Desert Story

Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

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Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

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Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

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Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

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Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. It was hot. It was passionate. And, try like all things earthly, visit this site it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable. A routine that was killing, to say the least. A routine where everything, every damn thing, even things that were supposed to be spontaneous, things that were alive only in their spontaneity, things whose very souls was their being unexpected, was planned. Meetings, lunches, dinners, vacations, sex, love, drives - even crises - everything happened according to a schedule. It was this routine that drove them to it. Not love. Not even lust. Not even the thrill of cheating. And when it was ended, it was not the end of the world. It ended because it too had become part of the schedule. Thursday evenings' "Production Meetings" that went on all night became much too routine. Sudden "crises" on Sundays became all too boring. Once more, like the calm on the surface of a lake after a meteor has crashed into it, things came back to "normal." It was over. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. It was hot. It was passionate. And, try like all things earthly, visit this site it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable. A routine that was killing, to say the least. A routine where everything, every damn thing, even things that were supposed to be spontaneous, things that were alive only in their spontaneity, things whose very souls was their being unexpected, was planned. Meetings, lunches, dinners, vacations, sex, love, drives - even crises - everything happened according to a schedule. It was this routine that drove them to it. Not love. Not even lust. Not even the thrill of cheating. And when it was ended, it was not the end of the world. It ended because it too had become part of the schedule. Thursday evenings' "Production Meetings" that went on all night became much too routine. Sudden "crises" on Sundays became all too boring. Once more, like the calm on the surface of a lake after a meteor has crashed into it, things came back to "normal." It was over. I am a stone. A small stone, sale rough-edged, salve lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, info kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out. Cringing as huge trucks drive past, narrowly missing crushing me into tiny pieces. I grow. And grow. And keep growing. I become a rock, a large one. Enough, I say. But I keep growing. A hill. Enough, I say. No one can kick me anywhere now. Stop. But I keep growing. A mountain, a whole mountain range. Finally, towering above everything, I stop my mad growth. I am a mountain range. Verdant forests clothe my lower slopes. My head is permanently capped in freezing snows. Small streams gather into mighty rivers on my sides. Clouds rest on me when they are tired. The smaller ones go around me. Many of the larger, angrier-looking ones cry when they collide with me, swelling those raging torrents that rush down my sides. Finally, when they can cry no more, they go away, lighter, whiter and happier. Meanwhile, civilisations flourish all around me. Men, tiny men, infinitely-small-and-nothing men tramp all over me. They build roads, clear whole mountainsides, raise crops, dam rivers, build houses, villages, towns, cities. And I am mildly tickled. I laugh a couple of times, but my shaking leaves them crying. Poor feeble things. Must be hard being frail. Finally, I get a bit bored. Want to see life. But how does a mountain range see life. After all, I AM life to these poor miserable creatures. And I am shackled. Shackled by my strength, my size and my might. I shrink. Shrink till I am a little round pebble, washed down a stream at an exciting pace till, at a bend, I'm pushed to the shore. The freedom is exhilarating. The thought of oblivion no longer worries me. I feel liberated. No one lives on me. I sustain no life. I may be kicked around, but I am not tied down. I pity the mountain, the hill and the large rocks. See me skip downstream, oh you giants. See me and weep. Weep great rivers that will take me around. I gloat, I scream in happiness, I am obscenely happy. I grow lighter. I am out of the water. I become dry. I'm a feather. The wind takes me here and there. I am caught in a bush. The wind blows me free. Now I float high, now I am dragged in the dust. I hate this. I'd rather be a pebble rolling in a stream than a feather that lives on the whims of the wind. Every time I find a place to rest, the wind has other ideas. Floating somewhere on the edge of a broom, I need to change, more than ever... I'm small, red and shiny. I'm a small berry, a strawberry. And I'm scared as hell. I hide behind the leaves. Afraid that I'll be popped into the mouth of the next ragamuffin that passes by the bush. Afraid that the beady-eyed sparrow may take a peck at me - spill my guts out so she can feed those disgusting pink screechers she calls her children. This is scary, big time. I don't want to be a strawberry. Once again, the majesty of the mountain range fits me comfortably. And I am content to let the world settle down around me. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. It was hot. It was passionate. And, try like all things earthly, visit this site it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable. A routine that was killing, to say the least. A routine where everything, every damn thing, even things that were supposed to be spontaneous, things that were alive only in their spontaneity, things whose very souls was their being unexpected, was planned. Meetings, lunches, dinners, vacations, sex, love, drives - even crises - everything happened according to a schedule. It was this routine that drove them to it. Not love. Not even lust. Not even the thrill of cheating. And when it was ended, it was not the end of the world. It ended because it too had become part of the schedule. Thursday evenings' "Production Meetings" that went on all night became much too routine. Sudden "crises" on Sundays became all too boring. Once more, like the calm on the surface of a lake after a meteor has crashed into it, things came back to "normal." It was over. I am a stone. A small stone, sale rough-edged, salve lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, info kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out. Cringing as huge trucks drive past, narrowly missing crushing me into tiny pieces. I grow. And grow. And keep growing. I become a rock, a large one. Enough, I say. But I keep growing. A hill. Enough, I say. No one can kick me anywhere now. Stop. But I keep growing. A mountain, a whole mountain range. Finally, towering above everything, I stop my mad growth. I am a mountain range. Verdant forests clothe my lower slopes. My head is permanently capped in freezing snows. Small streams gather into mighty rivers on my sides. Clouds rest on me when they are tired. The smaller ones go around me. Many of the larger, angrier-looking ones cry when they collide with me, swelling those raging torrents that rush down my sides. Finally, when they can cry no more, they go away, lighter, whiter and happier. Meanwhile, civilisations flourish all around me. Men, tiny men, infinitely-small-and-nothing men tramp all over me. They build roads, clear whole mountainsides, raise crops, dam rivers, build houses, villages, towns, cities. And I am mildly tickled. I laugh a couple of times, but my shaking leaves them crying. Poor feeble things. Must be hard being frail. Finally, I get a bit bored. Want to see life. But how does a mountain range see life. After all, I AM life to these poor miserable creatures. And I am shackled. Shackled by my strength, my size and my might. I shrink. Shrink till I am a little round pebble, washed down a stream at an exciting pace till, at a bend, I'm pushed to the shore. The freedom is exhilarating. The thought of oblivion no longer worries me. I feel liberated. No one lives on me. I sustain no life. I may be kicked around, but I am not tied down. I pity the mountain, the hill and the large rocks. See me skip downstream, oh you giants. See me and weep. Weep great rivers that will take me around. I gloat, I scream in happiness, I am obscenely happy. I grow lighter. I am out of the water. I become dry. I'm a feather. The wind takes me here and there. I am caught in a bush. The wind blows me free. Now I float high, now I am dragged in the dust. I hate this. I'd rather be a pebble rolling in a stream than a feather that lives on the whims of the wind. Every time I find a place to rest, the wind has other ideas. Floating somewhere on the edge of a broom, I need to change, more than ever... I'm small, red and shiny. I'm a small berry, a strawberry. And I'm scared as hell. I hide behind the leaves. Afraid that I'll be popped into the mouth of the next ragamuffin that passes by the bush. Afraid that the beady-eyed sparrow may take a peck at me - spill my guts out so she can feed those disgusting pink screechers she calls her children. This is scary, big time. I don't want to be a strawberry. Once again, the majesty of the mountain range fits me comfortably. And I am content to let the world settle down around me. It finally happened. I got stuck in a lift last week. Somehow, drugs the whole episode failed to live up to the expectations I had built up. Like everyone else, seek I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, rx and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation). And of course, various things happen and when the rescue is finally effected, the rescuers think they have rescued the sauna by mistake. Somehow, this does not figure on my list of fantasies at all. One of my most elaborate lift fantasies is to be stuck in a crowded lift and identify the killer. Of course, when the lift is opened, the police are there and it is but a moment's task to hand over the killer, complete with the chain of events immediately before and after the murder. Ah Sherlock Holmes! Another of my favourite fantasies is to be stuck in a lift with an old man, him having a heart attack, brave me doing a CPR and saving his life - and it turns out that he is an heirless millionaire Where it goes from there is anybody's guess! And then there is the usual 'rescue hero' fantasy that I guess is pretty common. The lift is stuck underground in some unreachable labyrinth. I lead a bunch of scared people, which of course includes one pretty lady, who seems to be only one who stays calm, out of the labyrinth. And yes, I've seen Daylight. Well, what really happened to me was pretty boring. First of all it was a lift in a block of flats and I was alone in it. Second, it had one of those grill-shutter type doors - which meant that you could look out of it. And third, it kind of got stuck immediately after it started going down - I was stuck in the lift about a foot below the floor. I punched the alarm button and screamed "Help" till someone came out of a flat and fiddled with the door for a bit. A wee bit later, the lift was okay and I was a free man. Apart from making me feel slightly silly, the experience did not do much else. So much for all my fantasies. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. It was hot. It was passionate. And, try like all things earthly, visit this site it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable. A routine that was killing, to say the least. A routine where everything, every damn thing, even things that were supposed to be spontaneous, things that were alive only in their spontaneity, things whose very souls was their being unexpected, was planned. Meetings, lunches, dinners, vacations, sex, love, drives - even crises - everything happened according to a schedule. It was this routine that drove them to it. Not love. Not even lust. Not even the thrill of cheating. And when it was ended, it was not the end of the world. It ended because it too had become part of the schedule. Thursday evenings' "Production Meetings" that went on all night became much too routine. Sudden "crises" on Sundays became all too boring. Once more, like the calm on the surface of a lake after a meteor has crashed into it, things came back to "normal." It was over. I am a stone. A small stone, sale rough-edged, salve lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, info kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out. Cringing as huge trucks drive past, narrowly missing crushing me into tiny pieces. I grow. And grow. And keep growing. I become a rock, a large one. Enough, I say. But I keep growing. A hill. Enough, I say. No one can kick me anywhere now. Stop. But I keep growing. A mountain, a whole mountain range. Finally, towering above everything, I stop my mad growth. I am a mountain range. Verdant forests clothe my lower slopes. My head is permanently capped in freezing snows. Small streams gather into mighty rivers on my sides. Clouds rest on me when they are tired. The smaller ones go around me. Many of the larger, angrier-looking ones cry when they collide with me, swelling those raging torrents that rush down my sides. Finally, when they can cry no more, they go away, lighter, whiter and happier. Meanwhile, civilisations flourish all around me. Men, tiny men, infinitely-small-and-nothing men tramp all over me. They build roads, clear whole mountainsides, raise crops, dam rivers, build houses, villages, towns, cities. And I am mildly tickled. I laugh a couple of times, but my shaking leaves them crying. Poor feeble things. Must be hard being frail. Finally, I get a bit bored. Want to see life. But how does a mountain range see life. After all, I AM life to these poor miserable creatures. And I am shackled. Shackled by my strength, my size and my might. I shrink. Shrink till I am a little round pebble, washed down a stream at an exciting pace till, at a bend, I'm pushed to the shore. The freedom is exhilarating. The thought of oblivion no longer worries me. I feel liberated. No one lives on me. I sustain no life. I may be kicked around, but I am not tied down. I pity the mountain, the hill and the large rocks. See me skip downstream, oh you giants. See me and weep. Weep great rivers that will take me around. I gloat, I scream in happiness, I am obscenely happy. I grow lighter. I am out of the water. I become dry. I'm a feather. The wind takes me here and there. I am caught in a bush. The wind blows me free. Now I float high, now I am dragged in the dust. I hate this. I'd rather be a pebble rolling in a stream than a feather that lives on the whims of the wind. Every time I find a place to rest, the wind has other ideas. Floating somewhere on the edge of a broom, I need to change, more than ever... I'm small, red and shiny. I'm a small berry, a strawberry. And I'm scared as hell. I hide behind the leaves. Afraid that I'll be popped into the mouth of the next ragamuffin that passes by the bush. Afraid that the beady-eyed sparrow may take a peck at me - spill my guts out so she can feed those disgusting pink screechers she calls her children. This is scary, big time. I don't want to be a strawberry. Once again, the majesty of the mountain range fits me comfortably. And I am content to let the world settle down around me. It finally happened. I got stuck in a lift last week. Somehow, drugs the whole episode failed to live up to the expectations I had built up. Like everyone else, seek I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, rx and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation). And of course, various things happen and when the rescue is finally effected, the rescuers think they have rescued the sauna by mistake. Somehow, this does not figure on my list of fantasies at all. One of my most elaborate lift fantasies is to be stuck in a crowded lift and identify the killer. Of course, when the lift is opened, the police are there and it is but a moment's task to hand over the killer, complete with the chain of events immediately before and after the murder. Ah Sherlock Holmes! Another of my favourite fantasies is to be stuck in a lift with an old man, him having a heart attack, brave me doing a CPR and saving his life - and it turns out that he is an heirless millionaire Where it goes from there is anybody's guess! And then there is the usual 'rescue hero' fantasy that I guess is pretty common. The lift is stuck underground in some unreachable labyrinth. I lead a bunch of scared people, which of course includes one pretty lady, who seems to be only one who stays calm, out of the labyrinth. And yes, I've seen Daylight. Well, what really happened to me was pretty boring. First of all it was a lift in a block of flats and I was alone in it. Second, it had one of those grill-shutter type doors - which meant that you could look out of it. And third, it kind of got stuck immediately after it started going down - I was stuck in the lift about a foot below the floor. I punched the alarm button and screamed "Help" till someone came out of a flat and fiddled with the door for a bit. A wee bit later, the lift was okay and I was a free man. Apart from making me feel slightly silly, the experience did not do much else. So much for all my fantasies. With all due respect to Desmond Morris, this I'm a peoplewatcher. And a dogwatcher and a catwatcher and an everythingwatcher. I guess I'm like most other people. Anyway, malady the variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing. There is this little puppy in the hutment down the road from where I live. It is tied to the door to keep it from wandering away, but its expression indicates anything but that. It sits self-importantly and all puffed up, and its entire attitude suggests that the house was tied to it to stop it (the hut, not the puppy) from running away, rather than the other way around! Then there is a group of five dogs that lives three doors away from this little tyke. The hut itself is tiny, and I'm sure there will not be any space for anyone if all the dogs take it upon themselves to go indoors. The five are almost identical - light brown, short, squat and wearing identical collars. They usually sit or lie around the door of the hut - that is when they are not proudly strutting around their territory or harassing some poor cur who dared to stray in. Their master, a dilapidated old man with a sharp tongue and a swift hand, usually hangs out with them at the door. And of course, the six of them eat together. The black Labrador that lives a couple of streets away is another interesting creature. It lives in a house which has a shop selling hardware and odds and ends at the front, and can be seen lying either at the door of the house or in front of the shop. There is a benign presence about it that is quite awesome. As you look at it, it's easy to picture a monarch benevolently looking at all his subjects, ready to give out a rich dole should anyone ask for it. The benevolence on his face is unmistakable, and his look of contentment bids you to step softly, lest you disturb a royal rest. And then there is our very own Red Dog. He is a little pitiful wretch who hangs out in front of our group of flats. Though he is predominantly white with a large black patch, he routinely goes somewhere and rolls in mud that gives him a red hue. And he responds joyously when we call him Red Dog. He is tiny and scrawny, and this despite being quite well-fed by various kindly souls who will feed him scraps but will take a stick to him should he try to venture within their walls. One peculiarity of the Red Dog is that till now he hasn't understood that the middle of the street is no place for him to nap - the place where he usually sleeps (or tries to, at any rate) is a corner. Many an unwary motorist has come to a screeching halt inches from the startled form of the Red Dog, and yet he remains unmoved. He is back in his position immediately after the motorist passes. And he returns with a rather hurt expression on his face, more self-pity than indignation. The Red Dog has claimed his corner, and the regular motorists are now quite aware of his spot and avoid him rather neatly. But there are novices and newcomers aplenty, and they keep the Red Dog on his toes. These are but a few of the myriad dogs I encounter everyday, and from every dog I meet, I derive that much of pleasure. There are big dogs, small dogs, tall dogs, short dogs, hairy dogs, smooth dogs, dogs of different colours, quiet dogs, barking dogs, the occasional biting dog, intelligent dogs, stupid dogs, proud dogs, dogs with low self-esteem The list is endless. Give me a street-corner with a dog, I say, and you can keep all your televisions and cinemas to yourself. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. It was hot. It was passionate. And, try like all things earthly, visit this site it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable. A routine that was killing, to say the least. A routine where everything, every damn thing, even things that were supposed to be spontaneous, things that were alive only in their spontaneity, things whose very souls was their being unexpected, was planned. Meetings, lunches, dinners, vacations, sex, love, drives - even crises - everything happened according to a schedule. It was this routine that drove them to it. Not love. Not even lust. Not even the thrill of cheating. And when it was ended, it was not the end of the world. It ended because it too had become part of the schedule. Thursday evenings' "Production Meetings" that went on all night became much too routine. Sudden "crises" on Sundays became all too boring. Once more, like the calm on the surface of a lake after a meteor has crashed into it, things came back to "normal." It was over. I am a stone. A small stone, sale rough-edged, salve lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, info kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out. Cringing as huge trucks drive past, narrowly missing crushing me into tiny pieces. I grow. And grow. And keep growing. I become a rock, a large one. Enough, I say. But I keep growing. A hill. Enough, I say. No one can kick me anywhere now. Stop. But I keep growing. A mountain, a whole mountain range. Finally, towering above everything, I stop my mad growth. I am a mountain range. Verdant forests clothe my lower slopes. My head is permanently capped in freezing snows. Small streams gather into mighty rivers on my sides. Clouds rest on me when they are tired. The smaller ones go around me. Many of the larger, angrier-looking ones cry when they collide with me, swelling those raging torrents that rush down my sides. Finally, when they can cry no more, they go away, lighter, whiter and happier. Meanwhile, civilisations flourish all around me. Men, tiny men, infinitely-small-and-nothing men tramp all over me. They build roads, clear whole mountainsides, raise crops, dam rivers, build houses, villages, towns, cities. And I am mildly tickled. I laugh a couple of times, but my shaking leaves them crying. Poor feeble things. Must be hard being frail. Finally, I get a bit bored. Want to see life. But how does a mountain range see life. After all, I AM life to these poor miserable creatures. And I am shackled. Shackled by my strength, my size and my might. I shrink. Shrink till I am a little round pebble, washed down a stream at an exciting pace till, at a bend, I'm pushed to the shore. The freedom is exhilarating. The thought of oblivion no longer worries me. I feel liberated. No one lives on me. I sustain no life. I may be kicked around, but I am not tied down. I pity the mountain, the hill and the large rocks. See me skip downstream, oh you giants. See me and weep. Weep great rivers that will take me around. I gloat, I scream in happiness, I am obscenely happy. I grow lighter. I am out of the water. I become dry. I'm a feather. The wind takes me here and there. I am caught in a bush. The wind blows me free. Now I float high, now I am dragged in the dust. I hate this. I'd rather be a pebble rolling in a stream than a feather that lives on the whims of the wind. Every time I find a place to rest, the wind has other ideas. Floating somewhere on the edge of a broom, I need to change, more than ever... I'm small, red and shiny. I'm a small berry, a strawberry. And I'm scared as hell. I hide behind the leaves. Afraid that I'll be popped into the mouth of the next ragamuffin that passes by the bush. Afraid that the beady-eyed sparrow may take a peck at me - spill my guts out so she can feed those disgusting pink screechers she calls her children. This is scary, big time. I don't want to be a strawberry. Once again, the majesty of the mountain range fits me comfortably. And I am content to let the world settle down around me. It finally happened. I got stuck in a lift last week. Somehow, drugs the whole episode failed to live up to the expectations I had built up. Like everyone else, seek I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, rx and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation). And of course, various things happen and when the rescue is finally effected, the rescuers think they have rescued the sauna by mistake. Somehow, this does not figure on my list of fantasies at all. One of my most elaborate lift fantasies is to be stuck in a crowded lift and identify the killer. Of course, when the lift is opened, the police are there and it is but a moment's task to hand over the killer, complete with the chain of events immediately before and after the murder. Ah Sherlock Holmes! Another of my favourite fantasies is to be stuck in a lift with an old man, him having a heart attack, brave me doing a CPR and saving his life - and it turns out that he is an heirless millionaire Where it goes from there is anybody's guess! And then there is the usual 'rescue hero' fantasy that I guess is pretty common. The lift is stuck underground in some unreachable labyrinth. I lead a bunch of scared people, which of course includes one pretty lady, who seems to be only one who stays calm, out of the labyrinth. And yes, I've seen Daylight. Well, what really happened to me was pretty boring. First of all it was a lift in a block of flats and I was alone in it. Second, it had one of those grill-shutter type doors - which meant that you could look out of it. And third, it kind of got stuck immediately after it started going down - I was stuck in the lift about a foot below the floor. I punched the alarm button and screamed "Help" till someone came out of a flat and fiddled with the door for a bit. A wee bit later, the lift was okay and I was a free man. Apart from making me feel slightly silly, the experience did not do much else. So much for all my fantasies. With all due respect to Desmond Morris, this I'm a peoplewatcher. And a dogwatcher and a catwatcher and an everythingwatcher. I guess I'm like most other people. Anyway, malady the variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing. There is this little puppy in the hutment down the road from where I live. It is tied to the door to keep it from wandering away, but its expression indicates anything but that. It sits self-importantly and all puffed up, and its entire attitude suggests that the house was tied to it to stop it (the hut, not the puppy) from running away, rather than the other way around! Then there is a group of five dogs that lives three doors away from this little tyke. The hut itself is tiny, and I'm sure there will not be any space for anyone if all the dogs take it upon themselves to go indoors. The five are almost identical - light brown, short, squat and wearing identical collars. They usually sit or lie around the door of the hut - that is when they are not proudly strutting around their territory or harassing some poor cur who dared to stray in. Their master, a dilapidated old man with a sharp tongue and a swift hand, usually hangs out with them at the door. And of course, the six of them eat together. The black Labrador that lives a couple of streets away is another interesting creature. It lives in a house which has a shop selling hardware and odds and ends at the front, and can be seen lying either at the door of the house or in front of the shop. There is a benign presence about it that is quite awesome. As you look at it, it's easy to picture a monarch benevolently looking at all his subjects, ready to give out a rich dole should anyone ask for it. The benevolence on his face is unmistakable, and his look of contentment bids you to step softly, lest you disturb a royal rest. And then there is our very own Red Dog. He is a little pitiful wretch who hangs out in front of our group of flats. Though he is predominantly white with a large black patch, he routinely goes somewhere and rolls in mud that gives him a red hue. And he responds joyously when we call him Red Dog. He is tiny and scrawny, and this despite being quite well-fed by various kindly souls who will feed him scraps but will take a stick to him should he try to venture within their walls. One peculiarity of the Red Dog is that till now he hasn't understood that the middle of the street is no place for him to nap - the place where he usually sleeps (or tries to, at any rate) is a corner. Many an unwary motorist has come to a screeching halt inches from the startled form of the Red Dog, and yet he remains unmoved. He is back in his position immediately after the motorist passes. And he returns with a rather hurt expression on his face, more self-pity than indignation. The Red Dog has claimed his corner, and the regular motorists are now quite aware of his spot and avoid him rather neatly. But there are novices and newcomers aplenty, and they keep the Red Dog on his toes. These are but a few of the myriad dogs I encounter everyday, and from every dog I meet, I derive that much of pleasure. There are big dogs, small dogs, tall dogs, short dogs, hairy dogs, smooth dogs, dogs of different colours, quiet dogs, barking dogs, the occasional biting dog, intelligent dogs, stupid dogs, proud dogs, dogs with low self-esteem The list is endless. Give me a street-corner with a dog, I say, and you can keep all your televisions and cinemas to yourself. The Chennai Police busted a fake driving licence racket yesterday. Apparently the forgers had issued more than 30, seek 000 such licences, cialis 40mg each costing Rs. 850. Yesterday's Daily Thanthi, a Tamil daily, carried a photograph showing some of the pictures seized in the raid. One of the clearly visible pictures belongs to a friend of mine, who had got a driving licence by paying a tout who claimed he could get a licence without a driving test. It looks like the tout got the licence from the forgers, knowingly or unknowingly. My friend is, of course, upset by all this, and fears arrest at any time. There is no way of knowing how many of us have forged licences. I myself have used the services of the same tout to follow up on the processing of my driving licence, though I did take a driving test and had my picture taken at the RTO office. I also signed the licence and a big register at the office before being given my licence. Again, I used the services of the same fellow when I moved and needed to have the address changed. Again, I went to the RTO office, was photographed, and signed in all the places before getting the signature. Vidya's licence too was arranged by the same fellow, though she too went to the RTO office for the whole process. Now arises the question. More than 30,000 people hold licences and drive in Chennai (and I daresay around the country), who have never been certified by the RTO. So, if I hold a licence, how do I check whether it is real or forged? There is no mechanism by which one can do this. The only thing one can do is approach the RTO, but then that leaves one open to harrassment by the officials there. If only the RTOs had their records online, by which one could check if a driving licence number is valid or not, it would be immensely helpful, not only in situations like the present one, but also when one needs to validate the details of a prospective employee. Also, imagine the fate of those who are dependent on their licences for their livelihoods, like drivers and chauffeurs, who may even be employed by various Government departments. What is called for now is an effort by the Chennai Traffic Police in coordinction with the Transport department to facilitate an easy and corruption-free method of checking the validity of one's licence. The Chennai Traffic Police have proved to be innovative and enterprising in the past. Here's hoping they do it once more. Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

Loten's Sunbird

The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a strong fruity odour arose from it. Chandru took one sniff, looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "You're not going to drink it, are you?" "But of course I am," I said, "what else did you think I bought it for?" "It smells evil, and I'm sure I don't even want to know what it tastes like. And it could kill me. I'm not touching it. And if you decide to drink it and something happens to you, rest assured that I'll leave you here and just go on." Chandru sounded as if he meant every word of what he said. Of course, being the deeply caring person that he is, he ended up sitting up watching me as I drank the thing. It tasted very funny - the first sip was quite hellish. As I took it into my mouth, it was sweet. As I swallowed it, it was fiery. And the tangy aftertaste was something quite unique - a new taste altogether and not very unpleasant. Chandru watched me as I drank, anxiety flitting across his face every now and then but amused more than anything else. As the bottle emptied, I could feel the drink take effect, and I was feeling more and more lightheaded. It was a very pleasant feeling, and added to the tiredness of the day, had a very soothing effect. Finally, when the bottle was empty, Chandru asked me, "Are you okay?" "Couldn't feel better� feels like I'm flying�" I realized how drunk I was only when I heard myself utter these words. I decided to shut up and say nothing - walking long distances with someone who would recount exactly what I said and double up laughing was not exactly what I wanted to be doing. Like everyone, I preferred to laugh at others more that at myself. Realizing that I was drunk and that nothing had happened to me, Chandru went to his backpack and stretched out, muttering a good night. And in a minute, he was asleep, gently snoring. Good old Chandru. He knew how to be caring without being intrusive, though he would never admit to caring for anyone, least of all me. We went back a long way, Chandru and I. After three years in college together, we had both gone our own ways when we did our Master's degrees. After that though, we had got together and spent four glorious unemployed months together. After we got jobs in different places - Chandru as a photographer for a large newspaper and me as a part-time researcher on projects, we met less frequently, but kept in touch. This trip was a longtime dream for us that we finally found the time to do. We had managed to take two weeks off from our jobs to do this, and we were enjoying every moment of it. As I lay thinking of all the fun we had had together, I drifted off into sleep.

x-x-x

I awoke with a start. It was cold, and I looked at Chandru to see that he had taken his sleeping bag from his backpack and was cocooned in it now. I thought I heard some music, like drums at a distance. The moon was high in the sky, and I could see that it was about two in the morning. I sat up and listened intently, trying to catch the drums. Yes, there it was. I could hear it quite distinctly. It seemed to be coming from the village. But no one was supposed to be there, and anyway, whoever wanted to be drumming at two in the morning would definitely make an interesting acquaintance. It was possibly someone from one of the many different magico-religious cults that were quite common it that part of Tamil Nadu. Now that I was awake and could hear the drums quite clearly, I decided to go and check it out for myself. Chandru was sleeping soundly, and I was thinking of how I would tell him of all that he had missed in the morning. I made my way to the village, and as I neared it, the sound of the drums increased. Drawn on by the primal appeal of the heavy rhythmic drumming, I found myself walking towards the centre of the village. The centre of the village was a large clear square, with an old pipal tree in the centre. Gathered around this tree I could see about a hundred men. They were all bare-bodied, wearing only a short veshti, which they had drawn between their legs and tucked into their waistbands, giving it the look of a pair of shorts. Thirteen of them stood in a circle and were beating heavy drums that were slung between their legs by long ropes that went around their necks. As they beat the drums, the other men were swaying in a frenzied rhythm. This looked like some religious ceremony, and I decided to ask one of them what was happening. I looked around, seeing if could approach one of the men. It was then that I saw that one of the houses to my right was not broken down. It was in fact decorated and brightly lit with flaming torches placed in sockets in the walls. It had a wide veranda, and in this sat two young men, clad like the others, but holding long staves in their hands. To all intents and purposes, they appeared to be guards. As I was pondering whether to approach them or not, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned. There behind me stood four men with staves in their hands, clad like the rest. At such close quarters, I could make out that all the men were lean and well muscled, and looked like a patrol on guard duty. The man who had laid his hand on my shoulder was about six feet tall. His broad shoulders, long hair, big moustache and air of confidence clearly marked him out as the leader of the men. "Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?" The questions came one after the other. And he spoke a very different Tamil. A Tamil that sounded a lot like the one spoken in Sri Lanka with the singsong more accentuated. "I'm from Madras. I was sleeping in the mandapam when I heard the drums. So I thought I'd come and have a look." As I spoke, I could see first suspicion and then amusement in the man's face. He turned to the others and said, "He speaks funnily. Maybe he's a spy." Apparently the others found this very funny and laughed out aloud. "What is going on here?" I asked him, more to get his attention than anything else. He turned to me, as though amazed that I had spoken without being spoken to. "Don't you know where you are?" he asked as though he were talking to a child. Before I could reply, there came a voice behind him, "Thalapathi, what are you doing here? The men are waiting�" The voice trailed off as the speaker caught sight of me. The four had parted at the voice. The speaker was a man of royal bearing. About the thalapathi's height, he was lithe and lanky. Unlike all the other men, who were swarthy, he was fair skinned. His long black hair was held back by a headband of bright red cloth. His face was incongruous in the company of his men - he did not have a moustache. He was dressed as the others, but he held a naked sword in one had, and a leather shield in the other. The sword was long and curved, shaped like an Arabian scimitar, but narrower. Its blade gleamed in the light from the torches. "Who is this?" he asked the thalapathi, who shook his head and said, "We do not know, sir. We just found him and I was questioning him." He took one look at me and asked, "Have you come to kill me? Or have you come to spy on my preparations?" I was taken aback at how casually he asked me this. He seemed cool and collected. There was no edge to his voice - only an almost casual interest. "I'm just a traveller. Why would I want to kill you? And who would I spy for? And who are you anyway, that I should spy on you or kill you?" I blurted out. He burst out laughing at this. "He really does not know me! How amusing!" he exclaimed, and said to the thalapathi, "You go and join the men - they are waiting for you. Don't worry about him, I'll take care of him." The thalapathi gave me a withering glance before calling to his men and going to join the others. "So, where are you from, that you do not know of me?" asked the person who by now I'd made out to be some sort of chieftain. "I'm from Madras," I said, and could see immediately that it had made no impact on his understanding. "Must be far away from here. Very far away if you haven't even heard of me," he said. "Who are you? And what's happening?" I asked him. "I am the rightful king of this land. Just because my mother was Roman, I have been denied my birthright. And now they want to kill me as well. The ways of the wise are strange indeed," he said. Whoa, hold on a minute - I was experiencing extreme reality fragmentation here. Here I was, in the last year of the second millennium, and here was this guy talking to me about being a king and being denied his rightful inheritance. What's more, said guy held a great sword and a shield as if he'd been practising taking back his birthright. There were only two possibilities - either I had travelled back in time or I was dreaming this whole thing. Either way, I couldn't see any way I could contradict the rightful heir and keep my head on my shoulders. So I decided to nod sagely and hold my peace. "My father was king of this land. My mother was the daughter of a Roman merchant. They met in the court of the Chola, where my father had gone to pay his father's tribute. They were married even before my father became king. I was born in the first year of my father's reign, and I was my father's eldest. Of course, my father took other wives, out of other compulsions, but my mother was always his wife - all the others mere political conveniences. And they resented this. My mother died soon after I was proclaimed the crown prince. But the other queens plotted. They spread rumours, they started whispers against me in my own house. And when the ministers and generals took their side, I knew I did not stand a chance. So I left the court when my father died. I told them they could make whichever of my stepbrothers they wanted king. I thought that I would be left alone if gave them the kingdom. But it was not so. The queens wanted me dead. So my stepbrother, the king now, sent his men after me." "Who are these men?" I asked, pointing to the men who had by now finished their dance and were standing in groups, talking to each other. "These are my bondmen. They are bound to me by death. They will give their lives for me, and if I die, they will take their lives too. Such is their loyalty. And great fighters they are too. If it comes to a pitched battle, my eighty-five men can easily account for at least a thousand of the enemy's men. And that is why they haven't moved in against me yet." "I have received information that they shall attack me tomorrow. And they have recruited more than a thousand bowmen. Cowards. They know they cannot face us in hand-to-hand combat. So they want to draw us into the open and use their bowmen. That is why we are here today. This city was the capital of my great great grandfather, and it is here that I shall account for every one of the enemy. No longer shall I run like a coward. And here, their bowmen are of no use. In the streets, among the houses, the only combat that is possible is hand-to-hand. And we will take all of them with us. This is the end, for them and for us." "Don't you have bowmen too?" I asked him. "Bows are for wimps," he told me contemptuously. "They are for people who cannot face their enemy on the battlefield. We fight with swords, the weapon of real men. And we have the finest swords in the world. Look at this. See how it gleams, and see how it becomes dull nearer the centre. The perfect combination of strength and sharpness. Our swords are used all over the world. The Arabs use our swords, though they use much broader ones - better when used from a horse's back. But this - this is the finest sword in the world. I can slice off an elephant's head with one stroke. And that is our weapon. We fight with swords and knives, not with bows and arrows." As he said this, he swung his sword in arcs around him. There was no sign of any exertion on his part as the sword described great arcs all around him so fast that it was a blur. Anyone who got anywhere near him would be sliced to pieces. There was a broad grin on his face as he saw my openmouthed expression. "Let me show you something," he said, and swung his sword at my feet. I was so shocked that I was frozen to the spot. I couldn't move, and as I waited for my feet to be cut away from under me, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened, and I opened my eyes to the sound of the prince laughing loudly. I looked down. The prince was holding the sword where he had stopped it - about a millimetre from my calf - and it had already sliced through my jeans. "That is how good we are!" he exclaimed, "and any of my men can do that." "So when are you expecting to be attacked?" I asked him. "Not until the dawn, and even then only after it gets fully light. They are afraid, the cowards. They think I have an army of devils." With that he burst into laughter. If all his men could do what he did with his sword, and if they all had swords like that, then I could not blame his enemies for thinking he had an army of devils. And I wondered what he would think of today's armies and their guns. I was in no mood to try and find out. "Come. Let us rest. Who knows what evils lurk in the darkness. I hear the kollivai pisasu is on the prowl near the mandapam. Sleep here till dawn, then you can go on your way," said the prince. I couldn't agree more with him. I was tired and I was scared, but more than that, I felt very drowsy. As we reached the brightly-lit house, he indicated that I could sleep in the veranda, watched by the two guards. With a grin on his face, the prince went into the house. I curled up in a corner of the veranda and was instantly asleep.

x-x-x

The sun was shining brightly on my face when I woke up. It was early morning, and the sun was on its way up. I looked around me - I was in the veranda of a ruined house. The same house where the prince and his guards had been the previous night. As I looked around, I could see no signs of the village having been occupied by anyone. It was as though everything had been a dream. I thought of Chandru - he would be really worried if he found me gone when he woke up. I ran to the mandapam - it took me a few minutes, and all my breath. Out of the village, up the rise, down the other side, turn off from the road and there it was - the mandapam. As I reached it, I found Chandru just waking up and stretching. On seeing me, he mumbled a sleepy good morning and asked me where I had been. Then, seeing that I was panting, he asked me if everything was all right. In fits and starts, I told him everything that happened, expecting him to be amazed. All I got from him was a wry look and, "Are you sure you don't walk in your sleep?" after which he turned away to rummage in his backpack for a toothbrush. "Brush your teeth, Mr. Sleepwalker - let's go get some pictures of your prince's great great grandfather's capital," laughed Chandru. Half an hour later, we were in the village square, Chandru setting up his tripod in front of the house on whose veranda I had woken up, while I explored the interior of the house. It was a sprawling house with many rooms. The roof was gone and so had the doors and windows, a few of the walls had fallen, but I could get an idea of the plan of the entire house. I reached the end of the house, its rear entrance in a street parallel to the square. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls were thicker than others. There were also two other exits into small lanes on the right and left sides of the house. As I was looking at the walls and wondering what it meant, I heard the sound of a jeep driving up and stopping. I went to the entrance of the house to see three men getting out of an old rickety jeep. Chandru was trying to get a shot of the jeep with the old buildings in the background. I walked up to the jeep, noticing on the way that it had 'Archaeological Survey of India' stencilled on its side. The three men who had got out were looking around. One of them was a large old man with cotton-white hair and pink skin. The other two were Indians, one a military type with grey sideburns and the other a middle-aged man who smiled a lot, who was obviously an interpreter. I went up to the military-looking man and introduced myself and told him about Chandru's and my travels. This seemed to spark something in him and he became very genial. He introduced himself as Major Mahabali, late of the Indian Army, veteran of peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka and Bosnia, recently discharged and now an honorary member of the Archaeological Survey of India. He was taking Professor Helmut (I didn't get the last name) of the University of Cologne around different archaeological sites for a book he (Prof. Helmut, not the Major) was writing. By now the Professor had his camera out and was competing with Chandru for pictures. I could see the two of them arguing furiously about something with the poor interpreter caught in the crossfire. The major was shaking his head. "Poor Helmut, he should stay in Cologne and let his research assistants do his fieldwork for him," he said. "How is this village important in history? I thought this was just another settlement where the people left because the wells dried up," I asked the Major. "It's got a long and interesting history behind it. What you see around you was once the capital of Adiveeraparakraman, a minor vassal of the later Cholas. This was once a busy metropolis, the centre of trade and diplomacy in this region. Adiveeraparakraman was a warrior as well as a statesman, and he kept together a loose confederation of vassals. This ensured that all the individual kings kept their sovereignty in their lands, but by being part of a confederation that owed allegiance to the mighty Cholas, kept themselves from being overrun by either the Chola juggernaut itself or any of the other marauding dynasties. The confederation itself was quite shaky - kings and chieftains kept joining and dropping out. But the core of the confederation was Adiveeraparakraman. For thirty-six years he ruled, and for thirty-six years the confederation stood. At that time, this was the seat of all commercial and diplomatic enterprises. "Within ten months of the death of Adiveeraparakraman, the confederation was destroyed and the vassal kings were on their own. They had to fight everyone around them to keep their crowns. There was a series of wars and battles, after which four minor kings emerged dominant, and they stuck to an unwritten treaty to keep out of each other's way. One of the four was Adiveeraparakraman II, son of Adiveeraparakraman. But by that time, the wells of this place had dried up and he had to shift his capital to what was called Adiveeraparakramapalayam, which means 'the armoury of Adiveeraparakraman.' That's about sixty kilometres from here. His reign was for about eight years - he was assassinated and no one knows why or by whom. Veeraparakraman succeeded Adiveeraparakraman II and ruled for ten years, before he died in a war with another vassal. The dynasty was pushed into its capital and the kingdom shrunk to a ridiculously small size. "It was then that Adityan became king. He was a brilliant man, married to a Roman woman. Her brother commanded a galley, but was an infantryman at heart. He was a brilliant strategist and assisted his brother-in-law in drawing up battle plans and campaign strategies. He also brought with him a master swordsmith, Mayan, whom he had captured in a battle with an Arab vessel. Mayan was from the Sera kingdom, and Adityan promised to send him home if he would set up an armoury for him and train his soldiers in the art of swordsmanship. So began Adityan's long and arduous campaign to reclaim the land of his forefathers. Mayan's swords were legendary - it is said that the Arabs were ready to worship him, but did not do so as Islam did not permit it. "And Adityan was every bit a diplomat as his great grandfather had been. His charisma won him many friends, and he forged many alliances. He was reviving the confederation of his great grandfather. And he was such a man that Mayan decided to stay on with him. The swordsmen he trained were said to be the best in the world, and combined with his swords, they were invincible warriors. It is said that they could cut off an elephant's head with a single stroke of the sword. "With his alliances, the military might of his swordsmen and the brilliant strategies of the Romans, Adityan was soon ruling an area that was much bigger than his great grandfather's. He ruled for thirty-two years. But within the palace, all was not well. The crown prince was Aditya Parakraman, Adityan's son by his Roman wife. She had died when Aditya Parakraman was seventeen. The other women whom Adityan had married had sons and big ambitions for them. So they conspired against Aditya Parakraman. When Mayan, Aditya Parakraman's only ally in the palace, died, the few ministers and generals who were with him went over to his stepmothers. One day, Adityan died suddenly, and by nightfall, Aditya Parakraman was on the run, pursued by his stepbrothers' armies. "Aditya Parakraman was an expert swordsman, and along with him were his bondmen, a band of men who were tied to him by an oath so powerful, they would end their lives when he died. All his bondmen had been trained by Mayan, and the chief among then was Mayan's son. Aditya Parakraman, in the Roman way, did not sport a moustache, and this is his distinguishing feature in references to him by poets. He is referred to as the 'unmoustached one.' One folk song goes, 'Aditya Parakraman, without a moustache, but a real man without a kingdom but a real king�' "Aditya Parakraman and his men came here, and stayed here for about a month. They knew that the armies would eventually find them, but they were ready. His stepbrother, who knew about the prowess of Aditya Parakraman and his bondmen, did not wish to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. So he sent for all the bowmakers and bowmen in his land. He gathered about a thousand of them and marched on this town. And then they laid siege to this place, staying at a safe distance, but with bowmen always ready. One by one they picked off Aditya Parakraman's bondmen. And then on the fifth day of the siege, just before dawn, Aditya Parakraman and his men attacked. They had slunk up to the army in the night and had taken the sentries. It is said that the army was totally routed that night. When it was all over, more than two thousand of the five-thousand-strong army lay dead. Most of Aditya Parakraman's men too lay dead. But neither his body nor the body of Mayan's son, his Chief bondman, was found. "While the army was laying siege to Aditya Parakraman here, all the borders of the kingdom were under attack. The usurpers were never kings, they never had a kingdom to rule. In less than a month, the kingdom was gone and all Aditya Parakraman's stepbrothers were dead. "Soon after Aditya Parakraman's last known battle, the wells in this place were full of water. People began to settle in, and they built their houses on the ruins of the old capital. Since then, the drying up of the wells has occurred roughly once every hundred years. After that, the wells have water again for about fifty years. This cycle has been repeated again and again. The wells went dry in 1940, and the people moved out. What is very exciting to the archaeologist and the historian is that every time the people moved in, they have built on the ruins of the old village. So, what you see today is probably the layout of the village as it was during the time of Adiveeraparakraman. Many of the houses too have retained the pattern of building. So, in effect, what you see here is the ruin of a village as it was about eight hundred years ago." "How do you know all this? Are there written histories about this?" I asked. "Most of what I've told you has been culled from various sources. Tax records maintained in stone by the Cholas show us that Adiveeraparakraman, his son, grandson and great grandson were loyal vassals who paid their tributes regularly. A lot of the details have been preserved in folk songs, stories and sayings. And since there is a Roman connection, a few details have been corroborated by Roman scholars too. Again, the Arabs have written records of Mayan working for them and his skill as a swordsmith and a swordsman. Putting all this together has been the work of a lifetime for me. Of course, I will be a mere footnote in Helmut's work." By this time, Helmut and Chandru seemed to have finished their picture-taking and returned. The Major bid me farewell and gave me his card, asking me to drop in on him sometime. Seeing a Madras address on the card, I made up my mind to look him up once I got home. The Major, the professor and the interpreter climbed into the jeep and drove off. "Batty old bugger!" exclaimed Chandru, "kept getting in the way. But I managed to get some decent pictures though." As we set off to the next village, I told Chandru what the Major had told me. He was quite incredulous and told me that I might have read about it somewhere and dreamt about it and sleepwalked. We did not speak about it for the rest of the trip.

x-x-x

Once I got back to Madras, I was once again caught up in the mad rush that is city life. Finally, after about three months I got the time to call up the Major. He recognised me immediately, and we fixed up a meeting on the following Sunday. When I went to his house, I resolved to tell him about my experience in the village. I wore the same jeans that I was wearing when I was in the village - the cut made by Aditya Parakraman's sword was still there. When I rang the bell, the Major answered it himself. As we sat talking, I told him, very hesitantly, "When I was in the village, something weird happened to me." "I knew it," said the Major "you see, when I saw the cut in your jeans in the village, I was reasonably sure you had met Aditya Parakraman. I met him six years ago. Why else do you think I would be so passionate about the history of some obscure vassal dynasty? And yes, he did that to me too." As the Major put out his leg, I could see that the jeans he was wearing were cut in exactly the same place as mine.

Bibliography

Ali, Mohammad and Parvez Sharief. 1987. Arab Voyages and Sea Battles - 1000 AD to 1500 AD. Karachi. Ali Nawaz and Sons.

Gopalakrishnan, M. D. and G.Vaidhyanathan. 1988. "Chola Vassals - Lists from the Stone Account Books of Ariyalur". Journal of Interpretative Archaeology Vol. VI:147-156.

Maberto, Paulo (Tr.) 1986. Leonius - Accounts of Roman Galleys in Eastern Seas. Bologna: University of Bologna Press.

Masterson, Charles. 1990. The Magic of Mayan - The Story of a South Indian Swordsmith. New York. Clark, Whitney and Havelock.

Ramanathan, W. S. 1991. The Parakrama Dynasty. Tirunelveli. Pothigai Publishers.

Schlessinger, Helmut and Maj. T. Mahalingam. 1996. "Vassal Confederations and their Role in Maintainning Territorial Integrity - A South Indian Case Study". Journal of South Asian History Vol. XXI: 33-47.

Trescothick, William et al. 1965. The Lesser Kingdoms of the Indian South. Manchester. Whitlock and Son.

Madhavan was beginning to sweat as he slowly pedalled his twenty-year-old bicycle. It was quite sturdy, this and given its age, was remarkably well-suited to performing its role - that of a water-carrier. From its carrier hung two plastic pots of water, one on either side of the bicycle, tied together by a bright green nylon rope. The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water. Some bought water in canisters from private vendors who would deliver it home - expensive. Some others bought whole tanker-loads of water and filled their enormous sumps - again, expensive. Others ran after the Government Water Tankers with empty plastic pots in their hands, hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies - not expensive, but too much trouble - at forty, Madhavan couldn't run very fast, neither had he the stomach to fight it out with the pumped-up women who invariably dominated the water-catching process. Still others battled it out at the water pumps scattered at some planner's whim through out the neighbourhood - some streets had two hand pumps, while at places three streets had to make do with one - again, too much trouble for our hero. He had his own technique, perfected over many waterless summers in the suburbs of Chennai. Things hadn't changed much now, even though he was living well within the city limits. Madhavan's technique was quite simple. He cycled around the streets, late at night, looking for hand pumps where he could get water. These were usually besieged by hordes of women during the day, but during the night, especially after about 11.30 pm, they were deserted, and Madhavan would move in with his rickety bicycle and two plastic pots. He would make ten or twelve trips a night, filling a big plastic barrel kept outside the kitchen door in his house. This was his nightly routine, and his wife was used to Madhavan's nocturnal quests for water. Today was no different - after cycling around for about fifteen minutes, Madhavan found a hand pump that had been abandoned for the day by its matriarchs. Since this was only one street away from his home, he was happy - he could get his twelve trips of water very quickly indeed. So he set about filling his pots, slinging them across the carrier of his bicycle and cycling home. As he cycled home, he felt light-hearted, almost breaking into song. Maybe it was the thought that he would be in bed sooner than usual. Or maybe it was the thought of tomorrow, and the deal he had fixed. During the day, Madhavan was a clerk in a State Government Office. Though his official income was very modest, he managed to supplement it very cleverly by "fixing deals" for those who wanted their papers to be moved slightly faster. He never went for the bigger deals - those that involved actual fraud or forgery. He was content with merely shuffling forms or approval letters so that his "client" would get his papers moved that much faster. A man had to live, but there was such a thing as a conscience. Between his "deals" during the day and his nocturnal water hunts, Madhavan was a reasonably happy man - chiefly because he did not want too much. He prided himself on this. Too much greed, he reasoned, was not good for anyone. Eleven trips later, Madhavan was on his last trip for the night. At the end of it, he would retire to a comfortable bed and deep sleep. He was sweating quite profusely now - the sultriness of the Chennai summer did not let up even in the middle of the night. The sweat ran down his forehead and a drop found its way into his eye. As he shook his head to clear his eyes, he could make out someone standing in the middle of the road. Even in the darkness, he could make out that the shadow-like creature in the middle of the road was an oversized man. Hoping that the man would get out of his way, he rang the small bell which was fixed to the handlebar of his bicycle. But the shadow showed no signs of moving. Madhavan almost ran into the fellow before he managed to stop. As he looked up at the man, he gasped. Here was a man who was at least seven feet tall and broad to match. He had long hair and a longer moustache. He wore only a loincloth, and big muscles stood out even in the darkness. His face was concealed in a shadow that seemed almost to hang around him like a cloak. "Lunatic," thought Madhavan. "And a dangerous one at that." "Please do not be afraid. I do not want to hurt you. I just want some water to drink. I am so thirsty" said the giant. "There is a hand pump in the next street. You can have as much water as you want there." Madhavan did not know from where he got the courage to say that. It was as if he had stood outside himself and watched these words proceed from his mouth. Of course, he knew the value of water, and no man, giant or not, was going to get his water away from him. The giant shook his head and said, "No Madhavan, I want you to get me some water. I am very thirsty." Madhavan almost fainted in fright. To be accosted by a giant in the street in the middle of the night was scary enough. But to be called by name was terrifying enough to justify a fainting spell. But he held on to consciousness. "Who... who are you? How do you know who I am?" he managed to croak out. The giant laughed and said, "Who I am does not matter. How I know your name too doesn't matter. What matters now is that I am thirsty, and I want you, Madhavan, to give me the water from your pot." "But I got this water for my home. And my wife will scold me if I do not get back soon. Please let me go. I have to go home." Madhavan had got back his voice. "Madhavan Madhavan. Don't lie to me. Your wife is asleep and won't know it if you don't go home at all till six in the morning. Now, all I'm asking for is some water to quench my thirst." said the giant. "I'll pay," he added, almost as an afterthought. "What did you say?" Madhavan's ears pricked up. If there was an opportunity to make a little money, why let it go. "I said I'll pay" said the giant. "How much?" Madhavan could hardly contain himself. Here was this fool, paying him to give him water. "Five rupees. For each of your pots." "Each of my pots... er... you are only going to drink it I hope. How can you drink two pots of water?" Madhavan said. "I said I'm thirsty, didn't I?" asked the giant, and gestured for Madhavan to bring him a pot of water. Madhavan stood the bicycle carefully on its stand, lifted the pots gently to the ground and carried one of them to the giant. The giant grabbed the pot easily in one hand, lifted it up, and emptied all the water in a single gulp. Without even stopping for a breath, he said, "That was good. Give me the other pot as well." "The money..." hesitated Madhavan. "Ah yes... the money. One must not forget the money." The giant pulled out a small bag from his waist band and shook out a few coins. Madhavan could see that they were all five-rupee coins. The bag was filled with them. "Here you go." said the giant, handing him one of the five-rupee coins. "Now get me the other pot." After having despatched the pot of water in the same way as he had the previous one, he turned to Madhavan and said, "That was really good. But it has made me more thirsty. Could you get me more. I'll pay you five rupees for every pot of water you get me." Madhavan was taken aback. Here was this giant, who, having nonchalantly tossed down two whole pots of water, wanted more. What was more, he was willing to pay him, Madhavan, five rupees for each pot of water. So Madhavan decided to go for it. How much more could he drink - two more pots? Four more pots? Let him drink. And Madhavan wanted to push his luck a little more. "Will you give me ten rupees for each pot of water I bring you?" he asked the giant. "Done. Now hurry up and get me more water." said the giant, and sat down on a pile of sand on the roadside. Not able to believe his luck, Madhavan ran to get the water before the giant changed his mind. He reached the pump, filled up the two pots in record time - so eager was he to get his hands on the money - and cycled back, half expecting the giant to be gone. But the giant was there, waiting for him. As soon as he reached, the giant seized the two pots, one in each hand and quaffed them one after the other. Giving them back to Madhavan, he also pushed four more coins into his palm. "More" was all he said. Madhavan just couldn't believe what was happening. But since he was getting money for doing practically nothing, he went back and forth between the hand pump and the giant. After the fourth trip, he found the giant stretched out on his back on the heap of sand. When he went up to the giant, he merely pointed to his mouth. Madhavan emptied the two pots of water into his mouth. Then the giant pointed to his bag of coins. Madhavan took out four coins, showing them to the giant as he did, and put them in his pocket. Four more trips, and the strain was beginning to tell on him. He was drenched in sweat. His arms and legs ached. The bicycle went slower, and the hand pump became harder to operate. And through all this, the giant just lay back, drinking pot after pot of water, paying Madhavan two coins for every pot. On the next trip to the hand pump, Madhavan decided that enough was enough. He would take his two pots of water and go home. He would tell the giant to go and lie down under the hand pump and pump himself as much water as he wanted. He had gotten a hundred and seventy rupees already, and that was more than what he made fixing "deals" on a decent day. He made up his mind, and resolved to tell the giant that he was quitting as his water carrier. Thus resolved, he sat for a while and rested at the hand pump before filling up his two pots. Then he lifted them up on to the carrier of his bicycle and climbed on, ready to face the giant and bid him goodbye. But when he reached the spot where the giant had been resting, the place was deserted. Maybe the giant had had enough and had gone away, Madhavan thought, and as he pedalled homeward, his heart was light and happy. He got home, had a wash, and was asleep before he his head hit the pillow. "Wake up! Wake up!" his wife was roughly shaking him awake. It was morning and the sun was streaming in through the bedroom window, making small puddles of light on the floor. "Wha..." he muttered, as he slowly climbed out of his sleep into the world of the living. His wife was all excited. "You know what?" she exclaimed, "they found Muthaiah of the Accounts Department near the handpump on Tenth Street. He was sitting there, dead, and near him they found his bicycle and his water pots. And you know something - his pockets were filled with five-rupee coins. The police are there and everyone's talking about it..." As his wife went on and on in her usual long-winded way, Madhavan smiled to himself and thought, "Too much greed is not good for anyone." Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Ulthara looked around her. In the darkness, illness she could make out nothing. She pressed a small button on her wrist and a low voice whispered in her ear, hospital "Twelve twenty three pee em." "Bloody Hell!" she swore. Then she stumbled on something and fell. Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, discount rx upright and weapon at the ready for action. The dust was thick and blotted out the sun totally. The ground was pitted with huge bomb craters. The life sensors she had planted in a thirty metre diameter circle told her there was no life within a kilometre of her. At least no life with any kind of neuron activity. "Clear." She spoke the word crisply into the microphone of her helmet. "Okay Lieutenant, wrap up. Pick you up in ten minutes." That was Mrig Pen, her pilot. He knew she hated death walks, as her colleagues called it. The Force called it "Mission Status Appraisal" - MSA for short, and only when the MSA had been set to "Clr" would the mission end. As she began packing up the sensors and strapping them to various parts of her body, a sense of unreality filled her. A cold shiver passed through her. For a moment, she felt as if she had jumped into an ice-cold swimming pool. Then it passed, and she was back to her usual self - in control and methodical. Her plane was waiting for her when she got to the pick up zone. It was the only clear area for kilometres around. At that moment, she knew at least eleven other people were doing the same thing as her. She wasted no time in jumping in and strapping herself in. Switching on the console in front of her, she swiped a card that dangled from her neck on an indestructible chain through a slot. "A-ok. Here we go. Hold on." Mrig Pen's voice was almost cheerful as he took off smoothly and climbed to cruise altitude. As they reached formation, Ulthara could make out that they were early - only four others were there. They would fly at slow speed till the whole unit was together, after which they would fly in perfect formation till they got back to base three hours later. One by one, the rest of the unit joined them. After the twelfth plane was in position, Mrig Pen's voice came over the intercom, "We're going home, Lieutenant!" This time it was really cheerful. After which everything was light banter for a few minutes among the pilots and even some of the death walkers as they locked their planes into the Central Command Autopilot and drifted off to sleep. "War is hard. And dirty. But this isn't war." These were the thoughts that ran through Ulthara's mind as she armed her weapon. Carefully she aimed it at the back of Mrig Pen's head. "Poor kid, won't know why. Wouldn't understand if I told him," thought Ulthara as she pressed the fire key. Mrig Pen died instantly. The plane flew on, flown by a computer a thousand miles away. "Wonder if the CCA can land this thing," thought Ulthara as her weapon discharged into her mouth, cooking her brains in an instant. Nostalgia I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, more about but they come on, health like waves at the seashore... The Real Dream It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real... The Affair And, sovaldi sale like all things earthly, it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable... A Reverie I am a stone. A small stone, rough-edged, lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out... On Being Stuck in a Lift Like everyone else, I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation)... These Dogs are Crazy! The variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing... Nostalgia - from the Greek "nostos, no rx " meaning "a return" and "algos," meaning, "pain." The sun is shining. The blue sky is radiant, with puffs of cotton-wool-like clouds, looking as though the slightest wind may cause them to disintegrate. I can hear the birds singing in the nearby woods. As I stand on the road, in front of the farm gate, a sense of happiness, mixed with nostalgic memories, overwhelms me. I stand for a few minutes, staring at the farm gate, seeing nothing but memories. Then I walk up to the gate and shout for the watchman. The watchman, an ancient fellow, who came with the farm when it was acquired by my uncle twenty years ago, had been there for more than sixty years. He was nearing eighty, and was not much use as a watchman in the strict sense of the word, but he had two able lads to help him, and he managed quite well. He comes up to the gate and squints at me. Then, recognising me, his bearded face breaks into a welcoming smile. He opens the gate, shouting for the lads and enquiring after my health. The young men, one about twenty and the other slightly older, relieve me of my suitcase and bedroll, and accompany me to the farmhouse. The old man walks by me, talking about the affairs of the farm. At the farmhouse, the young men leave both of us alone and go away. I sit on the stone steps and let nostalgia take over. I try to suppress the painful memories, but they come on, like waves at the seashore. I can see both of us, holding hands, walking barefoot through the cool grass, sitting by the creek, saying things that meant nothing, but having a great meaning for us, tossing pebbles into the creek. And then, the painful ones, going to her house one day and finding it locked, enquiries about her to no avail, waiting for a letter that never came, waiting for her to return, something that never happened. Suddenly, my reverie is broken. The old man is talking but I cannot get his meaning. His words flow through me making no impact on my understanding. I ask him whether the old shed by the creek is still there. He tells me that it has not been used for more than a year. I ask him to prepare lunch and I go out saying that I will be back to eat it. I walk slowly, letting the sun soak into me, warming me. The feel of the cool grass against my bare feet comes back from old times. On impulse, I sit down and remove my shoes. I carry them in my hand, walking barefoot on the grass. I reach the shed, a dilapidated old structure, with weeds all around it, a part of the roof fallen in and the door hanging by a single hinge. I enter the old shed, leaving prints of my bare feet on the dusty floor. On an impulse, I look for a particular boarded-up window. There it is, behind a dusty table with a broken leg, amidst dust and cobwebs. I clear the cobwebs away and blow the dust off. It makes me sneeze. I push the table aside and approach the window. I clear the dust away with my handkerchief. There, carved on the boarded-up window, are our names, written in an intertwined manner. For a moment, I go back in time. She is there with me, and wants to do something that would last for a long time. Together we carve our names on that boarded-up window. And then, suddenly, she is gone, and I am left alone yearning for something that will never come true. My heart is broken, but my spirit is not. I shall go on living but my love is exhausted. I shall live, not love. I shall be one among the millions of machines who pass for men. The monotony of daily routine shall try to erase the memories from me, but I do not think that it is possible. I shall live, but not forget. It was a vivid dream. A dream so vivid that even today I can recall the most minute details. And it had seemed so real. There I was, hospital in a huge, prostate grand and magnificent temple. And yet it was as if I wasn't there - no one could see me or feel my presence, prostate but I was there. The temple was huge, the stones a delicate shade of pinkish brown. The gopuram was richly adorned with numerous carvings and statuettes. A king and his minister were walking around the temple, offering prayers at the different shrines and talking. I could hear every word they said, and I knew about the background of what they were talking about - don't ask me how - I did. How did I know that it was a king and his minister? That too I don't know. I just did. This was quite amazing to me, given the fact that the king was not dressed like the ones you see on TV or in the movies. He was in his late forties, tall, well-built, and had the bearing of a monarch. He was wearing a panchakachcham-type garment, and had a long cloth draped about his shoulders. A clear, strong face with a prominent moustache. Hair long and black. No ornaments. No gold. Just a kingly presence. The minister too was quite different from the movies. Grey hair with beard to match, a little shorter than the king, but otherwise quite similar to the monarch in dress and demeanour. And they were worried. The king's only daughter was in love with the minister's only son. This would mean that the minister's son would be the next king. But that was not the problem. The problem was the commander of the king's army, an ambitious and powerful general who wanted his son to marry the princess. This was what was worrying the two - they feared for the life of the minister's son. And about this they were talking.

~ pause ~

We were in the royal palace. A much smaller place that the temple, but grand nevertheless. Large rooms with small, easily defendable doorways. Doors covered with curtains that seemed to be made from some kind of reed mats. And a central open space where the king could enjoy a natural shower when it rained! The king was waiting for the minister, a worried look on his face. When the minister arrived, he rushed to meet him, and the two put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would smuggle the princess and her beau out of the city, which was virtually under seige by the general's men. The couple would get married at a temple outside the city and return to a public welcome. The king and the minister would welcome them with open arms and in public. This would tie the general's hands, as he then could not do anything. But then, if they were caught by the general on their way out or at the temple, it would mean certain death for the minister's son. This plan was finally fixed, and the minister left.

~ pause ~

The king and his minister, and of course I, were at the temple. The minister was telling the king that everything had worked out according to plan. The general, knowing that he was beaten, had sent his son away to some far frontier. At this the king hugged the minister and broke into laughter and tears. The two waited, beaming, looking at the temple entrance, waiting for the newlyweds. At this point I woke up. "So what?" you may ask. Everyone has vivid dreams. Everyone remembers some dream or the other clearly. What made this dream spectacular was what happened after about three months. I had gone on a field visit to Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu. After the visit, we were to catch a train from Thanjavur. Since we had some time, we thought we would take in the sights of the city, as none of us had been to Thanjavur before. So we went to the Brihadeeswarar Temple. And guess what. As I stepped into the courtyard, I stopped, stunned. This was the very temple where I had been in the dream. I had never seen this temple before in my life, not in pictures, not in the movies, not anywhere. As I went around the temple, I could see all the sculptures I had seen in my dream. Only older, the passing of a few centuries. Before I turned a corner, I thought to myself, "this sculpture should be next", and when I turned the corner, it was there! This was mind blowing. A firm rationalist, I was for once stuck for answers. Vividly, I knew which sculpture would be where, and looked for it and found it. I walked around in a daze, totally lost for explanations. When I recounted this to a friend who was a self-proclaimed spiritualist, she said that what I thought was a dream was in fact an out-of-body experience, where I had travelled both in space and time! This was exciting, very exciting. Recently, I went back to the Thanjavur temple, and each time I saw it, it filled me with wonder and awe. For I felt that I had seen it as it was meant to be seen by its builders, in all its glory. Out-of-body experience or not, this still remains one of those things that one can never forget. It was hot. It was passionate. And, try like all things earthly, visit this site it was but a brief respite from the mundane rote of everyday routine - a routine that put everything within a well-defined timetable. A routine that was killing, to say the least. A routine where everything, every damn thing, even things that were supposed to be spontaneous, things that were alive only in their spontaneity, things whose very souls was their being unexpected, was planned. Meetings, lunches, dinners, vacations, sex, love, drives - even crises - everything happened according to a schedule. It was this routine that drove them to it. Not love. Not even lust. Not even the thrill of cheating. And when it was ended, it was not the end of the world. It ended because it too had become part of the schedule. Thursday evenings' "Production Meetings" that went on all night became much too routine. Sudden "crises" on Sundays became all too boring. Once more, like the calm on the surface of a lake after a meteor has crashed into it, things came back to "normal." It was over. I am a stone. A small stone, sale rough-edged, salve lying by the roadside. Afraid of being kicked around, info kicked into a tiny hole from which I cannot see anything. Of being kicked into the gutter, from which I may never come out. Cringing as huge trucks drive past, narrowly missing crushing me into tiny pieces. I grow. And grow. And keep growing. I become a rock, a large one. Enough, I say. But I keep growing. A hill. Enough, I say. No one can kick me anywhere now. Stop. But I keep growing. A mountain, a whole mountain range. Finally, towering above everything, I stop my mad growth. I am a mountain range. Verdant forests clothe my lower slopes. My head is permanently capped in freezing snows. Small streams gather into mighty rivers on my sides. Clouds rest on me when they are tired. The smaller ones go around me. Many of the larger, angrier-looking ones cry when they collide with me, swelling those raging torrents that rush down my sides. Finally, when they can cry no more, they go away, lighter, whiter and happier. Meanwhile, civilisations flourish all around me. Men, tiny men, infinitely-small-and-nothing men tramp all over me. They build roads, clear whole mountainsides, raise crops, dam rivers, build houses, villages, towns, cities. And I am mildly tickled. I laugh a couple of times, but my shaking leaves them crying. Poor feeble things. Must be hard being frail. Finally, I get a bit bored. Want to see life. But how does a mountain range see life. After all, I AM life to these poor miserable creatures. And I am shackled. Shackled by my strength, my size and my might. I shrink. Shrink till I am a little round pebble, washed down a stream at an exciting pace till, at a bend, I'm pushed to the shore. The freedom is exhilarating. The thought of oblivion no longer worries me. I feel liberated. No one lives on me. I sustain no life. I may be kicked around, but I am not tied down. I pity the mountain, the hill and the large rocks. See me skip downstream, oh you giants. See me and weep. Weep great rivers that will take me around. I gloat, I scream in happiness, I am obscenely happy. I grow lighter. I am out of the water. I become dry. I'm a feather. The wind takes me here and there. I am caught in a bush. The wind blows me free. Now I float high, now I am dragged in the dust. I hate this. I'd rather be a pebble rolling in a stream than a feather that lives on the whims of the wind. Every time I find a place to rest, the wind has other ideas. Floating somewhere on the edge of a broom, I need to change, more than ever... I'm small, red and shiny. I'm a small berry, a strawberry. And I'm scared as hell. I hide behind the leaves. Afraid that I'll be popped into the mouth of the next ragamuffin that passes by the bush. Afraid that the beady-eyed sparrow may take a peck at me - spill my guts out so she can feed those disgusting pink screechers she calls her children. This is scary, big time. I don't want to be a strawberry. Once again, the majesty of the mountain range fits me comfortably. And I am content to let the world settle down around me. It finally happened. I got stuck in a lift last week. Somehow, drugs the whole episode failed to live up to the expectations I had built up. Like everyone else, seek I too have had my share of fantasies of being stuck in a lift. The most common, rx and most favourite I guess, is being stuck alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending upon your orientation). And of course, various things happen and when the rescue is finally effected, the rescuers think they have rescued the sauna by mistake. Somehow, this does not figure on my list of fantasies at all. One of my most elaborate lift fantasies is to be stuck in a crowded lift and identify the killer. Of course, when the lift is opened, the police are there and it is but a moment's task to hand over the killer, complete with the chain of events immediately before and after the murder. Ah Sherlock Holmes! Another of my favourite fantasies is to be stuck in a lift with an old man, him having a heart attack, brave me doing a CPR and saving his life - and it turns out that he is an heirless millionaire Where it goes from there is anybody's guess! And then there is the usual 'rescue hero' fantasy that I guess is pretty common. The lift is stuck underground in some unreachable labyrinth. I lead a bunch of scared people, which of course includes one pretty lady, who seems to be only one who stays calm, out of the labyrinth. And yes, I've seen Daylight. Well, what really happened to me was pretty boring. First of all it was a lift in a block of flats and I was alone in it. Second, it had one of those grill-shutter type doors - which meant that you could look out of it. And third, it kind of got stuck immediately after it started going down - I was stuck in the lift about a foot below the floor. I punched the alarm button and screamed "Help" till someone came out of a flat and fiddled with the door for a bit. A wee bit later, the lift was okay and I was a free man. Apart from making me feel slightly silly, the experience did not do much else. So much for all my fantasies. With all due respect to Desmond Morris, this I'm a peoplewatcher. And a dogwatcher and a catwatcher and an everythingwatcher. I guess I'm like most other people. Anyway, malady the variety of dogs I come across and their bewilderingly wide variety of expressions, antics and attitudes is truly amazing. There is this little puppy in the hutment down the road from where I live. It is tied to the door to keep it from wandering away, but its expression indicates anything but that. It sits self-importantly and all puffed up, and its entire attitude suggests that the house was tied to it to stop it (the hut, not the puppy) from running away, rather than the other way around! Then there is a group of five dogs that lives three doors away from this little tyke. The hut itself is tiny, and I'm sure there will not be any space for anyone if all the dogs take it upon themselves to go indoors. The five are almost identical - light brown, short, squat and wearing identical collars. They usually sit or lie around the door of the hut - that is when they are not proudly strutting around their territory or harassing some poor cur who dared to stray in. Their master, a dilapidated old man with a sharp tongue and a swift hand, usually hangs out with them at the door. And of course, the six of them eat together. The black Labrador that lives a couple of streets away is another interesting creature. It lives in a house which has a shop selling hardware and odds and ends at the front, and can be seen lying either at the door of the house or in front of the shop. There is a benign presence about it that is quite awesome. As you look at it, it's easy to picture a monarch benevolently looking at all his subjects, ready to give out a rich dole should anyone ask for it. The benevolence on his face is unmistakable, and his look of contentment bids you to step softly, lest you disturb a royal rest. And then there is our very own Red Dog. He is a little pitiful wretch who hangs out in front of our group of flats. Though he is predominantly white with a large black patch, he routinely goes somewhere and rolls in mud that gives him a red hue. And he responds joyously when we call him Red Dog. He is tiny and scrawny, and this despite being quite well-fed by various kindly souls who will feed him scraps but will take a stick to him should he try to venture within their walls. One peculiarity of the Red Dog is that till now he hasn't understood that the middle of the street is no place for him to nap - the place where he usually sleeps (or tries to, at any rate) is a corner. Many an unwary motorist has come to a screeching halt inches from the startled form of the Red Dog, and yet he remains unmoved. He is back in his position immediately after the motorist passes. And he returns with a rather hurt expression on his face, more self-pity than indignation. The Red Dog has claimed his corner, and the regular motorists are now quite aware of his spot and avoid him rather neatly. But there are novices and newcomers aplenty, and they keep the Red Dog on his toes. These are but a few of the myriad dogs I encounter everyday, and from every dog I meet, I derive that much of pleasure. There are big dogs, small dogs, tall dogs, short dogs, hairy dogs, smooth dogs, dogs of different colours, quiet dogs, barking dogs, the occasional biting dog, intelligent dogs, stupid dogs, proud dogs, dogs with low self-esteem The list is endless. Give me a street-corner with a dog, I say, and you can keep all your televisions and cinemas to yourself. The Chennai Police busted a fake driving licence racket yesterday. Apparently the forgers had issued more than 30, seek 000 such licences, cialis 40mg each costing Rs. 850. Yesterday's Daily Thanthi, a Tamil daily, carried a photograph showing some of the pictures seized in the raid. One of the clearly visible pictures belongs to a friend of mine, who had got a driving licence by paying a tout who claimed he could get a licence without a driving test. It looks like the tout got the licence from the forgers, knowingly or unknowingly. My friend is, of course, upset by all this, and fears arrest at any time. There is no way of knowing how many of us have forged licences. I myself have used the services of the same tout to follow up on the processing of my driving licence, though I did take a driving test and had my picture taken at the RTO office. I also signed the licence and a big register at the office before being given my licence. Again, I used the services of the same fellow when I moved and needed to have the address changed. Again, I went to the RTO office, was photographed, and signed in all the places before getting the signature. Vidya's licence too was arranged by the same fellow, though she too went to the RTO office for the whole process. Now arises the question. More than 30,000 people hold licences and drive in Chennai (and I daresay around the country), who have never been certified by the RTO. So, if I hold a licence, how do I check whether it is real or forged? There is no mechanism by which one can do this. The only thing one can do is approach the RTO, but then that leaves one open to harrassment by the officials there. If only the RTOs had their records online, by which one could check if a driving licence number is valid or not, it would be immensely helpful, not only in situations like the present one, but also when one needs to validate the details of a prospective employee. Also, imagine the fate of those who are dependent on their licences for their livelihoods, like drivers and chauffeurs, who may even be employed by various Government departments. What is called for now is an effort by the Chennai Traffic Police in coordinction with the Transport department to facilitate an easy and corruption-free method of checking the validity of one's licence. The Chennai Traffic Police have proved to be innovative and enterprising in the past. Here's hoping they do it once more. a barren landscape... no life to be seen... nothing moves... not even the wind... the heat dries up the sap in your bones... even the mirages have dried up... a parched throat in a parched land... even to cry out is a difficulty... and death seems only a few painful moments away... but... no. the harsh cruelty of life... that allows neither salvation nor damnation... only... eternal uncertainty... eternal doubt... and the pain goes on... on and on and on... till at one point, ask unable to bear the heat, I create... an explosive spring of the freshest water... pause people... approach the spring cautiously some find in it a lifegiving elixir some others find it a death-dealing drug some swim in it, some float happily on it. some flounder and some drown some are washed away And then there are the others... Who pass the spring and know it not... To whom the spring does not exist... Soulless creatures of a soulless world.
  • Desert Story
  • End of August
  • From a Train
  • Lament of the Unpublished Poet
  • Late...
  • Mirage
  • Moonrise on Peacock Lake
  • My Palm Tree
  • Reminiscence #1
  • Shakespearean Lullaby
  • Sleep...
  • The Dark Poem
  • The Mother's Tears
  • The Poet
  • The Retired Warrior
  • The Sun Poem
  • The Universe
  • The Upside Down Poem - Straightened
  • UPPERCASE ON A HOT SUMMER AFTERNOON
  • Wants, Mine
  • Zine5 is back - but after a more than 48 hour absence. I am seriously considering switching web hosts. Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

    Loten's Sunbird

    Yesterday, erectile there was a Loten's Sunbird which I think was nesting somewhere in our garden. It saw its reflection in the windows and rear-view mirror of my car and was trying to drive it away - it thought it had a rival! I managed to get pictures, sovaldi sale one of which is here.

    Loten's Sunbird

    The Fish Tank It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it... A Prince Returns We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, bulimics it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel... Water, water... The scarcity of water was nothing new to Madhavan. He had been born and brought up in Chennai. Different people had different means to get water... The Power and the Glory Sixteen months of rigourous training and lightning reflexes made sure she tumbled and landed on her knees, upright and weapon at the ready for action... The Haunting This was a very strange thing that was happening. I went over what I had done over the last few days. I could not put my finger on any event that could have triggered off this haunting... Tales of the T-Man The T-man lives a life of adventure - even a short walk to the corner shop to get cigarettes seems to land him in an interesting situation. Sometimes, he takes pity on me and narrates some of his adventures to me. Some of these, I remember enough to put down. For the sake of maintaining their narrative integrity, and partly because I’m too lazy to create a contextual web, the stories will be told in the first person. So, here are the Amazing Tales of the T-man. I once lost three pairs of perfectly healthy fish within three weeks. And they were carp, ailment among the hardiest fish in my collection. It all started when I got a glass tank dead cheap in the second-hand store. The man in the store seemed glad to get rid of it, but I was gladder as the price was ridiculously low. As I was leaving the shop, the man asked me, "Say, do you plan on keeping fish in that tank?" I was a bit surprised, but wanted to get away before the man changed his mind about selling the tank. "Of course I do," I murmured and quickly left the shop. It was a beautiful glass tank, four feet long, two feet wide and three feet high - a big tank for my place, but it was so cheap, it would've been a crime to let it go. It was strikingly clean, and there was something about it that made you want to keep looking at it. I cleared a corner for it - it was too magnificent to be kept along with the four other tanks I had in my work-room. I took my time with setting it up - everything I bought for it was carefully selected with the tank in mind. Everything was new, no second-hand stuff, no used stuff. It seemed rather excessive to pour so much time and money into a second-hand tank, but it had me in its grip. It had a strange attraction - I would sit for hours before the empty tank, just as I had when the Betta splendens was hatching. It was nearly two months before I decided that the tank was ready for piscine habitation. The landscaping had been done and redone a number of time; every small hill and valley I knew by heart; every plant had its own positions, when the aerators were on or when the filtration unit was working. As it stood in its state of final readiness, I was prouder than da Vinci when he had finished the Giaconda. The tank looked so liveable in that I wished I were a fish. The first occupants of the tank were a pair of beautiful carp - prime specimens of their kind, as healthy as can be and coloured a glorious shade of pink with a hint of blue speckles. As they slowly explored their new home, they seemed to be hesitant and cautious, but fish always do that. They usually take their time to get used to their habitat and a twenty-four hour period had to pass before any fish got settled into a new tank. But it never happened with this pair. Normally carp, being hardier than most other fish, settle in quite fast and start feeding in a day or two. But these two had not started feeding even after four days. Something was definitely wrong. I checked all the possible things that might affect the health of the fish. The temperature was normal, a steady twenty-five degrees Celsius. The pH was okay and there seemed to be no problems with the aeration and filtration units. The fish themselves showed no signs of disease, though it was clear that they were not at ease. They were very jumpy and refused to feed. They kept trying to jump out of the tank, though they did not seem to have any difficulty in breathing. And on the sixth day, both the fish died. The second pair was also carp - this time a dull white. These were nowhere as beautiful as the first pair, but they were as hardy as they come. I waited for a day before I let the new occupants into their home. Even in the tank where they were waiting, they settled in within four hours and were feeding happily by the sixth. This pair seemed as if it could survive anything. But, the moment they were let into the new tank, they seemed to lose all their life. They became jumpy, and immediately started trying to jump out. They never settled in. They never fed. They died within forty-eight hours. Something was drastically wrong and my dream tank was turning into a house of horror. I had to find out what was wrong. I took samples of the water, the soil, the plants and the two dead fish and went to see an old aquarium buddy of mine - I never knew his name - we met in an aquarium, started chatting and became, well, aquarium buddies. We met quite often after that and the topic never varied - though it was varied enough for us. He was old, in his late sixties and amazingly well informed on aquaria - not only the technical details, but also its history and development. So many anecdotes were shared between us, so many forgotten by me, but not, I'm sure, by him. He also knew almost everybody in the world of aquarium keeping. He was the man who could tell me what, if anything, was wrong with my tank or its setting up. I found him in the second shop I went to, talking to a small boy who was listening earnestly to him. I waited for him to finish before I went up to him. "Ah! There you are. It's been such a long time. What's been keeping you at home?" "That's what I want to talk to you about," I said, handing him the bag containing all the samples and the dead fish. "Does anyone do autopsies on fish?" I asked him. He gave me a queer look, but said nothing. He pointed to a chair and sat down on an old high stool in front of it. I told him everything from the buying of the tank to the death of the second pair of fish. When I had finished, I could see that there was a very strange expression on his face, something between amazement and incredulity. "Where did you say you got your tank from?" he asked. When I told him he asked me to wait and went to the corner phone booth. I could see him talking very animatedly on the phone. When he came back he was chuckling to himself, and I could catch the word 'amazing' being repeated under his breath. "So its true after all," he said, shaking his head. "What's true?" I asked. "Well, you are now the proud owner of what we in aquarium circles refer to as the "Captain's Curse." It's a story I've never told you, because I never believed in it myself. Now I know it's true." So started a tale that I still do not know whether to believe. Apparently there had been a keen aquarium enthusiast who was called the Captain. And he had a penchant for the most expensive and exotic fish. And he could afford to indulge himself. Once he had got himself some piranhas - of course, a lot of people did have piranhas, but his were special. They were fed only the best fish in the market. At times the Captain would buy the pride of someone's collection and feed it to them. This went on for quite some time. And then one day, the Captain died. No one knows how he died - his body was found in a chair, staring at his huge glass fish tank with the piranhas swimming around waiting for their meal. His heirs sold off his property and the fish tank was bought by another enthusiast. But to his dismay, no fish would survive in that tank. It changed hands more than a dozen times before it disappeared. And apparently, I had it now. I went home unsatisfied and more than a bit angry. I emptied the tank and set about setting it up again afresh. I took extra care to see that there was nothing that could harm the fish. Finally, after a week, the tank was ready to receive its new occupants. This time I selected a pair of medium-sized carp, every bit as hardy as the previous pair. They did not last even forty-eight hours. Now the glass tank is somewhere in the garage, filled with god-knows-what and buried beneath many layers of accumulated junk. I can't bring myself to throw it away. After all, it's my dream tank. On Sunday, arthritis I attended the interment of the ashes of one of my grand-uncles. It was at the St. George's Cathedral Cemetry, mind and there was a small group of family members present. As I stood in the cemetry, this I could hear the squirrels squeaking and chattering as they scampered about the branches of the big trees. Parakeets squeaked loudly as they streaked between the treetops and noisily settled down into their cubbyholes. Everywhere, life was highly visible, noisily, gaily and in blazing, vivid colour. I couldn't but help wonder about what impression I got when I visited a hospital, that place where most human life originates. The feeling of death hovers, ever visible in its lesser manifestations; lurking just below the surface, waiting to happen, to take away the vacillating. What struck me was the irony of the whole situation - the cemetry, the place we give our dead, was so filled with life, while the hospital, the gateway through which the living enter our world, is so drenched with death. This is fiction, advice including the bibliography. A hot and dusty day was coming to a spectacular end. The sun was setting and the sky was turning deep red. The beauty of the whole setting was breathtaking - blood-red light drenched the landscape, sick open countryside broken here and there by huge black rocks. The narrow, click almost dead blacktop road winding its capricious way through the plain. A faint breeze stirred up the red dust, adding to the effect. Palm trees dotted the scene - you never noticed how many there were because they were so spread out, but that is how they made the most of the barren landscape. In the distance, hills with their tropical evergreen forest cover could be seen. As we walked along the road that seemingly lead nowhere, Chandru and I were aware of a feeling of blissful contentment. We had spent the last seven days travelling through the Deep South of Tamil Nadu. For us, it was a dream come true. We had always wanted to do this sort of thing - travel rough, use only what the locals used for travel (which was mostly their own two feet!), sleep wherever the night found us, eat whatever we could come by - we were, in a way, living off the land. And we were having a mighty fine time too! And the land - it held us fascinated. This was the land of the Asuras. The land where language was born. The land where time was invented. The land where there was so much leisure that the Asuras had time to invent hundreds of ways of cooking everything. The land where the science of brewing and consuming intoxicating drinks was elevated first to an art, then to a way of life. The land where endless wars made possible endless peace. The land where Asuras tamed mighty rivers, created deltas and used them to create granaries of impossible proportions. The land from which sailed ships across seas and oceans to all the seaports in the world. The land that took numerous invasions in its stride, internalizing the invader, and ultimately making him part of itself. The land where the Asuras still live, as did their ancestors for millennia. For Chandru and me, it was a homecoming. Having passed the last inhabited village about an hour ago, we still had about an hour's walk left, which would bring us to an uninhabited village. We planned to spend the night there before moving on the next day. It became cooler, bringing relief from the harsh sun of the day. As we walked, we made plans for the next few days. We had been to many villages, collected a lot of stories, heard a few songs, made a lot of notes - but this was the first time we would be spending a night at a village the government had marked uninhabited on its maps. We didn't even know whether what we were doing was legal. Is it illegal to "inhabit", for however short a period of time, a place the government had decided was "uninhabited?" We didn't know. We didn't want to know. So we had made enquiries at the last village - Why was the village uninhabited? Since when was it uninhabited? People didn't know, or if they did, they didn't want to say. One old man, however, was willing to talk. Kept going by a cup of tea and an endless stream of beedis, he told us that the village had been abandoned when he was a little boy, about sixty years ago. He said that the wells in the village had dried up, and the people there had no other source of water, so they moved out. And now the village stood in ruins. Most of the houses had fallen down, and the few houses that still stood were overgrown with thorn bushes and cacti. When we told him that we wanted to spend the night there, he looked at us as though we were crazy, but did not comment. Instead he told us that there was a stone mandapam built for travellers by some king in the distant past. We could sleep there, he said. Even now, when a shepherd or a cowherd wanted to spend a night there, they used the mandapams, which were scattered throughout the land. A thousand years after their deaths, the Asura kings were still doing good to their descendants! We thanked the old man, picked up some food for the night, and hit the road. When we reached the abandoned village, night had fallen. The moon had risen and was shining brightly. A few more days to go for a full moon, but nevertheless, light enough for us to find our way about. The village was much bigger than we expected - we could see rows of ruined houses from where we stood at the beginning of the village. We had climbed a rise and come down the other side, and as we descended, we came upon the village. We had seen the top of the mandapam just before we topped the rise - it was about half a kilometre to the left of the road, and completely hidden from the village. We walked on to see if the village would give us the opportunity for a few pictures. There must have been at least two hundred houses in the village. Parallel to the road we had come by, we could make out four other roads lined with houses. Most of the houses were dilapidated, as the old man had told us. We walked around them, spellbound. It was so eerie - the moonlight shining through the ruins. Many houses had part of their walls still standing, and this cast strange shadows on the streets. We wandered in the streets for quite some time before we decided to go back to the mandapam, eat, and catch a few winks - we could do all the photography we wanted to in the morning. The mandapam was a stone affair - it was a raised platform, about four feet off the ground. It had stone pillars that supported a roof of stone slabs. We could make out the traces of a fire someone had lit not so long ago - the mandapam was still being used from time to time. We made ourselves comfortable, stretching out beside our backpacks on the floor of the mandapam. We must have dozed off, for when I woke up it was around ten o'clock and the night was bright with the light of the almost-full moon. I shook Chandru awake - we hadn't had anything to eat and I was really hungry. Groggily Chandru stretched and got up, opened his backpack and pulled out the food packages we had picked up in the previous village. We had packed a few "parottas," a flat, pancake-like bread that bore very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. We made short work of them, as both of us were hungry and tired. After dinner, I pulled out a bottle of local moonshine I had picked up in one of the villages we had passed through. The locals called it "suvarmutti," which translates literally as "wall banger." The locals claimed that it made you so drunk that you would walk into walls - hence the name. What it had been brewed from, the man who sold it to me wouldn't tell me. And I bought it out of sheer curiosity. And of course, what other drink could you get for twenty-five rupees a bottle? As I opened the bottle, a stro