Monday, March 30, 2015

He Fixed The Match She Fixed Him by Shikha Kumar

Name of the Book : He Fixed The Match She Fixed Him
Author: Shikha Kumar
Check the synopsis @ Goodreads
Buy at @ Amazon.com
Disclaimer: I got this book to review from The Author.

Are marriages made in heaven?
Everytime a girl is born, the first thought that crosses a mother's mind is that will she get married or will she be happy after marriage? Sandhya and Mahesh thought the same thing when Shreya was born. But Shreya had a past and even with her educational background they could not find a groom for her.

Marriage – the all and end all of our society.
So when one day out of the blue, the Kholis  get a call from the Kharbandas, asking for Shreya's hand in marriage – there was no dearth of happiness in Shreya's household.

Girls as a commodity.
Recently, I was watching some old flick in the Netflix, when a blind girl was asked to sing and dance in front of the prospective groom and his parents, I felt like banging my head on the TV. But that would have been a bit expensive, so I satisfied myself by switching off the television. So  I was dreading the scene, when the girl was supposed to meet the boy, But, the treatment of this whole boy-meets-girl was done with great respect and never was the girl put up as a commodity. As a reader and a woman I appreciate that.

When past overshadows the present.
Both Shreya and Kunal had a past. A past which was intermingled and had created a very unusual present for them. It is here, where as the reader I started getting lost. To give the writer her due credit, I must say she has beautifully woven the past and present. But there is one major flaw in the story. Even when Shreya comes to know what Kunal was all about – why did she keep her mouth shut? Was she going through a Pati Parameswaran syndrome? And even if she is, why did not Kunal realize it even once that he is the one who had started the game? Shreya has not been portrayed as a village belle. Highly educated and very well-developed business acumen endowed personality should not be given this characteristic trait where she tolerates every nonsense metted out to her by a husband.

Is love this blind?
There was one part in the story, a very small part, when the guy asks the girl to undergo an eye surgery so that she doesn't have to wear specs again. In fact, he is very insistent about it and in many places, in the story, the appearance of the girl has been given a different shade of importance. I can understand the parents being worried that the guy might reject her on the basis of her looks. I can even understand a guy quietly pointing out that he does not like his wife wearing spectacles but what I cannot understand was when a highly educated girl accepts this condition meekly and even undergoes the surgery. What did I miss here? Isn't our society past this stage? If the author, would have slightly shifted away from physical beauty concept I would have given the story of five-star.

Sizzling chemistry.
The passion and the chemistry between Shreya and Kunal is palpable. Everytime they met, you could feel the vibrancy in the story. One can truly say that this was the USP of this novel. Whenever Shreya droned on the persona of a bussinesswoman, she presented what Indian women aspire for but at home she was a total Suraj Barjatiya heroine. 

Rating 
Reasoning

1. Scenes like her figure being good for she is doing Yoga has been repeated many a times. 
"She was wearing a light green sari of net fabric: she had realised that her curves were in good shape, thanks to Yoga."
2. The feminist in me was really furious at the number of times Shreya meekly accepts whatever Kunal did to her on one hand and on the other she was a force to reckon with in the office. 

3. Most of the characters are very well etched and even though the last four chapters stretched out in front of me and could have been condensed into a much shorter version, still it makes very interesting read. I feel the author has really justified the true meaning of marriage through Shreya's mom, Sandhya. Sandhya had every right to be furious. I just wish this thought process was of Shreya's rather than her moms. Then it would have made Shreya a complete woman.

Would I recommend this book?
Most definitely. In fact I would love to read more from this author for she really knows how to spin a tale.Many parts of this book is unputdownable.

The saying that stayed with me.
"Then she remembered another saying: 'when someone is determined to trouble you, make sure the troublemaker learns what trouble really means.'"

Foreward for A-Z: Hidden Stories In Mythology Around The World


The word 'mytho' comes from the Greek word 'mythos' meaning legend and stories. Many of us wonder whether there is some sustainability to it. How much is true and how much is made up?


But mythology is not a collection of lies but a collection of truth. These stories gave every culture a way of life. A way of living in a society following certain norms and regulations. What would have happened if we knew Gita as a set of rules and regulations? Man by nature is a social animal as proven by Aristotle. So he can't survive only on rules and regulations. He needs to know what would happen if one broke those rules. He needs to know about fear and consequences.

Mythology is very complex for the stories need to be explained rather than just narrated. According to Luc Ferry In his book, 'The Wisdom of Myth', mythology is the core of ancient wisdom. Some facts about mythology are:

The oldest living mythology is that of the Australian Aborigines. The stories of diverse culture stretches back to 40,000 years.


Most of the mythological stories tell us how the creator emerged from a cosmic egg or primordial ocean.

Ancestors play an important role in the world of mytho.

Not all content worshipped God but rather challenged them. So, mythology does not make you blindly follow of a faith rather questioned them.


Mythos are passed as storytelling, not word by word, like laws but through rituals, dances, drama as artwork.

Mythologies have always been of focus of all religion for the talk of the unknown, of life after death has always facinated mankind.

In my A to Z journey in the month of April, I would like to explore stories that have been initiated in the pages of storytelling. Most of them were characters that have played an important part in a big event – but have never been given the importance of a protagonist. Lost in history, but not forgotten.




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Secret From My Closet

A shameful secret ? 
It was staring at my face. Small and yellow, lying sedately on the counter top. For a moment, I pitied it. The poor thing didn't know what fate awaited him. I can do it – I hardened my heart against it.

This was for my love. I had promised him that it will be done before he got home. Taking a deep breath, I reached out for the knife, my fingers quivering at the very thought of slashing it across the thing. But, it had to be done or I had to face the shame and that I was not ready for. This was my failure and I had to overcome it. How could I blame them for not knowing my past? How could I blame him for accepting me with my past? If my in-laws ever came to know about it, I would be ridiculed. If our friends came to know about it, he would be mocked at. No, certainly not. I will not let my newly found happiness be ruined by my past.

With great determination, I picked up the knife and did not stop to think even once as I slashed it across the thing. A white, curly thing crept out. Everyone wanted this? All the hullabaloo, the waiting was for this? Inside the thing, was another small thing. More brilliant and more forbidding. So I had to slash it too? By now,  the gnawing anticipation had made me reckless. I did not think further, slashed it up and screamed. It was gooey. I kept on staring at the cut up, spread out things in front of me. Now for the final battle was to start. I picked up 'curly' and 'gooey' and immersed them into the water kept in a pan on top of the gas. And I waited.... And waited.... And waited.

One minute, two minutes…

Nothing happened. Everyone had told me that it would be over in two minutes. Feeling furious, I stabbed the knife into the curly things. They sank deeper into oblivion under the brownish  water.
I stood wondering what to do, should I go and bury it somewhere in the garden so that no one ever comes to know about it or should I go out and confess and take responsibility for my actions.

It was just at that moment, God sent me his angel.

My sister-in-law walked into the kitchen, threw me an exasperated look and turned on the knob of the gas. I watched in awe as those curly things, uncurled before me, mated with the floating powders inside the blanket of gooey water and turned into a beautiful plate of Maggie. :P

oh well, it was a new concept then. 



Monday, March 23, 2015

Twisted by Lola Smirnova

Name of the Book : Twisted
Author: Iola Smirnov
Check the synopsis @ Goodreads
Buy at @ Amazon.com

Disclaimer: I got this book to review from Book Publicity Services

Statutory Warning
Before you read this review, please proceed with the understanding that this book is not for those who shy away from violence and sex. I don't review books which have erotic content in it. I have made an exception here out of choice.

Poverty
Is money a very decisive factor in our lives? Sitting in our own cocoons we cannot nod our heads sagely and look down upon those who beg to differ. The first thing that strikes me about this story was the background in which it was written. The author has declared that this story has been inspired by real-life events. Someone who has seen sex trade by being a part of it. My curiosity was piqued by this bold statement for watching about it in the movies as to why a woman enters sex trade or why a man becomes an animal enough to degrade women to such an extent. This story is set in the 90s when Soviet Ukraine was going through a devastating depression due to its flattering economy. It was during this time, when three sisters,Natalia, Lena and Julia were forced to go to Luxembourg, Western Europe to make some quick money. 

Fateline
Each one of us are born under different stars. While one sister was a strong one and could mange to come out of it with dignity, the second one was one of those who fell in love easily, got hurt easily and recovered easily. The story concentrates on the third sister Julia. As a character, I found Julia very contradictory. Her vulnerability was in constant battle with her sense of independence. It was definitely not good for her. As a reviewer, I don't want to judge the morality of her behaviour but the way the author has portrayed Julia's behaviour and the direct consequence her actions had on her life has some tear jerking moments.

I'm not apologising
Not one instance shows Julia as one who is sorry for choosing this path. She is drugged, abused, raped and betrayed. But after each incident she feels surprised and this is what surprises me. Did she not expect all these things to happen to her the moment she set her life into this path? Feminists out there may question me regarding my supporting a man for doing the things he does to Julia. I am not. In fact. I don't want to talk about any man featured in this story for they all come out like animals.

To quote Julia on her non-apologetic actions: 
"The only paradox that can't stop stirring in my head is why on earth am I so morally comfortable with what I'm doing? I do not feel ashamed or dirty because I'm a pro."

Brashness
But then only those who can pocket the morality and can walk on this path has to have a part of the mind or heart locked up – not to be seen by strangers or even one's own conscious. It is only when we question if actions are good or bad, then only the fear of the "society" comes into our heart. But Julia was very clear when she had stepped into this world.

"What's more, this trade wouldn't be my first choice if there were other well-paid jobs available. Trust me, if teachers earned the same as sex traders, I would not hesitate to change my clientele from adults to the under aged."


With this attitude, who would have thought that she would have landed – where she ultimately lands.

Philosophies
Julia has never been portrayed as the weak, brainless character. She always knew where she was going and what she was doing. Yet some of the incidents she lands into, I keep on wondering as a woman, how she could not have seen it. How could she not understand that she was going to land up in danger or she was being cheated? Some of those moments are very heart-wrenching.

For the Bold
As I have already said, this book is not for those who are not comfortable with explicit sex scenes. But if you can wade through that you will find a story full of courage, coming of age and most of all f understand what happens when a person is unable to differentiate between the right and the wrong how members of the family stick together to support and guide the person towards light. The role the sisters played in Julia's life left me stunned Were they for real? Guiding her towards sex-trade and then bringing her out of it. It left me amazed at the bonding the sisters had. 

Rating
Reasoning
If it has to be based on morality I would have given it a one star. The girls were not pushed .. they made a choice. But this is a story which was told with a lot of elan and boldness and as a writer I can appreciate that. But some details were unnecessary. They made me want to throw up. Was it really needed .. not once but twice? Was it done for the effect to shock the reader? I understand the pain.. but it was a choice made by Julia.. so can I as a reader also have the same choice. Not read those puking parts? It was suddenly slammed on my face and believe me I had some tough time even to eat that day. Not fair on me.

Would I recommend it:
For those who have not read this kind of book, I would suggest stay away since there are some very puking moments in this one. But If you want to read about a real life story of a sex trade worker and anyone really can tell you a tale as it is then only it can be one who has seen it all. It takes guts and courage and as a reader I can respect that. As a woman all I can say is this book will give you some food for thought - to appreciate your own life. 

Line that stayed with me...

"I guess now I know that there is only one thing that can be worse than death, and that is to wait for it – the absolute certainty that your life is over while you're still breathing."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Paying Guest




Today would be different. She knew it in her heart. Their new paying guest was coming any moment. Harjinder felt an excitement building inside her. Her mind was at a tandem with her heart. While the former mocked at the naivety of depending on a stranger, her heart felt a strange joy. Things will work out now for the better. She just knew it. She smiled at the promise of a beautiful day and slowly got up, careful not to put pressure on her swollen legs.

Her body felt heavy. But that was to be expected- the last 2 trimester had not been easy. The baby kicked inside her. Little devil. Knocking her mother off even before she became a tangible being! Harjinder lovingly patted her baby bump and then waddled downstairs. This time, the swelling on her feet was more than her previous pregnancies.

The hot water bubbled in a pan on the gas top as she cleared away the dishes cluttered in the sink. Michael aka Mahindra Singh, her husband, was very particular about cleanliness. Too particular in fact. Harjinder, was from a small village in Punjab and didn’t know any other way of life. Looking after her home and her husband- and in that order, kept her tied to the house. She hardly ventured out and much to the curiosity of her neighbors, she never spoke to any of the ladies in the neighborhood. No one found it strange. For often, Indian girls would shy away from the British ladies, till they did not grasp the language. So no one bothered her for there was hardly any Indian families in the vicinity. 

But she felt happy today. Someone new was coming over. A new face might be the augmentation of a new beginning. She wondered if Michael would like this new paying guest. She fervently hoped he would.

Just then, the calling bell rang. Nervously, she wiped her hands on her apron and went to open the door. A slim girl in her twenties stepped in with a bright smile on her face.

"Hi! I'm Rewa."

"Yes,  yes. I was expecting you. Do come in.”

Rewa stepped inside a brightly lit living room shutting the main door behind her.

*************
 Rewa fell in love with the bright, sunny room. The rays filtering through the lacy curtains kissed her cheeks and the breeze assailed her senses with a floral scent. She walked up to the window and was surprised at the pandemonium of hibiscus the garden below boasted of.

Dinner brought out many memories of home. Her mom’s pickle and a pleasant company to chat with while munching the home made methi ka paratha. Life in the Uk did deprive one from their mom’s cooking and the daily rib-tickling jokes of the siblings. As the two ladies were warming up, a young man walked in, in a white driver’s uniform. Rewa instantly warmed up to those twinkling eyes as Harjinder introduced him as Micheal, her husband. 

As Rewa merged into Harjinder’s and Micheal’s family life, she too had not expected certain things to change in her life. Every day Harjinder took very good care of her. She washed Rewa’s clothes, changed her bedsheets when Rewa was in the office and every night Rewa returned, Harjinder had piping, hot dinner ready for her. Rewa protested. But Harjinder would just smile and ignore her. Rewa soon gave up, albeit with a feeling of guilt, as she accepted being pampered by a pregnant lady.

Life would have continued like that had she not got a transfer to Nottingham. She had been waiting for this position for a long time, so she couldn’t not refuse. But, she had not expected such an unusual reaction from Harjinder. Her landlady couldn’t stop her tears. Her pleas were heartwenching as she begged Rewa not to go.

"But why Harjinder?" Rewa asked, confused by the reaction. "I'll come over every six months and visit you.”

"It won't be the same Rewa," Harjinder's voice quivered, her eyes reflecting an ocean of sadness. But Rewa had a career to think of and with a heavy heart, she let Michael drop her to the airport. 

A very glum Michael.

 "I’m really sorry to see you go! You did bring out the best in me.You were like the sister I never had. But now…"

"What Michael bhai, even you are making me emotional," Rewa said, a small lump in her throat. She hardened her heart against the desolate frame as he stood near his taxi, waving her goodbye. Rewa felt a bit puzzled as she caught something peculiar on his face. A strange fear veiled behind the charming smile. 

**************
Six months later. 

Rewa came back to her head office at Maidenhead. She tried calling Harjinder but after the first call, she never picked up the phone. Rewa thought that it might be “out of sight and out of mind syndrome”. 

But one Sunday, curiosity got better of her. She hired a car and drove over to Harjinder’s house. The same neatly, trimmed hibiscus bushes surrounded the house. Colorful blooms of varied colors dotted the courtyard. After a moment’s hesitation, she rang the bell.

Harjinder, pale and tall stood before her, blocking her entry. "Yes?"

"Harjinder? Don't you remember me?" Rewa asked, shocked at the ghostly, pale face of her dear friend.

"What do you want now?"

Rewa was shocked at her rudeness. "What's wrong?" She whispered, too surprised to ask anything else.

"Nothing, please leave."

Before Rewa could comply, Michael drove up. Seeing him, Harjinder turned around and went back inside her house. At least Michael looked pleased to see Rewa. "Sister, you’re back!"

Rewa gave him a weak smile, too embarrassed to pretend otherwise. "It's okay, Michael bhai. We'll meet some other time” She walked past him but then stopped, “how’s the baby?”

"We’ve lost it!" Michael said quietly, his lips –curved into a painful smile, touched Rewa’s heart. He turned and walked away but not before Rewa saw a sliver of tear trailing down his cheeks.

Rewa drove aimlessly, her mind in turmoil. How could the months she had spent with Harjinder be a myth? The summer sun was still high, as Rewa again parked in front of Harjinder’s house again. She would have driven away, had not the door burst open and Harjinder rushed out, wearing a flimsy gown which accentuated her waif life appearance She ran wildly, uncaring, unseeing –her long tresses flying wildly behind her. Rewa rushed towards her yelling her name. She managed to catch up with Harjinder and spun around. Traces of blood, mingled with tears as she looked wildly at Rewa, not recognizing her.

"What is happening here, Harjinder?" Rewa screamed, not caring if the neighbors were disturbed.
It took a few shakes from Rewa before Harjinder’s eyes focused on her. She broke down into loud sobs.

"Wh…y do y…ou care? You le…ft me with thi..s mon….ster." 

"Michael bhai? A monster?"

Harjinder slumped on the pavement. Rewa sat down beside her, her legs were shaking at the enormity of the situation she was forced to be a part of.

"Your Michael bhai is a monster. No one guesses it, for he shows only his charming personality to everyone. In fact, he is obsessed by the idea that people should only see him as a good person. But, when we're alone, he drinks a lot and then he changes. He cannot even be reasoned with when he starts hitting. Four miscarriages and still his abusiveness continues.”

Rewa was shocked. "But why are you angry with me?"

"Because you left me." Harjinder said quietly, her sobs subsided to mere hiccups. "He is well-behaved when we have paying guests. If you had stayed a few months longer, it might have saved my baby."

That night in Rewa's diary:

21st of June, 2010
How can I recognize people? Who would have thought that the charming Michael is a monster? Harjinder belongs to a small village in Punjab. Her parents had dreams of marrying her to an NRI. Wasn't the dream itself wrong? Or will Harjinder’s babies be always like a Hibiscus flower. Blooming only for a day?






Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Breach by Amrita Chowdhury

Review

Acel, a pharmaceutical company, has come out with a new wonder drug, Colare, that would cure last stage  metastatic pancreatic cancer. Here Amrita Chowdhury has introduced a glimpse of outsourcing and how much the Indian companies have to be on their toes to meet up with the prejudices and angst of their American counterparts. Andrew Rudd, the Head of Research at Acel Biosciences,  had a major peeve against Uday Vir Dhingra - the young leader in the Indian division. So it was on Vir's shoulder not only to prove them wrong but also to shoulder the pressure of introducing the new drug into the Indian market. 

And just as things were gaining momentum, a few weeks before the The US patents application was being filed, a hacker had infiltrated their system in the Indian branch.The story takes us in a journey along with Vir as he struggles to balance his professional and personal life.

Weaving Information Into The Story
Crime Thrillers are a difficult genre to write in. Especially cyber crimes. Not only should you be well researched, but you also have to weave the research material into the story. A very difficult thing to do. Few writers like Robin Cook have done a fabulous job by weaving medical terminologies into a story. 

Have cyber crimes writers achieved the same feat? 
This is one question that has been nagging me for a long time. Hacking, Denial of Service Attack, Easter Egg, Phishing, Spam Viruses or simple Email hooks have always interested me. No I am not a hacker. As Amrita says even with all her research she could not hack her child's IPhone, I too am sailing in the same boat :D 
The Book starts with a lot of info about the world of hacking, introducing the characters and various scenes from all over the world. So by the time I could settle in Maryland, I was boarding a flight to China. So while I did feel the novel was fast paced, but injecting 'bytes' of information in every page slowed me down. And I so wanted to catch the hacker. :P

Romance in the Cyber world
There are two parallel romances taking place but strangely the romance which stayed with me was not the two main romances but  a third one. That of the Sandman. I could feel his loneliness and need to be appreciated and loved. the way Ms. Chowdhury has drawn the world of a lonely man using very few words, is commendable. Though this was not the focus of the story, it did carve a place for itself. 

Emotional Turmoils
Emotions play a subtle role in this story. The corporate world with all its dangers is shown as a 'no personal life zone'.Yet, the way a son cries for his dying mom or the growing tensions between two lovers that is showcased in between adds a soft padding this story required. Or it would have been a Dummies for Hacker series.

A few Loose ends
The love story of Vir and Diti needs a more passionate ending. Leaving it our imagination was not fair :D In fact, both the romances did not seem to have reached its destination at all. Whether it was intentional or not I have no clue; but as a reader I certainly would like to see all the ends neatly tied up. 

The Guessing Game
The biggest USP of a crime thriller is its 'whodunnit' game. I love playing this game and sometimes I do get a thrill of guessing it earlier than the author intended me to find out. I won.

....to be fair, I peaked into the last page. :P

My Love in This story
Hold your breath .. not the HERO.. but Sandman. Was it because his emotions were naked, volatile and one could easily see this passionate disposition? Or was it because suave Vir was more into hiding his feelings? 

And Another ..
Madhu. I personally felt the author has let go of her emotions when she wrote about Sandman and Madhu. I really wish she had done the same with Diti and Vir. 

Editing
A few misses. But can be ignored. They don't affect the flow of the story nor make a reader become a grammar Nazi. 

Rating 
Reasoning 

1. Too much information at the beginning. I was totally caught up in the second half of the story. But before that I had to wade through many oft repeated information. 

For eg. 
Pg.2 : A wonder drug to cure late-stage metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Pg 18:  For the first time in the history of Acel, it was doing multi country research for his new dream drug for treating late-stage and metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Page 38: Colare, the latest wonder product in Acel's stable of biotech solutions,was about to be launched. 

2. Emotions take a backseat against the plot. I was almost cheering for the hacker. Though Vir was the tensed one, his emotions are over shadowed by the stories of the hackers. 

3. There are many small stories in this novel, woven together to make the characters reach the same spot. A Jodi Picoult/ Sidney Sheldon/ Harold Robbins Kind. But the weaving here could have been a bit more subtle. I wanted to know the characters better before I was pushed into another scene. 

As I end my review here with the writer's very words..'Knowledge was power, Power was responsibility.'I must comment on the impeccable research done my Ms. Chowdhury. She has shown hacking in all its glory and yet not glorified it. That that is exactly what makes this story so interesting.

A Touch of Humor keeps a reader smiling :)

Sunny Singh, Proprietor
Jasoos Detective Agency Private Limited. 

Would I recommend this? Most Definitely. This book clearly shows how our Indian readers and writers are entering Cyber Thrillers. This might be Ms.Chowdhury's first cyber crime thriller but she is definitely on her way in mastering it. A must read.




Breach 
by 
Amrita Chowdhury



The Blurb


How secure are your secrets in the virtual world?  Weeks before pharma-giant Acel is ready to file a global patent application for cancer wonder-drug Colare, its offshore data centre in Mumbai is hacked. The charismatic, young leader of its Indian business, Dr Udai Vir Dhingra, finds himself being blamed for negligence and breach of security. Battling market pressures, media scrutiny, livid American bosses and crumbling relationships, Vir must find the perpetrators, or see his career – and his life – spiral downwards. But the deeper he gets dragged into the shadowy world of masked online identities and muddied digital footprints, the more Vir discovers that nothing is easy or obvious, and everything has a price. Set across Mumbai, Washington and Guangzhou, Breach is a compelling and edgy cyber thriller that explores the dark and dangerous underbelly of our increasingly virtual existence


Buy @



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Meet the Author






Amrita Verma Chowdhury is the author of Faking It, an art crime thriller about fake modern and contemporary Indian art.
She holds engineering degrees from IIT Kanpur and UC Berkeley, where she was a Jane Lewis Fellow, and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon (Tepper Business School). Her work as an engineer in Silicon Valley led to seven US patents for semi-conductor fabrication – something to show for those bad-haired days. She has done Strategy Consulting and Board Effectiveness work in the US and Australia and has spent long nights fitting five-syllable words inside two-by-two squares. She has worked in the rarefied bastions of Ivy League education bringing together ideas and people. She currently works in publishing.
She lives in Mumbai with her husband Sumit, their two children Shoumik and Aishani, and an assortment of pets including a cocker spaniel, a guinea pig and two turtles. She loves travelling, baking cupcakes with her daughter and hearing from her readers.



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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #74



Manimal .. or should I call it Womanimal. Her jaws were closed for she was visiting the kids in the school. Her name is Baby. My first physcial encounter with an Alligator.  I felt so brave. No the woman in the pic is not me. That is her keeper. The woman hiding behind the pillar is me.. you can't see  me.
Linking this post to Abracabadra' Wordless Wednesday.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dance While You Can

Picture Prompt #2 The Book Club 
“I don’t want to go,” Serena blurted out. 

Merchant looked at her calmly, his face having the same expression as that of a lion watching a deer. Both knew he would get what he wanted in the end. He was not in a hurry and the glacial looks in his eyes was making her nervous. 

“Darling, I’m too tired.” 

She just wanted to go home and find some solitude. The past few years have been rigorous. As a training cadet, she was at the beck and call of her seniors –yet she had never felt this sense of foreboding as she did now.   

Merchant got up and opened the wooden cupboard tucked at the corner of his office. He brought out a swash of red, covered in a plastic bag. With a lot of flourish he took out a blood red gown and smiled indulgently at her, “the time has come.”

Serena’s face ashened. “Tonight?” 

Merchant nodded and gently laid the gown on the love seat. “You were waiting for this for so long.” He walked up to Serena and gently trailed his thumb across her soft lips, gazing deep into her eyes. “Your first independent assignment.” His grey eyes were mesmerizing, invoking a strange fear in her heart. Something that compelled her to look into them and at the same time wish, he would shut his eyes. Using all her will power, Serena pulled herself away from him. 

“When?”

“I’ll pick you up. Just be ready.”

*******

At seven sharp in the evening, a knock sounded on her door. She closed her eyes to steady her nerves before opening it. 

“Wohooo.” Merchant let out a wolf whistle.  Serena stood stock still as he walked around her, taking in her sculptured figure encased in the red gown. Her milky white shoulder lay bare devoid of any jewelry. He wanted to rest his palm against her bare expanse but she looked so imperial standing aloof, while her eyes stared at him blankly. 

“This is not your first time,” he asked, a puzzled expression on his face. 

“Every time I knew who it would be. This is freaking me out.”

“All in good time, I'm sure.” He kissed her bare shoulder before putting the stole over her arm. “Shall we?”

They drove through the dense jungle of traffic to reach the beautiful farmhouse where the party was in a full swing. Dignitaries from all over the world had come there along with a smattering of Bollywood stars. Serena had attended many such parties before, in many different countries and with many different names.  This time it was different.  She had a gut feeling.

“Can we not go back home?”

“No,” Merchant's eyes were cold, his face grim. “You know the rules.”

“Do you know who…?”

“No.” he said curtly and they entered the sea of dignitaries flocking the ballroom.  A soft music was playing and many couples had started dancing. Serena scanned the room trying to analyze who it could be. 

“Ma’am your stole, please?” a young porter boy came up to her. She gave it to him, without glancing towards him, her attention focused on the people milling around her. “Be ready for the wine glass.” Before she could react, the boy walked away. She knew better than to follow him. 

 “May I have this dance, Madame?” Merchant came and used his British accent as he bended on his one knee.

Serena laughed and bowed deeply and they soon joined the others on the dance floor. 

One, two, three and a twirl…. four, five, six and a twirl. Serena was losing herself to the turbulence of emotions - the soft music and his masculine scent. The future she had always dreamed of seems so plausible now. 

“Some wine for you Ma’am?”  The cold voice of the porter penetrated her thoughts. Startled she turned towards him, bringing the dance to a halt. 

“No,” she whispered. Merchant gripped her by the elbows, his hand steady. 

“If you don’t do it, I will meet life far worse than death. Better you than them.”

“But why?” she wailed only to be shushed as Merchant's lips descended upon her. She clung to him, unable to stop the tears. Merchant took the wine from the porter and placed it on her hands. Then they danced, lost and their tears mingled in their stolen kiss. 

“You have to tell me why?” she insisted. She needed to know. 

“I have resigned from the Raw.” 

Serena’s eyes widened. She now understood. This was the only way out of secret agency since he knew too many secrets and they could not let him go like that. She closed her eyes and slowly brought the glass to his lips. He drank it without taking her eyes off him. Slowly she took him to a nearby chair and sat down with him. 

“Go now.” He whispered urgently. 

She got up and went to the cloakroom. The porter was waiting with her stole. She handed him the wine glass, hating him for his cold smile. But her face did not give away any of her thoughts. Holding her head high, she walked out the building into the rain pouring outside. The rainwater had never tasted so salty before. 

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