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Monday, 11 November 2019

#BookTour - The Speaking Stone by @RatnadipAcharya

The Speaking Stone by Ratnadip Acharya

~ Book Tour ~

11th to 17th November



About the Book:
Mumbai, December 2016: 
A young man found an ancient-looking piece of stone with strange images and Sanskrit inscriptions. A quest to know the origin of the stone brought him to the distant part of the country. 

Chandannagar, December 2016: 
A young vivacious historian woman read an old book on a century-old secret story about a little known part of the country. Her curiosity got the better of her as the book disappeared mysteriously before she could complete it. She reached a sleepy quaint state of the country to satiate her curiosity. 

Eventually they both met and their search began from the city museum to a far-flung rock mountain which revealed a century-old story of a seductive danseuse, her enigmatic lover, a string of her admirers, a painter with a photographic memory, a bird that could speak in many voices, a benevolent king and a gruesome conspiracy. And the most important clue to decode the final secret was with the missing part of The Speaking Stone. But in the process of unearthing old secrets their lives were also in danger… 

Book Links:


Read an Excerpt:

Prologue

A pigeon fluttered its wings impatiently as if to give a signal to its beloved that the setting sun would soon glide down and disappear somewhere behind the western rim of the sky. That soon a diluted darkness would envelop the place where they had made their home for a long time; that soon the full moon would sail up in the sky, unhurriedly, transporting the little world around them into a magical land.

She was happily perching on the tall branch of a tree because from up there it could easily say goodbye to the last shaft of sunlight in its own way. It fluttered its wings again after a while but on this occasion not to invite her mate but in an effort to puff up the layers of her feathers for she knew that the approaching evening would bring another guest with it. It was fog. The darkness of the night
encouraged it to descend more vigorously upon the earth. Once she puffed herself up it helped her ward off the chilling cold of the night considerably.

She looked around, moving her nimble neck gracefully. But her mate, the other pigeon, was nowhere in the immediate vicinity. She looked at the moon now. The pale full moon of the late afternoon was slowly gaining its full glow as sunlight had already dimmed.

Suddenly another pigeon came flying and settled on the same branch beside her. This pigeon was slightly larger in size and its feathers white with occasional light brownish patches whereas the other pigeon, smaller in size, possessed spotlessly white feathers which accentuated its immaculate beauty. The larger pigeon now rubbed its neck against the smaller one and both the pigeons closed their eyes as a feeling of pure ecstasy filled them.

An inaudible moan escaped the smaller pigeon now. It was her way to tell her beloved that the entire night was left at their disposal for love-making and that for now, they must witness the beauty and calmness of the rising full moon.

Her mate must have been well-versed in understanding the words of her heart from just a little shift of her head or her muffled squeak. It also looked at the direction she was gazing.

And there, in the distant sky, the full moon of the foggy evening was rising up. As the moonlight became a little more intense it manoeuvred through the mist and reached the forest, the trees, the pigeons and the gigantic rocks of the mountain right behind the tree where the birds perched. There was a pleasant nip in the gentle wind, blowing almost in silence. The leaves of the trees were shaking languidly; they were longing to be covered with a layer of mist; something they felt they deserved after being scorched by the sunlight throughout the day.

The entire mountain was peacefully silent. All one could hear was a pastoral music that issued from the deep ravine a little ahead of the lines of trees when the wind blew through it. But this enchanting music had no effect on the mighty mountain and its rocks and stones, standing motionless, expressionless and silent, weathering the elements, wearing a stoic look for time infinity. A thick growth of vegetation made its way from different cracks of the rocks. Yet there were many large rocks, standing speck-less for eternity. On those rocks, many strange images were carved. Hundreds of large-sized stones were also found lying scattered around and the images of gods and goddesses were carved on many of them, too. No matter how desperately the thickets and vegetation around tried to cover those images on the rocks and stones, some mysterious force always foiled their effort as though those images cut on the rocks and stones must not be obscured by bushes or obliterated by time.

The moon glided a little up in the sky. Its tender light penetrated the fog, girdling the mysterious mountain in its bosom, and touched the rocks and stones softly. Its magic touch made the images on the stones and rocks alive in a strange way.

The pair of pigeons could never discern as to why they loved to feast their eyes on those rocks of the mountain where so many unusual images were engraved. They would spend no less than an hour on every full moon night, watching the play between light and life on those rocks and stones. And then they would return to their nest in silence as peace stole their heart.

Now a pleasant quietness and stillness descended upon the mountain before a mild footfall broke its sublime tranquillity. Suddenly appeared there an old monk with long flowing white beard, clad in two pieces of thin saffron cloth; one was his loincloth and the other one he wrapped around his chest and upper arms. The chill of the winter night seemed to have no effect on him. There were prominent wrinkles under his eyes and on his forehead, his hair snow-white, but yet his agile movement and backbone, as straight as a ramrod, didn’t qualify any visitor to the mountain of rocks to hazard a guess at his age. To be on the safer side they all called him ‘Ageless Saint’.

However, there was a certain reason behind it. The visitors to this mountain of rocks claimed that for decades they hadn’t witnessed any change in his look or stature. They were actually pilgrims to the mountain of rocks. In spite of the repeated efforts of many of them, nobody could ever make him speak. All he would do as a response to their questions was to reward them with a benign smile and an assuring nod of his head. Some of them even doubted that he was speech-impaired. It was not easy to meet him either. Apart from a few auspicious days never did he visit the mountain during the daytime. They claimed that he visited the mountain only when darkness fell and no one was around. It was also rumoured that he worshipped and meditated in front of the largest image on the rock at midnight.

It was a 40 feet tall image of the head of Lord Shiva. Here it was widely known as Kaal Bhairava. Like all other images of the rock mountain, it was also a low relief type of sculpture with a ten-foot-high embroidered headdress. It had a prominent third eye and its earlobes were decorated with circular earrings. On his headgear, small images of celestial figures were carved out and looking carefully at the image of Kaal Bhairava one might feel that those tiny celestial bodies were desperate to be one with Kaal Bhairava. Kaal Bhairava was a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with annihilation. The deity was called upon as a protector as he guarded the eight directions of the universe. Bhairava was also described as the protector of the timid.

All that they knew about ‘Ageless Saint’ was that he lived in a small hut, deep in the valley, near a stream, far from human habitat and didn’t encourage any visitor to his place. They considered themselves lucky if they bumped into him on an auspicious day in the mountain of rocks for it was an open secret that as soon as pilgrims started thronging in the mountain, he disappeared in silence. But the more elusive Ageless Saint became the more curious the natives were to know about him. Yet none of them dared to invade the shroud of mysterious silence about him. It was whispered that there was some secret treasure hidden in those majestic rocks, those rock-cut and stone carved images of gods and goddesses which was only known to him.

Ageless Saint walked ahead slowly, taking in everything around him. He searched for those two pigeons. They had disappeared for the night. The remembrance of the pigeons brought a small smile to his lips. There was something common between those pigeons and him. Though long back he had stopped counting his age and years, he was pretty certain that this pair of pigeons had been here for many many years. Probably he was a young boy when he had seen the pair of pigeons for the first time.

Their unusually long life didn’t astound him and he had accepted them as a part of the mountain and rocks as the mountain had accepted him as a part of it, with the fullest trust, unquestioningly, with the love of its caring touch for the last many decades.

Ageless Saint reached near the rock where a gigantic image of Kaal Bhairava was carved. He touched the rock. It was cold to touch. Involuntarily his eyes closed when he felt a kind of calmness, serenity and peace from the rock filling his body.

He sat cross-legged on a piece of stone in front of Kaal Bhairava and meditated for long hours. Once he opened his eyes the night was about to end. The darkness was slightly liquid. He passed a long glance at the huge rocks and stones scattered around him. They were in hundreds. The images of many gods and goddesses were engraved on them. But the images of Lord Shiva monopolized, followed by those of Parvati, Lord Ganesha, Nandi Bull and a few more. Joining his hands, Ageless Saint gave a respectful pranam to all the images.

Even though no one knew who made those images, how and when those images had come into existence, Ageless Saint found himself deeply connected to them. He was thankful that visitors here were few and far between, barring on a few auspicious days. He had heard that no more was the princely state, whose part this mighty mountain was, ruled by kings. A few years after the independence of India this tiny state joined the independent India.

But it made little difference to him and the rock mountain. Only a handful of people knew about the mountain of rocks; probably, because it belonged to the most neglected part of India.

As the first shaft of light of dawn touched the mountain Ageless Saint retraced his steps towards his cottage, a few kilometres away from the mountain, when the chirping birds and whispering trees reclaimed the rocks and the mountain.

One of the strangest things in life is that the secrets and treasures of the world open their arms to embrace you only when no secrets matter to you anymore and the treasure you have found within yourself is more precious than any other worldly treasure, a thought passed through Ageless Saint’s mind. A pair of birds squeaked from a tree nearby as though they were seconding his thought.


About the Author:


Ratnadip Acharya is the author of two successful novels, Life is Always Aimless... Unless you love it and Paradise Lost & Regained. He is a columnist for the Speaking Tree in The Times of India. He contributed many write-ups in different collections of Chicken Soup for the Soul. He lives in Mumbai with his wife, Sophia and son, Akash.




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2 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Rereading the excerpt made me feel like reading the novel again.

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