Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Blast: Soul Warrior by Falguni Kothari

★.•**•.★ Soul Warrior Book Blast ★.•**•.★ 

The Age of Kali is a series of mythic fantasy novels by international bestselling novelist Falguni Kothari.

The first book of the series, Soul Warrior, introduces readers to a fictional law-governed Cosmos made up of heavenly, demonic and human realms and its protagonist, Lord Karna, the legendary guardian of the Human Realm, who is coerced into training six godlings into demon hunters against a rising demon army.

The series arc interlocks into a war of domination between the Light and Dark forces of the Cosmos and the race to control the one soul capable of total cosmic annihilation, demi-god Karna's and Draupadi's secret child.

Get Your Copy from AMAZON

Praise for Soul Warrior:

"A beautiful exploration of fantasy and mythology, Soul Warrior (The Age of Kali) is the latest release from Falguni Kothari and by any stretch of the imagination she’s delivered an awesome story. Rich, enchanting, evocative, she effortlessly blends an ancient Indian epic and South Asian mythology with grace and quiet elegance to create the canvas upon which her miraculous world finds form.... Beautifully written and enviably imaginative, Soul Warrior proves an exemplary example of Fantasy Fiction. Definitely deserving of your attention it is recommended without reservation!"
   —Book Viral 

"I loved the writing which... hit that nice spot between being evocative and descriptive and still keeping the story moving....It has a huge cast of fascinating characters, a deep and rich world and definitely something I’m interested in following."
   —Fangs for Fantasy 

"I loved the way Ms. Falguni has shown an eye for the details scattered throughout the novel.... Will I recommend this book? Oh yes, and be assured you will grab the next one too just to know more about the Soul Warrior."
   —Global Asian Times 

"The plot is intriguing, much in the tradition of a modern thriller.... Precisely sketched and nuanced with quirky detail, the characters enrich the story they inhabit.... The vibrant characters in the multi-hued setting are the stuff superhero animation films are made of. Soul Warrior engrosses and enthralls. A thumping good read, I would say."
   —Of Prose and Poetry blog 

Read an Excerpt:


Kuru Kshetra Battlefield.
        Day 17 of the Great Kuru War, seven thousand five hundred years ago.

Death is hot.

That surprises me. I’d imagined death as cold and brutal. Merciless. But in truth, death is hot as blood, and constant like a heartbeat.

Thrum. Thrum. Thrum. My lifeblood ebbs to the rhythm. My head ripped from its torso by Anjalika, the arrow of death that burns even now with the energy of the sun. Struck from behind like some novice. Felled in battle by that lily-livered usurper the Heavens smile upon—Prince Arjun. Brother Arjun.

What have I done?

I harness the thought. Cease all reflection and wrench free of my mortal body. I soar up, up into the gloaming, snapping the ties that tether me to life. Dead, I have no use for ties.

“A matter of perspective, Karna, O son of my godsire.” The unearthly words strum through the air, and I quiver like a plucked bowstring, overcome as much by the voice as its blasphemous claim. 

“Bonds of devotion nourish the soul, brother.”

There is that word again. Brother. Unpleasant laughter wells up in me. Alive, I am abandoned, denied my birthright—Celestial or royal. Death, it seems, changes everything.

A bright, nebulous light brings forth Lord Yama, the God of Death, atop his divine mount. His elephantine thighs ripple beneath a silken dhoti, ochre and crimson of color, as he guides the mammoth water buffalo to a halt. An iron medallion sways against the God’s powerful cerulean torso, its center stone an ethereal blood orange.

Hypnotic. Pulsing with life. I am drawn to the stone.

“Piteous waste,” Lord Yama mutters, surveying the carnage of war far below us.

I trace the trajectory of his gaze and behold the battered remains of my army drenched in the evidence of its mortality. Is it true? Have we died in vain?

Words form inside me and I will them out. “Shall we go, my lord?”

“Ha! Impatient to be judged, are you? Anxious to have your fate revealed?” asks the Judge of the Hell Realm. His red-black eyes burn with intelligence and compassion in a blue-tinged face that is long and lean and hard. “Rest easy, brother-warrior. You are not bound for the Great Courtroom.”
Not bound for Hell? Where then? Fear has eluded me for so long that I take a moment to recognize it. 

A hollow-bellied feeling it is, as annoying as a bone stuck in my throat.

“My lord, I have done bad deeds…terrible deeds in my life. I have waged wars, this horrendous bloodshed, and all because my pride could not—would not abide rejection. I have sinned. I must atone for my actions.”

Lord Yama smiles in a way I do not like. “You have redeemed yourself admirably, Karna. You forfeited your life for the greater good today. The deed far outweighs any misguided ones. Be at peace, brother, and enjoy the fruits of your karma.”

There is but one place to enjoy such fruits—the Higher Worlds.

I’d rather burn in Hell for eternity. I say so. “I won’t live amongst the Celestials.” Coexisting with the very souls who’ve spurned me is unthinkable. Watching her—for she would surely reside in Heaven soon—will be eternal torture.

Yama shakes his head, the horns on his crown slashing to and fro. “I thought you might say that. Relax. Your destiny lies elsewhere.”

“Am I to be reborn then? Am I to begin a new life, and forget the past?” Pain, sharp as a blade, lances through me at the thought. Forget my past? My family? Even her? Was that my punishment? To forget all that made me human?

It must be so. For have I not betrayed them as surely as I’ve betrayed my prince regent?

“Human rebirth is not your destiny, either. You are chosen, brother. Your war skills are needed for a higher purpose.” The God slips off his mount, his garments rustling in agitation. “This unjust war has pushed the Cosmos to the vortex of a cataclysm. Tomorrow, the Kuru War will end. Fearing its outcome, the Celestials rolled the Die of Fate and have unwittingly bestowed on Demon Kali untold powers.” Lord Yama bares his fangs in disgust at the foolish gamble. “Imagine the havoc that asura and his minions will wreak on the weak if left unchecked. The Human Realm must be safeguarded during Kali’s dark reign.”

I can imagine the horror only too well as I have battled with evil all my life. But I am done with wars. 
I am done with defeat. I won’t waste another lifetime fighting.

“With due respect, my lord, I am not the man for this task.”

“You are not a man at all,” Yama thunders, fists shaking. “You are the son of Surya, the Sun God. Accept that you are no ordinary soul.”

I say nothing. I think nothing. I feel something but I squash it down.

Lord Yama’s thick black brows draw together. “Demon Kali will try to pervade every particle of good that exists in the Cosmos, beginning with the corruptible Human Realm. Once he obliterates all of humanity, he’ll set his sights on the Celestials. Kali will not stop until he’s destroyed our way of life. But you can stop him. You are light to his darkness. Do you understand now why you had to betray him? Your beloved humans need you, Karna. I need you. Our father believes in you. Claim your rightful place in the Cosmos.”

Impatiently, Lord Yama removes the iron medallion from his neck and holds it out. The vermillion sunstone glows as if its soul is on fire. Nay! It is my soul that is on fire.

Indescribable energy curls through me. I gasp, though not in pain. I shudder and feel myself grow large, grow hot. Was this rebirth?

I am strong, full-bodied and lethal once more. Then I roar as light bursts forth from my very core and I throb with glorious, blinding power. When I come to myself, my world has changed again. Bubbles of color shimmer all around me: cobalt and saffron, azure and rose. By karma! They are souls. Infinite floating souls.

“Behold the spectrum of life: the worthy, the notorious, the righteous and the sinners.” The God of Death’s soul was a worthy sapphire blue with a tinge of silver. “Your duty, should you choose to accept the office of the Soul Warrior, is to hunt down the red-souled asuras and crush them. Whatever you decide, I wish you a long and successful Celestial existence, Karna,” Yama booms out and vanishes into the purpling sky.

The parley has stunned me. The world of color holds me in thrall. I was dead. Yet, now I am not. A new path lies before me. Unwanted, unwelcome, I insist on principle. I close my eyes. Open them to stare at the medallion cupped in my hand—a golden-hued hand at once familiar and not—and know myself for a fool. I do want this. It’s what I am.

Bastard-born. Rebel. Son. Husband. Father. Warlord. And protector. I fist the talisman, buoyed by its concrete warmth. This is who I am.

I am the Soul Warrior.

About the Author:

Falguni Kothari is a New York-based South Asian author and an amateur Latin and Ballroom dance silver medalist with a semi-professional background in Indian Classical dance.

She’s published in India in contemporary romance with global e-book availability; Bootie and the Beast (Harlequin Mills and Boon) and It’s Your Move, Wordfreak! (Rupa & Co.), and launches a mythic fantasy series with Soul Warrior (The Age of Kali, #1)

Social media accounts I own : Website * Blog * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads * Pinterest

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review: The Queens of Hastinapur by Sharath Komarraju

Book Review: The Queens of Hastinapur by Sharath Komarraju

The 3rd part of Sharath Komarraju's Hastinapur series lives up to its reputation of being the voice of the women of the Mahabharata epic. The series is a first person narration of the epic by the female leads of the story - notably Ganga, Amba, Gandhari, Kunti /Pritha, Madri (till now). As the story progresses, the other female leads will emerge and tell the story from their point of view. 

Not only the narration, but even the story is different. So in a way, it is the retelling of the epic with the women's perspective thrown in for good measure so its an interesting read. These make this series an easy 4-5 star rating book. The book makes you think ... about the turn of events, the alternate thought process suggested in the narration. Most important, you feel for the characters. These books are not a narration of a sequence of events of Mahabharata. These are insights into the deepest thoughts of the lead female characters. Thats what makes it unique. 

I felt that this particular book went a bit too slow as compared to the earlier books. Too much introspection in there. i am not criticizing the introspection though. It had its own merit and brought out a unique perspective to the story telling but it dragged a bit longer for me this time. Also, at times, it began to hamper the story telling as the events unfolded far too slowly for impact. I removed a star purely on account of the pace - hence a 3-star instead of a 4-star rating. 

While the premise and plot angle is unique and fresh, I might suggest a bit of pace to be built into the story telling. The author as well as other readers may very well disagree with me. 

I would easily recommend this book (in fact, the entire series) to anyone interested in an alternate story-telling of the Mahabharata ... and reading it from the women's complex and yet little explored perspective. 

An interesting angle of this book is the whole 'Krishna origin' back story built into the book. Its interesting to read that part. 

And of course, the underlying common thread and plot line of Sharath's Mahabharata is the unnecessary interventions by a certain group of people into the political scene of Bharat to protect themselves and how they end up messing it every single time, and continue to apply risk mitigation strategies which eventually back-fire. (this won’t make sense unless you read the book)

It was interesting to see the evolution of the cover design. Have a look at previous 2 book covers and you see that first book was predominantly Ganga's story and hence a cover design showing her. the 2nd book cover highlighted Gandhari. This book beautifully brings out Gandhari and Kunti (Pritha) who are at loggerheads with Ganga in between, playing a pivotal role to the tale. Well thought out cover design. Also, you see the evolution of the cover design style across the 3 books - different art work styles. Someday, at the end of the series, they will come out with a box-set with books covers that are in harmony.

Quick Note: I got an ‘early readers copy’ or ‘advance readers copy’ (ARC) of the book from the author. I have been reading Sharath's work for past couple of years and I must say that i am impressed with his versatility. He has written a variety of books in a variety of genres and there is hardly any book of his that I have rated low. He has done a fabulous job in almost all his books including this series. Check out his other books too ... ranging from horror to sci-fi to short stories across genres.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book review: Harappa – Curse of the Blood River by Vineet Bajpai

Book review: Harappa – Curse of the Blood River by Vineet Bajpai

A fast paced thriller with parallel story tracks running across the book. The present day story reflects and runs parallel to another one from 1700 BC – a time when the seemingly planned cities and seemingly advanced civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were flourishing.

The story has a lot of suspense and buildup to keep the reader on the edge-of-the-seat. The book has a captivating beginning and the author does not lose his grip on the reader till the very end.

The story telling is excellent with the reader kept at the edge of his seat in a quick succession series of events and action unfolding without a break. The pace of the book is maintained and the story does not slow down.  

The parallel story telling format builds the story bit by bit on both fronts, increasing your anticipation as you jump from one story to another, knowing fully well that the stories are running in parallel and expecting characters to behave in a certain manner or wondering which character reflects which one from the other track.

The author has an interesting cast of characters to play with in both parallel tracks and the reader is intrigued by most of the characters as they try to figure out their true colors and also guess the traitor (of course, there is always a traitor). Some of you might just about guess the traitor while most wont. I guessed the traitor early on by was sure about him/her a few pages before the revelation simply because the author stopped mentioning him/her although he/she was very much present on the scene. How could he/she be missing in action … during an action sequence. That’s what confirmed my suspicion on him/her.

The Book Cover is interesting with the contrast drawn between the Harappan times and modern-day Banaras, using pictorial as well as color contrast. It surely does not give away the story but the visual appeal is definitely there.  

I really liked the book and looking forward to the next part of the series. I would easily rate this book 5/5 except for a few things that annoyed me. The overall book has raised the bar so much that the ordinarily ignored annoyances could no longer be annoyed. I might just give feedback to the author directly on those points. For all practical purpose, the book can be easily rated 4.5 to 5 out of 5. Go for it.

This book is definitely the beginning of a series or a trilogy. I look forward to reading the next one in the series soon. It is a promising plot line and opens up doors for a couple of books more in the series. Also, the story will move further and the action will go to various international locales.


Rating 4/5

This Book Review/Interview is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Book Promotions. To know more, visit

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Book Review: Being a Project Manager by Hamutal Weisz & Daniel Zitter


An interesting set of Books on Project Management. The book has an interesting cover design which seemingly has no connection to project management but take a pause a think deeper and you will see the connect.

Book 1 Review: Being a Project Manager: The Beginning
In a simple manner, through the story, the author explains the various facets of starting and forming a start-up business along with several life lessons and lessons about social contribution & personal growth.

All this .. with a complex and varied audience of school going kids (seniors), their parents and even their teachers.

It is indeed a difficult task to explain the complex world of start-ups to anyone. Add to that the additional responsibility of teaching some life lessons and moral / social responsibility in a non-preachy manner as part of the story telling. The author has done a good job of simplifying things while keeping a wide coverage.

While all this was good, i did find that in order to cover all facets, it became an overload. The average senior student of the school might eventually find the book heavy on concepts. This is a personal thought and may not be true, considering the generation of kids these days definitely seems to be smarter than my own generation.

An interesting book actually.
Book 2 Review: Being a Project Manager: Planning the Project
The 2nd part of the 4-part series on Being a Project Manager continues its style of engaging the reader by giving knowledge in a nutshell.

The first one like a short introduction while this one begins to dive into the subject - but not really a deep dive. Its skimming the surface but enough to give the reader the ability to have an intelligent, sensible conversation on this subject with a professional.

The book is laying the foundation principles of project management for the average reader and gives a generic roadmap for project management rather than aligning to any specific project management style or philosophy. Its focus on core principles allows it to set a good foundation on which the reader can build.

While the book is useful for a beginner, I must say, a seasoned Project manager will also find the books useful - Not only for its information in a nutshell approach (to quickly refresh the project management learnings) but also present a unique way of looking at project management as a whole .. keeping an eye on the big picture.

Having read 2 books in the series, I look forward to the remaining books in the series. This set of 4 books can serve as a ready reference for beginners and seasons project managers alike ... adorning their desk or their kindle.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Book review: The Benefits of Failing Successfully by Jagdish Chaturvedi

The book is titled ”The Benefits of Failing Successfully: 10 Hidden Benefits of Making Mistakes And Failing” and it does live up to its title in some ways.

The 10 hidden benefits are introduced with the help of Dr. Jagdish’s personal life incidents and his learning from them.
At the core, it is a simple straightforward book on how to deal with Failures.
Dr. Jagdish narrates real incidents of failure from his personal life and what he learnt from them as well as how the seemingly failed attempt at doing something proved to be beneficial.
The author has pointed out that failure teaches valuable lessons that you wont learn if you were successful in your first attempt at doing something.
The benefit of having the real life incidents from Authors' life is that most readers will connect easily as something they themselves might have experienced.
At the core, the book attempts to align the attitude of the reader towards what most people refer to as 'Failure'
The book is short and has many pages with illustrations by Pranay Arun Kumar. They help keep the nature of the book light. Plain text talking about failures can be depressing. The sketches which appear every few pages, enhance the message and make the whole reading experience rather enjoyable.
The book will be a good read for school and college going students and people early in their career. Might not be a very good read for the seasoned professional but a gentle reminder never hurt.
The cover design might seem childish but with the target audience of students … its more likely to hit the mark.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Our Start-up by Dov Reichman

The complex world of start-ups simplified  

In a simple manner, through the story, the author explains the various facets of starting and forming a start-up business along with several life lessons and lessons about social contribution & personal growth.

All this .. with a complex and varied audience of school going kids (seniors), their parents and even their teachers.

It is indeed a difficult task to explain the complex world of start-ups to anyone. Add to that the additional responsibility of teaching some life lessons and moral / social responsibility in a non-preachy manner as part of the story telling. The author has done a good job of simplifying things while keeping a wide coverage.

While all this was good, i did find that in order to cover all facets, it became an overload. The average senior student of the school might eventually find the book heavy on concepts. This is a personal thought and may not be true, considering the generation of kids these days definitely seems to be smarter than my own generation.

An interesting book actually.

The cover deisgn shows a boy and a girl which could be misleading, but on the other hand the book is written with the very young audience in mind so it is probably appropriate and correct cover deisgn consideration.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Article - "All prepared for the interview?

"All prepared for the interview?"


"All prepared for the interview?" - One of the most common questions you get asked by your friends (and sometimes by your colleagues too, if they know)

(I started writing this as a simple comment but as i wrote and went on writing, it became a whole article. Well, read patiently)

And somehow, this has always stumped me. Practically, because I never 'prepared' for an interview. I could never figure out what to prepare for when facing an interview.

During my early days in Engineering college as well as for MBA institute admissions, I was told to prepare for some basic questions like 'Talk about yourself', 'What’s your strength / weakness", "Why do you want to join our company", "Where do you see yourself in 10 years" etc. I did prepare for them, unconvincingly.

'Talk about yourself'

Except for the fact that i need to keep it short and concise, i never really understood what is there to prepare in this. It’s your own life and own self you are talking about. What’s there to prepare. Just talk about yourself in a logical manner talking about your education and career journey. This is often the foundation setting of the interview where the interviewer is not focusing on your answer BUT identifying areas where they can ask you questions. Simple.

'What’s your strength / weakness"

I am sure this one is a good question. Sadly, i have not been able to figure out a good answer to it till date :(

"Why do you want to join our company"

Another one that stumps me. I frankly don’t know your company or its work culture. All i know is what i have read about you, which may or may not be true. So, don't except me to know what is it about the company that I love and want to join it for.

Reminds me of an interview with a consulting firm i had in 2013-2014. I had already cleared the multiple rounds as well as the HR round. One final quick conversation with the Partner was needed to close the process. The Partner asked me what I loved about the company. I told him I don’t know yet. The things to love about a company are essentially 2 from my perspective - the work culture which is essentially dependent on your immediate leadership (not company leadership) and the people you work with (immediate team and other members) and the kind of work you do (work profile, projects). You can’t know these things before joining the company so I will know if I love the company only AFTER working with the company for a couple of months at a minimum. The Partner said that I would be offered the job only if I loved the company enough to join and I said, for that I need to join. it was a chicken and egg situation. I left the room saying that I will never be able to join the company under his leadership since I would never the love the company without joining and working in it.

I still don’t have an answer for that question. I never will.   

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years"

I never had the answer to this one too. Suggested answers in early days were things like 'I want to be a CEO' to show that you were ambitious (sorry to say that I found that exceedingly stupid and never ever used that response). BUT now I am clear. I have an answer now. Sadly, most interviewers don’t understand it. They are positively shocked to hear it. They suddenly don’t know what to do with the interview since they have probably never heard that answer before and never expected anyone to say that.

My response is "in 5/10 year’s time, I will be doing more or less the same things that I am doing now, with a possible change in complexity and scale". I am a Change management consultant and I would like to continue doing this for a living for the foreseeable future. I don’t intend to 'rise' in a consulting firm to become a Director, then a Partner and someday become a CEO. I don’t think I want to take that career path. I want to remain a CM consultant, taking on larger and more complex change projects."

So, coming back to the Interview preparation. Personally, I don’t think you need to prepare for an interview. You need to be Yourself and you don’t need preparation for that. You DON'T have to project an alternate or false image of yourself wherein you will have to carefully prepare on what to say and what not to say. 

You might want to do a bit of reading up about your prospective employer (what business, geographical spread, recent news items). You also definitely need to read the Job Description for the job you are being interviewed for. That’s helps you understand the organization and might help you highlight some of your education / strength / experience which is directly relevant to the job at hand and the company profile. I personally don’t refer to that as 'preparation' but yeah, it qualifies and you can call it that.

I have trained students for GD/PI (during year 2002-2003) and my key teachings were the following (most of which don’t need preparation actually):

1. Be Confident. Be sure of yourself and what you know as well as what you don’t.

2. If you know, answer. If you don’t know, say so. If you think you could figure out the answer through a logical reasoning or process, take the interviewer through the thinking process. Most of the times, the interviewer is not interested in the right/wrong answer. All they want to know is your ability to think. if you have shown a logical though process, you get points for that even if your answer was miles away from being correct.

3. Bring your passion on the table. There will always be something that You are passionate about. Try to bring it in the interview. No one is going to ask you about it. Figure out a way to bring it on the table in one of your answers. When you talk about something that you are passionate about, it shows. Employers want passionate people. Employees who become passionate about their job, perform at exceptional levels.

4. Control the interview. Most people think that the interviewer drives the interview and the person being interviewed is simply being driven, without a choice. My personal experience is the opposite. Remember the 'talk about yourself' question and how the interviewer is looking for questions to ask you basis that answer. There lies the beauty. bring your passionate subject in that answer and you are sure to be questioned about it. Mention the event you organized in school, the achievement you had in college, the project/task you cracked in previous job. Those are juicy interesting bits and your interviewer is bound to ask you about those things. Those things are close to your heart and you don’t need to prepare for them. You will be able to talk passionately about them and your energy + enthusiasm will show. You got them.

Hope the above helps you in your next interview.

Do 'prepare' yourself for the interview.

All the Best.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book Blast : Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

~ Release Day Blitz ~

Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer


Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere. Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?

Read an Excerpt

“I am the Queen! This will be my throne!” The seven-year-old chirped leaping from the middle of the porch towards the broken mortar which served as a mock throne. “You will be my guard!”

“Guard?” the man pondered scratching his unkempt beard. 

“No.” He shook his head and smiled seeing her indignant eyes. “I will be the Queen’s elephant.” He beamed.

Sukratu stepped out of the house to see his daughter in action, perching herself on the tramp Loha’s back, pretending in all earnestness that he was her elephant. He smiled and was about to set out for his duty as the night guard of the King. A sudden lightning appeared in the eastern skies. Sukratu had barely walked a few paces when a deafening thunder made him instinctively turn towards home. He heaved a sigh, finding Loha shielding the girl as if he would, his own child. 

“Father, don’t go.” The girl pleaded. 

Sukratu smiled and shifted his gaze towards the sky. He saw dark clouds loom over the city. The monsoon winds had started to make their presence felt. He had to reach the palace soon. “Isn’t my little Queen brave?” He called out. 

The girl nodded. He saw the fear fade. From her eyes. From her heart. She knew she was the queen! Pride filled his heart. His mind ached to stay home but duty beckoned. Tearing his gaze away from the one he treasured the most in his life, braving the drizzle that would soon turn into a storm, he unwillingly walked towards the King’s residence. Sukratu’s house was in the third ring of the concentric structure of Vrishabhavati. In the centre, was the structure, that served as the residence of the king and as the centre of all trade activity of the city. Here no wealth or goods could change hands without the king’s knowledge and approval. The residences of the noblemen formed the two rings around it. The guards and soldiers forming the outermost circle with the citizens living around them. 

As per the protocol, Sukratu approached General Ugra’s residence quite ahead of his reporting time— an hour before the moonrise. He walked into the empty courtyard. But the rain made it impossible for him to stand there any longer. He knocked at the giant wooden door fervently. The doors creaked as a strange woman clad in a dark indigo garment opened them and glared at him with a frown on her forehead. 
General Ugra, Sukratu knew was never faithful to one woman. His superior’s romantic exploits were not his concern either. But something about the woman at the door disconcerted him. “Please let General Ugra know that…”

“He has already left for the palace!” The woman frowned before attempting to shut the door. 

“What? How ca…” Sukratu’s words hung in air as the door slammed on his face and the woman disappeared from his line of vision all of a sudden. Something did not feel right. He knocked at the door again. Firmly this time, as though seeking answers. Any change in the reporting time would have been announced the day before and he remembered that nothing of the sort had happened. His knocks went unanswered. Frowning and muttering under his breath, Sukratu hurried towards an empty cowshed three houses away from Ugra’s place hoping to catch his companions who he knew would be equally surprised. 
The first to arrive was Khela, the eighteen-year-old guard, holding a metal shield above his head. The newest addition to the King’s guard, Khela was related to General Ugra and Sukratu felt that his position in the King’s guard was largely a result of undue favours that Ugra showered upon an otherwise impudent boy. 

“Sukratu! By the great Varuna, I should have come to you earlier!” Khela hurried towards him. Pausing for breath, he added. “Our platoon has been given a relief tonight! It was a sudden decision and I personally informed all the others.”

“Relief for tonight? That happens only when…”

“Our guarding hours change from night to day!” Khela completed in a hurry. “Now, come with me.” He turned towards the western direction and the javelin he held started to sway dangerously and came close to grazing Sukratu’s arm. 

The older guard’s instincts made him dodge the cut. “Where?” Sukratu hissed, visibly annoyed, first with the fact that he was kept in dark about the change in guarding hours and then about Khela’s irreverent behaviour. “And watch who your weapon hurts, boy.”
Khela shrugged and changed the position of his weapon. “We are now going to the place.” He winked, stretching his hand in the direction. “Follow me, this is the only night we get to have some fun.”

Sukratu did not move. The place he knew implied the tavern where wine was served. “We cannot drink tonight, Khela. When do we have to report tomorrow? By sunrise?”

“You ask too many questions. The rest of us are there too!”

“That does not answer my question.” 

“Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care to. The palace is paying for the wine. Are you coming or not?” 

The last sentence sounded more like a threat than an invite. Sukratu had all the mind to give the youth a piece of his mind and storm back home. His daughter would be overjoyed to see him before she went to sleep. It gnawed at Sukratu’s heart every day to leave her under the care of Loha— the tramp who had begged him for shelter about six months ago and then became a part of his life. The girl liked him instantly and had begged Sukratu to let Loha live with them and he, despite his misgivings about the tramp’s origins and his unkempt appearance, could not refuse his only daughter. Over time, Sukratu felt grateful for Loha’s company. Now his daughter did not have to be all by herself every night. The guard’s home would have been unguarded if not for that stranger. Sukratu brushed aside these thoughts and had almost decided to go home when the thought of meeting other senior guards and clarifying the confusion struck him. He followed Khela’s lead, making no attempt to hide his displeasure. 

When they reached the tavern, Sukratu to his dismay, found many of his brothers in arms deeply drunk. “When did they reach here and when did they…”

“Quite some time before. I just forgot to tell you in advance!”

Sukratu’s eyes scrutinized the men and women of the tavern who were serving wine to the guards. There were no other citizens or travellers in the tavern. 

“Just for us, the whole night!” Khela said as if reading his thoughts, bringing him an earthen goblet. The older guard accepted the goblet taking his first sip with a sense of foreboding. 

“Where were you all the time, old friend?” The voice belonged to Tunga one of the senior guards in the platoon. 

The grin on his friend’s face brought a smile to Sukratu’s lips. “Tunga, what is this about the sudden change in our guarding hours?” 

“The King… that imbecile, has finally remembered that we are human too!” Tunga guffawed, emptying his goblet, waving vigorously at a woman of the tavern who obliged with a seductive wink. 

She approached them, skilfully distributing her attention between both the men, winking at Tunga and pouting her lips at Sukratu. Her brows rose at Sukratu’s filled cup. “Don’t keep the Sura nor this Sundari waiting, my love...” Serving Tunga his wine, she placed her fingers upon Sukratu’s shoulders, digging her nails into his skin for a moment locking her gaze with his and turned around swiftly, letting her light upper garment rest on his face for a fleeting moment. 

It was a wilful invitation and Sukratu knew it. His attention though was caught by the colour of the garment. The Indigo hued garment! All the women of the tavern wore clothes of the same colour. So did the woman he saw in General Ugra’s house! Was Ugra at home while the woman lied that he was at the palace? If the General and the whole platoon of the night guard were lying down drunk, who was minding the security of the King? Sukratu looked at the rest of the guards. No one seemed sober enough to talk. The only sober man Khela had disappeared!

“By the great Varuna!” Sukratu exclaimed aloud and rushed out, pushing the woman who tried to stop him away. 

He raced to the King’s residence, as fast as his legs could carry him. The huge wooden gates of the structure were closed and secured from inside. The rain lashed drowning his cries. Misgivings regarding the King’s welfare made him shudder. He had to meet General Ugra. Something told him that the General had his own reasons to send the whole platoon of guards to enjoy a drunk night. He was a guard who had sworn to protect the King with his life. The general owed him an answer. Sukratu rushed to General Ugra’s house determined to confront him. 

That, Sukratu realized was the biggest mistake of his life. 

At the gates of the general’s residence he saw a familiar figure hurrying out of his house, a heavy bundle on his shoulders. “General Ugra!” he called out, feeling relieved. 
The figure started, and the bundle fell to the ground. Sukratu came to a sudden halt as he realized it wasn’t a bundle after all, but a blood-drenched corpse. A stroke of lightning from the sky revealed the face and the very familiar greying curls. Sukratu froze for a long moment before he could speak.

 “K... King...”

Something hit him on the head even before he could utter the name. Sukratu staggered, reeling at the impact, clutching at his long sword in a vain attempt to defend the next move. 

“Finish him!” The General shout behind him. 

Before he turned around, Sukratu felt the cold metal tear into his back. Lightning struck revealing the contours of the person. Khela! The javelin stabbed him again. Thunder drowned his screams. Falling to the ground with the weapon still stuck to his back, Sukratu lifted his sword and managed to slash Khela’s palm though the latter, unlike him was vigilant and alert. Crawling away from the menacing duo, knowing very well that he could not last more than a few moments, Sukratu’s thoughts, went to his innocent daughter. She would now languish as an orphan remaining in dark about the monsters who killed her father. Or would they kill her too?

Sukratu would never know. 

About the Author:

 Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala. She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.