's colours and go armed with a war cry too! LOL. I watch the game with intense passion and need to feel the spirit envelope me.



Womens New Era Chic Cadet Adjustable Hat
For me,the euphoria is a build-up, right from my footwear to the top of my head. So here's something I spotted betwixt the San Francisco Giants hats .  Its just the thing I'd love to wear to any game! An accessory that's high on fashion and very functional too. The team insignia is embroidered on the side, to camouflage with the print.

This particular cap is such a versatile piece. I could wear it even if I'm not going to a game, maybe on a safari and still be sporting my fanatic craze for my team. I've always felt that the 'cadet' look exudes a sense of power, a little bit of attitude, some amount of tenacity and of course putting an ensemble together with this will mean originality!

I am a citrus punch kind of girl. I love the warm colour palette on a hot summer day to bring out the vibrancy and reflect the mood. So I have gone ahead and put together a look to show you what is on my mind.

Hope I have revved you up and inspired you enough, to set your ball rolling on the 'sporty-chic' track! What hat would you be wearing to go with your MLB- crazy fan's outfit or should I say your 'baseball luxe' outfit?







MLB ensemble

Jun 14, 2015

The man in the wall mural...




This post has been published by me as a part of Blog-a-Ton 55; the fifty-fifth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. In association with ​Rashmi Kumar, the author of Hooked, Lined and Single and Jyoti Arora, the author of Lemon Girl.



 'THE CITY OF BUNARUS. Surveyed by James Aubert- 1822.', said the lithograph adorning the central wall of the small foyer. He stood there patiently studying the map, for there was nothing else to keep him occupied or entertained while he waited to be ushered into Colonel Henry White's office. Though the entire Crawford Market building was lit up by electricity, the waiting room was a dimly lit space with only a single dome-shaped light bulb that came on, at sun-down. There was nothing English about it; furnished with frugal wooden chairs along the western wall as seating arrangements, a small wooden table and another chair arranged against the central wall. Ideally, an office clerk should have been seated there but since he'd been waiting for more than an hour and it was well past the closing time, he shed all hopes of seeing anybody return to occupy that seat.


He went over to the line of small windows in the western wall. Surprisingly, there was a layer of dust on everything in the room, even the window sill. Timidly lifting the rusty, hook latch on one of the windows, he threw the double door open. Putting his head out, he took in the cool evening sea-breeze. He was thanking his luck that in this part of Bombay people kept working late into the evening. The sight of lamps burning in other offices was heartening. He could see there were plenty of passersby in the street, probably hurrying home. His Tonga and the driver were also waiting for him patiently, on the paved road outside. He was not entirely alone.

He began wondering whether he should wait any longer and if there was any hope for the British officer to finish whatever work he'd been preoccupied with and step out of his chamber. He had breezed into the office without an appointment, expecting to see Colonel Henry White and now it seemed so wrong. He didn't knock on his chamber door for fear of disturbing the British officer and turning him irate. He contemplated visiting again, some other day after prior intimation. Despondent, he was so engrossed in his pondering that he jumped in his shoes when he felt a presence, right near his heels.

"Vithoji Rao Pradhan, welcome!" the voice boomed in the small room. Vithoji pulled his head in and turned around to see Colonel Henry White extending an energetic handshake with a warm smile, flashing a set of yellowing teeth. He stood at least a foot taller than the short statured Vithoji.   

"Good Evening Colonel!" Vithoji responded with an equally broad smile. He thanked God once again that the British officer had appeared in the nick of time. Tired of waiting, had he decided to exit, he would have missed him.

"You still remember me by name?" Vithoji asked, surprised. "Why, it's been a decade since we last met. Your memory is commendable!" Vithoji put his palms together in a Namaste- the Indian way of expressing gratitude.

"Haha! Vithoji, Of course I do!" Colonel Henry White said, "And I also remember the special request you made. Come this way, please!" Vithoji followed him readily.  

'He must have an elephant's memory.' He thought to himself, in utter disbelief for it seemed like ages ago that they had had but a brief interaction. He himself did not remember having asked for any specific favour. Vithoji's happiness knew no bounds. It looked like he was about to get what he wanted, far easily than he'd imagined.

As the duo moved towards the inner chamber, Colonel Henry White strode over to the frame on the wall, as if he knew that Vithoji had been fascinated by it.

"That's my uncle- James Aubert's work. He had documented and illustrated many detailed and accurate maps like this one of Bunarus- drawn at the scale of 8 inches to a mile.", he informed, gloatingly.

"Indeed impressive! It has given me a clear mental picture of the landscape." Vithoji was quick to compliment.

"Good! I know you had been studying it for quite a while and thought of sharing some more trivia!" With that the British officer led Vithoji into his spacious office chamber and asked him to take a seat.

"Without further ado," Colonel Henry White said, bringing out a pen and ink pot from his desk drawer.

'What a truly pale faced man Colonel Henry White is!' Vithoji observed and smiled to himself at the pun while the officer quickly scribbled something, callously tore the page out of his diary and handed it to Vithoji.

"Go meet Mhe-ro-thra." Colonel Henry White instructed, genuinely trying to pronounce the silk brocade weaver's surname correctly. "I've been a resident of Bunarus for so long that I know every inch of the city."

Vithoji decided that Henry White was the only generous Englishman he'd ever met but refrained from saying it, lest the officer should take it as an offense against his lot. Thanking him profusely, Vithoji took his leave. Colonel Henry White had promised that he was leading him to the most remarkable silk cloth market of North India.  

"I couldn't have asked for more!" Vithoji declared aloud, to nobody in particular, as he was being driven home in his horse carriage. His happiness knew no bounds and he was trembling with glee. Vithoji began imagining how his trade poised to be the best trade of the 19th Century, would soon be flourishing like never before!

'How unbelievably perfect the meeting had been! Almost like Colonel Henry White could read my mind.' Vithoji reminisced, as he set off for Banaras the very next day.

'I wonder how the poor Banarasi will ever decipher that!' Vithoji looked down at the rectangular, shabby edged sheet of paper with Colonel Henry White's slanted, cursive handwriting in blue ink that was hardly legible. There was no date, no stamp, neither a seal, nor an envelope for the letter. Vithoji folded it neatly and tucked it into the front pocket of his jacket. Switching many modes of transport, braving the changing weather, the journey had been quite back-breaking and tedious. However by the grace of God, both Vithoji and the letter had survived the ordeal.

'Chauk Road, Kunj Gali, Bunarus' Vithoji had not only memorised the address but also read the casual letter of affection multiple times, during his long journey, from Bombay to Banaras. Locating Mehrotra at his looms in an unfamiliar land, was the tough task that lay ahead. The boat ride over the Ganges was over and Vithoji had finally reached Rajghat. The afternoon sun was bearing down with all its heat. With the back of his hand, Vithoji wiped off the bead of sweat trickling down his left brow and readjusted the turban on his head. He clutched his leather bag as tightly as possible because it held quite a lot of money.

"Beware of fraudulent touts, thieves and generally be very careful. Keep your eyes, ears and your mind open, otherwise," Vithoji's mother had been worried and very wary on his behalf. Even though he had turned a ripe 40, her aging eyes still saw him as her youngest son. "God be with you, my little one!"

The embankment was a flight of steps made of stone slabs, laid all along the river bank. It took Vithoji quite a while to get to the top, climbing a step at a time because the left knee had started hurting again. He gathered the fall of his dhoti pulling the cloth way above his ankles, bunched it up and tucked it in at the front waistline to keep himself from tripping on its length and falling. As he watched some pilgrims make their offerings to the holy Ganges, he contemplated performing the pooja rituals too but ultimately put it off for later.

"If I crack a good deal I will pay my obeisance at the Adi Keshava Vishnu Temple!" he promised.

A scholarly looking man clad in saffron was resting under a tree. Vithoji wondered if the holy- man would be able to point him towards the cloth market. Walking up to him, Vithoji cleared his throat to draw his attention. He was still constructing the question in his mind for he was unable to speak Hindi fluently and had hardly opened his mouth to ask, when the scholar spouted out an answer.

"Oo jaat hav!" he said, pointing to a boy who had briskly walked past them.

Vithoji didn't understand the regional language at all but deciphered from his frantically flailing hands that the scholar was coaxing him to follow the boy.

'He must be a psychic!' thought Vithoji and this amazed him to no end! After all there were many of that kind in the holy land.
The boy who was leading Vithoji looked like he was just about ten years old. From time to time, the young boy kept turning around to look over his shoulders and gestured Vithoji to keep walking. Vithoji realised they were moving away from the riverside and weaving their way through lanes that the boy seemed thoroughly familiar with.

'Vithoji Rao Pradhan, is he really taking you where you want to go?' Doubts began to surface in his mind but Vithoji's feet seemed to blindly trust the boy for they had fallen into a perfectly rhythmic march after him.

'The psychic scholar hadn't spoken to the boy, then how is it possible that they both know whom you want to meet?' Vithoji's body was still aching from all the travelling but his mind sprung back to its usual sharp self. His mother's face flashed before his eyes like a foreboding.

"Stop! You are walking into some kind of a trap." Vithoji told himself and stopped in his tracks, in the middle of the road.

They had entered a densely residential area of Banaras where the streets were too narrow for any kind of wheeled carriage. In the slack afternoon hours there weren't many people around, either. About one-third of the houses in the locality were pakka- solid brick structures. While Vithoji was taking in the surroundings, the boy had come to a halt, too. He must have realised that their game was up when Vithoji turned and glared menacingly at him. He immediately took off down the lane and disappeared around the bend, without looking back.          

Before Vithoji could figure out what he should do next, huge drops of water plopped down on the top of his nose and within the blink of an eye, it started drizzling. Huge grey clouds were moving in overhead, threatening a downpour with a clap of lightning.   

Monsoon by Yann  
Vithoji hurriedly stepped in through the gate of the nearest house and ran across the exterior courtyard, to seek shelter. He raised the heavy iron knocker on the wooden double door of the entrance and brought it down, twice. A voice from within, bade him enter. Finding the door ajar, Vithoji pushed it wide open. What he saw was an open inner courtyard to a lofty two storied structure, richly embellished with a wide veranda, galleries, projecting oriels, windows, potted plants and an old tree of rich green foliage. The house clearly belonged to a well-to-do family.

One particular wall caught his fancy. It was painted prominently in a deep red colour. Every inch of this wall had hand-painted designs of richly clad men and women, elephants and horses in a royal procession. Even from a distance, Vithoji could see that each man in the wall mural was carrying something either on his shoulders, in his hands or on the head. The group of women similarly followed suit. Vithoji was shocked to see that there was a British officer in the painting too and if he wasn't mistaken, the painting had a striking resemblance to Colonel Henry White. Though the colours used were all cheery and bright, Vithoji could not help feeling that all the figures in the painting looked sad. Vithoji looked at his pocket-watch that said it was only early evening but it felt like it was twilight already as the skies turned an ominous dark colour.

'The bad light must be playing tricks on my eyes.' Vithoji thought for he suddenly sensed one of the lady's eyes were following his movements. Vithoji thought of taking a closer look at the intriguing wall painting. He'd hardly taken two steps further when he was taken aback by the sudden appearance of a delicate hand. Jingling with bangles, the hand held out a towel for Vithoji. At the other end of the outstretched milky white hand, beautified with Henna drawings was a young maiden clad in a simple orange saree. The pallu was veiling half her face but Vithoji was sure, she seemed to have a beautiful, soft halo around her. He was so smitten by this mysterious damsel that he forgot to investigate about the painting further. Without a spoken word, she disappeared through a  door to their left, as quickly as she had arrived.

His heart had skipped a beat at the sight of the veiled maiden and a smile spread across his face; the first during the entire length of the sojourn. Rubbing his face dry with the towel, Vithoji wondered what other tricks his eyes were going to play on him. Spotting a spacious jhoola, Vithoji made himself comfortable on the swing suspended from the ceiling of the veranda.

Soon an old man dressed in a plain white banyan- sleeveless undershirt and a loose muslin dhoti arrived and sat down beside him. As Vithoji rose to introduce himself, he cut him short.

"Baitho, sit down! Vithoji Rao Pradhan, a sumptuous meal is being prepared for you. We will eat in just a while." Informed the old man. All was well until Vithoji heard his name roll of that stranger's tongue. Dumbfounded, he felt goose bumps all over his body. Vithoji sensed an unmistakable air of something strange about the old man. Save for the three of them, the gigantic house seemed desolate and everything about it appeared eerie.

"Thakurbari?" Vithoji enquired in a feeble voice, pointing to the small shrine at the farthest end of the inner courtyard. He searched the old man's face for confirmation but the old man continued to rock the swing, back and forth, lost in his own world. He was trying to fight the fear in his heart that was slowly growing by the minute.

'Maybe a small prayer to the temple deity will chase away my silly doubts.' he thought. Ignoring the weird old man, he rose to pay obeisance there but was almost immediately pulled assertively back.

"Baitho!" instructed the old man, once again. Vithoji protested but the deafening thunder and the torrential rain drowned his voice.

"I know everything about you!" The old man's voice was distinctly clear. "You are just like the many who visit us, time and again! Your greed and foolishness got you here but you will not escape the consequence of your own choices." The old man hissed. His cold, staring eyes sent a chill down Vithoji's spine.

"What do you mean?" he stuttered. And only heard a gurgling laugh, in response, rise above the noise of the droplets on the roof and the courtyard.

"The ones who step in here, stay for good. You will never leave these precincts!" The old man looked crazily happy with the terrified look on Vithoji's face when he stumbled off the swing and fumbled to rise from the floor of the porch.

"Please don't despair. All is not in vain!" The old man offered a mock reassurance.

"Look over there, on that red wall, you will find immortality among all those people. They strayed in and became a part of our growing family; a permanent feature of this house. So will you!" Vithoji could not believe all that was falling on his ears but his eyes met the gaze of the tall and lanky figure of the British officer in the wall painting. Vithoji's heart began hammering against his chest.

"What nonsense are you jabbering? You are some kind of a maniac!" Vithoji was hysterical.

"I am leaving this very moment!" he declared and raised himself on trembling legs but it felt as if something was weighing him down.

"Suit yourself but I was offering you the best route to freeing yourself from living a burden upon this earth, fool!" The old man chided him in a cool and complacent voice. Even if Vithoji imagined he could actually leave, he was unable to move even an inch. 

While the old man was speaking, the beautiful maiden came back in the line of sight. She floated towards them holding in each hand a thali- gigantic plate laden with a wide array of tempting food.

"We live by the primary principal that a guest should never go hungry." The incessant rain and the long journey had indeed left Vithoji's tummy rumbling.

"Khao!" The old man ordered Vithoji. Try as he might, Vithoji could not refuse him. His tongue drooled, his tummy yearned for the sumptuous food and the aroma had gotten the better of his senses.

Both the old man and he began to partake of the meal, to the sound of the raindrops. The satisfying feeling of a hearty meal in the tummy, calmed Vithoji's nerves down a little. Once they were done, the maiden reappeared with a basin and a tumbler of water, for them to wash their hands. A clean towel was presented to dry their hands too.

"Thank you for the truly great food but I will go now." Vithoji said hopefully but she just put a leaf and some betel-nut in his palm.
"You think you can?" came the old man's voice and with that he had vanished into thin air, leaving only the two of them standing there at the veranda.

"You must be some kind of a sorcerer!" Vithoji squeaked. Her bangles jingled. She gave a short tinkling laugh. And he heard her speak for the very first time.


"Come sit with me on the porch swing and lets watch the rain." 




The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Participation Count: XX. Image Credits: Monsoon by Yann (Wikimedia Commons). Shared with GNU Free Documentation License CC Attribution-Share Alike.