Excerpt from Soumitra Singh’s The Child of Misfortune


“Amar and Jonah played chess in childhood before a series of events ripped their friendship apart. Now, they’ve grown up and find themselves challenging each other again – a dangerous game of chess with extremely high stakes involving their lives and the lives of millions of people – a game that takes them on an audacious journey from the valleys of Kashmir to the corporate houses of London. Who will survive and who will win?”

 

The book is a geopolitical thriller that takes places across various geographies and explores the concept of terrorism financing. The Child of Misfortune  ventures into unchartered territories in writing – be it the conflict in frozen Siachen or the misuse of Offshore Financial Centres. 
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Amar entered the drawing room to find Jonah, lurking around the grand chess table as his father came in and settled onto a sofa with a laptop, five different National newspapers, and a cup of tea. ‘Wanna play?’ Amar asked Jonah, trying to supress a smile.

‘You never ask someone to play chess Amar,’ his father called out from his side of the drawing room. ‘You challenge them to it.’

Amar ignored his father and sat across the table. It took thirty-one minutes. For Jonah to beat him. ‘Let’s play again,’ Amar ordered through clenched teeth.

‘Challenge,’ his father corrected.

It took twenty-eight minutes this time. And Mr. Rathore strolled over, sipping his second tea, just in time to watch his son predict the inevitable checkmate Jonah had trapped him into two moves earlier, and give up.

‘Once More!’ Amar said evenly, struggling to keep the desperation out of his voice. The timer read twenty minutes when the game ended. Jonah had only his white king, two pawns and the queen remaining in the end. In comparison to Amar’s eleven pieces. The white queen knocked out the black king.

‘May I challenge you to a game, Jonah?’ Mr. Rathore asked as Amar left his seat and exited the drawing room, his face dark. As his guest nodded, Mr. Rathore summoned a servant to clear away the tea cups, mindful not to leave them on the chess table. He settled down opposite Jonah, rolled up his sleeves, and asked Jonah to begin.

Amar strolled back fifteen minutes later to find his father smiling, and Jonah sombre as ever. It was not long before his father’s ebony horse took out the white gold king.

‘You’re really good at strategizing, Jonah,’ his father declared, ‘But your entire strategy seems to be based around your vazeer.’ Rahgav Pratap Rathore picked up the piece Jonah would have referred to as the queen. ‘The vazeer, or minister,’ he continued, ‘is the king’s counsellor. He is capable of extraordinary feats, but at the end, you must remember, that it is the king, incapable as he may seem, that remains as the single most important unit in your army. For you to win, it is your king who should not be conquered. The vazeer can, and should, be sacrificed if required.’

He then picked up the elephant. ‘Keep your chariot in mind Jonah – the rook as you may call it. It is the only unit that works in complete tandem with your king. The rook will probably serve the king far more than the vazeer ever will.’

The two boys listened attentively as he picked up the horse and the bishop. ‘The bishop, or what we refer to as the camel,’ he shook the piece in his right hand, ‘is your King’s right-hand man. He can be used for long-range attacks and penetration that may be difficult for your opponent to perceive.’

‘And the Knight…,’ Mr Rathore motioned to the piece in his left hand, ‘is an oddity among the army. The Knight’s L-shaped movement, and ability to jump other units, makes it the most powerful in closed positions. The Knight can get over insurmountable situations in unparalleled ways.’

The Chief Minister of Maharashtra had then paused before stating the next sentence with authority. ‘You have a really sharp mind Jonah, it just needs to be honed to make the right decisions.’

Amar glimpsed excitement on his father’s face before he made an unusual request to his young opponent. ‘Would you mind if an old-timer like me taught you a little bit?’

Jonah nodded. His two-millimetre nod.

‘Chess originated in India, Jonah. Did you know that?’ The elder man began.

‘I am Indian as much as I am French,’ Jonah said, by way of answering.

‘I apologize,’ the elder man smiled apologetically. ‘But I digress. The game was first called Chaturanga. Later it became Shatranj, and then chess, as it is known in most places today. Billions of people all over the world have played it since then; constantly challenging each other, and the game. If I might say so, the game is today considered a pinnacle of IQ and strategy. And of forward thinking. But did you know, Jonah, that the entire psychology of chess can be crystallized into three simple concepts? Just three simple concepts that even chess-masters don’t realize.’

Amar turned his attention to his father, his eyes narrowing.

‘Would you like to know what those three concepts are, Jonah?’

Four fans in the drawing room whooshed air as Jonah stared blankly at the scholarly man.

‘Papa. Please don’t annoy him,’ Amar stated testily. ‘Just say whatever you have to say.’

Mr Rathore let out a chuckle. ‘The three concepts are Tabiya, prahuti and samjiti.’

Once again, the only noise in the room was the air circulating the blades of the fans Amar spoke. ‘We are intrigued, Papa. Now will you please tell us what all this fancy Sanskrit means?’

‘Opening, sacrifice and conquest,’ his father said. And then speedily began rearranging the pieces on the board.

Tabiya, the opening,’ the chess-master quickly brought out the pieces and pushed them out rapidly, one after the other, using only his ebony army till he reached a sort of predetermined symmetrical pattern. ‘The battle array – you analyse your army and get ready to battle, ensuring that everything has been placed at the optimum position to take maximum advantage to begin. And then you display your set. That is when your opponent should realize what your opening strategy has been. A good chess master can get into the mind of his opponent and control the moment of truth – when the opponent realizes what the strategy had been all along. That is when the chess master displays his tabiya.’

He paused as he bought some of the pieces from Jonah’s side over and arranged them until he reached a specific pattern. ‘Prahuti, the sacrifice,’ he began as he made Jonah’s rook eliminate his own vazeer, ‘Prahuti is when you sacrifice a piece intentionally, even though it serves a great purpose in your army, but you do so, keeping a greater goal in mind. And you move ahead.’

He played a rapid succession of moves for both sides till suddenly it dawned on Amar why his father had intentionally let the ebony vazeer be sacrificed. ‘And that goal is the Samjiti, the conquest or complete victory. Only made possible by the prahuti,’ he finished by bringing Jonah’s king to a checkmate in four simple moves. Moves that were simple now that they could be backtracked. ‘And that is how you achieve Samjiti – complete victory.’

The creaking of the ceiling fans was the only noise that the room heard for a few seconds after the black rook had knocked down the white king.

‘Now, may I have the pleasure of challenging you once more, Jonah?’

Amar and his father both looked at Jonah. No two-millimetre nod. But strangely, Amar could see some sort of expression on his face – as if something was shifting behind his steely eyes; as if he was in a far away place.

‘No,’ Jonah finally said. ‘Not right now.’

His father had given a quizzical look before finally breaking into a smile. ‘Some other day then. My invitation remains open. Feel free to visit anytime and challenge me.’

Jonah nodded.

It was an ominous invitation; one that Amar would later wish that Jonah had never accepted.

 

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And since this seems to be a week about beauty….


…I’ve realised I’ve finally made peace with my appearance. After years of banging my head against the metaphoric wall for not being a 12 foot glamazon with collarbones that could cut butter, I’ve realised that being a pocket version of one, albeit with more curves than I can contain isn’t a bad bargain. I’ve given up expecting to morph overnight into a light eyed blonde haired epitome of Caucasian beauty and ergo, you will no longer see me torturing my tresses with platinum highlights that are meant to look sun kissed but in troth look more sun fried, and I will no longer dunk the eyeball with a coloured contact lens. Beauty, I’ve realised, to conform to the norm, requires effort. I’m too lazy to put in that effort. Thankfully, I’m no longer, in my head, that overweight, bespectacled, pimply faced, oiled into two tight plaits hairstyle sporting adolescent. She’s hiding somewhere, that girl, she occasionally surfaces, and I have to feed her some chocolate to get her to lie low again. 

My visits to the beauty parlour, few and far between are merely for regular maintenance issues to keep me from looking like the woman who ran with the wolves, and get all the excess topiary and foliage off my person. God, when will armpit hair come into fashion? Twenty years and I still whimper when the girl applies that hot wax to delicate parts of the skin. And I’m not even beginning to talk of places where the wax strips have no business being unless you want to associate a level of intolerable pain with a particular South American country. The lady who runs the place has stopped trying to talk me into a facial or even a clean up and sighs resignedly every time she makes a mental note of the pores being open enough to have oil derricks put in place to extract subcutaneous oil deposits from deep within the pores.

And yes, I get them to do the hands and feet. I am a little particular about that, well maintained hands and feet. I judge. Okay, go snicker behind my back, but if you’re dressed in the poshest togs and your digits are not clean and cut and filed, I’m going to raise one eyebrow ever so subtly so help me god. As I’ve aged I’ve stopped skittering around with multiple products for my skin and hair and gone back to basics. For the hair a fortnightly application of a henna pack, basic Clear and Dove shampoos and conditioners (no they’re not paying me to say that) and for the skin, regular Cetaphil facewash and Moisturiser, and Johnson’s Baby Lotion for the night and Lacto Calamine for the day is working well enough. I had just about gone crazy under the pile of day creams, night creams, eye creams, serums, lotions, miracle oils, active plant extracts, cosmoceuticals and a whole lot of fancy sounding words which made me wonder if my skin would self combust on application and worry whether I would live to tell the tale. Fortunately, I’ve realised that nothing works as well on the skin as maintaining a sense of humour and a sense of calm, alternatively, realising that one is morphing into that ugly creature, the louder, more belligerent invisible older woman, and trying hard to tone down one’s voice even when one has been elbowed aside for the umpteenth time when in a queue, and laughing aloud as much as one can to throw people off balance.

I’ve realised that there is no greater beauty than a woman comfortable in her own skin, and you are as beautiful as you believe yourself to be. And I’ve also realised, as I’ve aged, that the best cosmetic is a smile, and the greatest fragrance is compassion. I hope to get by with those two, though I’m not skimping on the face paint yet. I’ve yet to reach that level of zen about my appearance.

 

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The Dove Beauty Patch Panel Discussion


The kind people at Dove invited me, actress Konkona Sen Sharma and pastry chef Pooja Dhingra of Le15 to talk about beauty and it being a state of mind. Here we are.

 

And this is the very thought provoking film that Dove launched.

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Am a SHERO


April 9th, 2014

Meet the SHEROES – Kiran Manral

 

Kiran Manral has worked as a journalist before she quit to be full time mommy. Her blogs, Thirty six and counting and Karmic Kid, are both in Labnol’s list of India’s top blogs. She blogged at Tehelka Blogs on gender issues. She is also considered a ‘social media star’ on twitter by the TOI and IBN Live named her as among the 30 interesting Indian women to follow on twitter and among the top 10 Indian moms to follow on twitter for 2013.

Post 26/11, she founded India Helps, a volunteer network to help disaster victims post 26/11 and has worked on long term rehabilitation of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack victims and 13/7 Mumbai bomb blast victims, amongst others.

She is part of core founding team behind CSAAM and Violence Against Women Awareness Month, two very well received social media awareness initiatives across twitter and the blogosphere.

Her debut novel, The Reluctant Detective, was published by Westland in 2012. Her second novel, Once Upon A Crush, a rom com, is being released by Leadstart Publishing in April 2014. We talk to her about Once Upon A Crush and more. 

What is Once Upon a Crush about?

Once Upon A Crush is a rom com about an almost 30 year old single girl, living in Mumbai, under pressure from her parents to settle down in holy matrimony with a suitable boy, and her seemingly unattainable crush on the resident office good looker. It is a story that most girls could identify with, about decisions, self doubt and the realisation that life always takes its own course.

What are the challenges you face as a writer?

Primarily, finding the time to write undisturbed. And then feeling motivated enough to put my nose to the grindstone and write. And thirdly, gathering the courage to send one’s manuscript out to publishers. There is always so much self doubt and belief that this isn’t good enough, and you need to work more on it, but at some point you just need to send your work out into the universe and trust that it will find an audience that appreciates it.  

We see a lot of writers publishing books, how can a first-timer make sure their work stands out?

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to give out advice on making one’s book stand out, but all I can say is write the best story you can, pay attention to grammar and spelling, and if you put your heart and soul into what you write, surely someone somewhere will connect with your manuscript. And yes, good presentation always helps. A good covering letter, a succinct synopsis, following the mandated submission format.

Message for all the SHEROES out there. 

Follow your dreams. Don’t ever not believe in your ability to do what you want. And don’t allow anyone to tell you that you can’t do it. You have more power than you can ever imagine. But first, you need to believe in yourself. The only limitations are the ones you set yourself.


SHEROES

SHEROES is the career destination for women in India. It offers the largest OpportunityScape for women seeking options at various life stages. The SHEROES Community has access to high growth career resources, mentorship and support. SHEROES engages with businesses to help them connect with female talent in form of employees, partners, customers and business owners. Meet us at http://www.sheroes.in

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So. The wonderful Itchingtowriteblogs is hosting a giveaway of Once Upon A Crush…


…on her blog. Here’s what I wrote for her.

My protagonist Rayna De, is a confused soul, who gets by, as I do, with a little help from her friends. College friends, work friends, school friends. 

This book is a tribute to the sisterhoods, the friendships, both online and offline, that sustain us, keep us going, prop us up, take us through dark days, share our good days. Sisterhoods that begin as giggling backbenchers in class, that survive crushes on the same hunk through college, that see each other through the diaper change phase, the seven year itch, the empty nest syndrome. In the blogworld, I would like to doff a hat to my sorority of blogging mom friends, friends who have gone beyond the virtual and become closer than friends in the real world.”

If you have something to say about the sisterhood of friends, go comment here:

http://itchingtowriteblogs.blogspot.in/2014/04/sisterhood-and-book-away-of-once-upon.html

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And while I’m hoping…


all you kind people pre-order Once Upon A Crush from flipkart, crossword, infibeam….let me not forget my first print and paper baby, The Reluctant Detective available at a steal for Rs 98 only on ebay.in here. Order it if you haven’t read it yet. I guarantee the laughs. Image

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So, with sweating palms, churning intestines and cold sweat breaking out…


I send my third baby out into this world. Care to pre-book?1969283_10151904709791191_1111736719_n

Order from Crossword here

Order from Flipkart here

Order from Infibeam here

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