So, what is your comfort book?

A few days ago, I found myself at an end so loose in the evening that I was practically flapping around the premises in a state of complete panic as to what to do with myself. I had read all that I had in terms of the new arrivals on my bedside table meant to be read, twitter and facebook no longer holds the same appeal for me as it did a year or so ago and I found myself trawling through my books for, what else, something to read, anything to read. My eyes alighted on an old and much battered copy of Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, and of course, I pounced on it in a trice, found myself a cosy corner, switched off my phone and plunged into it without a second’s thought. (I must confess, I tend to do that a lot, switch off the phone when I want to read, because those who really want to reach me urgently will find a way of doing so via the landline and the spouse’s phone. As for the rest, they’re probably trying to sell me a loan or shares, or touch on my conscience to part with funds for a home for children affected by terminal illness.)

Let me confess off the bat that this is probably the gadzillionth time that I have read Three Men in a Boat. I am ashamed to see how chewed up and battered this copy is, given it has shifted with me through three homes and from my maternal home to my marital home as a new bride. I think of it as a soul cleanser–when too much darkness and despair clutters up the soul, all I must do is read this, or any Wodehouse and I will be, to use the much abused cliche, as right as rain.

I suppose all of us have these books, these special books we turn to over and over again, books that grow richer in the re-reading, books that have seen us through the years grow up, grow old, go through various lifestages, and which remain for us, touchstones which harken back to an age we seek to grasp again. This book is my comfort book. I asked Facebook and Twitter which were the comfort books they turned to and here’s what I got.

From Facebook:

Paromita Deb Areng Anything by Louise Hay

  • Anita Menon Anything by Rosemunde Pilcher
    Vikas Vijayovich Datta Any of Wodehouse’s Mr. Mulliner collections
    Inderpreet Kaur Uppal My go to comfort book is a romance, typical M&B. The format is familiar even though the author might be Indian , US or European. It is the universal language of love and attraction. It reminds me that love is all that we need and it will be all well in the end.
    Latha Sunadh Bridget Jones because…Bridget Jones! smile emoticon
    Maryann Taylor Anything by Ruskin Bond, or Agatha Christie.
    Shantanu Bhattacharya Wodehouse, undoubtedly. Followed by Asterix.
    Priyadarshini Narendra Harry Potter, Biggles, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer…

Amruta Langs My go to comfort book is anything sci-fi and anything from chicken soup for the soul series… Other books being – Bridget Jones, Julia Child’s Autobiography, Julie and Julia … and many more …

  • Shunali Khullar Shroff Bridget Jones, Diary of a provincial lady, Wodehouse, Daisaku Ikeda, Asterix.
    Priyadarshini Narendra Harry Potter – the last book in the series
    Aanchal Tyagi Georgette Heyer. One book – The Grand Sophy.
    Lavanya Donthamshetty Jeeves and Wooster. Poirot. Miss Marple. Dick Francis’s early ones. Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. Early J D Robb novels.
    Amit Bhowmick The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley. It’s a childhood favourite of mine.
  • Mishta Roy Eva Ibbotson
    Samiya Shakir Nicholson Baker anyday – Vox or House of Holes
    Maya Jain I read Calvin and Hobbes because it never fails to cheer me up. Else romance- most historical…

Nikhil Merchant Weirdly enough it’s Harry Potter ! It’s a go-to as not only does it transport me into a fantasy world (one with which I cannot even remotely think of) but also clears my thoughts off a writers block etc.Currently reading Sidney Sheldon, need my thoughts to be twisted and become more alert. Was lagging.

  • Pinky Darius Mistry Rhonda’s The Secret one of Deepak Chopra’s books, don’t remember the name. And Arranged Marriages by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is like a rock – whenever I’m troubled, I go through the inner recesses of my mind to recall the various women portrayed so intricately in each of her stories.
    Preeti Aghalayam Wodehouse, without a doubt. I avoid the PSmith ones (’cause I love him and wish he was real and so get very worked up and involved in the whole thing – even the Mike & PSmith school ones) and stick to Jeeves & Wooster. Or better yet, Emsworth.
    Gauri Warudi The Bhagvad Gita, it is…I almost always find my answer and tremendous solace…smile emoticon
    Dipali Taneja Joanna Trollope, The Other Family

    Anupama Srinivasulu: Any book by Nora Roberts and set in Ireland. Love the magic in the place and also love stories

    Prats Rajesh Thornbirds. Something about that romance and tragedy n yearning in the story makes me go back again n again

    Rizwana Rashid Enid Blyton my all time favourite

    Aparna Zalani Gone With the Wind and Amar Chitra Katha.
  • Sachin Kalbag I always go back to two books: Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh, and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Fermat’s Last Theorem is about human achievement. I don’t read it as much for the mathematics in it as for the sheer mental stSee More
    Idea Smith 1. Rachel’s Holiday – Marian Keyes
    2. Fables (graphic novel series) – Bill Willingham
    Gopinath Maninkurve: It will be Sudha Murthy’s Books about her experiences in philanthropy or Rashmi Bansal’s books. on successful entrepreneurs!
  • Sunita Thomas: Romance is my comfort read. A few good MBs and Nora Roberts I have read a dozen times.
    Anupama Srinivasulu– You should read Born in Fire if you haven’t already. Since you mentioned Ireland and Nora Roberts
    Baisali Chatterjee Dutt: The Mahabharat
    Rupa Gulab Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Because you can still have a sense of humour when life craps on you. Ref. early scenes at the orphanage.
    Deepali Naair: “The Prodigal Daughter” for many reasons but two chief ones! It was given to me by my school principal to read right after ICSE exams and the book reminds me of her (Mrs P Paul) and she gets all the credit for recognising the “speaker” in me. Secondly See More
    Harshikaa Udasi: Daddy Long Legs and PG Wodehouse! Jeeves never ever fails smile emoticon
    ‘Tiku Tiikuli: ‘The Witch Of Portobello’ by Paulo Coelho. There is something spellbinding in the narration and I feel close to the central character Athena. I guess it’s the quest for discovering oneself that we share. I have read it many times and found it engaging each time. It’s a personal favorite.
     Pradeeppti Guptaa:What I know for sure… by Oprah.Just such a simple book.Love to reread it.Just very calming.Love the way she wrote she has barely raised her voice more than 4 times in life. Inspiring….
    Rashmi Balakrishnan: Brian Weiss books. They lead me into a space filled with peace.
    Priyanka Pereira: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Its humor can brighten any dull day 
    Ridhima Sinha: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle or What I Know for Sure by Oprah. I am really enjoying the Rosie project .. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson..

Rina Sen Goel: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett & Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. For the first’s childlike wonder of discovery & the second’s laugh out loud moments. And for other moods, passages from The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple, for iSee More

Ranjit Rodricks: The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton. It’s by far the most fascinating trilogy of books I have ever read and makes for a great escape into a world of pixies, fairies, wizards and even the more human, British country side. Blyton invented worlds which existed on top of a tree and that to me, is the most fascinating thing about the books

And from Twitter:

ktens: Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

lycfrr : The Count of Monte Christo

wisemonk: Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill

Khusboo24: Ruskin Bond

Riaan George: The Little Prince

Shuchi Singh Kalra:  Loves reading her own books.

Vikram Vaman Karve: The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

Priyal Mahabharat and He’s Just Not That Into You

Vindhya Peddireddy: All The Light We Cannot See

Priyanka Shetty Tuesdays with Morrie and A Suitable Boy

Uma Talreja Bridget Jones’ Diary and Eat and Run

Gayatri Jayaraman Calvin and Hobbes

Aparna Jain Archies

Latha Srinivasan The Wizard of Oz, The Yellow Brick Road

Mahesh Rao Lucia by E F Benson

Pia Kahol P G Wodehouse, the Jeeves Stories

Tandoori Cutlet Pride and Prejudice, Anne of the Green Gables

Ashwin Mushran Calvin and Hobbes

Shrabonti Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, Jane Austen’s Emma

Kavitha Rao John Mortimer’s Rumpole

Kalpana Mishra Why Can’t a Man Be More Like A Cat

Manav Das The Notebook

Scrolls n Ink Eat Cake

The Mountain Girl Tintin

A Appy The Enchanted Wood and The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Subha C The English Patient

Fun And Frolic Korma Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms

Madhav The Magic Faraway Tree

Renu Dhole The Harry Potter series, Anjali Joseph’s Saraswati Park

Sachinky  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Bombay Foodie Welcome to the World Baby Girl by Fanny Flagg

Maith in Gaudynight

Sharkspeak Jeeves and Wooster

Rashmi Bansal You Can Heal Your Life by Louis Hay

Papyrus Troll The Zoya Factor and Harry Potter

Hemisha Dsilva Mad, Tinkle

iUthup Anita Nair’s Goodnight, Richmal Crompton

Cocktail Amma Persepolis, Half of a Yellow Sun

Zorba Illusions by Richard Bach

(If I’ve missed any or got anything down wrong, do let me know, was scribbling them down in a hurry as they came on my twitter TL).

The reason for compiling this? Completely selfish. To find new comfort books for me. To see what are the books other people are comforted by. And to have a list ready of books people have read and loved and go back to again and again. Of these, I realise I share the Wodehouse, the Harry Potter, the Enid Blyton, the Richmal Crompton, Bridget Jones and Jane Austen. Do you spot any of your comfort books in these lists? Tell me what your comfort book is and why. Would love to know.

RIP APJ Abdul Kalam

Last night, while casually scrolling through the twitter timeline, some tweets alerted me to the fact that our revered ex-President was no more. I donot use the word revered lightly, I never do. But he was revered, the spontaneous outpouring of grief on the twitter timeline was proof enough.

I have never met him, never interacted with him, unlike many who have memories to draw upon for their eulogies. But that doesn’t stop me from writing one, and why should it, after all, he was our ex-President, one of the few we claim for our own with pride, one we looked upon fondly for the sheer indomitable way he rose from the most underprivileged background to reach the position of President of our country.

There have been Presidents and there will be Presidents, but why did APJ inspire such a feeling of reverence. Was it his scientific achievements, which he carried lightly on his shoulders? Was it his charming affectation of a hairstyle, I must admit I admired for the sheer pizzazz with which he stuck grimly to it when a less brave person would have taken himself to a hairstylist and asked for it to be cropped to regular length and a more appropriate style. Was it his simplicity, that shone through everything he did, a child like glee about the world, which was apparent in all his interactions one saw, second hand, on the television?

Or was it something else, was it the sheer fact that he was living embodiment of the fact that no matter how humble the beginnings, hard work and determination could surmount everything. He was an icon for us to show our children–an icon they could look up to, aspire to be like, take inspiration from. In that, he did us a great service, he was a statesman to look up to in an era where all we do is take glee in bringing them down.

RIP APJ. You will be missed.

Guest Post for the week: Vineetha Mokkil on What’s in a Label

By Vineetha Mokkil

I am finishing work on a novel right now. The moment I say this out loud in public I am asked: what genre does it belong to? I stay quiet. What’s in a label, says my inner voice. “Thriller?” “Romance?” “Crime fiction?” “Chick-lit?” “Lad-lit?” “Historical fiction?” People start firing genres at me like ballistic missiles. Label it now or forever lose our interest – there comes the warning loud and clear. I don’t have a problem with genres per se. I’m not denying that they have their uses. When millions of books flood the shelves (or online portals), booksellers must find the least confusing way to present them before the reading public. Slotting a book into a genre saves everyone time and effort. It simplifies the search. It compartmentalizes choices into airtight categories, which hold out the promise of order in a chaotic world. Despite its superficial charms, this need to seal off books into rigid categories is a dangerous one. In a way, it negates the very process of creation itself. Writing fiction is an exercise in giving free rein to the imagination. A writer must be able to shape a novel or a story without having to worry about what label can be stuck on it. A novel can contain a mix of genres, successfully incorporating elements of more than one. It can also break free of all existing genres and impress readers with its ingenuity. Our keenness to label books is not very different from our need to box people into categories: married or single, black or white, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, believer or atheist. Slap on a label and reduce an immeasurably complex human being into a simplistic, easily identifiable entity. These labels do nothing to enrich our understanding of our fellow humans. They are simply the product of a blinkered vision. To slot people into square boxes is a grave injustice. To insist that every book must fit into a pre-fabricated category is inane. The human imagination has the power to break 
free of all restraint and soar to dizzying heights. A work of fiction displays this power at its best. It comes alive because it flies on the wings of a writer’s imagination. Labels limit it. Labels flatten out complexity in the interest of homogeneity. What they offer is false comfort – the illusion that chaos can be contained, that every story comes with a neatly tied-up ending. As all art essentially does, what I intend to capture in my novel is the rich, complex tapestry of human experience. Love, hate, lust, cruelty, kindness, indifference – all seep into the story. There is romance and mystery, elements of intrigue, the machinations of geopolitics, the cataclysms of history. All these go into the mix to create a vibrant and absorbing narrative. Why should I (or any writer who is slaving away over a manuscript) be pressurized to stick a tidy label on it? Why carve up the sky into bite-sized chunks because infinity is too complex a concept for us to embrace?

Vineetha Mokkil is a writer currently based in New Delhi. She is the author of the collection, “A Happy Place and Other Stories” (HarperCollins, 2014). Her stories have been published in the Santa Fe Writers Journal, Cha: an Asian Literary Journal, and the North East Review. Her first novel is in the pipeline.

 

I post one guest post every week on Mondays. Sharp, opinionated, even provocative. If you would like to contribute a guest post, do write in to me at kiranmanral@gmail.com.

Of religion and frequency and how the twain met

This morning I was at poolside, handing the offspring his post swim snack of the boiled egg and milk. He had showered and changed into his school uniform and was still all tousled headed dampness from not having wiped his head dry properly.

We got into one of those casual discussions, ones we always do when there is time to be spent and eating is the only joy of the moment and somehow the topic went to religion. This was because Cruella de Ville Mamma would definitely choose a quiet and peaceful moment to do a recap of the studying he had done the previous evening, and what he had done the previous evening was a revision of the Medieval Age as in his history textbooks and of it, the teachings of Christ and Mohammed.

As is always, the topic digressed a bit. “So,” he asked, “what is different in the teachings of Christ and Mohammed?”

Given that I am born of two people belonging to these two religions, I am shamed to say I did not have an answer succint enough, except to wing it and tell him that the basic precept of all religions was basically the same and it involved being good, honest and hardworking and believing in a power that watched over us. He took a sip of his milk and stared thoughtfully at the pool, now dotted with the multicoloured caps of the next batch of swimmers.

“In India, we have many religions?” he asked.

“Yes, we do.”

“Why do we need so many religions?” he asked in reply.

“I guess each person has a different way of reaching out to God.”

He was thoughtful for a long moment all over again, then scarfed down his milk and wiped his mouth of the sleeve of his uniform before I could scour his face with the napkin I had handy in the bag.

“We don’t need so many religions. God is a frequency that exists inside us.”

I froze. I almost fell to the floor but feared for the damages they would slap me with for breaking the tiling.

“What did you say, son?”

“God is a frequency that exists inside us.”

“And what is a frequency?”

“Is like a radio channel, you can tune to whatever you like or want to listen to.”

Someone give me back my hell raising rapscallion. So much wisdom from a pintsized who was just recently a zygote has me really worried. Even if that wisdom comes from so much of them image quotes he scours for his instagram feed.

And the rains are back….

For the better part of a couple of weeks well into what should have been peak monsoon time in Mumbai, the sky was so clear of clouds that if we squinted and looked hard we could probably spot some of the satellites in orbit. The roads were bone dry and children despaired of ever having the joy of a RainyDayHoliday again in this year, a day to basically bunk school so they could go down to the park and legitimately get wet to the bones and send us parents into a frap about chills and colds and drink that Adusol now on the pain of no television for the next week.

The weeks passed with the city that mandatorily had its bi-annual deluge by now looking like the monsoon had done its bit at the start of the session and had now retired hurt to the pavilion. On the flip, the rest of the country was reporting flooded roads, cancelled flights, collapsed walls, and all the associated mayhem that we claimed unthinkingly as ours every year this time. It was enough to make one cry enough to flood the roads.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not romanticising the rain. Far from it. It is wet, and gloomy and damp and you cannot step out for fear of reaching your destination looking like a rodent who was ignominiously drowned in sewage water, your living room gets converted into a dhobi ghat because, damn, them clothes stay damp for days on end and the only solution to get them dry seems to be sitting grimly with the hairdryer set to high in one hand and the offending garment in the other. But I was born on a day when the roads were so flooded, I’m told my mother had to make it through waist deep water to the hospital when the contractions began. I have this primitive visceral affinity for water. I also cannot swim, but that is another blog post for another day.

But this prolonged special of dryness was worrisome. I looked at the sky every morning in anticipation to see not a single errant cloud marking its progress across. I looked at the nice bright green raincoat I’d purchased in anticipation of days needing full protection from the elements, when a hapless umbrella would stand no chance against the forces of wind and rain combined, and despaired of ever getting an opportunity to use it. The child moped at the window about how none of them had caught colds this year and could legitimately be allowed to bunk school because they were infectious, never mind that they scampered down to the park to get wet some more and even more infectious when a parental head was turned.

Then, after a long period of rain-lessness, when I feared we would go into drought, famine, hellfire and worse, one fine evening, a graceful rumbling in the sky and a swift pall of grey heralded the arrival of some clouds. Within the hour, the rain was pelting down in buckets. And then it cleared away as suddenly as it arrived. The petrichor fought valiantly with the stink of newly dampened mounds of garbage, and garbage won by a knock out. There was a brief reprieve and the rapscallions in the compound, who had been caught unaware by the sudden deluge returned to their respective homes, all wet to the bone and happy at it. It rained through the night. It was still raining when I woke the next morning, wondering whether the alarm had fast forwarded itself so dark it was outside, the rain a wall that blocked all visibility.

“Donwantugotoskul,” the offspring murmured as I tried to wake him up, “Isarainydayholiday.”

As I hustled him into the bathroom, I wish tough love could be tender and I could let him take the day off, and take the day off myself, stay at home and enjoy the rain the way it was meant to be enjoyed –with more calorific pakoras with chai than was deemed healthy and which surely would make their determined way to my saddle bags and take up permanent residence there.

The day was rained out. The roads got flooded. Compound walls collapsed. Traffic got jammed. Flights got delayed. Flights were missed. All was well with the city again.

Guest post of the week: From Rajni Arunkumar

Here is the second in the series of guest posts on the blog, a post by Rajni Iyer on why role-reversals aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be:

Now, I admit I’m not the best of drivers, but I’ve always thought of myself at a competent driver,
most of the time. The kids always make it to school without mishaps , and the car is largely scrape-
free for  the most part – and that’s saying something in this city. But I’m not someone who enjoys
driving and if given a choice, I’d gladly prop my feet up while I’m being ferried about.
So, normally our roles during long drives are pretty set.
Husband: Driver’s seat. Focussing on ONLY the driving.
Kids: Back seat, bickering away.  Occasionally snickering away and the clueless adults up front.
Me: Front right, playing navigator, Judge and Jury.
And it usually works great. Until one fine day, on our way back from a weekend away, after a particularly sleepless night (hey, don’t look at me- I was in a completely different room, tending to one of the bickering babies) and a calorie laden lunch of epic proportions, the hubby finally couldn’t keep his eyes open despite trying to fold eyelids backwards. With the greatest of reluctance the car keys were handed to me.  I, on my part accepted with the greatest of reluctance as well.
Right. I shall describe the scene after that and leave you to be the judge.
So, setting  the scene:
Driver: Self.
Back seat driver: Husband
Kids: Back seat, bickering away.  Occasionally snickering away and the clueless adults up front.
Moving on.
Husband: Wait! Whatchoo doing??
Me: Er… adjusting the rear view – You are a bit taller than me you know and do the seats have to be
so far away? How on earth are you supposed to reach the pedals? And will you please settle down kids? No, you cannot have another smartie. Are you sure you don’t want to go to the loo?
Husband: Please! Focus on the driving. I’ll handle the kids!
Me: Yes, I know… that’s what I thought I was doing. Ooo- Look- they’re selling fresh cheese!
Hub: Whoa! What? Will you look where you’re going? You nearly mowed that poor woman down!
Me: That lady came out of nowhere! Popping up like a blooming vampire.
Just then,
Child 1: Ammmaa! She took my most-precious-ever-in-the-world-ever volcanic rock
Child 2: I didn’ted . It’s miiiiiiiiiiiiine. Maaaaa!
Followed by an ear-splitting scream in my ear.
Hub: DON’T TURN AROUND! Can you PLEASE focus on the road? I’ll HANDLE them.
Me: Yes, I can see what a fine job you’re doing too! Gosh, what is with all that honking. *rolling down the window* I’m only as fast as the person in front of me, fool!
After the husband threatened to offload the pair of them from where they’d have to find their own way home, things settled down for a bit in the back of the car.  No such luck in the front of the car.
Between the ‘ooooh, Too close!’ and ‘The kerb! The kerb!!’ and ‘slow down!’ and ‘speed up!’ and ‘watch out!’  and ‘Big truck!’ and ‘Pothooooole’, it was like sitting next to an overly caffeinated navigator for the blind.  Not the most pleasant journey.
The kids were watching in rapt attention at this very Jerry Springer-esque drama unfolding in front of their eyes and had forgotten temporarily that they hate each other.  Two hours of this shindig and I was more exhausted than an entire day of rock climbing could make me. The husband wasn’t quite as fresh as a daisy either because apparently he hadn’t counted on being the eyes and ears for the BOTH of us. We needed to stop before the police was called in for homicide in a moving vehicle.  By unspoken agreement I pulled up at the next gas station. We quietly unbuckled ourselves. Car doors were opened in beautiful synchronicity. And while I hauled the youngest to the bathroom (which was followed by a loud ‘How’d you know I wanted to pee, ma?’) , the husband headed to the expresso machine for a double shot. Five minutes later, the world tilted back to its axis as the baby was once again strapped into the back, the husband was once again holding  the steering wheel like he’d never let it go and I was once again in the passenger seat playing navigator, judge and jury. And that is how we made it back home in one piece to tell the tale. The husband thinks it’s a minor miracle we survived my driving and I think it’s a pretty major miracle he isn’t divorced yet.

Rajni blogs at http://www.senseslenses.com/

About the author:
Rajni is currently enjoying her stint as a global nomad with her spouse and two kids in Romania. She’s recently had her first book published and when she’s not blogging or writing, she’d busy tweeting or clicking pictures of her sundry adventures.
If you would like to send in a Guest Post for this blog, do mail me at kiranmanral@gmail.com. I publish a guest post by invitation once a week.

Why public speaking terrifies me…

Last weekend, I was at the Indiblogger Word Up 2015 in Gurgaon and I had to make a presentation. As far as speaking in public speaking goes, let me confess, I’d rather sit through a root canal without anesthesia. It terrifies me. The thought of being up there, with all those eyes on me, narrowed, waiting, tapping their heels impatiently, putting their hands into their bags to bring out those rotten eggs, calculating the trajectory they’d need to throw it at so it splatters on my head….

You know.

Once upon a time I said no to all the invitations that needed me to speak in public. Then a very lovely friend, who has completely reinvented herself (you know who you are) gave me a firm talking to about why it is essential to be out there. I took her words to heart. And I realised the only way to deal with a fear is to tackle it head on. So I try, every single time. No matter how paralysed by fear I get, no matter how my mouth goes dry, my tongue feels like lead in my mouth and my hands start dripping cold clammy sweat, I get out there and up there and do what I need to do. And try to do it well.

This event needed a presentation as well to accompany my talk. I claim to love extempore, and I manage to wing it most times, but that is only my sloth dressing up as insouciance. I dread the making of presentations too. As presentations go, I am not of the genus who is comfortable coming up with wise and pithy statements on a powerpoint, to be expanded on at length. I question the temerity of me assuming I have wisdom enough to impart to others. I question my life decisions. I question whether what I say will have value. Then I collapse and begin from scratch again.

Once upon a time I gave powerpoints for a living and could make them in my sleep, complete with slide transitions, animations, and special effects enough to give Pixar a right complex, but given that the last powerpoint I presented was to a client (I was in advertising then) when I was at a mammoth 9 months, full term and the brat would make his squalling appearance into the world three days later, the break has been long and complete.

Needless to say, I approached the powerpoint and the making thereof with all the efficiency that I did not possess. I ignored the necessity of making it until it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that it would have to be made, and God help me, there was no putting it off anymore.

When I sat down to the task, I realised I could type out reams and reams on a blank word document, but when confronted with a blank powerpoint, creativity shuddered and quietly gave up the ghost in a corner. I found myself doing horrible things like putting down cold bullet points, barking terse commands and worse, breaking out into a cold sweat at the realisation that I would have to stand in front of an audience, who, if the speakers before me had been fabulous, would not be so kindly towards me. And given that I was slotted before the lunch break, would be keen to have me done with because I would be the sole thing standing between them and solid nutrition. It was a scary proposition no doubt.

I have always been a shrinking violet. Push me onto the stage with a mike and my stomach knots up into a thousand untangle-able knots a boy scout would be proud of. I break out into a cold clammy sweat. I look into the faces of those sitting in front of me, scanning desperately for a kindly face that might be gentle and forgiving and not bring out the ripe tomatoes from the handbag for the hurling. Put me up in front of an audience and all I can do is hurtle through what I’m supposed to say and run away before they get galvanised into action involving booing and throwing of over ripe fruit at my person. It makes me nervous, being the focus of attention in a room full of people. Those who know me, know that at a public gathering they might find me behind a pillar or under a table. At social events, I’ve been known to sidle in, mark my duty attendance and sidle out before folks come hunting me down in order to make conversation.

But then, that’s me. I know folks who are absolute magic when thrust into the glare of a spotlight with a mike in their hand or at their lapel and just know how to work the crowd. I envy them. I wish I had their ease, but then I never know whether, within them, they’re battling the same gut contracting levels of nervousness that I do. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But isn’t that what it is, one can never tell what demons another battles with, and that sometimes one might share demons with another.

I called the offspring to help me with the powerpoint, he of the top marks in the computer practicals and the err-well let’s not discuss it in public marks- in computer theory, to help me with the powerpoint. Leave it to me, he said with the confidence of one who is born to make these things, when I begged him to jazz up the presentation. And so I did. It was a lesson I learnt in trust and how one child’s definition of interesting would not match one’s own definition of getting the audience’s attention. Well, the bomb, ambulance siren and such like sound effects he peppered the slides with would definitely have woken the most stupefied audience but there was no guarantee they wouldn’t hustle me down the stairs and pack me out through a back door, with a quick handshake.

So it was back to the drawing board, throwing out the baby, the bathwater and the sound effects injudiciously added. Having agonised about the fact that there would be many professional presentation givers at the event, I decided to keep mine as simple as I could and resist jazzing it up with fancy effects. It was a decision I think I should stick with for everything in life.

Come the day of the event. I stomped onto stage in very high heels, so high in fact that when I went off stage and took them off to slip into more comfortable flats, had to wave to folk to inform them that I was down there. The crowd was thankfully, gentle and forgiving, perhaps I could put that down to the fact that they’d just finished a rather wonderful lunch, and that better speakers before me had done the ground work. I marched through my slides, clicking the clicker ferociously. I rued the fact that there had been no benevolent Bertie or Jeeves to flood my gullet with injudiciously spiked orange juice enough to make me braced enough to bite a tiger.

And there it was, done with. I could breathe again. Until the next event. Until the next time a cold clammy hand of dread clenches my intestines into a mess of tension.

Guest Post: Laxmi Hariharan on Why I’m a crowd sourced author, and five things I learnt from writing my last series

Beginning this week, I am starting a new series on the blog. Guest posts from folk who have something interesting to say. My little effort at giving back to the blogging community for all the love I’ve received over the years.

Why I’m a crowd sourced author, and five things I learnt from writing my last series

—Laxmi Hariharan

When my last book in the Ruby Iyer series released, I was cautious about the marketing. I knew I didn’t have a choice (or did I?) I assumed I had to go out there and talk about my book, and my writing process and get interviewed in newspapers, and on BBC Asia and write for the Guardian; basically try everything possible to get myself and Ruby out there. And yet the question I kept asking myself all through was. Am I doing this purely to feed my ego – just to be called an author? Had I yet earned the right to go out and tell people about my writing? What about the actual craft of writing. How much had I mastered that. Really?

Yes, I had this amazing character with an incredible energy that drove the plot … But had I given it my best in terms of digging out her hidden motivations, why she did the things she did?

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So, I re-visited the craft of writing. And this is what I learnt.

1) It was really important for me to understand why I write:

This book in particular, The Writer and the Hero’s Journey by Rob Parnell, really spoke to me. In this Rob Parnell likens the author’s journey to that of the Hero’s journey. And how writing a book was actually a discovery of oneself. So we are all on our own Hero’s Journeys, which we explore through writing the book. This, I realized, was the crux for me. I write to be read, but more importantly I write to plumb my own subconscious mind. To understand why I do the things I do. And in uncovering the motivations for my own life I was finding out what drove my characters.

2) I am a crowd-sourced author:

Today, nine months down the line, I am re-editing The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer. That’s one of the advantages of electronic publishing. You can go back and re-edit. And re-visit again if you feel you want to change things.

Many liked The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer. And readers were invested enough to make suggestions, on what I could do better. You could say I was learning on the job. The question here is of course when is better enough, good enough? Who do you listen to and who do you disregard. My thumb rule is if 8 out of ten genuine readers have the same comment then I need to go revisit. And when I have an invested community of readers I will listen. I want to listen and go back and change till I know I can’t do more.

3) I’ll never stop learning:

How many times will you do this you ask? Keep re-editing the novel? Right now I am on my third big re-edit. Part of this process was also joining an online writer’s course where the group critiqued pieces and I had a wonderful tutor who actually took the critical parts and showed me how I could rework it more effectively. So I know I’ll never stop learning this craft. And yes there comes a point when I’ll say this is it for this book and then use what my new knowledge in my next book. I hope—fingers crossed that this is my final, final edit of Many Lives and now I use what I’ve learnt to finish editing The First Life of Vikram Roy.

4) I’m only as good as my book

The marketing is a necessary evil. Let’s be honest. With the amount of content out there, the only way for readers to pick out what you write, is if they’ve heard about you. So yes it’s something that has to be done. And by all means I will use social media to do that. But it’s far more important to write a good book. I firmly believe, if it is the best I’ve given it, and if it is different, and timely then it will rise to the top. Perhaps, slower than if I was out there shouting from the rooftops about it. But the ones who like it, will read it and tell the others about it. And that is far more valuable than me constantly promoting myself. I am optimistic enough or perhaps just foolish to hope for a day when I don’t need to social-sell myself anymore. That my body of work will do that for me.

5) It’s a marathon not a sprint.

It’s about getting up every day, and doing what needs to be done. Day after day after day. Which means, I need to want this badly enough. Really more than anything on this planet. The moot being – What do I want more than anything? The ego-kick of being referred to as an author? Or that I want to understand myself and the world around me and how I fit into the cosmos? Cue typical writer existential crisis, and yeah, that hasn’t passed me by unnoticed. Still I’ll put it out there.

So, I know which space I fall into. And you?

Laxmi Hariharan is the author of the Ruby Iyer Series. Download the first novelette in the series, The Ruby Iyer Diaries, FREE from Amazon here

Ten reasons why I think the 40s rock

Last month I turned 44. To put things in perspective, when I was in my teens, I had quite thought it would suffice if I made it to forty and then popped it because by then I would have achieved all my dreams, brokered world peace, patented a cure for cancer and achieved cult supermodel status. Consequently, when I did hit 40, I was feeling a trifle shortchanged that the only peace I could broker is plea bargaining with the husband for Indo Chinese takeaway over Mutton Biryani from a QSR. I hadn’t found the cure to anything, except perhaps insolence (nothing that a good sharp yell can’t sort out, as any mom worth her stretch marks will tell you) and as for supermodel status, well, if I could keep my girth from levels that would need extrication from a turnstile, I was sorted.

Having lowered my expectations from my self rather substantially, I didn’t set store a great deal by my forties, after all, what were they but a bridge decade to the fifties, and menopause and subsequent decay and decline into early dementia. But the forties have, well, surprised me. And here’s why.

1] I am finally happy with my body. Oh god, if I could chat with my 20 year old self, I would sit her down, smack her hard across the face and give her a stern talking to about the solid on toast dissing she subjected her close on perfect body to. It didn’t fit in with the tall and slim borderline anorexic androgynous looks that designers perfected but it was a body that was functional, had more curves than a scenic railway route, and could pour itself into tight clothes with no thought for Michelin Man tyres. Today, at 44, the stomach is a mess of stretch marks, the little overhang from pregnancy grimly defies all the crunches I try, the cellulite on the thighs moves to a beat of its own, and gravity has worked its irresistable magic on the breasts. But I know this is the one functional body I have, and I need to make the best of it.

2] I can go out of the house without a smidgeon of make up. You would have had to put a gun to my head to get me to put my nose out of the door without me having applied at least lipgloss in my 20s. In my 30s I felt naked without my lipstick, eyeliner, compact and blush slapped on. Today, I can wander through an entire day without running a comb through my hair, and looking like something that swamp creatures could take a tutorial from. While I can slap on the warpaint when I choose to, being out in public domain without applying a smidgeon of make up no longer freaks me out–by now I know that no one notices. Or perhaps, it is the other way round. I couldn’t care who notices.

3] I like being slightly invisible. You know, that invisibility that cloaks you when you hit a certain age–no longer do the stray romeos on the streets target you for their attentions, no longer do you walk into places and have heads turn 180 degrees. It feels safer. The fly on the wall is a more comfortable spot to be at.

4] I no longer have the desire to get out every night or every weekend. There’s no fear of missing out, there’s no fear of anything except perhaps, losing those I love. That is the only fear, and that makes me want to spend as much time as I can with them, rather than spend it in a giddying haze of out and about-ing. And yes, I’ve begun appreciating my mother more. She did a good job with me. I’m not doing half as well with my offspring.

5] I’ve learnt it is more important to be comfortable than to be stylish. Bring on the wedge heels and the lycra waisted pants, the loose fits and the clothes that fall comfortably and have plenty of give. Looking good is no longer about following trends. Looking good is about being comfortable in your skin and caring a damn what anyone thinks about you.

6] I can do what I want without seeking approval from all the authority figures in my life, because dammit, I am the authority figure in my life now. I can say no without trying to apologise or sweeten it with an explanation. I can say no to dinner invitations, and know that my friends won’t think less of me for it, because if they did, they wouldn’t be my friends.

7] I take nothing for granted therefore I am thankful for everything I have, my family, food on my table, friends by my side, the kindness of strangers. I start my day with thankfulness, all the what if scenarios keep me grounded. I know what and who are important to me, and thankfully that list is small enough to get all my attention.

8] I have zero tolerance for bullshit. I have even less tolerance for whiners and negativity. And I don’t hesitate to cut myself off from people or situations that don’t make me feel good or comfortable. I’ve learnt to no longer wear my heart on my sleeve, but on the inside as nature mandated it to be. It keeps it safer.

9] There’s no longer an urge to agree with everything a person says to make him or her like me. There’s no longer an urge to be contrarian just to make a point. There’s only the quietness of knowing my mind, and sticking to my opinion, but yet, being open to reason. And the urge to be kind, because I never know the story behind the other’s opinion.

10] And finally, I’ve realised it is now or never to pursue all my dreams. I published my first book at 40. My second at 42. And I have three more coming up for release at 44. I’ve written two more. I’ve realised this is the perfect age to be at, I have the thick skin enough to deal with rejection and not to take it personally. I have the discipline enough of getting to my desk even when inspiration is sodden with a hangover, and the muse has gone AWOL. Most importantly, I’m old enough to know I can’t blame myself now on anyone else but me.