Hidden Ingredients of a Fiction Story

Writing a story is not that easy. It requires a lot of planning if you want it to flow well and make sense with all the events occurring in your story. I’m no expert on writing, I’m just a fourteen-year-old aspiring author, but I love to read. And apart from enjoying the story, I “studied” ways the author wrote their story. Why did I like this story so much? What part of the book allowed me to relate? What kept me engaged? What details were added to make this story more interesting? What message was the author trying to send?

Some of the books I’ve read include Keeper of the Lost Cities, Harry Potter, Book Scavenger, Land of Stories, Series of Unfortunate Events, Because of Winn-Dixie, and a lot more (I recommend reading all of these if you haven’t already!!!). We’re taught in school that the ingredients to a fiction story are exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. But. There were three other things that I noticed all, or most books have in common. I’ll go over what they are, as well as give some examples from the books I’ve read and from the stories I’ve written (check out my works here: https://www.dharwadkar.com/author/nandini/).

Theme/Central Idea

You may already be familiar with the concept of a theme, but in the case of fiction writing, it tends to be a broader subject. The theme can be an idea, an emotion, or a topic, such as music, love, good vs. evil, friendship, power, or talent. The theme can be a tangible object as well, such as an heirloom, or a person, or a prized possession. Whatever you choose as your theme, it must be the hub of the story. It should serve as the main purpose behind the characters’ actions. What are the characters fighting for? What is the purpose behind their adventure? What are they trying to save? What do they love the most? The theme is the driving force of any story.

For example, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger, the main theme of the books is power. There are two secret (well, not that secret) organizations, one good and one evil. Both are trying to make peace in their world, but the evil organization keeps trying to take power and control the whole world because they believe that is the way to make things right. How does this serve as the purpose of the series? The main characters are constantly trying to figure out the evil organization’s plans and try to stop them (it’s more complicated than it sounds).

In my next story (will be posted soon!), I chose the theme to be memories. This theme serves as the hub of the story because in the end, all of the characters’ actions, thoughts, and feelings connect back to making memories with loved ones. After all, memories are what keep us connected. But that’s enough spoilers for now!

Side Stories

Side stories are a small part of the story and may or may not relate to the larger theme of the entire story. Side stories are often used to show the main character’s personal life or other problems that affect their actions. These types of side stories give readers insight into the character’s personality, such as who they really are, what are they dealing with. For added effect, authors add personal side stories as a turning point in the main story to surprise the reader; at this point, they connect to the entire theme of the story. They are also included to show another event happening simultaneously, but it is used to cause dramatic irony because the main characters do not know it is happening. Side stories can also be small, insignificant snippets that are just meant for entertainment. In general, side stories make the whole story seem more realistic and relatable. If a story just included parts where the characters make progress in their journey, the story itself would be bland and just a series of chronological events; this happened, then that happened, then this, then that, and so forth. Side stories help readers connect with the characters and make the story more complex because they are considering multiple aspects of the entire story.

In the Land of Stories series, the author, Chris Colfer, adds side stories for dramatic irony. While Alex and Connor (the main characters) are off on an adventure, he adds a side story that shows how the villains of the book are planning something that the main characters do not know about. Colfer also writes about Alex and Connor’s personal lives, such as their mother’s second marriage. This type of side story is insignificant but helps the reader empathize with the characters.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling contains side-stories such as Harry’s love life, Ron and Hermione’s bickering, and Quidditch matches. And don’t forget Professor Snape being horrible to Harry and his friends! These side stories show Harry’s personal life, that of a typical teenager. It wouldn’t exactly be realistic or entertaining if he was a teenager who only thought of ways to defeat Volde — sorry, You-Know-Who.

Very Detailed Details

Details. The wonderful words that bring a story to life. Like a theme, details are a vast subject. Many things are classified as details. The tiniest, most insignificant part of a story can prove to be a major detail in the story later on. Dialogue is considered detail. The color of the characters’ shirts is a detail. The hand on which someone wears a ring is also a detail. Authors put in multiple details in their stories so that it is easier to visualize what is happening and keep track of the events. We tend to think of details as just what something looks like, but it actually includes much more than that. Much, much more. To write a really good story, describe the scene using more than just sight. What does the place feel like? What does it smell like? What sounds can be heard? Using all or most of our 5 basic senses, you can make the reader feel like they are actually inside the book, experiencing all these things, and it makes reading much more enjoyable. It also helps to explain what the characters in the book feel in this setting. Does it make them uncomfortable? Is it pleasant, but eerie at the same time? Does the character feel depressed? Describing the characters’ reactions, thoughts, and feelings in the story helps readers understand the story and the characters’ situations better.

Another way of explaining details to allow the readers to understand the action in the story and the purpose of these actions is to include narration, or live-action details. Live-action narration includes what the characters are doing at the moment (use verbs, adverbs, adjectives), what they are saying (dialogue, in other words), at what time the characters are doing something, and you can also include their emotions. In my experience of reading books, readers are more likely to stay engaged if they know what is going on and can clearly visualize the scene in their minds. Stories can become bland and boring if those juicy details aren’t included. Think about it like this:

Which of the following examples can you imagine? Which one keeps you engaged?

A. After practicing for hours, the team was finally ready. They played their best in the final match, closely beating the opponent with a score of 3-2. They had finally won.

B. Carlos bent his knees, staring at his opponent. His red uniform was green from sliding, but he didn’t care. His heart was beating faster than a humming bird’s wings. Beads of sweat ran down his face. His team had to win. He had to win. There was only a minute left in the game, and both teams were tied, 2 to 2. If he could score that last goal, they would win the championship. He took a deep breath and kicked the ball under his opponent’s legs as soon as the whistle blew.

Carlos dribbled the ball across the field, left, right, left, right. He willed his legs not to lose control of the ball. His only focus was the goal.

“Carlos, pass!” cried a teammate to his right.
“Carlos, I’m open!” another teammate called.
“Carlos, pass to your teammates!” he heard his coach say.

He ignored their voices and only focused on the feel of the ball on his feet, his brow scrunched in concentration. Focused on the wind rushing past his face. Focused on his feet gliding across the grass, only kicking the ball. 15 seconds left.

Dodging the defenders, he sprinted in front of the goal and gave it his best shot.

Everything went silent.

It felt as if at that moment, everything went slow-motion. The goalkeeper’s mouth open, eyes wide as he outstretched his arms toward the ball, all of the players turning their heads around to watch the ball, and the ball itself rolling slowly, slowly in midair toward the goal, just about to hit the goal…

In a split second, everything was back to normal. Carlos was attacked by a horde of players, his own teammates. His eardrums were about to burst from all the yelling and screaming coming from his team and the stadium. Carlos grinned, and he felt like the happiest person on Earth. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, his uniform was covered in grass, and they had won the game.

Have you chosen yet? Good. So, I’m assuming you chose B. But why? Both examples describe the same event. However, example B included so many aspects of the scene that it made it more intense and engaging, while example A was just a summary and didn’t generate as much excitement. As long as you don’t overuse them, details can be wonderful and very useful things.


Once you have chosen a theme and decided on the side stories that will reflect your characters’ personalities, you can combine it with your plot and write a smashing story, along with a lot of details. Theme, side stories, and details are really important to your story because it gives your story content, and it makes it more interesting, rather than just a cause and effect.

The next time you sit down to write a fictional story, think about how you will incorporate theme, side stories, and details to enhance all aspects of the story.

Check back later to find a worksheet that I made to help you plan your story and think about how it will flow. It will really get you thinking about each aspect of the story, including the three hidden ingredients.

Happy writing!

The Missing Horcrux

“How many times have you read that book, Aimee?”

Aimee Vass was propped up on her elbows on her bed, reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the seventh time. She didn’t look up from her book, but she sighed in response.

Her mother walked into the room and snatched the book out of her hands and made her way across the room to Aimee’s desk.

“Mum!” Aimee cried, her hands still grasping the air. “What are you doing?”

“You’re wasting way too much time reading these silly Harry Potter books. Do something else! Get ready for school! I’m not even sure you’ve finished your homework from yesterday,” her mother replied as she slammed the book down on the desk. 

“Mum! Watch out for–” Aimee started to say.

Too late. The book slid off the desk and onto the floor with a thud, taking Aimee’s tiara that she had bought at a gift shop. The label claimed that J.K. Rowling herself had fashioned it for her fans. The tiara split in half as it started falling with the book on its tip, and Aimee’s mother pulled the tiara back.

“Mum! Look what you’ve done!” Aimee leaped off the bed and started to grab the two pieces, but her mother had already thrown them away in the trash can next to her bed. 

Her mother huffed and said, “Why do you need it anyway? It’s just another piece of plastic, you can always get another cheap one from somewhere else!”

“JK Rowling herself made it!” Aimee protested, throwing her long blond hair behind her shoulders. Her brown eyes flashed with irritation.

Her mother smiled at her daughter’s childish folly, and said, “That’s what they say, so kids like you buy it. Anyway, pack your things now, or you’ll miss the bus,” and walked out of the room, picking up Aimee’s fake Marauder’s Map and placing it on her bed on the way out. 

Aimee sank into her chair, frustrated at her mother for once again, not accepting the fact that Harry Potter was the best series around. It wasn’t like her mother loved to read that much anyway, so why not let her? And she wasn’t one of the foolish kids who would believe anything the label told her. She was just an aspiring author who read books to “study” writing techniques. There is a huge difference.

When she opened her computer, she noticed she had just received an email from none other than JK Rowling herself. Aimee was such a big fan that she had dared to email her favorite author two months ago and had expected a response. She hadn’t gotten one, so it was surprising that Rowling would email her now.

The email wasn’t a “Hi, how are you doing”, but instead it contained an invitation.

Hey Harry Potter Fans,

Hope you still love Harry Potter! I’m hosting a book signing tomorrow afternoon at the lighthouse near the lake. It reminds me of the place where the Dursleys had run to when Harry started receiving thousands of letters from Hogwarts!  I’d love it if you could come, and make sure you bring your books!

J.K Rowling

Aimee read the email three times before finally believing it, and pumped her fist in the air, shouting, “YES!”. Without waiting for her mother’s call, she skipped out the door to catch the bus.

During lunch at school, Aimee took off to meet with her usual group of friends at their meeting spot: the library. They met every day at school to discuss further developments in the books they read or write a part of the story they didn’t like. They called themselves the Harry Potter Fan Club. So original.

As Aimee skipped into the library, the librarian, Ms. D, called to her.

“Aimee! I have something you’ll like!” she said as she waved a book in her hand.

Aimee walked over to the counter and squinted at the book held in the librarian’s hand. It was another copy of The Deathly Hallows, but she already had that one. She was about to say so when Ms. D interrupted her.

“I know you’ve collected all the books already,” she said, placing the book down on the counter, her benign blue eyes twinkling with excitement. “But this one is different. J.K Rowling herself annotated inside the book and wrote down her thoughts for many of the scenes. I thought you’d like to read it since you are such a big fan.”

Aimee’s eyes lit up and she reached for the book. “Oh, yeah, of course! Thanks!”

She made her way to her table, and seeing that none of her friends were there yet, flipped through the pages, reading each annotation. They were mostly about what inspired Rowling to write these pages. When Aimee came to the end of the book, she was about to skip reading the last annotation. She had skimmed through the pages and found the annotations to be similar, so she decided not to go through another one. She stopped when a particular word caught her eye.

“Horcruxes?” Aimee whispered to herself. 

The note read:

To those of you who have the annotated copies, you might be interested in knowing that I have a challenge for you. In the book, Harry has found all of the Horcruxes to kill Voldemort, but wait! There is one more yet to be found. 

Riiight, Aimee thought. Another Horcrux? One part of Aimee felt that this was a joke. Why would Rowling hide a Horcrux in London? She hadn’t even announced that she was planning a game. The majority of Aimee felt curious and excited about participating in this new challenge. What would it be like if she found the Horcrux? Then she could call herself a true Harry Potter fan.


Aimee jumped and yelped. Covering her mouth and giving Ms. D an apologetic look, she looked up to who had spoken to her. It was her club member and friend, Georgie. 

“Hey! You frightened me,” Aimee said, quickly stuffing the annotated copy into her bookbag. 

“Sorry,” Georgie grinned and sat in the chair next to Aimee. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Aimee quickly shook her head, but then blurted, “Did you hear about the book signing tomorrow?”

“Yeah, me mum told me. I was going to tell our group about it today. I think I’ll go,” he said.

“You think?” Aimee cried. “You have to! It’s about maintaining our reputation as Harry Potter fanatics!” She was about to tell him about the challenge that Rowling had written about on the last page, but decided to when she confirmed it. The prospect of winning the challenge was all the more exciting as she thought about it more every minute, but…

She could wait.

The next afternoon, Aimee wore her best shirt, a lemon yellow with blue flowers dotted all over the cloth. She stuffed all of her Harry Potter books into one large bag and ran off to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day, and the water soaking her hair and falling in her eyes wasn’t helping her reach quickly. She swung off her bag and covered her head with it, determined to ask about the challenge as soon as possible before she had to wait any longer. 

She skidded to a stop in front of the park gates, splattering mud all over her jeans. Just past the gate, in the park, she saw a long line of people, holding up their books and cheering. Well, it wasn’t a line, it was mostly a blob clambering to get under the canopy for protection, but fans were still flooding out of the covered area. She would get lost in the crowd as large as the sea.

Aimee pushed the gates open with a screech and trotted inside, but she went around the crowd. Some people called to her, telling her to get back in line and wait her turn, but this was more important than getting her books signed. She needed to know if the challenge was real, or if it had happened before already, and how many people knew about it. This was too important for a Harry Potter fan to just stay back and wait.

She pushed her way through the crowd and into the tent, where she caught a glimpse of a woman with reddish-brown hair. J.K. Rowling! 

Aimee sidestepped people trying to push her back and eventually made it past the jostling crowd to the front, right in front of the renowned author.

“Ms. Rowling!” she called. 

The author was signing a small boy’s book for him, and when she finished, she handed it back and smiled. Aimee couldn’t hear their conversation, and Rowling couldn’t hear Aimee either over the chattering crowd and thundering rain.

“Ms. Rowling!” Aimee repeated, a little louder this time. This time, two burly men standing under the tent beside the author noticed Aimee, and one of them walked toward her. 

“Get back in line, miss,” he said in a deep voice. 

Aimee stared at him and shook off his hands on her shoulders. “No, I need to talk to her,” she pointed at the author. “It’s important!”

“That’s what all of you fanatics say, but get back in line and wait your turn,” he said, a touch of irritation in his voice.

Aimee stood her ground. She needed to talk to J.K. Rowling about this urgently. She had waited long enough. “I need –”

The guard pushed her back, and Aimee realized he was not going to let her get any closer. With all the energy she could muster, she yelled, “MS. ROWLING! I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THE HORCRUX!”

This time the author did hear her and looked up, bewildered. She had just handed back the book of another child and noticed Aimee waving to her with the annotated copy of The Deathly Hallows in her hand.

“Norman! Bring her over here!” Aimee heard Rowling call to the guard pushing her.

Without waiting any longer, Aimee tore past the guard and stopped in front of the author, her hair dripping, and her shoes completely soaked. Face-to-face with her literary idol, the words had stopped short of her mouth. Aimee couldn’t find her voice.

J.K. raised an eyebrow. “You said you know about the Horcrux?”

Aimee tried to say “yes”, but choked on her words. She cleared her throat and managed a croaky whisper. “Yes.”

Rowling smiled mischievously. “Your name, love?”

“Aimee. Aimee Vass.”

“Nice to meet you, Aimee,” Rowling held out her hand, and Aimee couldn’t believe she was shaking hands with the one and only author of Harry Potter. The author gestured for the guards to close the book signing for a lunch break and led Aimee into another tent where they could sit and talk. Finding two plastic chairs, Rowling motioned for Aimee to sit down and took one for herself. 

Aimee pulled out the annotated Deathly Hallows and started explaining what she had found. When she finished, the author looked at her with an amused expression on her face. A few minutes passed before she spoke.

“So. You’ve found it,” JK said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” JK paused, carefully thinking about her answer. “It’s like this. I annotated a few copies of the Deathly Hallows and I’ve hidden them around London. You’ve found one of them. It’s a hunt –”

“You mean other people have found the rest of the copies?” Aimee interrupted, unable to contain her excitement.

“Yes. It’s a hunt where you have to find one last Horcrux that’s not included in the book itself, but I’ve made it up,” JK continued. “You need to decipher some clues that will lead you to the Horcrux.”

Aimee was confused. “Like a treasure hunt? And where can I find the clues? And why are you telling just me? You said there were other people too? I don’t remember you announcing the game!”

JK grinned. “Way too many questions at a time, love. It is like a treasure hunt, and I’m not telling you where the clues are. What’s the fun in that? Secondly, I already announced it two weeks ago.”

“Oh. I wasn’t in England two weeks ago,” Aimee sighed. She rose from her chair, clutching the book to her chest. “Thanks, anyway.”

She waved at JK as she ran out of the tent, and she thought of only one thing.

She needed to find that first clue.

For the rest of the day, Aimee thought about where the first clue might be. It wouldn’t be wise to search all of London for it, the city was too big for that. But it had to be somewhere related to Harry Potter. And how many clues were there? 

Aimee lay plopped on her bed, reading secretly under the covers. If her mother suspected her of reading another copy of the book she had read before, then she would be in trouble. Serious trouble.

It was half-past midnight, and while everyone else was asleep, Aimee lay wide awake, searching for the clue. The warmth of the covers and the softness of the bed tricked her into closing her eyes once, but she snapped back awake immediately and had chided herself for doing so. She needed to concentrate. If the clue was anywhere, it would be in the book, she had deduced. She must have read the book three times just searching for the clue. It seemed as if every part of the book could be relevant to the clue, but it just wasn’t there. Maybe Rowling had placed the clue in another book? Aimee was about to close the book when she saw it.

“But the only object anyone seemed to associate with Ravenclaw was the lost diadem…”

Right next to this line, Rowling had written:

A Horcrux is stored in a precious object. Things, places, and people. You must go to the place, where Harry first met his precious people.

Aimee could almost hear Rowling’s voice, singing the poem-like clue in her head. It felt like Aimee knew the answer, but she couldn’t place it. Harry Potter’s precious people? The Dursleys definitely weren’t precious to Harry, and his parents had died when he was a year old. His friends, maybe? Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger? They were precious to him, and they had come with him everywhere. Ginny, Ron’s sister, was precious as well, to Harry. But where had he met them first? Aimee closed her eyes and searched through her mind, clawing through all of the information she had stored about the books she had read. And then she knew the answer. Her eyes flipped open, and she sat up in bed.

She needed to go to King’s Cross Station. 

Aimee was the first one up the next morning, and after leaving a note for her family telling them where she was going, she grabbed a piece of toast and stole away into the haze of early morning. The station wasn’t too far from her house, and she wasn’t surprised to see it bustling with action and full of people even so early in the morning. But the real question was: Where was the next clue? Where could she find it, in the midst of the sea of people swarming in and out of the station every minute?

She turned to find a station guard, in case JK Rowling had stationed people to be in on the game. She called one of them and tried to ask about the challenge, but over the thousands of voices echoing off the wall and the voice of the person announcing the next train arrival, it was pointless.

As Aimee stood rooted to the spot, frantically looking around for a place that might have the next clue, she was pushed around by the travellers either boarding or getting off the trains, shouting at her to get out of the way. Her head spun from being kicked around like that, and she almost stumbled to the floor. It was easy to get lost in a large station like this one, and there were hundreds of platforms on which the next clue could be. 

When she exited the station to get away from the chaos, she noticed another station guard walking around in front of the station, holding a golden goblet in his right hand. He seemed to be asking people whether it belonged to them. The goblet looked familiar, and an idea sparked through Aimee’s mind. She ran under the overhangs, keeping her eyes on the guard. She couldn’t lose him. 

She tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, sir, I think that’s mine,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Sorry, that’s mine.”

Aimee looked around, trying to figure out who had said that. A boy who looked to be about her age appeared to her left. Spiky brown hair sticking up and wearing frameless glasses, the boy looked victorious. When he caught Aimee looking at him, he scowled at her, and she immediately fixed her gaze back to the guard.

“Okay, children, don’t mess with me. I found this goblet left in a trolley between platforms nine and ten, and neither of you were there before. I was standing there all morning,” the guard reasoned. “Run along now, quickly, before I have to take you to the inspector.”

At the words “between platforms nine and ten”, Aimee sucked in a breath. This had to be the next clue she was looking for. The Hogwarts train stopped at platform nine and three-quarters, and the goblet was so exquisite that it couldn’t have been left there accidentally. Beautifully golden with what looked like a king’s crown as its base, it looked just like the goblet from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Before the other boy could say anything, Aimee cut in. “Oh, my father passes through this station everyday. He’s the station inspector, you see. He recently won that goblet in an auction, and he carries it around like his own pet. He must have dropped it.” Aimee held her breath. I probably pushed my luck there, she thought. She had told a series of lies, just to get that goblet. She hoped it would pass.

The guard stroked his chin thoughtfully, still clinging to the goblet. “Sir did mention a daughter.” He looked at Aimee closely, like she was a museum exhibit. “And you match his description, I guess. All right, miss, here you go.” He handed her the goblet.

The boy’s scowl was even darker than before. His twisted face surprised Aimee for a moment, but then she ran off, back home to solve the next puzzle.

He must be another competitor, Aimee thought, and giggled at how quickly she had fooled the guard.

When she opened the door to her home, her parents bombarded her with questions.

“Where were you?

“You’re not supposed to go out alone!”

“You could have been kidnapped!”

Unfazed by their concerns, Aimee stepped past them and walked to her room without a word. They were probably going to stop her from finding the Horcrux, but she didn’t want that to happen. She didn’t want anyone to interfere with her work when she had gone through so much to retrieve everything in the first place. They didn’t approve of Harry Potter, but no one was forcing them to read it. Her mother would definitely snatch her “toys”, as she called it, away.

Ignoring her parents’ calls, Aimee shut the door to her room and plopped on the bed, studying the goblet. She ran a finger across the smooth surface, occasionally feeling bumps and carvings in the cup, and turned the goblet upside down. Nothing came out, no message fluttered on her bed, nothing. There was nothing special about the goblet, except for the fact that it was a stunning goblet from the fourth book of the series. As she ran her finger across the top of the cup, she noticed an odd engraving. It read:

Erus aert testa erg snamsi erus aem dnoye btiw

Huh? Aimee thought. That doesn’t make any sense!

It didn’t look like a substitution cipher, but it could be. After all, there were two words that were the same, erus. She copied the clue onto a piece of paper and held it up to a mirror. The message remained garbled, and now it made even less sense. Maybe it was another language?

Sitting in front of her computer, she typed the same words into the search box, but nothing came up. So it wasn’t even a language? Not French, Latin, Spanish, or any other language that used the same script as English?

Aimee read the message out loud slowly, word by word, hoping that it was an audio clue. When that didn’t work, she tried to read it quickly, squishing the words together, but she stumbled on each time and her tongue twisted weirdly. Tired of trying to guess and failing, Aimee read the message forward and backward, and her eyes swung like a pendulum. She pronounced the message back and forth, and oddly enough, something started to make sense. 

Aimee copied the message again, but this time she wrote it starting from the end of the sentence. This is what she ended up with:


Aimee gleefully slapped her desk and read the message aloud. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure. Where have I heard that before?”

She repeated the message over and over again and checked her books for any sort of clue that might tell her what the sentence meant.

“Who is witty in the books? Dumbledore, Hermione, definitely not Ron, Harry is brave…brave…that’s it!” Aimee slapped her desk again as the pieces came together. “Wit is a quality, just like bravery. And the people who are witty are…” Aimee paused for dramatic effect, like she was hosting a show, and slapped her thighs like a drum roll. “From Ravenclaw!”

Aimee jumped up and down in excitement, then stopped. The message had been written on Ravenclaw’s diadem. Where was she supposed to find a diadem? She wouldn’t be allowed in the castle near the queen, just because she was looking for something part of the game. Security would kick her out right away. Unless…she went in disguise. She could pose as one of the princes or princesses. She had a tiara and an elaborate pink silk dress with frills that was definitely fit for a princess. She was beautiful enough, anyway. Aimee threw back her blond hair dramatically, giggling at the thought. All she needed to do was gather her costume. She picked out the dress she needed, still not believing that going in disguise would work, but it was worth a shot, and then looked for her tiara, but it wasn’t in its usual spot, on her desk. She never kept it anywhere else, so it was odd that it wasn’t there. Where had she kept it?

It wasn’t until a few minutes later that Aimee remembered that her mother had broken it two days ago. Aimee’s eyes flashed with anger again as she retrieved the broken pieces from the trash can. What was the use now? No princess would go into a castle with a plastic tiara, let alone a broken one. She gazed at it sadly, noticing its pretty features as if for the first time. The shiny blue sapphire in the center of the tiara, braided plastic with vines stretching out like tree branches, letters entwined through the twists…letters?

Aimee peered closely at the broken tiara, with the object an inch from her nose. Yes, there were definitely letters in between the branches. But what did they spell out? They were jumbled all over the place and when Aimee tried to read them left to right, they made no sense. Not again, she groaned. 

She even tried reading right to left, but that didn’t make sense either. What about top to bottom? The letters spelled something out now. It looked like a good day for a scavenger.

Where Harry must die

“AIMEE! What are you doing?!”

Aimee looked up in surprise and dropped the tiara. She saw her mother standing at her door, staring wildly at her. What had she done now? Her mother waved her hand up and down, and Aimee blushed to the color of a tomato. She hadn’t realized that she had put on the dress, but had forgotten to change back. 

“Oh, whoops,” Aimee mumbled. “Sorry, just –”

“Too busy sticking your nose in stupid Harry Potter fandom?!” her mother shrieked. “It’s gotten so bad that you pretend to be a princess or whatever it is in those Harry Potter books?! Honestly!”

“Mum, I wasn’t pretending, I was –” Aimee started to tell her mother about the hunt for the Horcrux, but stopped, thinking that would enrage her even more. She wanted to apologize, but instead she said, “What does it matter anyway to you, huh? It’s not like you love to read anything! I wish you would just leave me alone and stop pestering me with your stupid lectures about focusing on something other than Harry Potter! Georgie’s mum is better, at least she doesn’t pull him away from what he likes to do!”

Instantly realizing how badly she had insulted her mother, she put her hand over her mouth, and she calmed down. “Mum, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to –”

Her mother’s face was white as a ghost, but she held up her hand, her voice quivering. “No, I get what you mean, Aimee. I’m sorry I ever tried to teach you anything.” With that, she slammed the door, leaving Aimee in an uncomfortable silence that tortured her brain. 

Tears welled up in her eyes, and she dropped to the floor, crying. What had she done? She was so captivated by Harry Potter that she had insulted her own mother? She didn’t have the courage to go talk to her, and she didn’t want to continue with the game anymore. Sobbing miserably, Aimee got back to her feet and changed out of her dress. She wiped her nose on her white t-shirt, remembering how she and her mother used to go shopping in the malls on the weekends. She missed her mother’s warmth and how she used to cradle her when she was upset.

The door opened again, and for one fleeting moment Aimee hoped it was her mother. Instead, it was her father, staring wildly at Aimee’s curled form. “What did you say to her?” he asked.

Aimee turned her back to him. “I don’t want to talk about it right now,” she sobbed.

She heard her father sigh and mutter, “Girls.”

When her tears had dried out, Aimee could barely see what was in front of her. A part of her wanted to run to her mother and apologize, but the majority of her, and Aimee hated herself for feeling that way, wanted to continue the game. After debating fiercely in her mind, she decided that maybe if she won the game, if she retrieved the missing Horcrux, then maybe, just maybe, she could show her mother that the Harry Potter series was not a waste of time, and that she actually did something with all the information she had kept from the books. She picked up the crown again and tried to read the letters, but her vision was blurred by more tears threatening to fall. She wiped her eyes and willed herself not to cry, and concentrated again.

She read the letters from the top down, and remembered what the clue had said.

“Where H-Harry must d-die,” she whispered, her voice cracking a little, forcing the lump in her throat to recede.

It wasn’t in Hogwarts, his school, but there had been a ferocious fight between Hogwarts and Death Eaters, or Voldemort’s supporters. Harry knew he must die, after he watched Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Aimee recalled. Harry went to Voldemort to die. They confronted each other in Hogwarts, but that was when Voldemort died.  Am I forgetting something?

Aimee couldn’t keep her eyes open after crying so much, and all she wanted to do was sleep. She would after she figured out the clue. It felt like she hadn’t slept well in days, which she hadn’t, really. Aimee had been too busy pondering over the clues and wondering what she would find next to sleep. Not that this was the first time this had happened. Back when Aimee had been introduced to Harry Potter by none other than her mother, she would spend hours on Pottermore reading articles about Harry Potter characters, and playing their games, often late into the night, when her mother would have to carry Aimee into her bed.

Aimee stared at the diadem as if it would start talking and give her the answer. To Aimee’s surprise, it did! It didn’t talk, but Aimee now noted that the letters were entwined within the branches of a tree. She had seen that before, but she thought the tree was just part of the decoration. Now she realized that —

“It’s a hint!” she exclaimed. “The tree means that I have to go to a forest. The Forbidden Forest! That’s where Harry was supposed to die!”

Aimee twirled around her room, momentarily forgetting that ten minutes ago, she was on the floor crying miserably after fighting with her mother. She already knew which forest she had to go to. That part was obvious. Being a mega Harry Potter fan, she had participated in all of the events that JK Rowling had hosted relating to Harry Potter activities, and one of them had been in Heartwood Forest, where Rowling had given a tour of what the Forbidden Forest looked like in her stories. It only made sense to make that the location of the Forbidden Forest again, and Aimee was sure of it.

Aimee pulled on her coat and looked back one last time at her father, who was watching her go. She stared at him for confirmation, and when he nodded, she opened the door and stepped out into the wind howling.

Aimee knew that she had to go to the forest today itself, for two reasons. One, the Horcrux might be gone by tomorrow, and two, she wanted to fix the relationship between her and her mother as soon as possible. To most people, it sounded absurd that Aimee might be able to convince someone who hated Harry Potter by winning a hunt related to Harry Potter, but Aimee knew that her mother didn’t exactly hate it. It was worth a try, at least.

It also wasn’t odd for Aimee to go anywhere alone. As an only child, she had freedom to roam around London as long as she didn’t go too far, which really meant wherever. Her parents weren’t interested in anything related to Harry Potter, so they chose to let Aimee go alone.

She turned a corner on the street and continued walking until she saw a sign that pointed her in the direction of the trail that led to the forest. Aimee followed the street until it merged with the trail, and stopped. Heartwood Forest was mostly an open field, with trees surrounding it, and pretty purple flowers lining the trail and popping up between the trees. The Horcrux could be anywhere in this vast area, and Aimee was running out of time. She wasn’t so keen on going into a forest in the night, but she had no choice. Deep breath

On and on and on for minutes, which turned into an hour, and still no luck. She looked on the branches of the trees, near the roots, she parted the flowers, and dug through the ground, but the Horcrux was nowhere to be found. 


Aimee gasped. The sound of a person’s footsteps on fallen leaves. “Hello?” she squeaked.


She looked around wildly, and she was sure she hadn’t stepped on a twig. 

It was getting dark. Fast. The sun was slowly dipping past the horizon, and she needed to get out of there before anyone saw her. She still hadn’t found that last Horcrux.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Aimee let out another gasp and ducked behind a tree, peeling her eyes to see who, or what was coming. Someone was looking for her. She couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was being watched.

 She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Her vision was partially blocked by the trees spanning across the area, and the footsteps had stopped too. She couldn’t move ahead with her mission until she was certain that she was alone. Suddenly, she smelled a strong stench of rancid cheese, but she couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Aimee covered her nose with her hands, but she could still smell it. It was all she could do to keep from throwing up.

“Where is that smell coming from?” she whispered, her eyes tearing up.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

The person was on the move again. 

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. 

The footsteps were getting faster and faster.


The footsteps were getting louder and faster, and still Aimee couldn’t see who it was. The smell was stronger now, like it was right behind her. 

Right behind her.

Aimee froze. She could hear herself breath. Slowly, with her back still to whatever was behind her, she stiffly stood up, careful not to stumble backward.

There was a sudden gust of wind, and it carried a whisper.




She took a step forward, away from the person or thing behind her.

I’m right heeere.

She wasn’t going to linger around now.

Aimee broke into a run, pushing herself to speed up, out of the trees and into the fields. The whisper sounded like a call, pulling her somewhere, but it was still creepy. She stopped, panting, and looked over her shoulder. There was a dark shadow among the trees, and it looked like a boy as tall as Aimee, and there were spikes erupting from his head. He looked familiar, but there was no time to stop and check. He wasn’t running, but he was watching Aimee as she ran.

She continued running through the fields when her foot got caught in something and she stumbled and fell.

“Ow,” she moaned, and lifted herself on her elbow. She crawled through the grass, finally finding what had tripped her. A small, rectangular package wrapped neatly in brown paper sat innocently in the grass, waiting to be opened. Aimee didn’t want to wait until she got home. She couldn’t hide it from her parents. It was too big to fit in her pockets, but it was as small as a diary.

Was it a diary?

Aimee’s curiosity took over, and she ripped open the packaging. It was a two sided photo frame, with a photo inserted in each side. The border was made of dark-chocolate brown, polished wood, and the word FAMILY written in cursive on top. On one side of the frame was an illustration of  Lily, James, and Harry Potter when he was a baby, all happily smiling back at Aimee. On the other side was a black-and-white photo of a little girl in a plaid dress laughing, with two young, happy parents smiling down at her. 

When Aimee shook the paper to see if anything else was in there, a small piece of paper fluttered out.

To the person holding this note:

On one side of the photo is a photo of Harry Potter when his parents were still alive, and on the other side is a picture of my family, when I was a little girl. Both of these are my closest family. This Horcrux is not what it’s supposed to be. I’ve put my soul into this Horcrux, but out of love for both my families. I hope you make many Horcruxes like this and cherish them forever.

Joanne Rowling

Aimee grinned at the message. She knew what she had to do. Clutching the message and the photo frame tightly in her hand, she jumped up and ran home. She needed to make a Horcrux.

She swung open the door to find her parents standing in the living room, talking, but without waiting any further, she ran to her mother and hugged her tightly.

“What?” her mother exclaimed out of surprise.

Aimee kept her hands firmly around her mother’s waist and gazed into her soft, brown eyes. She looked just like her mother, with her almond-shaped brown eyes and the straight, white-blond hair. She wanted her mother. She wanted her father. She wanted Harry Potter. She wanted all of them.

“I’m sorry, mum. I really am,” Aimee whispered. She really meant it. “I love you.”

Aimee buried her face in her mother’s shoulder. Her mother wasn’t shocked anymore.

There was a long moment of silence, and then Aimee felt a warm hand stroking her hair.

“I love you too.”

What is Ganesh Chaturthi?

Shri Ganesh

Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most popular festivals celebrated in India. Ganesha is the god of wisdom and prosperity, and Hindus joyfully and hopefully worship this god for an easy life ahead. Ganesh Chaturthi falls in the month of Bhadrapada, on Shukla Chaturthi. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated to commemorate Shri Ganesha’s birth and arrival to Earth.

A popular story behind the reason for this festival starts when Goddess Parvati goes to take a bath and makes a clay idol of a boy. She brings it to life and tells the boy to make sure no one comes in while she is bathing. Shiva, the destroyer, had tried to go through, but Ganesha would not allow him. In the heat of the moment, Shiva cut off the boy’s head. To make up for this sin, Shiva replaced it with an elephant’s head, representing animals, and granted Ganesha the power to create obstacles for the harmful deeds of the demons and remove obstacles for good deeds, hence his name Vighnaharta. Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in order to gain wisdom and succeed in whatever auspicious task they choose to complete.

The worship of the god himself has been recorded since the fourth century CE, but it was freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak who publicized this festival, around 1893. Because Ganesha represents all people, Tilak used this as a way to connect people and unite them as true Indians against the British, lighting a determinate fire in their souls. He used this as an opportunity to make plans with other leaders to overthrow the British government. Since the British could not deny the Indians of their religion, they had no choice but to let the Indians proceed. In this way, Ganesh Chaturthi became a public festival.

Ganesh Chaturthi is special mainly because he represents the union between nature, animals, and humans, and by worshipping the god, people symbolize the harmonious lifestyle between nature and humans, which help each other thrive by removing obstacles through their own work, and also helps remove their past sins.

In India, each area has its own way of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. In Gujarat, Ganesha resides in their homes for 10 days. A Ganesh idol is placed on a bed of rice and welcomed with showers of milk and water. Ganesh idol is decorated with chandlo which is made with kumkum and sandal paste and aarti is performed after lighting incense and saying many prayers.

In Andhra Pradesh, people perform a Ganesh puja and read mantras and stories about Ganesha. They throw rice mixed with turmeric onto the idol of Ganesha and offer prasad, which is tamarind rice and sweet Pongal.

In Rajasthan, people celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi publicly. People cover a large image of Ganesha with kumkum, then put a garland of red flowers around an idol of him. Motichoor laddoos are also made, as they believe it to be the god’s favorite food. A common tradition in India is to not look at the moon during Ganesh Chaturthi.

My family is from Maharashtra, where Ganesha Chaturthi is the most popular. We clean and decorate the house to welcome Ganesh for 10 days, though in different parts of Maharashtra, the day Ganapati goes back home depends on when his mother Parvati arrives, on Bhadrapada Shukla Saptami. We dress up in bright new clothes on this day. My mother makes twenty-one modaks, which is believed to be Ganesha’s favorite dessert, and are offered as “naivadyam”. We also offer durvaa-grass to Ganesha. My dad sets up the pooja. When everything is set up, we perform an aarti. Ganesha Chaturthi is my favorite festival of the year. There is always a happy environment in the home. Modaks are also my favorite food, and Ganesha is my favorite god. Most importantly, I continue to learn Indian culture even though I live in the US.

Bring your terminal to life with Zsh


ZshI have been using Linux for a better part of two decades now but I won’t say that I am an expert in Linux. Till recently I didn’t even know that I could change shells and what capabilities other shells have. I was more of a functional and casual user than anything else who knew how to get a few things done but didn’t know the internals and the intricacies of the operating system. One of the intricacies is to change the default Linux shell from bash to zsh. Zsh is indeed a powerful shell with a lot of extensions, customizations, and community support with themes to tailor the shell to ones own preferences. That was another thing I didn’t know that there are themes for shell. I always used to think that bash shell is what you have and you have to use it without complaints.

Well, I was wrong and there are a lot of things you can change about your terminal and in this blog post, I am going to show you how to do it. I know there are a lot of tutorials around the web that show you exactly this and some are good than others. But this is more for me than anybody else. Really. When I started working for AWS, I got an opportunity to meet very smart people who have extended the capabilities of software tools to the limit of what they can do and then some. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to learn more and more about the basics so that I can have a very solid foundation.

Why Zsh?

By installing a different shell, you can actually decorate and customize your plain old command prompt to something fancy very easily and you have a lot of options. Of course, you can also customize and decorate your command prompt on bash shell, but for that you need to know a lot of configurations and parameters if not all. And you need to build the configuration file by hand as well.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a vibrant and strong community support and there are several themes available along with pre-made scripts that you can just run and choose options to configure and tailor. That’s what I plan to show you in this post.


All the Linux installations come with a bash shell by default. Depending on the distribution you use, there might be other shells also installed but we need to ensure that Zsh is installed. I am using Ubuntu to show the commands. The steps remain the same on a Red Hat clone as well. Red Hat clones use yum to install and maintain software whereas Debian and its clones use apt.

  • Ensure you have Zsh installed. Run the following command.
    sudo apt install zsh -y
  • Check if the Zsh installation is done properly and where it is installed by running the following command.
    which zsh
    It should show an output something like /usr/bin/zsh
  • Now that Zsh is installed, change your default shell to zsh by running the following command.
    chsh -s $(which zsh)

Once the command runs successfully, restart your session in order for the terminal to start in the new shell environment. Once the terminal starts, the Zsh configuration scripts starts automatically to enable the user to configure settings and preferences. We are not going to do any configurations at this time and will leave this for later once all the components are installed and ready. On the prompt, select 0 to Exit and create a placeholder .zshrc file so that the script doesn’t run again.
(0) Exit, creating the file ~/.zshrc containing just a comment.
That will prevent this function being run again.

Now we are getting to the good part. First of all we need to install and download Oh-my-zsh. Oh-My-Zsh is a delightful, open source, community-driven framework for managing your ZSH configuration. Download and run it using the either of the commands below. Generally all Linux installations come with wget preinstalled and you will have to install curl. Curl is a powerful tool for testing and debugging and if you don’t have it, don’t worry about it and don’t bother downloading it. If you don’t have it and don’t know about it, you probably won’t need it.

sh -c "$(wget https://raw.github.com/ohmyzsh/ohmyzsh/master/tools/install.sh)"
sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/ohmyzsh/ohmyzsh/master/tools/install.sh)"

Next we need to make the terminal our own by installing and configuring themes. There are a lot of themes available for Zsh but my favorite is PowerLevel10K. To use it first clone the Powerlevel10K repo using git. If you don’t have git, install it by running sudo apt install git -y on your terminal.

git clone https://github.com/romkatv/powerlevel10k.git $ZSH_CUSTOM/themes/powerlevel10k

Once this is done, we will clone auto-suggestions and syntax highlighting repos which are plugins which extend the capabilities of Zsh a lot. Again there a lot of plugins available for Oh-my-zsh but for now we will concentrate on these two.

git clone https://github.com/zsh-users/zsh-autosuggestions.git $ZSH_CUSTOM/plugins/zsh-autosuggestions

git clone https://github.com/zsh-users/zsh-syntax-highlighting.git $ZSH_CUSTOM/plugins/zsh-syntax-highlighting

Now that all the major components are downloaded and ready, it’s time to personalize, configure and make the terminal prompt our own. Open .zshrc (It’s located in your home folder) file in your favorite editor and add the following linesZSH_THEME="powerlevel10k/powerlevel10k"

Uncomment the options to activate them as needed. I suggest the following options.
CASE_SENSITIVE="true" # Around line 21
ENABLE_CORRECTION="true" # Around line 45

Finally add the plugins that we cloned earlier for autosuggestions and syntax-highlighting at around line 71
plugins=(git zsh-autosuggestions zsh-syntax-highlighting sudo)

Once done, save and exit. We are not done yet. We need to install a font that will allow us to use cool fonts and icons to spice up the prompt. The font that we need is Fira mono font. While the font itself is free from Google, we need the patched version. The entire fonts library is available on Github. The fonts library is a huge one and you don’t really need all of those. Just download the medium regular complete font and that will be sufficient. To install it, you can either double-click on the font file and open it in File manager and click install or create a .fonts directory in your home folder and copy it there. I recommend the first option to install it system wide.

Once installed configure Terminal app preferences –> Profile –> Text to use Fira mono font to harness the power of Oh-my-zsh

At this point you need to log out and log back in to ensure the changes made so far are persistent.

After logging back in launch Terminal. The P10K configure will run for the first time. Follow the prompts to complete the set. My suggestions for the configuration are:

  • For Prompt Style choose (3) Rainbow
  • For Character Set choose (1) Unicode
  • Choose whether you want to show current time on the command prompt or not. I suggest (3) 12 hour format
  • For prompt separators choose (1) Angled
  • For prompt heads choose (1) Sharp
  • For prompt tails choose (1) Flat
  • For prompt height choose (1) One line
  • For prompt spacing choose (1) Compact
  • For Icons you can choose your preference. I like a lot of fonts and I recommend (2) Many icons
  • For Prompt flow choose (1) Concise. Again this is a personal choice. I recommend Concise
    • Choose (y) to select Transient Prompt to provide a clean work area
  • Choose (2) to have Quiet Instant prompt mode
    Choose to save to .zshrc and apply the changes we just made.

And that’s it. You are done! You now have a fantastic command prompt.

Preparing for AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional


They say that AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional is one of the most AWS SA Pro Badgedifficult AWS certification exams. I am very excited that I passed it in the first attempt. To tell the truth, I was extremely nervous about the exam. You see, till I joined AWS in March 2019, I didn’t have any experience or even exposure to AWS. I knew about cloud and what it is and what it can do for businesses of course, but didn’t really know about the technologies, the architecture, the scope and depth of AWS. From there to now when I am a Certified Solutions Architect for AWS at a professional level is huge. Even if I say so myself. So how did I get here? Well, that’s the story I am going to tell here. I promise I won’t bore you with any gory details of what the technology is and how I spent hours and hours studying and reading (which incidentally I did), but this will be quick recap of my experience and what I found useful and what to ignore.

The Prep

It took me about 6 months exactly to date to take this test from the time I appeared for my previous exam. Not all the time was spent on studying and preparing for the exam. There were times when I got derailed and didn’t quite study for days at end. But overall I anticipate it would take somewhere in the range of 3-4 months at a minimum to really prepare well for this exam. I initially started with the SA Pro course on Linux Academy as I had really good experience with it during the SA Associate exam and the course is really in-depth with the trainer – Adrian Cantrill going deep technically and provides a lot of hands-on demonstration and labs along with a lot of links to product documentation which is immensely helpful to read and understand the service and product in detail.. And it was definitely helpful to be familiar with the screens even though they were outdated. And that was the problem with that course. It was made in early 2019 and for a myriad of reasons, it has not been updated and now that A Cloud Guru has acquired Linux Academy, ACG is pushing students to use their course. And since it was slightly more updated and recent, I completed that course as well. It has nowhere near the depth and detail of the LA course, but the trainer – Scott Pletcher does a fantastic job of explaining the concepts and preparing the student for the real world scenarios and walks through the questions step by step which was helpful. More importantly, he provides a lot of links of re:Invent videos and links to white papers which are crucial to read before even considering to take the exam.


There are so many whitepapers on the AWS site that you can spend all your time reading those for several months and not get through it. So you need to be very judicious in choosing which ones to read. My recommendation is to read the following ones without fail. There is also some recommendations on the AWS training site which provides some guidance on preparing for the exam.

Although there are a few more you should read, but these are the absolute minimum.

The FAQs on the AWS site are also a very valuable resource and it has a lot of information. FAQs have been vilified by its overuse and nonsense FAQs that some companies put on their sites. But the FAQs that AWS has put together are really very high quality and it provides great overview of the service and its boundaries and capabilities. Spend some time going through as much as you can but at a minimum review the following:

The next resource is the product documentation. Product documentation can be very long and boring and at times confusing. But the level of detail it provides is just amazing. You may not have to read the developer guide cover to cover, but figure out which areas are a little weak for you and invest time in reading that section of the documentation. Regardless of your comfort level, one of the most important documentation you can read is AWS Organizations. It is really useful. But consider reading some of the documentation from the list below.


Youtube is a great resource if you use it well. AWS has created its own channel and they post re:Invent videos on that channel and a lot of tech talks that they host. They are great and can provide 300-400 level information. I strongly recommend that you spend some time watching the re:Invent videos. Make sure to watch the re:Invent videos that are at least 6 months old as services and features announced within six months will not appear on the exam. I recommend watching the videos for:


Finally, there is no substitute to practice. Take as many practice tests as you can. Whizlabs has a lot of practice exams. Although I found the questions to be oriented more toward development and some of the answers were flat out wrong, but it helped clarify things quite a bit and forced me to read product documentation which otherwise I would not have read.

Exam day

Finally on the exam day, take plenty of rest and calm your mind down. If you are into meditation, then I would recommend meditate for some time before going to the exam. It really helps with the concentration as the exam is really long at 180 minutes and 75 questions and it can be very intense. If not, then find the way in which you groove the best and go for it. In today’s world sitting in one place without having any gadgets and / or notifications is not very easy. A couple of hours before the exam, avoid drinking too many fluids as there are no breaks in between and if you need to use the rest room, the exam timer continues to wind down. So plan accordingly.

Reading long questions and longer answers is very tedious and it is very easy to miss an important point. One of the strategies in reading long answers is to read them vertically. While the technical definition of vertical reading is very different, I am using vertical reading to mean that you scan the text of the answers vertically and try to identify the salient points that differ and would make sense in that scenario. In several situations, the answers are very similar with only one or two things different in each answer. Focus on that. Choose the one that BEST suits the situation asked in the question. Reading horizontally can tire you out and it is very easy to get lost in the word jungle and miss the right answer.

With all this preparation, it is possible that during the exam you might feel that the exam is easy and you may lose concentration and focus. The trick is to take few very short breaks at a strategic intervals to keep focus and stay sharp. The exam center provides you with a piece of paper and pencil. Use it to draw architecture diagrams to visualize the question and also write down your thoughts. It helps.

Final thoughts

With all these preparation, I am certain you will pass the exam easily and with flying colors. AWS certified solutions architect professional is a very valuable certification which not only will enhance your career prospects, but also help in increasing and improving your understanding of the cloud and highly scalable, resilient and highly available architectures.

All the best!

The Volcanic Eruption

A short story by Nandini Dharwadkar

VolcanoThere were many volcanoes near our village. For a long time they were dormant, but I knew that they were active volcanoes and would erupt sooner or later. I asked my father about this, but he always laughed it away and said that we will always be safe and nothing will happen to us. But I think, he too knew that the volcanoes would erupt soon and destroy our homes. He kept it from me so I wouldn’t be scared and worry too much. My sister Tallulah, was scared too and asked me, “Tehya, will we be safe?”
One day, there was a rumbling noise and earth shook violently. Suddenly, I realized that this is what I had feared the most. My father shouted, “Everyone! Get your most important belongings and let’s all hurry to a far place before the volcano destroys our village!” We all obeyed knowing he was right. We all ran to a far distance. When we stopped, we saw the lava bubbling down the mountain to where we first lived, destroying and burning everything in its path. We were all very distraught and heart-broken. I was extremely sad as that was the only place I knew as home.
We all recovered very quickly because we knew that if we stood there mourning about what had already happened, we would not get anything done and solve our problem. So my father gathered us all and we made a plan. We would first collect enough wood, enough to build 5 house (there were 50 people in our tribe). Then we would make weapons out of some of the extra wood to hunt animals for food and clothing and to protect ourselves. Tallulah and I were in charge of getting the wood for the houses. It was hard work, but we completed the task. After we were finished, some men started constructing the houses. It took our tribe a whole day to form a new village, but when we were done, we were all satisfied with our work.
At night, after everyone was asleep, I secretly went to our old, burnt village. I missed it very much! I thought of the good memories we had in the village. I thought of when Tallulah was born. That was the best memory. There was a lot of commotion around our house because everyone had come to see the baby. Suddenly, a hand on my shoulder interrupted my thoughts. It was my father. He said, “Those were some good memories, eh?” We both laughed and started back for our new home.

How to unblock file sharing on Windows

Have you ever come across a situation where you want to access another computer via itsFirewall Options UNC (\\computer-name\share) and came across a “Network Path not found” error? Although not too uncommon, this errors can puzzle you in cases where you know all the services required for file sharing are running. I faced this issue the other day and finally after a bit of tussle, I managed to solve the problem. We were trying to access a computer at one of our remote locations and it was giving this error. What made this even more puzzling was that local users were able to access the same computer by using the UNC path. We tried all we could and knew but still the error was the same.

Then I searched on the internet and found some references and a very useful knowledge base article (KB article number 840634) on Microsoft support website which addressed this issue. Apparently somebody had enabled the firewall and the firewall is designed to block File and Printer Sharing from any network and allow access only in the same subnet in its default configuration.

To allow file and print sharing on your computers from any network, follow the steps described below:

  1. Click on Start –> Settings –> Control Panel. If you are using the Windows XP Start Menu, you can find the Control Panel on the right side of the start menu.
  2. Category view: In the category view, click on the Security center and then click on Windows Firewall to open the Windows Firewall configuration window. In the Classic view, you will see the Windows Firewall icon.
  3. Ensure that the Do not Allow Exceptions check box is not checked on the General tab
  4. Click on Exceptions tab and highlight File and Printer Sharing and click on Edit…to modify the settings. The file and printer sharing is done through port number 445.Enable Port 445
  5. Highlight the TCP 445 and click on Change scope… or just double click to edit it. In the resulting screen, select whether you want to enable for any network for just your network or for a custom list of networks. In case you choose custom list of networks, you will have to manually enter each subnet you want to enable for it to work.
  6. Click OK your way out and now you should be able to access the computer(s) over the network using UNC path.

A word of caution: I don’t recommend setting the scope to Any as is shown here. It means that anyone who can reach your network will be able to access the computer over the network. Either select just the subnet you are on or explicitly define the subnets that you know and trust that would be required to connect remotely using UNC path.

Dasara Greetings and Blessings

Greetings and blessings on the auspicious day of Dasara.


On this very auspicious day of Dasara which marks the triumph of good and truth over evil, may the Lord bless your lives and bring joy to your lives. Dasara is the day on which Lord Ram killed the demon king Ravan to defeat Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) and ended a period of terror and torment of common people by the "Asuras"; evil personified.

Dasara (also called as Dusshera, Vijayadashmi) is celebrated all over India with much fan fare with exchanging visits and wishes to relatives and close friends and by seeking blessings of elders. In most parts of India, people enact "Ram Lila" a short play on the life of Lord Ram which culminates into Lord Ram burning the effigies of Ravan, Kumbhkarna (Ravan’s brother) and Meghnad (Ravan’s son). Watch this beautiful song from the film Swades which captures the spirit of Dasara very aptly and the burning of the effigy by Lord Ram.

The burning of the effigies is symbolic to cleanse society of all evil by burning it. The looks and the feelings on the faces of people when Lord Ram arrives is just great.

Here’s sharing warmest greetings and blessing with you all. I pray for us all to root out evil from our society and live in peace and harmony with each other.

Ayurveda: The Ancient Indian Science

The diversity of spices and herbs used in Ayurveda cooking…simple, yet deeply rooted in science.

Ayurveda is the oldest known practice of medicine in India, about 5,000 years old. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, and it translates to “Science of Life”. As etymology goes, ayur means “life”, and veda means “science” or “knowledge”. What is the history behind this knowledge? What concepts lie in this science deeply rooted in Indian culture? Why is Ayurveda important and what are its benefits?

 History of Ayurveda

Ayurveda has been around since c. 3300 BCE, from ancient Vedic culture. It is said to be an eternal science that started from Brahma, the creator and the universal consciousness, who then passed it down to Dhanvantari, who accepted the knowledge through meditation. In this way, Ayurveda has been taught orally and through example for years until it was written down in the well-known texts known as the Vedas and Ayurvedic texts were available in the 8th-century BCE. Some of these texts include Charak Samhita, Sushurta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridaya. They discuss ayurvedic methods of healing and how Ayurveda evolved.

  The earliest known practice of Ayurveda comes from the Aryans, the people who formed the center of civilizations in the Ganges Basin. They had begun to practice positive spirituality taught in the Vedas, and were cultivating the rice, mung beans, urad dal, ginger, and turmeric that were included in the Ayurvedic diet. 

However, its practice was not confined to India. As invasions by Genghis Khan and Mughals in the 13th and 16th centuries CE, respectively, made their way into conquering India, Ayurveda became the preferred way of medicine for many foreigners, and was able to rise to a higher standard throughout the world. Even as the British took control and tried to force a new way of life onto Indians, Ayurveda inspired the founding of the Indian Medical Institute in 1763, where botanists tried to understand the science behind Ayurvedic plants and methods. Even though the popularity of Ayurveda soon receded into the traditional outskirts of society, as India regained independence, its practices and beliefs were acknowledged and revived by the new government, and has continued to spread throughout the world. 

Ayurvedic Beliefs

The goal of Ayurvedic tradition is to maintain and balance health through the balance of the mind, body, and spirit, all of which are connected to the universe. This can be achieved by the right thought process, a healthy diet, and nutrient-rich herbs. When either the mind, body, or spirit is imbalanced by stress in a person’s consciousness, diseases are caused and the connection between the mind, body, spirit, and universe is disrupted. 

What exactly could be defined as health? A person is made up of a unique pattern of energy of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics. This energy causes the nutrients to distribute within the body, keeps a high metabolism, and acts as a lubricant for keeping cell structures together.  The five basic elements of nature, space, earth, air, water, and fire form the three basic types of energy, called doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. They control body functions, bring in positive energy, and are used to define people of their strengths and weaknesses. Usually, one of these doshas is dominant in each person, another is secondary, and one of them is least prominent. Depending on which one is dominant, a person develops positive characteristics that pertain to that dosha. However, when one of these energies is imbalanced (due to stress on consciousness), the cells do not function properly; good health is ruined. 

Vata Dosha

The Vata dosha controls the basic body functions and movements, such as cell division, breathing, blood circulation, heart functions, blinking, and defecation. This energy is the strongest of all three, and it is composed of the elements space and air. When in balance, the Vata dosha promotes creativity and flexibility. This positivity is disrupted by over-frequent eating, fear, grief, and staying up too late; this develops into anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems, and rheumatoid arthritis. People who have a dominating vata dosha have a tendency to let go of things as easily as they can grasp them, such as having high energy but easily exhaustible, or earning money quickly but spending it almost immediately. Vata people are also less confident, weak planners, and susceptible to diseases. They are attracted to raw vegetables, but have to eat warm, cooked food and juicy fruits to keep their diet stable. 

Pitta Dosha

The Pitta dosha controls the body’s metabolic system, the absorption of nutrition, and body temperature. It is made up of fire and water, and when these are balanced, pitta promotes intelligence and understanding. This can be disrupted by eating extremely sour or spicy foods or spending too much time in the sun; this imbalance causes anger, hatred, and jealousy. People with a primary Pitta dosha externally have medium height and build, and have many moles and freckles on their face. Internally, they have sharp intelligence and penetrating ideas, strong metabolism and appetites, and have ideal leadership qualities. Pitta people like to exhibit their material prosperity and are easily agitated and aggressive toward hate. As for the diet, Pitta are attracted to hot spices and like cold drinks, but salads, dairy products, and sweet foods are best for them. In order to balance this dosha, people should avoid excessive heat, exercise during the cooler part of the day, and eat cooling, non-spicy foods. 

Kapha Dosha

The Kapha dosha controls muscle growth, weight, body strength and stability, and the immune system, and it holds bones, muscles, and cells together. Since it has formed from Earth and water, it also supplies water for all parts and systems in the body. When in balance, the Kapha dosha expresses love, calmness, and forgiveness. However, by sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods or foods with too much salt and water, Kapha will provoke attachment, greed, and envy. With a dominant Kapha dosha, people have excellent strength, endurance, and stamina, yet they gain weight easily and have a slow metabolism, as they do not like exercise. These type of people are also calm, tolerant, and forgiving, and have a reliable long-term memory, but are vulnerable to flu, sinus congestion, and other diseases involving mucus. As for their diet, Kapha people are attracted to sweet, oily, and salty foods, but are balanced by bitter, astringent, and pungent foods. They also avoid sweet and sour fruits, and beans, raw honey, garlic, and ginger are best for Kapha people. To balance this dosha, people need to get plenty of exercise and avoid heavy foods. 


Ayurvedic treatment helps regain balance and harmony with life, by increasing resistance, reducing stress, and removing impurities within the body, cleansing it to prevent disease. Ayurvedic treatment falls under 8 categories, as it depends on where the imbalance has occurred: 

  • Kaayachikitsa – Internal Medicine
  • Baalachikitsa – Pediatrics
  • Bhuta Vidya – Psychiatry
  • Shalakya Tantra – Ear, Nose and Throat Treatment
  • Shalya Tantra – Surgery (not practiced in the United States today)
  • Vishagara Vairodh Tantra – Toxicology
  • Jarachikitsa/Rasayana – Geriatrics and Rejuvenation
  • Vajikarana — Aphrodisiac Therapy, Fertility, and Conception

Usually, herbs, common spices, and oils are used in treatments, and these ingredients can be cooked into foods that possess specific healing properties. A common Ayurvedic food is Kitchari. The cooling spices used in it, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, mint, and fennel help reduce inflammation in the body. 

Ayurveda is a science containing deep knowledge about the human body, but it is definitely not magic. It simply states that keeping stability in life the only way, and really the simplest way, to maintain excellent health.

दसरा!! Dasara – The festival of joy & righteousness

Apta Leaf
In Marathi, there is one saying
“दसरा सण मोठा,
नाही आनंदा तोटा”

This means that Dasara is such a festival which is full of joy, happiness and commemorates the triumph of good over evil. We celebrate the nine days beginning from Ashvin Shuddha Pratipada as “Navaratri” and the tenth day is celebrated as “Dasara / Vijaya Dashami”. In 2020 अश्विन शुद्ध प्रतिपदा falls on Saturday October 17th.

During this vowed religious observance, a pot is installed (घटस्थापना) at a sanctified place at home. A lamp is kept lit in the pot for nine days. The pot symbolizes the universe. The uninterrupted lit lamp is the medium through which we worship the effulgent Adishakti, i.e. Shree Durgadevi. During Navratri, the principle of Shree Durgadevi is more active in the atmosphere.


There are a lot of anecdotes relevant to Navatri and Dasara. They say the demon “Mahishasur” started terrorizing Swarga Loka (Heaven) and Prithvi Loka (Earth) after Brahma granted him a boon that no man or god would be able to conquer him. . He invaded Swarga Loka and defeated the king of gods Indra and took control of Swarga Loka. He drove all the Devas (Gods) out of heaven. Eventually, they created his nemesis in the form of a young woman, Durga, also known as Shakti or Parvati. She combined the powers of all the gods to fight Mahishasura. The goddess then attacked Mahishasura’s empire, and after nine days of fighting, during which Mahishasura’s army was decimated, he was finally killed on the tenth day of the waxing moon by her incarnation Kali (which appeared from her forehead). Durga was henceforth called Mahishasuramardini, the killer of Mahishasura.

9 Forms of DurgaNavaratri is celebrated to worship nine forms of Durga Maa with fervour and devotion. Navaratri is celebrated in different ways throughout India. In Gujrat, they try to please the Goddess by a special dance called “Ras-Garba”. In Bengal the festival of Durga Puja is celebrated. In Kearala, the “Onam” festival represents Navaratri and Dasara. They believe that Bali raja was so kind, that even if he was pushed to Patal lok (The nether world), he would come to the earth to see if everybody is doing good on Dasara.

In Mysore (an ancient city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, around 125 Km from Bangalore) there is a tradition of holding a grand procession through the streets of the city with the idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari riding in a golden Ambaari (elephant-seat).

Jai ShriramIn North India, Dasara is the day when Prabhu Shree Ram killed the demon Ravan. So the nine days are dedicated to Ramlila i.e chanting Rama Bhajans and on the tenth day statue of Ravan is burnt. The burning of the effigies is symbolic to cleanse society of all evil by burning it.

There is a very interesting story about why we give the leaves of “Shami” to each other on Dasara. They say that when Pandavas went to “Adnyatwas” they hid their weapons on Shami tree. And when the Adnyatwas was about to end the Kauravas took away the cows of Raja Virat under whose shelter Pandavas lived. So to save the cows Arjun got his weapons back from the “Shami” tree and that was “Dasara”

There is another very interesting story about the “आपट्याची पानं” (Leaves of Shami tree).
Apta Leaf
It goes like this:

Once there was a boy names Koutsa, who wanted to offer Gurudakshina to his Guru. his guru after Koutsa insisted, asked for 14 crores (140 Million) of gold coins. now Koutsa didnt have as many coins so he went to King Raghuraja. To fulfill his demand, Raghuraja decided to attack Indra and get the money. But when Indra came to know that Raghuraja was going to fight him he was scared, later he knew the main reason of the fight. So he requested Kuber (Treasurer of God) to load the “Shami” tree with gold coins. Now Koutsa offered all the coins to his guru but Guru accepted only 14 crores of coins nad asked Koutsa to put the remaining back on the tree. Later on those coins were distributed among people, and since that day was “Dasara” we give each other the “Shami” leaves symbolically.

Indians give a lot of importance to start any project, journey, activity or make a purchase at an auspicious time. According to Hindu Mythology there three and a half very auspicious days (साडे तीन मुहूर्तांपैकी एक) in an year on which you can start any project or make any purchase without waiting for an auspicious moment. Dasara is one of those days. Therefore many people buy jewellery on the occasion of Dasara. The 9th day is “Ayudha Pooja” when everyone gives their tools of the trade — pens, machinery, books, automobiles, school work, computers etc. a rest and ritually worships them. They start afresh from the next day, the 10th day which is considered as ‘Vijaya Dashami’. Many teachers/Schools in south India start teaching Kindergarten children from that day onwards. Students also pay homage to their respective teachers as they are considered the third god (माता, पिता, गुरू आणि दैव – Mother, Father, Teacher & God).