Sunday, March 15, 2015

Our collection from Lalbagh

When you go on walks with your children (no matter how old) do be ready to pick up tree-related things you find on the way, and take it home. But very, very strictly - no plucking things off plants and trees. It's good fun to try and find out what they are. This is our Lalbagh loot for today.


Here, we have a Cassia pod, a pod from an elephant ear tree, some figs, a prickly cone from a Monkey Puzzle tree, and some other things that we are yet to identify.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Starry-eyed

What--or who--makes your child go starry-eyed? For instance, as a child, I think I used tolook up to writers. To me, they were of a fabulous species descended from the skies.  From what my mother says, I guess that for her, it was musicians. Some go gaga over sportspeople, superheroes--we all have a category of people that we look up to, to put it mildly.

I've wondered what worked for Puttachi. But I know what it is not - writers. Though she loves and devours books, writers for her aren't some unknown species sitting on some pedestal churning out books by magic. She actually knows, and has met many of the authors she reads. In fact, if I hand her a new book, she says, "Is it by one of your writer friends?" or if I'm looking for a book online, she saunters up and asks, "Looking for a book by one of your friends?" Writers for her are commonplace. Nothing to get all excited about.

So what was it?

I found out unexpectedly. One of my latest writing projects involves my interacting with scientists and researchers. When I speak about them to Puttachi, she drops everything, and listens, eyes shining. If I tell her that I shouldn't be disturbed for half an hour, since I have to call up a scientist, she says, "Really? Boy or girl? What is his name? What does he work on? Is he famous? All over India? Is he world-famous?"

If I take a quick call in front of her, she hangs around me, ready to do my every bidding--only if I'm talking to a scientist. She brings me a book to take notes in, scurries about finding a pen, and makes space on the table for me to place the book on, and then hangs around, mouth open, excitement on her face.

Usually, if I tell her that I have an urgent mail to reply to, and could she be quiet for two minutes, she doesn't listen. But now, she says, "Are you replying to a scientist?" and she goes completely quiet.

It amuses me no end--especially because though we do talk a lot about science and stuff at home, I don't recall talking about scientists per se, or praising them, or speaking of them in high regard--ok, perhaps I do, in some context or the other, but not, you know, specifically in a way that would have brought about this kind of respect in her eyes.

I have no idea where it comes from! But I like it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review of three Karadi books

Puttachi and I have been fans of Karadi Rhymes and Karadi Audio CDs for a long time now. I've written before about how we love Usha Uthup's energetic, uplifting voice, and the catchy music in Karadi Rhymes (which I would recommend to everybody, adults and children alike.)

We hadn't checked out their picture books, though, and when an opportunity came my way to review three of them, I jumped at it.

A Pair of Twins by Kavitha Mandana, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath.

Sundari is a mahout's daughter who has an unlikely twin in Lakshmi. Set in the elephant stables of the Mysore palace, this is a lovely tale of a little girl who dreams big, and breaks barriers. It is also a story about friendship and courage. Beautifully narrated, with attention to detail, the story is a delight.

The illustrations are lovely too, intricate and evocative. They complement the narration beautifully. Particularly clever is the cover page - you can't really make out that the twins are not, well, twins exactly, when you look at the picture - but after you read the first page, and look at the cover again, you can "see" it immediately!

The Bookworm by Lavanya R.N., illustrated by Shilo Shiv Suleman.

I was particularly interested in reading this book because I could identify with Sesha - he loves books, and he is teased because he speaks differently. I am always happy when children's books highlights people who are "different," but the resolution of this story left me feeling--"Ha, that's certainly wishful thinking!" My opinion is obviously coloured by my own experiences, and you might not feel the same way. But the story does a good job in dealing with the issue of bullying, and its effect on the bullied.

The illustrations are fascinating. Puttachi wasn't too impressed with them initially - she felt they were not bright enough, and the collage-like effect seemed to distract her from the text. But on the second reading, she caught details in the illustrations that she'd missed before. And that made her think and pay more attention to the illustrations--which makes me feel that these are the kind of illustrations that grow on you, and makes you take away something new with you each time you see them.

The Rumour by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Kanyika Kini.

This book was by far Puttachi's favourite. Though it deals with an age-old concept, the author has done an excellent job with the narration, with little verses interspersed throughout the book. Puttachi loved the story, and giggled through it, telling me that it was just like Chinese Whispers. I also seized this opportunity to talk about why one shouldn't pass on "information" without verifying it. She seemed to appreciate it.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Puttachi and I pored over the little details, each one done with so much love; I liked the wide-eyed expressions of all the village people, especially those gossiping, and particularly, those listening to gossip. In one illustration, even the cow has an adorable, wide-eyed, curious look. Puttachi was pleased to recognize a Plumeria plant, which bears her favourite flowers. After that, she started observing the illustrations of the trees closely, commenting on how accurately they have been depicted. She has been trying to see if all the colourful birds are "real" too, and wants to identify them. I think this book has done much, much more than what it set out to do!

Link to their picture book catalogue.

Note: I was sent pdf versions of these three books by Karadi Books, for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Hills are Alive

It turns out that I totally forgot that I was doing a post a day this month. :) I can't make up for the days I missed, but I'll make no more commitments that I can't keep!

So on to the topic - some years back, I broke my self-imposed vow not to comment on celebrities who mean nothing to me, and I expressed my disgust at Lady Gaga's meat costume. So I think it is only fair that I break my silence again, this time to commend her on her stunning performance at the Oscars. (Apparently she trained with a voice coach for six months just for this.)

I feel all the more compelled to speak about this because "The Hills are Alive" is MY song. It is the song that I've sung a countless times in the bathroom, and have imagined myself singing it in a hall full of applauding admirers. :p Basically, Lady Gaga lived my dream, and boy, did she live it well!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Distant Echoes Anthology

I don't remember if I told you that in 2014, I wrote one story a month as part of the Short Story 12x12 Challenge (details here.)

Some were good, some were not. Some went on to get published, one won the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction award. Others are languishing in my folder, waiting for me to polish them and send them out.

And now, we've brought out an anthology of a story each (written for this challenge) from all nine of us who completed the challenge successfully. This is only available as an e-book, and here is the Amazon link. More details on Facebook.

There are some lovely stories in there. Do buy Distant Echoes if you like short stories.

 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fiendish Furniture

The furniture around me has this annoying habit of bumping into me. My mom puts it correctly. "Poor Shruthi. She just walks ahead, keeping to herself, and the furniture attacks her." At night, the furniture grows more vicious. And most of the time, the attacks are so freakish that I myself find it difficult to believe.

Take today, for instance. The dining chair. All I did was try to sit on the chair. The only mistake I made was to try to adjust the chair as I sat down. One of the legs of this cunning chair climbed over my toe just as I sat down--heavily--on that very chair.

Sigh.


 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why don't we question everything?

Today, in two WhatsApp groups, I received a "cure" for swine flu. The "remedy" claims to kill swine flu "bacteria." And as always is the case with such forwards, it has bothered me all day.

What is it about us that we accept (and propagate) such information without stopping to ask if it is true, or whether it is possible, or whether the information in the message is likely to be accurate? Why don't we say, "Who told you this?" or "How did you come to know about this?" or "Did you look it up?" or "Are you sure this is not a hoax?" or "Are you sure swine flu is caused by bacteria and not viruses?" or "Is there any evidence for this?" or "Do you think it is scientifically possible?" or any variation of the above?

Is it the same attitude that makes us implicitly believe and accept traditional rituals and "our ancestors' wisdom?" Is it ingrained in us? Are we socially conditioned to accept without questioning? Has it got something to do with ignorance/illiteracy? Is it our education system that makes us accept information without asking why and what and how?

Do you have an explanation for this?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

History

As a child, I thought history was all about dates, and I had no particular affinity towards it. But in the last ten years, I've been increasingly drawn to history, and this has been mainly due to good books that I've read on the subject. It helped that I took online courses on Archaeology, History of Architecture and A brief history of humankind.

But why should we study history? Dr Yuval Noah Harari, who was the instructor of the course "A Brief History of Humankind," puts it beautifully:

People often ask, what is the purpose of studying history? They sometimes imagine that we study history in order to predict the future, or in order to learn from past mistakes. In my view, we should study history not in order to learn from the past, but in order to be free of it.
 
Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures.

The more I think about it, the truer the above sentences seem to me. And it is true that by reading more history, I'm gaining perspective on several subjects.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tinkle

I read Tinkle as a kid, and had lots of them. My mother got them bound. These bound Tinkles travelled around the family, and have now made their way back to Puttachi, who is hooked onto them. I love browsing through them too--brings back happy memories. And something that really makes me laugh are the advertisements of thirty years ago! [Velcro! Keeps everything fastened. No mess, no trouble!] I intend to do a post on these ads, complete with pictures.

An aside: Suppandi jokes are totally in among Puttachi's friends! I think they are of the right age to appreciate that kind of simple humour. They tell each other Suppandi jokes all day, and half of them have been made up by themselves.

I used to love Tinkle, was enamoured by Uncle Pai and was particularly fascinated by the address of the Tinkle office: IBH, Mahalaxmi chambers, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Bombay. I spent many hours imagining a lively place full of people, and I thought the cartoon panels were all engraved on rubber-stamp-like moulds, and all they had to do was choose the right panel, block-print it on paper, and colour it. Bombay was to me a large open space with a beach, and in which city my aunt lived. I wondered how close Mahalaxi Chambers was to her house (but never asked anybody.)

Cut to a little more than 10 years ago, i.e. about 20 years after my childish imagination. I was working in Bombay, and my friend asked me to accompany her to a bookshop (Crossword?) in Mahalaxmi. We took the local, and I just followed her blindly as we got off the train at Mahalaxmi station, walked a little, and went to a building. After she finished her work, we were coming down the stairs, when suddenly, I saw the door to a small office. I just peered in - it was an old-fashioned room, with walls painted a dull green or blue, and with tube-lights.  Small, barred windows with thick nondescript handloom curtains. I spotted an ordinary desk with a green rexine-looking table-cloth. Just imagine a government office of your childhood and you'll know the kind of room I'm talking about.. Just out of curiosity, I read the board outside the door-- though I don't remember what exactly was on it, I saw the words "Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle."

Suddenly the light turned on in my head.

I asked my friend, "Hey, what is the name of this building?"

"Mahalaxmi Chambers, if I'm not wrong," she said.

"And the name of the road?" I asked.

"Not sure, why?" she said.

I didn't know what to say. I went downstairs and looked around, and sure enough, I saw a board somewhere that announced that it was Bhulabhai Desai road.

I had unexpectedly seen the magical fantasy world of my childhood imagination!
 

Monday, February 09, 2015

WhatsApp

What is it with WhatsApp groups that makes outwardly sensible people dissolve into a mess of emoticons, stickers, flowers and hearts and sidey jokes? Overnight, they turn into forwarders of pseudoscientific snippets and stereotypical jokes and Good Morning messages and ancient forwards. Apart from that, every hair-tearing, annoying message is followed by appreciation - emoticons of ten pictures of applause in each message, by each of the 50 members in the group. And nobody ever smiles ordinarily any more. They all laugh with tears spouting from their eyes.

And to think that I'd once been so excited about the possibilities of WhatsApp groups!

In the company of trees.

Yesterday, I spent a beautiful morning in the calming company of trees, thanks to Neralu. We also visited our old haunt, The Park [Link and Link ] which I miss very much (and have no valid reason not to visit it more often.) All the "huge" play instruments and slides, next to which Puttachi used to look tiny but brave--all those slides look so ordinary and non-scary now. Funny. My height hasn't changed, but my perspective has.

Yesterday's connection with nature was perfectly completed with a visit to a friend's house, whose mother has a large vegetable garden. Puttachi helped her dig out carrots and pick some greens, and we came back home laden with fresh produce from the garden, which the lady generously gave us.

Though I've never been too much into gardening, I love the concept of growing one's own vegetables in the backyard. Some day, perhaps.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Greenwich - some pictures

This post serves two purposes - one, it makes up for the missing Thursday post. Two, I intend this as a starting point for all the pictures of England and Scotland (from our visit nearly 5 years ago) that didn't make it to the blog.
Also see my article Greenwich: The Home of Time


S and Puttachi in Greenwich Park


Greenwich Park


A squirrel on a tree


The Prime Meridian


The bizarre but arresting truncated cone of the planetarium



View of Queen's house from atop the hill. Beyond this is the Thames river, and beyond that, Canary Wharf.


Millennium Dome and other London landmarks

Greenwich - in Mint Lounge

I'd always wondered why the Prime Meridian of the World was located at Greenwich, and why GMT is, well, GMT. Also, I had this irresistible urge to stand on the Greenwich Meridian. So when we went to Greenwich, I satisfied my craving, and got my questions answered.

I've written about it in today's Mint Lounge. Greenwich: The Home of Time

Friday, February 06, 2015

Characters who hold your interest.

One of the things I struggle with in my stories is when there are too many characters. I have to introduce them slowly, one by one, so as not to confuse the reader. I have to give them non-confusing names.  No Ajay and Vijay or Tina and Bina in the same story. I have to make each character memorable, so that the reader can differentiate between them. And most of all, I have to make each one interesting. The reader should want to know what is going to happen to this person.

That is a tall order. And when I'm stuck, I do the natural thing. Eat chocolate cake. No, seriously, I look to the experts to see how they do it. So when I read a book, I observe how the writer has introduced the characters, and whether I'll benefit from that technique. It slows down reading, and takes away some of the joy of reading, but that's a professional hazard.

Anyway, I've been trying this with movies too. Movies and TV serials have the visual advantage. They can give you different-looking people, wearing different kind of clothes, and you can easily make out who is who. In a story, all this work has to be done with words. So yeah, it might be easier in the visual medium. But you still have to make the viewer care for your characters. How do they do that? You need not like the character. You should just be hooked enough to love them or hate them, or at least want to know what will happen to them.

Coincidentally, just as I was grappling with this problem, Star World started telecasting Downton Abbey a couple of weeks ago. I like British programmes, and I like period dramas. So I decided to give this a shot (mainly because I didn't have any interesting book to read that night.) Downton Abbey has a plethora of characters, but yet, within one episode, all 10-15 of them were known to me. And by the second episode, I was itching to watch the third episode because I was involved with the characters and was thinking about them all day.

I don't know whether Downton Abbey will continue to hold my interest, but for me, it will remain memorable as a study in how to make the viewer immediately care deeply for fictional characters.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

New Year Resolution

With face-to-face meetings dwindling, and all my socialization being through the internet, I've occasionally found myself (Really!) wishing for personal meetings. And I've noticed that meeting my girlfriends really recharges me. So my main new year resolution this year is to meet one girlfriend per week over coffee/lunch. Just woman-to-woman, but if it cannot be avoided, with spouse/children.

A bit rich, I hear you think, because,

1) With this resolution, I am assuming that there are 52 women out there who are willing to go out with me for coffee/lunch, or else come home or have me over.
Or that there are women who are willing to meet me more than once in one calendar year.
2) I'm such a lazy creature that I need an industrial crane to pick me up from my house and deposit me outside.

But it is the thought that counts, eh? Wish me luck, especially because January was quite a dud in that respect.

Explore Film-making - course from Futurelearn

Yes, I didn't put up a post yesterday, because I was on the move the entire day. (Really.) I'll make up by posting twice today.

Though I'm not a movie-fanatic, I've enjoyed reading and learning about how films are made. Every time I watch a movie, I go online and find out as much as I can about it - the inspiration, influences, trivia, special shots, etc. I guess my interest has something to do with the art of storytelling; after all, film-making is a very powerful way of telling a story.

So when I saw this course - Explore Film-making, I signed up for it. It started just this week, in case you are interested too.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Copy-editor with Kitaab

Somewhere along the way, I think, every book-lover turns into a stickler for correct grammar. I certainly did.

It seems like I day-dreamed through grammar classes at school, because I hardly remember anything from then. Even now, I just cannot recall the nuances and intricacies of participles and clauses and the like; I am not sure that off the top of my head, I can even tell you what they mean. Yet, I guess I picked up correct grammar from all the reading I've done over the years, and I get all squirmy when I come across bad grammar--if it is in a place where it doesn't belong.

Some friends tell me that they spellcheck and proofread their emails before sending them to me--and that embarrasses me. But honestly, I don't judge like that. I judge only when people who call themselves writers make horrendous grammar mistakes. After all, it is not like I'm perfect myself!

I'm not so good at punctuation. Lately, I've tried to learn, and I'm better at it, but I still need to go running to a reference website occasionally.

Anyway, what has come out of all this, and out of reviewing and editing stories for friends, is that I realized I'd become a pretty decent copy-editor. And so, I applied and got myself a voluntary position at Kitaab as a copy-editor. I've started editing work for them already, and I'm enjoying this role.

 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Puttachi's Odd-one-out Paradox

This is what I'm going to call Puttachi's Odd-one-out Paradox.

Question: There is a blue circle, a red circle and a blue square. Which is the odd one out?

The blue square can be the odd-one-out because the other two are circles.
The red circle can be the odd-one-out because the other two are blue.
So, the blue circle is the only one that cannot logically be the odd-one-out.
So, that makes the blue circle the odd-one-out.
But that means the blue circle is not the odd-one-out any longer!

I swear I have no idea how she comes up with these things.



 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A post a day again.

It turns out that I couldn't commit to the two posts a week I had decided to do this year. So I'm going to jump in and do a post a day this Feb. I know what you are thinking - that choosing Feb is like cheating. But if you look back, all my other post-a-day challenges have been in months with 31 days. And who knows, this might give me the impetus to follow up on my two-posts-a-week idea for the rest of the year?

Let's hope!

Friday, January 16, 2015

A five-minute break

Puttachi is talking non-stop and I need a break.
 
Me: Puttachi, Can you be quiet for as long as I drink my tea?
 
She: Sure!
Me: Thank you. (I sit down with my cuppa.)
 
30 secs later.
She: Amma, when you asked me to be quiet, you just meant that I shouldn't talk to you, right? I can make noise while playing, can't I?
Me: Yeah, yeah, right.
30 secs later.
 
She: But if there is an emergency, I can talk to you, right?
Me: Of course, we've already discussed that.
1 min later, she comes to me, and hugs me and kisses me.
I don't say anything, and that encourages her. She starts gesturing to me, whispering, "See, I'm not talking, I'm just making signs."
I sign back by putting my finger on my lips, and she subsides.
1 min later, she peeps into my cup.
 
She: You have just two more sips to go! I can talk to you after that!
 
She watches as I down the last of my tea.
 
She: Yay! You finished! I can talk to you now!
So much for a peaceful cup of tea.
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