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Escape from Athabasca – A Short Story

Escape from Athabasca

 

He had fought with his wife over a small matter of how much he should pay for the new fridge, and then left home threatening never to return. Now he regretted it, but then it had become a matter of prestige for him so he continued driving on the highway towards Athabasca. The drone of the motorcycle engine and the stretching ribbon of the road, the whisper of the wind somehow spurred him on to a fate he seemed to have no control. It was a big cruiser bike, an expensive one at three thousand dollars, but then he had always wanted to buy a Norton Cruiser. Selma and he had fought over the need to buy the bike, but then rather surprisingly he found it parked in the courtyard one fine day. Selma had bought it for him!

Glancing at his watch Segan saw it was four 0 clock – he had been riding the bike for close to four hours now although he had taken a bio-break one hour after leaving Selma behind at Tenacre. He had covered a good two hundred kilometres and would soon be hitting the outskirts of Athabasca. It was getting brighter with the sun approaching the horizon. It had been a soothing ride in many ways and he knew that once he reached Athabasca, he would turn back for the return journey to Tenacre. He would apologise to Selma when she returned from work at the Tenacre Institute of Applied Sciences where she taught Psychology to University students, probably cook a savoury dish of mixed vegetables and fried rice (her favourite) and they would be friends. His thoughts now drifted to his job. He taught Mathematics at the Rangers’ High School and they were off for the week after the annual exams. He would be taking up a new class this term, grade eight besides the two sections of twelfth that he took. The school head wanted an experienced teacher to take a lower class alongside senior classes and he acquiesced knowing that it would add to his experience.

He was just ten kilometres short of Athabasca when he heard the distant sounds of trucks and helicopters headed in his direction. Strange though it seemed, Segan continued driving towards Athabasca. The closer he got to the town, he was dismayed to see people fleeing in all directions but North, for that was the direction from which a long line of military trucks seemed to be snaking towards Athabasca. Hovering above the trucks were military helicopters that were sweeping the area ahead the trucks, reconnoitring, it seemed possible obstacles on their way, or perhaps any opposition that they might meet. “Hey,” he mumbled to himself, “I hope that is not an invading army” he wondered to himself. Soon it became clear that he could not proceed further against the flow of traffic that was heading south, the way he had come from. He was headed towards the advancing cavalcade and it now seemed to be a bad idea. In any case it was now too difficult to turn around and head back towards Tenacre. Kicking out the Side-Stand of the bike, Segan dismounted the motorcycle and then accosted a decent looking man who was carrying a camera slung around his neck and a bag of camera equipment.

“Hi,” he addressed the man who apparently was a journalist, “I am Segan,  I have been driving towards Athabasca from Tenacre, what’s going  on over there?”

“Hi,” said the other man, extending his right hand to shake Tenacre’s. We have been attacked by the Tarkian army. They apparently want to use the residents of Athabasca as Guinea Pigs for their Bio-chemical weapon,” he remarked in a matter of fact voice. “By the way, I am Soldan Kermik, a reporter with the Western Herald News Syndicate,” he continued.

“Well,” Segan went on, “I am a Maths Teacher at the Rangers’ School at Tenacre, and I had decided to undertake a solo ride on the express way and here I am, not a good idea, I guess!”

By now the crowd had increased ten times, and Segan could see that it would not be possible to ride his motorcycle through this crowd. He finally unlocked the lid to his side Pannier and took out his extra tee shirt, utility box and then leaving lock in the ignition, for what would it matter, he began to walk back the way he had come. Soldan had left him with the advice to avoid any kind of contact with the Tarkian army regulars. He had also told him as concisely as possible that the Tarkian scientists had developed a bio-chemical weapon, a canister that contained millions of fine needles containing a bio-engineered agent that when dropped from helicopter would burst open, disseminating the cloud of needles which would then burrow into skin and flesh of human beings. The needles would then discharge their poison into the bloodstream turning the victim into a state of paralysis where the mind worked but the limbs simply refused to obey the commands sent by the brain. The state of paralysis, lasting a whole day would then give way allowing the victim to regain movement in the limbs. This would be followed by high temperature, a wasting disease that turned the victims into scarecrows, zombies who would be around for a week, biting, infecting and harassing those who had not been affected by the Bio-Agent. The Bio-Chemical agent had been programmed not to affect the Tarkian soldiers.

Segan walked with the crowd back the way he had come. He suddenly remembered that he was carrying his mobile and so on an impulse called up his younger brother, Stepan, a fire-fighter at Tenacre. In as few words as possible, he summed up the situation.

After a pause of a few seconds of listening to his elder brother quietly, he spoke, “Look Segan, you need to get to Dessie, about twenty-five kilometres from where you are, I will drive to the central plaza in the ATV and pick you up. The army has been mobilized and they will be marching towards Athabasca any time. You need to reach the town as quickly as possible; we are glued to the TV sets and know that the situation will soon turn volatile. Just get out of that place!” he exhorted his elder brother.

Segan protested that he was on foot, and would probably not be able to make it to the town of Dessie, but then his brother told him that he would have manage somehow. Before switching off his mobile phone, he told his brother to check in with Selma. He would not be able to call her on her mobile phone as the university where she taught did not allow its teachers to carry mobile phones into class, moreover it was Wednesday, a day when she had classes from eight in the morning to twelve noon. After his call to his brother, Segan texted his wife, “Sorry I fought with you, I will make with you by preparing your favourite savoury dish of stewed vegetables and fried rice. Love you and miss you!”

The trudge southwards had become more of a disorganised shamble and Segan could see very clearly that if they could not press on at a faster pace, the Tarkians would be upon them before noon. In desperation, Segan looked back towards the road leading to Athabasca, and he was shocked to see that the crowd had not only increased in size, but also seemed to have stopped moving at all! It looked as if it was a cork tightly wedged in the narrow mouth of a bottle. They were sitting ducks that could be picked at leisure by the Tarkians. No sooner he had entertained this thought, than there was a commotion at the back of the crowd, and a surge that pushed those in the front like a powerful wave pushing all obstacles out of its way. He could see that the Tarrkian advance scouts had reached the rear end of the exodus of humanity, and they were firing at the stragglers, ominously taking no prisoners.

What happened next was similar to an overflowing river bursting through its banks. The people left the highway and started running into the fields and farms abutting the highway. Segan also took to the fields in a lop that he hoped would take him away from the attacking Tarkian soldiers. However, soon progress became difficult as his feet began to sink into the freshly ploughed earth. Ten minutes of mad rush had left him exhausted so he paused, just for a moment to regain his breath and looked back the way he had come. What he saw at that moment would haunt him as nightmares for a long time – he saw what was a meticulous culling of the people who had fled from Athabasca. Men, women, old and young were being pursued by the Tarkians, mowed down, ambushed, and chased mercilessly. Those fleeing from their pursuers screamed while the hunters bayed, shouted and hooted even as they hunted down the hapless people.

It became clear that he had made a mistake in pausing to take a breath and turning round to look at the Tarkians for soon there was a shout and  he realised that the pursuers had seen him. Obeying the instructions of their officer, they split into two groups intending to trap him in a pincer like movement. Segan however had trained well, jogging and cycling in the early morning hours before going to school to teach. That training had given him an edge over his pursuers. He knew that the only way to escape from that pincer like movement of the enemy was to stay ahead of the two pincer-fingers. Thus taking a deep breath, Segan continued running. The game could not however go on for long because, while his pursuers kept on being replaced by fresh ones dropped by helicopters, Segan was the only one who had run continuously. He soon reached what appeared to be an abandoned farm, and throwing caution to the wind dodged into the low doorway of one of the barns. Finally exhausted and gasping, Segan decided to submit to what fate had in store for him. Inexplicably and strangely enough, his pursuers ran on for a few hundred feet before falling back. They returned the way they had come, called back no doubt. After what seemed to be ages, Segan stepped out of the barn cautiously and looking toward the north, where Athabasca lay, he saw to his dismay, a sky full of dark clouds that drifted slowly to the earth. It was a matter of time before that cloud was upon him, and then there would be no escaping from the deadly agent that those clouds contained. Desperate and helpless, he began walking due South hoping that the wind would slow down the movement of the clouds in his direction. After about  half an hour, he reached what appeared to be a working farm. At the farm he could see someone, a woman in her middle ages, ploughing the field with the help of a plough attached to the tractor. The farm strangely enough seemed to be devoid of anyone else.

Rushing towards the tractor he waved to the woman who immediately stopped the tractor. “Who are you?” the woman asked him.

“ I have just escaped from a bunch of Tarkian soldiers who have taken over the town of Athabasca. They have killed a lot of people, and now have unleashed a Bio-Chemical agent over the whole area. It is only a matter of time before the deadly cloud reaches us!” he gasped.

Marja, for so her name was listened to him before informing him that her husband and their two middle aged sons had gone to Dessie to visit his brother whose wife had just delivered a son. He immediately coaxed her to drive the tractor to Dessie along with him. At first she refused to budge, but then digging into his bag, he showed her a bundle of bills and told her that he would pay her two-thousand Fills. But then she was a tough one and agreed to take him to Dessie only if he paid her three-thousand Fills. Unable to argue further because of the urgent need to get away, he agreed however reluctantly. He  quickly collected bottles of fresh water , a can of diesel fuel as directed by his new acquaintance while  Marja collected some papers, which she said were cash bonds and a nasty looking rifle.  After locking down the barns and the farmhouse, they set upon the onward journey to Dessie – an odd couple, a young man and a middle aged woman who drove the tractor like a mad, Formula one race-circuit driver. They took the interior dust tracks which were more like tracks beaten out of the undergrowth by the passage of cattle and other domesticated animals out to feed on fresh grass. Many a times they came to ditches and culverts which seemed impossible to cross, even on a tractor, but then Marja managed somehow. It was getting dark and they had been travelling for ages it seemed before they reached the outskirts of Dessie. Marja took a break during this wild rush to call up her husband before hitting the highway to the town. The drive on the highway was so smooth that Segan nearly fell asleep. Strangely enough the highway was deserted, there were no vehicles on the road and an eerie emptiness engulfed them. Finally they reached Marja’s brother in law’s house at eight in the night. After a brief introduction with the other family member and relatives, for they were all prepared for the trip to Tenacre in the family minibus, he took his leave of them after handing over the cash and asking them the directions to the town plaza.

There at the town plaza was the red SUV bearing the Tenacre Fire Department Licence plate. The town was emptied of its inhabitants who had apparently fled the advance of the Tarkian army. Overjoyed by the sight of the vehicle he rushed to its side to be hugged at first by his brother and then his wife Selma. Without too much delay in the form of explanations about the strange incidents that had taken place that day, they rushed towards Tenacre, the last remaining people to escape from the advancing invaders. The highway was deserted, their vehicle being the only one to be seen for miles. Segan finally slipped into deep sleep, his head cradled by Selma on the back seat.

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Spitting Cobras and Toads come in pairs

Spitting Cobras and Toads Come in Pairs!
The children were sitting around me, begging for a story before turning into their camp beds in the adventure camp. I had already told them about the real incident when a spitting cobra had entered our sitting room in a town called Arbaminch and my father had had to kill it because he was worried for our safety, my brother’s, my mother’s and mine. I was already exhausted by the day’s activities which had included an arduous trek in the mountains close to Dehradun a few kilometres from Mussorie, followed by repelling and slithering down one of the iron bridges on to a river. But then the children, who were students of grade ten had insisted that I tell them a story after dinner, and I had promised them one, so I wracked my brain for something that my memory would throw up. As it is, one of the adventure guides, a lithe girl named Reshma looked towards me with eager eyes.

“Why don’t you humour them, Sir?” She interjected.

“OK, just one story, that’s it!” I exclaimed, knowing that I was trapped!

“Sir, we will just one story from you before we go off to sleep!” Said Ananya, a girl who was into dancing and fashion shows in school.

The night was still and there was the glow from the fire we had lit. Dinner had followed some games we had played, and I had thought that they would forget the promise I had made to them the previous evening. Moreover, the other teacher in the group, Amina, nodded at me in encouragement .

“Fine,” I said, “this is something that happened after that spitting cobra incident, I am sure that you will all agree that Cobras live in pairs all their lives!”

“Of course, Sir, Indian mythology describes how the Nags live in pairs, Sir!” Said Rakesh, the boy who was the self proclaimed medic on the trip. Although a student of grade ten, he would suggest a dose of Aspirin for those who suffered from headache and Crocin for those with mild fever.

“Well, this incident happened a few weeks after the spitting cobra incident. My father had fully recovered from the venom that had been sprayed into his eyes, and he had to go to Addis Ababa for some important work, and to give some stuff to one of my uncles who going to India which was to be handed over to my grandmother who lived in Gurgaon. It was evening and my mother had to make chapatis for dinner, so she went to the kitchen which was in one of the out houses. She’d made almost all the chapatis when she heard a rustling from beneath the table on which the gas stove had been placed. Well she was a brave and alert woman and so, she very calmly stepped away from the table and looked beneath the table to where a couple of used car tyres had been laid to rest. There peeping from the front most tyre was a cobra! It stuck itself out of the tyre well and reared itself up to a height of about a foot and a half. My mother withdrew calmly out of the kitchen and then fled to the main building. Once away from the kitchen, she called out to one of the boys, a students who lived in another outhouse. Keffne as he was named called out to some more young boys nearby, and armed with sticks and a torch, they rushed to the kitchen. When they reached there however, they found no sign of the snake. The tyre well was empty, and it became clear that the snake had fled the scene!”

“So what do you think had happened?” Asked Shamita, another of the students who was sitting in the group listening to my story. “Don’t you think, your mother might have imagined the whole thing ?” She asked with a rather cynical tone.

“No, my mother had indeed seen a snake, a cobra for that effect, and to add to it all was the fact that lone snake was seen during the following days doing the round of the house. The snake did not harm anyone, and after a week, it went away.”
“So what?” Quipped Sarthak, a strapping boy, who was also the school’s renowned athlete.

“Well,” I continued, ” after my father returned from Addis Abeba, a couple of days after the incident, my mother described everything to him. After listening to the whole incident quietly, he told us that it was the mate that had come looking for its pair. According to him, it was probably the female companion of the snake he had killed a few weeks earlier.”

It was getting rather late, and I just wanted to go off to sleep, but then it was clear that the children thought I was trying to fob them off with a lame story! To make matters worse for me, Reshma, the adventure guide turned to me and said, “Surely, you cannot claim that it was the companion of the snake your father had killed a few weeks earlier, Sir!”

” We strongly believed, all of us, that the snake had come looking for its partner, and when it couldn’t find its partner it just went away!” I replied hoping that was the end of the whole matter. I beat a hasty retreat to my hut hoping to turn in for the night in peace, but that was not to be! After what seemed to be a half hour of peace in the camp, loud screams rent the air from the batch of huts that housed the boys. I rushed to the hut from which the boys, four in number were sleeping, and when I entered, I asked them what the matter was. One of the boys, gestured towards the floor and following his pointing hand I glanced at a funny sight. Barely containing myself, I darted into the bathroom to grab a broom, for there in full sight was a pair of toads, the one mounted on the other making up as it seemed with the utmost lack of a sense of propriety or fear about what the boys would think on seeing such an intimate scene between two amphibians. Quietly, with a poker room faced expression, I swept the love locked toads into the bathroom and freedom into the night, for there was an opening wide enough to let them out where the drain pipe opened outside! “Sure,” I thought to myself, “they certainly live in pairs, the toads and snakes!”

That night, I was not able to get any rest, for the moment I returned to my hut and had barely laid down to sleep, there was a lot of whispering and commotion at my door. When I opened my door to enquire about the nature of the commotion, I got to know from a couple of boys that one of the had vomited. On visiting the boy’s tent, it became clear that he had ingested copious amounts of chips and fried snacks and had not had any dinner! Fortunately, our self-proclaimed medic, Rakesh had given him fruit salts and that was the end of the whole matter. I returned to my hut thinking it was all over, and thankfully laid down to sleep when another scream rent the night. I bolted out of my hut and rushed to the boys’ hut from which the scream had emanated. On getting the door opened, I got to know that the boys had shouted and screamed on seeing a massive spider crawling across the wall. Once again, maintaining an appearance of utmost cool, I grabbed hold of the broom and shooed the offending arachnid out of sight, into the bathroom.

That night, I finally retired to my hut deprived of my sleep and part of my dignity, for not only had my story been questioned, but also because of the fact that the only screams had come from the huts that were occupied by the boys. The only sounds that came from the huts that housed the girls were sounds of derision and mockery! It was as if they knew what was happening and they were making fun of the boys who were scared of love locked toads and a spider that was just passing on the way! I will always remember the camp that we shared in a place called Tapu-Sera! It was in no way different from the jungle town called Arbaminch in a country called Ethiopia, where I had once lived as a child!

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The Flight of Icarus – A Short Story

The suburban train came to a stop abruptly in the middle of nowhere jolting all the seated passengers into a moment of shock. Paul Gartner himself was jolted out of his bitter-sweet brooding about Daniela – a girl he had loved so dearly and believed she would stick to him through thick and thin! It came as a shock to him when she calmly announced the previous morning that she was ending their live in relationship!
“I am leaving you Paul,” she had said while tying her hair at the dressing table. ” I feel suffocated living with you, your pre-occupation with your research and students sicken me,” she added speaking through lips that were clasped on a couple of hair pins that she removed one by one to stick into her bun.
“But why, Daniela? I thought we were doing fine!” He replied gazing at her long, slender neck that was accentuated by the hair that had been gathered into a tight bun. He absentmindedly took a hair pin from her and inserted it into her hair securing it further.
Paul’s brooding came to an abrupt stop, his train of thought merging with the actual train in which he had been traveling along with the others. There was a pregnant moment of silence and then everyone started talking at once, “Why have we stopped, Mommy?” And then another voice broke into his consciousness, ” Is it an emergency?” Then yet another, grumbling voice, “The driver shouldn’t have been speeding up, now we will have to wait in the middle of nowhere for the earlier train to complete its journey – darling don’t grumble, it is just a matter of a few minute…I am going to sue the company!” They were all voices, white noise, a mix of decibels chaos, that threatened to drive him off the edge!
And then the public address system crackled to life, and there was silence in the coach, an ominous silence driven by a sense of foreboding – “Ladies and gentlemen,” the speakers hissed, ” I am your driver and I regret to inform you that this train will not go any further, in fact there is no destination left! This is the end of our journey. The power has been cut off and neither New Haven nor Hamden exist any more, the world has been destroyed by nukes released by a boy playing War Games on his PSP! That is all that I can say. It is each man to himself, you may walk off the train or remain, it is your choice.”
The hubbub resumed and a few of the passengers fainted while others sat still, turned to stone. Paul could see that a few of the passengers had managed to open the exit and entry doors of the coach and had stepped on to the tracks. They were no longer afraid of the electric current that once coursed through the middle track. “So the world had finally come to an end!” He thought with a great sense of relief. There would be no commitments, he wouldn’t have to plead with Daniela to come back to him, (she was in all probability already dead) and he would not have to explain to anyone why she had left him. It was with a sense of lightness and a final sense knowing what he wanted to do that Paul dumped his office bag on the seat, the tab, his mobile phone, his cards and all those things that he felt were useless to him, however he did choose to carry his sling bag that contained his breakfast and a bottle of water. Swinging the bag jauntily, he made his way to the exit and stepped into the open like some of the others.
The train had come to a stop on a plateau on a mountain top at an altitude of three thousand feet. They had been heading for Hamden which was in the plains at an altitude of less than two hundred feet above sea- level. The Blue Mist Mountains through which they had been traveling towered sheer above Hamden and there were quite a few spots where there was a sheer drop of a few hundreds of feet. Of course one could see the twinkling lights of the town on clear nights out in the distance – the track often veering close to the cliff edge because it was the best gradient that the engineers could identify.
He stepped on to the tracks and walked in the general direction of Hamden where he was supposed to reach every morning at nine to report at the Oxfordshire University where he taught English Literature and a few topics of Philosophy. The laptop that he had left behind in the train contained his lecture notes on Catastrophism in Literature, which he was to have delivered that day if it had not been for the turn of events that had taken place. Paul began musing on the lines of his lecture that was now lost in an abandoned laptop inside the coach of a derelict train. “What if,” he mused, “that boy had not had the time to play on his PSP?” He walked on the elevated track lost in his thoughts, “Stream of Consciousness ” as Joyce would have termed it. “What if, Daniela had not left me – what if I had stayed back at New Haven, would I be thinking about life?” He proceeded as if on auto pilot wondering if there was a purpose behind all this madness and the fact that they had been spared from the direct impact of the nukes going off.
Suddenly he realised that he had come close to the beginning of the curve in the path of the track about a couple of kilometres before the point where the track came closest to the edge of the cliff. The track was now almost level with the rest of the plateau since the engineers had not deemed it necessary to elevate it – the base was firm enough. Then he saw it, a red Benelli motorcycle, lying on its side a little ahead. Almost without thinking he left the track and walked towards where the bike was. He lifted the bike up with some effort, righted it and then checked for the key. Surprisingly the key was right there sitting snugly in its switch but in the ‘Off’ position.
Paul sat astride the bike and twisted the key to the “On” position, then he depressed the ignition switch and the engine kicked in, the rumble and vibration reassuring and comforting to him. Daniela had the same bike and she had let him ride it a few times and coincidentally it too had been red in colour! Ticking out the very thought that the bike might be hers, he revved the engine slid the gear into first and slipped the clutch. It was like being free and the sensation of the wind blowing into his face, blowing his hair out of shape created the sensation of flying – flying like a free spirit, without any care; he left behind the world to its own devices and leaned over the handlebars into the wind almost as if challenging it to bring its worst. There was no one left on the flat, it was just the wind, the bike and the wind all moving towards a specific destination, thump of the motor profound and purposeful, the man riding it, a maniac driving headlong towards the edge of the cliff whooping and calling out in glee! The cliff edge drew nearer and nearer, but he did not bother, (the rider of the motorcycle) perhaps he wanted to take things into his own hands cheat destiny or fate – be in control of his own life for once.
Then there was a pause, and everything seemed frozen in time – the bike and its rider leapt over the edge of cliff – seemed to rise a few feet in the air an impossible action, defying the laws of gravity! The man astride the bike whooped loudly driven headlong into the chasm. Paul looked down and there below he saw a huge expanse of greenery spread like a carpet. He was free flying at angle as if he could create a glide path to the town that awaited him far below. He knew that the flight would last a few seconds and then his life would be snuffed out, but then what did he care as long as he had a few seconds of ultimate adventure!
He hit the ground with a jolt and then woke up to see his wife, Daniela at the dressing table piling her hair into a bun!
“Hey, why did you not wake me up?” He asked her swinging over the bed towards her.
“Did not want to disturb you!” She answered through lips that were clasped over a few hairpins with which to fasten her hair.
He took one of the pins and slid it into her bun and wondered about the lecture he was to deliver on The Catastrophe Theory and Escapism. Well it was all there in the laptop. He made sure to add how parallel worlds could exist in an infinite possible ways just like the infinite images reflected in two mirrors facing each other!

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Love is Special! A Review of “The Other Side of Love, Beyond a Shadow Of Doubt”

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Love is special! In its best form, it defies the ability of Science to analyse it. Love is all in the heart and not the mind, so when it comes to shooting your beloved for the sake of saving the world, what would you do? It is said that even the powers in Heaven look down with pity when they see a beautiful relationship ending in grief. But then, wait – is it possible that there might be another solution to the whole issue? Is that when inspiration shows you a way out? In this relationship between two young people, is one of them hiding a secret about being half human and half alien? Is there a hidden plan behind this seemingly random meeting between two young people? Although the book is based on the typical “boy meets girl story,” but then it however goes deep into the Chemistry of love. The complication in the story is brought out by the possibility of an alien involvement in their affair. Can Rohit somehow save the whole world and retain Neena, the only girl has ever loved and is likely to love, since none other will ever do? The nightmares are real, and the dangers loom high over the two people. Gradually two more people become victims of the violence unleashed by the alien parasite residing within Neena, they are Mr Sinha, her estranged father, and the Mahant Biswas, the in charge of the Maha Bodhi Ashram. Set up in the context of modern day times in Delhi, “The Other Side of Love” will provide light reading for those who would like to take a welcome break from their hectic schedule. Written as a small book that will easily fit into one’s purse or college bag, the book can easily be taken out while travelling in the metro, and it can be read at one go or in bits. It contains elements of the science fiction genre along with modern day romance and will appeal to those who prefer reading the two different genres. “The Other Side of Love, Beyond a Shadow of Doubt will soon be available online on: WWW.Amazon.com, WWW.Flipkart.com, WWW.Barnes&Nobles.com and many others. A special thanks goes to Joe Anderson, my PSA at Author Solutions, Bloomington, and Antoniette Saints of Partridge Publishing for their patience in attending to me, and their high level of professional workmanship!

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An Ode to my Beloved Lady of Time

You are known to be a capricious lady
Who changes lovers with an insatiable
Delight! For to be steady suits you not
Ever restless, ever thankless, your eye
Switches for victims new, and with joy
Untold, you strike at beauty and talent
Alike, and to dust do turn monument
And power alike! But you sure discern
Not between young and old, and the not
So handsome might not escape your gaze.
Nor might escape those that wake nor those
That sleep, all alike are victims of your spell.
But why does millionaire a beggar turn and
Why does beggar ride the rich man’s throne
Know I not! Yet do you put the sick to sleep
And the dying to smile of times that were
With joy filled! But sometimes do you pour
Salve on wounds that burn, a healer one
Moment, reaper the next. But then Time,
Sure you are a capricious woman that discerns
Not between the sick and the fit, the fair or
The dark, the sweet or the bitter, young or
Old! Yet with one blow of your scythe do you
Level one and all! And yet you flit around the
World with light steps that traipse through
The seasons some fair and some so drab!
And as the shadows do lengthen and I the
Writer of this verse do fight the slumber of
Night, you smile at me one brief time and
Lo, in a split do write what ages took to
Think! For if I could grab the horns of time
Or swing on wings so swift, sure would I
Turn twenty-four into forty-eight! But alas!
Do you flee away with steps so swift,
And I do return to a slogging match to
Complete my verse in time for the morning
Light to read it with! Thus do I wait for a
Moment when my lady love would smile at
Me once more, but alas, she has many more
Worthier than me, the one toiling in the
Dark attic would scarcely a glance draw
From one who’d so capricious and fluid be!

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Driven-A Short Story

Tanya Bhojwani, yes that was her name, a student of grade twelve, all of eighteen years old, a sports woman who represented her school in the National Swimming championships, and had won a gold. She was both physically as well as academically inclined and known to win straight As. in her written tests. She was the pride of the Global International school at Saket, Delhi. Tall, six foot tall girl, beautiful as everyone averred, she had elected to play the virtual game, Driven. Her parents, teachers and boyfriend, Kanishk Singh had pleaded with her not to go for the game.
Driven was a deadly virtual game that took more lives than any other game known so far, it had driven gamers into insanity turning them into nervous wrecks who had no other option than to be admitted into mental asylums. The risks were fatal if the player failed to make it out of the ring of fire in which very few were able to escape from. Actually, what happened was that the neural interface ended up destroying promising lives. The fear caused by the image of the lion face appearing each time the contestant slipped and the pain of being attacked by the monsters that formed the ring of fire in the penultimate round left mental wrecks left and right.
The game in itself took a whole week to run and the contestant was confined in a veritable prison for this period of time in which there was no access with the outer world in any case. All the physical parameters of the contestant were monitored and necessary medications were administered via the intravenous injections, although, these medications could do nothing to mitigate the mental trauma that was inflicted by the game.
The rewards of winning the game offset the risks that the contestants were prone to. These included a cash reward of a million dollars, a house in posh locality and a pension that would take care of the contestant as long as she or he lived. Tanya Bhutani had decided to go for the game that would be telecast all over the country and the world because of her father who had been diagnosed with cancer and was battling for his life in one of the speciality hospitals in Delhi. The amount that she could win would hopefully go towards the exorbitant expenses entailed in the treatment.
That day she and Kanishk had gone to the Talkatora Gardens and she told him that she had enrolled to play Driven. Kanishk had remonstrated with her saying, ‘Why, Tanya, why are you doing this? Don’t you realise that you might never come out of the game sane?’
Tanya replied, ‘But then what other alternative do I have? Dad is in hospital and we don’t have the means to continue his treatment! My mother who is a staff nurse in Willington hospital cannot afford the treatment!’
‘But what about our relationship? Have you not thought about it?’ Asked Kanishk.
That day when they returned home to Kanishk’s house they made love like they would never ever get another opportunity and had parted as if they would never ever meet. There were tears in Kanishk’s eyes as he led her to the taxi waiting on the road below his apartment. Kanishk was an engineering student two years senior to her studying at IIT Roorkey and they had become friends at school when he had been in grade ten and she in grade eight and he had rescued her from a group of grade ten students who had been bullying her for being an aspiring swimming champion who had superseded Anoushka, another girl who was the favourite of the school for her looks. Since then, both of them had got into a relationship that was frowned upon by their parents. Now, two years since their relationship had flowered, they both knew that they were meant for each other.
Day one: The task before Tanya was about killing all the monsters in the underground catacombs below a ruined building. Tanya was armed with a machine pistol and nothing else but a commando knife. It was towards the end of the game that she tripped on an obstacle on the ground and was on the verge of being delivered the Coup de Grace that she had a glimpse of the lion face, the eyes glared at her with a malevolence that took her breath away, the eyes drilled a hole right into her soul and she faltered. It was in that moment that she began to have doubts about whether she would ever get to win the game. Lying on a virtual ground, waiting for the monster to finish her, she thought about her options, losing her sanity and being sent to a mental asylum, losing the father she loved, her boyfriend she would marry and the mother who would wail the silent tears of a woman torn in grief, she rallied and somehow stood up to dodge a blow dealt by the monster with his club. She swung her machine pistol at the brute’s face and delivered a five second burst even as she ran out of ammunition. The last monster in the first day wilted as the bullets struck home, but not before it managed to rake its talons across Tanya’s back. Limping to the finishing line, she somehow nursed herself, bowed down in pain, wondering how she would manage to fight the next day with a back that had been ripped to shreds, dripping blood wherever she went.
Day two: Waking into the second day of the game, Tanya could still feel the pain of the previous day’s assault. She, however noticed that the wound, virtual though it might have been was fully healed. The task before her on the second day was of clearing the skies of flying Pterodactyls that were intent on grabbing her in order to take her to their nests, so to feed them to their chicks. This time she had no problems in fending off the attacks of the Pterodactyls that floated on the thermals as she herself dressed in a flying suit managed to fend off their attacks, firing with her machine pistol watching their wings crumple in mid air, tumbling down into a deep void that was surrounded by jagged rocks guaranteed to smash open skulls and smash bones to pulp! She managed to end the task, tired and exhausted by the ordeals that she had faced.
Day three: Tanya Bhojwani woke up to the loud and gut wrenching roars of a wild animal. The task before her that day was that of fending and killing a particularly aggressive sabre-toothed tiger. For that task she was equipped with an exoskeleton suit of carbon fibre, although whether it would save her from the fangs of the sabre toothed tiger was highly questionable, and she was given a long sword as a weapon of offense. She had hardly woken up when she was driven .deep into the woods away fro the advancing monster. Not having had anything to eat, Tanya was weakened and desperate to conserve her energy. Finally, after having stumbled through the thick overgrowth, she tripped and fell on to the ground before the advancing sabre toothed tiger. Weakened by hunger and thirst, Tanya waited for the killing stroke. All this while she thought about her father admitted in hospital, struggling with cancer. She thought of her mother, a woman who had given her all to keep the family together and then she thought of her boyfriend, whom she had hoped to marry one day. Tiger had reached her, its’ foul breath over powered her and she just lay cowering in the undergrowth. Just when the tiger was a few paces from her, Tanya managed to lift her long sword aiming it at the belly of the tiger. What happened next was that the wild beast lunged at her, and in that moment, the lion face appeared to her with eyes glaring. She thought her time had come, and then the monster was on her. She felt a searing pain as the fangs of the tiger pierced exoskeleton her armour. The pain was excruciating. Tanya came to after a few moments only to see the sabre toothed tiger rolled to one side, her long sword sticking into its chest. In a moment of lucidity, she saw how it must have happened-the tiger had lunged at her and in the process impaled itself on to the tip of the long sword. The body armour that she wore had prevented the tiger’s claws from piercing her body, but then she was left badly bruised all over her body, especially her upper chest.
By the third day the viewership ratings of the Stingray Channel that aired Tanya’s virtual battles had shot up! People had begun to sit up to watch a feisty Indian girl battle her way through obstacles and tasks, scraping through each one, bruised but victorious. People had begun to bet on her chances of reaching the final round, some had even betted on whether she would come out of the game sane and healthy in mind. All this while, Kanishk followed each episode with eagerness, watching each move she made, he watched her face closely to see how Tanya fared, looking for signs of weakness or signs of strength. He wanted to know whether she suffered. Tanya’s mother too was torn between her worries for her husband and fear for the wellbeing of her daughter. One of the preconditions that the contestants were made to understand was that there would be no communication between the contestant and the rest of the world.
Day four: The task before Tanya Bhojwani on the fourth day was to dive into a sea filled with a few sharks, stingrays, octopi, and other dreadful sea monsters, including a giant squid, and a few barracuda eels and retrieve a golden medallion from one of the pirate’s ships lying on the bottom. For the day she was equipped with a compact oxygen tank, and a LAR re-breather which would provide her with an almost inexhaustible supply of air. The task given to her on this day seemed to be to her liking and she took to the water like the fish that she was, but soon realised that things were not quite right. Once she felt something slimy slippery rub against her calves. Tanya had her hands full with the under water javelin held in one hand, a hunting knife in the other, strapped and attached by a strong rubber band ( a spare hunting knife she wore on her waist in a sheath. As she kept swimming towards the wreck, she swam too close to the rocks where the barracuda eel lived and what happened next was that she saw a blur as something huge lunged at her. She panicked and in that instant felt something snap at her receding legs as she frantically kicked her legs. There was suddenly a sharp pain in the back of her right leg, the calf as she felt teeth bite in. Luckily for her, the barracuda eel had managed to sink a few of its fangs into her calve and had torn the skin open. She panicked as she saw the trail of blood that she left behind her knowing that it would attract some of the underwater predators. Tanya had put on a protective swimming wet suit that could self heal itself and soon indeed she observed as the rent in the suit repaired itself although she wondered about her wound and whether it would continue to bleed. While she was still a few hundred metres from the ship-wreck, she came across the giant octopus staring at her with baleful eyes as it rested on the bottom of the sea, quietly waiting for something to come swimming by. This time she was waiting for the Octopus to come at her, no, send one of her tentacles swimming at her, but then what she hadn’t planned for was to see so many tentacles coming at her at the same time. Each tentacle had a life of its own, and seemed to act independently of the body. When the first tentacle came glancing past, she hacked at it with her knife, struggling to regain her stance. The tentacle went spiralling down, wriggling and writhing. She had hardly hacked at one tentacle when the next came groping for her and then another and another! She knew very well that if she came into contact with it, it would mean certain death. Soon she was fighting in the midst of a sea of tentacles and while she was flinching from the tentacles on her right, a tentacle had managed to stick itself to her left wrist. The sucker had stuck to her suit and she felt herself being dragged away by the tentacle. Tanya thought about her options, cut her suit off, hack at her hand to free herself, or, ‘wait, why not hack at the tentacle with my knife?’ she thought as she brought her knife around carefully lest she should provide the flat side to one of the suckers, and hacked at the tentacle intending to cut it in one stroke. Immediately she felt the tugging on her wrist slacken as the rest of the tentacle fell off, but then the piece of tentacle that she had hacked was still attached to her wrist writhing and twisting with a demonic sense of urgency. Tanya now turned her attention towards the open space that had formed ahead of her after she had hacked the second tentacle and in a flash swam towards that open space and sailed through.
On reaching the shipwreck she found an entry through the gaps in the planks of the deck and swam through one of those straight to the strong room in the next to the Captain’s cabin. Inside the strong room she saw the doors of the safe were open and with a sinking feeling she crept towards the safe not seeing the Sting-Ray lying on the floor of the cabin. She had never thought of seeing a sting-ray making the flooring of the cabin of a shipwreck its resting place! I was only when she was a few feet away that she saw the unmistakable Delta shape in the muck on the floor of the strong room and froze where she was, a difficult task since she could not arrest her momentum in a frictionless environment. Nevertheless, Tanya launched herself over the stingray hoping that she had not disturbed it in its sleep! Landing on the other side of the sting ray, next to the swinging doors of the safe, Tanya peeped into the depths of the safe and saw to her relief that the golden medallion was indeed there. She grabbed at it and then put it into the pouch she carried tied around her waist and proceeded to swim out of the strong room, through the gaps in the planking of the deck above her.
The task that had been set before Tanya on the fourth day had been a tough one, more so because the designers of the game had known that she was in her elements when she was in water. Tanya was aware of this and so she became doubly alert as she swam towards land, away from the wreck, not trusting the tranquillity of scene before her, the crystal clear water, colourful coral on the sea bed, a shoal of colourful tropical fish swimming by, their colours so hypnotic that she couldn’t pull her eyes away! And it was while she was drinking in the beauty of the sea that she was suddenly jolted back into alertness. Far away, beyond the shipwreck in the distance, she could see a massive shape emerging. It was moving towards her, growing larger and larger. A giant shark, such that none could imagine was going to be her final test. Tanya knew that she could in no way defend herself against the cold blooded beast and made a dash for the beach. She realised that if she had spent more time admiring the corals and the shoals of fish, then she would never have been able to outrun the shark. Run is what she did, as she sobbed for her mother in her fear. The corals and the shoals of fish had been deliberately released in order to slow her down and to make her lower her guard for a few crucial moments within which the shark would emerge and attack her. A few hundred metres from the safety of the beach, a warning siren sounded in her ears warning her that she was out of air. The re-breather had failed and to her dismay she noted that there was none left in the bottles of Oxygen strapped to her back.
Tanya was known for her ability to take prompt decisions when faced by unpredictable events. She was dubbed, “Miss Resourceful” by her friends on many occasions, and her teachers too liked her for being, ‘cool’ even in the most difficult of situations! It was therefore, in keeping with her character that Tanya unclipped the LAR Re-Breather and struck for the surface. Immediately she shot through the water, released by the dead weight of the cylinders and the Re-Breather. The reduced drag meant that she was able to shoot ahead of the advancing shark tumbling on to the sands of the beach gasping and spluttering and she turned back towards the sea in time to see the shark’s snout breaking out of the water, chopping at the air in frustration.
The world was fascinated by Tanya’s achievements on the fourth day, and the views of important and famous people were aired on television channels. Already speculation was rife that Tanya would be able to manage all the tasks very well. The cynics and detractors however warned that there were still three more tasks before Tanya, and it would be better if they reserved their opinions till the end. To add more emotion to the live telecast, the promoters of the game decided to record interviews of Tanya’s mother, her classmates, and teachers. These interviews were then telecast on various channels throughout the world. The TRP ratings of the channel providing live feed of the Driven Game shot up so much that people had stopped viewing other channels and sat glued to their screens looking at Tanya fighting through all odds. Even the news channels began to air live clippings of her fighting through the tough odds. Tanya had become a teenage icon and her pictures began to appear on tee-shirts and other sports equipment with the tagline, “Fight till Death!”
Day five: By the fifth day into the game, Tanya was exhausted and nearing the end of her patience. She was sickened by her surroundings, the smell of ionised air, frying electric circuits and processors working overtime as the engineers tried to overclock them. Very few contestants had crossed the third stage, and till then, the computers had managed very well, what with the limited simulations that were required. The developers of the game had few options left before them. Tanya, like the computers before her was fried up, and so when she was woken up by the virtual voice, it was with great reluctance that she took in the details of the task before her. The task set before her on the fifth day was that of rescuing a couple of travellers from a particular region in a national reserve forest where their plane had crashed. Incidentally it was a quarantined area because of a deadly strain of virus that had been brought in by an alien spacecraft. The virus, when it entered the body of the victim would take over the victim’s brain and cause him or her to attack as many uninfected people as possible. The infected victims grew knife like claws that grew on the backs of the hands projecting over the backs of the fingers. These could be projected or retracted at will. Sharp as razors, these claws could be used to inflict wounds on others, and while infecting wounds the razor claws deposited a good amount of viruses into the victim’s blood stream!
The only weapons Tanya was given were her favourite hunting knife and a PPK Walthers Pistol. Besides these, she carried a radio for contacting the handlers to whom she would be handing over the two passengers. Tanya would also be using the radio to contact the two passengers. She had nothing in the way of vaccines or a bio=hazard suit to save her from potential infection. The only thing she could do to prevent possible infection was to avoid any kind of physical contact with the two passengers. Finally the buzzer sounded and there she was, inside a thick jungle with trees all around and very little light filtering down to the ground. Nevertheless, she took a sighting on the compass she had been given and started heading due North towards the wreckage of the plane that had crashed. The coordinates of the crash site had been fed into the radio locater, and she made good progress reaching the crash site all twelve noon having started at ten in the morning.
She discovered the two passengers squatting close to the fuselage of the plane, and she hailed them, and they answered back with yells of excitement. When she drew closer, she was shocked to see that one of them was none other than her boyfriend, Kanishk! The other was Rohan, another of her admirers whom she would have taken up as a boy friend if Kanishk had not come to her before. The two of them who had till know seemed to be at ease with each other had become suddenly very hostile and the air of animosity between them became perceptible. Kanishk got up from his crouching position and advanced towards Tanya with the intention of hugging her, but then Tanya stepped back as Rohan guffawed loudly in derision that Tanya had rejected her lover.
‘But why, Tanya?’ shouted Kanishk in a tone of disbelief.
‘Sorry, Kanishk, you might have become infected by that alien virus brought by the space craft!’ replied Tanya.
‘Of course, Kanishk,’ sniggered Rohan, she has rejected you for someone else, what would she do with an engineer like you? Tanya has become a popular personality and she could have a pick of much better placed young men like you!’
Kanishk dashed towards where Rohan was squatting and hurling himself at Rohan, began to punch and kick at him, all the time screaming, ‘To hell with you, Rohan! You know she is my girl friend and she can think of no one other than me!’ and Kanishk turned towards Tanya looking for support.
In a moment of understanding, Tanya could see what the makers of the Driven game were attempting. They had set her up in a clever game of conflict of loyalties, and they were playing with her mind! She felt really angry when she saw what the makers of the game had done. First and foremost they had dared to enter into her private life, and they would attempt to examine how loyal she was to Kanishk. They would tempt her to hug and kiss Kanishk in the process infecting herself with the deadly virus which would steadily sap away her strength leaving her too weak to stand up to the challenges put before her. She also could see how introducing Kanishk into the game would present before her a situation that would destroy her emotionally. She was aware however, that Kanishk and Rohan were present as virtual characters and not the real ones.
A sharp cry of pain brought her to the present and she turned towards the struggling duo. Tanya lifted her pistol and fired one shot into the air. the loud crack of the pistol brought the struggle between the two men to a stop and Kanishk looked at Tanya with disbelief, ‘You fired that gun at us, Tanya, how could you do that?’
‘Look, Kanishk and Rohan, I need to hand you over to your handlers. We don’t have time to waste, just get up and follow me, she said waving her pistol in the direction that she had come for.
‘Ha ha ha ha,’ laughed Rohan, ‘she doesn’t want you any more Kanishk,’ retorted Rohan.
‘Just shut up Rohan!’ Shouted Tanya ‘Let’s move,’ she shouted.
In the mean time, both Kanishk and Rohan lodged their strong protest against the Game makers of Driven. Their protests were overruled by competent authorities that stated that the characters of Rohan and Kanishk had been extracted from Tanya’s own mind and that she had already signed the contract in which clause number forty-five clearly stated that the contestant was willingly surrendering his or her memory bank to provide characters and events to further the game. Their protests fell flat on deaf ears and Kanishk looked with horror as the game took a rather personal tone Tanya being thrust into a situation where she had to choose between her boyfriend, the targets of the game, and the option of ditching him for Rohan.
‘How much further do we have to walk?’ Rohan panted.
‘Just get on, you are slowing us down!’ Kanishk retorted.
‘Not much of a distance left,’ quipped Tanya.
It was almost when they had reached the point of the handover as indicated by the GPS, that she saw both the men start fighting again. She had elected to be the last in the line and had instructed Kanishk to lead. Even as she started to move towards the two fighting men, she was horrified to see that Kanishk had extended his razor claws and had begun to hack into Rohan. Rohan had succumbed to his injuries well before Tanya had reached them. In a moment of lucidity Tanya knew what she had to do, and cocking her pistol she aimed it at her boyfriend. Kanishk looked at her with disbelief and muttered,’You can’t do that, Tanya, I dare you to!’ Without a thought she shot him twice, once in the head and a second time in the chest.
The whole world gasped as they looked at their T.V. sets at the scene where Tanya had shot dead her boyfriend! The TRP ratings shot off scale, but Kanishk felt sad at the outcome of the fifth task. However he contented himself with the thought that after all, Tanya didn’t have any other alternative!
Day Six: The sixth day found Tanya repulsed and disgusted by the game. In fact she wanted to quit from the game, but then common sense dictated that she should complete what she had started. The task before her seemed simple enough-she was to rescue a young man from the clutches of members of an infamous African tribe called the Gujji tribe, known for stealing sex organs of their victims as proof of their prowess, these men had kidnapped one of the members of a science expedition that had been cataloguing animal and plant species found in a remote jungle in an African country known as Chencha. Tanya was given a makeup kit to camouflage herself, her favourite Hunter’s knife and the Walther PPK pistol with a silencer. The young man whom she had to rescue was named Kebede and the settlement of the Gujji’s tribe was known as Gidole. She had been informed that the Tribal chief, Gurage had decided to take up another wife, and in order to do this he had divorced his first wife and had become romantically attached to the eighteen year old daughter of the witch doctor in the next village. He had visited the said witch doctor who was known as Shiba for the treatment of a particularly embarrassing outbreak of itchy rashes on his private parts. Shiba had treated Gurage for a good couple of months and when the treatment was over, he was reluctant to leave witch doctor and his daughter. When Gurage asked the witch doctor for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he was rebuffed for being too old to handle his daughter who sent by the name of Yeromnesh. Thus angered by this insult to his manhood, Gurage the chief had decided to undergo the trial required of young grooms who were eager to get married. They had to prove themselves by furnishing proof of their manhood in the form of trophies cut from the bodies of their victims.
Deep in her mind, Tanya suspected that the makers of the virtual game Driven were up to something rather devious. Being a tall and athletically built woman, she was being sent into the depths of Africa to rescue and African man from the clutches of a romantically besotted tribal chief! Anyway, she couldn’t do anything about this, could she? When second last task was announced, the viewers speculated about the outcome of the game. Many claimed that Tanya would end up becoming the wife of the chief, others felt that she would be slaughtered by the men of the Gujji Tribe. A few reserved their opinions for later on, while Kanishk suffered a feeling of intense disgust about the manner in which the makers of the virtual game Driven were manipulating things.
Tanya was dropped a couple of kilometres away from Gidole at ten in the morning. She started advancing towards the settlement using the trees, as hiding places. She had just reached the boundary of the settlement made of a ring of thorny scrubs when she heard the sound of a band of men approaching her. She had left the forest cover way behind her and looked helplessly for cover;there was none. Soon the men came into site and on seeing her, they literally pounced on her leaving her no time to draw her weapons. She saw that it was no use struggling against these men who were lean, muscular and more than six feet tall. After she stopped fighting them, the men started groping her, hands slipped into her blouse and pinched at her breasts, other hands began their trip through the waist band of her cargo pants into her panties. All this time the men were calling out excitedly to each other as they discovered that the intruder was a woman. One of the men discovered the cosmetic case and on opening it and seeing some of the bottles opened the cap.On seeing nothing coming out of it,he lifted it into the air peering through the tiny hole only to be shocked when a cloud of black powder poured onto his face making the others pause what they were doing. Looking at the man’s face, everyone started laughing. It was at this moment that a voice of authority barked at them, and they immediately stood up as a singularly ugly looking fellow began to advance towards them.He was fat, his belly distended, his eyes yellowed with jaundice, teeth blackened with decay and as he walked towards the young men, he belched and farted loudly! The young men knew better than to laugh, but then Tanya could scarcely hold her laughter.
‘Hah, hah, what do I zee heere?’ he panted as he saw Tanya lying on the ground. Seeing her at close quarters, Gurage, (that is who he was) saw that he had been rewarded with a comely woman who had a fair skin and who looked exotic. ‘You be my wife!’ he grunted and with that instructed the young men to take her to his hut. Once there, Tanya was relieved of her pistol and her hunting knife and thrown onto the ground. She lay on the ground for a few moments, cursing herself for having allowed a lapse in her alertness, and now she was going to be married to this disgusting man! A good half hour later, the door opened, and a young girl about her own age stepped in with a bowl of what looked like lumps of dumplings swimming in a thick soup.
‘You eat this…Kurkuffa…you strong, marry soon!’ the girl said pointing towards herself, ‘me Zenabish-chief’s daughter!’
Tanya knew better than to argue with her, and instead she smiled at her and said, ‘ I am Tanya, and I am from a far away land!’
‘You be my mother,’ said Zenabish.
‘But I am only as old as you are, I can’t marry your father just now!’ exclaimed Tanya as she ate into the dumplings.
After she had had her meal, Gurage and his advisor paid her a visit making it it known that he would be marrying her that night. Tanya however made it known that she would marry him on the condition that he bring her a man from the nearest town intact. Gurage looked at her with suspicion for he didn’t want his new wife spoiled by any one. It was strange that in a land of strange customs and traditions much importance was given to the virginity of women before marriage. Tanya’s stubbornness however convinced the chief to bring in the young man whom they had kidnapped.
When they had brought the young man into her presence, they expressed their reluctance in allowing Tanya and Kebede alone. But then Tanya made it known that the guards could stay in the room and she took Kebede to one side to talk to him. Kebede was himself shocked to see her in that desolate place in Africa, and after a moments hesitation said, ‘Tum yaha kyan kar rahe ho?’ (What are you doing here?) in perfect Hindi. He told her that he had studied Zoology in one of the colleges in Delhi. Speaking in Hindi meant that the guards didn’t know what they were talking about. Finally after telling him that she was a contestant in the virtual game ‘Driven’ and this was her sixth task she set before him their plan of action. She would tell the chief to release Kebede a good four hours before the marriage which was to take place at eight. Kebede then would make for the town from where he had been kidnapped. Tanya would in the mean time ask for her cosmetic case to be brought and on getting it, she would select one of the bottles which contained concentrated nitric acid which she would pour on to the hinges that linked the wooden door to the jamb.
Finally Gurage agreed to this, reluctantly at first but then agree he finally did when he saw that Tanya was absolutely stubborn. Everything went on as planned, Kebede was released at four in the evening. Tanya took her time in dressing up, not really wearing the whites cotton gown given to her. Little after seven the chief’s daughter came into the hut where Tanya had been imprisoned and looked at where the white cotton gown was folded on the mat. She sniffed at the pungent smell of the acid reacting with the iron hinges but then readily went away the bucket of water Tanya had demanded making it clear to her that she needed to wash her face.
The sixth task ended in a farce when the Chief no longer able to wait to get to his soon to be wed wife discovered that the bird had flown the coop and when he realised that she was nowhere to be found, he decided to replace her with his earlier love, the daughter of the witch doctor. But then in order to wed the witch doctor’s daughter he had to present to him the organs cut from the kidnapped young man. The men suddenly realised that they had themselves released the young man, Kebede a good four hours earlier. Gurage sent some of his best men in pursuit of Kebede and if possible the dream girl he had set his eyes on. The men set out into the night, but returned empty handed the next morning. Both Tanya and Kebede had escaped unscathed!
Day Seven, the day of Reckoning: The final day had come, and Tanya was now going to take the final test. The test was called the ring of fire, and the contestants, none who had reached this stage were supposed to escape a circle of advancing monsters who were equipped with maces, swords, lances, spears, and daggers. Beyond the ring of advancing monsters was a ring of fire that seemed to be impenetrable.Tanya was by now resigned to the outcomes of the game. To win or lose hardly mattered to her, and she knew that she was the only contestant who had reached this far. The world as a whole was glued to the TV sets. For many it was a foregone conclusion that this spunky girl would manage this task too. Tanya’s mother had spent her time in prayers and she had visited the Birla temple on Mandir Marg in Delhi to offer prayers. Tanya’s boyfriend, Kanishk sat in his room glued to his TV set, hoping that the girl he loved would clear this task too. The news channels aired the opinions of famous personalities who had come up with the idea that such reality shows should be brought to an end. The makers of the Virtual Game, ‘Driven’ felt that they had finally come to an end of a successful season of the reality show. They had incidentally thrown everything that they had at Tanya, but had to concede defeat at the hands of this resourceful teenager. They had however made a lot of money in terms of sponsorships and TRP ratings.
On the penultimate day of her virtual game, Tanya woke to a the voice announcing her penultimate task. Voice had taken a kinder tone and it advised her to, ‘Be alert and aware of her surroundings.’ Tanya was given her Knife and a light weight sword. She would be wearing a skin hugging suit that would protect her from the heat of the fire but nothing else! Just before she entered into the portal however she saw the glaring eye of the lion, and was daunted by the glare of violence that the gaze carried within it.
Tanya found herself on an open plain surrounded by an advancing ring of monsters, and at the head of the circle she saw the majestic lion lion face advancing towards her. Trembling with fear, she realised that she would have to take a leap into the midst of the advancing monsters before the circle became too dense. She remembered the instructions of her gym instructor about taking leaps and running towards the advancing monsters she managed to find a gab between a gargoyle and a wolf slipping through. In the process however she felt gargoyle’s sword nick into the back of her right shoulder blade. The wolf bared its fangs and nipped into her thigh, but then she leapt through running full tilt into the advancing ring of fire. The heat of the fire was so intense that she almost fainted, her hair was singed and she felt her whole body bake in the intense heat, but then she didn’t feel the pain as she exulted in the thrill of having crossed over safety. Klaxons sounded in the room declaring that she had finally managed to clear the last obstacle. Channels all over the world telecast her victory.
The world welcomed their new hero and she was given a hero’s welcome by none other than the prime minister of the country. Tanya was welcomed by her mother and her boyfriend who welcomed her back into the real world. The organisers of the virtual game, ‘Driven’ became bankrupt after paying Tanya her prize money, but then they were happy in a way for having won recognition in the world of virtual games.
Tanya woke up after a few days to a world that recognised her for her resourcefulness and presence of mind. The prize money that she won went into the treatment of her father, and there was enough money left from the treatment to provide for all her needs till the day she died. Tanya enrolled in one of the colleges and did her BBA followed by an MBA. She became a successful manager in one of the multinational companies and got married to her boyfriend, Kanishk. It went without saying that Tanya had become a bigger teenage icon than even the most revered of cricket players. Tanya and Kanishk went on to have two children, son and a daughter. Tanya’s father recovered from his ailment and went on to lead a healthy life till he died of natural causes at the age of seventy five. Tanya’s courage and bravery became an inspiration for all young people across the globe. Virtual games such as ‘Driven’ were brought to an end, and the world went up in arms against reality shows that put their contestants into danger.

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A Glimpse into the, “Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time”

Andromeda

Dear friends and book lovers, this is a preview of my second book titled, The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time.
The Andromeda Connection is the culmination of an idea that the author had many years ago, of writing interesting narratives in prose. He had always wanted to write short stories and had even made a false start, one being a story written from the perspective of a deer living in the in the jungles of Africa! The scrap – book is lost but the desire to narrate a story remains. Many years later, the author was able to publish his collection of poems, although he had never dreamed of writing poetry! Poetry somehow came naturally to him and he used it as a suitable vehicle for communicating his perceptions about life. His priority has always been to write short stories and novels, and this is his first offering in the prose form.
The author does not claim to have written a collection of short stories, or discursive pieces, or even a novel – the book combines the stream of consciousness with linear narration. The Andromeda Connection – A Journey includes biographical elements which might suddenly move on to the more fictional style of writing. A combination of recollections of childhood memories of life in an African country in the first part titled: The African Connection-Memories of Childhood which is dominated by the autobiographical genre, the reader is introduced in this part with the voice that he will find throughout the book. The second part, Titled: The Asian and Western Connection – describes the immediate past flowing into the present. Although the reader comes across the familiar voice of the narrator, he will notice a clear shift in the writing style from that of the autobiography to that of narrative fiction based on different genres based on adventure, suspense, mystery, and fantasy. The third part titled: The Andromeda Connection the Future where the genre changes completely to that of Science Fiction. The predominant use of the third person narration might suggest a degree of maturity and the healthy detachment of a leader of a group. Readers may find the shifts in the narrative style sometimes perplexing, (The author begs them to bear with him!) but here, the author would like to state that the idea is to provide a rainbow experience of reading without being bound to read each story in a chronological order, something very oriental a way of describing the complexities of life with varied themes, stories and writing styles.
The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in time is available on Amazon, and Flipkart in both soft cover version and E-book version. Published in association with Partridge Publications, I am indebted to Antoniet Saints and Joe Anderson for helping me bring out this book. I would like to acknowledge my family for supporting me in my endeavour, and my students for insisting that I should write my stories in a compiled form! The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time is the result of two years of writing short stories, anecdotes and reminiscences on my blog titled:http:// rodrick writes.BlogSpot.com. My advice to all aspiring writers is to write their thoughts and ideas in a form that would be accessible in later times. In times where writing in long hand has become tedious and time-consuming, it makes sense to use a blog as a diary to save a resource of material that can be used in later times when the aspiring writer might decide to publish his or her work.
I sincerely hope that my friends enjoy reading The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time as a compilation of short stories written in different genres. I look forward to the support of all my friends and acquaintances in making this book a bestseller, not because I tell them to do so, but because of the merits of the book!

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On Building a School for You A Poem

children

I see before me, a sight of frenzied action!
Men in in yellow hard hats bobbing up and down,
Iron rods reach up to the sky, bare fingers pointing
At a sky so high! So does a new shape emerge,
The result of all those men and women, coming
Together, to make a structure stand where none was there!

I see before me men lugging bags of mortar,
Hauling iron rods, tying wires, moving around-
All moving with a combined goal,and none do rest!
They do remind me of frenzied ants, that, before
Winter, homes with food do stock-a lesson for all
That ants do teach!

The sound of the drill cutting through the lintel,
The shriek of the saw as it cuts through a wall
All music to the ears- like birds which nest!
A building which will stand testimony to the work
They have put in! And soon will there be a building
Where none was there!

Of the workers, none will remain,
Save the edifice that will live on, a testimony
To the frenzied work of the men and women,
While yellow hats bobbed, drills did grind,
And iron rods probed into a sky, soon to be
Clothed in concrete so thick!

For workers will come and go,
But the monument they build will through years.
A time will come when the noise of drills and shriek of
Saws falls silent-and hats won’t bob, rods won’t probe.
But sure, will be replaced by noisy children darting
Forth as the bell does ring-for a school it was,
That they had built!

build

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Teaching Higher Order Thinking through Discussions-The relevance of the Socratic Method of teaching literature and writing in higher grades

In times of extensive research into the best possible methods of teaching, educationists have come up with their preferred styles which include, learning by doing, experiential pedagogy, problem solving, experimental learning (which is distinct from experiential pedagogy), the traditional lecture method, and, of course some are ready to swear on the effectiveness of Socratic Pedagogy! In simple terms, Socratic Pedagogy deals with debates and discussions based on the defence of a particular point of view. In many cases, Socratic Pedagogy deals with the negative method of eliminating hypothesis, the same as used in the preparation of a Research Paper. In a research paper, the scholar sets out with a hypothesis which he ends up proving or disproving by the end of the paper. Many teachers, either consciously or unconsciously resort to Socratic Pedagogy, especially in senior classes where students are expected to have some basic knowledge of principles and concepts. For the English teacher of the senior grades, eighth to twelfth, the Socratic method of teaching could prove highly effective in the teaching of Opinion Writing, research writing, and the teaching of literature which includes poetry, drama, fiction, (Novels and short stories), and non-fiction (including factual descriptions, processes descriptions, travelogues) and Journals, scientific or discursive.

The Socratic method of teaching based on discussions, questions and answers searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion. For the students of class twelve studying the Literature section of C.B.S.E. English Core Syllabus, the concepts and themes of Linguistic Chauvinism, exploitation of marginalised communities by mainstream communities, child labour, the dichotomy between the laws of humanity and the laws of patriotism, escapism and day-dreaming, the irony of teaching slum children in an elementary school that too without first addressing their economic plight, are all highlighted in the short stories an and poems in the prescribed textbook. These social issues need to be discussed at length in class and this can take place when there is a healthy discussion which is properly moderated, and interspersed, from time to time with good, leading questions. During such lessons, it is a good idea for the teacher to introduce the Plenary, or a question whose answer encapsulates the central theme of the lesson. Value based topics that connect the lessons to the wider world could benefit a lot from a Pedagogy based on Socratic principles of critical thinking and a dialectical approach to the theme that is being taken up.

Developing the dialectical approach in students at the higher grades would be of great value while taking up Higher Order writing skills which include the writing of discursive and descriptive essays, speeches, letters to the editors and even report writing. In all these cases, the students’ grasp of the topic, his or her ability to develop a logical argument, and the ability to develop a particular stance or the ability to consistently support a particular point of view, all depend on the students’ ability to think critically! The use of rhetoric and logic to convince and persuade the reader to accept one’s point of view is the result of being exposed to the Socratic method of teaching. Effective opinion writing and persuasive writing are highly dependent on the students’ exposure to the dialectical method of presenting thoughts. Value based learning is almost entirely based on the quality of questions presented during a discussion session.

Many teachers make use of dialectical or Socratic Pedagogy in day to day lessons, and the lesson plans developed by most teachers contain these elements. One common general objective mentioned in lesson plans by most language teachers deals with the student’s ability to “critically analyse” a particular action or incident in the lesson. The critical analysis could also include the mention of advantages and disadvantages of a particular decision by the author. One poem that comes to mind is the Poem, “The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost, where the poet mentions choosing one of two roads, early in life. The student could be asked to critically analyse how the poet’s decision to shift to England benefitted him, and their answer could be supported by the line where the poet states that when he looks back, he realises that his choice has made all the difference! Many teachers include discussion in their lesson plans as one of the important activities to be undertaken while teaching a particular topic to students in class. The discussion however has to be initiated with an apt and carefully framed question. This could also be in the form of a hypothesis. To add a twist, the teacher could introduce a null hypothesis in class to initiate the discussion. The inclusion of thought provoking, open ended questions in the lesson plan is another good way of improving the quality of teaching taking place in the class room!

It goes without saying that the Socratic Method of teaching can help develop critical thinking in students at all levels. The idea is for the teacher to tell the students not to take everything at face value, but in fact to learn to develop the ability to think deeply before coming to the point. This dialectical method is not about giving answers to students straight off, rather it is about making the students come round to the answer or a particular point of view through a series of questions whose answers lead the students to the obvious! Let the students probe and explore the problem through a series of questions till they come to the answer. This is in no way related to the trial and error approach rather it is about intelligent learning, learning through an intelligent process of eliminating choices and options that don’t form part of the solution! In this age of advanced technology however, Socratic enquiry cannot be initiated through a Power-point presentation, rather it is based on a very strong dialogue between the teacher and the students. This is a method that can be used to nurture complex thought processes in learners required to develop an understanding of the complex world that we live in. For the Socratic Method of teaching to be effective there should be a good and healthy relationship between the learners and their teachers. A confrontationist attitude in the students or their teachers will compromise the efficacy of the dialectical method of teaching! An atmosphere of mutual respect needs to be created between both, teachers and students before one can even thin of embarking on the Socratic Method of teaching. We have talked often about the need to create an optimum balance between students and teachers during the lesson so that the lesson is student based and teacher based in equal proportions! The healthy sharing of ideas between both teachers and students will go a long way in ensuring that the lesson is interesting enough! To develop the Socratic Method of teaching to its optimum level would require thus a highly democratic environment within the class with, however, the necessary measure for preventing the discussion from degenerating into a free for all! The ideal teacher should moreover be ready to take suggestions from students that throw new light on the topic. It is about learning to look at a problem from multiple points of view. In many cases it would not harm the purpose of teaching critical thinking in students to introduce a statement that goes contrary to the expected learning outcome so that the learners can come around to proving the statement false by providing relevant evidence! In many cases, the teacher might have to become subservient to the learners in the interest of promoting proper learning.

The important question for educationists today is whether the Socratic Method of Teaching continues to be relevant today. In many cases where students are overloaded with information from the internet and other sources, it might become an overwhelming experience for the teacher to maintain a proper control over the discussion taking place in the class. In many cases, discussions are hijacked by the dominant group of students who might just want to keep defending a particular stance just for the sake of prestige. While it is true, very few educators have the exceptional foresight and logical reasoning of Socrates, it would however not harm one to develop the qualities of detachment, neutrality and patience as enduring qualities of a good teacher. Before setting out on a discussion, the prudent teacher should set out rules before the class. He or she should remind students that all students are expected to participate in the discussion, and he or she should ensure that this is enforced. Similarly, to ensure that an effective discussion does take place, chorus answering should be discouraged; students should to be told to raise hands before making a statement. Discipline, therefore is an expected element of a good discussion in class. The tactful educator should moreover ensure that he or she prevents the discussion from taking up heated proportions, or from digressing from the main topic.

Discipline during a discussion session can be ensured through the setting up of relevant and appropriate question. A good discussion does not have to be completely student based if the questions have been carefully framed by the teacher! The teacher can start with questions that are within the students’ grasp and then he or she can introduce those questions with an increasing difficulty level. Giving questions that have too many possible answers, or questions which are too easy might not further the purpose of entering into a discussion. For that effect, giving students questions which are beyond their understanding too defeats the very purpose of dialectical learning. One major disadvantage of the Socratic Pedagogy is that it is time consuming, and the discussion could very easily go in round circles rather than progress in a linear fashion. Often the expected learning outcomes might not match the final learning outcomes. This is a danger that Language teachers have to be aware of.

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Has Poetry Gone Out of Our Lives?

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The answer to the question might vary from person to person. The fact of the matter lies in the nature of the world that we live in; deadlines, shortage of spare time, targets, shortage of time, competition, and competition! No, I guess poetry has not gone out of our lives because poetry is evident in the advertisement jingles and the taglines that have been concocted for the fact that they are lyrical and musical in nature. Rhyme and meter are evident in some of the most successful advertisement campaigns. Whether it is an advertisement that promotes the Sunshine Car, or the promotion of a particular product, every advertisement is built on the premise that the human mind is in any case attuned to music, rhyme, and rhythm!

Poetry is a genre of literature that requires the leisure and space to allow the words of the poet to sink in. Today, unfortunately, time is a luxury that we do not have! If Wordsworth, Keats and Tennyson were favorites of a bygone age it was because people had the time to read a poem. So that then, why is it that poetry is being given a short shrift today? Poetry supposedly belongs to an indolent culture that had leisure and time for the choice of words and rhymes to sink in! While no doubt, poetry had its heyday in the Victorian era, the beginning of the twentieth has also seen great poets like James Joyce, and Pablo Neruda who had the courage to write of matters mundane!

I for one thing have progressed from writing prose to the writing poetry because I believe very strongly that poetry is a more powerful medium for communicating feelings and emotions! Some of the most powerful literature written in the past has been in the form of poetry! The greatest epics of all times have been written in the poetic style. The Odyssey, the Iliad, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana were written in the poetic style because the writers knew that what was written in poetic style of writing were more likely to live on in the minds of those who had heard them narrated.
To believe that we can do without poetry is to deny the essential human nature of all human beings-believing that we have no time for the leisure of sinking into the mood and world of fantasy, if only for gaining a temporary refuge from the stress and demands of a world that looks for instant solutions for the problems of a world that is mired in controversies and issues that need to be solved on a priority basis! The argument for the promotion of poetry might be based on the fact that poetry is a genre of literature that is based on the need to convey the message in the least number of words. So then, in an age that is dependent on need to save time, can we do without poetry? Prose seeks to convey the message in more words than would be possible in poetry, so isn’t it the need for the day to continue to promote poetry big time?
The greatest challenge before us today is whether we can do without poetry! To deny the importance of poetry in our lives is like ignoring the very fact that we, as human beings are built to recognize poetry and everything which is lyrical! Poetry is something that marks us humans as distinct from machines which are drab and mechanical! If machines are prosaic, can we ignore the fact that human beings are more inclined to poetry in life? The CBSE a board that sets the syllabus for grade twelve in India for students undergoing twelve years of schooling in India has reduced the weightage of marks awarded for the poetry component of the syllabus. This has indicated that for this board, poetry is less important than prose and the so called higher order writing skills component of the syllabus. Is this right? I very strongly believe that the importance of poetry cannot and should not be ignored! Poetry is and continues to be an important part of our lives, and we should not ignore its importance in any way possible!
To deny the importance of poetry of in our lives is to deny the fact that we are human beings who are attuned to what is rhythmical and musical in life. When a senior leader told me not to take more than an hour to teach a poem to students of class twelve, I replied and told her that the poem was profound and that it needed more time than just one day, and she had the maturity to accept my contention! Based on my understanding of the profoundness of poetry, I believe that we cannot ignore its importance in everyday life! Poetry is here to stay, and to believe that we can do without it is to deny the essential human nature of all of us which marks us as distinct from all the other creatures that live on this Earth!
A writer writes poems believing that a few words will help convey to his or her readers the message that he or she means to pass on as accurately and efficiently as possible. It goes without saying that a human being without vision and dreams is dead to all forms of creativity and growth. Poetry in any case is here to stay whether in the form of advertisement jingles or taglines. Poetry continues to be a favoured genre of literature, and one cannot replace it with prose which is in nature less musical and lyrical in nature. We cannot deny the fact that it is poets who make an advertisement a great hit. So I would like to exhort all creative artist to go for the poetry as a more successful medium than prose for communicating ideas.

It becomes a sad moment for the teacher of languages when his students question the need for reading poetry in class! The fact of the matter is that like all the genres of literature, reading poetry helps make us better human beings! Prose unlike poetry is prosaic and often dry and often without that zing or spirit, while poetry has that little extra. Poetry continues to be the best medium for communicating emotions, sensations, and perceptions to another individual. It is as close as one can feel what another has felt at a particular moment. While it is true that technological advancement might have brought us the gifts of social networking sights, the fact is that we are drifting apart emotionally and have little heart to heart communication with each other! In a world that is becoming increasingly mechanical, there is steady degeneration in the quality of human relationships and human bonding. The de-humanization of cultures and societies has made it necessary to promote poetry big time! Those little but significant things like the Sunset, the little yellow flowers dancing in the wind, or the flock of birds winging away in the skies are all important things that we often ignore while rushing to work. It is poetry that brings these forgotten things back to life when you have a few moments to spare. Poetry is music and music is poetry, and one can’t deny that music and poetry have the power to remove all that sadness and depression that exists in our lives!

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Africa-A Poem

Far away in the distance lies the mystical land of my birth,
Where childhood pranks appear in dreams so vivid, while sleeping,
I see, Paradise , exotic animals and plants that hold sway!

If I would ever go back to that land, would it be the one I knew?
For sure, dreams of childhood be firm in sleep but dissolve on waking!
Till now, have I but the luck to own the treasure that dreams do make.

So do I see, a land where strange birds do take to blue skies,
And lions brave dare to share the roads with men, simply not fearing
Those with guns held like props that harm none!

A mystical world with veils of magic woven into
The fabric of life, and happiness and excitement by the morning
Sun brought forth, of something wonderful yet to happen!

Mornings do bring forth happiness and pleasure,
Afternoons are reserved for tasks to be done , while the evening
Does promise restful sleep for men, and awakening for creatures strange!

So do my childhood memories do fuel a dream so rich, of exotic dawn
Of African sky. A treasure-trove of riches beyond measure, reminding
Me of life with magic so great, where promises are so rich and fair!

Thus, do I view my share of dreams of a land of my birth,
One so mystical and exotic, where nature and man live in harmony, sharing
In the beauty of life, man, beast and flower as one!

In my dream saw I the red velvet spiders march forth in the rains,
And porcupines that shed their quills, the roads turned to mulch, as slipping And skidding we made our merry ways, laughing and joking!

A life so innocent and yet so informed about the truths of life,
Where every child knows of lessons of birth and death, nature teaching
Us lessons of life, and the need to respect one another!

In a land of mysteries so fair was I born,
A treasure trove to fuel my dreams in days to come, remembering
The days when as a child I did partake in pranks so innocent!

But then, it was a world so rich that made the stuff of my dreams,
A world to treasure in times so tense, where people competing,
Look for memories so rich, but alas, are bereft of memories so fair!

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The Meaning of Happiness in the age of Science and Technology-The Brave New World according to Huxley

Life in the age of technological advancement has changed the meaning of happiness to an extent one could never have imagined before! With the society undergoing drastic sociological changes, it is inevitable that our values also undergo changes. When my students ask me why they should read poetry, it speaks volumes about how interests have begun to change down the times. Poetry, in its purest form is now viewed as being superfluous and a hobby for those who are without anything better to do! The same may be said of the classics, Shakespeare is quaint, and Wordsworth was a gentleman who had enough spare time to write a poem about Daffodils, imagine writing a poem about Daffodils! Well one cannot blame our youth for their changing beliefs about the most desirable and valuable things in life.

The society is steadily moving away from the values and moral values of yesteryears because of the fact that our lives have been very strongly affected by the technological advancements and the internet that are threatening to turn us into the very machines that are at present serving us. With greater importance being given to a machine like efficiency, output, and infallibility, it is but natural that we should distance ourselves from the things that distract us from our duties and tasks! Take for example, religion, in a dialogue that takes place between the Savage and Mustafa Mond, in Aldous Huxley’s, “Brave New World”, the former asks Controller if he thought there was no God, and the Controller replies that, ‘In pre-modern times he manifested himself as the being’ described in the Holy Scriptures, while in modern times of Science and Technology he ‘ manifests himself as an absence’ In the novel, ‘Brave New World’ by Huxley, God has been replaced by machinery, medicine, and happiness. The argument posed by The Controller is that the people in his world have no need for religion because they are no longer alone! In this rather brilliant book, Huxley paints a modern world, well before his times where vices such as those of promiscuity are deliberately introduced into the society so that people do not have the time to think of God. Happiness in the ‘Brave New World’ is brought out by regular consumption of ‘soma’-an intoxicant which induces a feeling of joy, happiness and well-being. With advances in medical sciences, no one grows old, and illness are all things of the past, so people no longer need to call upon God to pray for forgiveness!

The similarities between today’s world and the distorted world in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ are somehow rather startling and they indicate a world which is based on the philosophy of conformity, a world which is spiritually sterile, devoid of poetry and classics! Are we then headed to a world which frowns upon creativity, individuality, a matrix like existence where happiness is synthesized and fed to people to induce an artificial sense of happiness? In a world that is steadily getting commercialized, we are steadily becoming victims of propaganda techniques necessary because we drive the economy through our purchasing power. The more we purchase, the more the economy grows, and being subservient to the greater well being of the nation, (where Commercialism is the new religion and the Economy is its disciple) we might as well forget about saving for the rainy day! The very idea of an egalitarian society, one proposed by Karl Marx in “Dass Kapital” seems to describe the very times in which we live. Capitalists and Imperialists might rant against Socialists and Communists, but the fact remains, ultimately they are all one and the same, and they believe in a society which is egalitarian, a society where everyone is equal, (although imperfections continue to exist) with division of work being made according to abilities and capabilities. The impact of existing circumstances, commercialization, technology and globalization are all leading us towards a society built on the concept of conformism. To conform is to accept that one is not different from others and one is equal to others. This is a society where there is no scope for individualism (as this would mean that you were trying to be greater than others). Life in such a society would be highly claustrophobic(to those who like to profess religions, read poetry and even dream) because the very concept of happiness is subjective and private and in the ideal state this individualism is seen to be selfish and anti-society as a whole. So we are headed exactly to a Socialist and Egalitarian society where the state provides you with employment, health care, and your children belong to the state and even you belong to the state. This would be a world devoid of arts as art would be seen would be seen as being detrimental and distracting to the process of nation building. Religion in its purest form would be seen as being quaint and fantastic, and so it would be relegated to the archives. The state would be the religion, the Chairman would be god, and his muscle-men would be his disciples. Of happiness, well your happiness would be subservient to the communities happiness and you have no right to be more happy than your neighbors because you live in a welfare state which cares for you so you owe it to the state to curb your happiness lest it appear to be a selfishness on your part.

The world today, is becoming more and more commercialized and this has resulted in the need to conform to the popular trends imposed on us through propaganda techniques. You need to change your one year old car, not because it is not advanced enough, but because it is good for the economy if you keep buying newer products not because you need them, but because market forces have created an artificial need for new products. A world that is being increasingly being driven by market forces, where the purpose of life is to drive machine of Economy, individual happiness is steadily being driven by propaganda and as such is subservient to the common good. If religion and the classics are are not good for the market, then it is but natural that they will be done away with, and this goes for creativity individuality and the very idea of thinking differently from others. If you don’t conform to the popular trends then you might as well be like the Savage in Huxley’s, ‘Brave New World’, an out cast who doesn’t fit in the society, a square peg in a round hole! For what right do you have to be unhappy or depressed when happiness is something that is provided to you in the form of ‘Soma’ pills to be taken at regular intervals? If happiness could be synthesized and swallowed as pills then surely the very meaning of happiness will have undergone a great change. But then, surely, isn’t the world headed towards this possibility, repulsive though it may seem?

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The Last Stand- A Short science fiction story

From our elevated position overlooking the plains, we saw three bright flashes far away which seemed to punch into the air and in what seemed to be instant, came the sound of the ordinance whistling past to land a kilometre away with a deafening explosion that knocked the breath out of our lungs. The concussion literally shook the Earth causing a storm of dust and debris to rain over our entrenched camp. We now knew that our hidden camp had been discovered. It would take only a few more ranging shots to make a direct hit!

The last remnants of Humanity had abandoned the big cities and fled towards the mountains (where the alien cyborg Robots would not yet follow) to make a last stand. The alien Cyborg Robots were out to clear the Earth of all human beings which for them were vermin and posed an unnecessary obstacle for preparing the planet for the settlement of alien creatures from another galaxy. I looked at Clara grimly and indicating towards the hidden trail said, “ Well it is time to put our emergency evacuation plan into action!” She nodded and said, “ Yes Fred I have already alerted the team leaders and even as we are speaking, the families are being led to their buses!” “Well done,” I exclaimed, recalling that she had gone into emergency mode the moment our watchers reported the activity in the plains, especially when the field guns in the plains were being pointed towards our positions in the mountains.Clara interrupted my thoughts, “ Fred, don’t waste time in obliterating the tracks leading to the hidden track, don’t forget to the timers!” We had planned to cover up our escape route and signs of our camp by detonating a series of explosions.The klaxon continued blaring urging children, men, women, families, and the elderly on to the waiting buses which would take them higher and deeper into the mountains. The vapor from the idling engines rose in the air. After we left, all signs and remains of the camp would be obliterated. It would look as if it was the handiwork of one of the hi explosive shells that were being fired at us from the plains.

The knock on the door to the command center was followed by the entry of Ramesh, a twenty-three years old computer expert, Philips, a former army special forces soldier, and Tina, the communications expert. They were an integral part of my team. “Hi Fred!” they called out albeit in a serious tone, “Guess it is time we moved on to the next camp,” said Ramesh in a matter of fact tone. “Yes, Ramesh, it had to come to this one day: wonder how the Cyborgs were able to pinpoint our location so soon!” I said. Ramesh replied, “ It was those Condor Drones we saw last week!” I nodded my head in agreement, there had been a rather unusual activity of the Condor Drones flying high above the camp the previous week which did suggest that they had probably registered the heat signature of the camp. “ How’s the evacuation going on?” I asked Tina. “Fine,” she replied, “Ramesh has set the timers on the explosives for thirty minutes, enough for us to clear the area in time!” I grunted, “Good,” and picked up my haversack and we all trooped out to our 4X4 Sherpa SUVs. parked outside. We were all lost in our thoughts, Camp David had served us well, hidden from the plains behind a wall of mountains, it was well placed flat piece of ground which we had excavated to make underground bunkers. There was a nearby stream of clear water flowing which supplied our needs for fresh drinking water.We had earlier identified an alternative camp higher up in the mountains and we had named it “Camp Goliath”.

There were five 4X4 Sherpa SUVs. and I boarded the nearest one. The Sherpa was a tested and proven vehicle which had been modified to run on different fuels and also to work at high altitudes. Each vehicle was able to work as an independent command center, with communication equipment, radios, satellite links, and enough computing power to run an entire mission. These SUVs. were in constant contact with the buses that had preceded us towards higher ground.

There were tears in the eyes of all those who formed the rear-guard. For all practical reasons Philips, Tina, Ramesh and I traveled in separate vehicles (Clara however always accompanied me) because we reasoned that if we traveled together in the same vehicle, and the vehicle was hit by a missile, then the entire command structure would be wiped out! If this happened, there would no one to look after the survivors.

We had been ever on the move since the year 2014 when the strange spacecraft had started to land on the Earth, especially in the larger towns and cities disgorging a large number of Cyborgs which went about wreaking havoc in the cities and towns, killing all those human beings that had the fate of coming in contact with the killing machines. Curiosity in those who turned up to see the alien crafts and the Cyborgs turned to horror when the killings started! The cyborgs quickly rendered communications useless in the cities. The Army, Air force and Navy were neutralized in a matter of hours, the high tech machinery, tanks, fighters jets, and even the destroyers were rendered useless with the firing of electro-magnetic pulse beams at them which resulted in fried circuits. It was a matter of time before the remaining people realized that they should flee from the cities to the relative safety of the mountains. It had been six years since we had left the towns and cities. The process had been gradual and slow, and we had collected enough food, fuel and those EMP proof weapons for the final stand we would make against the aliens. The K-4 mountains did afford some safety from the H.E. rockets that the Cyborgs preferred to use because their flat trajectories meant that they could hit targets that were in the line of site, but if the object was shielded by a rock face or a hill, then these rockets couldn’t climb over the obstruction to dive at the object. The radio suddenly crackled, “ Incoming H.E. rockets identified, E.T.A. two minutes, Camp David!” the terse voice was that of Phillip’s. Clara, without missing a beat remarked,”I guess we left in time, those H.E. Rockets can flatten a large area in one go!” I looked at the terrain, high cliff faces on both sides shielded us from the enemy, Clara drove the SUV expertly, “Yes, I guess there will be nothing at the camp site when the Cyborgs arrive to inspect their trophies of war!” I replied. Of course the Condor Drones would have relayed images of the destruction to their command center. I went on remarking to Clara, “ But, then they won’t be fooled for long into thinking that they have destroyed the entire remnants of us!”

The type I Cyborg Robots were rather mean looking machines and they were designed to kill. They looked like a cross between a spider and a scorpion, and their two front eyes also worked as laser guns firing a lethal beam that could cut through steel six inches thick! Woe betide any hapless human being who dared to face them, they were simply decimated, Kevlar vest, weapons and all! The type II Cyborgs were humanoid in form, and they were deadlier than the previous versions. The type twos appeared in 2015 a year after the type ones. What made them different from the type ones was that they were more dexterous, more powerful and could shift loads many times their weight. The H.E. rockets were handled by the type twos. The type III Cyborg robots like the type twos were shaped like humans but then their heads were bigger than the rest of their bodies. Type threes were the leaders, commanders, and decision makers. The Condor Drones were operated by the type threes. The type threes had arrived barely six months ago, and since their arrival, the condor drones became more active, and the frequency of their sorties had increased, especially over camp David.

A bright flash appeared from the general area of Camp David, at a lower altitude than we were driving at, and the flash was followed by a deep rumble. Clara and I looked at each other quietly. The second salvo of H.E. rockets had found the target with great accuracy, and if we had been a little slow in evacuating the camp, then surely, we would have been decimated! We had been planning for all sorts of eventualities, and this had been one of them. Till now we had adopted a rather hide and hide kind of an approach towards the enemy. To fight them this early would have been rather foolish. We would make our final stand against the enemy at Camp Goliath where we had hidden the highly secret pulse guns, and pulse rockets which were lethal weapons, and could in theory cut through the thick armor of the Cyborgs. Well that would be another day, right now it was all about reaching Camp Goliath.

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The Alien Arachnids, A Short Story

The final stand did not take place in the mountains after all. The Cyborg-Arachnids, both type one and two did not follow the remnants of the human population to the mountains. We had finally run out of food and were forced to return to the town of Gondar in spite of fears that we would be confronted by the aliens. I sat on top of the hillock overlooking the town, and somehow everything seemed rather peaceful. I was lost in the music of birdsong, when suddenly from a little beyond came the sound of voices. “Greg, where are you?” called out Guenet, a strapping woman in her thirties, a pulse gun held by the strap slung across her shoulders. She was accompanied by Meseret, a girl in her late teens, and her sister, Almaz, a girl still a baby, at twelve years old. The kids carried the more conventional pulse guns. I stirred from my perch and waved my hand in silent acknowledgement. “Well, what have you found out? Any activity in the town?” To which Guenet answered in a cautious tone, “ no, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the aliens, the town seems to have been abandoned by the Cyborgs!” Meseret added, “ I don’t think the aliens have gone very far, they are just hiding and waiting for us to return!” It the peacefulness of the town below us seemed so deceptive, “ No, I guess not, Meseret, we need to proceed with great caution towards the town. We will first proceed to the Super Mart and see what we can gather from there and then proceed to the Hospital and gather whatever medicines we can!” Almaz who had been so quiet till now, could not hold herself, and rather wistfully she said, “ can I have some chocolates and Marshmallows from the Super Mart ?” To this Guenet reprimanded her rather crossly, “ you think we have come for Chocolates, Almaz?” “Let her be, Guenet!” I countered, the baby in our group of four had always been addicted to chocolates and marshmallows, which we had run out long ago! I had been taken up as the acknowledged mentor and leader by this mother and daughters trio, and they had always looked up to me as the father they had lost in the initial contact with the aliens before fleeing to the mountains.

We were part of an advance scout group of twenty men women and children, children because we had run out of able men and women who could handle the few weapons we had. After a brief respite in which we had some soup and biscuits, we proceeded towards the town in a single file. There was a slight chill in the morning but otherwise it was quite pleasant. We all walked in a single file and spoke in hushed voices, I lead the group with Guenet, Meseret and Almaz following suit. Sixteen others followed us. We finally reached the Quantex Super Mart but realised that the steel doors were locked! I called up Stephen who was our electronics expert on the two way handset and told him to brings his bag of tricks. Stephen inserted two prongs into the electronic panel and grunted, “ well open sesame.” There a few beeps from the instrument he was holding, and then with a click and a tired grind, the steel doors of the Super Mart rolled back. I patted him on the back, “ good job Stephen,” and indicated to the others to enter the Super Mart, while Stephen, Guenet and I stayed at the entrance to form the rear guard while the others foraged for necessary provisions. The hand held scanner in Stephen’s hands beeped steadily suggesting that there was no Cyborg in the vicinity, but then I was not really convinced, so I said to Guenet, “ It somehow doesn’t feel right! This absence of the aliens is too unnatural!” “True,” mused Stephen,”what do you think we should do?” I looked at the rest of the group foraging in the Mart and called out to them to hurry up. I felt somehow uncomfortable, as if we were being watched by unseen eyes. “Guenet,” I said, “ I am taking Stephen to that ridge where the slightly elevated position might help extend the range of the scanner. You take care of the group. In case of any emergency proceed to the hospital and barricade the Northern gate. Leave the East facing gate open so that you can escape from it.” Sure,” she answered. “And make sure you proceed straight to higher ground, preferably towards the hill from which we came!” I said. “Yes. Sir!” she exclaimed and saluted. I however wanted to make sure she remembered everything although we had gone over the scenario repeatedly. With this, Stephen and I proceeded to the ridge just before the Super Mart.

We climbed the ridge and reached the top which overlooked the town. The birds sang, and the insects buzzed. It looked like any other normal morning the moon still to be seen in the blue sky with the sun looking down with a rather benign expression. The lazy beep of the scanner suddenly increased in intensity and became rather urgent. “What…?” I urged! Stephen looked with alarm towards the South, “Type two Cyborgs approaching from there,” he said pointing. “How far?” I shot back. “About hundred klicks and closing in fast!” he exclaimed. Without missing a beat, I called Guenet on the two-way and got a terse, “Yes, Greg?” “Guenet, herd all the people towards the Hospital and hold fort till we come. The cyborgs are approaching from the South. Don’t, I repeat, don’t take high ground, we will be sitting ducks!” I turned to Stephen and nodded towards the Hospital building and he nodded in acknowledgement as we rushed down towards the Hospital. Down below we could see that the rest of the group had begun to file towards the Hospital building. They were going to reach the building much before Stephen and me.

The building out houses blocked our line of sight to the Northern gate of the Hospital. There was just then a terse hiss from Stephen who pointed towards the South, and there close to the horizon were rather strange looking aerial crafts heading in our direction! “Run!” I shouted to Stephen and rushed towards the Northern gate before Guenet and the others barricaded it. Somehow it was the more evident gate out in the open, and we were fairly sure that the East gate was fairly hidden. We reached just in time as Guenet and the others began to swing the doors shut. They looked apprehensively towards Stephen and me, and we just nodded. “Stephen and I put our shoulders to the door and when they clanged shut, we began to shift whatever furniture came to hand, gurneys, metal cabinets, and chairs. We had barely a minutes before the aliens landed along with the Cyborg-Arachnids. I could see Guenet and Meseret gesticulating to the stragglers down the corridors towards the exit we had decided on. Two of our group fell down to the floor extended the tripods of a couple of automatic pulse guns aiming the snouts towards the gate we had just barricaded. Just then there were some loud, “thuds”, the aliens had landed and were attacking the door. It was a matter of time… all of a sudden, there was a loud screech and the top portion of the left steel door peeled back, and from the gap peered a monster with a spider’s head, the compound eyes looking in. “Back, back” I shouted to the boys with me. We grimly began to retreat down the corridor staying clear of the line of fire of the two pulse guns. We had hardly reached half way down the corridor when gates fell inwards with a crash! Two Spider aliens rushed in, the body oddly suspended from the air on six legs. One of them lashed at Boris grabbing him into its maw. We were helpless and couldn’t do anything as Boris looked helplessly towards us. Suddenly, the twin automatic pulse guns opened up, the bullets stitching up holes in the floor leading up to the monster. It was too late however and the monster retreated towards the exit and we heard a last hair raising scream as Boris was finally devoured whole. There was a trail of fresh blood leading to the exit. Of the other Cyborg, there was no sign. “Stop, stop!” I shouted at Mack and Shirley who were manning the automatic pulse guns. Needed to conserve maximum charge for the worst. The ammunition, molten silicon, would provide up to five thousand rounds. They would have expended a hundred rounds. The sudden stillness seemed to shock all of us. What had happened to Boris was yet to kick in. Suddenly, The spiders began to stream in from the broken down doors. It was a rout as we all rushed away. In the confusion two of our group fell down on to the floor just in the path of the advancing creatures. I grabbed the one nearest to me by the collar of her combat jacket, Ricky her name was. She had the presence of mind to aim her plasma pistol at the nearest creature knocking off one of its antenna. The cyborg let out a screech and a scream which spurred its companions on.While I was able to pull Ricky on to her feet, another of group, Martin was less lucky as he was pounced upon by the rest of the arachnids. While the arachnids were busy feeding on the hapless victim we all rushed towards the Eastern Gate. The corridor was by now a slippery passage with gore and blood all over. Just when the last of us reached the exit, I noticed that Guenet was pointing towards Mack who was bent over his haversack in the middle of the corridor. I beckoned to him to follow us, but then he had something on his mind. Glancing towards the giant Arachnids, he flicked a switch and tossed what seemed to be a rather heavy haversack towards the monsters. “Run,” he yelled, and then it filtered down that he had primed the entire sack of explosives which was powerful enough to bring down the entire building. We rushed out of the building with seconds to spare as the explosives went up with a massive blast which dazed a deafened us. The whole ground shook and the building collapsed like a castle of cards. Dazed and staggering we rushed to high ground. We reached the hill that we had descended from and looked at a dust cloud rising from where the Hospital once stood. Of the Alien arachnids there was no sign. The craft that had brought them had disappeared, it seems pulverised into bits by the blast. We had escaped the blast because it was deflected by the ridge which bounded the Hospital building from the East.

Looking back at the events, it appeared that the aliens had finally left the planet fazed by the stiff pockets of resistance offered to them by human beings all over the planet. Our team now down to eighteen filed on towards the camp we had left behind the previous day. We would return to the town and salvage what ever remained, and rebuild our lives in any way could. I looked towards the group now subdued by the loss of our dear friends. I looked towards Almaz who was clutching at an assortments of chocolates although with a rather thoughtful expression. Guenet came and sat next me and offered me a mug of Tea, and said, “Anyway, we did quite well, we have enough food for the whole week.” “I guess we won’t have to stay in the mountains any longer, we can go back to the town, the Cyborg-Arachnids won’t return any time soon!” “Yes, I guess they won’t!” she replied with a faraway look, perhaps remembering of another happier life with her husband.

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We can’t do without teaching of moral values in schools today!

I often wonder if it is not the inculcation of strong moral values and timeless etiquettes in students that makes a school distinct from the run of the mill schools that we find all over the country! What is it that we look for in some of the best schools all over the country? True, the pass percentage at the twelfth board level is one important indicator of how well the school is doing in academics, but then, some of the best indicators of a good school become apparent many years after a student passes out of school! The first few questions that come to mind when we look at a decent, well mannered professional is his upbringing and the school he had gone to. Is it for this reason that Khushwant Singh’s Grandmother favoured village school education over city school education, because of the fact that there were teachings of the scriptures in the former which were lacking in the latter?
The building of successful personalities includes the teaching of those timeless core values that make them respected in the larger society. These core values include respect for each other, respect for elders, punctuality, honesty, sincerity, a sense of fair-play, patience, obedience, respect for rules, an understanding of basic principles of humanity, love and respect for nature, wildlife, an understanding of how our actions and behaviour have an impact on others, and a respect for the delicate web of social relations that bind us to the society. It is quite true that the parents are the first teachers who try to instil awareness for moral values in their children, but then this task is soon taken over by teachers when they start going to school.

The teaching of moral values is a highly debated topic, with many educationists insisting that you can’t teach moral values to students directly and formally, and they go on to suggest that moral values can only be taught through the setting up of examples by teachers. I however wonder, if students in primary classes might not perhaps be taught by their teachers about these timeless values more directly? It is at this tender and formative age that children can be taught moral values. Interesting lessons from different scriptures, lessons of bravery, and even examples from real life can prove invaluable in the formation of the child’s character. This teaching could also include reinforcing good behaviour with praise and appreciation. In senior classes, literature lessons could include examples of heroism, courage, and these could be in the form of allegories and anecdotes!

If good education doesn’t mean the building of character, then it is a great failure! Ultimately, it is character that makes you noticed in the society, and a person with good manners, good etiquette is always held in due regard. Unfortunately, when we step out-doors, we often observe people trying to break queues, people who speak good English but who show an utter disregard for others, we notice a great deal of impoliteness, and foul language being used by products of even highly acclaimed public schools! The recent increase in the number of cases of road rage and the tragic instances of grievous injuries could have been lessoned if the perpetrators of harm had learned to be patient in school. Rudeness and impoliteness can never be the traits of a successful person, and they cannot be an indication of economic status in the society. Politeness should never be mistaken for passiveness, fear, or even poor self esteem! In fact, politeness is the sign of good character, it is the trait of great men, it is the sign of culture, and an indicator of a strong family background! Politeness is about royalty!

Unfortunately, we can’t argue that we are like animals and we need to resort to violence to struggle in the society for survival! Man is distinct from animals, in that he is more rational and he knows the difference between right and wrong! Thus if man has to struggle for survival in this society, then it should be on the basis of the ethical values that he has been equipped with. Cut-throat competition, glitz, glam, and the pressure to achieve unrealistic goals has lead to our ignoring the importance of those timeless values that have been handed down to us from our fore-fathers!

Have we, then forgotten our responsibilities as educators to produce great thinkers and good characters in our obsession to create products that will be commercially viable in the corporate world? Do we need to send our children to finishing schools after passing class twelfth when we could have done the same in regular school? Can we afford to ignore teaching of values in schools because they don’t figure in the written assessments and don’t contribute to the marks we get in the final term? Shouldn’t we grade schools on the basis of the quality of education imparted by them in terms of character building and strength of values imparted by them? Or is it that we find it difficult to assess the quality of values being taught to students in schools? Have we forgotten that by ignoring the importance of inculcating moral values in our students, we are essentially ignoring the human element, and are instead training our students to perform well in written tests, and to be machines that are more efficient than others?

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Serenading the Beloved

I gave thee my all but thou gavest me ashes,
That filled my mouth with dust. Scarce could I
Swallow as badly choked was I, a bitter taste
Lingers, a sacrifice of a prosperous joyful life!

What you gave to me, you took away all with
Interest thrown in! Would you punish one so
Close, who’d give you his all, just to please?
Alas! That I should please you no more.

Fain would I sacrifice my all to gain a place
At thy table, to sit in communion with thee,
But in my place sit thieves, liars and cheats,
Who charm thee with their fawning smiles!

Why should I retire in a dudgeon? I know well
The weather might change, and lift the veil of
Impenetrable haze that blinds you so! For one
So devoted to you, you favour a deceitful one!

So I serenade before your window knowing well
That I might win your favour, a smile from you
All I wish! The ashes might yet turn into reward
Fair, a communion of joy and glory so grand!

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Cytheria

Each morning she greeted me with a smile,
And asked me how I was! Sometimes she told me
That I looked nice! Now that smile and those warm eyes
Remind me of how much they all loved me.

Some of those children thought I was their friend,
And they’d come and confide to me about who had
Troubled them in class, while others told me about home!
Everyone of them brought me chocolates so grand.

My friends, all of them, buoyed my spirit so,
That I forgot all my worries to watch them play so!
If innocence lies in the eyes of playful, smiling children,
Then are they not the angels of God sent below?

Where there was one, there were many, all eager
To grab my attention, a smile, and a kind word from me, for
They all loved me so, the quiet, the mischievous, and the innocent,
All lead by Cytheria, the little one with a kind word for all!

Would the little ones think it was a dream, when they woke,
To see a kindred soul in the waking morn gone suddenly, a lost dream to fade,
Perhaps, it was destined to be so, too good to be true, for in my place you’d expect
A disgruntled, and cross old man instead of a smiling pleasant one like me!

Don’t you know it was Cytheria and her friends,
That brought out the child in me, so that i could share their smiles,
And share the secrets of kindred souls,
About intimations of immortality and a better life awaiting us above.

For our Master hath said, deny not the children,
To come to me, for you shall enter my Kingdom,
Only when you become innocent like children,
And Cytheria and her friends brought out the child in me!

Can We Sit Together for Once?

It’s been a while since we sat together – you

and me,  and talked about us or just nonsense!

May be not talking, at all, simply feeling within

that stillness, the comfort of being together!

 

Can we sit together and watch the clouds scud

across the blue sky, just you and me, and drink

In the freshness of the morn,  the dew drops

twinkling like diamonds, brighter than the stars?

 

It’s been a while since we sat together – you and I and

did nothing but gaze into each other’s eyes, lost in each

other, blinded to a mad as a hatter’s world that rushes by,

moment that lasts an age, stillness stronger than words!

 

Can we sit together, you and me and do nothing, and be

called mad and silly, and yet look at those that laugh, to tell

them they have not  what we have, you and me, a world for

us, with you the  Queen, and I the  King with none between!

 

Alas! We sit as strangers now, a presence so strange that

drives us mad! Even as we sit together, we sit in separate

worlds with bridges burnt and romance turned cold! You

left your  heart in Xanadu, and I lost mine in a siren’s song!

 

 

 

Smiling Teachers Connect Better!

Teachers are like parents; they need to be pleasant approachable and fun to be with!   They need to have a face that is always smiling! Teachers who are smiling all the time are more likely to be successful! It goes without saying that good teachers are those who inspire confidence in their learners.

It is important for teachers to be approachable and definitely not intimidating. Students who dread and fear their teachers will never come to them with their doubts and queries. Their teachers forge ahead through the syllabus not knowing that serious gaps exist in their students’ understanding of key concepts. Exams and tests are only a few tools for testing students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts. A better real-time tool for assessing student learning is the constant feedback they get from students who feel at ease while talking to their teachers to get their doubts cleared.

In today’s times where learning in schools is more student led, it is very important for teachers to have the patience and the pleasantness to listen to all kinds of possible answers, and certainly not to snub students for wrong answers. In fact, wrong answers are a wonderful excuse to address new learning and to iron out common mistakes.

Smiling teachers connect better with their students, and it is this connectedness that builds up a relationship of trust, honesty, and sincerity. It is OK for teachers to smile at their students with genuine feelings, to make their students feel welcome and happy in the presence of their teachers. While climbing the stairs, to go to a class on another floor, I was lost in my thoughts about an issue when I was accosted by one of my students. She asked me, “Why are you so serious?” And I stopped in my steps and returned, “Oh, nothing! Just thinking about something!” The expression that a teacher has affects his students very strongly. There are teachers who are able to guide their students through their expressions.

Some of the common types of teachers and the expressions they wear include:

  1. Don’t Mess With Me! They have a rather caustic expression on their faces and are always scowling (They are more likely to get worry lines and wrinkles prematurely). They don’t like to be contradicted and are least likely to engage in a dialogue with their students not even a warning about submissions of notebooks for corrections.
  1. Miss Vulnerable: these are teaches who display their emotional vulnerability in a negative sense before their learners. They are afraid of facing their students, they are nervous and will make mistakes, each one works than the previous one, they end up tangled up in a mess no one would want to be in. Students can smell vulnerable teachers, and sure, they will go for the kill! These are the ones who will break in front of their students. They are lonely, lost in their own worlds of self-defeat and self-deprecation. I would say that they are suffering from the “I am missing Mommy” syndrome.
  1. Miss Flamboyant – they have all that jewelry flashing from all directions and are more likely to be more popular as page three divas, albeit past their prime, but nevertheless with aspirations of hogging the limelight. Unfortunately, their flamboyance might be a great distraction for students and an annoyance for other teachers, (“Who does she think she is, Chamakh Challo! Hindi for Miss Glamour). They are also in some cases the dainty ones.
  1. The Sloppy One – they are married to their subjects, least bothered about their appearance. They are the happy go lucky ones, absent-minded, and not aware about the breadcrumbs sticking to their shirts. They are fixed to their blackboards and go on with the lesson in a monotone voice often without being aware of students slipping in and out from the back door. Some of the more daring students might even launch a few missiles at their backside, a few of which might strike intended targets! My advice to them would be to let down their hair sometimes, visit the parlor, take a few classes on personal grooming after all the best is yet to be, one never knows there might be silent admirers from the fraternity!
  1. The Friendly Ones: they are teachers who get too close to their students and get their fingers burnt in the process. They will do anything in order to gain popularity amongst students, and they might also be more likely to ascend up the ladder of promotional success. They are so friendly that they know about the fights taking place in their students’ families, they know about the dishes that are being cooked in their students’ homes, and they are likely to know that Vera ran away with the milkman only to return a sorry figure after a day.
  1. The Firecrackers : their bark is as bad as their bite! Spewing fire and vitriol, they are best avoided from a distance. Learners quake in fear when the Firecracker arrives in class and woe betide those whose answers are not according to the set pattern. They are slaves to processes patterns and railway tracks (pun intended). In this case, there is a complete role reversal as it is the Firecrackers that launch missiles at cowering, hopeless victims whose work is “not up to the mark!”

Life is not bad in spite of the struggle in it, the life of a teacher is full of challenges and disruption. It is very important for teachers to enjoy their profession and to grow with their students. Being with young students can be a most empowering experience. When you meet your students with a smile, it smoothes out your journey. Teaching is a sublime profession, it is a spiritual process and one should treat the profession with good grace! A positive attitude, combined with the right amount of humility,  vulnerability and the desire to learn will make you enjoy the teaching profession. To make pedagogy effective, you need to first connect to your learners. Your superior subject knowledge will take you nowhere unless students love you!