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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year

At the tail end of 2014, as the year breathes its last and lays down to rest in the world's memory, it's time for my traditional reflection/retrospect post.
If you go by the Facebook 'My Year' thing that is so popular, it seems I haven't lived at all this year. I guess there is some element of truth in this because it was harder than usual to remember defining moments from each of the past twelve months. But there are some really awesome things that happened so a better way of putting it is to say that I have lived in pockets, with some months packed with activity and others just passing by dull and unexciting.

January
A close friend from college tied the knot. It was an intercultural "love marriage" and I do quite love love marriages so it was a fun way to start the year.

February
A best friend suggested I submit a paper to the 2014 conference of the International Association of Media and Communication Research. I did with full confidence that it was not "good enough" to be accepted but it was and I was So Thrilled!

March-April
These two months passed in one big blur which marked the end of one year teaching at a school in Ahmedabad. I learned a lot and I (hopefully) taught a lot but I had had more than enough and knew it was time to move on - that is, quit the job and focus on my writing dreams.

May
I traveled to Hyderabad again to quit my job and to tell the truth, the trip is a bit of a blur, though I remember receiving a lot of presents and beginning to plan for a vacation with friends...

June
I think this was one month where I truly didn't live at all. It was disgustingly hot in Ahmedabad and I was prepping for my IAMCR paper presentation that was coming up the following month.

July
The first international conference I ever attended - in Hyderabad - I met a lot of really amazing people and shared my work with them and generally had a good time. I suppose it was worth the significant amount of money I spent on the conference fees. :P

August
The Trip of a Lifetime! Mumbai and Goa - eating, shopping, lazing, and exploring Goa in a rented car using my (not so) trusty GPS - bliss! (Despite a few rough patches which anyone is bound to encounter when travelling with friends for the first time :P)

September
I wrote an article for Teacher Plus! This was my only real "published" piece of writing this year which is a bit shameful because I should have written a lot more stuff, but oh well, no point regretting now I guess.
Also, my friend S came visiting!
And, I had a small reunion with some college classmates and our favorite professor. :)

October
Started gearing up and making plans for a wedding in the family. (Not mine, just FYI.) Marriages make me happy even though I personally don't believe in them. :P
And, and - my paper proposal got accepted to the Journal of Children and Media! If the final paper gets selected, it will be my first academic publishing credit! :)

November
Perhaps this was my most busy month of the year. What with NaNoWriMo, house renovations (in lieu of the upcoming wedding), shopping (also in lieu of The Wedding), and of course, my birthday.

December
A month of ideas and plans and hopes and dreams. I went for a movie with my college friends after so, so long.. - PK - which is a fun movie and - for anyone with a brain - it's not hurting any religious sentiments. It's just raising some interesting questions and holding up a mirror to society. Why vandalize movie halls just because you don't like what you see? Misplaced notions about religion are going to be the end of humanity. The Peshawar atrocity just proved it yet again. And still, people will never move beyond fighting over Gods.

Anyways, so that winds up 2014. The coming year has a lot of potential to be better and I hope to be more proactive, productive and proficient in everything I do tomorrow onward.
So long!







Friday, December 19, 2014

Dream-y

Helter-skelter, pell mell, my dreams are pandemonium. They whoosh across continents and dive into the seas, run naked up mountains, then hurtle carefree down the slopes. They lunge headfirst into exhilarating waterfalls of possibilities, then bob in winding rivers like contented ducks. Clearly, they don't know what they want. But maybe that's okay. Because they are happy trying different things, even if all these things are only happening in my mind. - For now, at least.
What does it take for a dream to find it's way out of the comfy crevices of the mind (or cushy corners of the heart) and manifest in the real, tangible world?
Sometimes, luck. Fate, destiny, karma, right-place-right-time, whatever you call it.
Other times, hard work. Or discipline, devotion, determination and drive. (Wow, did I just discover the 4 Ds that make a Dream come true?!)
Most of the time, I think, a delicate combination of the two. Perhaps the stars have to line up just right and you have to have slogged just about as much as you can, and your resolve has to be cast in stone and then magically, beautifully, you will achieve what you want.
My dream has always been to write and publish a book. Last month, I almost got that first bit done. I say almost because the first draft of my novel (the one I wrote for National Novel Writing Month) is like a newborn who hasn't been swabbed and prettied up for the world yet, It's raw and cranky and bawling for attention but hey, it's still my baby and I love it! :P Though I'll love it a lot more when it's nicely edited clean and I'm over the trauma of the pain and turmoil that went into creating the damn thing.


So yes, I guess half the battle's won in getting my dream out of both the comfy crevices of my mind and the cushy corners of my heart. Now, I just have to redouble my levels of the 4 Ds mentioned above and patiently wait for the stars to line up just right so that my dream will at last sprout wings and take flight.
And then, I can chase the next one - across continents and seas and mountains and rivers aplenty. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Letter from a decade past

Do you have a favorite age? I think mine so far has been 17. It was my most defining year because it was a time of lots of change. I moved country twice, had my first encounters  with grief, and figured out that no matter what I did in life, I also always want to write.

Today, a decade later, I look back on my 17 year old self and decided to write a letter from that me to today's me. Of course, technically my 17 year old self doesn't exist anymore so how can it write a letter? But that's where memory and imagination come in, I think.


Dear 27-year-old self, 
Remember me? I am the person you used to be, fresh out of high school, aiming to study medicine, and over keen to prove your (my) brilliance to "the world". You wanted to be a doctor and a writer and devoted considerable time to thinking how you would manage the two professions even when you were as yet not part of either one. You loved planning. When you started undergraduate studies, you spent hours figuring out an elaborate course schedule for the entire four years of the degree because you were so keen to study every single course that piqued your interest. No wonder you were so dejected when circumstances forced you to drop out after just a semester and start college afresh in another country. That was a lot of time wasted in planning things that were never meant to be. Hopefully, you are more of a do-er than a planner now.  
Once you moved country for the second time and restarted college, the "plan" to be a doctor was dropped and the writing ambitions intensified manifold. Surely, by 27 you would be the best selling author of the book I first started writing and - of course - planning. :P 
Or maybe you haven't yet realised that ultimate dream and that's okay. I repeat that's O.K. If there's one piece of advice i can give you even though I'm younger - or rather especially because I'm younger and less jaded - it is this: Do not compare yourself to others. No not even to the 23 year old bestselling author or the famous 25 year old YouTube vlpgger and especially not to the young internet millionaires. Everyone has their own unique path in  life and you have to follow yours even though it may mean delayed success or late fulfillment of dreams. What's important is to keep going and Never Give Up. Focus on what you have already achieved. I am sure there are lots of things. At the very least i hope you got a masters degree, lived away from home and traveled a bit. Even if you didn't that's okay too. You must have made the decision that is right for you. I trust you to always do that. Being a teenager was not easy - its not easy for most people, I guess - but i hope the decade that followed has been a redeeming one.
I'll refrain from commenting about romantic experiences because I expect that's still a touchy topic, but do remember what I said about everyone having an individual path in life and don't compare yourself to peers who are "settling down" in life with marriage and children and stable careers. Life is not meant to be "settled" into, you always believed. It's supposed to be governed by independent choices and seeking whatever new experiences excite or fulfill you. I hope you are doing that as you progress toward the peak of adulthood. 27 sounds old but its not that bad, really. At least it's not thirty. :P 

Sending love and birthday wishes from a decade past,
Your 17-year-old self


Saturday, November 1, 2014

My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit or Things that help me write

So it's the first day of November otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month! To pep up myself to participate, I watched a couple of videos on YouTube and noticed that a lot of people compile a "Survival Kit" for the competition so I decided to do the same. But instead of a video blog like the ones I watched, I've put together a photo blog or at least my own amateur version of one:

1.

So first off, the obvious stuff - my laptop because I'm more comfortable typing rather than physically writing. This is because it’s so much easier to edit stuff. I tend to edit on-the-go as I write which is actually a bad habit because it hinders the actual writing process. In fact one of the guidelines for NaNoWriMo is to switch off the inner editor and I have a feeling this is going to be especially tough for me. My inner editor is a massively obsessive-compulsive bitch and very hard to shut up. Sometimes, music helps which explains the earphones in the picture, even though I usually need silence around me when I'm writing. (And silence is really hard to find when you work from home; my home at least. :P)

Also in the picture are: 

2. My phone, which I use to write when I'm away from my laptop. I use the OneNote mobile app and also MS Office mobile which are both incredibly useful because all my notes automatically sync to my computer through the cloud storage of OneDrive. When I'm especially lazy, I speak out and record audio notes which I transcribe later. God bless technology. :)

3. My Kindle - which I've included in this list because it has the NaNoWriMo bible in it - "No Plot No Problem," by Chris Baty. I'm going to need it for inspiration and motivation throughout the month.

4.
Next comes this lap-desk which I recently bought. It allows me to work comfortably on my laptop almost anywhere - the sofa, the bed, the floor - without getting nasty wrist and neck aches. 

5. 

I would never manage to organize anything in my life without a notebook to write things down. This diary is full of all kinds of scribbles – from to-do lists and plans to story ideas, random thoughts and even doodles. It's my current treasure chest of musings. Almost an extension of myself, just like my glasses. 

6.
I am a little obsessed with pens even though I do most of my writing on the computer. I love colored pens but have run out of them and decided not to buy any more until I use up at least some of these regular black and blue ones.

7.
A lot of participants include junk food or chocolate as part of their kits but my snack of choice is good old Gujju Sev-Mamra. It’s light and crunchy and easy to munch on while typing because it can be eaten with a spoon. My mom's made a huge jar full of it so it'll last throughout the month :)

8.
My drink of choice is lovely healthy caffeine-free paani. I also love chai because it wakes me up but I don't have it while writing because chai is meant to be relished with chit-chat and snacks, not sipped in solitude while you work. Just my opinion. Besides, if I'm going to spend hours writing, I might as well keep healthy by drinking enough water. 

9.
This is chocolate mukhwas. It's supposed to be had after meals but I tend to get addicted to it so I've decided that it's going to be my reward. That is, IF and only IF I meet my word-count goal of the day, I'll be allowed a spoonful of this yummy-ness.

10. Last, but perhaps most important comes inspiration:


I find burning incense incredibly inspiring. I love the smells of rose and sandalwood incense sticks though others are all right too. So I like lighting some incense before I write and then try to type non-stop until it completely burns out. This is usually impossible because I'm bound to be disrupted in the middle of my writing by someone/something or the other. But oh well, I just try to keep at it as best as I can. I also find the scented smoke helps me keep calm and focus on my words. It also lends a spiritual atmosphere like my words are my worship or writing is sacred, which I think is kind of cool. 

So that's my "NaNoWriMo Survival Kit" of sorts or basically just the stuff that helps me write. Time to get cracking on that novel now. 


Friday, October 31, 2014

7 Reasons why I am doing NaNoWriMo

If you’re wondering what is NaNoWriMo, read this post to know more, and if you like writing, sign up! Once you sign up or if you have already signed up like me (in which case you are awesome – round of applause and imaginary virtual candy for you!), let me know so that we can be "writing buddies". Even though I would generally describe myself as an antisocial hermit (is that an oxymoron?), I still think having writing partners will make the 30-day-novel-writing-challenge thing easier and more fun. Here is my NaNoWriMo profile page where you can add me as a writing buddy: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/mehak016
If you’re confused and don’t understand how the whole thing works, check out the website, there’s lots of useful information and inspiration there!
So the challenge starts tomorrow, or rather when the clock strike 12 tonight, and because I know that I’m soon going to lose motivation to keep writing, I’m noting down the top seven reasons why I want to do this challenge and hopefully win:

  1. I love books. So I want to try and write one of my own.
  2. I have been a member of NaNoWriMo for three years but never even attempted the challenge; what’s the point of being a member then? It’s high time I brave up and Just. Do. It.
  3. It will help impart the glorious habit of writing every single day, which is something I’ve wanted to inculcate for the longest time.
  4. I turn another year older this November. A first draft of a novel will be an accomplishment to prove that I have my shit together in life. (Which should hopefully help abate the existential crisis I seem to be perennially battling)
  5. I have been trying to write said novel for years. By trying I mean I’ve written a bit, then edited, then thought it’s crappy and abandoned the idea. Then repeated this process n number of times. I won’t tell you how many times. It’s embarrassing.
  6. For at least a month, I’ll have an answer to that annoying question people keep asking me: "So what are you doing these days?” “I’m writing a novel!” I’ll declare with a smug smile.
    “What’s it about?”
    “It’s about annoying people and the unwanted questions that they ask.”
    Nah, not really. Actually, I’m highly unlikely to tell too many people I’m writing a novel. It’ll just spew more annoying questions and I’d rather just be left alone. So I’ll smile and give a vague answer about what I’m doing and then pretend to listen to the suggestions they so kindly dole out about what I could do with my life. In my head, I’ll be thinking my favorite quote:
       
  1. I want to be a novelist. It’s my ultimate dream. Enough said.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lessons from birds




These are pictures of a bird’s nest, weaved out of a single leaf on a plant that grows outside my house.
Lesson #1: there’s a lot you can do with minimal resources and a little bit of creatively

Soon, the nest held eggs: four of them, each about the size of an almond but slightly plumper. It was now that I noticed how the nest was nicely shielded from the harsh afternoon sun, tucked away from the gaze of predators, and sturdy enough to protect mother and offspring-to-be alike from wind and water.
Lesson #2:  efficiency lies in simplicity

Before long, the eggs hatched save one. Three baby birds, each the size of half my thumb, lying on their backs with beaks parted, as if hungry or desperate for water. I went to check on them whenever their mother was away and they looked so helpless, I couldn’t help worrying that:
a)      my cat would find them and make a meal of them
b)      they would die of thirst in the hot weather
c)      their mother would be hunted on one of her trips for food and they would die of abandonment
d)      they would die just like that
Too morbid, I know. And you can imagine my dismay when I indeed found the nest empty in a couple of days. My cat was prime suspect but then I saw the bird babies on the low branches of a tree. They had sprouted wings already! Wherein lies Lesson #3: Don’t worry so much about death. Life has its ways of surviving.
And Lesson #4: You’re never too young to fly. Or at least attempt to.

It was fascinating to watch the little family from my living room window. The mother would go to each baby and demonstrate the act of taking flight. One kid obliged most enthusiastically, flying higher and higher at each attempt. One was moody;  sometimes it would fly, sometimes it would just sit there. And the third was stubborn and reluctant. It sat on its branch and refused to partake in the lesson. The mother was unruffled and happily flapped and fluttered with the other two. The next day, all three kids were soaring among the high-up branches, barely visible any more because they were still so tiny. 
Lesson #5: Accept children as they are – eventually, they’ll turn out just fine.

The nest has been abandoned for many days now. Mother and baby birds have all flown away. And while I can't help feeling a little nostalgic about their brief but special sojourn in my compound, I remind myself about the final and most important Lesson #6: Move on. There’s a big world out there waiting to be explored. Life is not meant to be lived in one place. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Something to do this November

Apart from wishing me a Happy Birthday, why not write a novel and become famous? Okay, no guarantees about that last bit but you can at least ATTEMPT to write some semblance of a novel. By participating in NaNoWriMo, the (inter)National Novel Writing Month - an online initiative in which thousands of writers across the world - from beginners to pros, dreamers to achievers - take up the challenge of penning an original 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That comes to about 1700 words a day, which for me at least translates into multiple words beginning with "D" - Discipline, Devotion, Dedication, Drive, a strict and scary Deadline, a hearty dose of Drama and an incurable feeling of Doom. Perhaps even a sizzling shot of danger as is indicated by an event that's held sometime in the month - the Night of Writing Dangerously. That of course happens in the US where NaNoWriMo was initiated fifteen years ago by Chris Baty .
But hey, we can have our own Night of Writing Dangerously here in India too. Provided of course that we at least write to start with. As someone who has wanted - and tried - to write a novel for an unspeakable number of years now, I feel like NaNoWriMo 2014 has the potential to finally make me achieve my target. In fact, I have been signed up on their website since 2011 but could never bring myself to actually participate because I was convinced I didn't have time or wasn't good enough or the end result wouldn't be good enough. All lame-ass excuses clearly. But enough is enough. I finally feel ready now and the story in my head makes a lot more sense with all the revisions I've mentally made over the years, so hopefully, by the end of November, it will all be out of me, in solid, beautiful black and white that I can look at and feel proud about rather than cringe.
But inside, I can't help worrying about the procrastination and lack of discipline that plagues me and can jeopardize any initiative. That's why I'm announcing my commitment to write and finish the challenge - and I think the more people join in the better. There are already many people from India participating in the challenge and if the idea at all appeals to you - why not join in? We can form an alliance of sorts to keep each other motivated throughout the month and prevent laziness from creeping in. So click over to the website (http://nanowrimo.org/), read-up, sign up, and turn up next month to write up! 


Just another reason why November is awesome. :) 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A lot can change in five years...

But it doesn't necessarily have to. At least not the important stuff like friendship, humour and that elusive ability "to pick up where we left off".
When four of my college classmates and I went to visit one of our favourite professors recently, I realised that times don't always change, they just evolve. In a good way. Out of the four classmates, I've been in regular touch with two, but was meeting the other two - and our professor - after five years. Before leaving the house, I remember staring at myself in the mirror as I brushed my hair, wondering about all the ways in which I've changed since graduation. Physically, I guess I'm mostly the same, just with different frames for my glasses, extra earring studs and a nose stud. I still wear the same staple of kurta and jeans as I did back in college and my hair is almost the same length. I don't wear a watch as religiously as I used to but I still love earrings.
Inside, on the other hand, I'm almost a different person. For starters, I'm not into psychology anymore which is what I majored in. I'm happier, calmer, and less of a stupid emotional fool. I'm less conflicted and more satisfied with life. I'm surer of my choices and more confident about my capabilities. Obviously, I've grown up, at least a little bit, thank god. :P
And so has everyone else. I couldn't help feeling a slight sense of pride as I heard each of my classmates talk about the work they are doing - we have all indeed come a far way from the slightly aimless college students we once were. A lot of discussion revolved around jobs and careers and office politics and cranky bosses, but we also joked about how everyone else seems to be getting married and having babies while all we think about is work, only occasionally relenting to consider the looming possibility of arranged marriage.
And of course any reunion is incomplete without the mandatory, almost automatic reminiscing about "those days" and exchange of news about other classmates each of us is in touch with. And the best part was how Ami ma'am - our professor - was also a part of the discussion, connecting with us at more of a friend level than the somewhat distanced level of teacher and student that existed back in college.
One of the highlights of the evening was how one classmate thought we were all meeting up at the Courtyard Marriott - the luxurious hotel outside which we'd agreed to group before heading to our teacher's house nearby. Naturally, she arrived all dressed up for a classy evening at an expensive restaurant while the rest of us were completely casual. The mistake became the butt of several jokes throughout the evening, but as we sat munching the take-away sandwiches and sipping the warm Fanta which two people had thoughtfully brought along, it was clear that sometimes no amount of fancy food at swanky places can compare to the simple pleasure of junk food, shared memories, and private jokes with pleasant company.
I wonder when the next such impromptu get-together will happen...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What it’s like to live in Ahmedabad

Ever since the ex chief minister of Gujarat came to the forefront of national politics, people have been especially curious about life in this allegedly most developed state of India. Every time I tell someone I am from Ahmedabad, I’m met with eager questions: “Oh, what’s that like? Is it really very developed? Is it very safe for women?” And the queries have only multiplied in number and intensity since the new prime minister took over.
Most of the time, I’ve been at a loss about how to answer and have instead found myself inviting people to come visit the city and find their own answers, even though - as I repeatedly warn people before they come -  there’s really not much to see or do here.
When friends do come, the only places I can think of taking them are Kankaria Lake or the new Riverfront, not because these sites are particularly interesting but simply because it’s nice to get some fresh air and open space. Of course, you might end up spotting debris floating on the water as you sit by the river or smell the effluent that pollutes it, much like these Pakistani delegates who had come to study the prestigious project in order to implement the same in their city. But I’m sure these problems have been dealt with at the moment – at least temporarily – because of Xi Jinping’s much coveted recent visit to the land of Gandhi.
Another major “development” buzz about Ahmedabad is the Bus Rapid Transit System – BRTS – which has helped a lot of commuters travel more efficiently, but I personally don’t use it much because it doesn’t connect to the area I live in (more about that in just a moment) and also because every time the bus driver hits the squeaky-squealy brakes (about every two minutes), I fear that the entire mass of jostling, sweating people that make up the stifling crowd will be hurled forward and crash right out the windscreen. Yes, it is that scary. So I am grateful that I can afford to take the autos because they are one thing I genuinely love about my city. The drivers will almost never cheat you and in the rare case that they do, it won’t be extreme the way that it is in a place like Hyderabad, for example. To continue on the bright side, power cuts are rare. I’m sure you’ve heard all about how we’re a power-rich state but I fail to comprehend how people can expect our dear ex CM now PM to magically turn us into a power-rich country.
Oh and how can I not mention loos since the PM believes in building toilets before temples? I know he was referring to rural areas where sanitation facilities are grossly lacking but even in the city, I think public loos are important infrastructure. Even though we have many pay-to-go toilets, they are locked more often than they are open, and even when you can go, they are often filthy and lack western-style lavatories. Seriously, does it have to be a struggle of Indian against Western in such a basic necessity as loos too? I mean, with old age and knee problems, a lot of people find it difficult to use Indian-style toilets; why not give them the option of a commode for god’s sake?
And then there is the race to achieve UNESCO World Heritage City status. A couple of years ago, the otherwise neglected old city area began getting a facelift in order for Ahmedabad to be granted World Heritage City status. The efforts may be well-intentioned but do nothing for the hundreds of people who earn livelihoods in and around the old city, mostly selling their wares on the footpaths. I have heard firsthand from a street vendor the story of how they are required to pay a certain sum every day to certain authorities in order to be permitted to continue their businesses. And if they fail to cough up the cash, they are harassed and evicted from the site under the guise of “neatening up the area”.
But I wonder why I am writing about Ahmedabad when I sometimes feel like I don’t even belong to it. I belong to Juhapura – otherwise known as India’s largest Muslim ghetto” and sometimes dubbed a “mini Pakistan” (whatever the hell that means). The word “ghetto” by definition implies segregation or isolation, so it is no surprise that we who live here are often imagined as a mass of fundamentalist Muslims, the women in garish bright salwar-kurtas under equally garish burqas; the men with beards and skullcaps. My interactions with people have revealed such ridiculous misconceptions as the idea that knife-wielding gangsters rule the streets here, which are all supposedly lined with filthy slaughter houses. We do have slaughter houses, but they are not everywhere and contrary to popular conception, vegetarian food is also available in this non-vegetarian’s haven. Juhapura is perceived as a land of bootleggers and bhais (you know, those shady gangster characters that are so popular in Bollywood films) and while there may be a grain of truth in that idea, it is by no means accurate. I guess all I’m trying to say is that my area is a neighbourhood like any other where you simply live and let live. Although Airtel and Reliance won’t give you an internet connection here and some auto drivers will refuse to drive you home out of fear that it’s a dangerous place. Nonetheless, at least we’ve moved past the time when certain banks wouldn’t accept your account opening form simply because you belonged to this ghetto.
So what am I driving at?
Well, I suppose I’m just saying that Ahmedabad is like any other almost-metropolitan Indian city. Minus the nightclubs and bars, of course. If you want a night life in this city, you go for garba events during Navratri or else simply head for chai and your choice of street food, perhaps followed by Asharfi’s kulfi. Unless you want to get on the wrong side of the law and ignore the prohibition of course. In a nutshell, there is nothing that really strikes as “remarkably developed” about this Gujarati city at least. Though that’s just my perception and if you are still curious, you should visit. Two days will be more than enough to explore all that it has to offer!     


Looks pretty snazzy, huh? Maybe that's why they say looks can be deceptive. :P 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

There are no bad books…

...only books that teach you how not to write. At least that’s what I tell myself whenever I feel like I am wasting precious time on finishing a novel that makes me cringe, roll my eyes, laugh out loud (in a nasty way - at it rather than with it) and/or insanely hopeful that if such tripe got published, I definitely have a chance too with my own book (which I will complete one day. I will, I will.)
Why do I bother to finish a book when it is almost too painful an experience to even reach the end of a page? Well, because I keep thinking maybe it’s just about to get better. And there is always something to learn from everything, right?
The majority of the books I read though leave me feeling slightly lonely and longing at the end, like I’ve said goodbye to a close friend. And not all such books are of “literary” value – a lot of the stuff I like is brutally trashed by critics and people who prefer “intelligent” reads. The most recent example of this is the Gossip Girl series, which I’ve just completed after a whirlwind sleepless few weeks. These “teen” novels have been widely criticized for their supposedly inappropriate content and lack of literary merit, but they kept me awake late into the night, rapidly swiping my Kindle as I flew through all twelve novels, anxious to know what outrageous event would unfold next in the luxurious lives of the Upper East Siders – a bunch of high society kids living it up in New York City. The characters had me so enthralled I can’t help missing them now. It’s really amazing the power that good stories can wield upon us.
I was recently tagged on Facebook to list my ten favorite books of all times and I fell into such deep thought about this that I decided it’s better to make a blog post out of it rather than just a Facebook status. So here’s my list, in reverse chronological order from most recently discovered to earliest treasures:

1.     Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This book is so full of amazing quotes that a separate book could be compiled solely out of them. It has a little bit of everything – action, adventure, crime, love, passion, friendship, drama, tragedy, all interwoven so eloquently that it’s hard to believe it’s based on real-life events. All I can say is, I look forward to seeing the film if it ever comes out, even though I know it won’t match the book’s awesomeness.
2.     The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series by Ann Brashares
This story about friendship bridging distances and surviving no matter what, always makes me teary. The characters remind me of myself and old friends that I have grown apart from but still cherish. I particularly love the final book – Sisterhood Everlasting -  for the bittersweet nostalgia it evokes and for lending the reassurance that some friendships can indeed last forever. You just have to nurture them well and work on them.
3.     Brida by Paulo Coelho
This is my favorite book by my favorite author. I can’t really describe what I love about it because I haven’t re-read it for a long time. So I’m going to do just that and rediscover all the wisdom that Brida gains on her quest for knowledge.
4.     A girl like me by Swati Kaushal
This is a story about an Indian-American teenager who relocates to India after her father passes away. I bought this when I had just relocated to India too and naturally, I indentified with the protagonist quite a bit. But over the years, I have kept revisiting this story simply because of the vivid descriptions and beautiful prose.
5.     The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
This was the first story I ever read about Indian immigrant life abroad and it really struck a chord. I read it after I’d watched the movie and loved it.
6.     A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I love all of Khaled Hosseini’s novels and I prize this one the most because it is so poignant yet inspiring at the same time.
7.     The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
This was a birthday gift from my dad and sort of my first foray into the beautiful magical world of Paulo Coelho. I’d read his famous The Alchemist before but I guess I’d been too young to appreciate it at the time. The Zahir came at the right time and after that, I couldn’t stop reading Coelho. His words are so simple yet so deep and belief-altering (in a good way).
8.     Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
I read this around the time I first learned about the practice of female genital mutilation and I was moved by what Waris Dirie suffered and overcame to become a successful model, actress and social activist. It was a peak into a world so far removed from the one I inhabit that it has stayed etched in my memory even a decade after reading the book.
9.     Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 
I first read this in the eighth grade (I think) in English class. It was on the syllabus and while I suspect most people hated doing the required reading, I was one of the few who finished the book before time, then read it over again. Initially, it was difficult to keep track of all the million characters (with similar names!) in this book but my English teacher eventually made it really easy by helping us sketch a family tree and refer to it in order to keep track of who’s who. I love all the convoluted relationships and drama that the author so effortlessly brings out in eloquent old English prose. The spooky suspense and weird romance is hard to resist.
10. Malory Towers by Enid Blyton
I received the first three books of this series as a prize for doing well in fourth grade and I couldn’t stop reading it even though it was a big, heavy, scary-looking hardback compilation. It made me long for the exotic world of English boarding school and left me quite lonesome when I completed the entire series after borrowing the remaining three books from the school library. Unfortunately, my hardbound volume got lost sometime over the years, but I still remember the crispness of the pages, their delicious musty scent, and the reassuring air of seriousness that only hardbound books seem to lend. Like I read somewhere: “Books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.”

That concludes my list of ten most-loved books, though I can’t end this post without mentioning the Harry Potter series which is of course at par with all those mentioned above. The only reason I didn’t include it in the list is that I would feel compelled to give it seven out of the ten spots, one for each book in the series. So I’ll simply say that Harry Potter is in a league of its (his?) own and the stuff of a separate blog post.

Until next time, remember…






Sunday, August 17, 2014

On Age(ing)

3 months to my birthday. To growing older. Or at least commemorating growing older because if you think about it we grow a little older every day as opposed to just annually. It makes me nervous. Anxious. Even slightly panicky. I worry whether I am living enough. Doing enough. Working enough; enjoying enough. Though the precise definition of "enough" is of course elusive. I mean, who knows what's enough? What do people mean when they declare you "old enough" for various things? Like driving, drinking, living on your own, marriage, children? Why must life be lived with age as a determining factor of what you can/should do/be doing? 
As children, we all want to grow up fast and be part of that mysterious, almost glamorous world of "adults". Where we perceive we will be free to do as we wish; to make all our own decisions; to engage in all the alluring activities we are denied as children: staying up late watching t.v, earning and spending money, using time as we please. But do we ever get to that much coveted point of freedom? Perhaps a few fortunate and/or smart individuals do. The rest of us just end up entrapped in jobs and "responsibilities" and/or "duties". We keep postponing the things we really want for whatever reasons, valid or not.  We somehow fall into the trap of living life according to our age, doing the things others want us to or we believe are the "right" things to do. Who cares what's the right thing to do? Rightness is just a point of view, in my opinion. I don't want to do anything just because the world says it's the "right time" for me to do it. But there's no escaping this unending pressure of "timing". In fact, I think it's made me slightly paranoid. Just because I'm getting older, I keep comparing myself to people of my age and their respective achievements. I Wikipedia writers I admire for the sole reason of working out the age at which they become successful/published their first novel. If they were considerably "old" (read: post 30), I feel reassured; comforted that I have plenty of time to do the same. But if they became successful at my current age or younger, I panic. I flare up with negative energy which is mostly envy with a dash of anxiety thrown in, and feel temporarily convinced that I'm utterly useless or doomed to fail. What will you ever publish if you've STILL not completed your first book?! my conscience admonishes, fuming at the ears and red in the face from the stress of it all. 
Smart me promptly scrambles to find someone who achieved success at a later age and seeks refuge in reading all about them. See? I snap at my conscience. Not everyone is destined to be a young success! I have time and I'm doing the best I can. So calm down, for God's sake. 
That's usually the end of it until the next panic attack when the whole cycle repeats itself. A lot of authors out there owe me for the rising number of hits on their Wikipedia pages. :P
I don't know when I became so sensitive about age and growing older. I've always been a firm believer in destiny and all things turning out for the best. Waqt se pehle aur kismat se zyada kisi ko nahi milta is my favorite proverb. I heard it often while growing up and internalized it. But it's still hard not to feel anxious/paranoid about one's achievements in the competitive dynamic world we live in. There's so much to do and seemingly so little time. I want to be a successful writer. I want to write novels. But I also want to be an academic. And a traveler. I want to read so many books and see so many places. And earn so much money too. How on earth do I find a balance? How in God's name do I do it all? And heaven forbid, I should not get stuck in a state of limbo because I'm too overwhelmed by all the choices and having to decide what I want more/most. 
Growing older is confusing. The older I get, the more uncertain I am of what I want or what is worthwhile, or "right", as they say. I guess only "time" has all the answers and all I can do is hope that it speaks up soon enough! :P 



Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Journey of Scents

The sand is like a well-worn carpet beneath my feet; soft but grainy, comfy and warming. The sea breeze hits my face in a refreshing blast of salty mist that brings with it a tantalizing hint of impending rain. As I inhale, I can smell that distinctly evocative scent of freshly wet earth which I’ve read is caused by some mysterious mix of plant oils, bacterial spores and ozone in the atmosphere. It’s pouring somewhere, and the clouds are gradually edging this way. I can’t wait.
As I pass by a shop selling trinkets, I catch a whiff of the woody notes of incense burning somewhere inside, and I decide to enter, if only to enjoy the olfactory treat a little more. Ah, there are second-hand books on sale! I head to the counter and pick up a well-thumbed paperback. I can’t help leaning into the pages a little to inhale that delicate mustiness of ink on paper. God, books smell divine.

As I am deciding which one to buy, somebody arrives to mop the floor. In a second, I am inhaling the clean, redolent fragrance of scented phenyl. A gust of wind blows in from the front door and the balmy sea breeze mixes with the fragrant fumes of phenyl and woodsy incense and the book which I press to my face. I take a deep breath, closing my eyes without quite realizing, momentarily transported to so many places at once; my childhood home which would always smell deliciously damp in the rains; its freshly mopped floors and the sandalwood burning in the prayer room; the lush green campus of the university I studied at; plush hotel rooms where the air-conditioning instills a lingering mustiness. Perhaps this is what heaven smells like: earthy and everyday. I want to capture this heady bouquet in a bottle, use it to deodorize my room and my car and even spritz some on my skin and clothes. Maybe Godrej aer can help create this glorious scent of life and living, a scent that I believe represents the delicate and essential balance between nature and science.


The above is my entry to the Godrej aer Inspire a Fragrance contest.

Contest Page: http://www.indiblogger.in/topic.php?topic=114

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What are you doing these days?

I hate that question. Like what do you want me to say? (And why do you even care? :P)

How about "I'm sitting at home jobless and thoroughly enjoying it." Or "I'm loving the luxury of actually being able to afford being jobless for a bit." Or, to be more elaborate: "I'm catching up on years worth of reading with the help of my beloved new Kindle." And also, "Now that the summer is finally, finally receding, I've taken to occupying the antique swing in the big upstairs balcony of my parents' home, simply watching the sky and the trees or sometimes mulling over writing ideas - a pleasure I haven't indulged in for the longest time."

All of the above are true, but I doubt you would find them of any value, you who incessantly ask me "what are you doing these days?" when it is quite clear, really, that I'm doing nothing at all of consequence to you.

Not that I don't have any plans. I do, and I definitely love earning my own money too much to not return to doing it soon, but I needed a breather and that's exactly what I'm getting. Yes, I'm sleeping a lot and eating a lot and of course, I have even put on more weight, but my mind is clear and calm and knows exactly what it wants to get engaged in next and when. And I'm not going to push it to go any faster because that would just deter me from what I'm doing these days, which is "living". And enjoying every moment of it :)