Monday, January 25, 2010

The fine art of blowing one's own trumpet

Who says we don't get awards anymore? Well, everyone because for one, it's true. But kind-hearted Kiran decided that she'd send one my way and so here I have it.

Let's pass it on now. But to whom, ho, that's the question? Five bloggers, at least, are the instructions.
How about chandni, mandira, Aneela, roop and Perakath? Take it away, ladies. And P.


In other news, a bit of attention came my way recently when an interview of mine appeared in New Woman magazine. The article, written by our very own Kiran Manral covers dream careers and ways to get there.

Here's a scanned picture and since you cannot make a single word out because we have scanned it badly and then not edited it, the interview follows.

(Honestly, I am a little stunned that I am giving career advice to other folks but well, what is life if not full of surprises? Just a figurative question, you don't actually need to answer it.)


Parul Sharma quit her job as a market researcher to get into writing full time.She recently had her first book, Bringing up Vasu, published and is now working on her third book. She studied Economics at Delhi University, and post-graduated from the Mudra Institute of Communication, Ahmedabad. A string of jobs in brand communication followed before she decided to return to what she loves best : writing.

What made you decide to switch to writing full time from market research?

Writing full-time was something that I always wanted to do but circumstances did not permit it for many years. Finally, as I approached my thirtieth birthday, I realized that a corporate life would never allow me the kind of environment and time that I needed to write. With an express promise from my husband that he would not let me starve, I quit my job and started work on my first manuscript.

Did you do any research/ preparation, etc, before you took the plunge?

Well, no, not really. If I had found out too much, I don't think I would have had the courage to do it.
Were there doubts, misgivings?

Oh yes, more than my fair share. I regularly had serious attacks of anxiety and panic, with 'what have I done' running as the background score. In fact, because I was so unsure of where and how it would all go, I continued to freelance as a market researcher, not wanting to let go of that option so completely that I could not return to it if I failed at writing. Whenever I had these phases, I wrote.

Did you have to train in any way?

No but I did write a blog for writing practice. I still do.
Did you put aside a "nest egg" before quitting full time work, and was
going back to work an option?

I did have some savings but more than that, I had my husband's assurance that he would look after the family's needs while I pursued my dream. Also, I continued to freelance till I finally had my first book deal in hand. Yes, I would have gone back to market research if this had not worked out. I quite enjoyed it, just not as much as I do writing.

Did you set yourself a deadline?

Yes, I wanted to give it a full year of concerted effort.
What tips do you have for folks who want to get into writing full time?

Treat writing as work. Just like one gets up in the morning and goes to office, you need to show up at your writing table. There will be good days and bad days, just like in any 'regular' work profile. It doesn't matter, just write. If you think what you have written is bad, scrap it out later. Waiting for that one divine bout of inspiration only wastes time. Complete your play/novel/short story and then think about the next step of publishing it.

If you are having trouble finding your voice, again, just keep writing. It will come after you have warmed your pen enough.

Don't worry if you think you are sounding like your favourite author. Once you discover your voice, that fear will be taken care of.

Play on your strengths, be it character creation, humour or description.

Read the book 'On Writing' by Stephen King. The best advice I have received has been from there.

I know, I know there's nothing in there that you have not already read here on the blog. That would be me being consistent.

I have been on something of a writing spree these last few days though the kind of image 'spree' conjures is more of a joyful party than the lonely process it actually is, I am quite happy with my progress. I figured that was the best way to lift myself out of the blue funk that I had settled into after being unable to go to the Jaipur Lit Fest. Let's not get into the reasons here though, the blue funk might make its way back.

I wish sometimes that writing was something you could go out to do, it would provide me with some motivation to dress in clothes other than faded pajamas but then I am not the coffee-shop-paper-napkin-JKR sort of writer, being a little ill at ease in settings other than my own study. So there I am stuck.

Anyway, the writing is progressing well in terms of quantity at least and so I have been rewarding myself with movie screenings and new music. I watched 'Malena', 'Milk', 'Remember the Titans' and 'In the line of fire' recently. Out of these Malena was pretty unforgettable and I have to say that it stayed with me far beyond the day I actually watched it on. Although 'auraton ka shoshan' as my mother terms it is not one of my favourite themes for movie-viewing, the gorgeous, gorgeous Monica Belluci made it the movie equivalent of unputdownable.

Music-wise too, I am doing well, having introduced myself to Glasvegas and Wilco, both of which I liked a fair bit. Other than that, it's been The Kinks all the way this last week. Also a bit of Johnny Cash which means you can find me warbling

what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end

and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

in my most soulful voice, channeling a bit of Mina Kumari as I go along.

I know from experience that music and movie posts elicit absolutely no response from the readers of my blog and I sometimes wonder why. Are our tastes really several poles apart? Tell me, I am listening.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

The 100 Cheesiest Movie Quotes of All Time

Enjoy! Which one is your favourite?

P.S. I am a little embarrassed that the title of my last post features in here. Not very embarrassed but enough to admit to it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Love means never having to say you're sorry

Of course you know what I am talking about. Love Story. I must have read it for the first time when I was twelve. My older sister reserved the rights to allow me to read books when she thought I was ready for them. She handed over Love Story and did not prepare me for what awaited me. And so when several hours later she came into my room, she found me weeping copiously. Jenny dies, I explained in between sobs, much like Joey in the Friends episode where he reads Little Women.

I read Erich Segal's other books too. The Class and Doctors and Oliver's Story, the sequel to Love Story and the strange Acts of Faith. At some point, he fell from my radar as I discovered other authors but the super-smart characters that he wrote about stayed deep within.

What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died? Looks like you cannot say enough about a seventy-two year old author who dies either. RIP, Erich Segal.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of inflated egos

This happened a few days back. Mahesh and a colleague of his were returning from Delhi to Mumbai. The business class passengers were all at the gate, waiting to board in a queue. Suddenly the airport lit up with starlight, harps began to play and they were all graced with the presence of an apsara, a hoorie who had descended from the high heavens just to give them darshan.

Maybe not exactly.

A Bollywood starlet arrived at the scene and looking at the queue, got really upset that the world had adopted equality as a guiding principal while she was not looking. What, I am expected to wait in the queue with these minions, she seemed to ask herself. Then better sense prevailed and she decided that she would fight against this injustice. She marched to the head of the queue and accosted the Jet Airways fellow at the gate, asking him to let her through before the others. Busy as he was with checking the boarding passes of the passengers, the chappie did not have the time to be dazzled by her beauty and ask her to jump right ahead, right into the cockpit itself, if she so pleased. Just wait for your turn, he told her politely. The starlet possibly wanted to show him a few steps of her latest video where she appears in little more than her knickers and a bikini but airports, you know exasperating places that they are, do not come equipped with disco balls and dance music. So she just stood there, hoping to drill some sense into this strange man who did not recognize a genuine celebrity when he saw her. I mean, who would be responsible if she was suddenly mobbed by these suits, though they did not seem to recognize her very well, the stuffy fools.

At this point, an old and very distinguished Parsi gentleman who had been observing the proceedings, spoke up in a pleasant voice, 'young lady, you should not be breaking the queue like this.' That quietened her down somewhat.

The man was J J Irani, CEO and then MD of Tata Steel for many years.

The starlet?

It doesn't matter.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oh Toy Story!

Of late, chez Sharma-Ramanathan has been ringing with the wails of agonized parents who do not know how to handle the fruit of their loins and praying fervently that some enlightenment would come their way before the second child reached its own version of The Rebel Years. The little boy regularly transmogrifies into a miniature bull, fuming from the nostrils and digging the earth with his paws, looking for the red flag that will mark that end of that particular matador.

So it is with a rare sense of great achievement and pride that I record the events of yesterday. For people who came in late, Toy Story has been the flavour of the season for what seems like many seasons now. We love Woody, we have a big crush on cowgirl Jessie, we love to dance along to 'You've got a friend in me' and we know pretty much the entire dialogue by heart. So when we spot a hoarding proclaiming that a Toy Story double bill is coming to a theater near us, we throw our figurative cowboy hat in the air and shout for all the world to hear - TOY STOLEE. Err, yes, we still put our Ls where our Rs should be, minor technicality and all that.

Fortunately for him, I heard his ecstatic shout and checked out the listings. Should we take him, we consulted each other, this will be a first. Plunging into depths unknown has always been a speciality of this particular couple and so it came to pass that tickets were bought and we muttered to each other about how we never got to go for such expensive outings when we were two years old. Seriously, we need to stop this constant comparison of his childhood with ours. It is a different time, a different India and his parents are definitely in a different place than ours were.

To make matters better, his tatha-paati arrived from Singapore the same morning, bearing various manners of Sheriff Woody dolls with his entourage. The boy was over the moon with joy. We fed him an early lunch and took him to the theater. The film was playing in 3-D but he refused to wear his glasses. Completely immersed in the story, he was devouring every scene, every word, only turning once to his father to demand 'Daddy, pawcorn'. A chip off the old block wouldn't you agree, given that I have never watched a film without my Pepsi-popcorn combo, unearthly prices be damned. The pater of course went bounding to get him the half caramel-half salted pawcorn which Adi proceeded to devour. Then as his favourite character appeared on the screen, he shouted BUZZ LIGHTGEAR (Lightyear actually but we will hold on to the babyness, being complete escapists, you know) at the very top of his lungs, making several people laugh. Although we found it completely adorable, we made the pretense of shushing him up. Too soon for him, the film was over. We did not stay for the sequel, making our way back home. He slept in the car. If only everything in parenting happened this peacefully. Oh well, we can only pray for that to happen. In the meanwhile, we will take what we can get.

And then, he came back home and possibly due to the air-conditioning in the theater, he developed a nasty cough. Goodness, I thought homeopathy had rid him of that, but clearly not. All in all, bad end to a good day. Anyway, may Toy Story 3 ring the registers for Pixar and Disney like never before, amen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My family and other animals

I have been looking at the pictures of other people's pets and feeling a regular twinge of envy. There are cats and dogs, pedigree sometimes but also strays. They look at the camera with their all-knowing eyes, full of love and wisdom and that look manages to stoke the jealous streak in me like nobody's mansion or boat or car ever does. I use boat only to drive the point home.

These pictures remind me of my pet-owning days (or the pets' Parul-owning days). I come from a long line of women who have loved animals and adopted them. My great-grandmother kept parrots. Mitthu ka bhi pata hai, the parrot would ask petulantly in a clear voice when mealtimes came. Haan haan, pata hai, my great-grandmother would answer and give him a green chilly. At first, they were kept in cages but then they would be released and they would still stay put, not knowing where to go. I think about it now and find the practice cruel but back then, feeding the parrots while watching out for the sharp, curved beak that could easily draw blood was one of the highlights of our trips to her house.

My mother's cousins kept pigeons and possibly still do. Loads of pigeons who would roost comfortably in a room. Much like they show in films like Delhi-6, these relatives of Masakali are complete pets, listening to and obeying commands, sitting on people's shoulders and eating bajra grains. I always wanted to hold the black one, though I would feel his thumping heart under my child's hands and think that I was probably scaring him. Or her. My mom can still pick up a pigeon from the window ledge where they roam and show it to Adi who is obviously completely delighted.

My first dog was a German Shepherd called Hema, probably named so after the actress. Hema actually belonged to another family that lived nearby but got so attached to my mother that she refused to leave when her original owners moved houses. Keep her, they said generously and that was my ticket to toddler-heaven. Hema was absolutely huge, fitting into a three seater sofa if she stretched out. I still remember the touch of her coat and how she smelt. I was often found hiding behind the door and eating out of the same plate as she even while my mom raved and ranted about this complete disregard for hygiene.

Over time, a stray calf adopted me at the bus-stop where we waited for our school bus to pick us up. I suppose I cut a ridiculous figure in my school uniform with a calf standing patiently next to me. Sometimes he followed me back home when I returned from school and Mom would give him rotis that he accepted with the same gentleness that he had with everything else.

There was a completely untrainable and disobedient dog called Jimmy once.

My father once bought a puppy from a roadside vendor and brought him home. We optimistically named him Duke. He went on to be called Dook Chand, completely dehati as he was in his ways.

A sick cat came to stay with us once and got all better and went on to have kittens of its own.

I had rabbits who were true to the phrase 'breeding like bunnies'.

I had leghorn hens when I was a baby. It is one of life's skills to be able to collect hens from a yard and put them back in their coop.

Then there was Jinnu who came to us as a month-old puppy and stayed with us for about thirteen short years. Black labradors are the best people in the world. Ask anyone who has owned a black lab and they will tell you about the hole they leave in your heart when they leave. A complete glutton, Jinnu's favourite place was just outside the kitchen door where she would create puddles of drool as she waited for something or the other to come her way. It is a fact that labradors are never full. Never. Not once. There is always room for more.

Technically, Jinnu (Jeannie she was christened, Jinnu she became) was the last pet I co-owned. I moved away from home while she was still a jinnu-people-teenager. She went on to be my mom's companion and then she went away.

And then there is now. When the craving for having a furry friend here with me, possibly sitting at my feet (most likely, next to me on the sofa) as I sit and write is so strong that I want to run out and get one home right now. My son is a few months away from being three. He is completely fearless around animals, love for animals being the default setting for most kids. I took him once to my Spanish class where he hugged the dog of the house and wouldn't let go. He goes to the park and lies down with the cats. He saw a rabbit in Kerala and wanted to jump on it to give it a hug. He talks to the pigeons and crows that sit outside his room on the window ledge, admonishing them for bad behaviour. He makes do with his stuffed cat named Kittu when he would much rather have a real one.

The urge to get him a pet is even stronger than getting myself one. He is being deprived of the pleasure that having a canine or feline companion gives a child, irreplaceable by any toy. M has never owned a pet and would dearly love to get one. Then I look at my apartment and think of just how cruel it would be to coop a big dog, and our dogs have to be big, in this space. No open space to run around, no yard to let the animal loose and the parks don't allow pets. A cat instead? Maybe, maybe soon, I tell myself, there is enough on the plate already, one would imagine. But I know one thing, this family cannot be complete till we get ourselves a wee pup or kitten.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Your strap is showing, pointed the prude

In other news, women posted the colours of their bras as their status messages. Much online twittering (literally) and giggling followed with women shamefacedly accepting succumbing to boring, matronly whites or labelling themselves the stuff of hot dreams by proclaiming reds/crimsons or advocating moderation by wearing middle-ground colors like beige and cream. The presence of lace or absence thereof was discussed. I am sure underwire popped up in conversations elsewhere.

First off, I take no issue with people discussing the colours of their chaddi-banyan. I mean, I can understand if you have a pressing need to put it all out. It is a game, it is amusing, it helps pass the time - why not?

It's when people fake-project causes on these trivial games that I begin to think - hey, this is a little off. Maybe someone needs to test the efficacy of this claim?

Here is a view, radical as it may be - it is a tad difficult to spread awareness about something without bringing up that something. It may be of course possible for women of exceedingly high IQs/ ESP but other mortals may well get left behind in the race. Awareness needs to snowball, something that is difficult if something is being played as an insiders-only game. Some may argue that it whets people's curiosity to see these inside conversations take place online and may encourage them to seek more information, hence leading to greater awareness about the cause in a convoluted way. However, when the cause is as important as this, I would say the onus of spreading the information lies with the disseminator and not the audience.

It may be a better, albeit, revolutionary idea to talk about breast cancer if one needs to talk about breast cancer. Simplistic? Perhaps. What was that KISS principal again? (And btw, when I mention KISS, guess what is the first spontaneous association that pops into your mind? Something tells me it is not a design principal. Uh oh.)

Now men whether we like it or not are the other half of the population and therefore sizeable influencers in the decision to go for a mammogram. I may be totally off the mark as I often am about these things, but I am rather inclined to think that when women talk about bra-colours, then men think about breasts in a sexual way. Discussion about bra colours would go down as titillation for most and I don't use the word lightly. Plus leaving them out of this only makes this a hush-hush, only-girls-allowed kind of conversation, not a serious (yes, I used the dirty S-word) health endemic. In other cases, it leads to things such as this.

What is fun and irreverent to some can be trivialisation for others. I don't know how many breast cancer patients saw this campaign but if someone has had a mastectomy, would they really appreciate reading about the colours of your undergarments?

I have had a friend working for a very successful condom awareness campaign. When she brought up her objections to the bra colour campaign, she was told that she 'thinks too much' and she should take this in a lighthearted way. Cancer and may you never find out firsthand, dear reader, is not so much an occasion for lightheartedness. My training in communication tells me that a campaign based in fear would do well in such a case. If someone was to ask you to quit smoking to prevent oral cancer, what would be more likely to work - a picture of a mouth full of sores and cancerous lumps or a pair of plump lips, painted with lipstick?

So yes, I'd say that thinking more about things is vastly better than the alternative.

I believe in statistics a fair bit and a piece of data that I'd be dearly interested in would be the number of women who actually made the time for a self-examination/mammogram after discussing bra colours for the whole day. If a reasonable number did, let us say one of you and I request you to leave a comment for me, I withdraw my argument and stand humbled. Otherwise, next time, let's think of something a tad more realistic.

Also, how soon do you think we would have The Uber Important Panty Colours Campaign for Awareness of Cervical Cancer? I give it a week.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The sweetest thing

Sometime in 2008, a bunch of bloggers had thrown a surprise baby shower for other bloggy moms to be. It was great fun, with all of posting riddles on our blogs and then watching the fun as the ladies in question battled it out. Some of them, like Boo for example were obscenely good at figuring out the riddles. Their prize was a shower blog, full of posts written specially for them. They said they found it great fun. On our part, we knew it was fantastic.

So it was a case of the shoe being on the other foot when I recently found a comment from Chandni asking me to start on my own journey to uncover a similar surprise that she and a group of other bloggers were hosting for me and some other MTBs (Cluelessness, AlwaysHappyKya, Jottings n Musings, Monika,Ansh and Takshaka). I am nothing short of the absolute devi of honesty so I did admit upfront that I would resort to some frantic googling to solve the riddles that were set out across blogs. But Google never fails its true followers - that is one of the fundamental truths of life and I found myself setting quite a pace as I went to one blog after another to cover the steps. I got stuck when one of the blogs had trouble loading though and had to call it a night. When I woke up the next morning, the riddles had all been solved and the password to the blog was duly passed on.

The prize was of course a shower blog, with virtual gifts and posts written for the MTBs. Beautifully laid out and creatively constructed - it was a delight through and through. But more than that, what was truly touching was that I was familiar with only a couple of the hosts (Chandni, D, Revs, Sraikh) , knew some others only through their comments on my own blog (BlueMist) and did not know the others at all (Childwoman, Comfortablynam, Dee, Dewdropdreams, Dido, Divz, Miss M, Nu, Rani, Snowsoulmate, Titaxy) . And yet, these people went out of their way and plotted and planned, exchanged mails furiously across countries and timezones and hosted this surprise for us. I think it takes a lot to do so much for people you have never seen and in most cases, never will.

I think Tharini deserves a round of applause for starting off this trend wherein bloggers generously give so much of their time and effort for others, for the simple purpose of making them feel valued and special. Take a bow, Tharini, for your wonderful idea that is now finding replication across the blog-world. And kudos to the sixteen girls for recognizing that.

Me, I feel very lucky at having been both at the giving as well as the receiving end! The smug grin that I am sporting these days says it all.

For you all, only for the title of the song (please to not pay attention to the lyrics!), The Sweetest Thing by U2. Because ain't love the sweetest thing?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Manifesto of the Toddler Party

Toddlers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your diapers, which incidentally you must not lose despite the best efforts at toilet training.

It has come to our notice that many of our comrades have succumbed to the promise of the holy land of junk food and unlimited ceebeebies and have resorted to unacceptable good behaviour and manners. We must not forget, comrades, that the term Terrible Twos has been coined and made immortal by other worthy preschoolers before us and we must do all that we can to preserve the sanctity of the same. We are laying down the Toddler Manifesto so that there is no doubt in anybody's mind about how we can attain our lives' goal, which is to make our parents grovel in fear and tiredness.

The first and most basic tactic to reduce the enemy to a blubbering mass is to have a point of view about food. Nothing guilts parents as much as our not eating and therefore one must make the best use of this knowledge. In every morsel lies the promise of a TV show that can be watched or a YouTube video that can be played on loop or endless story sessions that can be extended long after the food has lost all its flavour. Explore the potential that lies within each mealtime, my friends. Refuse all that is on offer. Let life become an ongoing buffet that is never good enough for us. Unleash thy tantrums.

Many of us have started attending playschool regularly. Shame on those who trot off to school without any ado because herein lies an opportunity that can ruin a maternal, paternal or grandparental day like no other. Shed some tears while on your way. Let them believe that ogres and monsters lurk in every nook and cranny of the hallowed institute of learning. Once instated in the school, one is free to channel one's inner happy camper but not till the path has been riddled with resistance.

Save your best tactics for the time that the parents have company. This is the best time to showcase your skills in the field of Selfish Behaviour that involves an absolute disregard for the concept of sharing one's toys and things. Every request should be met with an instant No! delivered at the top of one's voice. Any application of force should be countered with lying face down on the floor and thrashing about for all that one is worth. This kind of behaviour is best delivered when the visiting child is an angelic cherub who feeds himself, excuses himself while going to the toilet and dimples cutely while singing adorable poems. This, this is exactly the kind of thing we don't want, mates.

There may be some of you out there who are already running off to bed at seven in the evening and getting up only after twelve straight hours of the woozy. This is abhorrent. Nights are meant for partying. Us, not our parents. We must use the daytime naps to refresh ourselves and then be bright-eyed and chirpy at night till the oldies are falling off their chairs with exhaustion. One can and should aid these efforts with consumption of sugar just before bedtime.

Now the delicate issue of toilet training. If you have been a pox on the toddlerhood and are currently using the pot when nature calls, it may be too late to do anything, though let me remind you that nobody will thank you for it fifteen years down the line. The truth is that sooner or later, we will all be doing it the adult way. How much pain can you inflict in the process is what determines your worthiness. How many wet bedsheets and carpets, how many false alarms, how many trips to the bathroom that do not result in any...err...fruit, that, that is what want to see.

This is the time to obsess with Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Nemo, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and other sundry superheroes as we know them. One needs to expose parents to these delights till they are ready to shoot themselves in the head. Let all adult content on television become a thing of the past. If there is parental protest at the same, one can always show a keen interest in the aforementioned adult content. That should sort things out in a hurry.

We hope things stand clearer than ever before. Now go forth, conquer.