Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Books that Make Me Want to Pack My Bags

Reading, thinking, going...


"Not all who wander are lost," said JRR Tolkein and who better to say it than someone who had created an entire new world and filled it with magical creatures who inspire you to greatness.  

Since this post is about books that have made me want to go on voyages even if I do them in my dreams, I will get on to it with only a short preamble.

For those who don't know me, I have always lived surrounded by books. It's not a big deal since books have given me so much in return. Apart from stories and knowledge, books have opened my eyes to so many hobbies, cultures and understanding of human mind that I could possibly never have learnt otherwise.

As I adapt my mindset to write more, I keep returning to the books that I have read over the years. It is not such a bad thing to do actually because tried and tested is always a good idea - even when reading.

Here's a list of some of the books that have always fascinated me and called me back from the shelves in my home. But, most of all, they have pushed me to travel, pushed me to explore - even if it was my own city that I walked around in:


City of Djinns by William Dalrymple

Perhaps no one has loved Delhi so much before it became an Instagram phenomenon than William Dalrymple. A Scottish by birth Dalrymple has been living in India for several years now, hosts one of the most famous book gigs in the world, Jaipur Lit Fest and if you read the book then, there's no way that his love for the much-maligned an highly-polluted city will not rub-off on you.

The story of Delhi is very close to my heart and it's just not because I am a Delhi'ite myself. The story of the seven or as some insist, nine cities of Delhi are so full of blood, glory and intrigue that it feels like the life of a real living person like an epic hero.

Dalrymple, an outsider opened a door through this book that has stayed closed thanks to our history being rewritten by the British who had carefully wiped out every glorious narrative to prove the "white man's burden" myth.

City of Djinns is a series of chapters that open up a year of the then-young author's stay in the city that at once delighted and nauseated him. 

It made me long for Delhi for seven years when I was in Bombay and made me want to go walking around gathering stories, myths and mythologies that make Delhi.

Must read if you want to know Delhi beyond the Qutab Minar and Red Fort.   


Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater

Sometimes it takes a great idea to write a great book which makes the reader want to follow your footsteps to pull equally crazy stunts. Frater does it with flair. He starts the book by sharing that he was born on a rainy day on a remote Pacific island. The first line of the book reads, "The first sound I ever heard of was falling rain."

And though I know many who are born on an overflowing rainy day including my own sister, there is only one man that I know of who made chasing the famed Indian Monsoon a successful book project. 

Monsoon does not come in a single strand. It comes from two directions and apart from India, it touches upon a few other neighboring countries. Frater jumps into the fray or should I say, rain, with a gutso, gets drenched in the local cultures on the way, makes friends on the go and does the madcap job of giving the Monsoon a run for its money.

It's pure adventure and unadulterated daring that the author pulls off the torrential rains, open gutters and a thrilling chase. One of the best travelogues I have read and it definitely goaded me into bringing out the umbrella and stepping out to explore every puddle when rains came splashing down in Bombay the year I read it the first time.


Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Yes I know that I quoted Kipling a few paragraphs back, without naming him, as a White supremacist, but, hey! I am ready to forgive and forget the Nobel Laureate because of this one book that turned me into a road tripper. I can never forget the extraordinary story of a little boy across the Grand Trunk Road that was first published in 1900.

It's pure romance when you are a teenager trapped at home during the scorching summer vacations in Delhi. It's so vivid and well written that it feels like you are a part of the team in search of the mystic river/ spy trail - whichever is your poison.

It's one of the best road trip books that I have ever read and no one does adventure the way Kim and his friends do. If road trip / spiritual journey / spy game is your cup of tea, please pack your bags, get the car ready and don't forget to carry a copy of Kim. Go, conquer the Himalayas.

I think, I will go back to it again after I finish this post. :)


A few for the road.


Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I was not in a very happy phase of my life when I first picked up this amazing, almost magical book about a woman's journey through three countries that change her life. But, reading it made my heart whole and hoping again - not exaggerating. 

Gilbert's story is true and she has given all the proofs needed to support this through her online presence over the years. Yet, the story almost reads like a self help book that could easily be fiction. 

It takes you on a journey through Italy (eat), India (pray) and Bali (love). The author explores each of the culture with particular focus on the aspect she wants to explore in each country. She eats her way through Italy that makes her happy, goes for spiritual upliftment to an ashram in India that leaves her confused and finally finds love in exotic Bali.

I can't think of anyone who after reading Elizabeth's narrative did not want to walk the same route that she had taken. That you will want to go back to it again and again is guaranteed.


Brick Lane by Monica Ali

When I read this book for the first time, it kind of bridged a gap somewhere in my head or heart - I am not sure. I had grown up listening to stories of our village that now lies across the border in Bangladesh and reading of the British who had ruled the country for 200 years and who a they parted split up the country and injured it's heart forever.

Monica Ali's Brick Lane brought me face-to-face with both, the Bangladeshi diaspora - people I have never met in real life - and a post-colonial London that was sitting on a tinderbox which has burst today in so many blasts. 

It was a story that traced my roots to a different world which was at once so familiar and yet not at all because, I am neither Bangladeshi, nor Muslim or British but, while reading this book, it made me believe that there was a link, a very strong link that makes me who I am today. A link that I need to figure out someday. And it made me believe that perhaps that trail leads somewhere in London where I think it will all fall in place. Not in Dhaka from where my family migrated, not Delhi where I was born and live in but, far away in wet and slippery London where everything seems to be hidden in full view. It needs reading and reading to understand the writer's portrayal of the various characters - the Bangladeshi diaspora that has made London its home. It's uncomfortable to read. The book was shortlisted for Man Booker but, panned by Bangladeshis who felt that it painted them as caricatures - as stupid villagers and religious bigots. 

But, for me, it went beyond the characters. It made me want to explore it find out more.

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh is by far one of the best craftsmen of the written narrative. The reason why I have chosen this book is because it again resonates with the stories I grew up with. As a child I had heard and known many families that had moved back from Burma because the regime changed overnight. Many of them were very well-established Bengalis. It was like the partition nightmare all over again.

I didn't understand much except the fact that their ordeal was somewhat like my family's. Exodus and migration is never a happy topic to write on but, Ghosh manages it all very masterfully by crafting history and magnificence of Mandalay and the fall of the ruling dynasty into the narrative. 

It traces an epic journey through several countries and thousands of miles. It's got all the ingredients to keep you occupied, royal coup, history, exotic locations, great storytelling and perfect prose which is a hallmark of any of Ghosh's novels. It made a strong picture in my head and that is one place I want to go to one day soon.


So, these are some of my favorites. I assure you that my shelves have many more because, travel stories were told in caravan sarais and village addas much before printing was invented forget, Instagram. Because most humans probably come preset with the wanderlust gene. Travel is in our blood. 

Happy reading,  happy chasing your world of dreams. 


Image from the Internet

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

From Saving my Ma from Zombies to Losing my Family to Zombiehood



I woke up at 5 am today and with a distinct memory of saving my ma and me from being eaten up by a bunch of zombies pretending to be human. 


I swear we were invited to a posh restaurant with dark interiors and grey walls by a very suave ex-student of my mom's who looked a bit like a Bollywood A-lister last evening. I did hate all my mom's students at one time because she loved them and spent a whole lot of time with them but, didn't remember this guy. Though my ma seemed to remember him well enough to accept his invite. To me, he looked smarmy right from the start. What clinched the deal for me however was the fact that he was willing to drive us both in his luxurious dark-tinted SUV and anyone who knows me knows how I hate to drive.

So, off we went, nicely dressed and happy. I was dreaming of the lovely food that I would get to click for my Instagram account while, ma was busy chatting up with the 40-something 'boy'!

We reached this posh and unlisted looking restaurant whose entrance looked like that of an old fort with grey exposed rocks and accompanying arches. It looked pretty cool with vintage furniture and liveried staff.

I was so busy dreaming of kebabs and biryani by now that I couldn't wait to get inside and start. I however saw that the place had valet parking before we all went in to meet this middle-aged smarmy guy's family - this was a lucky thing to do. 

The inside was a bit of a let down because once you entered, the walls didn't change. They were still grey exposed stones as outside. The furniture was very flimsy and the people looked almost lost in their own world. Most-importantly, there was no aroma of food. But, I chalked it all up to - bad place to eat and walked with my ma to the table where the family of some kids and their mom was waiting for us. I was looking at a very boring evening by now and all dreams of food photography was off because the place hardly had any light.

We sat down. The entire trek from the door to the table laid out at the back of the restaurant took a while because of my ma's bad knee, She shuffled and walked leaning on her cane while the smarmy 'student' held her hand smiling like he was eyeing a trophy. My ma was obviously soaking in all the attention.

We sat down finally, I insisted on sitting next to ma - thank God!

After a while, I realized that there was no food coming in and then a strange feeling hit my spine. I turned around to see a sea of deadened eyes looking at us as if we were a feast served. I looked back at them archly like any Delhi girl used to having people stare at them in public places. But, suddenly as my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw a sea of grey faces and some with cracking make-up. 

I knew in a jiffy that we were in the wrong place and in wrong company thanks to all the paranormal romances I have been devouring in the last few years. I knew we were the dinner!

My only worry now was to get ma out of the place quickly which is next to impossible because of her arthritis. I turned back to the table to suddenly see that the kids were eyeing my ma with similar hungry eyes as the others at our back. The smarmy guy was still acting suave and so was his wife though her make-up had started cracking. Ma was oblivious to all and talking 19 to a dozen with the devious duo.

I had to do something and I did. With SFX-defying speed, I stood up dragging ma up from the flimsy chair that broke when it fell. Ma yelped and I said, "grab the cane."

She did it with the speed of a parent who is tired of her defiant-since-teenage rebel-wihout-cause offspring and looked up. I said, "run".

She looked at me as if I had finally lost my mind. With regret on her face, she turned to our hosts who were yet to order dinner and finally saw what I had already seen - the drying make-up that had fallen-off the smarmy guy's cheek showing a row of dirty exposed teeth and rotting gums.

It was perhaps the teacher in her that got really disgusted by the lack of hygiene despite having taught it to all her students that she got wildly angry and suddenly picked up the stick and whacked him on his head. 

I must say, that her action took everyone in the room by surprise and bought us a lot of time. I knew already that zombies are slow on the uptake thanks to the paranormal series I had been devouring and broke into a run pulling ma by her wrist. 

My only fear now was the arthritic knee that might stop us from making the escape. I spied a closed doorway on my left and suddenly remembered all the airline safety drills that insisted on telling you about the doors on the left and right that "open in case of emergency." This was a bloody emergency said my brain and I dragged ma to the door.

And yes, it opened. Because, it WAS an emergency.

We were out in a sunlit lawn and there were shaded deck chairs full of - yes - more zombies!

I knew that we had walked out into the frying pan from the fire but, still we were out in the open and we could see things clearly. I also suddenly realized that ma could keep pace with me. I looked at her and then her knee and up back at her with awe in my eyes pride in my swelling heart and like some Bond girl she shrugged her shoulder delicately and kept running with me.

My heart swelled in gratitude to see her walk without any pain. I loved this moment more than anything but, we had zombies to get rid of before we could rejoice.

So, I shoved her into an alcove in a stoney wall which was covered with moss and flowers and put a finger to my lip to tell her to keep quiet. The zombies on the deck chairs were stirring a little and I could hear a bit of a commotion coming from inside the faux-restaurant - or was it a real one for "zombies only"?

Anyway, I had no time to loose. I ran to the the edge of the parking and spied an old and battered red Maruti 800 and quickly memorized the number off the twisted plate. With that I ran back to ma and took her out of the alcove and walked boldly back to the entry. A swarm of zombies ran past us - apparently looking for us, so we held our breath. No breath means you too are a zombie - thanks to my knowledge of paranormal literature.

We quickly made it to the front door and I gave the number of the red car to the liveried staff who didn't at all look like a zombie - how were they managing to stay alive? There was no time to investigate or even ask because, they could tip us off to the swarm of greys still running around in the garden looking for us. 

Anyhow, the car came in, I took to the wheels, ma got in quicker than me still clutching her walking stick like a talisman or a weapon of mass destruction and I strapped her to the seat. I drove like a manic without sparing any rubber till I remembered that the zombies could follow our tracks and slowing down. When I checked left, ma was fast asleep like my baby niece often is after a day of adventures. 

What woke me up was the fact that the zombies knew where my folks lived. I had to move them quickly to my place.

It was still dark when my eyes popped opened and the phone said it was 5 am. Adrenaline levels were still high in my blood and the zombies had lost us for good.

By 9 am I was already up and around for four hours. So, decided to call ma to see if she was doing good. I must confess that I half expected her to be unwell while the other half wanted her to be rid of the pain like she was in the dream. 

So, she picked up on the nth ring when I was about to hang up and walk down to her place and said, "you are awake?"

I must say that was a low blow but, I managed to carry on saying, "yes and also done with tea, Yoga and breakfast."

Her reply was a very casual, "oh."

I thought something was wrong and asked her if all was well. 

She sounded sad and said, no, Nonie - my niece - was unwell and had been sent to her already for the day because she was not going to school. I tut-tutted and said, "can I talk to her?"

My ma said, "I don't think she'd be interested."

I was aghast. I said, "how can you say that?" 

She totally side-stepped that and said, "Are you coming now?"

I said, "Do you want me to? I can if you need help with the baby."

Her answer was a bored, "not really."

This conversation was getting messier by the minute. Had the zombies attacked my parents' home?

So, I persisted, "what's up with you all?" 

She sounded really bored with the conversation by now and said, "we are watching Masha and the Bear and Masha has made dresses out of all seven of the bear's towels and now he has nothing to dry himself with when he takes a bath..."

My head was reeling. "WHAT?"

I heard my niece's voice suddenly shouting, "didu, didu, the bear's in the shower..."

My ma said, "I have to go now. The bear's in the shower," and disconnected.

Surely, the zombies have won and even my little niece is one of them. So, much for my trying to save my family from the attack of the zombies. 

Realization: As long as there is the television hanging from the drawing room wall. My family will be a part of the zombie tribe however much I try to save their souls. 

Friday, 2 February 2018

The DIY Managing Life Changes List



Change is perhaps the only constant in life and therefore, must be embraced with affection. It may not be a great thing always though and needs to be identified and dealt with as soon as you realize it is not doing you good.

Look at migratory birds that fly thousands of miles to avoid Arctic winters. Fly away from toxic changes as soon as you are able to identify them.

I believe that just like the birds we are all equipped to avoid toxic changes in our lives that hurt our well being. I am not talking about toxic people. Those you need to get rid of first before you press the reset button. These are the people who may have pushed you into the darkness in the first place. Don't worry about losing them. The world is full of amazing people waiting to meet the best you. 

It's difficult to make life-altering changes like getting rid of anger and depression. I can say this because, I have fought both with all my might. The former more than the latter.

Anger is like an all-consuming, red-hot and live piece of coal in that you are holding in your hands. The more you flail your hands, the more it burns and hurts you. Because, oxygen - duh!



Anger makes us lose our wisdom, go crazy for long periods of time when all you see is red. It's toxic. It gives you among other things, health issues. I get blinding headaches whenever I am angry. I hate being angry because, that is not my base nature. I am a happy-go-lucky kinda person (or would like to believe so because, believing is the first step into being) who gets on in life because I don't take things too personally. It's a very womanly trait. In normal life we call it, adjustment - all women are taught to adjust because they are expected to.

But, despite my mother's constant effort to make me a loving and adjusting kind of person, I was plagued by anger for a long time - for good reason too.

It took me a project that I worked on with a group of Buddhist practitioners to realize how anger had turned into my base nature because of circumstances. Thankfully with that realization, I could make a strong decision and get rid of it. It was pretty much easy once I had accepted that anger had taken over my personality.

Similarly, depression. I realized I was unable to do the most basic of things without feeling martyred. I would feel sad and everything, even the smallest of tasks seemed impossible to achieve. I told this to a dear friend during a phone conversation where she asked me why I had stopped meeting people. She was astute enough to point me to the right direction. From there on, it was my job to pull myself out of the hole I was sinking into. Not that others had not pointed it out before but, I had never accepted it until it came from her because, she was battling the demon with medicines and therapy because, it had gone too far already.

Change is difficult. Mood changes even more so. Strangely enough when you are plagued by moods, you end up doing some pretty impressive stuff too. I know because I do. Then, you start believing, "Wow! This is so cool. I think, I like it this way."

That is a bad decision to take because, the more you to stick to it the more difficult it gets to rid it off your system.



The first thing to do however, is acceptance. I think (and I am not a doctor) that acceptance of a problem is the first step towards righting it. Unless you accept that there is a problem, you can never work towards a solution.

Here's my list of getting over mood changes with the hope that someone out there reading this post is able to change the direction of their life like I was not once but, many times:

1) Accept the problem

2) Think of the root cause

3) Look inside yourself to find the solution

4) Be the change you want to see - imagine and achieve

5) Become aware of the catalysts and look them in the eye - don't be afraid of them

6) Make lifestyle and routine changes

7) Talk about it with trusted people

8) Make lists (if needed) and follow your own advice


9) If it is impossible to change the root cause, then stop worrying about it and start planning your life away from it

10) Exercise and keep yourself occupied - Read, write, dance, play with kids, watch happy movies, pursue hobbies - whatever it takes

11) Help others in need - no biggies needed, help an old lady cross the road, a child learn a poem. Anything that gives you instant warmth

12) Be thankful and grateful for all that you have

13) Tell people who are important in your life how much they matter

14) Plan your future - nothing long term but, you can easily have short term goals which when you achieve will give you immense pleasure

15) Do the things that used to make you happy as a kid - lie on a sheet of cloth and count stars or watch clouds, play catch with the kids, drink milkshakes or read comics - whatever picked you up when you were little and easily pleased

16) Laugh a lot, giggle and smile at even the silliest of jokes instead of rolling your eyes

17) Spend time with your family and be constructive at home - volunteer to buy groceries, cook or clean up the cupboards



18) Keep a diary - at least in the beginning

19) Read the diary to see how far you have come

20) Finally and this is my DIY pick-me-up formula when things go on recession mode - eat things you love and photograph the moments for happy memories to fall back on when things look bleak

I know that it may not be a great list from a medical point-of-view but, I never took medical advice. I just went for it with the mindset of a conqueror and developed this template for myself.

Today, when winter is finally turning into Spring - literally, I decided to share my list with others who are finding it difficult to adapt to change.

Have a rocking February!


Tuesday, 2 January 2018

From Being Chased by a Washing Machine to making a New Year Resolution


I seldom dream or as most people have told me, care to remember any of them. But, when I do, I try to decipher it because it is usually a once-in-six-months kind of oddity. 

On the last day of the last year (2017), I went off to sleep around 11 pm because I was shit tired. I had worked long days on the 30th and 31st and was in no position to go out or wait for the fireworks to go off. I fell on my bed and literally died till I was woken up by my own voice trying to shout but, sounding like that of a wounded animal in pain. 

I think it was the sound that woke me up. I have never shouted in my sleep ever before or been woken up by my own voice. 

As I opened my eyes to a grey room I recalled the dream vividly. I was being chased by a washing machine inside a home and I was running away from it. 

I also recalled thinking someone was pushing it to follow me and that if I shouted for help, I would be rescued by people - most probably my family - who were in the next room.

I tried shouting but, I was unable to. I tried really hard a few times and that is when I made that garbled noise that woke me up.

As I came to consciousness in my own bedroom in the apartment I live in alone, I was scared for a bit. What did happen? Who was trying to chase me? Why was that person or apparition hiding behind a washing machine of all things to chase me down?
Questions that my mind started forming within minutes of my waking up. By the time my breath returned to normal, I was wondering what message was my mind trying to share with me.

Then suddenly I realized it was the new year and the old one just slipped away while I was sleeping. 

As is human, I started feeling happy about the new and soon forgot about the crazy 'chase scene' and fell back to sleep dreaming of fresh new stuff. After all, who doesn't love the new?

In the next two days, though I did not stop thinking about it and discussed it with my family. My mother found it extremely scary - but, she is my mother. Then, my sister asked me something very interesting, "Are you running away from something?"

That was a good start. So, I started thinking if there was any truth in her query. There was no one to ask but, myself and I spent a lot of time thinking if I was indeed trying to run away from anything in particular. 


A day later - today - I opened up dream interpretation sites and read about chase dreams. Bingo!

She was right. That exactly was how chases were explained. 

I have been running away from a whole lot of decisions from a long time. I have been procrastinating and even avoiding my own counsel. 

It doesn't take a lot of insight to interpret a dream when you are nudged in the right direction. 

The washing machine was probably my own creative imagination that made me make up all the fancy and Surf Excel excuses that help me put off doing things by another day and then another and yet one more. 

So, my super-simple new year resolution would be to worry not and jump into the fray.


There's not much to lose is there. A wise man (may God rest his soul) had once told me many years ago, "there are only two ways a situation can go. Negative or positive. There is no in-between." 

Somewhere in the rat race called life, I had forgotten this absolute gem of an advice and started worrying too much about failing. It's silly in the long run to be scared of not doing something because of the fear of not passing with flying colors.

Life is actually simple because, either we have or we don't have certain things. What we have doesn't come with a guarantee of forever after and what we don't have is always a possibility that we can achieve.

My father, another wise man whose interpretation of life is really very simple always insisted that everything goes away eventually. I have been so burdened with the scare of losing that I had stopped taking the leap of faith. 



This year when it came through, tried to jolt me awake and make me aware of my inactivity. 

It was funny too for the simple reason that probably the universe was irritated by my status quo or maybe it was my inner self. So, something as innocuous as a washing machine was used to chase me out of my stupor by powers that be. 

Once I had uncovered the meaning of the great chase and scream dream sequence that made my life exciting in the pre-dawn hours of the new year, I laughed. I laughed hard at the exasperation of my self that is so tired of me putting things off.

It made it very easy for me to form my resolution - "get moving"!

Have a great and awesome new 2018 and, "get your ass moving people!" Because, it is always better to chase your dreams rather than be chased by them. 

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Stay Healthy to Stay Happy this Winter


And just like that, winters are upon us! The days are short and nights are long and foggy. You hear stray cats and dogs crying all night out in the streets and the bed when you get into it is as cold as a bucket of ice water.

And though, Christmas makes a big splash followed by New Year celebrations, the fact that December holds a mirror to what's gone by makes things even worse for most people.

The easiest thing seems to be basking in the Sun during the day or sitting in front of the heater / hitting the sack in the evening. Which in turn makes you feel guilty because, you have wasted another day that could have been productive. 

Contrary to urban legend - mostly revered during school and college days - winters are not about hibernation for humans - especially the morning and daytime. Nor are all humans nocturnal beings. 

If anything, winters should propel you into action. The weather is nice after sweating through the heat and wading through buckets of rains it is a welcome change from the heat and dust that ensures that you stay holed up inside or parked yourself near an air conditioner. 

The thing about winter is that it always creeps up on you and like most things that creep up, winter brings with it a whole lot of dissatisfaction when it suddenly jumps on your back.

It took me years to realize that cold and dark weather makes my mood go cold and dark too. It brings with it a feeling of isolation and loneliness. The cozy comforter may not always be the reason why you don't want to get out of bed, depression is a very big reason for wanting to stay put and hide with your favorite pillow. 

It took me almost a week of trying to get up and about but, failing to make it before mid morning to realize all is not well. As I work mostly from home and don't meet 'real' people most of the time, I was virtually sitting ducks for winter to take a pot shot at me.

Once I started feeling irritated with my own habits, I decided to scourge the Internet to check if there was something actually wrong with the pattern I had fallen into - waking up very late, getting too few daylight hours and falling asleep around early morning at 3 or 4 am.

What I found out was kind of scary. I was a prime target for SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. 


Though not as huge a problem in India as it is in places with very less sunlit hours and longer winter, it is not uncommon here either. 

Since I am NOT a psychiatric I shall not try to explain the disorder per say but, that it brings with it mood swings, feeling of lethargy, depression, anxiety and in serious cases, suicidal tendencies.

The next thing that I did was to look for alternatives to break the rhythm. I tried the usual things that one is supposed to do when suffering from depression till I was able to make a dent and break the badly-effected sleep cycle.

If any of you think, you are feeling under the weather too, I would suggest that you try some or all of the things I did to get myself back on the healthy track. These are small things that you can add to your daily routine to make the winter blues melt into the blues.

Walk


I don't jog because of the pollution in Delhi but, I walk. If morning is too cold then, take a walk mid-morning or early evening. It's all good. Avoid going out with a bunch of people and gossip because, it will not help at all. Also, don't take the car out for short trips to the market - walk. Walking clears your head and makes happy hormones flow. In short, walk is a great exercise. Try to take in the nature around you when walking. You could also listen to soothing music as you walk to take your mind off distractions.

Practice Discipline


I had once read that Earnest Hemingway used to wake up in  the first hour to write and no matter how wasted his night was, he would not give up this habit. Though I am no Hemingway, I have tried to discipline my life and though I don't need to go anywhere in the morning, I have tried to set a routine to my life. I now wake up with an alarm clock and work during the first half of the day. It usually frees me up by lunch time. I look forward to the evening for pursuing things that give me happiness like watching a movie or reading a book or going out to meet friends and family. Because I have finished my work first, I don't feel any panic to get back to it till the next morning.

Eat Well


Food is the most important reason why humans have probably come this far. Never keep the revered stomach empty. If you are hungry, you are bound to feel low. So, eat well and eat in short intervals to help your metabolism high. Keep the stomach filled with good food - no processed stuff out of the box please. Winter is the best time of the year to buy fresh produce. Eat fresh salads, fruits and dairy products. Drink a lot of water and tea to keep yourself hydrated. The heater sucks out a whole lot of precious water from your body. Remember to keep a bottle of water handy to keep chugging. 

Avoid Alcohol

Try and keep away from the bottle especially if you are on your own. Alcohol dehydrates your body and makes you crave for more because there's no one to talk to. In the end it brings you down. So, keep off. 

Clean Surroundings


If you live alone like me, then the chances are that you don't feel like cleaning up because, there's no one to see. That is a very bad idea. Keep your home neat and clean. You should always feel happy and welcome in your surroundings. A clean and tastefully done home gives out good vibes and makes you happy. So, clean up fast especially the areas most in use starting with your home office to your bedroom to kitchen and bathroom. 

Smell Great

It goes without saying that you should take regular baths. But, try and keep the area around you smelling nice. You can burn incense, oil or just use a room spray that makes your nose happy. I was recommended camphor by a good friend and have realized that using it on a vaporizer helps not only to perk up the mood but also, fight clogged nose and keep bugs away. It makes me feel energized and happy too.

Pick up a Hobby

Or two. I can never recommend it enough especially if you are an introvert like me. Hobbies keep you happy and can be anything that interest you. Even feeding the strays in your area. It need not be highbrow or expensive. You can just doodle on a notepad and see what comes off and even that will give you a sense of achievement and a high.

Laugh


Do whatever it takes to exercise your facial muscles. You can join the local laughter club, read funny books, subscribe to websites that send jokes in your inbox or watch a sitcom. Whatever it takes, laugh as much as you can. Personally, I interact with little children to crack me up. Their antics are enough to make you laugh for a whole day. After all, laughter, they say, is the best medicine.

Cook


Cook as often as you can instead of opening a can or cutting a carton. Cooking is a fine therapy and the sight and smell of home-cooked food is an instant pick-me-up.

Pamper Yourself 


Don't feel bad to take a day off for relaxation. Go for a spa or use DIY masks at home everyday. The idea is to keep you looking good to create a happy self-image.

Join a Group

If you don't have a great number of friends because you have shifted base, then don't despair. Join a local group of people pursuing the same interests as you. It can be a book reading club, a Yoga group, a group of nature lovers or cleanliness volunteers. The more people you meet the better.

Volunteer 

Giving really makes you feel instantly happy. Join a group of volunteers or go on your own to the local old age home or orphanage to help out. Nothing is too small. Even feeding the birds in your balcony can bring in immense satisfaction. Give it a try.

Meditate 


This is the most difficult thing to do for most so, I kept it for the last. But, meditation, especially when done as a group activity can really change your outlook. Try and get into a meditation group if you can but, if that is not possible, go on YouTube and channel your inner self towards positive energies. It is not too difficult once you have conquered discipline and cleaned up your environment. Try it for keeping the head clean to be able to fight the negativity in you. It is really important to know your own self to make a change in your situation.

The most important trick is to be grateful for whatever you have and feel thankful for the glass half-filled.

Be safe and most of all, be happy. 

Do share your own experiences (if any) in the comments section or, if my hacks helped you fight the freeze any better.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Writing is a Creative Art



I was going through some emails from various organizations and placement companies that are constantly looking for freelance content writers recently. I was going through them with customary nonchalance that has become the norm now when such emails hit my inbox.

Most of them want the same output at similar pathetic budgets. Let me put down here some of the ‘usual offers' that pour into the overstuffed inbox:

  • Need 18 - 25 articles (in a month) if you are a fresher, in case of experienced writers, the demand can exceed 50 articles in a month. They can be from any sector or industry. Internet can be used for research. All articles should be rewritten and proof-checked.
  • We will give you a wonderful platform to showcase your talent but, sorry we can't pay as publicity is a priority over content. We want great quality content with original images, if possible.
  • Need articles for websites. Will be paid 30 paise per word (1 rupee is 100 paise). Length of article should be around 1000 words... etc. etc. etc.

Many learning and training organizations also seek the earth and the moon (read customized and quality training content) at ridiculous budgets and practically zero timeline.

After going through such emails for years now, I have decided not to raise to the bait ie. write back saying, "Sorry. You are being ridiculous." I just ignore or delete them in my attempt to keep my inbox clutter-free.

I know that consultants are not supposed to be negative about work of any kind because, hey they are ‘possible’ clients! And we depend on them for work. We are supposed to grin and be polite like some rag doll with a permanent smile painted on its face or a housewife forced to make laddoos like Sridevi in her comeback film, English Vinglish, to supplement her income. But, I choose to differ.

I have decided to completely ignore such summons. I have in the last few months even listened to many such pitches where the person-concerned tried to sell their wonderful concept to me soliciting my 'help' to put it on paper without discussing 'money' because, it's all between 'friends'.

But, wait a minute please! "You would not have suggested that I work for free if I was "really" your 'friend'!" 

I don't mind a few friends here and there who go ahead and tell me upfront that they are stuck and need help for which they cannot pay. I am perfectly fine with that. I get stuck and often seek help too.

But, people in general need to understand that writing is a creative art. It takes time, patience and craftsmanship to be delivered. It is in no way a cup of Instant Coffee.

Also Read: How to Write a Story

I take pride in what I do. I do it well. I am a writer and I treat my talent as something precious.

I am sure that there a whole lot of people willing to work for a lot less or even for free but, the quality of their work shows that they don't know the first thing about writing.

I had done a piece on story writing earlier. I have also done workshops on creative content writing for teams of 'writers' on the same. I realized however, that though everyone loves a story and often has several to tell, most are unable to follow the basics even after they have gone through the program. It is not easy to write a coherent story or even article with proper flow if you are not willing to learn the basics. 

The problem with most ‘aspiring’ writers being, “I know because I studied in school…” Sorry! You learnt only the basics of grammar and how to answer questions in school. That was definitely not content writing. It at best gives you basic communication skills through the written word. It would be great to accept the truth and learn how to write first before picking up jobs that helps you pay pocket money or maybe not even that going by the price of written words quoted by some of the advertisers.

I have also been told by many that people who often advertise such ridiculous sums often end up not paying at all. Well! I don’t blame them. You agreed on the ridiculous price in the first place, then delivered content lifted from the Internet and maybe they decided you have credibility or quality issues and refused to pay for shoddy work. It is perfectly understandable.

Most people don't understand that the Internet is at the best, two dimensional and at worst, a space where wrong information is teeming and crawling for attention.

Writing from the Net and for it is not writing because, it lacks the depth, feeling and understanding of the topic and that shows. The end result is shoddy and can easily be traced by the original writer because it is hastily slapped together with just about no care to even change the grammatical mistakes in the original story.

If you are lucky, you will not be caught but, if you are then, be ready to pay the price of such a transgression. It can be heavy.

Writing is a fine art and like most arts, it is not only something inbuilt (you are simply born with the talent) but, also something that comes with practice. You need to be critical of your own words and expressions, need to read extensively and with a keen eye for detail.

Anyone who says that they are professional writer but, don’t like reading or just read ‘airport / railway station literature’ needs to rethink their chosen profession.

If you don’t read, do not understand the nuances of dialogue writing, the power of words correctly used to convey a feeling and not to showcase your familiarity with the ‘lexicon’ or if you cannot write without being ‘inspired’ by other articles or stories need to take a rain-check. Maybe, it is really NOT your calling. 

You may earn a living out of it but, it may not be enough because, you are not passionate about it.


If you still think you want to write. My suggestions would be start with the basics:

  • Read. Read as much as you can in the language you want to write in.
  • Then, learn to write short, well-crafted original sentences. Keep them simple.
  • Write short paragraphs to capture real experiences you have had using short, succinct sentences and dialogues.
  • Bring out the sentences and paragraphs after a week and check for possible improvements.
  • Rewrite, craft, make others read them and seek active criticism.
  • Rewrite again. Keep writing and rewriting till you feel it is good enough to be shown to someone from the fraternity or to be entered in a contest.
  • Meanwhile, don’t stop reading. 


Writing demands lifelong improvement just like any other skill especially if you want to pursue a career in it. 

Styles change with the season, new words enter the vocabulary. Delivery of dialogues undergo changes as new words make entries. The society changes sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly and a writer needs to capture all such changes in their craft.

Remember there are no shortcuts to this. If you want to be a professional writer you should be ready to be a lifelong student. Only then, will you be able to command the price for your skill.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

My Thanksgiving Speech Sans the Turkey Roast


It's Thanksgiving once again and amidst amazing pictures of dinning tables and happy families across the seven seas I thought I'd get going with my thank you list - a tradition I started last year.

Let me tell you right here that this not a festival I celebrate personally nor do we get around the table at home and carve a turkey nor has it caught on in India - yet. But, I simply love the spirit of Thanksgiving. 

Being grateful brings great joy. It gives immense satisfaction. It makes one feel positive and happy and I like being happy. 

So, here goes my list for the year gone by. And... my vote of thanks goes to:

Family and Friends

As is the tradition - from what I have seen in innumerable Hollywood movies - I want to start with thanking my family and friends. Thank you, all of you and even if we did not get to speak at all this year, know that I cherish you all and am immensely thankful for your presence in my life. As is wont to happen in life, towards the sagging end of glorious spring - which I am going to be holding on to for a few more decades - I have realized that life is about relationships and nothing is more precious than human interactions. I will always be grateful for having you all around in all corners of the planet and know that there would have been no story of my life without each one of you in it. Thank you! Thank you and Thank you all! 

The Internet

This year because I have been working as a consultant without any fixed brick and mortar office. I would like to thank the Internet from the bottom of my heart for being there and making this miracle happen. I couldn't have done it without you! Lots of love and immense gratitude.

YouTube

Being a consultant and setting up a practice of my own also meant that I spent long hours at home working and calling strangers on phone and rushing out once in a while to meet people and working the official odd hours. Which means, I had scant time to actually go out and get entertained. This is where YouTube came to my rescue. From movies to comedy to gossip and news, I just had it all whenever I could find time. Considering I have not had a cable connection for more than a decade now, thanks to the new tube I can enjoy the magic of motion pictures once more! Thanks especially to the ever-sassy, IISuperwomanII, Pemberly Digital and Hallmark Channel's family-oriented love dramas. I know it sounds totally sappy but, hey! It's Thanksgiving. I refuse to lie. Thanks for the clean-cut and guilt-free entertainment any time I am free. 

Twitter

Oh! Thank you for making the adrenaline rush without going to the treadmill! It's a war zone out there and I really don't know what I'd have done without the excitement. It's addictive to invite trolls and then cry foul when the insults start! Ahhh! For cheap thrills! I love, love, love this site for bringing out the pseudo-intellectual snob in me. It's a great workout for the idle mind - I swear! 


Instagram

Who needs to go to a spa to relax when you can see the world in one click and be sucked into a fairy tale universe? I love the Instagram like nothing I have or perhaps will - err... maybe that was a perfect example of over-commitment but, hey! I live in the present, so... It makes my faith grow in leaps and bound for the planet Earth. The most beautiful planet with the most photogenic houses run over by the cutest and most well-mannered kids in perfect clothes with perfect kitchens overflowing with lovely food, the beautiful ladies and pearls of wisdom. The list of all things beautiful here is overwhelming. All's well with the world and God's in Heaven! Amen! 
PS: It's addictive. I think I may need rehab after a while for being this delusional first thing in the morning. Gee! But, Thanks for the awesome dopamine high every morning. Who needs dope? #instadope #instahope

Pinterest

My teenage life's greatest wish was having scrapbooks full of beautiful pictures that were actually my wishlist and what do you know? I have boards that take me to La La Land whenever I want to bail out. I used to love Pinterest the most till Instagram happened but, it still remains one of my favorite guilty pleasures. My secret scrapbook of my ultra secret wet dreams of fashion, travel bucket list, art, vintage cinema... all in one place on the worldwide web. Thank you so much!

Kindle

Though I only use the App but, nothing beats the pleasure of snuggling up in the bed and reading on the phone's white light - ruining my eyes beyond repair - and falling asleep with the phone lying flat on my nose making me sneeze and snore! But, that's just a very small price to pay. I just love all the free paranormal and young adult fiction that makes me feel less than half my real age and actually ready to take on the world till I wake up with an achy breakey back in the morning. Sigh! But, hey I love it and I will always be thankful of the fact that I can continue reading easy fiction without choking my home with more books. What more can one ask for? #Instaentertainment #Instahappiness

Writing

I can never be tired of thanking the universe for giving me the ability to write. It is the best thing in my life - it pays my bills, puts food on the table and lets me express myself like I can never do in person in a room full of people. Thank you dear ancestor whoever shared your gene with me!




Random Acts of Kindness

Over the years I have realized the hard way that no man or as in this case, woman, is an island. To all the random people who have ever appeared in my life out of nowhere just to give me a smile for no reason, the strangers who have taken my side out of the blue in a room full of people pushing me to a corner, people who have shared a seat in a crowded Metro or saved me from slipping on wet floor - happens all the time, shared water on a hot summer day or just randomly put a hand on my head to say, "God bless!" for no reason. I am thankful to you all for having appeared out of the blue  to cheer me up whenever life tried to break my back - happens all the time. You all make me feel happy to be a part of the human race and though it may sound too uncool and sentimental but, I wish on this Thanksgiving to be able to be like you kind people who taught me the greatest lesson in life, "it's always possible to be kind!"



Thank you everyone who I have already met and those I am yet to meet. I so look forward to getting inspired by you kind folks for the rest of my life. 

Thank you universe for putting me where I am and taking me through this amazing journey called the story of my life!

Thank you!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

In Defence of Khichri

Khichri for comfort after a rough day. Anyday!
I must say that from the time that the khichri debate has started since yesterday I have been shocked. It seems that the present government wants to make khichri the national food of the country and that was enough to stir up a whole hornet's nest. The moment a Bombay daily declared this, a hue rose in the social media, people decided that it was a bad idea and many even said that it was eaten only when someone falls ill hence, it doesn't deserve the status of National Food.

I was upset for a lot of reasons and decided to not get into the Twitter war at all. Apart from retweeting a comment by Omar Abdullah where he asked if we'd now have to stand up and eat khichri, I was not too moved by the whole debate - especially the against part. 

Though I feel that I must confess why?

And here's the reason.

I love khichri!

For me it is the perfect comfort food. I love it. Period.

My dad is particularly scared of the days when I volunteer to cook dinner. His biggest fear being that I will end up making khichri and he'll be expected to eat it without grumbling. But, my dad's a sport. He grumbles but, eats it up.

My ma and my sister on the other hand, refuse completely. They's rather eat bread and milk and go to bed than have khichri. I find their whole attitude pretty bourgeoisie. Very preconceived like the rest  of those who are opposing the move to 'make khichri the national food' campaign.

I have never understood this lack of PR that khichri seems to have. Although I do agree that most people don't get the khichri right. They either make it too bland or thick or make it like a mash of lentils and rice which, I agree is inedible. You can sample this in any hospital and you will know what I am talking about.

Some people make khichri with black lentils or sabut urad and it goes for a toss because, black lentils take much longer to cook than rice and the result is really messy.

I have over the years tried making khichri or kedigree as the British call it in many avataars. On the onset, I must tell you that I will NEVER recommend it being made with black urad unless you soak the lentils separately for much longer than the rice or, start with cooking the urad first and then add the rice - which takes away from the authenticity of the dish!

I have made khichri with chicken and also love the one where I dry fry the moong dal before making khichri which is a very authentic Bengali version of it and is famously known as Bhuni Khichuri. But, I usually love my own version of it. 

So, my khichri is either made with moong or masoor dal. Here's the easy-peasy recipe for my favorite comfort food for dinner at the end of a rough day.

Take equal amount of rice and dal and wash it thoroughly.

Soak them together for say half and hour.

Meanwhile, peal a potato and dice it into four parts.

Take half a carrot and cut it into chunky pieces.

Take a few florets of cauliflower and cut them into medium sized pieces.

Wash a few leaves of palak or spinach.

Take a pinch of haldi, jeera or cumin powder and salt to taste. 

Take a pinch of cinnamon or dalchini powder.

One bay leaf or tejpatta.

A pinch of cumin seeds or sabut jeera.

Some green chilies chopped or cut from the middle - depending on your palate.

Take a clean pressure cooker, add a bit of ghee and wait for it to warm. Add a pinch of cumin seeds and bay leaf and wait till they crackle.

Add the potato and some salt to the ghee and saute it.

Add the carrots to the potato and saute some more.

Add the cauliflower to the mix.

Saute all the veggies till they are semi cooked.

Add the haldi and the jeera power and turn around to cover all veggies. 

Add the green chillies and stir till the mix starts smelling delicious.

Drain the rice and lentil and add to the veggies and stir a bit till everything is nicely mixed up.

Add the spinach and stir a little more.

Add water stir a little.

Add the cinnamon powder in the end.

Put the lid on the mixture.

Wait for one or two whistles and turn the gas off.

When you open up after a while, I dare you not to drool!

Well! That's it - I am going off to make khichri now. I don't care if it is declared national food or named brand ambassador of Indian cuisine. For me it's always been a winner with a capital W!


(Image courtesy, Internet)  

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Beat Stress without Breaking Sweat



As circa 2017 rolls to an end, I am left wondering at the speed at which it flew. The roller-coaster ride has left me breathless and panting. As the days flew by all I was doing was running to catch-up on tasks. Stress has been my arch-enemy for years now and we are often found squaring each other up, looking in the eye and getting ready to fight. This year was no different from the last though over the years I have invented many old fashioned ways to beat stress, my arch-nemesis.

Stress, that dreaded six-letter word never leaves the modern person even for a minute. Whether you are committed to working for one organization or juggling work for a multiple, like I do these days, it keeps dogging your footsteps all the time. The only saving grace this year was the fact that I didn't have to travel as much as I was earlier in my full-time job holder avatar. But, working from home or even from one office for another can be equally tricky because the distractions or the lack of them are often enough to bring on their own set of issues.

Over the years I have found several easy and cost-effective ways to stay happy. I would like to believe that I am my own anti-stress ninja. So because I an feeling extremely generous today, I thought of sharing some here with anyone who'd care to read this post. 

Here's my list:



Meditation: I absolutely swear by it. If you can just sit is one space and count your breath and feel it going in and coming out for even 15 minutes in a day you will be able to face the day much easily.



Chanting: Chant anything that makes you feel good. It could be an ancient and holy mantra or something that you have made up yourself to give you a morale booster. For example, you can chant, "I shall overcome anything that comes my way" over and over right before you start your day and just see how it effects your psyche. You can chant anytime of the day and under any circumstance to overcome your latent fear, fatigue or worries. It always helps.



Deep Breathing: No. This is not a new-age fad. Deep breathing is actually helpful. If you are unable to make a choice or you have too much work that is all on priority, deep breathing will help you overcome any kind of panic. Close your eyes, take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds. Pass it out through your mouth. Repeat a few times till the palpitation in you heart has settled down and so has your brain. Don't let panic get the better of you. Never decide when your head and heart are in turmoil.



Walking: This is the best way to settle your mind though I don't walk so much these days as I used to earlier because of the high rate of pollution but, if you are in a deeply troubled state and need to clear your head, walking till you sweat really helps. In case you have trouble sleeping then, half an hour of brisk walking before you sit down for dinner really helps. It works up your appetite and tires you enough to make you fall into sleep on time. In case you have time to take longer walks, then do so by all means, walking is the best cardio exercise you can indulge yourself in. I walk alone but, you can also do it in a group however, see to it that the group should not be walking too slow. The walk that will help you overcome stress and help you sleep needs to be brisk and long. Hang out with your friends at leisure at some other time if they want a leisurely canter with lots of gossip thrown in.



Listen to other peoples' problems: This is a very useful therapy but, indulge only if you can be unbiased and can keep things to yourself. By just listening to other peoples' problems and suggesting solutions as a third party helps you to unplug your immediate worries and lets you think. This helps immensely because, it helps your head and heart to detach from your own sufferings and start thinking of solutions. However, do it ONLY if you can be unbiased and also if you can stay detached to be able to guide and help others without getting sucked into their problems and adding to your own.



Help Out: Do it purely as a physical activity that goes on to help others. It need not necessarily be for an NGO or in a slum. You can help someone ill in the neighborhood by cooking for their family or taking care of their infant or a pet. You could help your elderly neighbor by watering their plants or buying grocery for them when you go out to buy your own. This kind of neighborly volunteering helps you build relationships with real people who appreciate your help and it is not something you need to go out of your way to do either. It's like car pool. You pick up a few people to ride with you because there is space in your car and they are going your way. 



Adopt a Pet: It could be a tree that needs watering or a stray cat or dog or any other animal or bird that needs to be fed. You don't need to bring them home, just ensure that they are fed and happy wherever they are and run them to the neighborhood vet if they are not feeling well.



Start a Hobby: This is the best way to beat the blues. Pick up a hobby that doesn't need too much time or expense like, cooking or clicking pictures with your smartphone. You could also take up painting or singing if you have the time and a teacher nearby. Hobbies make you happy. They give you a sense of accomplishment. You could just get a bunch of underprivileged kids on your balcony and teach them the English alphabet if teaching is what you like. The sense of joy is immense.



Travel: Go away for a few days if you can. You could go solo or take that one dear friend with you who never badgers you. Taking a simple break is always a great therapy for a stressed mind. If time is a constrain then play tourist in your city. Instead of hitting the mall, go to a museum or for a painting exhibition. Walk around a famous monument, eat local food from authentic joints or do a picnic with your family on a Sunday. A change of scene is always a great detox. It will help you overcome your immediate problems and think clearly.



Sleep: This is my personal favorite though it is often only a short-term solution. If I don't know the answer to a problem, I sleep on it. Sleep refreshes the body and relaxes the mind. Usually, it is easier to find the solution to your problems when you wake up with an uncluttered mind. 



Smile: This is perhaps the most difficult to do than all the others that I have noted above. But, if you can crack a smile and think of a funny incident in the midst of a chaotic day, your stress levels will take a southwards plunge. A smile is like a personal cuddle. It warms you up from inside and immediately relaxes you. Personally, I think of the antics of my young niece whenever I feel stressed. It never fails to make me smile even on a really dark day of work. Whether sitting in a traffic jam or unable to prioritize work for the day despite multiple deadlines, a simple happy thought and the smile that it brings can relax you in seconds. So, keep the happy memories handy on a difficult day. Think of all the happy times you have had and smile a lot. 

These are a few things that I practice to de-clutter and reactivate my brains on stressful days and even when things are going great. The idea is to practice these things so that they become a part of your life and personality. With these simple things as a part of your life, you can breathe happy and stay stress-free all the time. 

(Images courtesy, the Internet)