Underneath the skin: Paradoxes of Identity

Here's a short story I wrote for a Fiction Writing Workshop organised by my Indiblogger friends The Fool and C. Suresh. Thanks to The Fool for the interesting plot. You can check out my entry here: http://indifictionworkshop.blogspot.in/2012/09/no-title-again.html

and about the workshop here: http://indifictionworkshop.blogspot.in/2012/09/plot-for-exercise-1.html

'The township of Ur is guarded by an army of a hundred and fifty goblins, not only are we outnumbered, their strength will be no match to ours', cried Daenerys to the elders of the council. Several murmured their approval.

'So suggest we lie low, build our strength and then come back to this when we're ready', Daenerys finished, looking around the group confidently.

'If wars were to be one by numbers alone, nobody would bother turning up on the field.'

Heads turned to locate where the calm, steady voice was coming from. It was Strider. As always, nobody had noticed him join the group, but now that he had spoken, every eye was fixed on him.

'Seizing Ur is the only chance we have of securing a path way to the heart of the Kingdom. I believe that if every member of our clan plays his role and plays it well, there will be no cause for failure.'

'But even if we put numbers aside, the strength of us mortals is nothing compared to the magical goblins!', retorted Daenerys, determined to convince the council,'Waging a war in thees circumstances would spell doom. Even if we won, we would not be able to hold the seat for too long, given our depleted army.'

'At least, you've conceded we may win. I consider the job half done already. Now, to the point of strength. Yes, the goblins have many magical powers, but they also have an unusual weakness...I observed them, lying low at Barty's Diner...',and so on went Strider, describing his strategy in detail.

Daenerys, though frustrated with the way things were going, could not hide her amazement at the brilliance of Strider's plan. She wracked her brains over it, but could not find anything wrong with his analysis.
'This man is a genius!', she found herself thinking while voting in favor of the plan along with the others.


'...Don't lose your grip on dreams of the past

You must fight to keep them alive

It's the eye of the tiger

It's the thrill of the fight...'

Meghana rolled over and turned off the alarm. It could not be six thirty already, she complained, looking at the alarm clock with a half open eye. Grudgingly, she got out of bed and started getting ready for work. She'd slept for only three hours and looked like a mess. She considered taking the day off but then decided against it. 'Boss needs me today', she thought.


The offices of India One Solutions Pvt Ltd were located in the IT hub of the city. They were tall and sleek, much like any other corporate building, nothing special there.

The door to the third floor beeped open as Meghana Arora walked in. Her sharp heels struck the floor with a *clunk* noise. Immediately the passageway to her cabin cleared.

*clunk clunk clunk*

Ties straightened, shirts were tucked in, half-eaten lunch boxes were done away with.

*clunk clunk clunk*

Individual cries of 'Good Morning Ma'am' replaced the gossip and chuckles that had filled the office five minutes back.

*clunk clunk clunk*

Meghana was thirty one, smart and good-looking. She was riding the wave of professional success. She walked in to work with an air of dominance. Her black skirt fitted her form snugly but her hair were neatly tied in a bun. She was a control freak. She abhorred disorderliness and indiscipline. This was why she was the boss. This was why she didn't have many friends. But, let's get to that later.

*clunk clunk clunk*

Meghana looked at the throng of faces around her, immersed in work. Buzzing away like drone bees, making sweet honey for her. Honey that will take her another step up the ladder. Take her closer to her goal, her destiny...

The office floor was transformed into a stretch of sand. She was riding a horse. Her clan, her Khalasar followed behind. She had to build an army, she had to go to war. I am the Khaleesi, the most powerful woman in the world and the throne is my birth right.

A smile crossed her lips as she drew this analogy and it was with this smile that she met Arup.

Arup worked with OIS as the IT technician. He had a small cubicle at the corner where he lazed around all day, fixing minor issues with the staff computers, so that they could work on bigger and more intense ones. In short, he lead a glamorless existence. Not that he deserved it, though. His only fault was that he was born on the wrong side of the town. But after all the struggle he had faced, he was more than happy to lead a secure life as a part of the OIS machinery.

Arup had 'heard' Meghana's arrival and was now looking at her expectantly as she made her way to his desk.

'Good Morning, Ma'am'

'Morning, Arup. See me in my cabin in an hour.'

'Yes, sure..', he started to say, but Meghana had started walking towards the CEO's cabin. Vinod, the CEO, was another swashbuckling product of a top Business School, like Meghana. The other advantage of his profile was that he was the only one who could exercise some control over her.

(Note: Khalasar and Khaleesi are terms belonging to George Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. Khalasar refers to a clan of warriors and Khaleesi is the title given to their queen. I have picked up Daenerys from the book too.)

'Yes, Vinod, I get your point, but with the right strategy, we could take on this project!Give me a chance..'

'Meghana, we do not have the workforce required for something as big as this. I had hoped you would realize that.'

'But, Vinod, give me one chance to present my plan before the Board, I..'

'Save your breath, Meghana. The Board will never agree.'

Fuming, Meghana turned around and walked back to her cabin. The CEO's stark disapproval of her radical new scheme had wiped off whatever admiration she had once held for him. She had expected him to be innovative and open, but he was just another safe-player, going by the rules in the textbook. She sat down at her desk and looked at her laptop screen. A smile lighted up her face. A screenshot of last night's successful war adorned her desktop. Strider took centrestage, mounted on his dark horse, holding the Kingdom's sharpest blade.
Meghana recalled how, at every obstacle, they had turned to Strider and he had never failed them. 'What a thinker!', thought Meghana, 'I bet he has never shied away from a task, no matter how daunting.' She started comparing his attitude and skills with Vinod's. 'He is a natural leader', she concluded, 'how gratifying must it be to work under him, with him.' She started imagining him as a top executive somewhere, making aggressive decisions and impressing everybody with his ability. Color rose to her cheeks...

A knock on the door snapped her right out of her reverie. It was Arup. The air of dominance returned to her demenaour as she asked him what he wanted.

'Uhh...you'd asked me to come by, remember?', he stated meekly.

'Oh!Right!Come on in. There seems to be a problem with the LAN connection in here', she told him, hastily changing the desktop background.

'Hmm...let me have a look..', Arup went over to examine her connection.
'You look really tired today, Ma'am', he said, glancing at the circles beneath her eyes.

'Couldn't catch much sleep last night', she replied curtly.

'A hot cup of green tea with a dash of lemon in it always freshens me up!.'

'I wouldn't even bother with the tea if all I had to do was look over some wires', Meghana thought to herself, yawning.

'There you go!As good as ever!', exclaimed Arup.

Meghana gave him a thanks and a smile as he turned to go.

'Oh and one more thing Arup', Meghana started, riding on a sudden brainwave,'suppose there was this online role playing game...'

'MMORG, you mean?'

'Ah, yes. I was wondering if you could help me identify the identity of a player', she blurted, looking him in the eye.


Interesting? Read the full post here:

I hope you dance

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance

I hope you dance"

- Ronan Keating


I looked at you, felt nothing
Rebuked myself
Tried stirring up a storm
Resuscitate the fire of emotion
Love Anger Hate Pain
But they vanished at the first touch

I'm dry and cold
Eyes dim and my head is closed
I looked at you, looked through you
You may be air
Silence chokes my gut
Exudate sounds, then words

I'm only hoping you can forgive
This lapse of affection
When darkness falls the flower folds
And spends the night in indifference
So will I hibernate
In the regime of my voids

Past Perfect

How important it is to preserve some memento relating to the past because your memory might not be able to reconstruct it accurately. At times you'd remember what you did or said, another time you'd be certain of how you'd felt. While most of the time, you'd only remember faces and colours and names and sounds.
I'm glad i've kept a diary most of my life. But for the smaller things, the finer details, I hope memory doesn't betray me. Or rather, I do not alter it.

I have been thinking, for like two weeks now, if it won't be over-ambitious of me to start writing down my memoirs. I know it will be time consuming. More than that, it would be emotionally and mentally taxing. But it would give me a nice picture of who I was and am and maybe even a sneak peek into the future.

While I was sitting in my old room today, I noticed how the walls and the furniture were still covered with old Barbie and Disney stickers. The last time I had called that room my own was when I was sixteen. It's been a long journey and there are still many scares in store. But I've made it this far. Back then, I wouldn't have ever dreamt I'd be living the life I'm living now. I wanted to study science, so I got enrolled in a school with the best faculty. I wanted to be an engineer, so I started preparing for the competitive exams. That was all, that was my plan for life. In hindsight, I realize I didn't really have a plan. Stuff came up, I dealt with it, worked hard, took a few tests and now I'll be handed a degree in Civil Engineering next year. Back in my old room, the stuffed toys haven't moved an inch. How did it all change so fast?

And now, when the time has come to take the next big step, I'm all apprehensive and jittery. I have spoken to hundreds of people, taken advice, made a million plans, analyzed all my options under a microscope but I still can't stop obsessing about the idea of tomorrow. Where is that unsure yet confident, awkward yet rebellious girl from yesterday?

I guess I'll have to hunt her down and bring her back.
Revisit the past and try to learn from it.
Starting the memoirs soon.

Melbourne Dreams

(This article is my entry for Indiblogger and Tourism Victoria's contest on the memories one'd like to bring back from Melbourne.)

An eerie silence enveloped the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The crowd was on their feet. Eyes riveted to the action on the ground as the tall pacer made his way to bowl. It was day five of the final day of the Ashes. The sky was a dull grey. I was standing in the crowd, painted in colors of the Australian flag. The green-eyed lanky bowler ran in, swung his arm and in a split-second, a stump was lying on the ground! I am jubilant! My favorite team's won and I'm there to witness it! Ah! I was jumping up and down! Owwwww! Something's hit me! I'm falling...

Thus ended my beautiful dream and I hit reality.

Melbourne, Australia.

I've dreamed and fantasized about visiting this continent since so many years now!
Not just the MCG, which, by the way, in spite of being stunningly beautiful and home to the Commonwealth Games 2006, is also known as the 'Spiritual Home of Australian Cricket', Melbourne on a whole is a very vibrant city.

A quick Google search will tell you how Melbourne is the 'cultural capital' of Australia and one of the most livable countries of the world. But people like me are not interested in that. When I go to a place, I want to explore everything about it. I want to know about the people, the way they talk, the way they dress, what keeps them going and so on. I want to taste the best of their cuisine, visit the local markets, find the best sunset spots...get a complete review of the place, not just the spots available to tourists.

The Melbourne Skyline

So, here I've prepared a list of what I think would be the ideal places to visit to bring back the best memories from Melbourne:

  • Concert Clubs!

    Melbourne plays host to a number of indie, jazz, rock and hip-hop bands from all over the world. Even if I'm not lucky enough to catch AC/DC or the like, a number of indigenous Aussie bands perform throughout the year in clubs like The Palace Theater, Billboard, The Forum and The Corner Hotel. Ain't it convenient to have so many options to choose from? And here, even scheduled bands opt out at the last instant. *sigh Metallica sigh*


  • The Melbourne Aquarium
    This is one I'm super excited about! Colorful, fantastic corals and their equally spectacular inhabitants! I think I can spend hours here observing the fish and their activities. The next best thing to actually diving into the coral reef.

    • Royal Botanical Gardens
      This place for a quiet walk through time and space. When I feel like the buzz of the city is becoming too overwhelming for me, I'd head to this place with a book and some music. I'd wander through the twists and turns of the garden's labyrinths and maybe discover my own rabbit-hole.

        I'd wrap it up with a trip to the beach in the evening maybe.

        Then maybe I'd head to one of Melbourne's lively cafes like the 'Min Lokal' for a cup-pa.

      • Talking of food, I'd love to treat my taste buds to some fine food served by many of Melbourne's hatted restaurants like 'Attica' and 'Jacques Reymond'. After all, I've tortured myself enough watching episodes of Masterchef Australia to deserve the real thing.

        • Koalas, Penguins and Kangaroos! For of course, no trip to the Down Under would be complete without these creatures! :D


          • Buttonfest!
            Yeah, you read it right! This is an annual exhibition featuring all things related to buttons organized by the Victorian Button Collectors Club. Why buttons, though? Because you don't travel to another hemisphere without being part of something totally weird. :P

          • Lastly, I'd like to visit the Melbourne Museum to get more familiar with Victoria's heritage and culture.  The Museum Shops are ideal for hunting souvenirs and memorabilia to take back home.

            • Oh and of course, a trip to the Bank Street Market for some budget shopping. :)


              This would be my dream itinerary for a visit to Melbourne!

              ...it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!

              Follow this link for more information about Melbourne: http://www.visitmelbourne.com/in

            The Amnesiac: A review

            '..memory itself is a fiction: we are, second by second, in every moment of reflection, self-editing, reinventing, making ourselves up..' writes Sam Taylor in the disclaimer to 'The Amnesiac'.
            I picked this book on a whimsy. I was wandering through the aisles of the British Council Library in Connaugt Place, looking for a friendly name. I do not know a lot of British authors, I realized. The back cover had rave reviews. But then, every publication has to print all the praise it can gather to increase sales. Nevertheless, I brought it home. The cover said it was the journey of an amnesiac into his past: images from 'Ghajini' and 'Memento' flashed through my mind. I decided I could do with some mystery.
            And mystery, it delivered.
            The first fifty pages didn't impress me at all. The protagonist, James Purdew, breaks his ankle and is then dumped by his live-in partner after having spent weeks in useless isolation, thinking up the most abstract things. What a loser, I say to myself. He can't even pay the rent.
            It was after his girlfriend had vacated their apartment that he shows the first signs of human emotion and embarks on a mission to reclaim himself. This, he begins by reading through the diaries he had kept through the years. This is where it gets interesting. James Purdew does not remember anything about his three years in University. The diaries he kept of that time are locked in a safe and he has lost the key. Taylor makes it clear here that these three years were the definitive years of his life. They contained the key to his present state and personality.

            This is where I put down the book, gaze into nothingness and wonder. What if something like this ever happens to me? We take memory for granted. We do not realize how utterly lost we would be without it. My emotions, opinions and general behaviour towards anything/anyone is based on my past experiences- memories. Imagine a scenario where you just can't decide how to react to a particular thing/person from your past. Worse, imagine a scenario where your body finds a way of reaction, but your mind just cannot figure it out.
            It is now that my opinion of the character changes. I feel sympathetic towards him. I also begin to admire his courage for going back to try and reclaim the lost years. I feel a little apprehensive for him too- what if the past held a secret so terrible that it would break him? What if he had deliberately, consciously erased those years?

            Undaunted, Purdew moves to the city he went to University in and starts putting the pieces together.But, no, this is not what the books is about. Within a span of a hundred and fifty pages, Taylor has turned this book into a murder mystery where our amnesiac, Purdew, plays detective. Throw in a student suicide, flashbacks of a beautiful dark-haired girl and a crazy neuroscientist/pyschologist and we have a page-turner.
            The thing I liked the most about this book is that it relates so much to my sense of being. Taylor's characters, plot, setting- all seem too real. Reading this book was equivalent to watching a Christopher Nolan movie, if mindfuck is what we're talking about. There are even mysterious looking green pills, hallucinations and suspected time-travel.

            Talking of movies, combine 'Fight Club', 'Memento' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and you might be able to get a grip on what this book is all about. But, then, Purdew is too real to be just a movie character or a fiction book person.
            James Purdew is a person with a terrible past and a terrible memory of that past. Other than that, James Purdew could be anyone. He could be me or you.

            The book is written in a clever and fresh style. You would feel like you've cracked the great mystery many times while reading through the memoirs. But, unless you really are Sherlock, be ready for a surprise.
            Until then, I'm sitting down to fill a notebook with whatever my memory serves me up with.

            'What changes is not the color of the canal, but the perspective of the person who looks at it.'