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Excerpts: The Boy from Pataliputra by Rahul Mitra

Front CoverHunting

Aditya led the way and Pandi followed; eyes and ears peeled for signs of danger. Thick, green foliage crowded in from all sides as ancient trees of peepal and banyan towered above them. They were in the dense sub-tropical forests outside Takshashila.

Crisp, early morning freshness hung in the air  and the indescribable scents of wood, moss, flowers, mud, and wet leaves mingled in Aditya’s nostrils. He inhaled deeply of the cool forest air and shivered with excitement. All around them, the forest was alive, reverberating to the chirping of birds, the shrill cries of peacocks, and the chattering of monkeys.

Not a word was spoken. Now and again, Aditya pointed out something interesting to Pandi, who grinned with delight and then nodded for them to continue. Deeper and deeper into the jungle they went, till finally, Aditya held up his hand and got down on all fours. Pandi nodded. He too, went into a low crouch as they slowly crept forward.

They had come to the edge of a ravine. From here, the  rocky  land  sloped  steeply  down. Odd-looking stunted bushes and trees, curving into the most fantastic shapes, grew along the sides of the ravine, disappearing into pitch darkness at the bottom.

Both held absolutely still, straining all their senses, running their gaze over the bushes, rocks, and trees growing along both sides and staring deep into the distance, over the edge of the ravine opposite. Finally, deciding that all was well, they made their way down the treacherous slope to the bottom.

At the bottom it was dark, cool, and silent. Far above them, they saw the skyline, a patch of blue sky framed by dark rock walls, and the silhouettes of trees. On the ground, tangled bushes and rocks gave way to clear, muddy land, through which flowed a thin trickle of water. A dead tree lay right next to this water channel, its trunk half-submerged in mud and its white, lifeless branches sticking out awkwardly. Aditya squatted down beside the tree and pointed to something in the mud.

There, in the soft clay on one side of the tree, could be seen the paw prints of a tigress and her three cubs. They had emerged from the brush, and then crossing the nala, had followed its course for some time.

“It is two days old, at least,” Aditya whispered, pointing to one of the tigress’s pugmarks. The sides were already crumbling, and ants traversed all along the depression. With a jerk, he stood up, “We should get out of here.”

Pandi nodded. It was dark and cramped, the perfect place to be ambushed by a tiger. He gripped his javelin tightly in both hands and they made their way up the opposite bank of the ravine in silence.

On the other side, the forest was less dense. Stray sunbeams pierced through the forest canopy, lighting up dust particles and insects swirling in the air, and creating a mosaic of light and shade on the forest floor.

Through the trees, they could make out an open glade, which was covered in waist-high grass that had been burnt yellow by the sun. Here and there, a number of bushes and small trees stood out, breaking the monotony. As they crept slowly up to this clearing, Pandi now squeezed Aditya’s shoulder in glee. They were in luck.

A herd of cheetal was browsing contentedly near the opposite end of the clearing. Aditya picked up a pinch of dust, and lifting it to eye level, he let it go to see which way the dust would blow. They circled over to their left. The wind, little as it was, was blowing into their faces now. Rather than take their scent to the animals, it would do the opposite.

Aditya signalled with his fingers. There were twenty-five in all, including seven young ones. Pandi gestured towards one of the bigger ones, which had its back towards them, and strung his bow with one of the heavier arrows.

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Excerpts: Dvarca by Madhav Mathur

2-dvarca-cover

Chicken & Egg

Jyoti was fast asleep in their bedroom. Baba was out for his night-shift and the children lay still, contorted and bent away from each other like the hands of a clock. It was ten- to-five. Gandharva shut Mira’s mouth and stopped Nakul from sucking his thumb. He watched them for a moment, before carrying on.

He didn’t want to risk waking Jyoti by using the toilet attached to their room and decided to use the small common toilet next to the kitchen to clean up. Rain had found a way to bounce off the window-shutters and wet everything from the lights to the floor. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was still wrapped in the foul-smelling cloth from the street. It had saved his life. He took it off and flipped it around to fold it away. His face went deathly pale when he saw the other side of his new found vestment. Something was written on the cloth. He leaned in close and read the words. They looked like scratches after a desperate fight.

‘WHAT CAME FIRST? POLITICS OR RELIGION?’

How could he have been so careless? How did he end up with a cloth that clearly came from the pariahs? He crumpled it into a ball. He panicked and splashed his face with water to make sure it wasn’t some sort of lurid Vision. Had he been seen with it? Would they believe that he had nothing to do with it?

He tried to wash off the unholy letters but they were stitched on. He looked around frantically for a way to get rid of the cloth. He could not burn it on the stove, all gas supplies were switched off after 10:00 p.m. for energy conservation. He could not carry it out and throw it away; it was too risky. He tried to flush the ball down the toilet, but it was too big. There was nothing in the bathroom of use, just some of Baba’s toiletries.

Gandharva rushed out to the kitchen and found one of Jyoti’s scissors. He hurtled back into the bathroom and pulled the door shut. He lowered the toilet seat-cover and sat down to cut the cloth into smaller pieces. The scissors had thick, blunt blades. He made some headway with them and then decided to rip the cloth with his hands. He was no Nakul or Arjun, but he tried his best.

“DETECTION: ELEVATION IN VITAL RATES. PLEASE REPORT.”

The veins of his forehead popped out like new hill ranges after a deep seismic disturbance. He quickly responded with the first thing that came to his flustered mind.

“Stomach upset. Recovering.”

He sat atop the commode with the stinking shawl in his hands. There were words stitched all over it. Some portions of the writing were illegible because of the indelible grease stains. He read a sentence.

‘YOU’VE FALLEN FOR THE OLDEST TRICK. THEY KNOW WHAT YOU WILL DO, BEFORE YOU DO IT. THEY’VE DRAWN LINES IN THE SKY AND LINES IN THE SAND, TO MARK GOD AND COUNTRY.’

Who were they addressing? Who was speaking? Why?

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Book Review: The Jeera Packer by Prashant Yadav

By Manisha Lakhe

jeera-packerThe Great Indian Publishing Machine has been churning out Indian writing in English for years now. Most of it is culture-apologetic, where authors explain how idlis are “steamed rice dumplings”, and other “literary” novels are plain pretentious pomposity where the authors suffer from a colonial hangover, write paragraph after convoluted paragraph to show how clever Indians can be in writing a “foreign” language. But when you come across a story that casually embraces the English language to tell the story from gun country, which is completely Hindi centric, is a rare thing of joy.

The author Prashant Yadav is not just telling us a story in The Jeera Packer, he is telling it with love. Love for the language as well as for the characters.

“The car moved as slow as the thoughts in the professor’s head” followed by: “Why would he and his son be thrashed with chappals and thrown into jail?”

No apologies for using Indian colloquial English where people do tend to put “me” first as in Hindi (“main aur meri tanhaai” as an example). But you forget this and enjoy sentences that describe the traffic jams you have experienced in person.

The immediacy of the events in the book is remarkable. The author takes you to wherever the characters are. In the car with the “lal batti”, inside the politician’s den, and even to the workshop where the Bullet is treated like god.

If you’ve met a motorbike aficionado, or are one, you will love everything about the Bullet in the book. Not just Abdul and his passion, his philosophy (the motorbike lads don’t just drive with passion, but live the philosophy unique to each rider, and the author seems to knows that), but also how graciously the protagonist teaches his son to ride his Bullet when he realises that he may be going out in flames. The son Abhishek has to walk back with the bike… If you have ever attempted to ride that Bullet, that God of a bike, then you’d have complete sympathy with the son, who has to walk the beast back because it just won’t start for novices…

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