1857 DUST OF AGES VOL 1:
A FORGOTTEN TALE
1857. The rebellion erupts in India. Despite its attempts to stay aloof, NAVGARH, a small town near Delhi, is drawn into the conflagration. And at its heart are Princess Meera and Captain Richard Smith, with their strange alliance made for the throne of Navgarh.
2016, Shiv Sahai, a young Indian art historian and Ruth Aiken, a British scholar discover an excerpt from the journal of an anonymous British soldier, searching for his wife in the chaos of 1857 Delhi. As they begin investigating the scandal, they become aware of the vague rumours that are told in the bylanes of Navgarh – about a princess who married a British soldier to save her kingdom.
Read an excerpt from the book…
Camp, Delhi Cantonment, 16 August, 1857.
Things have changed forever. A day spent in the company of my old friend Knox made it clear. These distances can never be bridged.
The pole of his tent snapped in the storm yesterday; and for the sake of old friendship, I offered Knox my humble abode. But his rancour was jarring. His determination to teach the enemy a lesson, the unshaken belief in the rightness of our mission– such bitterness asks too much of friendship and duty.
Earlier we went over the battlefield. One of our regiments was destroying the village near the bridge to prevent the enemy from getting cover in it. Elephants were pulling down the walls. The villagers stood by as their houses turned into mud while the monsoon clouds gathered on the horizon. Unfortunately, they were the Jats, who, for the most part, are our friends. We decided that the destruction of their homes and fields was necessary. Twenty-three men – their countrymen – were lying together in the ditch at the back of the village; we weren’t sure if they were the rebels. A party of Rifles killed then en masse, just to be sure.
We left the village with our bags swollen like raisins in water. And who can blame our light-fingered gentry? Armies are said to travel on their stomach.
At some distance from our camp, I can see the sun setting over the fort of Delhi. It isn’t much different from the first sunset I witnessed here years ago. How things have changed! We came with a mission – to know this exotic land, to bring the light of knowledge and civilization to its darkness. Now the memory leaves me embarrassed. These massive red walls made me uneasy even then. Today they mock our camp again. Whatever be the outcome of this devil’s wind, it has revealed the banality of our mission.
Knox’s bitterness is an expression of the anger in the camp. When the cannons are quiet, the silence resounds with confusion, with terror, with rage, but most of all with the question ‘Why?’ As we sit around a small fire every night, the question rages in every mind. ‘Why the mutiny? Haven’t we brought the glory of civilization to this land of superstition?’ These thoughts simmer as we deal with hunger, heat and rain.
But soon these questions will be forgotten. The winners will annihilate the other side. Already I see the madness in the eyes as rumours reach us from other places – Cawnpur, Jhansi, Lucknow. Madness will soon be let loose.
I often feel that the answers that elude me today were within my grasp a short while ago. They are somewhere near, yet unreachable, like the time gone by.
I promise to look for them once I have found her again. For she, I feel, holds a part of it.
So every evening, I try to escape this madness by thinking about her, Princess Meera of Navgarh, a rebel soldier and my wife. It is the third year of our marriage. Three years of tenuous links and fragile understanding. It was only a matter of time before an explosion happened. And it happened that eventful week when Navgarh too burnt in the fire raging all across India. The news that the sepoys in Meerut had rebelled spurred both of us. Did I expect Meera to be a dutiful wife when all her beliefs, her convictions pulled her in the opposite direction? Was I surprised on knowing that she was in Delhi, amongst the rebels? Would she be surprised on knowing that I have followed her as an enemy… a British officer? And as I follow her, I stand here once again, after five years, outside the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi.
About the author
Delhi-born Vandana Shanker is the author of the series 1857 Dust of Ages, a historical fiction set in the year of the great uprising in India. A PhD from IIT Delhi, Vandana is passionate about history, storytelling and art. Apart from writing, she teaches literature and creative writing in Malaysia. She has also taught in Universities in India and Vietnam. She currently lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family and wants to travel the world.
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When I first browsed through the pages of Rubina Ramesh’s maiden short story collection ‘Knitted Tales: A Collection of Emotions’, the blurb of the book gave me the impression that the stories would unfold the dark, grim and intriguing side of the human mind and the harsh truths that spill out as the inevitable consequences. But as page after page unfolded the subtle nuances of every story in the collection, I realized that the book was much, much more than a collection of dark, intriguing tales and the twists and turns and emotions that define each one of them. It was, in reality, a journey, a revelation of the quintessential human saga which spoke of the fragility, the vulnerability of the human soul, on one hand, and on the other, the strong, feisty, spirited flow of human life as well. Keeping this in mind, I would say that all the stories are defined by the sheer fiber of pathos and the captivating secrets evoked by the storyteller in Rubina, be it the unfolding of an eerie past rearing its head out of the closet in ‘A Secret in Their Closet’, the unfolding of the raw emotions of anguish, betrayal and thwarted trust in ‘Lolita’, or the unleashing of the stark, heart-wrenching tragedy in ‘Suvarnarekha’.
Keeping in mind the colossal trend of theme-based anthologies in today’s times, categorized in easy, water-tight genres of romance, thriller, supernatural, horror, feminist stories or children’s literature, here is an anthology that captivates even more because the myriad themes it represents makes it a massive, yet delectable canvas. For me, as I read it, each story filled in the gap of the earlier story, though they were not technically interconnected stories. However, the undercurrent of loneliness, deceit, agony and the fragility of being a human shines so strong in most of the stories that often times, while reading, I felt one story feeding into the emotions of the other. The narration, sometimes pacy, dramatic and sharp, sometimes lyrical and full of cadence, compels the readers to get at the heart of the emotions of the protagonist of every story. So be it the immigrant mother and her daughter who confront racism in ‘Chicklet’, the fiercely introvert filmmaker Abhijit who wronged his wife and the lady-love of his growing up years in ‘Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned’, the tremendously intriguing wife Raima with a clandestine online friend in ‘No Regrets’, or the vulnerable Jyothi in ‘The Other Woman’, somewhere the storyteller makes them all splinters and shards of our own unacknowledged selves, and we cannot help but get drawn into their fractured walls.
The element of the dark and supernatural is yet another strand which makes this assortment of stories of elemental human emotions so delectable and engrossing. Right in the first story of the collection, ‘The Secrets in Their Closets’, I had been startled with the stark revelation of long-buried crimes and the way the narrator revealed it in astonishing, shocking spurts. In ‘Betrayal’, the ghost of a dead husband presents a riveting, shocking tale of a conjugal life gone awry, a tale of domestic violence where the festering stench of morbidity seeps through the senses of a sensitive reader. In both ‘The Missing Staircase’, and ‘Cliff Notes’, the last story of the collection, though the themes are diverse, the narrators in both the tales take the element of the supernatural in its most elemental form and build it up to a crescendo where the readers are transported to a world, sinister yet irresistible, a world which we are compelled to explore, tearing apart our comfort zones. In the final analysis, I would say it is an extremely courageous and compelling book by Rubina where she has shown that the true power of a storyteller lies not only in writing intelligently crafted tales, but churning a world of tantalizing, memorable emotions out of the tales. ‘Knitted Tales’ is mostly successful in accomplishing that, where the last page makes the readers yearn for more.
Definitely a recommended read for lovers of short fiction.
Know more about the book and read all the reviews here:
HIS DRUNKEN WIFE
(Marriages Made in India Book #2)
The badass Shikha is startled when the nerdy Abhimanyu proposes marriage. She loves… herself, and Abhimanyu doesn’t figure on her list anywhere. For Abhimanyu, however, it was love at first sight when Shikha walked into RS Software, where the two of them work.
When Abhimanyu shows her that he just might be rich enough for her, a pleasantly surprised Shikha accepts his marriage proposal and moves into his swanky apartment.
But it looks like the love is all from only Abhi’s side as Shikha continues to drink herself crazy. Yeah, even at their wedding party.
And then Abhi sets out on a honeymoon to Thailand with His Drunken Wife…
*MARRIAGES MADE IN INDIA is a five-novella series that revolves around the characters you have met in The Runaway Bridegroom.
Read an excerpt from #HDW
It was at least another half an hour before Shikha returned to the party. She directly walked up to her husband and kissed him on his masculine lips. “Forgive me?”
Abhi pulled her close, kissing her deeply. “Always.”
“Did I tell you that you’re the best thing that’s happened to me?” she whispered in his ear, nipping at his earlobe.
“Shikha,” growled Abhi, “Are you even aware of what you’re doing to me? Position yourself in front of me till I gain control or I won’t be responsible for the consequences.”
Shikha gave a tinkling laugh, her hand on his fly, tracing his shape delightedly. “How did I ever imagine you were a staid guy?”
Abhi groaned. “Take your hand off, woman. Please!”
Shikha laughed again, kissing him. “How I love to hear you beg.” She winked at him.
She turned right around and got a waiter to get her another drink, much to Abhi’s chagrin. “Will you lay off the drink, Shikha?” he frowned.
“Why? You can’t afford it or what?” she challenged him, a shapely eyebrow up in query, sherry brown eyes dancing.
“You’ve already had four large pegs.”
“You’ve been counting.” The smile left her face.
“Do you plan to get drunk?”
“Arre yaar, Abhi! It’s our wedding, a once-in-a-lifetime event. I’m only celebrating. Give me a break,” she protested.
“The way you’ve been knocking down the drinks, anyone would think that you’re in pain rather than celebrating.”
About the author
His Drunken Wife is the ninth book authored by Sundari Venkatraman. This is a hot romance and is Book #2 of the 5-novella series titled Marriages Made in India; Book #1 being The Smitten Husband. Other published novels by the author are The Malhotra Bride, Meghna, The Runaway Bridegroom, The Madras Affair and An Autograph for Anjali—all romances. She also has a collection of romantic short stories called Matches Made in Heaven; and a collection of human interest stories called Tales of Sunshine. All of Sundari Venkatraman’s books are on Amazon Top 100 Bestsellers in India, USA, UK, Canada & Australia under both #romance & #drama categories.
Varsha Dixit is the bestselling author of contemporary romance. ‘Rightfully Wrong Wrongfully Right’ her latest book released in August 2016. To find out more about Varsha and her books visit her website http://www.varshadixit.com.
It was a pleasure and honor to interview her as a new member of The Book Club, hosted by the prolific blogger and author Rubina Ramesh. To know more about TBC, log on to: http://www.tbcblogtours.com/
Lopa Banerjee: Hello Varsha, very nice to know about your upcoming book ‘Rightfully Wrong Wrongfully Right’. It would be my pleasure to ask you a few questions regarding the theme, title and other aspects of this novel.
The title of the book “Rightfully Wrong, Wrongfully Right” appears to be very intriguing and smells of quite a bit of suspense too. What made you choose this one, and what can the readers expect from the novel?
Varsha Dixit: Thank you Lopa for asking an interesting question. The title is apt for the protagonists, Gayatri Dutta and Viraj Dheer. They both sometimes have right reasons for committing wrong acts but somehow their wrongs make them so right for each other. The book is a love story but this time the love is steamy, bold and manipulative.
Lopa Banerjee: How would you define the two protagonists of the novel, Viraj and Gayatri? Is this book a journey of their exploration of each other, and the conflicting realities they face on the way?
Varsha Dixit: Gayatri Dutta and Viraj Dheer, are feisty, strong headed and very determined. Gayatri Dutta, a rich, spoiled diva, is fighting to establish herself even as her tyrant father pushes her into a life not of her choice. Viraj is a genius and a con who shuns society and its hypocrisies. Gayatri sees Viraj only as a means to an end. For Viraj, Gayatri is the epitome of all that he despises. So when their paths cross, it is a battle of wills, desire and sparks shoot off.
Lopa Banerjee: What do you think about contemporary romance novels, romantic thrillers, and the sexy, haunting variety of romantic tales? Do you think your book RWWR conveys a strong tale, pertaining to these categories of fiction? If yes, what would you say is the USP of the book?
Varsha Dixit: My stories probably vary from others books in the romance genre for my stories are not only about romance. They are about friendships, about families and about society. My stories are a genuine effort, on my part, to provide the milieu of readers, young and old, with a humorous read, without overlooking the intelligence and thinking quotient of our personalities. The USP of Rightfully Wrong Wrongfully Right are the protagonists. They are not sweet, simpering or wholly good. Often they come on the wrong side of right. J
Lopa Banerjee: How is the story/the narrative journey in your latest book different from your two earlier bestsellers, Right Fit Wrong Shoe and Wrong Means Right End? How do you think you have evolved in your storytelling, post the publications of these two books, and how would you describe your writing journey keeping in mind these bestsellers?
Varsha Dixit: Friendships have always played a very important role in my life and continue to do so. Friends are the family we choose and I have to say I chose well. My ‘Right and Wrong’ series is about three friends, three different women in three different phases of their lives. ‘Right Fit Wrong Shoe’ was about a small town simple girl, ‘Wrong Means Right End’ was about a divorced young mom and ‘Rightfully Wrong Wrongfully Right’ is about Gayatri Dutta, the woman who has gone out of her way to mess up other people’s life. Now it is the reader’s turn to know the ‘how’ and ‘why’ about Gayatri and the mad scientist, Viraj Dheer.
Lopa Banerjee: Do you believe in happy endings when you pen romance novels, or would you be ready to experiment with a more shady, somber finale for your novels? Why do you think happy endings work most with the audience, and are you comfortable with the trend?
Varsha Dixit: I like happy endings for my characters. If I were to describe myself, I would say I have a pretty sunny disposition so that makes it even harder for me to write bleak plots. In my second book, Xcess Baggage , I kept the ending a cliffhanger – the gal and the guy did not meet. To this day, six years later, my readers write to me extremely upset and sad that Meghna and Byron did not meet. How could I leave them separated? It was cruel on my part etec. So I think post that I just find it easier to sleep if my characters have a HEA (happily every after).
Also, for romance genre happy endings usually work for they bring a positive closure to the readers. They are like comfort food, they make the readers feel good from inside.
Thank you Lopa for hosting me on your blog and for asking such interesting questions.
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