There Is No Such Thing As A Well-Fed Tween :My Yowoto post this week

“I’m hungry, give me something to eat.”

It was not for nothing that the offspring has earned the nickname Bottomless Pit in the house. It is a nickname that is well-earned. It haunts me, that sentence, in my dreams and my waking hours. I get nightmares which have his voice rising plaintively in ear-piercing decibels screaming “I’m hungry give me something to eat,” while I go through a kitchen cabinet in a panic, and with bleeding ears, only to find all the jars with the stash of anytime snacking reduced to zero by the magnificent munching machine I spawned. Oh. That was no nightmare, that was yesterday.

If you have an adolescent in the house, you might find this familiar. One moment you’ve returned from your monthly grocery shopping, carefully packed everything away, stocked the fridge so that the shelves are bulging in a pleasing manner, and you dust your hands with the pleasure of a task well done. A few hours later, make that circa midnight, you are in the market for a snack and you take yourself to the kitchen, visualising the totally yummy sandwich you are going to make yourself from the salami slices, the multigrain bread and the sandwich spread you just put into the fridge a few hours ago. You throw the fridge open and find yourself greeted by the gruesome remains of the empty bread pack, with the thick ends and a few crumbs left considerately behind for anyone who might crave a midnight snack.
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Mom Vs The New Toy (My Yowoto post for this week)

And so it came to pass that I was standing, hapless and helpless, before the salesman at one of the plushest toy stores in one of the plushest malls in the plush capital city of the country, millimetres away from grovelling before him.

“Are you sure you don’t have it?” I asked him, hating the whine in my voice. “Not even one?” I felt a sweat breaking across my forehead, and a tremble begin to infiltrate my spinal cord. I was 3 hours away from catching the flight back home after a week away. There was the infamous Delhi traffic to contend with, and I had left myself no slack to go hunting in other stores to find the specific object that The Brat had put down as mandatory to be presented to him upon my return, contingent on good behaviour in my absence, of course.

It was a terrifying moment. I could feel the quiver set in my knees at the prospect of facing The Brat empty-handed because I hadn’t managed to procure the exact same model of the toy he had demanded. I called up home, he was asleep, the receiver put to a sleep-groggy ear. I asked him if there was something else he would like. He mumbled something incoherent and went back to sleep, I am told.

I thought back to the moment, a couple of weeks ago, when I told him I would be gone for a week. He looked at me with eyes that were pretending to be very brave and unconcerned, it wouldn’t do for him to crumple and fling his arms around my waist and bury his head in my lap, and tell me not to go. That is not what big boys do. They still the quivering of their lips and blink back the sudden rush of tears that threaten to flood their eyes, and ask, in a deceptively nonchalant manner whether it is really essential for me to go off for so many days and why do I need constantly to keep going away.

“But I will come back,” I tell him. “I always come back.”
“I know you do. But it is boreding without you.”

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Kiran Manral says, “Breathe.” – A NaNo2014 peptalk

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

It is mid November, your mind is sludge, you’re midway through a book you thought was just fabulous when you began but now that you are perhaps, 20k or 30k words into it, you look back, read through what you’ve written, shudder, tape your fingers together to prevent yourself from deleting what you’ve written because you think it is horrible, terrible and by god, it would be a Mother Earth Swallow Me Now moment if you ever let another living soul read it. What on earth possessed me to sign up for this, you tell yourself, while simultaneously self flagellating yourself with the Cat-O-Nine-Tails of negative self talk.


This is normal. We have all been there.

You will hate what you have written. You will go through doubt and schism and chaos. You will detest your characters, want to reach into the screen and give them a good shake up, you have also probably reached a dead end or two in your plot where you’ve needed to go back, retrace your steps, rewrite what you’ve written and change things around a fair bit. What you have down on the computer is nothing compared to the glorious, glistening gem of a novel you had in your head when you started out, in fact, it doesn’t even come close. You hate it.

Breathe some more.

This too is normal. And the urge to delete what you have written so far will pass.

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Best friends (My Parent Quotient post from last week)

The minefield of friendships and best friends and second best friends is something that the boy seems to be negotiating carefully these days. At the best, to take the minefield analogy a bit further, it could be called a tap dance in a minefield. The boy has around ten to 12 friends in the building complex we live in who could be called his good friends. And another ten to twelve friends from school he interacts with out of school hours via phone calls and whatsapp groups.

What I notice though, and what is strikingly different from how things were when I was young and in school, is that there don’t seem to be best friends anymore. Kids these days have many good friends, close friends, groups of friends. But they don’t have best friends. That one friend who is closer to them than perhaps, even siblings are. And that intrigues me.

“Don’t you have a best friend?” I asked him the other day.

He looked at me blankly. “I have many best friends,” he replied, rattling off names with the speed of a passing express train.

“That’s not what I mean,” I tried again. “Isn’t there one friend who is your very best friend, over all the other friends?”

He frowned a bit, and thought deeply. “Sometimes, I am best friends with A, then he is rude to me and we have a fight, then I become best friends with P and then I might have a fight with him and we don’t talk so then I be good friends with everyone.”

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Because I said so (My post for Parent Quotient this week)

The other day, I had an out-of-body experience. I was giving my son a little speech which began and ended with “Because I said so…” and suddenly heard my mother talking in my voice.

I had morphed into my mother.

God knows, my mother has been a wonderful mother. Except for that phase when I was between 12 and 18 and realised that something had happened and my wonderful, kind, adoring mother had somehow been changed into a, dictatorial kind of person whom Hitler would be proud to take a correspondence course from. And three guesses as to what her favourite words during this phase of my life were? Yes. “Because I said so.”

“Because I said so,” was often followed, with the briefest pauses, by “Or else.” By the time she got to the or else, I had pretty much weighed in the pros and cons of disobedience and had come to a decision.  Often I wouldn’t let her get to the ‘Or Else’. I would debate the ‘Because I said so’ heatedly.  The law bench lost a promising talent when I chose English Literature as my major is all I am saying, since it is not seemly to praise one’s skills in public.

The apple does not fall far from the tree I note, as my son replies to my ‘Because I said’ so.  Hot around the collar, his face flushed with excitement and a fair bit of anger, I found within me a growing temptation to slam doors, say that this discussion was ended and tell him he was grounded for a week, and god help him if he so much as laid a finger on the remote control and left those textbooks whining piteously for him to cast a stray gaze in their direction.

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The hills are alive

(This article appeared in Business Standard here)

It was a heaven-sent opportunity for litterateurs – a trip up in the Himalayas for informal discussions on some matters facing authors and books, readings, and chats with peers. But there was a pleasant surprise too — the insightful observations and heartfelt musings of half a dozen local schoolchildren on issues from female infanticide to corruption that left the writers, established and upcoming, awestruck.

The writers’ retreat at boutique resort Te Aroha, which means a pleasant place in New Zealand’s Maori language, in the hill town in Nainital district in the first week of November was the brainchild of Sumant Batra, corporate and policy lawyer and avid collector of the minutiae of Indian art and daily life, and was intended to lay the groundwork for a literary festival in the Kumaon hills in November next year.

Participating in the panel discussions on issues like whether printed books and the art of bookmaking have a future, the benefits and shortcomings of social media for authors, and the battle of languages and the status and quality of translations, especially into various Indian languages, were novelists Kiran Manral and Vineetha Mokkil, poets Sudeep Sen (English), Amir Or (English/Hebrew) and Geet Chaturvedi (Hindi), thriller writer Kulpreet Yadav, and Cordon Bleu chef-cum-writer Michael Swamy.

The discussions, curated by Literature Studio founder Vibha Malhotra and Delhi University assistant professor Sakshi Chanana, were further enlivened by the participation of four winners of a creative-writing contest – short-story writers Saritha Rao (English) and Rashmi Nambiar (Hindi), bilingual author Maulshri and poet Supriya Kaur Dhariwal, who is just out of her teens but has made quite a name for herself.

The discussions, against the backdrop of the picturesque, snow-clad Nanda Devi mountain range, threw up many views – provocative and contentious at times but incisive and illuminating too, frequently moving beyond books, the forms in which they are read and the languages in which they are written to encompass the art and craft of authorship, the mind, creativity, intention and objectives of the writer and ultimately to the wider aspect of literature in its political and social context and balancing its paramount objectives of educating and entertaining.

While the debates stimulated the intellect, the late evening readings by the assembled authors were an aesthetic tour de force, taking up the pleasure of reading several notches. They also offered an unparalleled insight into the creative process by identifying the stress the various creators laid at particular telling words and sentences, be it prose or poetry, and the evident pride of the progenitors at the reception their works evoked.

But the real show-stealers were the high-school students invited to read their work and interact with the authors.

In a place where schools are not just distant in space but elevation too, the task of learning competes with arduous household chores, and the facilities their counterparts in the cities of the plains take for granted are lacking, the five girls and a boy displayed a level of sensibility and creativity which their peers would envy.

Whether it was a touching plea of a girl child to be allowed to live and study, a view on environmental degradation of fragile eco-systems of the hills, or the bane of political chicanery and corruption, they left their accomplished audience gasping in admiration.

The boy, who had accompanied his sister, used the time they were waiting to pen down his own “Audacity of Hope” – a simple but moving tale of a boy rising above his circumstances to achieve his desire in life.

If this is a sample of the potential languishing unrecognized in the Kumaon hills, it is definitely high time the region had its own literary event.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at

A getaway in the hills


Last week, a group of writers and I were part of the Te Aroha Literature Studio Writer’s Retreat in Dhanachuli, near Mukteshwar. There will be more written about the discussions and the learnings from that retreat eventually, but because I am dead lining right now on something that must be submitted in a couple of days, I leave you with this. Some photographs of the lovely venue and the interesting and wonderful mix of folks that were part of this retreat.

I must add, a huge thank you to Sumant Batra, the committed patron of the arts who hosted this fabulous retreat at his wonderful luxury boutique hotel Te Aroha, to Vibha Malhotra, vibrant and passionate about writing and literature, the founder of Literature Studio, who kindly invited me to be part of this retreat. Also to Dr Sakshi Chanana for moderating the lovely panel discussion I was part of…

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