Saturday, 9 July 2016

Mohenjo Daro and the Intellectual Push

Picked up my laptop to write another blog post after a long time today. The last I wrote on the blog was the review of The Curse of Damini which doesnt actually count as a blog post. So, before I start, I want to set the premise by stating four points upfront.

1.) I am not a fan of Hrithik Roshan. I really like him as an actor, but not that crazy of a fan. Same goes for Ashutosh Gowarikar.
2.) Hrithik's next movie Mohenjo-daro is stated as a "26th century fiction" in Wikipedia. Its a commercial movie, and not a documentary for History Channel. 
3.) All Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code did was pick up a popular theory of his times, and create a fiction around it. There are proofs both for and against that theory, but till this date the theory remains mostly a rumour.
4.) My first book Finders, Keepers involved a mythical society of the Nine Unknown Men by Asoka, and the historical conflict between Shaivas and Vaishnavas as the premise.

Now, since the time the first trailer of the movie Mohenjo-Daro was out, followed by a song, forums, blogs, tweets and comments are buzzing around the movie, the costumes, the sets, the settings, etc. Mostly by the look and feel of it, this seems like another blockbuster in making and that thought is aided by the Page views, likes, overall social media buzz and various trade analysts. This blog post however is not about the commercial expectations of the movie. It has been seen that a lot many people have raised serious objections, doubts and even jokes on how funny and light-hearted effort the movie is inspite of trying hard to be taken seriously. While I agree with a couple of them, (come on, every movie has mistakes), I find others a very hurried and desperate push to sound intelligent and bring the movie down somehow. 
So, lets talk about those points. All the points mentioned here are collected from various posts, comments, blogs, tweets that I have found against the movie.
Here is the trailer to the movie

Mistakes that I agree with:

1.) The first and foremost, how could the script writers miss it. Mohenjo-Daro literally means "The Mound of the Dead". The ancient city was termed so in not before 1922 by the excavators, and the term "Mohenjo-Daro" is a Sindhi term. Surely, this would not be called by that name back in that age and we still see Hrithik calling it by this name a number of times. Bad bad mistake, that

2.)The pronunciation of the name is itself wrong. It is pronounced differently in Sindhi dialect, however, Hrithik says how it would be called in English.

3.)Stitched clothes in 2016 BC: Many traditions still believe that stitched clothes restrict energy and to expect it in 2016 BC is not correct. But, here comes the limitation and I am pro-this mistake. This statue was unearthed in the excavations, and is titled "The Dancing Girl". Can you suggest one actress who would do this role? I mean this mistake had to happen and could be deliberate

Now, lets focus on mistakes that over-enthusiasts are pointing and to me sound nothing less than funny and over-reactions to criticize the movie. Mins you, some utterly laughable, but have been mentioned all over social media and I have merely compiled them.

Mistakes I dont agree with

1.)Why are they in a French kiss in 2016 BC.
Anyone who points that mistake should go to his bathroom, look into the mirror and ask "Seriously? You passed your high school?" I mean that type of kiss was given a name much later, but didnt ancient Indians kiss? Or they really did not, because they didnt know its name. A piece of trivia for you guys. Vatsyayan wrote Kamasutra not by theory but by visiting households, brothels and other places and depicting the actions of the male and the female on his text while they were at it. Its not that before Kamasutra they didnt know how to conceive.

2.) Why are they fair skinned when Aryans hadnt arrived.
Like seriously? Thats your "historical mistake" you are talking about? But, lets get to the point. This is one of those theories which have a lot of counter arguements as well, and lately those counter arguements have been much more heavy and well documented than those pro to the Aryan Dravidian theory. Read this post to read the counter-narrative. Its like Priory of Sion. Two theories against each other, one documented and much more famous. But, thats the point. Whats wrong in weaving some popular theory in your "fictional" movie. I think thats a smart move.

3.)Horses were domesticated during Vedic Age. Much after the Mohenjo Daro
Because Hrithik is seen riding a horse in the movie. In his book, Mohenjo-Daro and the ancient civilization, 1931, John Marshall has stated historians found seals of horses and statues of domesticated horses. Now, the popular theory against it is, there were no horse bones found, but come on, what about the statues and the seals that were found? This is one pro-horse theory blog. Anyways, not taking any sides, this is in addition to above point. Whats wrong in flirting with a popular counter narrative.

4.)Use of spears and axes:
In the 2000 published book International Symposium on History of Machines and MechanismsProceedings HMM, it is clearly mentioned that Harappans knew hot to make spears, axes out of bronze-copper metals. The excavations have found weapons made out of those metals. Iron was still not known to be used. 

5.)Disparity with history.
These are the ruins of the city structure of Mohenjo Daro as per Wikipedia(credit Comrogues

This is from their trailer

I think the movie depicts a perfect visual representation of how the city would be. I am not sure why some people disagree to this as well.

5.) The plot itself looks cliched
I may not have the intellectual capability to comment on that because honestly, one can think of any plot for a fictional movie. The narrative and execution is more important. However, with such a plot some people are having so many problems, God knows if they would have chosen a more complex plot, those guys would have gone bonkers.

6.)The first video song
And now, my most favorite part. How people are so desperate to pull it down. There is one 3-miunte song that has been released recently and there have been funny comments. Here is the song

i.)Why are they with horns?
That looks stupid? Out of place? Lets see, have you noticed why there eyes are colored red as well? The male dancers? Its for a reason.
The above is the image representation of Lord Pashupati, and the above seal is found in excavations of the Indus Valley. Pashupati is known as the lord of the animals. So, in the song, they play animals, and the horns symbolize praying to Lord Pashupati himself. Notice how Kabir Bedi wears horns on his head? He is depicting himself as a God to his citizens. Pooja Hegde, in all probability, is symbolizing a Goddess among all of them.
Notice how in the seal above the animals are bowing to Lord Pashupati, much akin to how is it in the song

ii)Bollywood Dance Moves

On the same lines as the "French kiss" point above. There have been male and female statues found where they are shown as dancing in their posture. So, dance was not alien to them. In addition to that, it has often been rumoured that Harappans knew about Nataraja and his dancing stance. The postures that they are taking up are certainly not "Bollywood" anyways.

iii)Blue, chlorinated Swimming Pool
This comment makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I mean that much of cherry-picking in a movie? Just to prove a point? Such scrutiny?
Anyways, here is an image of "The Great Bath" from Wikipedia by Saqib Qayyum

Historians claim The Great Bath at the ruins of the Harappan civilization to be ancient world's first water tank. A side-by -side pic of both courtesy India Today

The blue tiles? They could very well be symbolic reflection of sky or even added color to make it look divine. But, I think making fun of some brilliant attempt is easier than attempting something similar.
And chlorinated water? The city had world's first sewage system, and you are talking about water treatment? Just for the curious minds, water purification is even prescribed n Ayurveda. This may date further back, but historians claim Harappans knew about sanitation and treatment of water. Thats why it may be clean. And did you smell chlorine?

Do you know that in the 1995 historical movie Braveheart, the fruit thrown at the protagonist includes tomato, which werent even discovered by the era that movie is set in? In 2010 movie RobinHood, the French king is told they would land on English Coast in 40 minutes. The period the movie is set in, minutes werent used to measure time. Coins were used to cover eyes of dead in 2004 hit Troy, when the coins werent clearly invented by that time.

I wont talk about how tacky you think the VFX crocodile was in the trailer, or if the plot sounds cliched to you. the battles dont appeal or whatever. The point is these days with the ease of access of a click and a share, people jump to conclusions way too often. Didnt like the trailer, saw a few comments, read a few blogs, and lo! You get an opinion! The moment someone tries to bring a really interested and difficult topic on celluloid, the intellectuals start pointing what all could have been corrected. I know a few of them and have seen cheering Jason Statham when he was chasing a car on his cycle in Transporter 3 or when Salman Khan enters the villain's den alone in Wanted.
Some of them even called it a "Hindutva" movie. I mean someone give them a life! The move hasnt even released.

Hold your horses, folks. This is definitely an interesting and innovative attempt. Enjoy the movie for what it is and not what you want it to be. Stitching theories and rumors into fiction is a very popular mechanism and highly entertaining and I am sure you loved Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Ending the post with a spoof song which I think relates very heavily to his blog post

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Book Review- The Curse of Damini by Debajani Mohanty

The moment I picked up Debajani Mohanty's debut novel "The Curse of Damini", and read the back cover blob which talked of a historic pre-Independence setting, I was sure of two things. One, an extensive detailing of the Bengali culture and the rustic rural settings, and two, a definite inspiration from Tagore's works and stories. So, that part didnt come as a surprise or a novelty factor to me.
Yet, I will give full credits to Debajani, its very tough to recreate and reinterpret what Tagore has already done so perfectly. Even a director of the stature of Anurag Basu wasnt so perfect in capturing the maestro's stories and the vibrant atmosphere he built up in them. But where everyone mostly fails, Debajani succeeds. So, +1 for that.

The book is feminist to the core, a topic which I appreciate and find a lot of interest in reading. Debjani has very smartly kept away from pseudo feminist ideas and her protagonist Renuka fights with the system and the society surrounding her, keeping her identity and valor intact. I was aware that the setting being pre-Independence rural Bengal, a small town of Medinipur, the problems a strong willed girl would face and fight would be the very problems we have grown up reading about . I wasnt exatcly disappointed to see the same problems surfacing in Debajani's book. However, I expected more clever solutions to those problems, more imagination from Renuka. I was a bit disappointed in Debajani using the same old methods to fight those problems, same old theatricals and approaches. So, -1 for that.

The book begins on a very high pitch and strong grounds. Debajani has very cleverly arched out the characters of Renuka and her strong willed husband. Its always a pleasure to read books where demure spouses gradually rise above the stature of their level headed partners. I mean thats a character arch, where the protagonists make an impression isnpite of the risk of getting overshadowed. And for most of the part Debajani succeeds in the same. But then, all of a sudden you cannot make the same level headed character say something totally out of his league, just to make a point.

The first half is splendid, the reader completely gets lost in the aura of the Havelis and the pompousness of the zamindars of those times and the little neatly explained detailing of the Bengali culture. The terror of communal violence is beautifully explained not via those who got killed, but by those who lived and that deserves a special mention.
The story begins to falter in the second half a bit. Introductions of certain characters and re-introduction of a few break the momentum and all of a sudden there is another feminist character who is confused yet determined.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, specifically for the detailed explanations by Debajani of the scenic beauty of Medinipur, the villagers, their antics, their customs and rituals. The character of Damini is the spice of the story as Debajani has very intelligently used her character.
I would give 3.5/5 stars for the book. Its a must read.

You can buy the book from Amazon

Thursday, 5 February 2015

First Three Chapters of Finders, Keepers

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Finders, Keepers

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Finders, Keepers

By Sapan Saxena

“Every Fact is a Myth until proven to be otherwise”
This is not a book of history, but a work of fiction.
The groups and sects, monument and places- their historical significance and build-up is all true to the core. However, fictional liberty has been taken to enhance their attributes.

Chapter 1

“It Begins with the End!!!”
He smiled to himself and looked down at the man lying on the carpet already damp with the pool of blood all around the figure of the man. ‘Still some time to go,’ he thought and looked at his watch. ‘7:54:00 PM’. ‘5 minutes and 12 seconds remain for Professor Antriksh Varma in this mortal world,’ he thought. He had already done the preliminary part a few minutes ago, now all that remained was to make one final move. He had some time in his hands, and the Professor was, no way, in a position to attack or cry for help. He again looked at the dying face in front of him, which already had visible layers of agony sketched all over. Would he have executed this task around 3 months ago, he thought to himself. He had always been a true devotee, but he always felt he could have done much more for the Lord, and this, was some real work. Professor twitched, and broke his chain of thoughts.
Could the Professor have lived, had he chosen to give away the secret and answered the puzzle, he thought. Probably not, he answered himself, for the secret was too valuable, certainly. Worth dying for.
“To close the loop, before it begins.”
Professor could have been the link to the solution to the entire chain of events, which was to follow, he thought. What a plan! To destroy the loose end at the start itself, he thought and a grin involuntarily made its way to his face.
“You have 2 minutes 24 seconds more. Pray to the lord so that he may forgive your sins,” he said to the Professor. Though it was a dreadful scene in front of him, dreadful even for a man like himself, he knew he had to do it for the Lord. And now that he had set himself to the task, he wanted to devour each and every single piece of pleasure out of it. Nothing could be more vicious for a man to know how his death approaches with each passing second.

Professor Antriksh Varma was lying in lots of pain and agony. He had a lot running in his mind, but the time was less, and he had already lost the strength necessary to fight the evil which sat in front of him. In his mind, he had already surrendered, and was waiting for those 2-3 minutes to get over.
Had he any idea of what fate had in store for him, the Professor would have arranged a different abode for the secret he possessed, he thought. His only respite was in his belief that the strange looking guy sitting in the chair of his hotel room wouldn’t be able to solve the puzzle after he was dead. Pain was becoming unbearable and his mind was becoming numb with each passing second. When he had started off for Allahabad, the previous night, he was sure of some problem evident from the caller’s voice. He would have usually declined to visit Allahabad at such a short notice to most of the people, but this caller was different, and he could not say no to him. He was sure, the caller would have also met with a similar fate, as the secret was worth dying. And worth killing too.

Professor’s body twitched in an uncertain manner, saliva dripping from his tongue and all of a sudden, he stopped moving. Markandey’s heart skipped a beat. He looked at the watch. There was still 1 minute 30 seconds left for the desired time. “How could he die before time?” Drops of sweat appeared on his forehead despite his presence in the air-conditioned room of one of the best hotels of Allahabad. He had carried out all the instructions to perfection, taking care of the minutest details. Being forced abnormally high doses of opium had made the professor dizzy, losing all control over his nerves. Markandey had gone ahead with the precision of a qualified surgeon, an art which he had learnt just recently, but had excelled to the highest levels because of his dedication to the art. How could the professor die earlier than his calculations? He had made the finest cut possible on the external jugular vein, one which even the greatest surgeons with most stable hands would be in awe of, and had placed the professor’s body just in the right position, which would kill the professor just at the right time. He could not afford a slip in the first task itself. Maybe the Professor has lost consciousness, he thought. In a flash he got up to get some water from the jar kept on the table nearby. Seeing it empty, he rushed to the bathroom, there was not a single second to waste. He opened the basin tap, fished out some water in the jar and raced back to the spot where the Professor was lying only to find an empty crimson red blood stained muslin carpet.

A blood curdling growl came out from Markandey’s mouth. He looked at his watch. Less than a minute left for the desired time. Like a lunatic he rushed to the balcony of the room, only to find it clear of any blood stains. He rushed back to the earlier spot. He was trying hard to concentrate but fury and rage had marred his logic. Each passing second was pushing him more towards the fire of rage burning inside. He closed his eyes, trying hard to concentrate. A thought flashed in an instant. The professor couldn’t move much in this condition.

The caller himself would have either met the same fate, or would soon meet the same fate at the hands of the likes of this unknown assassin, thought Professor Antriksh Varma. He wanted to warn others too, but typing each name on his cell would take much time. “Whom to trust?” Could someone have fallen prey to some fallacy and given away the details of the Guardians? He had to pass the message on to someone, who could then warn the others. In a hurry he typed. “SECRET OUT ... WARN OTHERS ... READ ALD LOCAL NEWS”. He started typing letters to find a name, when he heard a ghastly growl behind his back. The killer had decided to look under the bed where the Professor had just managed to drag his body. The killer hit at the leg of the Professor with the surgery knife. Professor screamed in pain, but continued typing in keys. The killer pulled the Professor to himself, snatched the cell phone from his hands, crushed it with his feet, kept it in his pocket and looked at the watch again. 2 seconds to go. This was the time. He made a final blow on the neck of the Professor where already a lump of blood had formed up. Professor screamed with the last realizations of pain, and died immediately with his eyes wide open in horror, the screams giving way to silence which prevailed all over.

Markandey set the time on his watch to 7:59:12 and broke the watch with the knife. He untied it from his hands, tied it to the Professor’s hands. He looked at the lifeless body with a glint of satisfaction in his eyes. The first task of the night was done. He looked up at the sky, muttered something with his eyes closed, and proceeded with the other tasks at hand.

He looked at the watch. It showed “8:31:15”. The new watch was an exact replica of his earlier watch. When he was presented with the entire set of 9 watches, and was told of the complete plan, he had requested not to use the watch, and he had hoped to keep one for himself. But when he was explained the message intended to be driven, he finally gave in. Being a Monday night, streets were pretty empty at this time in a small city like Allahabad. He had covered most part of this 12 kilometre journey already in 10-15 minutes. The only risk he could have faced was removing the body from the hotel without getting caught, which he had already done to perfection. He was fast moving away from the city on Mahatma Gandhi Marg, which was rarely busy, save for the few roadways trucks. He had taken NH2 a few minutes back, and could already see the Jhusi Railway station on his left. Like most days, it was almost abandoned, save for a few tea vendors, waiting for the next train to arrive. He continued driving for a few more minutes when the uneven road began. ‘This is it,’ he thought. He parked the Tavera to the left side, got out and felt the ground with his hands. The entire place was silent and barren. Nerve chilling cold winds blew steadily, making their presence felt at regular intervals. The only noise which came was of a few seasonal insects. He then knelt in front of the circular structure, closed his eyes and chanted a few more Vedic mantras. He then pulled the body out of the car, removed the bag in which he had wrapped the body, and kept it neatly on the ground. Markandey had one final look at the body in its current state, “You are lucky, Professor. To die here!!! Salvation attained!!!!” he spoke out loud, and then proceeded to work on the body.

Half an hour ago, some 600 kilometres away, a mobile phone beeped. It showed “1 Message Received”.

Chapter 2

Being a small town, Allahabad hasn’t seen hordes of malls and pubs. There are one or two shopping arcades and a few bars, and that sums up the modern touch to this city. But, being a religious place, and host of the biggest extravaganza of all time, the Maha Kumbh Mela, the hotels have flourished. The quality of hotels range from as low as a few hundred per night to as high as tens of thousands, Hotel Shiva International being one such place.

The scene at Hotel Shiva International this Tuesday morning was completely different than its usual days. Being one of the only few high profile hotels in Allahabad, the news of the disappearance of a guest could cause a major dent in their reputation. In past their rooms had served lots of VIPs and celebrities including film stars, cricketers and even politicians who came in pretty large numbers. Probably the need to wash away sins increases with age and power.
Early morning, a waiter had knocked repeatedly, on the door of Room 105, only to find it unanswered. When he was about to turn back, he noticed some stains, crimson red stains on the handle of the door. Within 5 minutes, manager Keshav Sharma, along with a few security guards was trying to break open the door. The guest, who was a Professor of Lucknow University, as informed by his ID card, was not to be seen anywhere. There were stains of blood everywhere on the carpet, the walls and beneath the bed. Word spread like fire and, much to the ire of Keshav Sharma, the local press and police had already surrounded the hotel and the room.

Inspector Puri was standing at the centre of the big lobby at the reception. He had inquired about the guest book for last night. Being a season of religious importance, when people flock to Allahabad to take a dip at the holy Sangam, and having witnessed a cold January, hotels had just started to fill up during this month. There had been only two visitors last night; one being an old man who had come to visit his friend in Room 108 and the other, a lady who was there to attend a business meeting in Room 204. Both the rooms confirmed the visits being completed.
“Are there any other entrances to this hotel?” Puri inquired.
“Yes, one emergency exit in the basement. But it’s heavily locked and is opened only when we need to transport heavy items or monthly rations.”
“Can you take me there?”
“Yes sure. The way to the basement is through the stairs only.” They crossed the vast lobby, moved towards the stairs, and two flights down, they were facing the basement door. Puri pushed hard, and the lock which seemed to hold the doors together, opened up with a loud thud. Puri looked towards Sharma with inquisitive eyes.
“This is shocking, sir,” Sharma said. “These doors remain unguarded for not more than 15 minutes at around 7:30 in the evening during the switch of the guards. Then too, the information regarding the whereabouts of this door, and the exact time of change of duty is known only to the guards, security supervisor and me.”
“Hmmm,” Puri sighed. “Maybe he entered the hotel at that time. But when did he leave? Surely he couldn’t have left the hotel from the main door. Where are the last night’s security guys, then? I want to see them now.”
“Now that you mention it, I notice I haven’t seen the ones who guard here at night.”
“Even I haven’t seen them since morning,” the security supervisor, standing next to Sharma, told Puri. “When the last duty changed, I thought may be the previous shift ones had left earlier, it usually happens that the night shift guards leave duty some 5-10 minutes earlier.”
“Search for them,” Puri ordered his team and they started searching the place. Puri and Sharma headed back towards the reception area.

“So Mr Sharma, either your guest has faced some tragedy in the face of some unwanted visitor or the other way round. Could you please spare me some details? Try to be as specific as possible. When did your guest Professor Antriksh Varma arrive at the hotel?” asked Puri.
“He checked-in at about 8:00 o’clock in the morning. He did not carry any bag or luggage with him, so we thought he would be on a very short visit. He stayed in the room all day, had his lunch, ordered some snacks at about 6:00 in the evening, and that was the last time any of our staff saw him or heard from him.”
“Did he look anxious or worried, somehow?”
“No ... in fact when we were doing the formalities of checking-in, he had a glance at that picture on the wall which has my great grandfather and Shri Motilal Nehru shaking hands, he closed his eyes for a moment and then he was able to recall my great grandfather’s name and the exact year of the picture. Even I had to check the records to verify if he was right. He also told me how this very place used to hold colonies of saints in early and medieval times, which was then raided by British troops and later this hotel was built upon the remains of those colonies. I swear sir, even I didn’t know of such things and details.”
“Well his ID card says he is a Professor of History at Lucknow University, so maybe he has some definite interest in history, but what you say seems to be out of bounds even for the best of historians. Did he say anything more?”
“Yes Sir, he even predicted that I was going to be a patient of hypertension and heart diseases soon. When I asked why he would say that, considering I don’t show any such symptoms, he just smiled and moved towards his room. Now I know what he implied!”
Puri chuckled, “I never knew historians could make predictions too. Anyways I am done with you for the time being; I will need to ask a few questions of the waiters and other staff too, before I proceed further with my investigation.”
“Sir!! Sir!! The guards have been found,” shouted security supervisor from the stairs. Puri and Sharma rushed towards the basement. The guards were laid on the floor in an inebriated state. “They were lying piled up on one another in the other corner of the basement where we keep all the garbage. We tried to sprinkle some water on their faces, but to no avail. I guess they have been heavily drugged.”
“Interesting,” Puri said, his forehead showing lines of frustration. “Assuming the visitor is the killer himself, he didn’t kill the two guards, just drugged them. Implies either of the two points, the Professor is safe and still living and the visitor didn’t want to kill anyone at all, or, the killer only wanted to kill the Professor. Why would that be? And the bigger question, why did Professor come on a one day trip to Allahabad from Lucknow to meet his death?” He turned to his sub-inspector and said “Inform the family of the professor and start a hunt for him, in and around Allahabad.”

“Ticket please!!”
He was awakened by the voice. He woke up and saw the TT busy checking the tickets of other passengers. He looked out and saw the train was standing on some platform. He stretched himself to see that the station was Dhanbad.
“3 hours more to Kolkata,” he said to himself. When he was told yesterday that he will have to catch this train to reach Kolkata and do the next part of his work, he was rather amused. Why would a person living in Lucknow, keep his biggest secret in Kolkata? But, he could never question Guruji, who had shown this new path of life to him. Sensing his discomfort, Guruji had said “Do not worry. I know a few answers.”
“Ticket panditji!!” TT said observing his saffron kurta and dhoti and the ash smeared on his forehead. He fished out the ticket and showed it to the TT. “Shri Markandey... ID please.” He showed his driving license. TT verified it against the name in the chart and moved ahead.
Markandey returned back to thinking about the interaction he had with Guruji.
“It is not about history, it’s about how to travel through history. It’s only logical, that it stays with the father of history.”

Chapter 3

‘“Does anyone know who is known as the father of history?” professor Antriksh Varma asked, adjusting his brown rimmed spectacles on his pointed nose, during his lecture. Seeing the confused faces of his students, he continued. “Has anyone heard the name of Kalhana?” A few hands got raised. “Not bad! Kalhana was born in the 12th century in a city called Parihaspura in Kashmir valley, which is now called Paraspora. According to a lot of professional historians, he is called ‘the first historian of India’. He was born in a Brahmin family and his father was the dvarpala, or gatekeeper, of the king. What made him different from others was his unbiased way of writing. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he chose not to pay tribute to the rich and the powerful, but to present them in the most unbiased form. In true sense of the term, he is the father of history in India.”
He continued, “Kalhana wrote a number of books including the Rajtarangini, or the River of the Kings, which was written in Sanskrit. He wrote mostly about how the culture and aura of Kashmir had been at its best earlier and how it had degenerated under the then Kashmir rulers. As with most of the ancient texts that didn’t find support of the then rulers, almost all his original works got lost as decades transitioned one over another. Rajtarangini described the greatness of Kashmir under various dynasties of kings.”
“Are any of his works, like Rajtarangini, kept in some place? It would surely be a treat for all of us in this room,” one of the students said.
“I am afraid not many of his works were able to sail through the passages of time. Most of the original text of Rajtarangini got destroyed. Moreover, the book was in Sanskrit. But there have been some English translations, the first and probably the most popular by Aurel Stein, which is the most comprehensive too. So if you want to have a feel for Kalhana’s work, you can grab a copy from any major library in this country and read it,” said the Professor.’

“What Professor Antriksh Varma hid from his students and didn’t tell anyone, was that Aurel Stein was not the first English translator of the book Rajtarangini. Horace Hayman Wilson, an English orientalist, was the first translator of the book. This man, Horace Hayman Wilson, was then made the secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Professor Varma considered this person as his ideal, for the work he did for Indian languages and culture and he already was as much devoted to Kalhana,” Guruji stopped for a second for Markandey to gulp down all the facts and then continued, “Antriksh would have wanted to keep it near Kalhana’s work, him being the father of Indian history, but as he couldn’t, he kept it near the work, closest to Kalhana’s, the first English translation of Kalhana’s work. That is the reason why you are going to Kolkata.”
Markandey nodded. “What is the answer?” he asked.
His thoughts were interrupted by loud noise and the sudden rush of movement of people. He opened his eyes, picked up his bag and silently moved out of the train. He walked out of the station, waved for a taxi and told the driver, “Park Street.”
The Asiatic Society of Bengal is located on busy Park Street. In a city, which is rich in cultural and more extravagant tourist spots, only a few of the visitors turn towards this building which holds probably the richest source of learning and knowledge in the entire country, with books ranging across all possible genres. But the few, who do visit the library of the Asiatic Society, get awed by the collection it boasts of. The library has a special section, called the “Rare Book Division”, where the rarest of books, like the Ramayana (Bengali), Hitopadesa (Sanskrit), etc., can also be found, of Indian as well as other languages. As per a rough estimation, there are around 1,50,000 books in total, written in almost all major languages of the world and almost 80,000 journals present in the library.
The library is actually a big, naturally-lighted hall, with books kept neatly on dark brown wooden shelves, along all the walls. There are movable wooden ladders, kept near the shelves, and in the centre there is one long silver coloured table, the chairs kept along the entire length of this table. Like every other library in the world, people can issue books against their membership IDs. Students, scholars and seekers of knowledge patronize the library every day of the week.
When Markandey reached the Asiatic Society, there was a notice displayed outside the library ‘Closed for Renovation’.
“Will have to wait for evening then.”
It was about 7:00 o’clock in the evening. The sky was painted in a greyish tone, the evening stars being rarely visible. All the workers had either retired for home or were in the process of cleaning themselves up and collecting the day’s pay from the superintendent. In half an hour, everyone would vacate the entire premise of the Asiatic Society, barring two security guards for each section, including the library. Markandey had changed into casual jeans and T-shirt. He could not afford to wear his favourite saffron dhoti kurta on such missions as they would be an easy giveaway. Though he was not afraid of getting caught, yet he was determined to carry the mission till the end.

“We are doomed to be in this place. I mean, think of it. This building itself is old enough that our ancestors would have seen it built, and we are guarding a library filled with books. Imagine, neither gold nor silver, but books. When did they decide to keep guards for the library? I would certainly like to change their opinion some day,” the first guard said to another.
“You know this is not just a library. This is history itself. Some of the books and manuscripts here are worth millions. So, our employers think they are certainly valuable. We can’t really do anything about it, so, till you are here, bear it and keep watching the CCTV footage occasionally,” replied the other.
“Trring!!!” The caller bell in the room rang.
“Yes, who is this?” asked the first guard.
“This is Arnab from the front desk. The food you ordered is here. I am sending the man with the food, pay him the bill.”
“Did you order for food today for the two of us?” asked the first, putting off the caller bell.
“Yes, I couldn’t get food from home today, so I ordered for both of us. You anyways would have ordered something for yourself. Here comes our food. How much is the bill?” The second guard looked at the tall and strong looking guy who had brought the food. “You brought the food in this bag? Why such a huge bag for the small quantity of food that we ordered?”
“Sir, my shift is over. I was just planning to go back to my home after this, so I have all my stuff in the bag. Yours was the last order. Sorry to ask you sir, but could I please use the washroom?” asked the delivery man.
“Yes sure! This is not our building, so you don’t have to take permissions. Go to your left. Take your money when you are back.”

“I think he was desperately in need of the washroom. 15 minutes have passed and he is still in there,” said the first guard, smiling.
“Hmm... Should it be a matter of concern? Should I check out what has happened?” asked the second
“C’mon man, you are midway through your dinner. At least finish it first and then we will go check together, in case he would still be inside.”
Another 5 minutes elapsed, and the man appeared from the washroom. “Sorry, for being late. Must be something I ate today. Please give me my money,” said the delivery guy to the guards. On seeing no response from either of the two, he shouted “Hello!!! Please give me my money, I need to go back home too.”
Still, no movement.
The food delivery man dropped his bag and moved inside the library.
Outside the building, on the other side of the road, lay a man with his hands tied, mouth taped, eyes closed and head hammered.

There was darkness in the hall with minimal light coming from outside through heavily curtained windows. Switching on any light would mean announcing his presence to the world.
In earlier days, during military operations, and during warfare, countries used to spend heavily on planning surprise attacks, which would mean attacking the enemies exactly at the time when they would be least expecting it. The first devices to be used for this flavour of warfare were torches. But the problem with this approach was that, all that was required for the enemy was to remain alert, and the effect could be easily reversed. It was during the Second World War, that the night vision technology was first incorporated in sniper rifles. This inspired the Germans to heavily invest in such technologies. Finally in 1960, the first night vision goggles were born. These devices, which were limited to military operations only during those times, later became available to the general public as well. But, even today, the latest breakthroughs in the field are accessible to military only. AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle is the latest breakthrough in this field in current times. This device, costing around 10,000 dollars apiece, enables a person to read, write and view granular details even in complete darkness. The pair of goggles, as is the norm, is available to the military only.
Markandey had entered the library hall wearing one such AN/PSQ-20 ENVG device, given to him by Guruji, which he had fished out of his bag. He started scanning all the sections thoroughly. ‘Had the library been open in the daytime, I could have scanned it earlier,’ he thought. He kept scanning until he reached the “Printed Materials” section. All the shelves comprised of 3 wooden sub-shelves, each being 18 inches long, which were joined at the ends by wooden vertical columns of 8 inch width. He searched for Horace Hayman Wilson, and saw his collection at the top shelf. He dragged a ladder from nearby and placed it under the shelf, and reached out to the top shelf. He could see the English “Rajtarangini”, among other books by Wilson, but could not find what he came for. Not able to find anything on the topmost shelf, he scanned all the books on the middle shelf, and then the one lower to it, but couldn’t find any success. He climbed down. ‘Guruji was pretty sure that the secret would be found somewhere here only. Could he have had false information? Almost impossible!’ He looked around the library in dismay. ‘To find one box in shelves containing 1,50,000 books? That’s insane to even attempt.’ He looked up at the section containing Wilson’s works once again. Antriksh Varma would not keep the secret anywhere else. He climbed up again. The leftmost sub-shelf had 3 books by Wilson. He picked up all of them and scanned them one by one. He searched for any subtle hint or reference. No success.
He moved on to the second sub-shelf. It had 2 books by Wilson. He repeated the process of scanning them thoroughly. No success.
He finally moved to the third sub-shelf. This sub-shelf had the English translation of Rajtarangini. He decided to scan this column most thoroughly. He picked up the books and climbed down. He kept the books on the table, and threw a look at the shelf. Something caught his eye, something which was there all the while, but he hadn’t paid attention to it. At the other end of the top of the third shelf, there was a small gap, which wasn’t too noticeable unless looked at very carefully. He climbed up again and saw that it was not joined at the other end. He tried to pull it towards himself and the entire wooden frame was pulled out, leaving behind a very skinny layer of base. The frame had been neatly kept on a very thin wooden base, which was supporting it.
He took the frame down. It was 8 inches thick, and 18 inches wide. The length of the frame was around 3 feet. There was a small latch on one of the sides of the frame. He adjusted the frame with the latch facing him. He unlatched it and opened it. There was an iron box covering the entire length of the frame, and a packet consisting of iron-made alphabets and numbers. There were some square-shaped slots on the lower side of the front surface of the iron box, a small hollow on the upper left corner and a button on the upper right corner. Right in the middle of the front surface were inscribed the letters:


He smiled.

“How could Antriksh put it there? Or was it there before him?” Markandey asked, confused.
“No, each Guardian has the freedom to hide the secret at any place of his choice, as long as it is not found. Antriksh would have kept it there, maybe during some earlier renovation, by giving some money to the carpenters. He would be aware of any such renovation beforehand, you know he was able to travel through time at will.”
“I know Guruji. God bless his soul. Why is the script on the box Roman? I don’t fathom anyone knowing English at that time. Or did someone know it?” Markandey had asked.
“Fair enough, you are right they didn’t know English or weren’t adept with the Roman script. The original box they used had the question in Devanagari script and the answer too was in Sanskrit.”
“Then why was the box replaced? Though it was an iron box, it would never have rusted.”
Guruji smiled at his intelligence. “You sure are a very sharp lad Markandey. Yes it could never have rusted. But, the decision to change the script was taken much later after India got colonized. The group was not limited to Indians only, whoever was thought worthy, and displayed capabilities, could be made a Guardian. A few worthy British and other Europeans were also chosen on the basis of rules similar to those which would be applied to the rest of the group, and so a language was chosen which not only was known to the British, but would also be known to every person across India in time to come. They had foreseen it as they had the power.”
Markandey nodded, thoughtfully.
“The box would have some slots and a lock which would only open when a very specific weight is put in the slots. Each alphabet/number has a unique weight, and only a particular combination would open it,” Guruji said.
“I understand all that, but you still haven’t told me what the answer is.”
Guruji smiled, “A few facts were altered for the good of the people, but this answer was chosen, because any time-traveller could travel back and tell the world, when the right time comes, why these facts were altered.”
Guruji told the answer to Markandey.
Markandey took out a ring from his pocket, inserted it in the hollow on the top left and turned it right by 90 degrees, till it got locked and could turn no more. He then picked up some 9 blocks from the packet and placed it in the sockets and pressed the lock. It opened with a thud. Markandey removed the upper cover and took something out. Elated, he kept it in his bag. He moved back the lock to its original position, removed the alphabets from the sockets and kept them back in the packet. He then restored the outer wooden cover, kept it neatly on the shelf-frame, as it was placed earlier and moved out of the library.

It was a cool January morning. Their school was over and the children near Jhusi village had gathered to play cricket with their broken bats and rubber ball. “Don’t play near the pond, it’s too dirty and filthy,” shouted one mother.
“We won’t play near the pond, maa. It anyways is no more a pond. Where is the water left to call it a pond? Only filth and lots of insects,” chuckled a boy.
The children started with their game. The first ball was bowled and the batsman got beaten. With rage, he hit the next ball with full force. It went beyond the ground towards the pond.
“Why did you have to hit it so hard? Now mother will scold us and won’t let us play. Our ball is also gone.”
“OK I have hit it, I will bring it back. Just don’t tell mother about it.”
He went ahead into the dense shrubs towards the pond. With each step the buzz of insects got louder. He had been here before, the last time his mother warned him of diseases, but today, the noise of insects was painfully louder. There were other sounds, like those of crows, mixed with the buzz of the insects. He shrugged and moved ahead towards the pond.
His team mates were waiting for him to return impatiently when they heard a loud scream. Frightened, they shouted for their mothers to come out. All the women came out from their houses and rushed towards the pond when told about the story. They could hear lots of noises coming from the direction, which kept on increasing. They ran ahead and stopped, shocked in disbelief. The boy who went after the ball was lying unconscious, probably seeing the setting in front of him. A body was lying nude in the middle of the pond, smeared with ash all over. It was surrounded by crows and vultures that were, piece by piece, devouring the body.

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