The Lost Genre- How good is Dan Brown?

It has been an awfully long time since I did this and being back in my hometown seemed to have done the trick. Even though it is not the most conducive environment to thrive as a writer (more like developing ideas in an idle, relaxed mind), it has proven to be conducive enough to read a book. Big time.

After all the hype subsided, I spent the final two days of 2010 poring over Dan Brown’s latest offering ‘The Lost Symbol’, which came out sometime last year. I know the book and Brown’s prose style has received overwhelming praise from critics, and rightly so.

As with normal routine, TLS sticks to Brown’s favourite plot timeline, events unfolding within the space of 24 hours, and in frantic pace. At around 600 pages, Brown delivers an absolute page-turner.

Robert Langdon is summoned in the face of crisis again, but this time rather unwillingly. Set in the American capital of Washington D.C, Robert finds himself running aimlessly all over D.C with a CIA officer insisting there is a national security matter of ‘unimaginable proportions’ that Langdon needs to give priority over the safety of his friend and mentor Peter Solomon, who is being held captive by a madman wanting access to the Freemasonry secret brotherhood’s greatest treasure.

First of all, Brown should be praised for the amount of research it would have taken him to fill in the details of this particular plot. Truth be told, there is nothing novel about the story alone, it is a tried and tested hostage plot. But Brown’s ability lies in the fact that he stretches a simple single-line idea into a book stretching at 600 pages, and fills the book with details of a secret brotherhood, and ancient mysteries that very few of us would ever heard of.

It took Brown six full years to come up with a new book after the success of the Da Vinci Code back in 2009, and the strains show in the amount of details and historical accuracy that spans through the book. Robert Langdon appears almost superhuman in his own way, as he seems to recall symbols and signs that relates to religions and cultures of ancient times across the world.

I know peanuts about Freemasonry myself, but reading the book, I could not ignore Brown’s rather positive and upbeat portrayal of the Freemason brotherhood (its all over the book of course). This one factor obviously is enough to gibe Brown’s critics a field day against him.

It also seems Brown had spent a good amount of time in Washington visiting its most famous monuments, and nearly a quarter of the chapters begin with skyline and scenic descriptions of few of Washington’s most historical buildings.

This is in fact the first Dan Brown novel I have read, and as a neutral, I have to say that he is neither. He is not a master storyteller like how his fans would claim and neither is he an overrated writer like how his critics would suggest.

He just writes books that sell. Reading the Lost Symbol is almost like watching a Hollywood thriller if you would picture every scene that occurs in the book, even the hanging chapter conclusions.

Brown leaves so many chapter hanging on their threads, yet predictably returns to explain the hanging threads a couple of chapters later. The book has a clear pattern, and Brown follows it in an almost uniformed manner. I do not know about other readers, but as the story sauntered towards its final act, no plot twists surprised me any more (with the exception of the villain’s true identity).

Brown also commits the very apparent little flaw of trying to recount old stories in bits and pieces. After setting such a small time window, he tries hard to give a peek into the entirety of the characters’ past lives with incidents recounted in bits and pieces. Sometimes they work for the story, and sometimes against it.

After setting such a high-octane thriller as the plot, reading sometimes gets tedious and the reader is urged to scan through a page without reading it properly due to the way in which the character recounts a past story at a time when the plot is hanging in utter suspense.

That said, the book has a solid idea that tries to drive into our minds, unlike the Da Vinci Code (I know the story), which was of a conspiracy theory-based book. But this plotline moves beyond the shallow conspiracy-theory mindset, and tries to go to the very bottom of existing mysteries and myths.

The Lost Symbol is Brown’s imagination of what it could be like if the myths and mysteries were to come any close to unveiling themselves in the current era. He puts across solid ideas such as the origins of Science and how our ‘evolvement’ in terms of science might actually be just a discovery.

These are no mere theories, but in fact a large slice of reality that we face today. However, it seems like Brown never really had the details of the scientific researches that ‘could change the world as it is’- just like how Katherine Solomon says it. In fact, in the whole book, Brown tries to get away with only a single nod of example.

Well, that is the risk you run sometimes when you have large imagination and try to drive home a point without any evidence as of yet.

Probably the book’s cardinal sin is that it hypes itself overtly at most times. When the plot thread is left hanging, it is left hanging with words such as ‘shock’ and ‘diesbelief’. I probably felt a jolt for only half of the threads when I finally knew the full story. The other half, I saw it coming.

I do not know whether I’m being too critical due to the fact that I’m currently writing a science-fiction thriller myself, and I know how tricky it is to navigate while narrating a detailed thriller that is creating completely within the realms of your imagination. It’s not easy, especially so when you try to merge fact with fiction. It’s easier to go to a separate magic world than it is to blend fiction and fact seamlessly.

But mastering that art is a difficult one. Dan Brown’s TLS is a great attempt. But not the best.

That said, I feel it’s a book worth reading and buying, but only once. There are no marbles to be found in re-reading. Read it that one time, and be engrossed.

To be honest, this particular thriller fiction genre has been long dead with the current rate of less than talented writers being given the right to write gibberish that are nothing but just an extension of what we already see on Hollywood screens.

Not to mention the boringly written self-help books.

Dan Brown brings life back to a dead genre. Just like how he ends the book, he brings back hope to the genre. If you are looking for a good modern fictional thriller novel, then Dan Brown is the best bet you’ve got.

He might yet perfect the art in coming times.

The Door Beyond (Short Story)

A short by Ram Anand. 2009.

It started just like any other day for Shawn, but it did not take him very long to actually realize that the coming days in his life will never, ever be quite the same again. “Look there, cha,” one of his friends pointed out with great urgency and excitement. Shawn knew right away what his friend was pointing towards. A pretty, admirable young lady. That is when Shawn realized that his life is, forever, about to change. The old Shawn could have had the pleasure of sharing his friend’s enthusiasm about the girl, well, he still can share that pleasure, but he knew, three months from now, all of that will change. The old Shawn could afford to tease the girl, and even flirt with her, but the Shawn that will emerge three months from now- can’t do the same. Because three months from now, Shawn is getting married. A new chapter in his life, Shawn thought.

Few of his friends are thinking that he is rushing the prospect of this marriage, moreover, that isn’t actually a love marriage. Shawn hasn’t found the kind of love some people have described to him. If love is grabbing any pretty girl that reacts to your advances or shares a bed space with you, then Shawn has found plenty of love. If love is about complete uncertainty, the willingness to totally commit, and loving suffering itself, Shawn hasn’t found any of that. But he can find that love with his new wife. But, will that love appear once he steps into his marriage vow? He still has 90 days left to make that love appear between him and his would-be, but how will he make it happen? After much hesitancy, he rang her a call. Both of them stuttered in the line, as the shyness crept into both of them. No matter how many girls Shawn has made advances with in the past, advancing on a woman he is going to marry who is actually a woman he never really had a relationship with in the past is always going to be hard work.

He finally muttered some courage. Lying back on his bed like a lazy lover, he asked over the line- “Can you come over here?”- As if she is his girlfriend and he misses her so much. “Why?” came back the question. The only thing Priya Samuel- which is her name, could think of is total unfairness. She was infuriated by that question, and it took her some time to actually realize that the young man on the line opposite this doesn’t know anything about the justification she is thinking about. She knew why he was asking her to come over- so that he could flirt and spend some genuine romantic time with her before finally tying the knot. “Why? Well, simply, cannot izit?” he asked the metaphorical question. The lazy, hesitative conversation continued until Priya decided that it is high time she tells him why she can’t come over. “I don’t want to sound rude, but I am going to stay with you and at the city you are working in once we are married. I have 90 days left to marry you, but you must also think, I only have 90 days left to be my parents’ daughter. I’d rather spend these 90 days with my parents, and then you can have a lifetime trying to know me or trying to flirt with me,” she said. “Then if I come over there?” he asked. “Well, that sounds fine,” she said. He is ready to go and enter a phase in his life- being with a genuine life partner. And little does he know that after this trip- nothing in his life would ever be the same again.

He was initially contemplating on taking a bus, but later decided that driving his car there would be a better idea, that he would have the opportunity on not depending on others to bring him out of the house. His parents think it is utterly ridiculous for him to head to the bride’s house before the marriage and suggested it be done the other way around- by the bride coming to his place, or even, both coming to his parents’ residence. None of this actually mattered much to him- where or how, all he wants is to spend some quality time with his would-be. But she has a justified reason, so he is ready to make that discriminative ‘sacrifice’ by going to her place. He is driving his place to one of the highest lands in Malaysia- Cameron Highlands- and suddenly everything slowed down incredibly. He is a man with a great sense of direction- he always discovers his destination even with only a map on his hands, but suddenly he felt an urge he never ever felt before- an urge to get lost, to lose track, to simply be immersed in the present and not to worry about his destination because it will come when it has to come. He never felt such an urge inside him before. He had spent almost his entire life in metropolitan cities, where life is always about fast. There is always something to run after, something sought after, something that makes life quick yet predictable. But this is different, sure, he went on vacations before, on holidays before, but nothing was anything near this feeling. This is when a phrase written by Henry Miller- a phrase he never understood- made perfect sense- It is better to visit an unknown church that no one else has ever heard of that to go to Rome and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel with 200,000 visitors bellowing every year. Shawn stopped driving and enjoyed the cold breeze. He went out of his car, took a cigarette and started puffing it over, enjoying the quiet, empty scenery in front of him. For the naked eye, it is scenery that is empty, but not quite the same who understand that it such vast emptiness- such a void, that allows us the space to reflect upon ourselves.

It took him a whole day to finally arrive at Priya’s house. “Where have you been?” she asked with a chagrin, clearly she has been worrying or has been worried by the calls of Shawn’s parents. The only thing he can do to reply to her is with a smile. What can he say? “I can’t even reach your phone. Have you got lost?” she asked. Yes, exactly the question that would save him. He nodded his head. His in-laws didn’t probe further- how could they probe into a person who just got lost, and is looking silent and dull, probably extremely tired from being lost? If he were to tell the real answer- which even he don’t understand, they would think he is insane, it would be better to say he had lost- only the fraction of difference in truth is that he has got lost on purpose. He is not dull because of being lost in this journey; he was rather dull because he feels he has been lost in his entire life- always following what was laid down in front for him- as if his life has been scripted. Nothing out of the ordinary has actually happened in his life, he has been extremely insignificant, but what can he do to change that? Probably nothing.

“Hi,” Priya said as she came to his room a few hours later, once the tense of him being lost has finally cooled down. “Hi,” he replied slowly. He can’t help but to stare continuously at her, after all, she is the one he is going to spend the rest of his life with. They starred at each other silently. “So, what is it?” she asked. “What?” he asked back. “Well, you must have a reason why you wanted to spend time with me before marriage, isn’t it?” she asked. “Will you ask reasons for everything?” he asked something that crossed his mind immediately. “Oh, that’s why you are here then? To know about my traits isn’t that so? What kind of questions I will bug you with after marriage, what makes me angry, on what matters I’m easily fooled, like that?” she asked. Shawn sighed as he was unable to answer her question. He sighed and looked disillusioned. He smiled at her instead, and gestured that he simply doesn’t know a certain why. She smiled back at him and left the room, leaving him alone for the moment. There is a huge void of awkwardness between them, given the fact that Priya doesn’t actually trust Shawn to any good level having known about his flirting nature in the past. She is just happy to marry him, or she is content to marry him would be a better way to describe it. Because she had convinced herself and has been convinced by others that this is good as things could get for her- her parents have always said that he would like to choose her groom, and in that case, she said, she would like a man who comes from a city, a man who is relatively young, matured and earns good money, above all a socially viable man. Given the fact that Shawn is good looking, earning good money, drives a good car, and all, he is certainly as good as she could ask for- except for his grey past, but nobody’s perfect, are they?

Shawn and Priya went out on an unofficial date the very next morning. She showed him around the place (which doesn’t have much to rave or travel about except for beautiful, silent sceneries). Priya tried to guide Shawn to a town nearby, where there is some people going around. Having grown up there, she had grown tired of the silent void of scenery around her house. But Shawn is different. Having grown up with people all around him, busy cities, fancy cars, flirting, always something to live up to, he suddenly has fallen in love with this silent void. He is able to see his whole life panned out in front of him every time he stares into those high hills. It was as if time has stopped, all those pressure has been relieved, and he can just sit and review his life all these years. It’s a fearful thing to do as much as Shawn feels the urge to do it. What if he regrets who he is and what he is doing? Isn’t this too late to change? So, he did not give in to those desires and decided he would follow Priya’s guidance to the town nearby. Both of them are estranged with their worries- her worry as to when she will finally get to actively involved in a corporate world, and his uncertainty over his own life. They stopped near a shop and started walking around, slowly stroking about a conversation with each other, until a defining moment came.

Finally, the conversation between Priya and him became less tense than it was before. They finally managed to break the barrier of hidden desires and uncertainty between them. And it all came down to Shawn’s flirting nature to break that barrier. A woman crossed nearby, one of the very few gorgeous looking women in that town and Shawn threw a strong, enchanting look towards her. Priya smiled at what he did. “I can’t keep doing this,” she snapped. “What?” he asked back. “I have to ask you something,” she said. “Go ahead,” he urged. “Will you keep doing this even after marriage? You know, that kind of looks, flirting, trying to seduce other girls, will you?” she asked a straightforward question, but not as hot as the one she is about to ask next. “And then, did you really get lost yesterday and you just found somebody that made you delayed on the way?” He starred at her with utter amazement. She gestured that she wants him to answer this question. “I can understand you know. Maybe you were too paranoid as to how life would be caged after marriage so you wanted your last taste of the cherry maybe,” she continued. “No, no at all,” he said slowly. “I did get lost,” he continued. “Need I stop? I mean, after marriage?” he asked. “What, sleeping with other woman? I guess it makes perfect sense if I say you can’t,” she said. “What do you think I am? Why would I do something like that? I was talking about, you know, socializing, like that,” he replied. “How much difference is there between those two? It’s all about your intentions. If I’m just one of the many girls you met in your life whereas I married you and the others didn’t, then that’s a problem. I need you to admit if that’s the case,” she said. “No, not at all, look, I know what a marriage is all about. If I was thinking of it that way, I wouldn’t have come here 90 days before the marriage. I want us to know and understand each other,” he explained. She nodded. He turned away for a glance again as another woman entered a small Chinese sundry shop near the place where Shawn and Priya have been sitting. “You have been with any?” Priya continued to ask very frank questions. “What do you mean?” he asked back. “I mean, Chinese girls,” she said. “Not actually, but I have a few friends. Wait, how many girlfriends you think I had in my life?” he asked this time, desperate to clear the air of uncertainty. “I don’t know, you tell me,” she said. “Okay, honestly, three, and I slept with two of them, that’s all there was, you are exaggerating me. I’m social but I’m not a playboy,” he stressed. Priya, true to herself, was relieved to hear that. She has heard all kind of stories about him but now she has heard it from the person himself. Shawn, elsewhere, is disturbed. He wants to ask her back, about how many guys she has slept with or had a relationship with in the past? But how will he ask such a question? The pretty, mature-looking Chinese came out of the shop she entered just now and saw Shawn starring at her, not with his usual enchanting manner, but in a much more subtle way. She smiled at him from a distance and suddenly Shawn felt as if he had accomplished something important. “How about you?” he asked, muttering the courage. She starred at him for a while. “What do you think?” she asked. “Do you always answer a question with a question?” he asked. Both of them laughed. “Now you know my behavioral traits,” she said. The topic faded away without the answer, and Shawn was left thinking about the Chinese girl he just saw.

For the next few days, Shawn repeatedly headed to that town and each day, found an excuse to enter the Chinese sundry shop, and ironically, he was seeing the same Chinese girl everyday from then on. She always came to that shop, and there were no prizes for guessing that she is the shop owner’s daughter. She comes briefly in the morning every day and leaves soon, and Shawn never fails to see her in that little time she spends there. He was left curious at to why he is finding it so necessary to meet that girl everyday and yet till now, he has not spoken a single word with her. Five days passed by, and he has begun think of that Chinese girl more than his own fiancée.

He finally decided to talk to her one day, and he went close to her, and that is as far as he got. To his own disbelief, he was unable to strike a conversation, as he hesitated time and again and virtually froze every time there was an opportunity. His absorbing non-verbal relationship with this young woman intrigued him like nothing other, and it was not long before he realized what has been happening all along. He has haplessly fallen in love with her. He had girlfriends in his life, girlfriends whom he liked but didn’t love. He hoped to find that love which has haunted most of his friends when he is with his fiancée, it certainly did, but not with his fiancée, with some other girl. He starred into those open hills again and realized he is facing a huge crisis in his life. On one hand, he amicably agreed to marry a woman he did not love but somehow thought he can fall in love with that woman when he wants to. Little did he realize that, at most times, love chooses the person rather than the other way around? On the other hand, love has struck him with a Chinese woman he had never spoke with, somebody whose name he just found out, but she in return has no idea who he is. He has to decide now, whether to ignore his new found love and keep committed to his future marriage, or try his luck with this woman. He knows the latter option will put him in brewing trouble, so would it be worth the risk? Probably that is what the void of space in these hills was trying to reflect to him. All his life, he has always followed what has been laid down to him, as if his life has been scripted. But this is an opportunity to do something unpredictable with his life. Nothing that is valuable in life comes without risks. He has been playing it safe all his life, and probably it’s about time he approaches life differently than there is. But he is not prepared to risk his marriage possibility with a beautiful woman like Priya because of something he is not sure of. Anna (the Chinese girl’s name) could have a boyfriend, could even be married by a matter of fact. How could he risk a secured relationship with Priya for all that? And so it happened that in the coming days, Shawn begun making advances on the woman he is in love with, unbeknownst to Priya and her family. Finally he started talking with Anna, and slowly made advances on her.

It took him another week to know about her life and the details surrounding it.  Good news is that she is single, and the bad news is that she is 30 years old, which makes her five years his senior. Further bad news, she is Chinese (his parents are going to stand as an obstacle, and from what he knew about her family, her parents too will stand as an obstacle). Anna is a woman of composure. She was born to a mediocre sundry shop owner, and had to work hard to earn her education. She has harvested a huge dream of becoming a scientist in the US, and had slowly saved money which puts her now within weeks of a flight to the States. She is completely devoted to achieving her goal, which is not very far away. That apparently makes her a much more assured and driven personality compared to may other women Shawn met in his life, somebody who knows exactly what they want. Each and every second he spent with her, Shawn was completely transformed and was living the moment, and even though deep inside he knew that he was inviting trouble, he preferred not to think about how this chapter of his life will end, keeping it mum from Priya. At times, it makes him feel extremely guilt-ridden to have been hiding it from Priya, but he is not completely assured about her relationship with Anna either. He is consumed with terror every time he thinks of how much trouble he has to face if he wants to marry Anna- his parents, her parents, and also Priya’s family. Is he ready to take on such an obstacle? Even if he wants to, he needs to know whether Anna loves him as much he loves her.

“I love you,” he said, finally breaking the iceberg. She starred at him strongly. She tried to say something a couple of times but hesitated. She was speechless. “But, Shawn, you are…,” she said. “Engaged, I know, but I love you,” he said. “But you have a fiancée,” she said. “Does that make me not qualified to love you?” he asked. “Do you have any idea of what you are saying?” she asked. “Do you like me?” he walked close to her and asked. “Would liking you be enough?” she asked. “Yes, surely,” a faint, unassuming smile appeared on his face. She sighed. “What do you expect me to tell you? Do you have any idea how many problems we will face?” she asked. “Yes, I know, if you just stand by me, we can overcome all of them,” he said back, convincing her all the way. She finally agreed after much resentment. From there begun a stunning journey that completely changed Shawn’s perception of life. He was exceptionally proud of himself that he was finally listening to his heart’s desire rather than following the path laid down in front of him mechanically like he did in the past. But, the trouble of keeping Priya in the dark regarding this issue is beginning to take a toll on him, especially now, that he has convinced Anna and it’s time he openly tells everybody involved that he wants to marry Anna and not Priya. So he informed the most important person he had to inform about this issue- Priya. A huge silence beckoned when he finally told the matter to Priya. Priya was dull and silent. “Is this in any way at all my fault? I asked you clearly that day, didn’t I? Why did you have to do like this, you fooled me around, as if I’m nothing?” she asked furiously. Her anger is justified and her words are completely justified. This is when Shawn realized how big a fool he has been in his life, or more precisely, how big a coward he has been. He has certainly ignored Priya based on the fear that he may lose her for something that he is not guaranteed of- which is his relationship with Anna. Now he understood the need to take some risks in order to earn something that he desires. There was no room for apologies for his own cowardice, so he decided to stay quiet. But Priya understood the complexity of the situation, and she too, stayed quiet and did not press the issue on further. On a wide enough spectrum, there are three individuals- Shawn, Anna, and Priya, all, in their own way, have huge question marks hanging over themselves, whether they are on the right path to earn the life they desire. As these three individuals each are trying to sort out conflictions within their self, the society around them have begun its rebel to a story which is out of ordinary, and out of routine.

Shawn’s parents came down immediately to the town as if their lives depended on it, once he strongly rejected their calls for him to go back to his home. Priya’s parents begun blaming Shawn’s parents that they have ‘hidden’ the fact that he is a womanizer. And before they even knew it, Shawn and Anna were embroiled in a battle to make their relationship happen (add Anna’s father into the mix). Anna’s trouble is simple, she never knew there was a battle in hand, Shawn had already warned her, but for it to come this soon, she was completely unprepared. As for Shawn, he stepped with a notion that he is finally swimming against the tide, something that he has not done in many, many years in his life and finally is cherishing the prospect that, he is fighting for something he desires rather than making compromises the way he had done before. And for Priya, who is witnessing this whole spectacle as a mere spectator from sidelines, did find a brand new insight to her own life. Is the falling apart of this supposed marriage a letdown, or is it a blessing in disguise, she asked herself. She has been no different from Shawn, being a person who has always followed what was laid out in front of her. She knew on the core, she and Shawn have been living the same lifestyle- a predictable, scripted lifestyle. Shawn and Anna’s relationship is not a result of Shawn being a womanizer, even if he does have that reputation from the past, and Priya knows that more than anything else.  Such an unpredictable tale was thrown in the mix probably to give everyone a wake up call. But what should she do now? Vow that she would not be married for another five years?

Days passed by as Shawn and Anna withstood every single waves that came in an effort to destroy their relationship. Shawn was proud and fulfilled at his new found strength to swim against the tide, while Anna, depending on his bravery, has quietly come through that phase as well. But the story is different for Priya. What Priya saw in this episode is not only a battle for an odd relationship, but also a battle to preserve the heart’s instinct. She grew up to be taught that the brain is a better ruler than the heart, and she certainly feels a fool for believing that. Living by what the mind says always means following a set of logic that the society has provided for her, and that living did not give her the courage that she now sees in Shawn.

Finally, the couple triumphed against all the odds. All the social, religious and age differences were put behind and they managed to make their relationship work at all ends. Shawn felt proud of himself for managing to do it. That would have been a great end for that story, but don’t all of us tend to forget the more important part of life more times than not? The espisode of Shawn battling for his relationship with Anna was certainly overlooked, placed into a simple paragraph, because the larger picture is always different.

All three of them- Shawn, Priya and Anna, sat on a bench on an airport, starring at the empty horizon. They looked at each other. A faint smile appeared in each of their faces. It’s not the best ending, but as they say, every ending is a beginning. This is merely just a beginning. “Thank you,” Anna landed Shawn a warm kiss on his cheek. He felt even more fulfilled. “No, thank you for showing me there’s more to life than I thought,” he said. “I have to thank you guys then for this,” Priya said. Shawn realized for the first time, what it is like to fall completely in love and fight for that love, and now, he realized that love never should be an issue that is forced upon. He is allowing Anna to pursue her dreams- a dream she has come so close yet so far to achieve, thanks to this relationship. Anna taking that plane to US is not an end for their love story- merely a beginning. Anna loves her dream, and she has worked for years and deserves to get there. Anna is Shawn’s dream, she made him see life a different way, and like any other man, he understood that he needs to make a journey in order to achieve his dreams, and what he had done in the past month is merely a process of setting himself in the right track towards the dream. The journey has just begun for him. Anna understood that at the brink of achieving any dream, a conflict between love and dream often come across, but neither are elements that should be sacrificed. Shawn is not ‘sacrificing’ his love for Anna, he is just allowing her to fulfill her first love so that the next time around, she would love him as much as he loves her. For Priya, she finally understood the value of love. For once, she decided, she would follow her heart, and has taken matters of marriage into her own hands. Priya realized that she too had a dream that is rotting inside her, and will now set a quest to fulfill it, no matter how ridiculous it sounds- that’s why they are called dreams. As for love, waiting for love is an experience of its own. Shawn and Priya were both walking down a lane set up for them with all predictability, until one’s heart decided to love unconditionally and they were opened up to world of transforming love and dreams. They saw more about life. They saw the larger picture, the other side that few people realize or acknowledge about, they saw the door beyond.

The Rainforest Unicorns- Mother of all proposals

It wasn’t until Geetha was packing her things the following the day that the thought of that young man named Anand who was supposedly interested in her came back to her mind. She sighed, but with nobody watching, she allowed herself to let go of a slight smile, before continuing to pack her belongings to make her way out of the office. She knows that this is nothing but a consolation prize. Nothing would come of it, she knows that much, at least she could brag about tha fact that a young man is interested in her. But he wouldn’t be interested anymore, if he thinks over the matter for a few hours, and knows everything about her rocky past, her current status, and the complications that such a marriage would bring.

She made her way out of the door slowly, her hands full with her bags and so on, and then she froze. Standing in front of her was a man who was staring at the signboard of the law firm. She turned around. Geetha and Associates. “You own the damn thing?” he asked. It was Anand, standing and asking a question as if he is a well-known friend who has just gone out of touch for a while. She did not know how to answer him, why he was here, and every other question related to his presence. She just froze. This was supposed to be a joke. If he is serious in pursuing her, he must be out of his mind. Why is he trying to defy nature? And she knew what that question meant. He is trying to do the very thing she thought he will never have the guts to do- to genuinely try and know more about her. He is treating this like its more than a physical crush. “Yeah I do,” she said, staring at him. “And that’s my name.”

“I know that much,” now he was looking at her, and he was smiling. “Can I walk you till your car?” he asked. The first thing that crossed Geetha’s mind, while nodding to his question, is that he will definitely give the same blurred, dumbfounded reaction when he sees her car later. And he did exactly that.

“You drive this? I thought Karthi was exaggerating,” he said, staring at her sports-edition Mercedes a little while. He allowed herself to chuckle a little this time. She found him cute. “It looks you need to deal with a lot of shock,” she said. “Listen,” she moved closer to him, “you seem like a very good person. It’ll be nice to be friends with you, to be your well-wisher. We can get to know each other, be friends, everything, but why don’t you just drop the big bang idea you have about me in your mind?” she asked.

His eyes were still wide open. “I’m not after your…whatever…lifestyle, wealth, if that’s what making you speak like this,” he said. “That idea, frankly, did not cross my mind, yet,” she replied. “Why can’t it happen?” he finally asked the question that was the main reason for him to come all the way to her office to meet her. “Why?’ he repeated.

“You know the numbers,” she said. “Yeah, they are just numbers,” he retorted. “I’ll get old much earlier than you will, you might find a new spark with someone else as soon as I turn 40, how on earth do I trust you?” she asked. “Wait, that’s another stage altogether. The question here is, I like you, and do you like me?” he asked back.

She sighed. “Okay, let’s talk,” she said, leaving her behind her car and starting to walk. He smiled in a sprout of excitement. She knew how he would have reacted though she did not see it. “Don’t get excited, I’m sure you’ll drop the idea after we talk,” she said. But his heart wouldn’t listen. He jogged behind her slightly and walked right beside her.

Geetha had never done this before, nor did she think the time would ever come for her to do something like this, at least not after everything that has happened in her life. Here she is, preparing to confide in a 23-year-old in a way she has never done, not even with her own brother, in hopes that he would shy away from her after this. His interest in her defies nature, logic and all comfort zones. How will she walk around telling people that her partner is 11 years younger to her? It would seem awkward and will attract even more attention, and unwittingly he will garner much much more attention if it happens. It might all break down as soon as it starts. This is as ridiculous as an idea gets.

“I know you think I’m strong, very verbal, straight to the point, professional, and you might have liked all this,” she said. “But you should understand that I am in my mid-30s, and that I have had so many years in my life in which anything could have happened. I can’t summarize my life, but if you think I’m all perfect, then you are wrong. If you think I never had relationships before, you are very wrong. If you think I don’t have fear and insecurities or wounds for that matter, all from my past, once again you are extremely wrong,” she explained. “I know it all sounds very disturbing, but that is how the truth sounds at times, and that’s what I’m prepared to tell you. If the idea of it itself sounds disturbing, how will the real thing sound? That is why I’m telling you, you are making a big mistake. At your age, it might seem that everything is possible, but from where I stand, I see things realistically,” she added.

He was listening to her explanation quietly, with a small smile carved on his face. He seemed calm; he ahd thought about everything Geetha is explaining to her right now and he is prepared to listen, and now that she is prepared to tell, the signs are good for him. “Do tell, I would like to listen,” he said.

And then Geetha unfolded her life.

It was drizzling lightly, as Geetha sat on the pavement and stretched her muscles after a long day at work. She was expecting someone. Everything in life seemed good now, she had a stable rising in her career, and her personal life seemed to be in a good stead as well. He ran over and kissed her on the cheeks, his shirt half-wet in the drizzle. “I can’t find parking,” he said, trying to dry himself up a little. She looked at him, wearing a broad smile. With his shades, his branded watch, the bouquet of roses in his hands, he looked every bit like the macho hero every girl would dream of in their teenage-hood. He spoke English with a British slang, was UK-educated, and he was 27. She was 25. They were so in love that nothing else mattered. Not even religion. “Amir,” she said. “Do sit, it’s raining, it’s nice,” she said, pointing to a small space to sit beside her. He smiled, and he held her hands, and then sat beside her. “It’s nice isn’t it?” she asked. He looked at her. “You are nice,” he said. “Shut up,” she retorted. That was the perfect life, watching nature drizzle upon them with no pressure attached, nothing to chase after, a comfortable life where money was not going to be a problem. And that love was there, with all of its sweet-talking. They have been together for a year. He was in and out of UK, where he also has a home and has earmarked it to be their future home. He has a small business running there with his friends, while he lives a comfortable life back in Malaysia.

“I have good news,” he said, maintaining the smile he had on his face, while looking intently at her. “She said yes?” Geetha asked back. He nodded. She was surprised. She did not expect her life to be this good- to be too good to be true. There seemed to be so many obstacles she would need to face in order to make this work in the first place, but their journey has been anything but rocky. He flirted, wooed and coaxed her. She gave in. They were together for a year, and now they were at this pavement- with him telling that he has managed to convince his mother of all people to agree to their official union. There were cultural and religious borders that needed to be broken, but none of that seemed like a problem here. His mom has said yes. She needed her own mom to say yes now. To more of her surprise, she too said yes.

For all of the stern opposition she thought she would receive from her mom, her mom seemed convinced that Geetha was making the right decision. Geetha was so surprised that she asked her mom why she did not bother to offer even a little form of opposition. “Look Geetha, you chose your path all your life, you did good in all of them. True, we guided you, but you made choices, you were very stubborn, you had things your way, and it always served you good. You told me that you love him, you want to be with him; you are prepared to face the consequences, and you have good time together. It’s a little hard, but if you are sure, you would help assure us,” she said. Her father, in his usual sporty manner, allowed his child to make her own decision, a practice of his ever since both Geetha and Yuva were young.

It was that particular summer that Geetha had travelled with Amir to UK to see their so-called dream house. And then everything crumbled. They had arguments. He said he never had a relationship before because he was afraid of commitment. It was convenient for him to have a relationship from the far land, not to spend all the time together, to have that comfortable distance between each other. Not getting too personal. Geetha was the same. She was successful even at a young age, she had her dreams to pursue, and never seemed like the one who will be devoted to her loved one all the time. But deep inside, that was what she wanted. She gave in to his wooing because he had said things like she is the best thing that has ever happened to him. She felt important. It was vital because he wasn’t talking about seeing each other or keeping options open, he was talking about love. If he loves her so much, he would be worth being with, she thought. But that summer in UK she knew some men could woo all they want and never actually mean what they said. And once he urged that they should keep options open. He expressed frustration without trying to take care of her heart. She was independent in nature, but she was prepared to sacrifice things for love that she thought very few people in the world could afford to have. It was supposed to be a fairytale. She is prepared to break the borders to be with him, she was even prepared with all her conversion papers. Then one cold freezing morning, she packed her things.

She knew, after a whole week together, that a man like Amir is just as good as many men who woo her from time to time, only that those people don’t mince their words as good as Amir. She walked out of his country house, where Amir has hardly been home for the past two days. She could see everything that was wrong with the relationship- Amir never knew who he was. He never knew he was not the type of person who will stay in a country house for a whole year. He needed Geetha to find out that he isn’t as romantically inclined as he originally thought he was. “Amirul, I’m leaving,” she told him over the phone before switching it off. He wasn’t worth all those troubles she would have to go through just to be with him. Because he is just as normal as others, not a prince charming she thought he was. When she returned home, she wrote him a long letter as to why she felt she should end the relationship. She never went to UK after that.

Amir acknowledged her reasons, and three years later, got married. He came back in touch with her, wanting to be friends, claiming still that no-one saw his flaws the way she did. He expressed regret she did not bother trying to change, but rather shied away- that he would have listened. She argued that her heart should have been taken care of. He wanted her to stay around as a confidant, because she could best spot his troubles. She still does it till today. Amirul is 36, married, and has two kids. He still avoids bringing his wife whenever he sees her. Yet Geetha helps him make the most important decisions in his life.

Three years later exactly his mom had used her failed love story to convince her that arranged marriage is the way to go, because there aren’t anything special is men. His name was Rajiv, was a good-looking, reasonable-doing man. He talked well when they first met, and seemed smitten by her. But then he stopped her from attending dinner with a client. Everything was fine as long as she was the temple girl wearing elegant sarees and Indian outfits, but arguments would crop up every time she switches to her professional mode. He asked her to stay working under her mentor when she was set to start her own law firm. She was taken aback. She was persuaded into accepting his decision. Then she stood back and analysed. With minimal things in common, it wasn’t worth sacrificing her social self and her career progress to satisfy his dominant needs. Two weeks away from marriage, she called it off. His family being an influential one, did as much damage as they could by spreading an image of her as a wild spoilt woman in the eyes of other extensive relatives and known people among the traditional Indian families. Nobody was much interested in considering her as a potential bride in any of their searches. She felt like a fish that was waiting to be picked out of the pond. She was much better than that. So she swam back in, and decided she would be herself. She asked her mom not to look grooms for her anymore.

“One did not like my personality and the other, I don’t know what to say,” she said. “There is no prince charming in this world,” she added, looking at Anand. She knew the question he was about to ask. “I don’t think I can fall in love, because I’ve lost faith,” she explained. Anand knew it all depended on him now.

“Look at our differences Anand, it’s the same. I have to make adjustments to be with you, so many things will be altered. Would it be worth that? What if it turns out just to be like the others?” she asked back. Anand got a little offended by that question. “I’m not saying you are like them, but you never actually know till you are there, you knew had a relationship before,” she explained. Anand felt vulnerable. He doubted if Geetha’s words might have truth in them. But above all, he knew one thing. He would be able to alter himself if he has insecurities that harm their relationships. Insecurities are meant to be diminished, not to be cultivated. “We can talk, worse come worse,” he insisted. “You will not give up, would you?” she asked back, sighing, half-smiling. “I haven’t seen a reason why I should. You told me I might to do so after your stories, but I still don’t,” he said.

“I have to make sacrifices in order to be with you as well. And I’m prepared.”

“But I can’t take another failed relationship.”

“You won’t know until you give it a chance.”

She sighed again. He is determined to break the wall that she had so carefully built around herself. “Fine, marry me then,” she said. He was sipping coffee and coughed so loud that he messed the whole table. “See?” she said, smiling. “Just to think about marrying me gives you a shock while it should be giving you delight,” she added.

“Fine, fine, ask me again,” he retorted.

“No, it doesn’t work that way,” she began walking away from the table to the counter. He stood dumbfounded as she paid both of their bills and walked out. And then, he did something he thought he will never do, run after a woman.

“Yes, yes, I will marry you,” he said, panting.

“Oh, will you then?” she asked sarcastically, hands on hips. “You think so?” she added.

“Yes yes,” she insisted.

“Well talk to your mom first of all,” she said. “Maybe while trying to convince her why you want to marry someone 11 years older to you, you would know what you are getting into,” she said, and continued walking.

“Fine,” he said.

She looked back at him in disbelief, chuckled, smiled, and brushed him off.

“Fine,” he repeated to himself. “Very fine.”

But at the bottom of his heart, he had no clue where this whole episode is heading to.

The Rainforest Unicorns- Leaf 11

Anand sat back quietly. His fingers rolled on the sofa, and he started pinching small pieces from the protruding cotton at the old sofa, he refused to look at both Sabhi, and Karthi who just walked in and put her bag on the couch. He blinked like a small kid.

“Why? You said something big happened?” Karthi asked Sabhi. Sabhi kept starring at Anand. “He’s out of his mind, I think,” Sabhi said. “Why, what he said?” Karthi asked.

Sabhi whispered into Karthi’s ears. “What the…,” Karthi was reeling in disbelief. “Do you know how ridiculous you sound?” she asked Anand. “I know,” he said, in a mellow voice. “But you are not going to drop the idea?” she asked. “Well, I don’t think I can help it,” he said. Karthi sighed. “Us being us, I think we will be hypocrite if we discourage him,” she added, looking at Sabhi.

“But he’s not gay,” Sabhi retorted, only to stop her argument halfway, realizing the point that Karthi was trying to make. “I have to go see her people,” Anand said. “You are talking as if you have an unwanted disease. You have to or you want to? Be clear,” Karthi said.

“I want to,” he finally explained.

“Go then,” Karthi said. “Since you are very interested in dating someone 11 years elder to you, go,” Karthi made sure she emphasized the point. Though she is shocked, there isn’t much she could do about it, and at the same time, she needed Anand to realize what he is getting into before he event starts. If the age factor will become a hindrance for Anand, he might as well not take any steps at all.

“You sure you don’t want to think it over?” Sabhi asked.

“How long will I think? I won’t find answers if I think, I’ll give it a shot,” he said.

“So, let’s go,” he continued.

“Go where?” Karthi asked.

“With me, where else,” he said.

“You go,” Karthi said sternly.

“Or take Sabhi,”

“Eh, hang on here, who is the one who actually knows Geetha better among us? Take Karthi,” Sabhi said.

Anand starred at both of them, and pointed a finger out, scanning between them, as if getting ready to randomly pick one of them. “Both of you are coming,” he said. “That’s final,” he added.

Karthi tried to raise an objection, but he interfered again. “Not a request, it’s an order,” he said, before scampering off to get ready. “I’ve never seen him this excited,” Sabhi said, blinking with her big round eyes, as if starring at something with disbelief. “11 years da, 11 years!” she added, as if murmuring to herself.

Karthi sighed and slapped her hand on her forehead. “Oh My God, what are we getting into?” she was murmuring to himself. Inside the room, Anand was looking at the mirror and murmuring to himself.

All three of them stood looking at the door of the firm. They were right outside of it, yet they were not entering yet. Anand was looking at the signage. Geetha and Associates.

“She owns the damn thing?” he asked, his mouth open with agape. “Didn’t I tell you?” Karthi asked. “That’s another reason why all of this sounds so ridiculous. You own a small computer shack,” she said, without suggesting anything. “Hey, hey, it’s a shop,” he retorted. “But compared to this and her Mercedes?” she asked back. “It’s a sports-car by the way,” she added. He blinked.

“Hello, she had 11 years head start. I just graduated last year,” he argued. “I’m starting to loathe the number 11, wherever I see that number I’ll be reminded of this,” Sabhi said all of a sudden. He starred at her. “So who’s going inside?” Anand asked.

“Oh God, we are not doing this time-wasting again,” Karthi sighed, grabbed Anand’s wrists and dragged him inside.

“Hi Karthi, you came in unannounced,” Geetha greeted them with her exuberant smile. Anand felt vulnerable being so close to her. “Who’s this?” she asked. “A friend,” Karthi said curtly. “You seem to be dragging him in here,” Geetha noted. “Oh, that’s nothing,” she said, letting go of his wrists. “I’ll explain to you inside, a short meet?” Karthi asked. “Sure, I can make time,” Geetha said, and both of them disappeared into Geetha’s office as Anand stood watching.

“Nervous eh?” Sabhi stalked from behind and patted him. “Too bad she didn’t have clients, you have to face it now,” she continued patting him. “Well, I think she has one client now,” he said, looking at Geetha and Karthi seemingly pondering over papers inside the office. “She’s talking about her case, isn’t she?” he asked.

“I think so,” Sabhi said.

“What a hype,” he said and sighed, disguised as disappointment, but deep down, its relief.

Karthi came out of the office sometime later, and smiled at them. “Well, the case seems to be going on well so far…,” she said, slightly hesitating. Geetha came out of the office, and walked in an opposite direction. Anand starred at Karthi. “This is what all the grabbing was about?” he asked, and all of a sudden he went speechless.

Geetha has just nudged Karthi aside, and hands on her hips, she stood starring at Sabhi and Anand. “I don’t want to be offensive, but not only you, but you friends are weirdos too,” she asked, and walked away, without an iota of emotional disturbance. No anger, nothing. Just a statement, and she was gone.

“You told her?” Sabhi asked. Karthi, still feeling shocked at being called ‘weirdo’ by her lawyer, nodded.

“I thought if anything, she’d sound me in the office, so it should be okay. But she did it here, in front of everyone, I guess this is not okay,” Karthi said.

“You are a sweetheart,” Anand smiled at Karthi.

“I guess we know something about her now,” Sabhi said.

“Yeah, she stings,” Anand was still smiling. Sabhi leaned forward and looked right into his face.

“Yeah, when she stings, you glow right, like this?” she asked sarcastically. He did not respond.

Shortly after, Geetha left the office in a hurry as they still stood there. “You told everything about me?” he asked Karthi.

“Yup, obviously that’s why you are weirdo now,” she said.

Anand did not expect a great reaction from her, so he wasn’t surprised. It seems weirdo isn’t that bad a start considering how impossible the whole thing sounds.

A Reality without a Shadow- The unexplainable

The mist glided slowly, and the chill caught Maya unaware. She shivered all of a sudden, and felt a sheepish rush of blood in her body, a rush that also indicated the first ever traces of true fear. She closed the final page of the book. It’s 5 am. She has never been much of a reader, but for extraordinary circumstances, she has decided to become an avid reader, finishing Yuva’s novel in two days- which is quite an achievement for her. She stretched herself and laid her feet against the wall, pushed against it, in an attempt to stretch her leg. And before she knew what happened, she crushed on the floor, the last page still clutched in her palms. She yawned. “Ouuuuccch!” she yelled. Yuva came rushing out from his room. “What happened?” he asked urgently, trying to control a small giggle that appeared on his face as her saw her on the floor, having fallen down from the chair.

“Where’s the last page?” she asked, repositioning herself to sit on the floor. “It happens, leave that aside,” she brushed off Yuva’s concerns about the toppled chair, the strewn papers of his novel, and the fallen Maya herself. “Where’s the last page?” she continued her question. “Or a few pages, I mean, where is the ending part?” she said. Yuva blinked. “That’s it,” he said. “This is it?” she asked back, and repeated that question again.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said. “This is not an ending Yuva, or has the way novels changed so much since I last read a book?” she asked. “I did not write an ending,” he said. “And the last thing you read was Rapunzel,” he added, with another giggle.

“Noo! The last thing I read was the first book of Harry Potter,” she said back.

“Wow, what an improvement from Rapunzel,” he remarked. She frowned at him.

“So there was no ending?” she asked.

Yuva sat down on the floor with her. “Nope,” he said. “Why?”

Yuva could not find an answer.

“Because nothing seemed natural. It just stuck there,” he said.

“There is a flood coming, you have this saadhu who is trying to unite people to build a dam, and yet until now they haven’t built it, so the answer is simple- either they build it or not,” she said.

“We don’t have two choices, Maya, I think,” he said.

“What you mean?”

“I think the saadhu appears, and is tormenting us, because there is no happy ending in the story,” he said.

It did not make sense to both of them. They are actually pondering a possibility that a character from Yuva’s book is somehow coming alive at times and its mere presence, which correlates to Yuva’s presence in places, can kill people around them.

But they did dot disagree or brush it off. Maya did not know how else she can explain the headache she had a few days ago, and the image she saw on the mirror.

“I’m becoming more conscious of his presence of late,” he explained. “I think this is the only explanation. He is an angry character. That’s how I made him be. He will not be at peace until the dam is built.”

“Or until he dies. Even if there’s a bad ending, he will die like the rest of the characters right?” she asked.

Yuva nodded, there was a spark on his face. “Do it. Try it,” she said. There was hope and a solution, even without an explanation of what is actually going on.

Yuva became a man obsessed for the next three days. He was writing simultaneously, both a good ending and a bad ending. The tale will end. The saadhu will end. Yuva felt like he knew the saadhu so well, as if he is attempting to kill someone who resides within Yuva. And then he finished his writing and went to bed that night.

Maya however, was cautious as to what was going to happen. She stayed up that night, in heady hopes that everything will be alright, and it will be a night with no disturbances. There weren’t any. Another three days went by. The pair jubilated, celebrated. No more murders. Nothing. Maya went back to work. They did not know what happened, but at least the nightmare was over.

Maya had her smile back. Prakash enjoyed seeing the old Maya again.

And Yuva was ready for work again. He folded the sheets on his bed, and shed a couple of tears seeing the empty bed where Priyanka was supposed to be lying down. He regretted not finishing the book earlier. If only he knew the solution to a problem so big would be as simple as writing a couple more pages. He decided he will not publish the book. Or maybe he will, and dedicate it to Priyanka. He couldn’t even figure how he got the idea to write the story that he wrote.

He dressed up and looked into the mirror for a while. And he did not see himself. He saw the saadhu. There was no shock. It was not an unfamiliar face to Yuva, Yuva knew this person, he created this person through the realms of his imagination.

“You think you can kill me,” it was not a question that the Saadhu was asking. It told Yuva everything he had to know. The saadhu is not a cheap imagination. He is an imagination that has somehow been embedded into the reality. But Yuva did not remember what happened next.

When he opened his eyes, he saw Maya sighing while sitting near him. There were almost tears of despair in her eyes. “He’s back,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “How you knew?” he asked back.

“Three murders,” she said. “In this very colony we live in,” she added. He felt angry.

At that moment, it felt better if they have indeed died, because they do not have to live with this haunting mystery. If there’s nothing they can do about it, they might as well just give up. Yuva however felt responsible, since it was all his imagination.

“I’ll figure a way,” he said. “I’ll figure a way of explaining everything,” he added. Maya wasn’t confident, but now she knew the saadhu can’t be erased with a pen or anything such, he is just as real, and has to be taken seriously.

To be continued…

A Prince’s Tale- That small prince

“Let’s make ourselves as loud as possible,” The Elder Prince said, as he entertained the idea of having an intruder in the palace, who is probably trying a thief intent on stealing valuables in the palace. He has heard plenty of stories about what such thieves can do, and some of them can be very dangerous. He thought about the stories he heard, and told The Prince about how the thieves steal away hard-earned valuables even from normal people and leave the people in a lurch as their earnings are stolen without any kind of justification.

The idea was simple- make as much noise as they can possibly make to convey to the intruder that there are people in the house, and that he should leave after being aware of their presence. The thief probably has entered the palace thinking that everyone from the palace have left along with the king’s entourage, they reasoned.

But The Prince had a different urge, he wanted to thief to appear in front him, to be caught somewhere in the act, he wants to face the thief with the latter thinking that small princes can’t possibly do anything to him, and that they would be small fries, only to discover that they can, in fact, hurt him. The thief needs to learn a lesson, he thought. “We need to prepare,” The Prince said.

“We need a plan, and we need to prepare how we are going to face the situation if the thief manages to get up here and face us. The most valuables are here, so in all probability he would come here,” The Prince said. The other two princes blinked, and nodded. They could see reason and logic in his explanation; they felt that he made perfect sense. “But, how, we are just..small,” the Young Prince said. No matter if that statement made sense for the other two princes, it definitely made sense the The Prince’s case, because he was physically the smallest among all three of them, and if there was anyone who was small, it was him.

“So, we need something, something to hit him back with, something to fight with, something that will surprise him,” The Prince was continuously eager. He realized that the room which stores the palace equipments, most of the extra ones which are made but are kept in reserves, is near to the room they were in, and it wouldn’t require anyone to get down and face the thief in order to access the equipments.

The three of them rushed to the room, and began pondering over the equipments, trying to make the right choice and devise the right tactics. The Prince picked a metal rod, which is used to shape knives, swords, and shields. It was thick, and heavy. He knew, that if he could deliver one full-forced blow on the thief with this rod, especially on the thief’s head, the thief might never wake up again after that. He smiled slightly and made his choice. “I’ll beat him with this,” he said.

The Elder Prince was ahead of him in terms of devising a tactic. “Yeah, you can beat him, and I will tie him,” he said, already holding a thick rope that looks as good as any in his hands. The three of them walked back to the room, but realized they can’t rely on two weapons alone, they needed another one. “Go and take a knife, something you think is good enough,” The Prince told to the Young Prince. The Young Prince walked into the equipments room and went through whatever knives he could find. Finally, after sometime, he walked back into the room, and on his hand, he was holding an old, yet ferocious looking knife, one that butchers use to butcher meat from dead animals. “That’s how we get good meat,” The Elder Prince said. “You want to eat him?” The Elder Prince asked the Young Prince. The Young Prince starred at the knife. “But that’s a good choice,” The Prince said. He had a cynical smile on his face, so did the Elder Prince.

From then on, they waited until the moment the supposed thief would come barging up for more valuables, and face their wrath. But The Prince was getting impatient, as they could hear sounds from down below, suspicious sounds all around them- and it crossed his mind that maybe the thief is already getting what he wants from down, and might not come up afterall, and he would definitely get away with anything he’s getting from there.

He took hold of his wooden sword, and tested the edges; they are still sharp in spite of being made of wood. He carried the rod, which must have weighed at least quarter of The Prince’s own weight. He looked at the other two princes. It was almost as if they knew what he was thinking in his mind, and they nodded. Without much warming, in the deep night, The Prince descended down the stairs and disappeared into the pitch black castle.

He got down as fast as he could; the rod and the sword were giving him many problems, but he was intent on carrying on, he would see the thief anytime now, he is where the thief is, and he has to face him. But as The Prince went on searching he could not fight a thief anywhere in sight. He climbed back up, sweating. “Nowhere, nobody,” he said, panting, finally resting the rod on the stairs. The other two princes were appalled for a minute, and after that they laughed about it.

Two days later, when the other two princes have returned to their respective homes, The Prince’s palace was found burglared. The King woke up early that day and found that even before the sun greeted them, many valuables and gold kept down are now no more where they are supposed to be.

Frustrated that he could not catch the culprit earlier, whom he was sure he saw two days prior, The Prince walked past the palace gates, into the woods nearby all on his own, as the family were grieving the loss of valuables.

And as The King was starting to get worried about The Prince’s whereabouts, The Prince appeared from the jungle, having recovered three coins of gold from trailing through the forest. The King was relieved, but The Prince was disappointed that it was all he could do about the whole episode.

The thieves had committed burglary at a time when everyone was indeed in the palace. They are much more brave than he originally thought. He knew they were dangerous, and that it is not just one person. For all the rods and knives the princes carried, the thieves might have had much more than that. He stopped to think what could have happened if he had met the thief in his adventure two nights ago. He had a wry smile on his face.

The Elder Prince dropped by, patted his shoulders, and reminded the same. What would have happened? They did know, but they did know that The Prince, without much ado, went down to face the thief. He asked himself if he would do the same again given the chance. He could hear himself saying yes.

And from that moment, he stopped feeling small.

A Reality without a Shadow- When morning comes

The glass coffin was being laid off on the ground floor, as the people stood watching silently; Priyanka being the only one whose eyes weren’t open, seemingly etched in a deep peaceful sleep. The pain is not hers anymore, Yuva thought. It’s all his. But there is another problem that he needs to address as soon as possible. He turned to his right, where Maya was standing. It’s still early in the morning, the sun is just beginning to show itself, and Maya’s eyes were red due to the lack of sleep she had last night. He is unable to explain what happened last night, in fact he is unable to explain anything that has happened in the last 12 hours. His life and everything didn’t make sense anymore. It all seemed and tasted like a bad nightmare full of haunting riddles, only that he knew he wasn’t dreaming. This is all real. But that’s how he is surviving this nightmare. By convincing himself that it is all, afterall, a dream.

Priyanka’s body was place in the coffin and the funeral house workers carefully closed the coffin. Priyanka’s parents were flooded with grief, sitting by her coffin, watching their daughter motionless. Yuva needs to know. He needs to know what went wrong, whose fault it is, and everything related to it. He needs to find out, even if not for his own sake, at least for Priyanka’s sake, because she died without having the faintest idea what is causing her death.

“We’ll talk after this,” Maya patted on Yuva’s back. She knew this was not the right time to discuss what has happened last night, even though she is eager as ever to find out more about this sickening mystery that has descended their lives into a living nightmare.

Prakash was busy tending to the funeral works. It was something he didn’t have to do. But he felt like doing it for Maya, to help all three of them recover from these haunting murders, to be able to recover and finally find the culprit who is behind all this. He knew neither Maya nor Yuva would be able to do it. Yuva is broken into pieces, and Maya needs to be there by his side in order to put him back together. They needed his help. And he is more than willing to do it for them even though they never asked.

Priyanka Raj was buried that very morning, before noon came upon, at a small graveyard at the outskirts of Chennai. There were people from the film fraternity, the police force, her parents, her one-day husband, her one-day sister-in-law and few others who attended the funeral. Her death was classified as sudden death due to severe brain damage. The medical practitioners are still split as to whether she was murdered or whether there is a natural cause to her death. They do not know the murder patterns that have been happening of late. Only Yuva, Maya and Prakash were all aware of them. The funeral was an incomplete one. Yuva did not dare to face her parents as their looks itself told the story that they demand answers for her death, and that they suspect he might have done something to cause her death.

Yuva held his head down, only occasionally looking up to see her dead body. He felt as if everyone else who came to the funeral want answers, want to know this and that, and in fact many of them asked questions aplenty, but Prakash was quick to send them away under the reason that everything is being investigated and no further questions should be asked. Forensics were not allowed to see the body; none of the normal procedure took place. Prakash used all the authorities that he and Maya together possessed to make sure Priyanka is buried and not used as a specimen to aggravate the grief that they are already suffering from.

Yuva sighed, and slowly looked up. Maya was looking at him. Yuva not only felt like a suspect, but instead he felt like he was the criminal. Now the closest person to him will tell him that he indeed that the best clue as to what is actually going on.

“Maya,” Prakash said slowly, exhausted, and he strolled over in almost slow motion towards the table they were seated at. “I did some checking, and a lot of tracing,” he added, sweat pouring profusely, something that he clearly wasn’t used to being the normally elegantly dressed man that he is. He let go a sigh himself. Yuva and Maya looked at him eagerly.

“Yuva is somehow connected to all these people who died. Of course Priyanka is the closest, but that guy Pritam is the one who shot Maya a couple of years back,” Prakash said.

Yuva was looking for words. He needs to defend himself. He didn’t even know the identity of Maya’s shooter.

“I’m not accusing Yuva,” Prakash explained before Yuva would come to any conclusions. “There’s something we need to figure here. I know something happened last night as well. You need to explain to us,” he added.

What will Yuva explain, when he does not know anything?

“The figure I saw,” Maya started. “Was a bearded saint-like person, something like a saadhu, he had a stick on his hand, he had a very cynical look on his face,” she said. She was struggling to explain his appearance, but there was a glow on Yuva’s face as he spoke.

“One of the dead guys, Pritam, apparently called one of his friends before he died, and asked him whether the friend had sent any saadhu to his house to do any rituals,” Prakash said.

“And what Pritam said on the phone matches, somewhat, to what Maya has said,” he added.

Yuva looked stunned. But he wasn’t about to make a deduction.

“Then you know how the culprit looks like. Do I look like you friggin’ saint to you?” he asked.

“He went away when you woke up Yuva. And I could only see a reflection of him on the mirror. He did not exist in real,” Maya said.

Yuva felt a surge of ridiculous thoughts. He did not like it. These didn’t make sense. But it’s time he starts considering aspects that don’t make sense. They might all make sense at the end of the day.

“What color was his cloth?” he asked, after two minutes of utter silence to regain his composure.

“Orange,” both of them answered simultaneously. Yuva was exasperated. He is indeed living a nightmare.

He turned around and looked at his desk, on where he had been doing an abundance of writing work of late. Maya walked to desk, intrigued. There were a stack of papers clipped together, all written on, about a 100 pages.

On the cover, in Yuva’s scrambled handwriting, there was etched- ‘A Reality without a Shadow’.

“A Reality without a Shadow,” she said. “This is the novel you have been working on,” she added. He nodded.

“This sounds ridiculous, but that book might have some answers,” Yuva said.

All three of them were dumbstruck. This is impossible. But nothing that has happened so far seemed even remotely logical.

To be continued..

Welkam to the 1 Malaysia kultur

When I was a student, I was told that Public Relations (PR) is a subtle act of infusing people to subscribe to ideas that can benefit a certain organization. I know, it sounds so intelligent, doesn’t it? It sounds complicated, as if the most complex, far-thinking individuals on planet earth can pull off a great PR act.

Just look at all those smartly dressed PR ladies in those PR firms- or the exceptionally suited men in them. They present themselves so sophisticatedly that an organization is just supposed to roll over and say ‘makes us famous’ and they will do the rest. PR is such an intrinsic field- or so we were told. Why, even I was considered not sophisticated enough in spite of all my novel-writings not is good enough for one of Malaysia’s leading PR institutions. I was good enough to be called for an interview, but not further.

When I went out from there, all I told to myself was- look at them, they are in a different league altogether. Maybe my short stint with Microsoft’s PR wing has proved to be insufficient to have me make the cut.

But now I’m out of it. This country’s PR borderlines on stupidity at times, and hardly half of the time you see someone pulling a PR act that is so good that it takes a smart bloke to look at the larger picture and say ‘yeh, that’s a smart piece of act’.

Why, I don’t even have to illustrate examples for that matter, look at our biggest, largest, grandest PR stunt- 1 Malaysia. A drive through Brickfields ahead of the Indian premier Manmohan Singh’s visit later tomorrow will show you large banners erected with a 1 Malaysia slogan attached to it. Below there, there is a small byline, that the visit is promptly sponsored by a certain ‘1 Malaysia mamak’.

1 Malaysia mamak? What the fu..? I was peacefully crunching a couple of chickens in Kajang that day as I randomly flickered to my right and saw a certain ‘Pengurup Wang Berlesen 1 Malaysia’. The chicken didn’t taste good after that.

By the way, for those who are wondering, 1 Malaysia Mamak refers to a famous Brickfields food outlet who graciously changed their name to ‘1 Malaysia Mamak’ after Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s visit to the restaurant.

Najib visited the 150 years celebration of the Telugu heritage in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago, and all the volunteers were wearing 1 Malaysia badges. Yes, the same ones those parliament blokes come up with day in day out.

Even the forthcoming Deathly Hallows characters such as Harry Potter and Lord Voldermort can’t have this much of power- it seems every place Najib graces his feet, 1 Malaysia resounds everywhere. Spark, here, there, everywhere, Satu Malaysia is all you will hear.

And I sit there, amazed, astonished, at what PR has become. Did my parents’ tax money actually go into hiring this PR Company to come up with this PR campaign?

The country has become so fragile nowadays that we need to see 1 Malaysia everywhere, just to remind people that this is ‘one country’. It’s a mantra we need to practice, we are all the same; we are all one. Sometimes I look at a 1 Malaysia banner and I see desperation.

What are these people trying to do? Because as far as I can see it, this whole 1 Malaysia concept is actually being used as a suck-up method rather than actually serving as a tagline to underscore a harmonious community.

First of all, we have managed to co-exist for half-a-century and to come up eons later with 1 Malaysia is certainly an eyebrow-raising act. If that’s not enough- it all came up after the March 8 election tsunami.

More diverse, specific communities are coming up and using the 1 Malaysia tagline to draw attention from the country’s top brass leaders. How is this tagline inclusive if more separate diasporas come out and demand what specifically suits their needs? Are we actually narrowing down borders and widening them?

The 1 Malaysia campaign, frankly, is an oxymoron- another sophisticated word so commonly used in the sophisticated PR realm. An oxymoron is not a compliment for any PR campaign. It’s more like ‘fail’ signage etched onto it.

Anyone who embraces the campaign and harps onto it, as simple as it gets, will be embraced warmly. Those who do not subscribe to these ideas, they will be watching from the outskirts.

But even then, those who are embraced only get that 15 minutes of date with the spotlight. It’s a smash and grab job, grab all you can get, take it and leave. What we are entitled to get without as much as having to sweet-talk anyone, we now have to play suck-up in order to attain them.

Whenever I am down depressed or suffering from stress, my friend uses this one famous line if I try to deflect by saying ‘I am ok’- ‘You don’t have to tell that you are okay if you really are okay. I will know it myself if you are okay. I wouldn’t even be asking, and you wouldn’t be explaining’.

Well, I rest my case there. I think that’s what all of us are hoping for. That one day when every stage show does not have to be carefully choreographed so that the Indian-Malay-Chinese composition tallies equally with each other, when we don’t have to see people yelling ‘1 Malaysia’ anymore. The day we stop talking about multi-racial, co-existence, and incorporation, we know we are past that stage.

Once upon a time, I thought we are way past that stage. Looks like all we are doing now is hitting a brick wall, and instead of pounding to break the wall- we want to climb our way up above the wall (read the 100-storey tower, mega-buildings, new highways) before we start moving again. When will we start addressing the quintessential problem of this country- which is that- almost every aspect of life is so politicized?

The answer is I don’t know. Till then, I will be a bemused spectator, and also at times, an active participant to make the wheel turn the other way around.

And yeah, now we have Rosmah Mansor’s karaoke video.

These are times when I am an amused spectator.

But end of the day- all I ask is- like in Rosmah’s video- when will tomorrow come?

A Ram Anand rant.

A prince’s tale- Episode 3

The prince was ill. His eyes were yellow, and almost his whole body had the same color. The King and The Queen were two very worried people. They did not like the fact that their only son, whose very birth kept them together, has fallen ill not very long after arriving full of life.

The King was angry at all the nomads who supposedly knew medications, men with herbs, and women with healing powers. And it all ended when a nomad came out from bed on which the little, tiny prince was treated, and told The King- ‘your highness, the prince shall not make it’.

The King crushed into pieces upon hearing the news. He could not take it, neither could The Queen. They did not console each other, they blamed each other, when they were told that the cause for the illness is the fact that the baby was never exposed to sun enough and was kept for too long in the comforts of the kitchen, and this has made it sick when The King finally felt it was safe enough to being the Prince to the palace balcony, and hold him aloft to the crowd of people who were cheering and having the first sight of their prince.

The Queen and The King were not happy with each other’s role in the events that led to The Prince to be bedridden now. And the worst part is, for all their might of forming this small kingdom, they were unable to do anything to rectify the situation.

The King and The Queen refused to speak to each other subsequently. The palace was silent, in gloom, almost as if it has already lost The Prince. The workers could not do anything as nobody spoke to each other, as if the overwhelming silence between The King and The Queen had made them fear that any conversation even among the workers- even a crinkle of laughter that is head within the palace can upset The King or The Queen. The situation was that fragile.

And then one day a nomad came and told the two of them that the situation is irreparable, and hence The King and The Queen should consider ending The Prince’s life so that they can move on and probably have a new Prince to carry their legacy. The King did not like it, but he bowed alas. They agreed to finish The Prince’s life while the small creature was still fast asleep with his yellow eyes.

The whole palace gathered around The Prince’s bedside, as the travelling nomad held in his palms the herbs that would strike the final bow and rest The Prince once and for all. Sounds of sobbing were heard, and the nomad, with his trembling hands, proceeded to feed The Prince with the herb. And suddenly The Prince opened his eyes. It startled the nomad so much that he fell backwards, puring the herb all over himself in shock.

He wasn’t expecting the Prince to open his eyes that quickly, or was he expecting him to wake up anytime soon. His job has just gotten tougher. The King looked at him with uncertainty. Killing his baby while his eyes are still wide open doesn’t seem like a healthy proposition.

The nomad came up again and looked at the Prince. And he stopped.

“His eyes…,” the nomad started.

Everyone looked at him intently.

“They are white,” the nomad said.

“So?” The King asked.

“It is a cause for celebration, my majesty,” the nomad proclaimed. A gleeful cheer broke in the room, and the prince, nestled on the small bed frame, clapped his hands with a toothless smile seeing such jubilation around him, though he never knew for what reason.

Little did everyone know that; that particular moment has just changed history. Cheating death was just the beginning of a habit; that you shall know later in this once upon a time tale.

The Prince lived thereafter, but the yellow disease had its side effects, as his growth was slightly affected. Despite his relative small size, The Prince wielded the sword and practiced and honed his art at a very young age. He believed in greater purpose. He asked ridiculous questions. And he was smart.

The King and The Queen opted against personal tutoring. He was sent to a guru who was teaching the children of peasants, palace workers, nomads, and natives. The Prince was just one among many. And even then, he was smart. He had a hunger to be the first, a hunger for knowledge. He outsmarted everyone else; as The King and The Queen consistently stressed that he come on top in his studies. And he did. He was the first, and mostly the smartest.

The other children struggled to match up to him, and he seemed to fulfill expectations with ease.

One day, as he saw the sun setting down, he turned around and asked The Queen.

“Why was I born?”

She only ever heard mischievous ‘how I was born’ before. But he asked a completely different question.  She starred at him, not knowing how to answer. The Prince knew, there and then, that the answer was outside the palace.

The journey beckons…

A Reality without a Shadow- The shadow creeps up.

“I chased, I chased, and I chased,” Yuva said. That’s the know-how. That’s all there is to say. Maya allowed herself to direct a sly smile at Yuva as she passed by and over heard Yuva blabbering about the science of enticing Priyanka to fall in love with him to Prakash.

Maya knew there is trouble around the corner. It is just a matter of time before the media and higher authorities would come after their department for their apparent inability to trap or catch the serial killer who has been at large among the public for a considerable amount of time. No profile was ever gathered on this purported killer, and they are as clueless as the people around them are.

But today is Yuva’s day- Maya has no right to ruin his day by leveraging on these issues. “You look tense,” Prakash said as she passed by him in one of her fervent rushes up and down the stairs to prepare for the wedding. “Don’t worry too much, we have time to worry about all of that, you should just be content today,” he added in a whisper, before she continued.

Maya had done almost everything. Negating the details of the wedding; and also convincing Priyanka’s parents that Yuva is the right choice for her. She refused to be identified as his elder sister when people tried to label her as such. She was his friend, and a very good friend at that who grew up together with him. There is no reason to find a new name to their relationship just so that the general public would feel convenient in reference to it. A friend is a friend. Nothing changes.

If Yuva put so much energy in pursuing Priyanka over time, she put almost an equal amount of effort to make the wedding happen as his only representative, well-wisher and family member. “I’ll do it even better when your turn comes,” Yuva said, as she sat exasperated on the stairs, feel uncomfortable with sweat making her feel uneasy in the well-decorated, expensive saree. It is the first time in Maya’s life that she is wearing the traditional Indian outfit. “Don’t worry, I am not getting married,” she said, wiping away the little sweat that dribbled from her forehead. Yuva sat beside her, himself dressed in a decorated groom’s outfit. “Well, I think you do have a suitor,” he said. His sight was pointing in Prakash’s direction.

“Stop it,” she said and walked away. She walked away because when she thinks about it, it does seem like a good idea. Except that she is superior to Prakash in terms of rankings and she strongly believes the ego of an Indian man wouldn’t suit such a situation.

The wedding commenced and ended successfully thereafter. Maya took a few more rushed steps up the stairs and ended up with a sprained ankle, to which the doctor had advised her to an extra day or two off duty, to which Prakash duly repeated his advice- ‘The time is not ripe to worry yet. Now you deserve to rest’.

And when the night fell, all of whom were involved knew something has changed and something is changing. Unsolved mysteries tinged curiosity.

Pritam is a local mob leader, a henchmen who can gather people to throw flakes of flames into shops or the streets to create chaos, under the orders of a bigger power that be around the area. He was courted to be arrested by Yuva a couple of times when Yuva was still in the force, but slipped from his grasp. Tensions run high between those two. Maya and Prakash have been keeping tabs on him ever since.

And it was his old, cranky Nokia phone that rang that night- at around 2 am. He struggled to get up from his bed, with his fat belly making things difficult for him. “Ayye,” he grumbled, as he stuttered to recall which button should he press to answer the call. “Pritam?” it was the polite, professional voice of Prakash at the other end of the line.

“Yes,” he continued in his grumbling tone.

“There is a word on the street. One big bhaiyya has been going around, killing people at his own whimsical wheel. And obviously the bhaiyya’s ways of doing it is so smart we don’t even know how he does it,” Prakash said. Pritam did not say anything. He knew he is speaking to a  police officer. An introduction is not necessary.

“Bhai, I don’t involve in killing people,” Pritam said.

“I know, we are not fools to call you if we suspect it’s you who are doing it, wouldn’t we?” Prakash retorted.

“I want possible names.”

“At this time? Are you for real?” Pritam asked.

“I want names Pritam bhai,” he continued sternly.

“Tell me the full story first,” Pritam demanded.

“Someone’s doing it smart, bhai. No external damage. The person just falls off and dies, holding the head,” Prakash said. Pritam rubbed his eyes to make sure they are wide open.

As Prakash was busy probing into the issue at his home, Maya massaged her ankle, looking solemnly over the view at her balcony. She needs to make a decision- she needs to move out. She needs to allow Yuva and Priyanka to have the privacy that they deserve as new couples.

Priyanka couldn’t sleep. For all her pessimism about finding the right guy, she is right here, sleeping beside the man that made her feel treasured for the first time in her life. She kept her eyes open, running her finger on Yuva’s nose as he was fast asleep, almost on the brink of snoring.

“Bhai, I never head of something like this before,” Pritam said, now wide awake, as a stern, interrogating conversation meandered into a personal conversation. Prakash was yawning, as he received a message in his other phone.

“I don’t know anyone who can do things like this, I swear,” Pritam insisted.

Maya continued glancing at the moon outside, when she heard a shuffle at Yuva room’s door. She turned around, and blinked. She was taken aback by the sound, but she remained in her seat, not doing anything.

“Shit!” Prakash said, upon reading the message. “Got to go,” he blabbered off to Pritam and ended the call.

“Amazing stuff,” Pritam whispered to himself once Prakash ended the call.

Maya heard the noise again, and she shuddered. It seemed to have gone up a notch. She walked to the door, and knocked it.

“Yuva, slow it down,” she said, almost feeling embarrassed about the whole episode. The door, the traditional wood types which opens like a gate, was now slanting rather untowardly towards Maya. She tried pushing it back so that it will be straight, but to no avail.

She realized the door is on the verge of opening up from the inside. She gave it a slight nudge and it parted ways.

Lying on the ground, perched against the door was Priyanka. Yuva was seated on the bed, shirtless, panting, but looking blur as if he could not comprehend what had happened.

Maya placed her fingers over Priyanka’s nose, and checked her pulse. Maya stopped bending down and just sat down on the floor. Priyanka’s dead. She looked up to Yuva in a perplexed manner.

The story begins after this