Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer

Saiswaroopa Iyer


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

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.

Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?

If stories about ancient India, especially those with strong women characters interest you, then Avishi is a story you must read!

Guest Post:

How did you decide to write a story about a warrior queen with an amputated leg and how did amputations work back then? It must have been a gruelling process in itself. Is this described in your book?

I discovered Vishpala while writing Abhaya where a young Abhaya is told the story of a certain inspiring female warrior from the past by her father. I was intrigued to find that the Rig Vedic hymns that mentioned Vishpala were actually the first reference to prosthesis in world literature. Even the international medical journals on the topic start with mentioning the Rig Vedic reference. For a brief period, I was appalled that we in India don’t celebrate this fact well enough. I strongly believe that stories choose their storytellers. It was up to me to explore that fascinating world and tell the story to respect the character who manifested to me.

Having a whole ancient world to reconstruct is not an easy job. It required me to be doubly sure of the topography, vegetation, tools and technology, metals and material available in those times. It also required me to challenge my comfort zones as far as creative liberties went. Coming to the process of prosthesis and amputation, there is enough material available about the history of prosthesis. The historical process of amputation did take the agony of the patient into consideration. With some effort, I could find sufficient information.

You can, of course, find the description in Avishi. And yes, it IS a gruelling process for the amputee as well as the doctor. The additional complication in Avishi was that the doctor supervising the amputation was the troubled lover of my protagonist with his own arc and journey. There was this huge emotional angle too.

In fact, this was the crux of the story that cemented the core of the characters to me as the writer. The woman who could withstand the ordeal and rebound could not be an ordinary warrior. The man who had the nerve to try a nascent invention on his beloved could not be an ordinary doctor. Their individual arcs had to unite here after a roller coaster ride of union, separation and reunion, besides the main plot. Some well-wishing critics felt that I was harsh with my male protagonist, SatyaJ. The innovator in him convinced me that his was not an easy journey. His journey challenged my creative comfort zones and I enjoyed delving into his complex character that had a lot of ancient science.

Thank you so much, Saiswaroopa, for sharing your thoughts with your readers. All the best and may your book soar!

Read an excerpt here:
The structure under the outcast control looked like an autonomous garrison. It was on the Southwestern corner of Vrishabhavati hidden by wild growth and as heavily guarded as the city square. Avishi counted two doors as Vyala carried her inside. From the inside, it did not look as dilapidated as from outside. The guards here were the ‘out-casts’ as the world called them. Unlike the guards of the city, they did not cover themselves with leather torso. Instead they wore loin cloth in various darker shades. Small and big weapons, strings made up of various animal teeth, tusk work and beads made up their ‘jewellery’. To Avishi, it looked atrociously out of proportion. But she also noticed the level of coordination with which the ‘out-casts’ functioned. Like they were trained to fight in an army.
“Untie her.” Vyala instructed Manduka, his forehead revealing wrinkles of dilemma. Manduka was happy to comply. Except for a few scars on his shoulder, the man had an enviable physique. But it was his nose that Avishi felt was the pronounced feature of his face. It was as though it was abruptly turned crooked by his right nostril. She could see that the Outcast Lord made no attempt to hide his displeasure about the predicament she presented him. What worried her more was that she found herself incapable of even walking to the closest stone seat and had to limp leaning on Manduka. The wound seemed deeper than she had imagined it.
“We don’t kill women.” He began and paused noticing her unimpressed glare.
“Is that supposed to impress me? Is that supposed to cover up the other crimes you commit for that monster Khela?”
Vyala shook his head, a resentful smile appearing on his lips, but for only a moment. “Whatever we, the outcasts do would be a crime in the eyes of others…you are?”
“Avishi, the Ganamukhyaa of Ashtagani.”
“But he said that you are a traitor’s...”
Avishi glared back at him showing no inclination to explain. She saw Vyala sit on the stone seat next to where she sat.
“If Khela does not find a proof of your death soon, we would have to incur his wrath! An atrocity against the outcasts would not even be seen as a transgression by anyone.” His lips pursed for a long moment.
Avishi wondered if he expected a solution from her. Something she would have to help him out if she had to escape alive. But before she or Vyala could speak, a sound of heavy anklets was heard. Avishi turned to her right and saw a young woman, not older than seventeen autumns scurry and then clutch at her bulging belly. Her arrival only seemed to increase the gloom on the faces of both the men.
“Brother Vyala, did he not come with you?” Her shrill voice made Avishi think she was even younger than she looked. And impregnated at this age?
“Go back to your room, Majjari.” Vyala hissed.
But Majjari was in no mood to heed her brother’s words. She eyed Avishi, her head tilted to left and brows knitting. Her eyes then brightened.
“So, he sent me a slave!”
“Slave, do you know how to groom my hair the way Queens do?” Majjari approached Avishi taking her arm. “And mind you, slaves don’t sit when their mistress stands!”
Avishi had decided that her patience was at its tail end when she saw Vyala hurry and pull Majjari away, making her wince at his grip.
“Listen, you disgrace! Nobody is going to slave for you! Scurry back to your room and dare not show that inauspicious face of yours again!”
Majjari shook his arm away with a hiss. “Wait till I become the Queen, you, worthless dog!” Her tone broke. “I shall make Khela punish you! I bear his prince! Mind you!” The fierce frown stayed on her forehead long after she countered her brother. Avishi saw Manduka intervene and lead Majjari away with endearments that one would use with a toddler.
Vyala’s shoulders slumped.
“You let Khela impregnate your own sister.” Avishi shook her head at Vyala. “Lord Vyala, where do I even begin?”
“You are nobody to judge us Ganamukhyaa. Khela promised us a slow integration with his military if…”
“You loot and kill for him? He gets the spoils hiding behind the dread of Dandaka?”
Vyala’s jaw clenched. “You’ve never been to Dandaka, Ganamukhyaa Avishi. If you did, you would… Why in the name of Mother earth am I even justifying myself to you.” Vyala gathered himself signalling at two other outcast followers. “Take her inside and treat her wound.” Turning to Avishi for a brief moment, he added with a tone of finality. “I shall do my best to not kill you, but I can’t afford Khela’s wrath on my people. Not now, Ganamukhyaa.”
Future still hung in balance. Avishi had to come to terms with the fact that any attempt to escape from here will only complicate things for her. And she truly needed her wound to be tended. The knife that wounded her might have rusted. Tears of frustration threatened to flow out of her eyes. She told herself to bide her time and regain her lost energy.

Grab your copy @

About the author

Saiswaroopa Iyer is an IITian and Venture Capital professional turned author. Her debut novel Abhaya, published in 2015, was a tale set in the Mahabharata period, exploring the legend of Narakasura Vadha. She likes to focus and expand on ancient Indian stories with strong female characters.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Happy Children's Day to My Little Sparkle!

It has been a while since I wrote about my little sparkle, and what better day to do so than on Children’s Day?

Of course, by the time I wished her, it was almost eight in the night, maybe because my brain had taken a drain in the midst of all the packing we had been busy with. My daughter, Priyanka, put up a post wishing her little Zoya with the following words:  "Happy Children's day to my little munchkin and all the other cuties out there.You make life fun, crazy, adventurous and tiring - all at the same time." 

The first thought which whizzed through my mind when I read this was, "Just like her Momma!" When Priyanka was growing up, she too made life fun, crazy, adventurous and tiring for us, and we loved every moment of it. the whole roller-coaster ride! 

Zoya is one and a half years old, and time is flying by. A hundred different expressions cross her face in the span of a minute; sometimes curious, at other times, complacent. When she doesn't like something, her lower lip juts out, a giant tear hangs precariously as she assumes a mutinous attitude.

Just like her Momma whose lip used to almost touch the floor when she was unhappy or annoyed. She would stomp off into what we dubbed her 'kop bhavan', a hangover from the serialized  Ramayana, in which Queen Kaikeyi used to storm off into her opulent 'kop bhavan' when she was disgruntled with her hapless husband.

As Zoya traipses across the shopping mall, her sharp eyes dart around, falling on all the fascinating sights that surround her - the people, the lights, the colours and the noise. Priyanka once sent us a video in which we could see the little Missy going "Wow!" "Wow!" "Wow!" at every new thing she saw. She had an audience, of course, all amused at the sight of this tiny creature making her appreciation so obvious.

Her favourite spot is any eating joint, where she sits pretty on her own little baby chair, and eats French fries, chicken nuggets and noodles, taking sips from a straw that delves into a deep glass awash with juice.

Just like her Momma, who used to strut across the Army shopping centre, making a beeline for the ice cream counter. Once there, she would say clearly, "Bhaiyya, ice cream, please!" The said bhaiyya would promptly hand her a cup of vanilla ice cream, her staple, confident that her father would come and pay him for it.

Or the times when we would be playing Tambola at the Deolali Temple Hill Institute, and she would pick up her 'soffink' (soft drink) even before her dad picked up his not - so - 'soffink'. Dad's barbeques were legendary, and our little Miss would warm her hands before the fire, waiting for her piece of chicken to cook.

Music has played a significant role in all our lives. So, while we are thrilled when Zoya sings the English alphabet or 'Johnny, Johnny!", we are in raptures when she actually lisps 'Edelweishh, blesshh my Oya evva!" because Priyanka and I have sung 'Edelweiss' so often to her. The  moment we wait for is when she goes high like a little tweety bird.

Just like her Momma,who would dance to any music she heard on her chubby little legs. But the song that made us, and most specially her maternal grandmother tear up, was 'Kuch Na Kaho' from 1942 - A Love Story. At the age of eight or so, she would sing it, going higher and higher till she hit the crescendo perfectly. She even won a prize in school once after a rendition.

I am often amazed at the twinkle in Zoya's eyes, as though she has a secret joy within herself that lights up her entire persona. She is not yet two, but she has a wonderful sense of humour that sparkles forth through the mirror of her soul, her smiling eyes.

Just like her Momma, who also has large brown eyes that smile out when she wants them to. As a baby, she too was a good-natured soul, generous and particularly adept at shepherding kids younger than her, a trait that was appreciated by many a weary mother. At other times, she had a healthy streak of mischief that made her the perfect tomboy.

Like mother, like daughter! Isn't that what life is all about? Whether it is a question of the genes being passed down or a soul being reborn, it seems a miracle to see our little granddaughter follow so closely in her Momma's footsteps. Our hearts fill with joy when we see the beautiful bond that shines forth between Zoya and her Momma.

 And when she sees her Dada, who is busy holding down a strenuous job and doing his MBA at a frenetic pace, she goes crazy and hurtles into his arms, refusing to let him out of her sight. 

You wonder whether it is possible to love anyone that deeply, but then, my husband and I have been along that same path ourselves, as have our parents before us. And when Jodi Picoult says, "Parents aren't the people you come from. They're the people you want to be, when you grow up," it suddenly makes perfect sense.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Back Off, Back Ache!


“Ouch!” And that was it! My back decided to misbehave just as we were in the throes of packing, all set to move from Chennai to Kerala. It was not as if I had turned into a contortionist or anything like that. Oh, no, I was too smart to do that. And why, you may well ask!

It was around five years back that, in the flush of youth (ahem! ahem!); all right, I take that back. Around five years back, when hues of lurid burgundy had taken over the black in my hair, I decided that it was time I turned towards a healthier lifestyle. What could I do to get there without too much of a struggle?

Eat healthy? Well, that was a tough choice, because carbohydrates, proteins, sugar, oil and salt, I loved them all to distraction. Walking? Definitely a better choice if I could get off my back and move outside into O2.

Incidentally, to avoid misunderstanding, O2 happens to be the name of a health studio, (location undisclosed), which flashed its logo like a giant octopus spreading its tentacles around to snare in unsuspecting customers, like me.

So, there I was, running for all I was worth on the treadmill, my headphones blaring music into my ears, and as I looked around, I realized that all kinds of people do make up the world. There were the svelte types and the rock hard abs that appeared and disappeared like fireflies. One moment they were draped on the mat, and at others they were slithering up the wall like lizards. OK, I didn’t really mean that! But, they were all over the place and in my face, and looking too good to be true.

Then, there were the weight watchers like me who had enough weight to watch, and more. We groaned and moaned, twisted and turned, ran and cycled for all we were worth. We wrung out wet towels with our sodden feelings, hoping against hope that we would soon reach the pinnacle that we were aiming for... fitness.

A month crawled by, and so did I; I crawled to the gym, I crawled on the mat and I crawled down the weight chart, as I lost two kilograms when I should have lost ten. Weight lifting was also part of the training. Unfortunately, a weight trainer took a look at me and decided that I was equipped to lift more weights than I could. I did so, and I heard an ominous crack.

I had hurt my back! No doubt about it!

The crawling continued. Now I crawled to the physiotherapist’s clinic, and had traction to iron out the cricks on my back. It took me a week of that and a month of medicines to undo the harm the over-enthusiastic trainer had done me.

I also went for an MRI for my back, which entailed me lying on my back, clad in a hospital robe that was held up by a string and sheer will power, and listening to various wheezy sounds as the machine recorded every vertebra and ridge on my backbone.
“Please don’t move, or sneeze or turn, Ma’am!” came the warning. “Or breathe, perhaps!” I added to myself, as I strained not to move a muscle.

The verdict was alarming. Not the end-of-the-world alarming, maybe, but definitely, my-life-was-over alarming.

Of course, that was the end of O2 as far as I was concerned. No one else was concerned, of course, except my poor husband, who was the butt of my whines and tears. He bought me a gel belt which I could heat up and place on my back when it got too sore.

The prescription was simple. No bending forward, no lifting up any weights at all and no sitting at the computer. The last was the most difficult of all, for my entire life, personal and professional, depended on my work on my laptop.

 And now, five years later, my back creaked in protest and I was petrified that I would have to undergo the treatment all over again. Out came the gel belt, along with an ice pack, with which I blew hot and cold. Our apartment smelt like a Tiger Balm factory as I rubbed on ointment after ointment, hoping that my back would miraculously back me up.

Finally, we decided to go to a doctor, and he took one look at me and rattled out the three symptoms that had held me captive for the past one week – intense intermittent pain, inability to turn from side to side when lying down, and stiffness in the early mornings. While I nodded in bemusement, he prodded me gingerly on my back and then made me lift up my legs.
Finally, he uttered the magic words that made my heart sing.
“It’s just a muscle strain. No disc damage!”
Apparently, I had been having the wrong medicines and ointment! Lesson learnt: never self-medicate.

Did I need to go back to him after the week of treatment?
“No, no, not at all! This is only like a fever!” he exclaimed, and ushered us out with perfect courtesy, probably because there were half a dozen patients waiting patiently for him. It was then that I noticed a glass panel facing his room, through which the aforesaid waiting dozen must have been peering in at the sight of me lying like a beached whale, all the while being prodded by the good doctor. Some mode of entertainment, I deduced, as the television outside was wireless, literally hanging on a single frayed wire!

Needless to say, I was so pepped up by the good news that I spun around like a top when I got home, and am still doing so, medicines and all.

For, as the saying goes, “If you rest, you rust.”

Her Father's Voice - Post 6 - #MyFriendAlexa

"And before long, the music, the views rushing past the window, my father's voice and the narrow cobblestone streets all merged...