Lies are easy
Lies are short
Lies are kind
Lies are lies
Lies are easy
Abhaya is a fantasy novel set in ancient India, in the era of Mahabharatha. While retaining a minimal number of characters from the epic, it introduces the reader to a whole new set of (fictional) people. The story traces the events in the life of Abhaya, a young princess of the fictional city of Anagha, located in the borders of the larger, more powerful kingdom of Avanti, towards the western frontiers of ancient India.The initial chapters dwell on the growing animosity between the two kingdoms and Abhaya’s role in the same. However,towards the middle of the novel, we see a shift in the plot, where Abhaya finds herself in the midst of a far greater crisis – one that questions the very essence of all that she and her beloved Aryan civilization has stood for thus far. Abhaya, along with Krishna Vaasudeva and her brother Vikram strive to fight for what is right and protect their Faith from disintegration.
One of the biggest strengths of the novel is the simple, but engaging narrative, with powerful dialogues making up a major part of the book. It is almost completely devoid of descriptive passages and heavy metaphors, which tend to be rather distracting to the reader. The novel also introduces us to a good number of interesting characters – all strong-willed women (with the exception of Krishna Vaasudeva), who leave an indelible mark on the reader’s mind. These women are unique in their own ways – there is Kadambari, who leaves her abusive husband, in search of a better life, Shyeni, a young woman who decides to leave her motherland to be with her lover, Mrinalini, a wise old maid in a royal household and my personal favorite – Atulyaprabha, who takes it upon herself to personally clean the ghats of the river Ganga! There is also Datri, a woman who is wronged by her kinsmen, and is thus easily convinced by the antagonist, Bhauma, to embrace the Shaktha religion. She is shown to dedicate her efforts towards what she believes would lead to the improvement of the condition of the Aryan women, while constantly undergoing an internal struggle fueled by doubts about the lies she is fed by Bhauma. Krishna’s sister and Arjuna’s wife Subhadra has also been portrayed as independent and self-driven – unlike in many other derivatives of the epic.
The protagonist, Abhaya is shown to be a free spirited princess, with a natural flair for strategy and diplomacy – in short, she has all the makings of a capable ruler. She grows up to be a fearless young woman with ideas far ahead of her time. She also has the deepest faith in the innate goodness of her civilization, for the protection of which, she is prepared to do anything. Her intelligence, reasoning capabilities and the sense of duty she feels towards her cannot fail to impress.
Krishna Vaasudeva has been portrayed in a beautiful manner. The author has painted him more as a human being than as a God – he comes across as a charismatic ruler, with designs for the welfare of the land and its people. However, there are certain miraculous incidences within the story – which leave the reader wondering, whether there is more to him, than what meets the eye! The author has done a brilliant job – in endearing him to the reader, while still maintaining the mystery about his true identity.
The novel offers much more than the story alone. There are some lovely thoughts expressed, especially in the conversations between Abhaya and Krishna. Many of these and the truth in them are relevant to this day. They show us how blind adherence to traditions and rigidity in our ways, while losing track of the actual aims can be dangerous – and how the frustration it creates in the hearts of the people can be easily exploited and thus could cost a civilization, in which religion plays a major role, dearly. And also, how a religion as ancient and diverse as Sanathana Dharma, that has multiple facets to it, cannot be branded as uncouth or uncivilized due to the questionable activities of a few fringe elements alone. It is a dharma, a way of life, that encourages us to constantly question and evolve, in our relentless quest for our ultimate aim – that of attaining oneness with the supreme being.
I would like to quote here, part of some of my favorite dialogues from the book.
“The constraints of tradition cannot limit those taking up the cause that seeks the welfare of the universe.” – Abhaya.
“The purpose of our life often beckons to us in the guise of a challenge or a hopeless situation.” – Atulyaprabha.
“It is easy to rebel and call for a revolution. What is difficult is to inspire evolution. That happens with transforming thought, not condemning people. That happens with challenging their thought and not by provoking their egos” – Krishna Vaasudeva.
“Are’nt you painting a conveniently homogenous picture of a civilization that has a hundred sides and flavors to it?” – Abhaya.
The battles that Abhaya fights, in spite of being able and talented, resonate with those fought by women in the country to this day, against the unfair ways of what has predominantly been a patriarchal society. She has to face ridicule and strive double as hard, in order to be taken seriously, in her own kingdom, by her own people. Despite being a princess, she has to fight hard, to prevent herself from being coerced into a marriage that she has no interest in. Some events portrayed in the book – honor killing, forced conversions or the slow brainwashing of people to adopt a new faith, unfortunately continue to haunt our nation to this day.
On the flip side, I would have liked more attention to detail in the case of some sequences. For eg., there is the case in which Vikram, Abhaya’s brother goes in search of his mother, to a place that is entirely new to him. However, we are not taken through all his struggles in this almost impossible task – it seemed to me that he finds her rather too easily. Also, there are the battle scenes – which could have been dealt with in more detail – taking into account the brave front put up by the protagonists. Also, there are somethings which are left unexplained. For eg., there is the case where Abhaya decides to go after Bhauma’s men, who she suspects are responsible for the disappearances of many young girls. Given that she has been shown to be well trained in combat, it is rather surprising that she embarks on what she knows to be a dangerous journey with just a small blade for a weapon.
Also, while the dialogues give us a deep insight into the minds of the characters involved, we are told little about their physical appearances, the garments they wore, the kind of houses or palaces they stayed in or even their day to day activities. While these may not contribute much to the storyline as such, as a reader I would have liked a small introduction to the world these interesting characters inhabited. Also, I would have liked a tiny insight into some mannerisms characteristic of the important characters, espescialy Krishna – the only ones we are exposed to are about his “lips curving into a smile” or about him “raising his hands” (which, by the way, are oft repeated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers tire of it!). I would have liked him to perhaps smooth the feather on his head gear! Also, I would have liked Abhaya or Subhadra to twirl their hair with their fingers or maybe even chew their finger nails, giving them that human touch, which would further endear them to the reader!
Such minor glitches aside, it is a beautifully crafted novel – the reading of which has been a pleasurable experience. It is a novel, which I believe should be read by every self-respecting Indian – it would definitely help reinstate the pride we ought to feel towards our rich and diverse heritage.
Abhaya is available on the Kindle store and can be purchased here.
I listen to every rant,
Each small taunt,
Every bit of advice,
Well meant or otherwise,
With a plastered smile,
All the while;
Easy as it is,
To suppose that all this,
Is fine with me-
No one seems to see,
No one seems to realize
That I’m just being nice!
Ripply blue waters,
Dancing to the gentle breeze –
Revealing the sun,
Shielded by trees tall and gaunt-
A vibrant mirror.
Tiny duck – black, white,
Feathers glinting in the sun,
Caught in the midst of,
Foamy waters – green and strong-
Tossed wildly about.
I recently came across an interesting sentence, in a book by Agatha Christie – “Death Comes as the End”. The statement was made by the “hero” of the book Hori–”Fear is incomplete knowledge”. In effect, according to Hori, we often fear those things about which we don’t know much or the outcomes of which we cannot reasonably predict. As I paused to reflect on these words, I could not help but concur with the truth in them. There are many instances that sprang to my mind, which could be used, in support of this.
What are the things we usually fear? Something outside our normal routine, something which comes along once a while? Something which cannot be properly seen? Something which we are not mentally or physically prepared for, and are hence uncertain about? Or something about which we simply have no clue? If we think about it, I’m sure all our fears would fall into one of the categories above.
Let’s now examine a few of the commonest fears. The most common ones among youngsters or the “working class” would be – fear of examinations, fear of unemployment, job interviews, job insecurities, uncertainties in career path etc. If we look at the underlying causes of each of these – one thing is sure to stand out – most of them stem out of lack of predictability. We fear each of those instances because, we are not sure of the outcome – the prediction of the result is beyond us. Indeed, many of us keep living in fear of some outcome or the other, while we may or may not suffer through the actual consequences themselves – in short, we don’t know and can’t be sure, hence the fear, the worry and whatnot!
That aside, what about other experiences – trying out a ridiculously dangerous ride in an amusement park, or taking a plunge into the deep waters of a swimming pool for a first time, or even just traversing a very busy road in peak traffic on a vehicle for the first time? The reason for the fear felt, in these cases is also incomplete knowledge – we don’t know what it would be like under water, in the midst of traffic or just to be thrown into the air! What about horror movies – why do the scariest scenes occur in the dark, in the wee hours of the night or when visibility is poor – say in a mist? Simply because – our vision is not what it is, when there is enough light – we don’t know and can’t be sure, what horrors lie in wait for us – in other words, just incomplete knowledge and the tricks played on us, by our very own minds!
However, once the initial fear is swallowed down and we take the plunge, I’m sure the levels would come down drastically. As a wise man once said, “The first time is the hardest”.
What happens the next time we try out any of these things? We know what could happen to us, in the worst case – we’ve probably been through it and survived it as well – it isn’t as worrying and formidable as it was, the first time. In case we do feel overwhelmed and unsure of ourselves, we always have an experience to look back on – in case that was a rough one, we could just use it to motivate ourselves. There’s a famous Tamil movie dialogue to this very effect – “Evalavo panitom, idha panna matoma??” (Literal translation – We’ve done a lot, won’t we be able to do this?)
In fact, this is the very philosophy, I’ve adopted of late – whenever I come across some particularly difficult or tricky situation, which I have to go through, I throw my mind back to anything I’ve managed to accomplish single handedly and which I’m particularly proud of and just take the plunge, hoping for the best! I do hope to continue on these lines, cruising with ease through periods of uncertainty, unpredictability or plain unpleasantness!
sweet violin music
resonates within the room
rain knocks on my door-
a small lamp burns bright inside,
street lights are turned off
Cloudy, blue – grey sky;
miniscule droplets of rain,
settling on my palm;
green, washed up trees, standing tall
against bright buildings.
(First image courtesy – Pixabay.)
I may come off as a hypocrite writing this; for, I own two of the best known electronic reading devices of the day. However, my association with the printed word is quite old and happens to date back to a time when computers were rare and smart phones – virtually unheard of. This should explain, in most part, my preference for the good old actual ‘books’ to their electronic counterparts. However there are other reasons for this partiality.
First and foremost, there is the unbeatable experience of visiting a physical bookstore (or a library for that matter) and spending hours together, just picking up books, reading their synopses or a snippet about their authors or even just feeling their cover. The thrill of coming across an unusual book and deciding to buy it on a whim is simply unbeatable! There have also been times, when I have finished half a book, sitting in the bookstore, before making the decision to buy it!
I now move onto the part of actually holding the book, opening it and reading its content. I agree that the e-book devices offer many advantages in this area, the first being their portability and lightness. But, this is outweighed by a significant point – the heaviness of a book, gives me a rough estimate of the hard work put in by the author. This gives me a strong motivation to continue reading the book and attempt finishing it – no matter the quality of the content! Also, I feel free of the obnoxious need to carry the book around and read it in every place possible, thus inconveniencing many a fellow passenger, especially while commuting in a jam packed train or bus.
While I’m reading a book, I sometimes just spend time admiring the cover photographs, art work or illustration and try relating these to the story at hand. I even flip to the last page or back cover to secretly admire the author’s photograph or get an occasional glimpse of their lives. Also, I tend to associate each book with the print font (which I feel is different for every book) and the feel and smell of each page I read. I feel denied of these simple pleasures while reading the e-book version.
Moving on, now, to the other famed advantages of the e-book. If I use a reading device or app, I could get to know the “percentage of completion” of the book. This can hardly compare to having a verifiable proof of the number of pages successfully conquered and the number still remaining, while reading an actual book. The thrill of having to guess at the meanings of difficult words, in terms of their context, thanks to the lethargy of having to look them up in that huge dictionary, more than compensates for the advantage of an in-built thesaurus.
I now come to the part of “handling” a book. A particularly good book meant that it would be handled with extra care. It would have a designated ‘reading spot’ and a ‘reading time’ – it would not be read in bed and certainly not while eating. All its pages would be smoothed and ironed out, a proper bookmark would be used and it would be allotted the best of positions in the book-shelf. Needless to say, the e-book does not lend itself to such care and attention.
And last, but not the least, there is the pride of owning so many books and a huge bookshelf. The bookshelf itself would be selected with care and the arrangement of books inside it would be an activity requiring lots of time and attention to detail. This is, after all a prized possession – one that would be proudly displayed to friends and relatives alike.
This is not to say that I’m going to completely stop reading e-books. Rather, I would try and balance out my time between them and their older and (in many ways) better kinsmen!
The hour is late-
Hardly anyone about,
The road shines silver,
Bathed in moonlight;
A still, solitary automobile
Is all that’s present,
To remind one
Of all the noise, the chaos,
That seemed incessant,
Just a short while afore.
(Image courtesy – Pixabay)
Copyright © Sindhuja Ramasubramanian 2015· All Rights Reserved· picturesquereflections.wordpress.com
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While reading excerpts from an interview with a contemporary author, I came across an interesting question – “Is your writing influenced in anyway by what you read”? Okay, those were not the exact words used, but then the context was the same – “Does reading other people’s work help your writing?” The answer given by the author was interesting and kind of resonates with my own thoughts – “Reading other people’s work gives us an insight into other minds, other ways of thinking.” This is bound to influence our own thoughts, which ultimately find their way into our own writing. Also, as the author has pointed out, this may not be instantaneous – rather it may be a slow process, which may even occur without the writer actually being conscious of it.
There are quite a few authors and books, which have inspired me, to improve my skills and keep trying different styles. Of the more famous ones, I particularly adore the work of authors like Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse and even the likes of works such as The Luminaries – for the beautiful interplay of words and the wonderful usage of the English language in storytelling. In fact, while I’m reading such books, I am inspired to strive harder, to make my work better – using richer phrases and more apt adjectives, while still preserving the sanctity of the language.
And then, there are those authors, whose creative genius is beyond mere words – J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein – to name just a few. The magic that is created and brought to life by these works is truly unparalleled. Needless to say, I’m pushed to explore my creativity, pushing myself to my very limits, while I’m reading such books.
Now, coming to one of my favorite genres – that of Indian writing in English. The nuances of everyday living, the exhausting mundaneness of almost everything we go through, as we struggle, under the onslaught of modernity, while relentlessly clinging onto our past, unable to fully give it up, has been so beautifully expressed by many gifted authors – Jumpa Lahiri, Chitra B. Divakaruni, again to name just a few.
Then there is what I like to call the “Neo Mythology” genre, which seems to be quite a rage these days. I confess that I’ve read very few books in this area – but I should like to point out a few things. There’s a notion that has been in circulation for a while now, among readers that the authors who choose this genre don’t really have to be creative – after all, they already have the key elements to get them started – the characters and the plot. I, however, beg to strongly disagree – most of the works I’ve read tend to re-tell the stories – combining factual history and the various events, characters and places as portrayed in the original mythological version. Also, many of the authors have attempted to bridge the gaps purported in the myths and have introduced their own version of certain “magical” phenomena for e.g., the author’s version of the miraculous re-clothing of Draupadi in Krishna Udayashankar’s The Aryavarta Chronicles or the explanation given for Ganesha’s half – human, half-animal form, in Amish Tripati’s The Immortal’s Of Meluha. This, in my book is no small feat – it demands vast amount of research, analyses and no less amount of creativity.
While still on the subject of Indian writing in English, there are those authors who depict normal, everyday life in our country in such a pleasurable, and often, witty way – R.K. Narayan’s The Malgudi Days, Swami and Friends, The Bachelor of Arts, Layanya Sankaran’s Red Carpet and The Hope Factory, Advaita Kala’s Almost Single.
From these works, I’m inspired, above all, to look around me and watch out for everyday occurrences/happenings, which I would’nt otherwise give a second thought to, and weave a story around them or simply write about them as a firsthand experience. Of course, the attention to detail, creativity and simple, and truly Indian style of narrative, has always inspired me to do better.
And then, there are the regular columnists – G. Sampath, Vamsee Jaluri, Shiv Vishwanathan, P. Sainath – whose thought processes, style of expression and analytical prowess has never ceased to amaze me – indeed, after reading a column by any one of them, I feel compelled to re-read, edit, and further substantiate on certain parts, in pieces attempted by me. There are a few wonderful bloggers I regularly follow as well, stirring similar emotions within me.
Of course, all this does not mean I try and imitate any of authors, stealing their phrases, or ideas. As I recently read in another blog, in order to write, one should above all, have a style of his\her own. All I’m saying is that, reading these authors pushes me to do better and better while, giving birth to certain ideas in my head, capitalizing on which, I weave my own stories\poems\pieces. Furthermore, it’s very important that I choose what kind of writer I want to be, so that I concentrate more on reading those pieces which would help me achieve this goal.