Category Archives: Writing Challenge

Break the Cyber Ice

Image from virtualeventshub.com

Expressing myself through writing rather than in person always came to me more easily- whether it was putting myself out there through my blog, writing personal stuff (though I don’t do that anymore , as mentioned in a previous post) or commenting through social media. In real life though, I’m rather introverted and reserved, so much so that a person ,first acquainted with my online persona , then happened to meet me, would probably wonder if he/she had met my doppelganger!!

Socialising had always been a bit of a challenge. Large parties are the ones I used to dread, as I tended to be a wallflower and usually froze and fumbled when a ‘guy’ came up to speak to me. So, ‘Breaking the ice’- meaning to attempt to become friends with someone or to initiate social interchanges and conversation was obviously not my cup of tea.

A carefree attitude that came with age changed all that – to a small extent. I still try to avoid the large parties, prefer the ones where most of the guests don’t know/ barely know each other or a small group of close friends. In fact I ‘m now quite comfortable chatting with a stranger (at a party), especially if I know there’s a rare chance I’ll see him/her again!

So, for this week’s writing challenge when the daily post asked us to break the ice with bloggers we’ve never read before- follow and leave substantive comments, I was intrigued. I’d never used the reader to find new blogs, mostly depended on recommendations of other  fellow bloggers  or occasionally through the freshly pressed page. So I decided to give it a shot considering that it was the cyber world after all- my comfort zone!  Here’s what/who I found :

  1.  Humour is a genre that I admire and generally struggle with. Very few people can write humorously and connect with their readers. So I searched under ‘Humour’ and clicked on the first blog that came up- MeditationS. Erin from mindbodygallery.com  has a casual style of writing about her everyday life and is currently on a venture to put up 50 posts this November. Check out some of the titles she has planned for her upcoming posts!
  2. Being a born bookworm and lover of fiction, I decided to look for fiction blogs. I found this amazing writer,Danevon from Flashfictiondaily.com ,who’s even been Freshly Pressed (don’t know how I missed that!) and whose blog is dedicated entirely to flash fiction. What I really liked was the simple writing style and stories inspired mostly by news articles around the world.

I had fun stumbling upon these new blogs, not knowing what really to expect and being pleasantly surprised. I’ve left my comments, though not substantive, but in my usual minimalistic style. Now, all I have to do is wait and see if the ice is broken!

Do you/ would you use the reader to find new blogs? Was it helpful? Did you have fun?

DP Challenge: I wish I were

Agni-nakshatram. The star of fire. Chennai in June.

The relentless, sweltering heat abetted by the elusive rains was adding to the misery of the denizens.  Fronds of the coconut trees were crackling with dryness and dust.  Luscious ripe mangoes hanging low from trees were enticing the fruit bats and Drosophilae.

Oblivious to all this, Meera lay on her bed, in another world ,her waist-length hair strewn over her face, with a book lying open next to her.

“Meee-raaa! Are you ready yet? ” her reverie was interrupted by the high-pitch voice of Sowmya Athe (father’s sister).

Sighing, she sat up with a look of resignation, knowing what was coming her way. Her other two aunts, Sudha and Saroja Athe soon followed their sister into the room.

” Dreaming as usual, Meera! We knew it. That’s why we’re here early” said Saroja Athe triumphantly as they wafted into her bedroom, carrying piles of kanjeevaram sarees from their own wardrobe.

Meera had come on a vacation with her father to her  aunt Saroja’s house in Chennai and the 3 sisters whose tentacles spread all over the world, had taken it on themselves to find her a suitable groom. She had already met a string of non-descript men back home in Bombay and was looking forward to a restful break.

But it was not to be.

Today, a prospective bridegroom was coming home to see her.

I wish I were fifty years old and not have to go through this annoying rigamarole of meeting strange boring men! ” thought Meera to herself.

Note:The most common uses of the subjunctive mood in English are conditions, suppositions, wishes, demands, suggestions, and statements of necessity. At least once in our lives, we’ve all muttered, “I just wish I were…” or “If I were more like…”, knowingly or unknowingly invoking the subjunctive mood.This week, the Daily Post has asked us to finish the following sentence for the writing challenge: “I wish I were.” This is a piece of short fiction inspired by the ‘arranged marriage’ system .

Kids in Adult oriented places

The Daily Post’s writing challenge this week has posed a question: How do you feel about kids in adult oriented places?

The prompt for this challenge probably stems from the recent call for ban /bar of children in fancy upscale restaurants.  While we all agree that crying or ill-mannered children can be a disturbance to the bon vivants , the decision to take children to a public place should be the personal call of parents(assuming that they know what’s right for their children and themselves!).

I, myself, have dined at fancy restaurants without my children and have also given them the oppotunity of dining at the same fancy restaurant depending entirely on the occassion and/or situation.But even if certain restaurants do bar children below a certain age, it will perhaps affect about 2%of the world’s population – those who can actually afford going to such restaurants.

While this topic  may be fodder for an interesting debate, I believe there are more contentious  issues concerning children that affect a larger population globally.

1. Yesterday, I came across this article in the newspaper:

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/300-possible-victims-in-jimmy-savile-child-sex-abuse-scandal/1021989/

While it is shocking to say the least, child sex abuse(CSA) is an atrocity that pervades all strata of society and culture. It is not just  few isolated incidents like the one above ,but is happening all around us. According to a 2009 study, the global prevalence of CSA is 19.7% for females and 9.7% for males and about 60% of the offendors are acquaintances.(Wikipedia)

2. While some fancy restaurants do not want children as their costumers, there are others, especially in third world countries where children are hired as cleaners and waiters and are denied the basic right to education.

Image from jubayerchowdhury.wordpress.com

3. Similarly,it is common to find children in construction sites breathing dust filled air since their parents, the construction workers, migrate from one city to another in search of work  and cannot afford to put them in schools.

Image from guardian.co.uk

Even though there are laws for the rights of children and  to prevent child labor, they are still violated, most often by people in power and position. While many NGOs have worked towards creating awareness and providing help to victims, meaningful action is necessary to ensure that violators do not get away with such acts and  thereby serve as a warning to future  detractors.

DP Challenge: Something Completely Different

The Daily Post has thrown a challenge to do something completely different this time. The writing challenges have actually already helped me to move out of my comfort zone several times. I wrote short fiction once, when I usually write non-fiction. I wrote poetry in my last challenge when i hardly even read it and I attempted to write on politics in a previous challenge. So, this time, I ‘m writing an open letter.

Dear Generation Z,

As a parent and teacher of generation Z , I constantly worried about your casual attitude towards education, the kind of values learnt and future college and career prospects. I specially worried when

  1. You whiled away your time on gadgets and websites that were so painstakingly created by  people of my generation (Gen X) for ‘useful’ purposes.
  2. You did  not bother to acquire knowledge the way we used to, hours poring over books,      as you believed all information was at the tip of the fingertips.
  3. You considered books and newspapers as antique ephemera.
  4. You answered ‘Nothing’ when asked what you did in school today.
  5. The only words you read were 140 characters long or the incoherent ones in instant      messages on itouch.

But yesterday, my gloomy prognostications were proved wrong. Yesterday, I had the honor of being on the jury panel in my son’s school to assess the students’ presentation as an indicator of academic progress.

I saw a bunch of lanky 6th graders trying to hide their nervousness under a cloak of insouciance.  As they presented their work in front of the jury, I realized that not only had they read books,but in fact several of them, with powerful, thought-provoking content. Books such as George’s secret key to the Universe, A Hundred Dresses and Samir Ek and Samir Do that dealt with issues of differences and discrimination . How certain children are ridiculed because they are different from the rest or conversely even though two children are very different, they can still be friends.

By integrating these readings along with other activities, each student then presented their big idea or take- home message, each one a unique, distinct, and powerful idea. Such as ‘The law of nature is order and regularity’, “Difference doesn’t matter in friendship”, ‘Unity in Diversity’, “It  is important to have harmony within us”.

Important and insightful messages.

In this era of globalization, when the world has apparently shrunk, yet differences seem much wider and are rarely tolerated, I think it’s wonderful that these students are already thinking about these issues and reflecting on them. Hopefully, they will incorporate these ideas into their own lives when they are ready to step into the world and make their own decisions.

I believe that education, apart from teaching you how to read, write and do math, should help you to think, reflect , believe in yourselves, be tolerant of other cultures and make right decisions . We can then look forward to a bright future where we can have more inspiring children like Malala ,who slowly bring about change one step at a time.

Keep up the good work!

A proud parent.

Mind the Gap: An Indian Perspective

According to Wikipedia, the Occupy Movement started in New York on September 17, 2011 to address the issues of ‘Wealth Inequality, Political Corruption, and Corporate influence of government’. Some of the characteristics of the movement were ‘Occupation, Non-violent protest, Civil Disobedience, Picketing, Demonstrations, Internet Activism’. The Occupy movement spread to over 20 countries, but never made it to India. But I believe it was an Indian who first captured the attention of the world with the idea of a non-violent, civil-disobedience movement.

In the early 1900s as the Indian struggle for freedom from British rule gained momentum, several Indian leaders called for ‘home rule’, signing petitions and holding public meetings. But they weren’t taken seriously and the atrocities on the Indian multitude continued unabated. Then in September 1920, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi called on all Indians to boycott all British manufactured goods and withdraw from all offices, factories and schools run by the British.

Thousands rallied in support causing an unprecedented magnitude of disorder that challenged and shocked the foreign rulers. This was the ‘Non-Cooperation movement’, a nation-wide, non-violent protest, a watershed moment in the history of the Indian freedom struggle. Other non-violent movements- the Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India movement followed, both orchestrated by Mahatma Gandhi. It was again his commitment to non-violence that made him call off these protests when it was marred by a few violent demonstrations. But it set the stage for the formation of a free and independent India in 1947.

Sixty-four years later, another Indian, a social activist and self-proclaimed Gandhian, Kishan Hazare, popularly known as Anna Hazare, initiated an anti-corruption movement. On 5thApril 2011(well before the Ocuppy movement), he went on a hunger-strike demanding a strong anti-corruption bill, the’ Jan Lokpal’ (People’s Ombudsman) to be passed in parliament. Soon, the nation was gripped in a patriotic fervour as thousands came out in support, holding rallies and sporting ‘I am Anna’ caps and T-shirts. The ‘India against corruption’ campaign caught the media’s attention, calling the movement ‘the second freedom struggle’ and fuelled the people’s certitude that he would redeem the nation from corruption. Eighteen months later, the ‘struggle’, riddled with controversies, is limping in bits and spurts.

With more governments becoming corrupt and turning a blind eye to the common man’s woes, protests seem to have become a platform for the denizens to air their grievances. Although, over a period of time, most protests lose steam and credibility due to lack of consensus and/or strong leadership, unclear or unreasonable demands and controversial methods of protest.

Solutions are not obvious. But we aren’t looking for Utopia, just a corruption-free , transparent government that ensures that the taxes we pay go towards progress of the nation and not into the pockets of a few chosen ones!

 All pictures taken from Wikipedia.

This post was written in respone to the Daily post’s weekly writing challenge ‘Mind the Gap: Occupy Movement’

Email: Bane or Boon?

What could be a better way of starting one’s day than with a resounding clap or sometimes whisper of endorsement from one’s Inbox? Every morning, groggy from sleep, the first thing I remember is the post I put up on my blog the previous night and quickly reach for my laptop.

As soon as it turns on, ‘Google chat’ is activated. I’m then notified of the emails I’ve received including those ego-boosting ones from WordPress that tell me the number of likes and comments my blog has garnered.

My day has now officially begun!

I have ‘Google chat’ on all day long, so even as I ‘m writing this, I know immediately of any new incoming mail. Distracting? Yes! But I can’t bring myself to turn it off!

I don’t really achieve much through email. I’m a homemaker who lives close to most of my family and friends. Facebook suffices to keep in touch with those who live away.

So, I could technically do away with email. But how can I, when it has given me interesting anecdotes and material for this post.

1. Mistaken Identity

This morning, I found this message from Facebook in my Inbox.

“X posted on your timeline, “happy birthday!” ‘

So, what’s wrong in that you ask? Nothing, except that it wasn’t my Birthday!

One of the banes of having a common Indian first name is that I often get emails which are meant for someone else. Once I received an email from an acquaintance with details of his company’s business strategies. Luckily for him, neither I nor anyone close to me worked in that field!

2. Entertainment or annoyance?

I happened to meet a stand-up comedienne sometime back. Last week, she emailed me a you-tube clip of one of her performances and cced it to her entire contact list. By the end of the day, I had received video clips from several other aspiring stand-up comedians and emails from celebrity management companies!

3. Platform for Debate?

There was an interesting exchange of emails among the moms of my son’s class when we were asked to put up a skit on folktales for storytelling week in school. The following debate took place regarding the choice of folktales that were considered as ‘suitable’.

Mom 1: I have always wondered why so many folktales/fairy tales/mythology are so violent. It keeps me from sharing a lot of those stories with the kids, unfortunately.

Mom 2: I see what you mean! I grew up on a massive diet of Indian mythology/folktales and was so keen on bringing up my son on the same. But sadly he just never took to them. I wondered if it was the illustrations – which had many rash strokes, unlike the soft colours and beautiful images in the American books he saw/read.

Mom 3: …storytelling is a fascinating human practice. It is never just about the storyline, is it?….the messages and morals are contained somewhere between the lines and the dramatic imagery. What better way to introduce kids to common sense, social justice, right vs wrong, human values (truth, compassion, respectfulness…), and the staggering wealth of Indian Mythology and historical tales?

Mom 4: In the child’s development of moral radar, I would err on the side of doing a story that evokes a moral dilemma but stays away from the macabre and has much room for discussion. These tots of our have a burning desire to engage with such content.

A stimulating read, to say the least!

4. Real Significance

The one only time Email played a significant role in my life was when I moved abroad and missed my family terribly. Phone calls were prohibitively expensive and a once-a week luxury. It was when I looked forward to hear the assurance in my dad’s voice; the subtle anxiety in my mom’s or the excitement in my sister’s voice. Email couldn’t replace any of that but it gave me the instant gratification for chit-chat in my quiet and alien life and the whisper of validation that I would be just fine in a strange new land.

This post is in response to the weekly writing challenge: Mail it in!

Weekly Writing Challenge: Violins and Memories

Coming from a middle class family in India, especially one with several members, it is quite unlikely for one to possess a family heirloom. There aren’t any sentimental childhood possessions either as they were all donated before the move from Mumbai to Bangalore 20 years ago. Materialistic possessions are anyway so temporary- perishable; it’s the memories that are to be treasured for eternity!

With the passing years, one tends to rely more on pictures to conjure up events of the past, but there are some that do not require a tangible entity, the memories remain entrenched in one’s minds forever!

Like the time, one evening, coming back home after playing with friends (I was around 8 or 9), I found my father eagerly waiting for me at the door. He ushered me into the dining area, brimming with excitement and said, ‘I have a surprise for you’.  I followed him with puzzlement and wonder to the side table at the corner of the room.  On top of the radio that stood on the table, there was a bird sitting motionless, barely a foot away from me, staring with beady eyes!

At first, I thought it was a stuffed bird and then it cocked its head to one side as if it was sizing me up. It was a mynah (a bird of the starling family) which had somehow found its way into that secure corner of our second floor apartment. I asked my father if I could keep it as a pet, but he flatly refused saying that birds are meant to be free, flying out in the sky, not confined in homes. The mynah remained there for a few more hours, confused and scared and finally flew out of the door that my father had left open for its sake.

The memory is a testament of my father’s kindness and childlike enthusiasm for many things, trivial or otherwise, in life. There are a few of his worldly possessions that I have held on to, things that embody his effulgent qualities.

This violin is a symbol of his joie de vivre and zest for life. He bought it after retirement in his continued quest for new learning. He even carried it to the US, when he, along with my mom, came to help me with my firstborn, to practise in his spare time. But I didn’t ever get a chance to listen to him play as he fell sick the very next day and passed away a week later.  It is now lying broken in its case (damaged on its way back to India), and I hope one day to have it restored and learn to play it myself.

There’s nothing ornate or wondrous or antique about this stool. Rather, it embodies his spirituality and pious nature. He used it as a prayer seat; sat on it every single day after his morning ablutions, in a corner of the kitchen (which was also used as a prayer room) with his eyes closed in meditation. It continues to stay in a corner near the prayer room as we cannot dream of putting it to any other use.

A few of my favourite things? I doubt if I have any. But some I cherish as a legacy of a life of goodness, vivacity and devotion.

This post is in response to Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: A few of My favourite things. You can  read a tribute I wrote to my father in one of my very early posts here

Weekly Writing Challenge: The beautiful sound of silence

It was dark and eerie, a narrow alley that took me into a world of surreal. The only sounds were the   croaking of crickets and the screeching of bats on the lone tree at the far end. I’m nearing the end and expect to hear the familiar whooshing of the waves that will soon engulf me. But it doesn’t happen. Instead, I see a man, just his silhouette actually. I stop and wonder if I should turn back to the dystopian reality that awaits me. Suddenly, I hear a voice; the words at first seem muffled .Then a clear ringing intonation,

“It is your own consent that will lead you down the path to freedom and happiness. All you need is to find the power within you, to release the chains of confinement.”

Startled, I want to scream, but all that comes out is a whisper, “Who are you?” I can hear my heartbeat echoing through the alley.

The sonorous voice wafts back, “I’m a figment of your imagination. A passing memory.”

A gust of wind roars over, picking up some leaves, rustling, as it floats away. The stranger continues, “You can choose to be fettered or to let go like those leaves which are now on their way to freedom.”

“But the leaves didn’t choose to part”, I said as I found my voice. “They dried and fell and now they are carried by the wind.”

“That’s an illusion! They fall off only when they want to, just like everything else that is in harmony with nature.”

As if on cue, a falcon shrieks in the sky above and my eye catches the first rays of the morning sun sparkling over the placid waters.

When I look again, the stranger of the night has vanished and I wake up from my reverie to the beautiful and comforting sound of silence.

My first attempt at writing fiction, thanks to the Daily Posts’s Writing Challenge

DP Challenge: A day in the ICU

The Daily Post has thrown a challenge to use active and passive voice in an engaging way. A year ago, I was hospitalised for dengue and here’s an account of one day in the ICU.

I was wheeled into the MICU, a huge spacious room with large glass windows and transferred onto the bed right next to the entrance, for which I was glad. Not that I wanted to escape or anything, but just in case! The nurse’s station was right in front of me and through the window across the room , I could see a Gulmohar (mayflower) tree , in full bloom, with flaming orange flowers, the only bright spot in the otherwise gloomy surrounding .  It was quite unnerving to see the other patients (about 10 in all), with a host of tubes, bandages and ventilators!

Just as I was settling in, an X- ray machine was wheeled in and I was informed that a  lung X-ray had to be taken. The handler loudly announced “Radiation” and all the nurses ran over to the other end of the MICU!

No other patient was awake. The only sounds were of the monitors beeping away. Time was moving like a snail with crutches! I had to undergo platelet transfusion due to the extremely low platelet counts and soon, the transfusion was set up. It was late evening by the time it was done and I got to meet my husband briefly. He came covered from head to toe, in hospital garb. I could only see his eyes, looking strained, but trying to smile and make light of the situation.

The next morning, I was woken up at 5.30 am by the nurse to have my temperature checked and my blood drawn for testing. Then , a lady attender came to ask me if I would have a wipe-down bath in bed or if I would walk to the bath. I opted for the latter. I was escorted to the bathroom at the far end of the MICU and handed a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of ‘Dettol’ soap with instructions to wash my hair. I stared at the bar of soap balefully, wondering if my lovely hair would protest, but  since it was uncertain when I would lay my eyes on shampoo next,  I went ahead with it!

A change in the nurse’s shift brought a boisterous bunch of nurses, unlike the soft-spoken ones from the previous day. One of the nurses sitting at the station was learning Sanskrit alphabets from another nurse, while a third was describing her facials and how she likes to lick the face pack applied at the end!

Soon after, the head of the ICU, Dr. Shiv Kumar, a middle-aged, portly , gregarious man, walked in with his entourage of interns and PGs.  After the rounds, they got together at the nurse’s station and started discussing the first International F1 race taking place in India later today. One of the interns had apparently bought a ticket to the F1 for Rs. 30,000/- and Dr. Shiv Kumar found it incredulous that someone could spend so much money to watch a sport. He questioned a young lady intern if she would spend that kind of money and when she answered in the affirmative, he seemed even more amazed. Then he asked 2 other interns, and he was only satisfied when they both replied that they were not crazy about F1 to spend a horde of money on it!

An entertaining morning to say the least!