Book Review: Runaway Writers

Name: Runaway Writers
Author: Indu Balachandran
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 296
Price:  Rs 299

Three women, who have quit their regular jobs to become writers, meet in Greece, one of them desperately tries to figure out intricacies of love — that’s Runaway Writers for you in 140 characters (well, 144 to be precise). That is probably how Amby — the main protagonist of this book and a Twitter expert — would have described this book.

Runaway Writers

The story of Amby is something many of us can relate to. She has the potential to make tons of money through a banking job. But is currently doing some creative tweeting for a famous movie star, in the hope to become a famous writer herself.

As the book repeatedly emphasises, we are all looking for the second best job in the world — something that is creative, satisfying and pays decently. Which is why Amby wants to go to Greece to attend a writer’s workshop, so that she can quit the ghost-tweeter job (yes, that’s a job, as Amby repeatedly explains) and start writing that bestseller she is destined to write. She is joined by two more women, equally eager to pursue their dream of becoming a writer, on this trip to Greece.

The book is a chick-flick, a travelogue, a writer’s “how-to” guide, and a love-story all rolled into one neat package. Divided into two sections — Before Greece and After Greece — the book focuses on Amby’s life in a typical Chennai family.

She has a secret crush on her boss, the movie star, but is torn between the mixed signals she keeps getting and the match her parents are pushing her to consider. The new guy is a well-settled Tam Brahm living in Finland, and after a couple of online meetings convince Amby that he is truly Mr Eligible.

Meanwhile, Amby’s pursuit of her dream of becoming a writer kindles the spark in her boss to chase his own dream of becoming a chef and opening his restaurant. And so, Amby is confronted with the question: Who is a better option? Mr Eligible or Mr Edible!

The author’s wit and ability to connect with the new-age reader has made this book a good read. Runaway Writers is that kind of book which will instantly lift your spirits. Writers — anyone who writes, reports, tweets, posts and pitches — in particular will instantly connect with the book. The details of the writers’ workshop are simply awesome, almost made me quit my job to look for something similar in some exotic land.

We cannot help but wonder if author Indu Balachandran, an advertising veteran who became a travel writer and columnist, has written her own experiences of this journey of chasing the ‘second best job in the world’. But if that is the case, then there is hope for many of us who are still stuck in our ‘best jobs’.

Do not feel disappointed if the cover illustration gives you an impression that it’s a story of three writers. Though the other two runaway girls are at best bridesmaids in this delightful read, you will find enough in Amby’s life (whose real name is Ambujakshi, by the way) to chuckle, smile, love and take inspiration from.

This book review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune, on February 14, 2015. 

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Why I like to shop from saree exhibitions rather than showrooms

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I felt possessed. I had never seen so many cottton sarees at one place. And what an amazing collection they had — something that would attract a grandma as well as young woman. I like to buy my sarees and contrasting blouse pieces from such exhibitions because –

  1. I am assured of authenticity of the product
  2. Handloom weavers and hand-dyed fabrics are a good buy anytime.
  3. I feel good that those who work hard to keep our Indian fabrics alive are getting a good price for it.

IMG_20160206_161816Broad borders, small borders, sarees in vibrant colours, sarees in simple hues, and every possible combination — you name it and it was there! The exhibition was organised by Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association. They have an online shop too! www.dacottonhandlooms.in

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I instantly became fida on their prices too. Sarees were ranged between Rs950 and Rs1,600 and while yardage — pure cotton and natural dyed ones — ranged from Rs120 to Rs250!

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The exhibition had a wide variety of yardage, sarees, dupattas and stoles from Andhra region. Fabrics like kalamkari, simple plain cotton, and khadi cotton were available. I bought four sarees for just Rs4,500. I have bought it for gifting, but I have my eye on them, so maybe they would end up becoming a part of my closet only!

On Paternal Leave Part 2: Baby skin!

As my second nephew turns 2 this month, I look back at the time I spent at my sister’s place helping her out with postnatal care. My jiju had taken 3 weeks off work so that he could take care of the new mommy, the newborn and the new dada (my first nephew, 8-years-old). And while on this paternal leave, my jiju excelled like I have seen no other man among my relatives!

He did pass on some gems of wisdom about baby care, mommy care, tips about postnatal food (read here) and “The art of letting the mother sleep”!

So here I am, writing about how to keep a baby’s skin soft — more like the instructions my sis used to scream at us that time in all her disheveled glory.

What to do for baby’s soft skin:

  1. Bath everyday! It is still gonna be years before he learns to bathe by himself or fool his mom by simply throwing water on the walls to pretend he has — but at the moment it’s his parents who get to bath him. And it has to be everyday (unless it’s too cold).
  2. Maalish Karo! Aah the joy I used to see on my nephew’s face every time the amma used to apply olive oil or mustard oil on his body to give him a thorough massage… it was so cute! Amma decided to bunk for a stretch of three days, during which time I was given the duty of this daily oil massage routine. In just three days, the skin on my hands was glowing and super-soft. Just imagine what it must be doing to a baby’s skin.
  3. Uptan lagao bhai! My sister would bark this instruction at us once in a week, and my jiju and I would scramble to get the uptan ready. It used to be a mixture of atta, besan, haldi and milk mixed into a thick paste. It would serve as an alternative for soap. My sister’s logic was it’s not good to use chemicals on a baby’s soft skin daily.
  4. Cotton only! Yes, that was the dress code my little nephew would strictly follow everyday. Even today. The softness of cotton is what a baby’s skin should come in contact with always, my sister used to say. Synthetic or woolens can cause rashes, which is why it should never come in direct contact with a baby’s skin. So her mom-in-law made some really comfy tops and langots out of her old cotton saree (oh the softness of those fabrics was awesome)!
  5. Don’t touch my baby! Well, there were times when my sis was downright rude to people who would start doing heavy-duty coochi-cooing. Are your hands clean? Go wash your hands and then you can touch my baby’s cheeks — she ACTUALLY said that to an aunty once. She also told one lady off to not kiss her baby because she was wearing lipstick! Jeeta-jagta example of how a mother becomes super protective of her baby. My sister later told me that she stopped being pseudo polite after her baby developed big red pimples after one such coochi-cooing session.

Oh and yes, Pampers brings you the softest ever Pampers Premium Care Pants. Its cotton-like softness is #SoftestForBabySkin and allows it to breathe, thus keeping baby’s skin soft and healthy, and your baby happy.

If you thought selecting gifts for kids is easy…

Why the hell is it so hard to pick out gifts for babies. No, I don’t have kids, but I am in that age bracket where almost all my friends have kids/are pregnant/trying/trying frantically. And a direct side-effect of having such friends is that you get invited to a lot of birthday parties. So,”what to gift” is a recurring problem.

I know the world is full of baby-related items and every fourth shop in any market will stock toys and kids’ clothes. Okay lemme rephrase my question… Why the hell is it so hard to pick out gifts for kids that won’t make their moms go “oh not again”?

I am fortunate to have people around me who are well off in their life. They are able to provide the best of everything to their kids (sometimes more than what their kids need). So selecting gifts for their kids is a taxing task bhai!

If you aren’t creative enough, chances are that their child (or plural) would already have what you gave (maybe in plural too). If that happens, neither the baccha is excited at opening your gift, nor is the mom, who secretly adds it to her database of recyclable gifts.

I definitely don’t want my gift to be recycled. No No.

So what Mr Bachchan is saying these days in First Cry advertisements, that Bachchon ki shopping #BachchonKaKhelNahin, is 100% correct. (I accidentally read it as Bachchan ki Shopping at first, ha ha.)

So for years, I stuck to two trusted things — envelope mein cash for relatives’ kids and books for friends’ kids. One can never go wrong with these.

But now it seems the options are endless. I just checked out the online baby market (i mean baby-related-products’ market, you freak) and found many utility items that a mother or a child can actually use. People rarely gift useful things these days, don’t you think?

In case you think you don’t know the baby’s choice (oh yes, they are very fussy) or needs, then why not go for a gift voucher from FirstCry.com. I am always in favour of doling out gift vouchers as it gives moms the independence to get something their kids will enjoy or use.

I think I have given out a major spoiler alert for all my friends who have babies — they know what they are gonna get next time they invite me to a birthday party. And those who don’t have a clue and act surprised, I am gonna punch you hard — you are my friend and you still don’t read my blog!!!!!

Saathi haath badhana!

There are three types of husbands:

  1. Who know how to do all household chores and willing do it.
  2. Who don’t know and won’t do.
  3. Who don’t know but are willing to learn if you withhold sex.

cat pity faceMy dad falls into the first category, some of my friends’ husbands fall in the second one, and my own darling hubby falls in the third one. Of course, I never had to withhold anything as just the cat-pity-face expression would do the trick.

And he learned a lot from me for which I give myself full credit (and a little bit to him as well – a line I will probably have to delete the day he decides to read my blogs).

My papa and father-in-law are both great with household chores and so I was in for the shock of my life when I came to know that my husband did not know how to cook/clean/care. The crusader of gender equality that I am (only where it seems logical), I made it abundantly clear that this won’t do.

My mother-in-law also set me up for this challenge saying, “What I couldn’t do in 25 years, I hope you do in 25 months”.

We have been married for 28 months now, and I am proud to say my husband has not only shared the burden of household chores, but has done so happily (that’s my superficial guess).

Looking for the right dabba!
Looking for the right dabba!

Well, if the woman of the house is also earning and is contributing to the family income, why is it such an unthinkable task for the man to help her out with gharelu-stuff? We are not asking for the moon here, are we?

How much he helped me with house-work dawned on me only when he had to go on an official tour for a week.

The late riser that I am, I don’t know what goes on in the house till 11am. In that time, he wakes up early, opens to door twice/thrice to collect milk packets and hand out the garbage. He boils up the milk, makes his coffee, makes a quick sandwich before he goes to work. That week, I cursed the milkman and the garbage man.

Pati ji would usually come home for lunch and would take it upon himself to heat up the leftovers in the microwave. Often, if I was fighting the battle to get the lunch ready in time, he would help out by washing the dhaniya patti from the fridge and getting plates ready. That week, I ate food cold and without dhaniya-patti.

On Sundays and national holidays, he becomes the chef designate and would dish out simple recipes I taught him, like poha, bread upma, omelette, maggi, bhurji, aloo ki sabji etc. That week, I didn’t realise when Sunday aya and gaya!

Green t-shirt with whites?
Green t-shirt with whites?

Laundry is his territory. Yes yes, I know Ariel walas will be very happy about this, as their whole campaign revolves around the man doing the laundry. My husband does it simply because our fully automatic washing machine has a colourful digital display and punching buttons makes him feel like a video game player. He puts the clothes out to dry as well. That week, I didn’t wash any clothes.

Enticing me with a cup of tea and showing off his tattoo too!
Enticing me with a cup of tea and showing off his tattoo too!

But his best quality – the awesome tea that he makes! It is simply chaigasmic!

And then there are the small things that matter in the big picture – like letting the cat in and out, feeding her, tolerating her kittens, clearing the dining table after a meal, removing the hair stuck in the bathroom mesh (yuck) and killing cockroaches with bare-hands.

Waking up in the middle of the night to let the cat out is a superhuman task!
Waking up in the middle of the night to let the cat out is a superhuman task!

All this while I work from home (as a content writer now). But I imagine that most husbands also lend a helping hand to women who have fixed 9-5 jobs, in which case the help becomes extremely necessary. So to all those men who stand right next to the water cooler and still expect the wife to fill up a glass and hand it to them – abhi bhi time hai, sudhar jao!

I am writing for the #ShareTheLoad activity at BlogAdda.com in association with Ariel.

Hailstorm in Mussoorie

I have never seen hailstorm of this proportion, the one that I saw in Mussoorie (Uttarakhand) in the first week of March 2015.

It started off as just small pearls dropping from the sky to suddenly stone-heavy balls hitting everything with brute force. I have visited Mussoorie many times, mostly during summer and monsoon months, but this one gave a feeling of what winter must be like up there in the hills! 🙂

Hail storm at Mall Road, Mussoorie.
Hail storm at Mall Road, Mussoorie.

My moment with the last of badminton’s Big Four!

Denmark's Peter Gade (left)  and Indonesia's Lee Chong Wei are quite friendly with media persons. (Photo taken from Peter Gade's facebook page).
Denmark’s Peter Gade (left) and Indonesia’s Lee Chong Wei are quite friendly with media persons. (Photo taken from Peter Gade’s facebook page).

Every sports journalist has a weak point. I have four. In no particular order, they are Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan, Peter Gade and Lee Chong Wei. They all are former world No.1 badminton players and were the rulers of this sport for many glorious years — yes all of them! Together, they hogged the top-5 rankings (and stayed on for many months in the top-10) to the extent that I used to think of them as badminton bullies.

I covered badminton since the start of my career and got a chance to see the charismatic Indonesian bad boy, Hidayat, and the crafty Malaysian Lee Chong Wei in action during the India Open GP 2009 in Hyderabad. Lee lost in the first round while Taufik won the title.

I was watching like a starry-eyed fan (far cry from them ‘eh I don’t care’ attitude we journalists feign in front of celebrities) as Taufik swished and swooshed his racquet to take down every opponent. It was like a live video game for me.

Okay I know Taufik Hidayat looks least interested in this pic. I doubt whether he was even paying attention.
Okay I know Taufik Hidayat looks least interested in this pic. I doubt whether he was even paying attention.

After a match, all players are required to come to the place where media persons are stationed, so that journalists can talk to them. After his semi-final win, when Taufik came there, I just lost it and asked if I could get a picture clicked with him. That was not the time when camera phones were that popular, so I enlisted the help of another photojournalist. Oh the way I sang and danced and smiled the whole day… it was magical!

One down three more to go.

Jaundice prevented me from covering the World Championships in Hyderabad that year, but as luck would have it, I moved to New Delhi the year the first India Open Super Series (2011) was held.

So, that year Not only did Hidayat and LCW turn up, I got starry-eyed and jelly-knee-ed all over again when I saw Denmark’s Peter Gade warm-up in the practice courts.

He was just so flawless! We spoke to him after his practice and he talked about how he is recovering from this injury and that surgery and how he misses his girls… all I could think of was are you kidding! Nobody who is injured plays like that! The way he moved on court, as if he had all the time in the world to decide how to return the shuttle, it was a treat to watch!

That year, LCW won. But the pressure of deadlines and getting the best charging spot at the media centre meant that I had absolutely no time to think about pictures with LCW or Gade.

In 2012, these three giants show up again in New Delhi for this event. How time flew I do not know. Though I interacted with all three, I simply forgot about my secret album collection.

I left active journalism for sometime, so skipped the 2013 and 2014 Super series as well Thomas and Uber Cup Championship that were held in Delhi.

This is what Lin Dan looked like at the time of World Championships 2009 in Hyderabad. (AFP Photo)
This is what Lin Dan looked like at the time of World Championships 2009 in Hyderabad. (AFP Photo)

But I finally got my golden chance in 2015 when I was a part of the 2015 India Open Super Series. Gade and Hidayat have now said goodbye to badminton. LCW is out of action because of his doping trials.

But China’s Lin Dan was there! And so, I went straight for the big fish. Oh god, the way he was playing, it seemed surreal, I mean it. That AC drift that players keep complaining about — he looked lighter than that.

His features have changed a lot over the years, the chocolate boy looks have been replaced by a rugged mature man’s face.

Thank you all smartphone companies! For when Olympic champion and former world champion Lin Dan was in a good mood and was leaving the practice court, I had a camera phone with me. I did not lose even one second this time and got that perfect shot! God knows how long he is gonna keep playing, so at least I got my click before he retires.. ha ha.

Next point on my agenda — travel to Indonesia and Denmark to complete the story :).

My 'yuhoooo' moment with Super Dan (Lin Dan). How sweet of him to smile... we look like long lost friends here, don't we. :P
My ‘yuhoooo’ moment with Super Dan (Lin Dan). How sweet of him to smile… we look like long lost friends here, don’t we. 😛

Watching Ganga take its name, shape and flow at Devprayag

Devprayag, where Ganga gets its name.
Devprayag, where Ganga gets its name.

The clouds came out and the chill returned to the air! I secretly thanked all the Devs of Dev Bhoomi who seemed to have listened to my silent prayers. Yeah yeah, how selfish of me to wish for a cloudy-chilly day in April when most of Uttarakhand had just had a break from almost 6 months of winter.

It just happened that we had taken a short trip to Devprayag on one of the busiest weekends of 2015 and we were already cursing ourselves for carrying woollens. So a nip in the air that Saturday morning was a welcome relief!

The journey from Dehradun to Devprayag was a hot one (it had to be, we were wearing heavy jackets) but my husband’s smartphone had this app which said it is going to rain the entire weekend in Devprayag. But it was sunny and hot and sticky and we had no light clothes to last us for another two days.

The final product -- Ganga, as seen from our hotel balcony.
The final product — Ganga, as seen from our hotel balcony.

Hell we had even packed a rain-poncho and two umbrellas in our tiny backpack. We left Dehradun early on Day1 to reach Devprayag in time for breakfast. We had to first get to Rishikesh from where the road to Shivpuri (NH58) would take us further ahead to Devprayag. We also did not want to get in the way of the rafting-camping tourists from Delhi and Chandigarh. But we did get stuck for a while in Rishikesh — good thing we were on a bike, it lets you violate traffic rules like no other vehicle allows.

Devprayag is about 70 kilometres from Rishikesh, into the Shivalik hills, and is a pretty busy town when the pilgrimage season starts. The rush hadn’t started yet, so it was very peaceful there.

What is the big deal about Devprayag you say? This is where Ganga gets its name… No, that river originating near Gangotri is not Ganga. That is Bhagirathi, which people say is another name for Ganga. At Devprayag, Bhagirathi confluences with another noisy Himalayan river Alakananda, and the resulting river is called Ganga.

Bike ride!
Bike ride!

This was a spur-of-the-moment trip, so we had made no hotel reservations, thinking, “wahan jaake dekhi jayegi”. From the distance, we saw Ramkund Resorts that looked really expensive but had a killer view of the Sangam. And viola! We got a pretty good deal for having arrived there in the off-season time!

So we checked in and I kid you not, the Sangam (the confluence) was at stone throw distance from our balcony. Here’s the thing about this Sangam, the colour of the two rivers is quite different. Infact you can make out this difference for a good 500-600 metres after the meeting point of the two rivers. Bhagirathi is kind of green-blue in colour and quite energetic. Alakananda was a little muddy and seemed to have calmed down a bit.

The Bhagirathi-side of the Sangam.
The Bhagirathi-side of the Sangam.

Another interesting thing about these rivers is that the five tributaries of Ganga meet Alakananda at various other Prayags (Vishnuprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag and Rudraprayag) before meeting Bhagirathi here. So technically, Alaknanda should be called the source river of Ganga right? But it is infact a much smaller river Bhagirathi that gets all the credit! That’s now fair isn’t it, but I’ll leave the rivers to sort it out among themselves.

Devprayag is a tiny town, with narrow lanes that go up and down. It is impossible to get your bike inside those lanes (no, we didn’t even try). In the evening, we went for a stroll and covered all three hills on which Devprayag is spread out. I saw people walking up small paths that led to their houses (probably) that were located even higher up the hills! No wonder I did not find a single obese person there 🙂 .

At the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alakananda.
At the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alakananda.

At the Sangam, I went down to the ghats while my husband went out in search of an ATM. Apparently, ATMs there close by 7pm…funny how we have all become used to 24×7 ATMs.

At the ghats, I saw a couple of sadhus in meditating pose, among them a young lad trying to meditate but still ogling at all the women who passed by! Talk about 100% focus.

Oh and what fun we had gorging on lip-smacking food from the local dhabas! Aloo parantha, curry made of spring onion masala and the latest pahadi fast-food — Maggi! Of course on the second day I ended up with a terrible feeling in my stomach, but it was still worth it.

So having utilised the woolens as well, we left Devprayag on Sunday morning to return to Dehradun. It took us four hours to reach back home. On the way I saw numerous camps on the white sand beaches on the banks of Ganga. It indeed looked like a busy day for all the adventure sports outfit in Rishikesh. We squeezed past almost 4km of traffic jam near Rishikesh’s Laxman Jhula and reach home in the evening, completely fresh and energetic. Bring it on, we fear you not Monday morning blues!

On full moon night! Wish I had taken my camera along. This photo was taken with an iPhone.
On full moon night! Wish I had taken my camera along. This photo was taken with an iPhone.

That ‘together’ moment with roommates

“Together we can and we will make a difference!”

These words that were a patent of Suhaib Illyasi of ‘India’s Most Wanted’ fame, pop up in my head every time I hear the word together. What he says is of course correct, but the way he used to say it was what added the humor ‘tadka’ to it.

And trust me when I say that me and my friends in Pune rarely made any difference ‘together’, except maybe in our own lives. I was working in Pune and that was the first time I had a proper ‘roommate experience’. Shall I count myself to be one of the lucky ones to have had an amazing set of girls as my roommates? Hell yeah!

I’ve spent three glorious years with these girls and together we have had some pretty amazing adventures – you know the kind you cannot have if you get married in your early 20s (jibe intended at all those who feel girls should not wait beyond 22 to tie the knot).

It’s been four years since I have moved cities, gotten married and all that… but I recently got a chance to go back to Pune for a short trip for a mini-reunion. Yay! My husband was to go to Pune for some official work and I decided to tag along. He stayed in his guest house, fuming over the fact that his wife was staying with her previous roommates for the entire week that they were there!

Why on earth would I let go of a chance to relive my bachelor days? Another former roommate was also there and together, the four of us had a blast! Remembering the good old days was fun, but reliving them made us realise that age has somehow caught up with us. For instance, we went to this club (point to be noted judge sa’ab is that we are not party animals and we only go clubbing, like once in a year, and only with each other), and got tired of dancing in just a couple of minutes.

Then two young college girls who had pushed their way onto the oversized table we were occupying, started off a pouting-selfie-deleting-pouting-again-spree which irritated us to no end. Then the youngest in our group suggested that we also take some pictures, so we asked one of those college girls to click it for us. Click it? She and her friend actually joined us in that photo-session. And now all of us are stuck with some great pictures with two strangers in it.

Guess who the odd ones out are?
Guess who the odd ones out are?

We had a hearty laugh about it when we came back to our dingy little rented apartment, which was like a temple for us! Honestly speaking it was the worst-possible apartment architecture-wise. It’s just that we had found it by a stroke of luck and without having to pay any brokerage (yes that was a big deal for us).

It’s time now for me to move back to Pune in a couple of months. My fauji husband will probably go to a non-family posting, meaning I cannot live with him for the duration of that posting (read more about it here). So I am contemplating moving back to Pune. None of those fiery young roommates live there anymore. I would probably have to rely on Housing, a real estate start-up which has apartment postings, to find a new house. And I am going to terribly miss the time when we girls would ‘together’ look for houses, meals and guys to stalk. Time flies!