My book review of NurtureShock in Women’s Web

NurtureShock book coverI attempted a book review for the first time after having read the excellent book “NurtureShock”, which simply blew me away with shocking insights into raising children. I wish I could have done a better job, because, looking back, I felt that what I had written was lacking in some respects. There was scope to reveal more instead of holding back so much and I should have chosen better words to make the book more enticing to the reader. The awesomeness of the book is not really shining through in my review of it and it also comes across as a bit dry. Oh well, there is a first time for everything and I hope I improve. Here is the link to it on Women’s Web online magazine under the section ‘Parenting’: http://www.womensweb.in/2015/03/nurtureshock-book-review

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A memorable babymoon

When I asked women about their experiences during the first trimester of pregnancy, some proudly recalled how they had no trouble at all while others shuddered remembering the severe nausea that had set in. In comparison, I could place my morning sickness meter between mild to moderate. However, whatever irritations I faced during that time seemed to dissipate into thin air as the second trimester began. I had read online about this being the perfect time for the parents-to-be to take a ‘babymoon’. This is a vacation that the couple or even a single parent takes to relax and later escape to in their mind when, in a few months, they are bound to be surrounded by sleepless nights, soiled diapers and a howling little creature demanding their whole and soul.

I found the concept of a babymoon very enticing and those online articles backed by paid hotel advertisements proved to be successful in planting the seed of temptation in my brain. However, I could not immediately translate it into action due to some hectic changes in career and thought less and less of it as I eased into the sixth month of pregnancy. After things had quietened down a bit in life and while I was in the midst of waiting to start a job at a new employer, the hubby brought the subject up and enthusiastically went ahead to plan our babymoon at the picturesque wine country of Santa Rosa, a two-hour drive from where we live in California. Turns out, it was the best decision taken at the perfect time!

Santa Rosa vineyardFall in California cannot be compared to the vibrant colors on the East coast or other areas in the United States, with one exception – wine country. The transition from a cool color scheme to a warm one looked astounding there. Lush green vineyards now resembled carpets of yellows, reds, oranges and browns climbing over hillocks or stretching out luxuriously under the warm California sun. Persimmon trees hung thick with plump orange fruit, roses pushed their pretty faces through gaps in fences and shiny, pink throat-ed hummingbirds thrummed their tiny wings to produce surprising grunt-like powerful sounds. We drove through the countryside and along inner roads, enjoying the blur of colors in the vineyards passing by and occasionally stopping for photo-ops with me holding my bulging belly. The signboards inviting visitors for wine tasting were of no use to me although, pregnant or not, I do not drink anyway. Nevertheless, I drank my fill of the unique architecture and landscaping at each winery.

For the duration of our trip, we stayed at Windrose Romantic Cottages in the town of Windsor. Turning in at the gate brought us to quaint, lemon yellow cottages with white trimmings clustered together like decorated cupcakes, available in different styles – English, French and Italian. The bed and breakfast place felt as cozy on the inside as it appeared on the outside, with simple yet stylish interiors, a warm fireplace and adequate amenities. Since the theme of this mini-vacation was for us would-be-parents to relax, we casually strolled about in the town of Healdsburg nearby, window-shopping through its downtown area and later got a soothing couples massage at a spa in Santa Rosa. The day was topped off with tea and snacks while lounging out in the patio of our cottage under a patch of sky resplendent with sunset-tinged clouds. This was followed by a sumptuous dinner at an Italian restaurant. I like to think that the baby inside showed her contentment as well in the gentle rolling movements I felt from time to time during our short yet memorable babymoon!

Santa Rosa Vineyard

More photos on the hubby’s website: http://myriadmoodsphotography.com/wine-country-fall/

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My short story ‘One Saturday Morning’ in Indian Short Fiction

It is strange how writing can be influenced in subtle and indirect ways. For my birthday six months ago, my husband had gifted me “On Writing”. It is a fantastic book with valuable lessons on writing by Stephen King, the ‘King’ of the horror genre. Although I had hardly read any of the author’s actual work, I loved what he had to say about the craft of writing and absorbed many useful lessons as I gleefully chomped through his non-fiction book.

Screenshot of story on Indian Short Fiction

In it, Stephen King also talks about some of his novels and short stories including the themes and characters in them. I think it was perhaps only due to these fleeting references, without even reading an entire horror story or novel, that the antennae in my subconscious mind started picking up signals to imagine a story with a slight supernatural connection. My story titled “One Saturday Morning”, set against a domestic backdrop in an ordinary household takes a sudden macabre turn on a seemingly lazy weekend morning. It recently appeared in a literary magazine called “Indian Short Fiction” and here is the link to it: http://indianshortfiction.com/flash-fiction-stories.php?id=141

Since the above link may not be functional anymore, here is the story in its entirety:

                                                             One Saturday Morning

Tender light filtering in through the curtains managed to wake up Jaya even before her alarm clock could beep. Perhaps this is an effect of advancing age, she thought, unable to go back to sleep. It was a Saturday morning and too early to wake up. Monday and her part time job at the beauty salon seemed a long way off. She had no specific plans for the weekend. No lunches or movies scheduled with friends, no weddings to attend and nowhere to go to with her husband who was at the moment away on a business trip. She had gone shopping just last weekend. The day stretched out long and languorous like the sun rays that were beginning to warm her toes. How deceptively innocent it had seemed then, Jaya would reflect later on.

She tossed and turned for a while, then gave up and headed to the bathroom. Turning her face this way and that, she hunted for the presence of new wrinkles and any gray hair that might have appeared as her hair color faded. Finding none, she started to hum a cheerful tune under her breath as she freshened up, looking forward to enjoying her morning cup of steaming hot tea. The maid servant Sarita would be here soon and she remembered a cleaning task she wanted to get done by her. Having worked with them for a decade, Sarita had been entrusted with the key to their apartment and could enter on her own to start household chores without disturbing her employers’ sleep on weekend mornings.

As she passed her son Rahul’s room, Jaya paused and tried to open the door just a little and as quietly as possible. The bedroom door yielded easily. Even before she peeked inside, the fact that it was not locked immediately told her that his bed would be lying undisturbed. Her darling boy, how hard he partied every Friday night! It was seven o’clock and he would stumble home soon, his clothes smelling of cigarette smoke, alcohol and feminine perfume. She would then make a half-hearted attempt to scold him while trying to suppress the joy she felt every time her eyes rested on her one and only offspring. It was a relief that his father was not at home. Saturday mornings turned unpleasant quickly at such times as father and son viciously lunged at each other. Some other people – relatives and friends who were just jealous, she knew – had a few complaints against him, mainly about his driving and his attitude. Some even had the nerve to gossip about his adamant pursuit of girls allegedly against their wishes. People found it hard to swallow his success and happiness, she thought. How proud she had been when he secured his first high-paying job! It also made her happy that it was in the same city where they lived so that he could continue to live at home. He worked so hard and deserved to enjoy and recharge himself at the end of the week. There was young blood pulsing through his veins. After all, boys will be boys, she reasoned.

Jaya was careful to shut back the door for fear of angering him if he suspected that she had tried to enter his bedroom without his permission. She continued on to the kitchen to make tea. Putting on some water to boil, she was reaching for the sugar when she almost jumped out of her skin. Sarita was already in the kitchen, standing near the counter with her back towards her.

“Oh my God! Sarita! You gave me a heart attack! I didn’t even hear the door open and realize you had already come in.”

Pouring another cup of water and adding two spoons of sugar in it, Jaya went on, “Alright, now that you are here, drink some tea first and I’ll tell you what you simply must do today.”

“Madam, I don’t think I can work today,” Sarita’s voice cracked.

Jaya frowned. These maidservants were always taking unscheduled leaves and coming up with excuses not to do their job. “What is it, today?” she frowned, already regretting her kind offer of tea.

Sarita spoke as if through a curtain of tears. “Madam, first of all, I must confess that I have not always been truthful to you. I have often not come to work on time or have taken many unexpected leaves for no good reason. I once stole some money from your purse while cleaning your room. Yes, I have been a thief and a liar. But I did not know I would be punished like this. No, not like this. Oh, not like this!”

She slowly turned around to face her employer. The container of sugar fell down from Jaya’s hands on to the smooth kitchen floor with a clang, spreading its white contents all over it.

The front of Sarita’s sari was drenched in blood. Her hand was twisted at the elbow so that it pointed unnaturally away from her body. Her head was tilted to the side at an odd angle like a broken doll, wobbling dangerously, as if it would roll off every time she moved. The most ghastly parts, however, were her eyes, which had turned completely white.

Jaya screamed, or at least thought she did but no sound came out. She took a few steps back, all the while thinking she would faint, unable to take her eyes off the sight in front of her.

Sarita or whatever disfigured creature it was that was standing before her looked back with a grotesquely sad smile. “This time, I have a strong reason for a leave of absence.”

“What happened to you?” Jaya began to shake uncontrollably.

Sarita sighed. “You must ask your son that question, Madam”.

Before she could say anything, Jaya heard the key turning in the lock and Rahul stumbling inside. She ran out of the kitchen with a scream and threw herself at him.

“The kitchen … the kitchen”, she repeated over and over.

Rahul tried to steady them both as he swayed. The smell of alcohol emanating from him was intense. He pushed Jaya away and sat down heavily on a sofa with his head in his hands.

It was then that Jaya noticed the bloody cut on Rahul’s forehead and the purple bruise on his cheek.

“How did you get hurt?” She asked.

Rahul looked up with bloodshot eyes. “I was in an accident close to our home. I hit her with my car.” He said.

“Who?”

“Sarita.” Rahul replied, “I think she is dead.”

He began to tremble and gasp for breath. “My head was hurting so much but I kept going since I was so close to home. I didn’t see her in the bright morning light.”

Jaya recognized the terror in his eyes as a pure reflection of her own from just a while ago. “Oh God! She was covered in so much blood.” His voice came in a whisper now. “She is still lying there. I could not look anymore … and … And I just ran up here.”

The doorbell rang and frantic knocks landed on their door, accompanied by a horde of voices calling out her dear son’s name from outside. Jaya stayed frozen, her hand pointing limply at the kitchen that anybody who peeked inside could have vouched was unoccupied, with only the water boiling away merrily, waiting for fragrant tea that was supposed to be made and consumed while savoring a Saturday morning.

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My story ‘A Trip Back Home’ selected in top 5 on Women’s Web

Each month, the online magazine Women’s Web asks readers to get inspired by an iconic woman writer and funnel that into their own writing. The 5 best entries on the writing cue get published. For December 2014’s Muse of the Month, the following lines from That Long Silence by award-winning writer Shashi Deshpande provided inspiration:

“It’s astonishing how we comment on change, as if change is something remarkable. On the contrary, not to change is unnatural, against nature.”

Women’s Web gave the following synopsis for my entry: “Hope can be cruel, but we cling to it anyway. Here’s a story that captures the high and the fall of blind hope.”

And this is what was written on their Facebook page before they shared my short story: “Does home always welcome you back with open arms? This story has a heartbreaking perspective.”

The entire short story is here: http://www.womensweb.in/2014/12/muse-of-the-month-december-1

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My article on Dec 2004 memories in Women’s Web

I had written a version of this on my blog last year. It is about my recollections around the natural disaster of December 2004. Here is the link to the article on Women’s Web online magazine: http://www.womensweb.in/2014/12/december-2004-tsunami-indonesia

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On transitions and life changes

Life is like flowing water in a stream, guaranteed to turn and change course as it makes its way onward. Sometimes it goes around too many bends in a relatively short period of time, which is exactly what I’ve been experiencing lately. A previous blog post ‘Where the mimosa blooms…‘ described our own place of residence that we moved into this year. Around two months prior, the hubby had made a transition in his career by starting a job with a new employer and his initial time there was proving to be extremely busy.

Then around a month after we had moved into the new place, we were still clearing out boxes and organizing our home when along came a piece of big news: we were going to have a baby! Talk about taking a “pregnant pause” on this blog. (Simply couldn’t resist making this joke!) I shall write about my detailed pregnancy experience in another post. At the moment, all I have to say is that as the months went by in a blur of new discoveries, medical appointments and morning sickness, the rivulet of life made an unexpected hairpin turn … along with a large number of employees, I was laid off my previous job. Naturally, all my time after that was spent in hunting for new employment and preparing for interviews.

In the midst of this came the exciting opportunity for us to find out the gender of our unborn child. I did not have any preferences at all about having a boy or a girl. It was just going to be nice to have this knowledge beforehand and start assigning a fixed pronoun when talking about our growing bundle of joy. We decided to keep it a surprise for a day and then reveal it via a gender reveal party thrown by friends. My husband and I had requested the ultrasound technician and doctor to provide the answer in a sealed envelope that we submitted to a bakery with a specific order for a cake that contained the answer in the form of either pink or blue filling. At the party, surrounded by friends chanting 10…9…8…7…6… giving a countdown towards the moment when the suspense would end, my husband and I cut open the cake to reveal the color of the hidden filling inside. “Pink!” yelled someone as claps and shouts broke out. It was going to be a baby girl!

Typing fingersNeedless to say, with all the changes going on, this flowing water of life did not get a chance to wet this blog. My writing in general remained a dry riverbed, with no time for content to fill it up. It is only recently after I secured new employment that I am able to try to divert the flow once again towards it. Ah! How good it feels to pour out black letters on a white surface! I know there will be times when there will be a pause, when once again there will be gaps and silences turning the lush vegetation of words into a shriveled desert but seasons come and go and someday it will rain again, pushing my gushing river around yet another corner.

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My short story ‘A Tiger’s Tale’ in The Literary Yard

The seeds of my short story ‘A Tiger’s Tale’ were sown during an ‘Intro to Creative Writing’ course (a birthday gift from the hubby) that I took at The Writing Salon early last year. As part of an assignment to write something starting with “I remember…”, I began to imagine an old lady narrating her childhood experience about an electrifying night in her village, arising from a visit by a fearsome beast of the jungle. I have always been fascinated by tigers and have been fortunate to feast my eyes on this magnificent creature in the wild, as documented in an old blog post ‘Orange Royalty‘. In class, I read aloud my short but incomplete piece, building suspense and stopping just short of the actual thrilling encounter. I was happy when, during the round of feedback, my classmates asked the one question every story-teller wants to hear, “what happens next?”

A whole year went by before I was myself tempted to find out the answer. In the process, another narrative sprouted up that was different from the Grandmother’s account, thus creating a story within a story. After I wrote it, I decided to have it critiqued by asking three people – my younger sister, my husband and a friend from my workplace – to read it and provide honest feedback. They did a great job and I came out of this informal workshop feeling grateful for their suggestions and becoming aware of aspects of my writing that I was otherwise blind to.

In my writing class, the instructor would provide feedback at the end after everyone else was done. She mentioned that she had liked my piece and spoke about how the tiger always seems like a magical creature. I could not agree with her more. There is something about this animal that is mysterious and otherworldly, giving stories about it a special spark.

Here is a small part of the story that is similar to the piece I first wrote for the class assignment:

. . .

“It happened a long time ago,” Grandma continued, “we lived on the outskirts of this busy and as yet, unborn city. It was just a tiny town surrounded by a smattering of villages and thick jungle growing ferociously between every settlement. There was no electricity back then and my parents and us four children would eat supper by the wood stove over which my mother prepared every meal. That night, we talked about the tiger that was terrorizing nearby hamlets and attacking cattle, listening wide-eyed as our father warned us not to venture out alone after dark in the sugarcane fields. We finished eating and began to prepare for bed. My oldest brother, not a boy anymore but a young man, was in the habit of strolling down the path that lead away from our tiny hut to smoke a beedi* after supper. He was my favourite sibling and I was always the one he brought home the choicest sweets for after work. Undeterred by the earlier conversation, he got ready to leave, promising not to stray from his usual route that stopped before the fields and the forest. I whimpered in protest and tried to appear angrier by widening my eyes until they almost popped out. Laughing at what he considered to be mere childishness, he left the house. I decided that I was not going to give up so easily. My imagination was on fire and in it, I clearly saw him becoming the tiger’s dinner. I pretended to lie down in bed and managed to slip out soon after. As he set out, I followed him like a cat, jumping between shadows under the full moon hanging like a bright lantern in the starless sky.

. . .

Hope you enjoy reading the entire story ‘A Tiger’s Tale’ found on ‘The Literary Yard’ at: http://literaryyard.com/2014/08/21/story-a-tigers-tale

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