Dec 22, 2015

The Cheongsam Bombshell (A Frank Keegan Mystery #2)- Book Review


Book Title: The Cheongsam Bombshell
Author: Aki Liao & Al McDermid

Publisher: Red Betsy Press
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.

Their debut novel penned together- 'A Halo for Red Betsy' is the first book in this 'Frank Keegan Mystery' Series. 



The author-Al McDermid, now my virtual friend, sent me a Proof copy of this wonderful book sailing across the seas to me. I am hugely thankful not only because the author has been extremely generous in pampering the voracious reader in me (twice over) but also because there are so many things about this book that I connect with.
'Cheongsam'- this piece of Chinese garment is my personal favourite style of clothing and who knew it would feature on a book cover and in a mystery book series title some day. So that's one major reason why I was attracted to this book. 
Then the cover is once again beautifully hand-illustrated by Mark Anthony Taduran. Like book #1, I give another +1 * especially for the amazing book cover.
And the last but not the least reason that made me sit up and take interest in the mystery story was that Chapter One opens dated Sunday 25 December 1949. Christmas has a special place in my heart because its my birthday!!!
So with all these elements raising all my hopes and expectations from the book #2 in the Frank Keegan Mystery series, I must say that it did not fail me as a reader at all. 
Try as I might, I cannot stop myself from referring to the previous book in the series and comparing between the two books- #1 A Halo for Red Betsy & #2 The Cheongsam Bombshell. However I still cannot decide which I like better for each comes with its own flavour and page-turning intrigue.

The previous book had a slew of characters, each more interesting than the other, each etched more creatively than the other. The main protagonist- U.S. Navy Gunner's Mate and former San Diego Police detective Frank Keegan found himself unexpectedly involved in solving the murder of Navy Lieutenant Elizabeth "Betsy" Vale.  By the end of book #1, right after Frank Keegan, I was drawn and enamoured by one particular not-so-ladylike lady in the book- Julie Flynn. I had a hunch that the foul-mouthed young hooker who was apparently a less important character in the story, could easily keep the readers mesmerised if developed into a full blown central protagonist. And like they'd read my mind, Al McDermid and Aki Liao brought out book #2 of The Frank Keegan Mystery with my favourite character in the spotlight. 

 Julie Flynn has given up her raunchy lifestyle as a taxi-dancer. Still clad in her trademark Cheongsams that accentuate the curves on her body, Julie with her height,good looks and brook-no-bullshit attitude made for the perfect bartender at 'The Golden Lotus'. Just as she was getting comfortable in this new role, and also as Frank Keegan's steady girlfriend, Julie's estranged grifter mother-Elsa shows up out of the blue on Christmas Day. The very next day Elsa is found murdered in her hotel room and Julie inadvertently being the only witness to the crime is first attacked, and then framed for murder. Frank has to keep the head-strong girl under wraps while clearing her name. His efforts take him from the seedy world of Honolulu’s Chinatown to the home of one the island’s wealthy patriarchs, who may be shipping contraband arms to Communist rebels in the Philippines.

The Cheongsam Bombshell is also a fast paced and kind of racy murder mystery. The storytelling transports you to a very different world in Hawaii. If you are not able to build mental pictures of the locales, if you haven't watched enough of the Hollywood cop movies for reference then you just got to log onto the Facebook page launched for Red Betsy Press and feast your eyes on some gorgeous B/w images. Such is social media, a boon for the authors and their readers! 

What I have come to enjoy the most about the pennings of this author duo is the language used in the dialogues. It has an old world quality to it that definitely brings to the readers the quintessential flavour of the 40s'. Frank Keegan is an ex- Naval officer and the whole book is spiced with the lingo, probably used by the officers in those days. Not once do the authors let the present century slip into the storytelling and that is quite a feat! Also I have heard a lot of authors discuss how the first person POV is a difficult style to adopt for narrating an entire novel. I think, Aki Liao and Al McDermid seem to have pulled it off pretty neatly. They have not only employed a challenging style of narration but also maintained it, flawlessly, through both the books. 

The one and only downside of this particular book#2 is the sort of loose editing that has let more than many typographical errors slip in for eg. Officer Schultz is spelt as Shultz in many portions of the book. However that is something one can easily get corrected in the following edition, right?

By the time Elsa Flynn's murderer is revealed, there's an even more scintillating character gracing the scene. Is Frank game to play along with Carmen Devereaux, the patriarch's unstable, power-hungry  daughter and does it flourish into a steamy love triangle? Is there going to be a jilting end again to this book too? Will Frank Keegan once again find himself drowning his days in tequila, aboard his boat? 


I do hope this author duo has the book #3 ready and waiting to roll, soon! 

As per Good Reads, 'The Cheongsam Bombshell' is the 'least popular' book on my list of books read in 2015. I'd like to correct that title by calling this book as a 'Lesser Known' book on the shelf. I'm sure if given the right spotlight, this Bombshell can  make a lot of noise. And I already want to read more of the Frank Keegan Mystery.
Kudos to the authors and
 BOOKMARK this please, all you murder mystery fans! 

Dec 20, 2015

#IAm16ICanRape- Book Review


Book Title: #IAm16ICanRape

Author: Kirtida Gautam
Publisher: Read Out Loud
My Rating: ***1/2
About the Authors: Kirtida is a clinical psychologist turned screenplay writer who completed her education from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, India. Her passion for psychology and writing inspired her into writing psychological thrillers. 








This book has been the most unique read of all times. #IAm16ICanRape has been written by an author who seems to have a whole lot of spunk in her. Everything is gutsy about this book, starting from the subject to the style in which the prose has been rendered. I think writing an entire book in the present progressive tense is a mean feat. Also there are a whole lot of characters that are introduced with every new chapter. Each character gives us an in depth peek into their psyche by narrating their own story in the first person. This must definitely have been a brain wracking task for the author and it has a sort of similar effect on the reader too I believe. At least I found myself mulling over each new character's POV for a bit longer than I normally do. Well, then the subject is also such- thought provoking!


Rudransh Kashyap or RK Ji is an impressive patriarch and Aarush Kashyap- his 16 years old grandson is the sole heir to the gigantic empire established by him. The billionaire's life comes collapsing one day when he realises that the apple of his eye- Aarush, has been arrested and accused of a brutal gang rape. The story has been penned  in parts, often switching the sequence of events. And this keeps the reader on the edge of the seat. 
I however found that the sheer enormity of the book is a tad bit overwhelming. Since the subject is so intense, the story may have required that kind of elaboration and fastidious attention to details but half way through the book, I was tempted to give it up. 
Mujh se tu puch ne aaya hai wafa ke maane, 
Ye teri saada dili maar na dale mujh ko!
Kirtida Gautam has successfully woven Ghazal lyrics and also nursery rhymes into the fabric of the prose, adding flavour and variety. They uncannily fit into place too!
At 592 pages if you manage to read each and every word of it, this book is quite an epic in itself. Kirtida seems to have researched the various topics around which the story rotataes, like Indian Juvenile Law, Cryptanalysis, etc. Being a clinical psychologist, I shoudl have pre-empted that the storyline would be this intense. Quick, light, easy, such words will definitely not be used while describing the kind of reading material #IAm16ICanRape makes for!
Despite the volume of the book, the editing has been kept quite tight and the quality of the paperback is definitely good. I hope all the readers read and assimilate every last word of this painstakingly written book project. Soul-stirring in its format, this book has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in Indian society.
Wishing the author luck for her next thriller in the making....



Dec 11, 2015

The Guardians of the Halahala- Book Review

Book Title: The Guardians of the Halahala
Book 1 of The Vikramaditya Trilogy
Author: Shatrujeet Nath
Publisher: Jaico Books
My Rating: *****
About the Author:
Besides exploring various business opportunities Shatrujeet Nath has written ad copy, and reported on business as a journalist and assistant editor at The Economic Times. 
His first book, The Karachi Deception, was published in 2013. The Guardians of the Halahala, his second book, and the first in The Vikramaditya Trilogy series, was published in 2014. At present, he is writing The Conspiracy at Meru, the second volume of the trilogy. 






Like a true blue Indian Mythology fan, one of the first few stories I grew up listening to and demanding of my mother to repeat every other day at bedtime, was that of the 'Sagar Manthan' or 'the Churning of the White Lake' as Shatrujeet Nath calls  it. I remember being enthralled by the story of how Lord Shiva of the Holy Trinity drank up all the poison or Halahala, to save the world from annihilation. Coincidentally, I still have a tiny story book in my collection, also from the Jaico Publishing House that I was very attached to as a child and remember having read it over and over again. Undoubtedly my favourite, that book was titled 'The Great Throne of King Vikramaditya'. Now you can very well imagine the kind of excitement I must have felt when I spotted all three words on one book cover- Halahala,  Vikramaditya and Jaico!

The Guardians of the Halahala opens with a map of Sindhuvarta and I'm already loving it. For me, maps attached with tales of a bygone era instantly transport me into the imaginary world, making the fictional tale a tad bit more believable already. There's also an Index of Major Characters that follows, segregating and listing the Humans, Devas and Asuras. A fleeting glance on this list and their quirky descriptions had me intrigued. The Index also told me, what a keen eye for detail the author had. These elements clearly confirmed that much thought had been put into the development of this saga. 

I just love this current trend where old Hindu mythological stories are being retold. There's a contemporary style of narration and the authors take the creative liberty of breaking away from the staid age-old beliefs established through legends. However the real beauty of Shatrujeet Nath's story telling came through when I began to forget the old and got completely absorbed by the new.

The Halahala was not completely destroyed and a small portion was sneaked by an Asura called Veeshada and incorporated into a weapon that would guarantee victory over the three worlds to whoever possesses it. Once the knowledge of that dagger is in the open, both the Asuras and the Devas covet it.  Lord Shiva turns to mankind to safeguard it from their murderous clutches and calls upon Samrat Vikramaditya  to protect Veeshada's dagger that had been lying in his custody. How the Samrat and his Council of Nine fight the forces of the Devaloka and Patala, led by Indra and Shukracharya respectively is definitely a masterpiece of a tale spun by Shatrujeet Nath.   




The tale of 'The Guardians of the Halahala' has numerous high points like the attack by the Maruts. The descriptions so vivid and the characters are so strong that I could see the battle scene unfold before my mind's eye. Oh! How beautifully the legend of Samrat Vikramaditya and his Council of nine or Nine Pearls has been revisited and presented in a new light. Amazing command over the language, apt usage of a rich vocabulary, a multi-layered but intriguing plot that unravels at a steady pace in all directions, together make for what we can easily call one of the best works of good Indian literature. Such penmanship  is surprisingly rare to come across among the present gen' of Indian authors. 
My favourite among the myriad impressive character sketches is that of the Mother Oracle. Though a comparatively smaller role to play, she adds that lovely flavour of mystic. My most favourite part of the book was Vikramaditya's journey into the Borderworld. What powerful imagination and creativity taken to another level with the Ghoulmaster.

"Good books don't give up all their secrets at once."- Stephen King
I think the author has taken this quote to heart while writing 'The Guardians of the Halahala', for every chapter that I finished reading in this book only left me more intrigued and wanting to read more. What happens to Vishakha? Does she recover completely? Will Vikramaditya be able to save Veeshada's dagger and keep it out of the Devas or Asuras hands? Will he be able to keep the Hunas and Sakas at bay while a huger task of protecting the dagger threatens his life? Does the war waged by Magadha on the Vanga in the south affect Avanti's future too? Will Shukracharya's real identity be ever revealed? Book 1 of the Vikramaditya Trilogy is a cliffhanger in entirety but I'm not complaining because I have grown up reveling in mystery and mythological stories. This book series here promises both! And that Shatrujeet Nath is able to keep the mystery and awe built up till the last word of the last page is a feat in itself. 

Try as I might, I'm not able to see any negatives in this book. Really! Only a nitpicker would be able to point out incomprehensible flaws in the narration. However I do wish there was more about Samrat Vikramaditya and his grandeur too. Read a lot of stories revolving around his magical throne so was looking to find that element woven into the fabric of the story. Would have loved to read more of the Ghoulmaster and the Samrat's interaction too, but guess this is just the first book in the trilogy and there's a lot to look forward to in the sequel!

It was a sheer delight to have received an author signed copy of the book and I must say that I'm in awe of the author's storytelling skills. Definitely, absolutely, looking forward to the next book in the series. 

Happy to declare, we have yet another MUST READ story series to collect and flaunt on our book shelves! 


Dec 10, 2015

‪#‎100bookpact‬

   
Book Title: Mashenka
Author: Agnia Barto
Translated from the Russian by Avril Pyman
Drawings by Willi Trubkovich
Publisher: Progress Publishers 1976
Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
My Rating: *****


1/100
MASHENKA by Agnia Barto

With this book my 6yo son + 3yo son (Together known as 'Udhishu'!) + I have set off to complete the ‪#‎100bookpact‬.
This book is a Russian publication- a 1980 EDITION!
So it basically means this book has been in existence even before I was born.
The whole of December carries the mood of Christmas for me.(Its also my birthday and hence the celebrational mood is in an overdrive! Teehee.... )

So what better time than this to let my children-Udhishu, inherit this book? I clearly remember Pa gifting me this poetry book among a huge pile of other great books for my third or fourth birthday and then mum would pick out one book for me and read from it.
*Nostalgia*
I am immensely attached to the book and I know where my love for the verse and words comes from.
While Udhishu and I read from this book, my 6yo learnt two big but great words. He also understood how poetry can convey a simple yet beautiful story. Its about Mashenka, and how the little girl sees the world from her little curious eyes. In just a few words this poetry book actually teaches children to appreciate the beauty around. 



My 3yo just loved the illustrations and he had his own story to tell while I read the verse...LOL
SANTA CLAUS was and now is a tad bit more enchanting because of 'Mashenka'.











A little about this  ‪#‎100bookpact‬

 
 DO YOU WANT TO JOIN ME IN the #100bookpact?
Please feel free to embark on this beautiful journey....
(Please copy into your first post as a participant.)
Here are the guidelines:-
-To show case your love for reading.
-This is not a competition.
-There is no strict timeline.
-As you read, you post the picture of the book you read with hashtag #100bookpact.
-You get to know what others are reading and can pick up recommendations.
-You can include books that you have already read too. It does not have to be, from now on. If so make sure that these book have been something that fundamentally touched you in some/many ways.
-If you have a child, you can post your child's reading updates also.
In that case there can be repetitions too. My children take pleasure in reading the same book again and again and I believe that they dig deeper with every repetition.
Here is the format:-
(1) Add #100bookpact mark the book as 1/100, 2/100..etc
(2)Post front cover of the book
(3)Add review - optional
(4)Tag people who you would think would enjoy the book _OPTIONAL
(5)If it is your child you are posting for do #100bookpact 1/100 nickname/name of child.



Nov 26, 2015

Pradyumna- Book Review


Book Title: Pradyumna- Son of Krishna
Author: Usha Narayanan
Publisher: Penguin metro reads
My Rating: *****
About the Author:
Usha Narayanan is a gold-medallist with a Master’s degree in English Literature. After carving out an illustrious career in writing for teh Advertising Industry, she made a successful debut as an author with the novel- ‘The Madras Mangler’, a suspense thriller.




Before I begin to tell you more about this- one of my latest acquisitions and favourite reads, I must warn you that I am a great fan of mythology. And to add to that I'm already sold on the book cover- illustrated by Jay Thakur. A large part of my childhood memories include reading book after book and comic after comic on Indian mythological stories. These books were often full of colourful illustrations that aided my imagination but here's a book who's cover singularly provided more than enough fodder for my creative brain to conjure up images as Usha Narayanan unleashed her flawless storytelling in impeccable English. 

And what a subject to have hit upon! I applaud Usha Narayanan for waving her magic wand and turning the comparatively lesser popular mythological stories based on Krishna's children into this gripping saga of the rise of a swashbuckling hero. I imagine it must have been quite a task at hand to weave a long tale from short anecdotes and slivers of stories available on the characters that flourish in this book. I'm sure intense research and painstaking attention to detail went into each page. And will it sound redundant if I said that its turned out into a brilliant book?

Rukmini and Jambvati, the wives of Lord Krishna were blessed with one son each, and each child exhibited the precise characteristics that their mothers had prayed for. Rukmini's son was named Pradyumna- the mighty one, while Jambavati's son was named Samba-attended by Amba, or mother. However the Devarishi, Narada portents a dark future. One of the newborns would ravage the world and erase the name of Krishna from the face of the earth. Which of the two sons would it be? As the mystery unfolds, Usha Narayanan has successfully created layers to a simple story line, touching upon the concept of rebirth.
 Kamadeva- the god of love and Rati- his consort, are reborn in the dark nether land of the Asuras as Vama and Queen Mayavati- the son and wife of the vicious emperor Kaalasura respectively. While Kaalasura learns of the dark secret about his adopted son and disowns him, Vama is also made aware of the truth. Mayavati reveals that the feeble Vama, puny before the great Kaalasura, is not her son. He is none other than Pradyumna, son of Rukmini and Krishna- the Lord of Dwarka heir to a chieftain and the hope of a great clan. How the meek weakling Vama transformed into the fearless and invincible Pradyumna, how he transcended into a demon slayer and the saviour of the world when all the odds were stacked against him is an enthralling story.
There's a whole lot of drama, nail-biting action and dollops of ancient Indian trivia woven into the fabric of the saga. 

Shiva listened as Brahma continued to speak, " I once had a dream in which I saw you with a blue skin, carrying the conch, the chakra and the mace, and riding on Garuda, " said Brahma, "I then saw Vishnu on your bull, wearing a tiger skin and wielding your trishul. What does the dream mean, Ishwara?"
Shiva replied in a calm voice, returning to his usual equanimity, " Vishnu and I are the same, merely taking on different forms and colours, like water moulding itself in a vessel."

For me this passage has reinstated my faith in the philosophy that our religion is not about propitiating 'many' Gods but about reaching the single superpower- God by many different pathways. Hinduism is a pluralist religion, well thought out but greatly misunderstood. And these mythological stories have made attempts at explaining it. Before I begin to sound like I am a staunch proponent of the religion I wish to clarify that I am only trying to lead you to see what I found in this book. A deeper thread of thought, that call 'HIM' by whatever name, understand HIM in whichever form, GOD is great!

And so is this book, Pradyumna- Son of Krishna who rose against several challenges to save the world from the Asuras.  Every book will be perceived in a different light by each individual reader. I came away with a lot from this simplistic yet fantastical story. 

The way Usha Narayanan has brought the curtains down on the tale with Gandhari's monologue that criticises Krishna and his principles upholding the dharma is quite heart wrenching. 

All in all, a MUST READ for all mythology fans. 

Oct 7, 2015

Interview with BIDDU- Blog Tour


BIDDU- the POP music magnate who ruled our hearts in the 80s and 90s has published his AUTOBIOGRAPHY aptly titled MADE IN INDIA-adventures of a lifetime.


ABOUT THE BOOK:
Made in India by Biddu
As a child, Biddu dreamt of going west and making it big as a composer. At the age of sixteen, he formed a band and started playing in a cafe in Bangalore, his home town, At eighteen, he was part of a popular act at Trinca's, a nightclub in Calcutta devoted to food, wine and music, At nineteen, he had college students in Bombay dancing to his music.

In his early twenties, he left the country and ended up hitchhiking across the Middle East before arriving in London with only the clothes on his back and his trusty guitar. What followed were years of hardship and struggle but also great music and gathering fame.

I finished reading his life story and reviewed the book last month. I'm a die hard BIDDU fan and his life story also gets a 5 Star rating from me. You can read the detailed review HERE

 BOOK LINKS: If you wish to grab you own copy you can get it at:-
GOODREADS | AMAZON | FLIPKART



Biddu writes with such a great sense of humor about his musical  journey that he has you hooked all through out.There were points where I was laughing out loud too. He made his struggle in a foreign land seem like a cake walk with a fairy tale ending. Every word of his autobiography was a treat to read. Charming, witty, and entirely likable, Biddu is man I'm sure you all would like to know more about.

 So here's a short and whacky tête-à-tête with the POP maestro himself....


How lucky are you and why?

If you read my autobiography, I've enumerated an episode where on my way to  Damascus I was graced by the company of some fellow travelers with belts, pouches, and rifles at their back. They laughed their heads off as one of them told me, "Amreekan good, Band Aid bad". I was clueless about what it meant all through out the journey until a dapper, educated-looking man came up to me and said, " You lucky they no kill you. They bandits. God is great."
Now you know how lucky I am!

If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?
Oh! Once upon a time I did spot a heartthrob of an actor- Kumar Gaurav who was a spitting image of me. Bunty (as he was affectionately called) and I got along well, like two peas in a pod. If someone as glamorous as him could show up, then he'd definitely be signed up to play 'BIDDU'.

What was the last gift you gave someone?

This book, my autobiography is my gift to my mother, Sue, Zak and Zaza- the four pillars of my inner temple. 

From the nine million selling "Kung Fu Fighting" to the iconic youth anthem of "Made in India" and the numerous hits in between. Your music made you a household name in India and abroad. What is that one thing you sacrificed to get where you are?
I don't know if I can put my finger on that right now but the funny thing is that it was indeed 'QURBANI' that got me stupendous success in India!


If you could sing one song for us right now, what would it be?
"Made In India!" Ofcourse...but I'd prefer to pass the mike on to Alisha instead..:)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Biddu was born in India, where he started his career playing in a pop band whose influences lay in the classic repertoire of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Following his early success, he decided to hear West and move into the international music arena. He struck gold, signing the unknown Carl Douglas and producing "Kung Fu Fighting?" which went on to become a hit all over the world. He also wrote and produced hits for Tina Charles and soul legend Jimmy James.

Around this time, Biddu became involved in Indian music: he composed the cult "AapJaise Koi" for the film Qurbani which set a new landmark for sales in India He followed this up with a pop album, Disco Deewane, with Nazia Hassan, which became the largest selling pop album in Asian history, and was the first Indian album to hit the charts in fourteen countries. In 1995, Biddu wrote and produced the three-million-selling album Made in India with the singer Alisha Chinai. To date, Biddu has sold over thirty-eight million records worldwide.

If you would still love to read more about BIDDU, you can find it HERE


**********DO NOT MISS THE GIVEAWAY***********

Giveaway Details:
-        1 Gift Voucher : $10 Amazon GV or INR 500 Flipkart GV (Winner’s Choice)
-        1 Signed copy of Curse of the Godman by Biddu
-        Paperback copy of Made in India by Biddu


Rafflecopter Code:






Sep 30, 2015

Freedom: The Outburst of Emotions!


The Independence Day of 2015 gave me more than one reason to celebrate!
On 15th August 2015 after a good gap of 24 months my work was published once again. This time my story was picked up for an E-mag named UNBOUND- compiled and edited by Neil D'Silva (author of Maya's New Husband fame) and Varun Vithaldas Prabhu (serial Authorpreneur).
Happy to also share that the logo/symbol design of UNBOUND was designed by me. :D 

Here's the Smashwords link for the first issue of  the UnBound E-Magazine where you can read numerous other fantastic short stories and poetry written on the theme- FREEDOM.
FREE DOWNLOAD 


******************************************************************************


Rati arched her left eyebrow and brought both her palms up, gracefully bending her slender fingers, demonstrating the Sanjukta Hasta Mudra that was being taught. The light tapping on the tabla travelled to their ears from the adjacent hall, as the player delicately practiced the accompaniment for a khyal, then a thumri.

"Kathaakahe so Katthak!",the teacher continued. "We are storytellers. Every inch of your body, from your head to your toes, even your eyes, should emote in perfect synchronization."She instructed with a mouthful of betel nut and paan, taking intermittent breaks from the rhythmic chewing. She relaxed on the four-poster bed while their newest danseuse, a wispy brown girl stood on the Persian rug, listening attentively.

Rati went back to combing her lustrous length of wavy black hair, ten strokes at the minimum for each bunch of strands. Once done, she showed off her perfected pirouette, the gatherings of her embellished knee-length tunic swirling out and twirling back to hug her shapely legs.Then she struck a dynamic pose before the floor-length mirror, her hands raised taut above her head and studied the curves of her own body. The altha on her upturned palms was a richer red, especially that evening. Rati's cheeks blushed as she remembered his baritone voice calling her,"Jaise Ajanta ki murat koi!",in his heavily English accent.

The thought of being loved by a hopeless romantic sent a delicious quiver all over her. He had unabashedly lavished her with praises in a burgeoning mehfil —a hall packed with a motley crowd of local zamindars, British officers, and a stray poet or two as her audience. Rati peeredinto the mirror and retouched the dark kohl, enhancing the accent of the lines at the corner of her eyes which exaggerated its doe-like shape. Through the mirror, Rati noticed her teacher throwing an admiring glance towards her.

"Now, that's what you call ShringarRas!", she heard her exclaim, drawing the student's attention towards the preening Rati.
"Each of the nine emotions bring meaning to your performance. Understand them, feel them, and claim your freedom of expression through your naach. Be it the KrodhRas or the AdbhutRas, the BhayanakRas or the VatsalyaRas...", the teacher had visibly trailed off to a distant place in her thoughts, exactly after mentioning the emotion of mother's love.

*******************

Rudra stood stolid, on the topmost step along the waterfront, staring into oblivion, unperturbed by the drizzling rain. Dhoti clad, legs apart and rooted to the ground, hands akimbo, he could have easily been mistaken for a warrior right out of Hindu mythology. Like every year in August, the Ganga had swollen to its maximum height and showed no signs of calming down. The winds billowed and the waters raged, threatening to engulf the ghat.

Rudra was stirred by the floodwaters licking his feet and he acknowledged it as a gesture from the animated holy waters.
"I know, Ma! You can feel the rising fury in my soul, Rudra huffed under his breath.
"I'm told, I had been discarded at birth but you miraculously saved this orphan and let me live.So here I am. I will not let this life be wasted." He swore. "I know not who my parents are but I know I owe this to my motherland.I pledge my soul, in your freedom I will live!"With invigorated steps, the 20-something strapping lad headed for the Lahurabir police station, near the North-West end of Banares.

Nai Sarak was a narrow street but the busiest in the city, dotted with frail hawkers, passersby and the regular loafers. By nightfall, the city would have roughly 500 guards stationed at thenumerous gates of the different urban wards but it was only early evening, so all was mundane and casual. The only formal feature was the excellently proportioned, one-story high structure of the police station.A wide plain strip ran horizontally along the length of the building,effectively separating the base from its upper floor. Right in the middle of the first floor was a generously proportioned balcony supported by a fluted Doric six-column porch. The wall directly underneath the balcony had an unusual arched doorway which was the ground-floor entrance of the Lahurabir police station.

Rudra positioned himself across the street, exactly opposite the arch. He made himself less conspicuous by standing in the lee of the zamindar's haveli which was infamous as the harem of seductive nautch girls. A peeping tom lurking in the harem's vicinity wasn't an unusual sight, so getting caught wasn't a worry.
"How convenient!"Rudra fumed, imagining the lust-driven officers of the British Raj crossing over from the police station, making a beeline for the harem in the after-hours.
After the briefly distracting thought, he wiped the rain-water out of his eyes and returned his focus on the facade of the police station. Rudra gritted his teeth and fisted his palms, while he waited like a crouching tiger poised to prey.
"How dare they compel my brethren to go to war? Their slaves are we?"
Rudra's blood began to boil at the very thought, once again.
At half-past five with clockwork punctuality, the British officer would step out every evening onto the balcony. Rudra waited, his heart pounding while his ears turned a fiery red.
"God, please be with me!"he prayed, trying to steady his hand which was trembling with indignation. He tightened his hold on the square-butt, hard rubber grip andtacitly brought out the Smith & Wesson revolver from its perch at his waist. As his target came into the line of sight, Rudra pointed its barrel out.

*******************

Vismay Lal hollered in his sandpaper voice, "Aao, khao, sukhpao!",unaware that hisuncle had chosen the most appropriate words to anchor in the sales. The young costermonger was doing as instructed,happily sitting cross-legged on the groundwith five cane baskets of fresh produce from their farms. There was very little of it left in them now, so Vismay could relax a bit, twiddling with a small potato or jingling his bag of coins, now and then. He was busy staring at the procession of a palanquin, with his mouth agape, when one of his regular visitor's sprawling potbelly filled the frame, obstructing his view.

"Arre, silly boy!Why do you continue sitting here in the rains with the blanket on your head?"boomed the friendly havildar.
"Ram-Ram,Chachaji!"greeted Vismay, picking out the biggest, ripe yellow banana and handing it out,"Never mind the light drizzle; it will stop soon. It's a dream come true to get paid for just sitting around," he grinned while eyeing the gaudily dressed village belles who had stepped out of the zamindar's haveli, across the street. Vismay watched them intently as they walked past, his eyes growing larger and rounder than the ber fruit he was selling.
"You seem to have a better eye on the people than I do!"teased the policeman and chomped the banana down, all at the same time.
"No, no! Nothing like that, Vismay stuttered.
"You have full freedom to feast your eyes.You won't be charged for that!"jeered the policeman. "You'd better get going now. Enough for today!"he ordered, discarding the banana peel in one of Vismay's empty baskets.
"And remember, I am not your Chachaji!"he added blithely, turned his back, and set off down the road, rapping the ground twice with his long staff as he went.
"Achcha!",Vismay shouted out his agreement. 

He gathered his baskets, piling them one on top of the other, covered them with his frayed blanket, and hoisted them up on his head. Raising himself to his feet, he had just started walking cautiously when a tonga arrived outside the Lahurabir police station and two English women stepped down, one after the other, onto the paved curb, a couple of feet away from him. Awestruck by the sight of the buxom white ladies dressed in the most beautiful colored satins he'd ever seen, Vismay stood transfixed at the spot.
"Aaha, Memsahib!"he made no qualms about exclaiming aloud.

The pretty frilly umbrellas held up in their white gloved hands, swished past him, leaving behind a trail of floral perfume in the air. The wonderment did not leave his senses, even as he circumvented the stationary tonga and crossed the street.

As he was wont to do, Vismay slowed his pace down and went as close to the haveli as possible, in the hope of getting a fleeting glimpse of the beautiful dancers inside. He had turned around the bend of the curving footpath when he sensed the presence of a figure in the lee of the dark- stoned exterior wall. Curiosity getting the better of him, Vismay stopped to find out who it was. The unexpected sight of a gun being cocked shocked Vismay out of his wits and he reeled backwards in utter panic.

*******************

Lord Ogelsby Freeman roared like a lion emerging out of his lair, when he stepped out onto the balcony.His regular agenda had been disturbed, as his elevated view of the locality was marred by a tonga parked right outside the gate, in the street. The sight of his daughter and wife approaching the police station premises had driven him wild.

"Didn't I tell you girls never to visit me here, however urgent your need might be?"he growled at the two fair ladies."Please leave a message with the gatekeeper and return now. I shall join you as soon as I'm done here." Lord Ogelsby had hardly finished shouting, when the women disappointedly performed an about-turn and scurried off like scared mice, back to the tonga, without a single word.

Lord Ogelsby's face was livid. A three-inch long scar which sliced his left eyebrow and ran down his cheek,past the corner of his eye made him look more like a convict than an officer of the British Raj. His bluish-green eyes flashed with a peculiar yellowish glint, like that of a fiercefeline. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, the upper lip shrouded in a butter-hewed mustache rose like a curtain, exposing his jutting canines which reminded one of brandished daggers. It was as if God had designed Ogelsby with the intention of frightening everybody. His tongue was sharper than a saw, his mind viler than a serpent but his eyesight had been failing him lately.
"Go! Fetch me my monocles," Lord Ogelsby ordered the sepoy who was waiting on him.
"Hurry, you fool!" he snapped again, sputtering some of the water he'd sipped from the glass held out to him on a platter.

As the tonga cleared off, Lord Ogelsby leaned a bit further out from the sill to see the horses trot away. To resume his usual survey of the area from his lookout point, he straightened up and just then realized there was a bit of a flurry, right across the street. In the bad light, he had a blurred view but he could see that a peasant had collapsed in the street and his baskets of vegetables and fruits were strewn on the curb. Obviously scared of something the peasant was trying to scamper to his feet.

A man had stepped out of the shadows of the zamindar's haveli with a resolute stance, head turned up he was staring straight back at him.

*******************

Devaki Bai had resignedly sunk back, throwing her head on the pillow, her upturned right forearm gracefully resting on the crest of her temple. To the naive new student, her teacher was apparently demonstrating a dramatic dance pose, so she patiently continued standing there. Devaki Bai shooed her away with a limp left hand.

"How am I to expound the Navras in Katthak when the single most important emotion eludes me?" she lamented. An old memory had come sneaking around once again and raked up a forgotten emotion in Devaki Bai's heart. Tears dropped out of the corner of her eyes, quietly. There was unexplainable,excruciating pain when the biggest tragedy of her life, caught up with her!

Visions from her childhood flashed before her eyes — a DevaDasi performing in a temple, her shrill narrative of the mythological tragic tale of Vasudeva and Devaki — imprisoned by the evil Kamsa and forced to sacrifice their children. Even the eighth child, the newborn baby Krishna, had been immediately separated from the mother. Devaki Bai remembered how she had begun to hate her given name ever since that evening. She imagined her name was a curse! Therefore, as an adolescent danseuse, she readily took to the nickname given by her regular patrons—ChulbuleeBai —in the hope of shedding the curse of her original nomenclature but that was not to be!

The very mention of the VatsalyaRas while teaching her student had roused her maternal instincts. Devaki Bai felt a gnawing at the core of her heart.
"Crying again, Bai Ma? Why do you do this to yourself?"Rati enquired, sitting down beside her on the edge of the bed. Devaki Bai reluctantly rose from her reclining position and took a swig from the glass of cool water, poured out for her.
"You are the only one who calls me 'Ma' and gives more meaning to my life, Rati," Devaki Bai confessed through her ebbing tears. "I haven't shared my story with many but I think you deserve to know because you have loved melike my own daughter would have."
"Tell me everything. You can trust me!" Rati  took Devaki Bai's trembling hands in her own."What has been bothering you?"Rati asked, looking her in the eyes.
"I am guilty. It is not a rumor but the truth!"DevakiBai stuttered, emotions rife in her voice.

She rose from the bed and left Rati's side, hurriedly walking the length of the room, to stand by the window that granted a view of the Nai Sarak Street below.

"Like most danseuse, in my heydays I was blessed with abundant beauty and a silly heart full of love."Rati was all ears to each word uttered."There was no dearth of attention from men but little did I know the ways of the world! One particular admirer laid a trap and, unsuspecting, I walked right in and fell for him, so hard that I was soon with his baby," Devaki Bai's face crumpled in remorse but she continued in a voice, husky and low.
"I secretly gave birth to a beautiful boy and it was I who orphaned him too. I cold-bloodedly abandoned him in the wee hours of that fateful day,on the banks of the holy Ganga. It's been more than twenty years since, can you believe that?"Devaki Bai shut her eyes and pursed her lips."Rati, now I know it was a grave mistakeand I'm repenting but is there anything I can do about it?"Devaki Bai's voice trembled, distinctly pained by the memory. She buried her face in her own palms and began sobbing profusely.

Rati was at a loss for words. She only stood there with her arms wrapped around Devaki Bai in a warm embrace, unable to find a voice to console the grieving mother.
"If it is death that will give me freedom from my misery, so be it!"Devaki Bai howled and precariously leaned against the window sill, as if she was contemplating jumping out the window.
"Nonsense!"Rati pulled her back and tried to shush her."Why should you bear this burden on your conscience alone? The father was equally responsible for the baby," Rati protested.
"Over the past few months, every day at half past five in the evening, we have been seeing each other but continue to act like strangers. Every day, the father of my son stands there, right before my eyes; while over here, I wonder and worry, how and where our child must be. Such is my wretched life!" DevakiBai complained.

Just then, Rati noticed a sudden glimmer of hope in her teacher's eyes as they steadied,like they'd found what they were looking for. She intuitively followed Devaki Bai's gaze and there was a catch in Rati's breath when she saw that DevakiBai was staring fixedly at thefigure that had emerged at the balcony of the Lahurabir police station, across the street.

*******************

His finger had triggered the shot involuntarily, but the bullet went whizzing through the air, right on target. The sudden loud, sharp crack of the gunfire rent the humdrum noises on the Nai Sarak Street. The surface of the bullet was blazing hot with friction but at the core it must have been as cold as a piece of metal, for it went shooting ahead free from any guilt of its intent. Within a blink, the bullet had mercilessly pierced through coarse cloth and lodged itself in Lord Ogelsby Freeman's heart.

While they were startled by the sound of the gunfire right beneath their window, Devaki Bai and Rati screamed in unison as they saw the famously dreadful Lord Freeman,powerlessly doubling up and falling like a cloth doll over the balustrade of the balcony, down to the ground.

Rudra had not expected a vegetable vendor to come around and create a scene like that but destiny had made up its mind as much as he had. Uncaring about the result, the armed Smith & Wesson had emotionlessly fired and miraculously hit the target. Rudra's heart thumped crazily when he realized that his mission was successful. He took off from the scene of the crime and as his feet carried him away, he was suffused with an overwhelming feeling of happiness and sense of liberation.

There had been a great flutter of wings at the disturbing sound and the birds that were calmly perched along the roof terraces took flight, in fright. For the numerous hapless souls on the street down below, wrapped in their own emotional upheaval and weighed down by the British Raj, the sight of the freely flying wings was an omen of sorts!