'The story of 'Bali and the Ocean of Milk' written by Nilanjan P Choudhury, has been derived from an old myth of the now lost Hurrian civilization, which traces its origins to the banks of the Euphrates in northern Mesopotamia. The novel reimagines the eternal conflict between the Hurrian gods and their sworn enemies, the asuras, in a wacky thriller littered with bad jokes and corpses. Here's an extract from the book:
Chapter 1: An Evening in Amravati
The rays of the setting sun streamed through the tall crystal windows and lit up Urvashi's pretty, oval face. Waves of silken hair, dyed blonde in deference to the latest fashion, cascaded over her pale, shapely shoulders. Slender arms, diamond encrusted bracelets on either wrist, were crossed over her full breasts. She was perched upon a blue velvet couch, her long, bare legs dangling over its edge. As she swung them to and fro, toes brushing against the tiger skin carpet below, her golden anklets tinkled out a perky melody.
She was a sight worthy of the gods - except that the god sitting opposite her did not seem to know this.
She mooned at him with her large, blue eyes, fluttered her eyelashes, pouted, preened and sighed - elementary techniques that every apsara was taught during induction training. But her efforts had little effect on the god for whom they were intended. He continued to sit listlessly on his bed, a glum expression on his puffed face.
Urvashi's pout grew deeper. 'I'm sorry, Indy, but this is just not happening.'
Indrah did not reply.
'Are you even listening to me?' Urvashi sniffed. 'Things can't go on like this, you know. It's about time you did something about it.'
'Yes, yes, I know,' Indrah muttered. 'I just need a little more time… I am trying hard.'
'Trying hard!' Urvashi exclaimed. 'You have to get hard, darling - not try.'
Indrah winced while Urvashi chattered away in her sweet, girlish voice. 'I mean do you even remember the last time when that happened? That was like ….two hundred years ago. The day you killed that asura ... what was his name now…umm… Vira… Vita…'
'Vritra,' Indrah said under his breath.
'Vritra - right! That's the one. I knew it was something starting with a V. I still remember the day. You had gone out for the final battle and there I was sitting all by myself, worried stiff, when I heard the apsaras going - "Vritra is dead! Victory to Lord Indrah!"'
'We had such a wonderful time that night after the victory party.' Urvashi sighed. 'You remember, love?'
Indrah grunted again. Urvashi stood up scowling and hurled an ivory comb to the ground. It shattered into pieces as her voice rose to a shrill pitch. 'Do you realize that we haven't made love one single time since that night? Do you? It's been two hundred years for heaven's sake and it's driving me up the wall. Come on, Indy darling - what's wrong with you?'
Indrah sighed. There was no denying that she was right - he was in bad shape. Rolls of fat swaddled his hips. The taut muscles of his arms had turned into flaccid bags and the chiselled jaw-line, along which Sachi used to love running her fingers during their courtship days, had disappeared into a pair of pulpy chins.
A lock of hair fell over his forehead. He brushed it back, wincing when his fingers touched the bald patch on top. It had surreptitiously replaced his once luxuriant mane and was now clearly visible unless he switched on his halo - the light dazzling anyone who looked him in the face. But these days, he realized that even this simple act drained him of energy quite quickly.
In short, Indrah looked and felt like an elderly uncle - not the Almighty King of the Devas, Lord of Amravati, Scourge of the Asuras, Shatterer of Citadels.
What was worse was that people had started noticing it… the corridors of the palace were abuzz with whisperings of the King's decrepit condition. Many of the lesser gods had even begun to talk openly about it. Soon he started cutting down on public appearances conducting most of his work from his inner chambers. It wouldn't be long before someone started asking uncomfortable questions on why the king spent most of his time inside his bedroom instead of the court...
Someone knocked on the door.
'Yes, what is it?' Indrah asked, grateful for the unexpected interruption.
'A thousand pardons, your majesty,' a deferential voice replied. 'But Lord Viru is here and demands an audience with you at once.'
'Oh no…not now,' Urvashi groaned.
A sliver of anxiety sliced through Indrah's bowels - why had Viru come to Amravati now and that too without any prior notice…
'Ask him to be seated in the Rang Mahal,' he said. 'I will be there in a moment.'
'Very well my lord,' the messenger said and departed.
'Can't you meet him in the morning?' Urvashi moaned. 'Say you have a headache or something. Please? Just for me?' Her fingers began to explore the region around his navel.
'I'm sorry Urvi, but I have to go now,' Indrah replied.
He gripped her by the shoulders and pushed her away, grunting from the effort. Just a few decades ago, he could have lifted her as if she were no heavier than a feather. But this strange fatigue that hung over him like a constant miasma, made everything feel like an epic struggle.
'I'll see you later tonight,' he said, heaving himself off the bed, 'with luck Viru won't take too much time.'
Urvashi rolled her almond eyes. 'Poor little rich boy - just an overpaid manager for the three main guys who really run this show,' she pinched him on the cheek, 'never mind - I'll be off now. Your boss is waiting to talk to you about all those big, important things that a silly little girl like me can't understand. Not that I want to anyway - bores me out of my mind.'
She slipped on her blouse, adjusting the folds until she was satisfied with the extent of cleavage on display. A shimmering red sari went around her hips - slung tight and low. She added a dash of kohl around her eyes and knotted her hair into a pony tail.
'Bye,' she trilled. 'You take care of yourself now. I'm off to my dance classes. Ta-ta… see you later, terminator.' She blew him a kiss and glided out of the room.
Indrah blinked at her receding figure, shook his head twice and tried to focus his mind on the meeting ahead. He was sure that it wouldn't be anything routine. Viru wouldn't have bothered coming all the way to Amravati by himself, if that were the case.
No point speculating, he thought, let it be over and done with. He smoothed back his thinning hair, switched on the halo with a snap of his fingers and headed for the Rang Mahal.
Chapter 2: The Palace of Tripura
Tripura lay shrouded in the darkness of the new moon. A veil of black stretched over the city, pierced only by the flickering light of the stars above and the feeble lamps of the sentries who guarded the royal palace. But watchful as they were, not one of them noticed a black, worm-like creature wriggle below the tall iron gates and crawl into the palace grounds.
It was about the size of a man's thumb but as it glided swiftly across the grounds it began to grow larger. By the time it had reached the wide stone staircase that led into the palace, it was almost half a hand long and thick as a fist. The snake surveyed the staircase through her lidless eyes and quickly slithered up the incline.
She now found herself at one end of a long narrow corridor with a series of identical doors. There were one hundred of them, fifty on either side. She paused, unsure of what to do - finally, with an almost human shake of her head, she headed towards the twenty fifth door on the left side of the corridor.
The faint yellow light of an oil lamp spilled through the slight gap below the door. The snake shrank until she was small enough to squeeze herself into the room.
A square silver bed stood in the centre of the room. Upon it, amidst an outbreak of red silken coverlets, lay an asura, his chest rising and falling rhythmically with his breath. The snake inched towards the bed, forked tongue sniffing the air ahead.
The smell of the sleeping asura was strong and familiar. For months she had been trained to recognize it, to isolate it from a hundred other odours and attack its source. Failure to do so had always resulted in pain while success had been richly rewarded.
Oblivious of the intruder, the asura slept on. She gazed at his face, her fangs bared, poised to plunge downwards. A faint hiss of anticipation escaped through her open jaws...
His heavy breathing filled the room, inflaming her further. The shriveled black body began to lengthen and swell. Soon it was long enough to encircle the bed. She coiled around the four corners of the bed until her head was positioned directly below the asura's. Pea-green eyes converged near the vertex of the hood and sharp fangs appeared on either side of the forked tongue.
The hood rose and swayed above the asura's chest. She gazed at his face, her fangs bared, poised to plunge downwards. A faint hiss of anticipation escaped through her open jaws.
The asura stirred - his eyes opened. His pupils dilated at her sight and his lips parted in a scream. But the snake was too quick for him - her fangs sank into his chest and the scream ended in a squelch.
In a flash, the snake wound herself around the asura's neck and crushed it in a vice-like grip. His arms scrabbled uselessly at the smooth body of his assailant. The stale air trapped inside his lungs joined the poison rippling through his veins - a few heart beats later all movement stopped.
Asura and snake lay entwined for a moment and then she wriggled off his cooling body. His dead heart continued to pump the poisoned blood out through the punctured chest, onto the spotless, white sheets.
Something was wrong with the blood… something about it was different…
A mistake… she had made an error… this wasn't the asura that she had been trained to kill … the taste was wrong. She had spent every night before this, hunting for the one jar of water containing a single drop of the right blood from amongst a hundred identical jars.
She had got the wrong asura…but how was that possible…everything else about him had matched perfectly except the taste. The thought of how her master would react to her failure flashed through her mind … she shivered.
Shrinking once again to the size of a worm, she crawled out of the room. She was back in the long corridor - ninety nine identical doors faced her.
The smell she was hunting for came out of each one of them…
Title : Bali And The Ocean Of Milk; Author: Nilanjan P Choudhury; Publisher: Harper Collins India; Language: English; Pages: 320