Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Some Kodak moments of 2014

All my books: The three 'Pursuits' along with 'Poetry Out and Loud' trio

Release of my third Pursuit - In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence in Delhi on 19 January 2014 by Vinita Nangia (ToI) and Pratap Somvanshi (HT) - with their respective spouses.

 Delhi Lit Fest Jan 2014: At the gala dinner

US visit: February 2014 - San Francisco was like a wonderland

With International Colleagues/Psychosocial workers in Texas
In Pursuit of a Lesser Offence releases in Jabalpur in May 2014
Lokevidu with his good friends in Singapore
 Moi in a meditative pose outside the art and science museum, Singapore
At Kolkata Crossword book store with Mr. S.K Mehra, Alchemy and Richa Mohan, EM
Book talk - With author Manjiri Prabhu in Pune
Lighting the lamp: At Guwahati (Assam) for a training workshop on Psychosocial care in Hemophilia
After imparting a session on creative writing to students of SACAC - Delhi 

In conversation with Amish of Shiva Trilogy at Pune Lit Fest, 2014
With members of a Delhi Book club
At a poetry meet organised by Poets Corner
With good friends; Meenu and Nandita

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

History was never so much intriguing: A review of ‘Frontiers of Karma – The CounterStroke’ by Medha Bhaskaran

The novel, procured more out of curiosity than anything else, hooked me to itself from the very first chapter. I hardly review books. However, I love to share my thoughts on some that leave an impact on me in some way. Medha Bhaskaran’s historical novel on Chatrapati Shivaji – the warrior king is one such. However, my initial interest in the book was due to a couple of reasons unrelated to the novel:
My dad, a retired infantry man, had written a paper on military strategy when he was in service. He had titled it: “The FourStroke Offensive.” He was proud of it and believed that the paper on war – strategy was one of his best. He had shared the highlights with me and his views had somehow stayed with me. So basically, it was the common - sounding title that attracted me to Medha Bhaskaran’s novel, at first. Combined with the fact that it was on Raja Shivaji --the great Indian hero--whose tales of patriotism, valour and sharp – wit always managed to evoke a mix of admiration and awe in me during my childhood. Moreover, Medha and I share the same publisher and I was invited to her book launch event. Meeting the author in – person had been a pleasurable experience. But once I started reading the story, I knew I had to write about it. More so because it would give me a chance to revisit and refresh my understanding of the life and times of the great Maratha King; one of the greatest patriots and legendary figures of India.
Coming to the Novel –
Shivaji’s tremendous rise from a little known and harmless young jagirdar to being perceived as a rebel; a threat to the Mughal Empire and finally emerging as a hero (and a great King) inspiring Marathas and other Hindus in the country with his idea of swaraj, acute sense of justice, bravery and able administration is beautifully depicted in the first part of the Trilogy. I learnt more about the great warrior king from this book than from the history books that I’ve read during my school days. And in the most enjoyable way. Most of us have heard tales of how he outwitted the able but cruel Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and his men. But here is a storybook that shows more: his anguish on not being able to be with his favourite wife on her death bed, his sharp and foresighted approach and excellent skills as a warrior, his devotion to his mother, his compassion for the peasants and weaker section of society, his deep respect for women even if they were mothers or wives of the enemy, his heart – felt concern and love for his soldiers and his total determination to achieve swaraj or freedom for his people.  
The book does not focus on Shivaji alone. It delves deeper and tries to bring out Aurangzeb’s side of the story too. Questions like – Why he acted in the manner the way he did towards his brothers and father? What role his maternal uncle played in his life? How did he use his religion to his advantage? His love for his first wife and his distrust of practically everyone in his service barring a few; all have been well - captured and described. It also expertly serves the reader with accounts of life of the normal people in Seventeenth century India. Especially the women and children and their helpless condition. They were treated as mere “things” that exchanged hands for most ridiculous of reasons. Sometimes gifted to the winning side of a battle in order to please or placate them. In one of the scenes the author has poignantly described the state of slave girls – Afzal Khan, the much – feared general of Adil Shahi, in a rage calls for one of his youngest slave girls only to kill her brutally on a whim. Over the next few days he goes on killing all the seventy – seven of his virgin slave girls in the same manner. Just because he had to leave them behind and did not want anyone else to touch or enjoy  his spoils of war.  
However, the author has excelled in depicting the war scenes. From the planning and preparation to the actual battle scenes; it’s a master stroke. I especially enjoyed the last few chapters which showed how the most - feared general of Adil Shahi, a ruthless Afzal Khan, was led into a trap by the clever planning of Shivaji and his trusted salahkars and other leading men of his army and finally killed.
The other good thing about the novel is that despite it being a difficult subject/genre it’s written in a simple and engaging manner. Of course, there were times when I had to look up the dictionary or internet for a particular ‘urdu’ or ‘farsi’ word or phrase. I also referred to the maps, helpfully provided by the author, to get a clearer understanding of the various regions of seventeenth century India. For this reason I slowed down several times or re – read certain portions; especially while reading the war scenes - including the planning and war – preparedness of both sides. Minutest of attention was paid to describe the topography, weather and kind of arms and ammunitions used in the various battles fought by Shivaji and his army and at times that became confusing. However, despite these little deviations or distractions I was hooked to it till the very end and I look forward to part – II of the trilogy. My best wishes to the author.
 #History #Shivaji #Novel #AuthorMedhaBhaskaran
Title: Frontiers of Karma – The Counterstroke (Trilogy I)
Publisher: Alchemy

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mom and Me


My mom was visiting us. She’s left for Jabalpur, today. Dad had come to get her. In the last few days I hardly wrote anything. Not that I did not want to. I’m actually lagging behind in my writing. But I guess, I was a bit distracted. What with wanting to make the most (of the last few days) of mom’s stay with us.

Every year she visits us around October with dad. Dad does not extend his visits more than a week but mom, like every mother, loves to be with her children as much as possible.  However, every time after a month or so she starts asking us to get her return reservation done.  Looking at our over – busy lifestyle she feels it’s better to depart sooner than “imposing” herself on us.

I feel guilty, at times. I miss her loving presence around the house. In fact, I miss both my parents. They have such a calming and cheerful effect on us. However, I must admit that I can hardly concentrate on my writing when they are here. Although Dad-- himself a great thinker and writer-- is disciplined and understands and excuses me my missing out on the daily dose of ‘let’s – all – sit – together – and – yap’ time; mom is a different case altogether. She cannot stay quiet or alone for long. When she’s here she wants me to leave everything and be her constant companion. Take her out. Do fun things with her.  It’s not an easy situation. Even after communicating my need to be alone to focus on my writing  she drops into the study even before the first hour has passed and tries to strike up a conversation. Well, you can understand what a tug of war it is to get her around to see things from my perspective and balance my time between her and my writing. Needless to say, mostly I give in to her wishes although it leaves me feeling slightly peeved.

Mom understands my restlessness but she cannot help her own nature.  Hers was a big family. And even after her marriage to dad, like any other army wife, she too remained busy with some or the other activities besides taking care of my brother and me. Besides, all through her life, she’s been surrounded with her family and friends. To be all by herself is not her idea of a home. Her home is where the action is.

Our house is back to its old routine. Everyone’s busy with something. So am I. In fact, I'm raring to go. Still somewhere inside I feel melancholic; knowing tomorrow morning mom won’t be there to pull me up from the 'lonesome chair ' into the warmth of her arms and smilingly say – thodi - thodi chai ho jai?!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Eluders and Easygoers

There are days when words flow like a mountain - stream. Gushing down cheerfully. Making happy noises as they descend and create magic on paper. But those days are few and far between. Most of the days they leave me struggling. I fret and fume and try catching them. It's a tough job! There are times when all I do the entire day is run. The ever - slippery words dangle themselves in front of me like a juicy carrot and tempt me to catch them. I chase after them across my room, outside my large window, and in the clouds. I am chasing, chasing, chasing around. But all that I see is just another lemon tree! No jokes.  "Khatte nimbu" is all I get to collect towards the end of my chase - the - words, day. I don't mind it much since I like lemonade.  The tangy, sweet and refreshing drink can't be made without lemons. And it's good for the health, no? Anyway, coming back to the words,,, some are rather more mischievous than others. I have  named them"Eluders." They are high - handed and unhelpful. At a crucial point when I really need them to bale me out of a tricky scene, they abandon me. But then there's this another friendly group  of words; I call them the "Easygoers." The Easygoers come to my rescue on such occasions. We have an understanding. If I'm stuck somewhere while writing a beautiful story about a mermaid or a frog or even a bullock - cart which is overloaded with unusual stuff, I must start rambling immediately; the moment I do that the Easygoers come to my aid. You see, they can't see a beautiful story go astray or be left incomplete because of the absence of a few snobbish Eluders. I'm greatly indebted to them. They've enabled and empowered me. My stories are all dedicated to these simple - hearted and beautiful words. The Easygoers.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Make sense

Now that Pujo is almost over I'm back into my writing mode. But then this morning I was thinking; from where should I begin. And phat prompted the tiny voice: Begin with a Blog post!

I agreed readily. But as always, I'm stuck. I don't really want to ramble. I see other bloggers write such meaningful stuff. However, I'm not much into it and  off late all I do is jabber about this and that. I could be annoyingly aimless. But then why do I have to make sense always? Every other writer I know is doing that job quite well. Why add to the already overcrowded cart of 'make - sense' writings?

Now, don't get me wrong. Writers are powerful people. Whatever they write have some impact on the reader however implausible their writing may seem to be. So whether we pen sensible stuff or otherwise we need to be careful and responsible. I understand all that! But I also know this for a fact that nowadays readers are smart and at the same time considerate. At least, the younger lot.  They may find us quirky or amusingly strange creatures but if our thoughts/writings are not to their liking they merely share their own 'not  - so - complimentary' views on it in a fair and impersonal way on Facebook or other social network or may even blog about it once or twice, and then move on to listen to a Honey Singh number.  Yes, his songs are sense - less too! At times, even annoying.  But I guess they kind of makes one focus better on his/her work. Unlike the popular romantic numbers which always end up distracting our  ever busy and inventive mind. Also, like I said earlier - someone's got to be out there who's not trying to make sense of everything. A world full of wise and sensible people would be quite boring. Don't ou think? Besides,  I must say one can get used to his kind of songs.  In fact, many of my friends love his numbers. The knowledge gladdens my heart. I'm not the only strange one here. ;-)
Anyway, coming back to the readers, another interesting attribute that I've noted in them is that they forget controversies fast. Which is very generous of them, I think. Take  for example, Chetan Bhagat and his latest 'Half Girlfriend.' What a brouhaha the title created. But instead of getting upset the author must have jumped with joy at the amount of attention the the book received.  In fact, he can now save some of that much - envied royalty money he must be planning to dole out for  the various PR activities to promote the book. And I'm sure he and his publishers (who-- as it happens-- are also the publishers of my first two "Pursuits"), will go laughing all the way to the bank.
Have I suddenly started making sense? I hope not. My mind may have tricked me into writing something meaningful. So in - between there might be spurts of ingenious thoughts.  I leave you to look for them in this aimless prattle.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Do I celebrate Onam?

The festival of Onam was celebrated last week. On the happy occasion, I greeted my friends on Facebook. Some of them, however, were surprised that being a North Indian I was greeting the people of Kerala on the pretty festive occasion. A few of them even wanted to know if I celebrate the festival myself. I responded as best as possible.

But that did not satisfy me enough. And so this blog post.

Again, do I celebrate Onam?

Yes, I do. And I also celebrate Christmas, Eid, Deepawali, Lohri and Ganesh Chathurti and several other festivals. That's what festivals are for. To celebrate. To spread joy and to connect with your loved ones and friends. To be happy. To remember the good things of life. Aren't they? I find it rather odd to explain to people whether I celebrate a particular festival or not. That too in India which is renowned for its secularism and celebrates different festivals round the year, most of which are based on various religious/traditional beliefs.
Growing up in an army family has taught me to believe in the supreme power and celebrate life in all its forms. In fact, I've grown up watching my parents give due importance to each and every prominent festival of the country. In the Army there is no, "Your Festival vs. My festival." If it's a festival then it's for everyone to celebrate.
Moreover, some of my closest friends follow Sikhism and Christianity. During my college days I was a member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. I used to sing in the church choir too and was given honorary membership of the YMCA (and not YWCA), for my contributions. Durga Puja is one of my favourite festivals as is Diwali. I'm a member of a lay Buddhist organisation for the past five years and follow their teachings. To me religion is a way of life. And I believe that there can be many ways to lead one's life and be happy. Also, I love the vibrant, joyful and positive atmosphere of  different festivals and don't see  why I can't celebrate a particular festival or at least wish others on the happy occasion. Even if I don't belong to the particular religion or follow the exact rituals.

Let me end the note with an apt quote by Shri Rabindranath Tagore:

"You are invited to the festival of this world and your life is blessed."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Write it down!

We all have our own favourite forms of expression. Don't we? Mine is writing. Talking too. But the issue with verbal communication is that very few people have the time to listen to our elaborate thoughts. And even if someone kindly lends an ear in this 'rushy -pushy' world it is often difficult to state our thoughts in a clear and concise manner for most of us. So, many times, we find ourselves meandering away from the main subject that we wish to discuss. Consequently, the impact is lost. While in writing you can take that liberty to an extent. Especially when you are writing to/for yourself. Or to a limited (& curious) audience.  Anyway, coming to the point, it's been days since I wrote a story or a poem. Craving to write something. With no specific aim. Just write.

In the past few years I have been involved with different kinds of writing projects including technical writing in the social development field. Currently, I'm busy with several such projects. They are interesting and novel experiences. They add to my knowledge and experience (not to mention, my purse). So neither do I want to and nor can I ignore such projects.  But given a choice I'll be happy to get down to writing my book 4 of the "Pursuit" series or even attempt a thriller or some other equally compelling story.  As long as they are stories that entertain people and transport them to a different world; I'm happy. But since I cannot begin my next novel until I finish the big pile of writing work on my desk, (and since poems and short stories don't come to you that easily either), I'll have to again entertain myself by writing down my trifling today. This is convenient and the best way to take it all out. Write away my grouses or what - nots. It feels good that I've written something that means nothing to anyone but makes me happy. At least, I got a chance to interact with myself and commuicated with my thoughts. The dull feeling is somewhat mitigated for now. I am energised and will be able to focus on my work better. Ah! so many advantages. That's why I say, Write it down!   
and keep smiling!  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Eat, Pray and Read

Hello, Hello!

I've just returned from a trip to the US.  My colleague, Richa Mohan and I were invited for an international conference on Haemophilia - a genetic bleeding disorder. Our organisation, Empowering minds works for the growth and development of marginalised and excluded population of the society especially underprileged children.  One of the main focus areas of our NGO  is to provide psycho social care and counselling to persons suffering from the genetic bleeding disorder. The programme also equips their family members and care givers (including consultancy to other NGOs working in the field, doctors, nurses and social workers) to cope with the day to day requirements of a PwH .

The trip to US was amazing in more ways than one as I brought back some great lessons and lovely memories.

Now that was just to give you a glimpse of the other work that I am passionate about. Of course, writing and day dreaming about becoming a world famous writer is still at number one.  Authors like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Gilbert are some of the writers whose works have inspired me. Talking of Gilbert, I absolutely loved her,  'Eat, Pray and Love' and its sequel 'Committed.' 

Some of you might be aware that I write in the same genre as the authors I mentioned above and maybe their thoughts and ideas on the age old and delicate issue of man - woman relationship attracted and encouraged me enough to delve into and write about the various facets of man - woman relationship. However, unlike Gilbert (whose both the books, 'EPL' and 'Committed' are based on her own life) and Austen (whose style was highly debated  and some even opine - fluctuated between realism and fairy tale), my books clearly fall in the category of realist fiction. Or so I would like to think. Somewhat similar to Gilbert in that sense with the emphasis on "everyday" urban life. In fact, my debut novel, the first in the "Pursuit" series, dealt with the subject of 'Infidelity', and its (emotional) impact on modern - day urban couples and their marriage. And my third book in the series which was released earlier this year titled,  'In pursuit of a lesser offence,' again probes the changing face of love and marriage in modern times. 

Some excerpts from the latest book -   

Kanupriya laughs at her friend’s innocence. “You are such a darling. Don’t be so worried about me. I told you, I can never fall in love. I can be attracted to a guy. I can sleep with him. But love? Well, that is something entirely different. I think love is an overrated term. The only true love I believe in is the love between a mother and her child. Other kinds of love are mere transactions,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

I think, with the passage of time, marriage as an institution will either fade away or people will start getting married on a contractual basis. The contract will end with something like: For the next ten years we promise to remain committed to each other. After the stipulated time period expires, both the parties will review it and then decide whether to apply for a renewal or say goodbye to each other amiably.

 Well, both the above statements have been made by Sangeet's close friend Kanupriya. Sangeet (the main female protagonist) is a divorced young woman from Kolkata who goes through a bad marriage before deciding to end it. She's still trying to cope with her painful situation when she meets her rebellious friend Kanupriya in Delhi and during one such meeting the above conversation takes place. 

So what do you think? 

In case, you decide to pick it share your views on the story with me and also with other book lovers. You can review it on Goodreads or Flipkart or any other platform you write on. 

You may even write to me at - 

Keep reading and keep smiling. :-)