Happy Ending

Some readers asked me, “Why didn’t you end #AFA (A Forgotten Affair) on a happy note? Why didn’t Sagarika go away with Akash – the man who clearly loves her a lot?”

I truly believe when I tell them that AFA has a very happy ending. The memory-less, confused scared Sagarika emerges stronger. She confronts her abusive husband, challenges him questions him, reunites with her mother and best friend and then chooses what is best for her. To leave with her mother to recuperate fully.

She loses her memory but finds herself. What can be better than that? Sometimes you need to lose everything to recognize what matters most. Sagarika loses her memory to recognize her true identity. A woman. Not a wife or a lover.

Girls since childhood are fed stories of helpless hapless women trapped in a tower by an evil witch, put to sleep by the prick of a needle and a curse only to be rescued by the kiss of Prince charming, a man. They grow up watching Rom-coms believing that there’s a man waiting for them with whom they will live happily ever after. Madhuri Dixit had crooned in Dil to pagal hai; God has made us in pairs. He has left it to us to find the other half that would make us whole. (sic!)

This isn’t a love-bashing post. I’m not anti-love. I’m all for love, roses, chocolates and things that make us gooey and mushy. I just don’t believe that love is all you need. That we are made in pairs and our life’s but a journey to find the missing half (rofl!). Love is the only happy ending; this I don’t believe.

The 1982 released, Arth by Mahesh Bhatt starring Shabana Azmi & Smita Patil; an iconic and path breaking film ahead of its time made the point succintly. In the end, Shabana refuses the love offer by Raj Kiran and also the pleas of reconciliation from her philandering husband. She chooses to be a single mom and walks away happily into the sunset with the little girl.

Gauri Shinde makes the same point with Dear Zindagi. Alia Bhatt doesn’t go back to any of the men she liked or loved. She silences the screaming demons in her mind, makes peace with her parents against whom she’d held a grudge for years and makes an independent film. She isn’t walking into any sunset with any man. Yes, she does meet an interesting guy but the lasting image in the end isn’t a romantic one. Rather it is of a woman who has emerged stronger, confident and fearless. A woman who accomplishes her dream – of directing a film – without the support of a lover.

A woman can walk away into the sunset, alone. That’s not a tragedy. That’s a very happy ending if that’s what the woman chooses. It’s time such perceptions change that the happy ending must have a man alongside the woman.

I do a lot of reading on Twitter; midst all the crazy rantings there’s a sea of engaging reads on Twitter. The headline of the article is what grabbed my attention:

https://www.vagabomb.com/I-Love-Siddharth-but-Im-Still-the-Most-Important-Person-in-My-Life-Vidya-Balansays, actor Vidya Balan. Yes, she’s promoting her latest film Kahani -2 but Balan has never been one to mince words and her choice of films have been anything but hackneyed. “I love Siddharth (her husband) but I’m still the most important person in my life.” This strong message should go out to every woman. Very easily we fall back in step with our dreams, our wishes, allowing the man in our life to be centre stage. We have been very carefully wired to believe that unless there’s a man in the picture, holding our hand, that’s not a happy picture or ending. That the man is the most important person and we are at best second.

Before the world around us changes, we have to change within. Be the change you want to see is oft said. It’s time women believed it and more importantly pass it on to their daughters; the next generation. Choosing to be alone, choosing one’s self isn’t a sad ending. It’s the best ending ever.

If there’s anything better than finding the love of your life, it’s finding yourself.

You can buy A Forgotten Affair on Amazon.

How to start writing?

Let’s call her R. We met at Bangalore Lit fest, 2014. We were among the chosen 15 who pitched our stories to the panel of editors. She made a brilliant pitch but is yet to finish her manuscript.

There’s a story in each of us. We are all born story tellers. But getting the first story out is far from child’s play. Writing is never easy, nothing really is. It requires a different kind of commitment, so here are few tips from me. Hope they help you get started.

THE LIST OF DOS

  1. The only way to start is to just start. Planning to do it isn’t doing it. Nobody has ever got anything done by merely thinking about it. So stop kidding yourself and get going. Kiran Manral, bestselling author for four successful books across genres says, “Write your story. One word at a time, one day at a time. Set yourself a deadline to finish the book. Set yourself a daily minimum word limit. Don’t indulge in the narcissism of a writer’s block. It will stop you from reaching ‘The End.”
  2. Start with detailed summary and character sketches. You have an idea of the story, even if it’s just a sliver of an idea. Do a detailed summary writing and then think of some characters.  Write detailed character sketches. This is often a great way to start.
  3. Have a memory list. This is your first novel, so your life experiences will come tumbling out. Spend a lot of time on which memories you want to include in the book. Making a memory list sounds quite ridiculous but it’s not a bad thing to chronicle them and use when you need.
  4. Begin by writing chapter outline of the story. You could do it for the entire story but if that’s daunting then do it for the first 10 chapters. This will set you off well.
  5. Constantly think about the story and the plot. Even when you aren’t writing, think about it. I never stop thinking about the WIP. I keep jotting things in the mobile notepad, which I incorporate in the story.
  6. Needless to say have a fixed time to write. Don’t keep it flexible. Either wake up before rest of the family does or burn the mid night oil. I often woke up at 4 am to write. The story churning in my head drove away sleep. So better write than toss and turn. One rule was and is sacrosanct for me – I never keep writing till the end of the day. I never told myself, I will finish my household chores and then write. I am brain dead after having shopped veggies, dealt with maid, carpenters and etc…creative juices die in me. So the most important thing for me, my writing – I did first thing in the morning. I clocked in 2 hours before the family woke up and then of course did more throughout the day. But on days, when I couldn’t get any more work done, I knew that I had done 2 hours at least.
  7. Yes, the idea is to write not to finish the race and come first. But set a deadline. Not a 2 year deadline! But not a three month deadline either. Stephen king says, first draft should be done in one season, that’s 4 months. I gave myself 9 months. I finished in 8. If the NaNoRiMo works for you, great but I don’t like to push myself to that extend. Writing is my passion. It’s the love of my life and I relish it bit by bit. I have a deadline to meet but this isn’t a 100 m sprint. I’m too much in love with the journey; making characters, sketching the plot, changing it, taking it through. I have a blast while I write.
  8. While writing the first draft, don’t edit. Just get the story out. You will have time to perfect it later. Don’t slow down the thought process. The story is churning in your head, let it flow. Bestselling author says, Kulpreet Yadav says, “Be original, understand that conflict(s) drive the plot & engages the reader. Don’t fall in love with the characters you create. Always, have the reader in mind.”

Few DON’TS

  1. When you start writing, other story ideas will keep popping in. you will not distract yourself by even writing half a chapter of the second novel, till you are done with the first. You don’t two time. Ok? That’s not how this works. One lover at a time. Be faithful. If the relationship isn’t working and you feel it’s not going anywhere, cut your loses and move. But you will abandon the first one only after you are sure that it’s a dead end. We don’t want or need ghost of past unfinished WIP haunting you!

However, feel free to jot down random thoughts about other ideas. But only jot them down. I do that a lot. My WIP 2 is done. Currently polishing it. Novel 3 is fleshed out. Novel 4 is germinating. Let’s put it like this, I’m in a steady relationship with Novel 2, but am allowed to have a coffee or just a casual chat with Novel 3, 4 etc. nothing more.

  • This one’s a no-brainer. Put away the mobile. Mute whatsapp, FB, twitter and  everything else. Writing is serious business and this isn’t something anyone gets done while flipping thru social media. I keep my phone away from my work area while writing. My family is informed of the timing I keep. So no one disturbs me. Only my mom and dog Archie dare to step where others fear to tread. The former believes since she’s my maker, so she has the leeway. The latter…he’s furry, cuddly and cute, hence exempted from rules.
  • Recently I read an interesting article: Ten ways to get writing by Hazel Gaynor, author based in UK. She says, “Tell everyone you’re writing a novel. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, domestic help…everyone. The external world will enquire about your progress, thereby putting pressure on you to finish the book you’ve thinking about.” I think this is an excellent idea.
  • After the first draft, ideally stay away from it for atleast 2 months. Then go back to it ruthlessly with a severely critical eye. Chop, re-write, re, re-write, sharpen…polish it till gleams.
  • Get a beta-reading done. Show it to your family, partner, best friend but don’t ask for feedback. This could be dangerous for the future of your relationship. Get a professional beta reader. I don’t believe in circulating the manuscript to all and sundry. Get advice from people who wouldn’t mince words. This isn’t the time to pamper your ego. This is the time for reality check so that you can hone your manuscript to its best.

Writing your first novel is special. It’s the most amazing journey you will ever take. So stop thinking about it and get started. It’s criminal to have a story in your head and not write it out. So get to it!!

Developing characters

Think of some characters from books you enjoyed reading. Characters that linger in your thoughts long after you closed the book. Some of mine are – Sherlock Holmes, Heathcliff, Miss Havisham (Great Expectations) and many others. Why certain characters stand out clearly in our minds is because of the minute detail authors have paid attention to while writing. They stand out in the story like a picture and you can visualize them doing whatever they are supposed to be doing in the story. That’s the power of great writing.

‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature: Earnest Hemingway.’ So when I write, I try to do the same. Visualize the characters and portray them as real people. The first step in ensuring that you treat your characters as real persons is giving them features, habits and quirks like real people. What do they look like? Are they tall, short, thin, fat, fit gym toned body or beefed up? Describe their hair. Is it curly, wavy, straight, maybe colored or smoothened? In my Novel 1 – A Forgotten Affair the protagonist has wild curly hair that is chopped to a close crop after she meets with an accident. When she wakes up from her coma and has no memory of her past she often rues about her hair, hating the close crop. In my Novel 2 the protagonist Asavri has fizzy unruly hair and that’s the bane of her existence. She’s a small town girl in Mumbai and feels very envious of women with smooth gleaming hair that stays in place. She feels that looks very chic and sophisticated. That’s part of her character. So go into great physical detail while fleshing out the characters. It makes them more interesting and more real.

Before I start writing the story I list down the primary characters. And I go into great details of who they are. What is their background, how educated they are, where are they from, where are they currently living? I also list down their favourite food, kind of music they like, who read books, if yes, what kind of books? I may or may not use all the information I list down about the primary characters but listing them down gives me great clarity about the characters. I know them inside out. This is just a process of gradually making them come alive.

To be able to do this you need be very observant with people around you. Look at people closely while at a party, movie hall, supermarket…anywhere. How they walk, talk, eat…their facial expressions? Everything. Observe and note away in your mind for future reference and use. Observation is key to good writing. And needless to say shamelessly eavesdrop on conversations. I do that all the time.

The final step, for me, while forming characters in the story, is giving them a special name. I like to choose unique names for my characters. I don’t pick on the commonplace Sunita, Rita etc. No offense to the Sunita and Rita of the world. But my characters are my children. I give birth to them when I start writing the story and it’s only fitting that they have a unique name. In my novel 2 Asavri is a singer. The word Asavri is the name of the morning raga. Hridi, another character, means from the heart but the character Hridi is anything but from the heart. She is very blunt, outspoken, often rude. She is something like Bree from Desperate Housewives. Moon is a dark and vile woman. She says about herself, “I’m the dark side of the moon”. So very specific names for the characters that is unique.  Writing is like playing God. You create characters and then you script the plot that’s their life. You make the characters  do things. So in my opinion they deserve special names.

Also, writing is my passion, my hobby and the love of my life. I have a blast writing, creating characters and making them do crazy things. So I go all out while sketching them.

One of the best compliments I received for A Forgotten Affair is when a reader wrote to me saying that Roohi, the protagonist’s best friend is the kind of bestie she would like in her life. She loved the character of Roohi, her tattoos all over her arms, her fetish for food and total ignorance of art and anything artistic. For this reader I was able to make Roohi come alive. I hope to be able to create memorable characters. I want to be able to create a character like Heathcliff, Atticus or even Miss Havisham.

As I end, I’d like to add: everything mentioned above is what I follow. You don’t have to follow what I say. The most important rule of writing is that there’s no rule. The above works for me.

Have you read my latest book – Nobody’s Child? It was released in August 2019. The characters in the book are very different from my first book. If you haven’t read it, go through some of the reviews on amazon. Click on the link: https://amzn.to/2XQHTjK

Mom! I’m coming home…

It was only when Rohan started class 11 that I began thinking about empty nest. He would leave for college in 2 years and being the only child, my husband and I would be empty nesters.

I had an arranged marriage. Our parents picked the significant other from Statesman matrimonial column. We married quite early; he 26, I 23. Curly top was born fairly quick too. When two Virgos marry, they plan, execute things and get it done! As a dear friend often teases me, KB you popped a kid even before Shopper’s Stop opened the first outlet. That’s true. So long story short, Rohan went off to college while my husband and I were in our 40s and we became empty nesters. And it worried us, me more than him I guess.

Our younger days had been spent juggling work and Rohan. My world was Curly top; what he would eat, his classes, his studies, his exams and etc. While Sandeep was busy at work, I did a bit of freelance work but mothering Rohan was my principal job. And I enjoyed it thoroughly. Reading to him, taking him from one activity class to another, watching reruns of Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, Castle and so many other things.

So when he was about to leave for college I was apprehensive about how I would manage myself and more importantly the other man in my life. My husband. I’d been so busy being a mom, I suspect I was often less of a wife.

Rohan was worried about me too, so he pushed us to get another dog. That’s how Casper came into our family.

But life is really a box of chocolates and you never know what’s in it till you open the box.

Empty nest proved to be very unlike what I thought it would be. Sandeep and I travelled a lot, focused on wellness and got fitter. I learned tennis, he learned golf. We both lost weight and for once we were racing with each other to be the one who lost…more kgs.

I also got myself a new tele-buddy. My husband. Together we watched TV series, movies and had a blast. We went for movie dates without having to worry about school next day. We met up with friends and partied like there’s no tomorrow. We travelled. On a scooty in Goa; meandering through sleepy lanes. In the double decker bus in London watching a rain splashed city go by. Trying out kulcha and lassi in Amritsar. Tiger spotting in Ranthambor and many other places. And we also discovered there’s a lot you can do in an empty house when there aren’t kids. Do things loud, really loud. You gutter minds!! I’m talking about singing and playing music really loud. You have very dirty minds!!

So now Rohan is graduating. Yes three years just flew by and while I’m thrilled that he will be home and work for a few years but I’m going to miss the empty nest. I’m just so used to having the whole house to just us, it’s going to need some changing of ways at our end. He left as an 18 year old and will be coming home as a grown 21 year old; used to his freedom and so am I. No longer are my mornings about yelling at him to get ready for school and packing his tiffin. My mornings are about tennis lessons and fitness class.

A new phase in life often fills us with anxiety, even apprehension but sometimes new exciting things lie waiting for us. Having an empty nest was nowhere near as difficult as I’d imagined it to be. It was actually a great phase in my married life.

Today, I waiting for my 21 year old to come back home, watch the next phase in his life begin and see how the days unfold. His room, now neat and tidy is going to once again look like a hurricane hit his closet. He’ll be playing drums and I wouldn’t be able to hear myself. He’s going to gobble up food; father and son will fight over chocolates. One thing is for sure, I’m going to need to keep my cool when he isn’t back home by 11.

For starters he told me some of his college friends are going to come over and stay with us for few days. All girls. Only girls. I stopped myself in time before blurting out, what will the sleeping arrangements be? I’m trying very hard to wipe the surprised look from my face and lower the raised eyebrows.

When lil birdies grow up and come back home it’s time for mommy to take a Chill pill or may be just reach out for the bottle of chilled wine.

How yrs of freelance writing helped me

Why did I waste so many precious years penning newsletters, brand promo articles and stuff for publications when I should have been writing novels. Hell, if I had, I would today have nothing less than 6-7 titles to my name.

This is a question I’ve often asked myself. Not so much today but when I started writing my debut novel in Jan 2014, I often cursed myself for having wasted so many years.

Somewhere along the way I realized, my stint as a freelance writer didn’t go waste. It has equipped me with valuable skills. Skills that come in handy as a fiction writer.

Working on a schedule:

Anyone who has been a freelancer will tell you about deadlines and schedule. Clients will delay payment indefinitely but you have to submit on the date agreed. So every time I negotiated the time frame for a project; I’d always factor in last minute hiccups, school holidays, a school project, weekend plan etc. Never agree to an unrealistic deadline. Decide on a time frame that allows some wriggle room. Always finish before the penultimate time so that you have time for revisions.

This held me in good stead while writing the novel. It still does. I set a timeline for the first draft and I finish it at least 7 days prior. I have been wired to work on a timeline and I can stick to it.

Ideating:

This comes naturally to any freelancer. Simply come up with ideas out of nothing at all. You have to churn out article ideas galore and pitch them to editors or brand managers. There was a time when I was contributing to at least 10 publications across the country and you can’t send the same article to more than one.

When I decided that I didn’t want the crumbs the publications paid and switched to being a corporate writer, it was no different. As a corporate writer it was second nature to hunt down companies and convince them to have a company newsletter if they didn’t have one and if they did, I had the creative pitch ready to make them see how I could embellish what they had.

When I began writing my first book, I told myself, Woman, if you could do that for face creams, security vaults and deos; you certainly can spin yarns for novels. Today I have one novel on book shelves across the country, second one written, two more totally fleshed out.

I’m an ideas factory. Give me anything and I can spin a story around it. I once wrote five articles on just a brief that some spots are good and for others there’s an anti blemish cream.

Discipline of writing

Freelancing taught me to never ever wait for the divine spark of creativity. One just doesn’t have that luxury. Clients are known to give you the brief on Friday evening and demand for final write up by Monday morning. What do you do? Either you write and submit or just get the hell of the way for ten others who will jump in before you blink. Writers’ block, I can’t think of what to write, I don’t feel like writing…a freelancer never ever allows herself this. Frankly, when I hear some people say such things, I don’t get it. You gotta write, that’s it. Simple. So you write every day. It’s just something you do. You just train yourself to do it.

Ruthless editing

As a freelance writer you get used to having the best bits of your article chopped off because an ad came  in last minute. And  anyone who’s written for a publication knows that  the ads are the boss. People buy to read the articles, which are dispensable and disposable when pitted against ads. Stupid, loopy logic. It sucks. Such is life. Like it or lump it! So you get hardened and stop taking it personally. And when you graduate to writing for companies you learn another lesson. You have to write in the tone of the company’s ethos. That means, you can take your creativity and shove it up or down whichever hole you find, as a writer you have to write the way the manager demands; who of course knows jack-shit about writing which is why you have been hired. But please shut your gob and re-write the beautiful piece to suit the company’s tone. Comprende?!

I used  to simmer and boil when I couldn’t make  the manager see my pov and then meekly did as was told; but now I realize how beneficial that was!

When I edit my first draft, I ruthlessly cut, chop and delete. I don’t bleed or weep. This ain’t workin, it gotta go. Where’s the question of getting emotional about it? What’s the fuss! For novel 1, I deleted 40,000 words. I went after it with hammer & tongs. I reworked tracks, added characters, deleted massive chunks and breathed new life. I got accepted by two leading publishing houses, I decided to go with Harper Collins.

My novel 2 is written. 80k words. I’m mercilessly chopping and re-writing coz I’m not happy with the way it reads.

So I don’t get it when people say they are emotional about editing. Be emotional about your kid, husband, dog or the LV bag if you must but be ruthless with your MS, coz the publisher isn’t your lover. They will throw your precious MS if it doesn’t dazzle.

Two decades of freelance writing endowed me with skills and tools that came in very handy when I began my journey as a fiction writer and it still does. It didn’t go waste. Nothing really does. Don’t rue about where you are. You could be learning valuable lessons without even realizing. You are where you for a reason. There’s a plan, there’s always one. We often don’t see or realize it. But there is.

Find your dream. Make it happen!

dream catcher

Most of you who know me personally will scoff on reading this. But it’s true. I’m not a confident person. I’m just blessed with a confident countenance and that helps me get by. I used to stammer as a teen and even today sometimes I do. I feel nervous if I have to address a group of people. All eyes turning on me and waiting for me to spew pearls of wisdom when I have none.. dear God, why can’t I just sit and write. That’s my easy zone.

Easy zone…yes I can tell you a lot about it. I’ve stayed cocooned in it, enjoyed its cosy comforts and I’ve eyed successful women with envy. Wow! She earns the big bucks. She travels the biz class on company account. Attends seminar, globe trots…wow…wow, wow…and how stupid and worthless are you K.

Many of my class mates from school and college are today working with reputed banks, MNCs; earning the big bucks, accolades and all. I’ve felt worthless and told myself the same all the time. I hated myself. I envied them, often hated them but when opportunity came knocking (and they did come) I snuck back into my easy zone.

Truth is we make choices. Our own choices. Nothing has ever been thrust unto me. My life has been my choice. And with age I’ve regretted the choices I made. I wished I hadn’t married so young. I wished I had studied harder and made a career. And focused on it. I wish I had taken up full time work and not chosen the easy freelance route. Even as a freelance writer, in two decades of it I should have done a lot more. I didn’t. I should’ve been a columnist, a blogger with a big following…I should’ve done this, that and…

The list of should have and must have is never-ending. But QED : KB you pulled the short straw. Willingly. How stupid!

This continued. My self loathing, feeling lesser than others, repenting and regretting. Then my book happened. In a strange way it changed many things in me. It changed me. I began to see myself in a different light. I didn’t hate myself so much. I felt happy, most importantly I felt proud of myself. Writing a book is a huge commitment. Sticking to a schedule for days, weeks, months; getting the  story out, reworking on the draft, pitching it to publishers and then finally signing the  deal is a long haul journey fraught with tension, rejection,, endless waiting. It’s the toughest thing I have done. But once done, it’s an awesome heady feeling. For me it is the most important thing I’ve done for myself. The woman who always took the easy path, shied away from challenges, led a life of comfort and envying others from the sidelines; I plunged headlong into the whirlpool. And most importantly I didn’t quit.

Our dreams, passions… When in the throes of it they burn us to ashes. Almost take the life out of us but when accomplished the peace is almost serendipitous. After 43 years I fell in love, again. With myself. I discovered myself in my journey with the book.

Recently an old friend called. She’s known me for almost a decade. Part of our conversation went something like me:

She: K, you aren’t earning anything?

Me: yes. I’ve given up all money making projects.

She: But…why? Money used to be so important to you. How can u be without work for almost 2 years now…u will get back to it right..

Me: It’s not important anymore. I don’t think I want to go back to that.

She was flummoxed. I was amused.

Chasing your dream can never be about money. It never is. It’s like staring at the rainbow and trying to catch it.

In pursuit of my dream, I laid to rest the screaming demons that howled in my head for years. I don’t care anymore if I make loads of money like my friends. I don’t care if I get to fly business class on company account (lol!!). I don’t care about anything anymore. I’m home. Nirvana is far away but I’m more at peace with myself than I ever was.

Like most authors I too will dedicate my first book to my parents but actually this one is for me. It’s my gift to myself.

Find your dream, your passion and make it come true. It could be anything. This isn’t taking one thing out of the bucket list. This has to be THE THING. The one thing that breaks you to pieces and in breaking you down puts it all together. It defines you in a way nothing ever has and nothing else ever will. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. It isn’t for anyone else. It’s for you. My husband would have been happier if instead of writing a book, I’d conceived of a business plan and worked on it. He came up with many brilliant ideas but none struck home with me. My heart dances to a tune of its own. Every heart does. Find yours.

It could be going back to work. Running the marathon. Going on a solo trip. Losing weight. Starting a home business. Anything.

There’s nothing more amazing than self-discovery. You’ll meet yourself for the first time. Unravel facets you never thought you had. You’ll hurt, bleed, doubt yourself, fight with everyone around you and you’ll want to quit. But just keep at it.

Find your dream and then protect it like a flickering candle. Hold it close. Nurture it. Watch yourself change, begin anew.

It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

Oh! Yes, you are.

I’m a single tasker. And that’s fine!

woman-multitasking

I learnt a new word recently. Single tasker. A person who can do one job at a time. The word very succinctly describes me. Yes, in a world of multi-taskers, I’m odd. I am a single tasker.

The multi-taskers run businesses, train for the marathon at the crack of dawn, are on the PTA committee at school, between con-calls, back to back meetings and deadlines, they tweet, organise parties at home and don’t be surprised if they announce one fine day that they have penned a book. After all that’s the in-thing to do today.

Phew! Just typing it all left me exhausted.

It’s not uncommon to hear about authors who have written 4, 5..7 books. Alongside writing one per year, they blog, tweet, and some have kids, do yoga or Zumba, flaunt diva-esque bodies and also have full time jobs.

I am in awe of them. These multi-taskers. I look at them with envy because I’m not like that at all. Truth be told, I cringe in shame when compared with them. I gave up my freelance writing career and a promising business venture with a friend to focus on my writing. I’m mother to a 17 year old who is extremely independent; he neither needs nor wants my motherly inputs. I should be able to pack in more in my life, every day. But I don’t. More accurately, I can’t. I’m a single tasker. I can do one thing at a time. Dammit! I can’t even read two books at a time. When I read about Indrani Mukherjea and her sordid saga my first thoughts were, “How the hell did she juggle so many men and intrigues?” I can barely manage one husband, one curly top and a dog! God lord! I’m really an idiot. Low IQ kinda person.

I just can’t do it!

It took 40 years of harried, hurried and hassled running around like a headless chicken to finally accept that I just can’t do it all. I’m not a multi-tasker. I can’t do 10 things at a time. Guess what I can’t even do 5. I can just about manage to deal with 2, maybe 3 if I really stretch myself. And I’m ok with it. This calm acceptance of what I considered my biggest flaw came to me to after two decades of self-berating and self-flogging. Of feeling lesser and not smart enough like the super multi-taskers.

The trajectory of my mental evolution was something like this: first I tried to do it all. Believing if others could, so can I. I fumbled, blundered and made a mess of things. Countless cheques were deposited without my signature on it. Packed everything I needed, the family needed, checked the baby bag and left for a trip with my wallet lying smugly on the bedside table. Innumerable dinners have been burned. And then the worst…I left my infant son in the car, doors locked and key dangling inside!! The List goes on as did my shame, horror and self-loath.

Stage two was hate and resentment. Directed at myself and my hubby. I believed he was responsible for it all. Married women do this a lot; direct their anger at their better half for the things they are unable to do. So after two decades of this turmoil, when I turned 40, I think it was the dawn of sense and sensibility. Gradually I began to accept who I am, the way I am. Nirvana is far away, but the self-acceptance is calming.

Recently I watched Shonda Rhimes, writer of Grey’s Anatomy give a speech at the graduation ceremony of Dartmouth University. She said,

Don’t be fooled by women who tell you that they do it all. Work, exercise, be there for their kids, paint, entertain, cook and etc… Nobody can. Nobody can do it all. If they are succeeding at something, it means they are failing somewhere else. If I’m writing an award winning show and winning accolades for it, I’m not there to watch my baby take the swimming lesson or play the piano. So stop believing in the media-created myth of this impossible super woman who can do it all and more with elan. It’s an urban legend.

Irrespective of what we excel in, nobody can beat a woman at beating herself down. We love to look at ourselves with negativity. Even before others cast the first stone, we have already beaten ourselves down to pulp. I did it for years.

Nobody can do everything and if there’re people who can work, run, cook, paint and etc…good for them. They are wired differently.

It’s perfectly fine not to be able to do everything. I pick the ones that really matter.

Choose what you love the most and enjoy that to the optimum. Don’t feel stupid. You aren’t. We aren’t meant to be clones of each other. Beauty lies in diversity. Beauty lies in accepting who you are and relishing it!

So I watch the world rush by, doing multiple things while I lumber along doing just one. Some days the old feeling of self-loath returns and I scold myself but I’m older and hopefully wiser.

It’s ok, be yourself. You’re fine. I remind myself.

A leading cosmetic brand screams – You’re worth it; I tell myself – I accept me.

Do you?

For my friends…who left

friends 2

The story of our evolution is the story of what we leave behind…’ says Meredith Grey in the famous Grey’s Anatomy.

It was Friendship day sometime back. On the said day Whatsapp and FB newsfeed was awash with cute cuddly bears and mushy posts about our friends with whom we scaled hills & trees and scrapped our hearts & knees. I was thinking about my friends too. Not the ones who are with me today; those who aren’t anymore.

They came into my life, we walked together for a while and then life took us on different paths. Never to meet again or cross paths. With some I’m connected virtually but we rarely interact. No it wasn’t a bitter fight or disagreement that took us apart. It just happened, I let go, they let go. But they have left their imprint on me. I learnt something from each of them and reminisce the time spent with fondness.

I don’t wish to name them, hence will use just an alphabet from their name.

H.

I knew her in GLS school, Ahmedabad whilst in class 2. Yes, this one goes back light years. She wasn’t my friend. I didn’t even like her. So why am I writing about her. She chose me as her friend, her only friend and I did everything possible to push her away. I was friends with Shilpa, the smartest girl in class. Shilpa and I were teachers’ pet and popular. H, on the other hand, was a loner and didn’t perform well academically. In that age we weren’t aware and sensitive, we called her the class dummy. Someone who struggled with studies was labelled stupid and I was no different. I was just as mean as others. H liked me a lot, notwithstanding the fact that I desisted from even sitting next to her. The harder she tried to be my friend, more others teased me fueling my annoyance and disgust towards her.

This went on for three years and then Bapi got transferred to Delhi. Shilpa and I wrote to each other for a while and the inevitable happened. We drifted out of each other’s memory.

H kept writing to me! How she got my Delhi address I’m clueless. I enquired with Shilpa and was informed that H was asked to leave the school soon after I left. Her letters kept coming for nearly a year. I never replied. Why? Because she never wrote her address. Other friends back in school didn’t’ have her address either and she never mentioned it in any of the letters.

Every letter made me cringe with shame and guilt for being so mean to someone who liked me so much. She wrote about the PT period, dance class, debate competitions I won, she wished me happy birthday and so on. She never complained or expressed her hurt that I snubbed her so often. She only wrote about how much she missed me and the school. It tore me every time the blue inland letter arrived. I recognized her scrawly writing. Her letters slanted sometimes up, sometimes down; now I realize she had special needs which were unheeded and ridiculed. As she wrote about how much she missed GLS school and the fun she had; I wanted to crawl into a hole. What fun? We teased her and hated her. I wanted to apologize for being so mean but she never gave me the opportunity to. Till date when I think of H, I just feel so depressed and ashamed.

I hope she is happy and loved in life. I hope she got the help she needed to handle her challenges. I hope she met more kind and helpful people and not the mean bunch like me and Shilpa.

I wish she had considered me worthy of a second chance and had written her address. Would I have written back if she had? Honestly, now at 44, I like to believe I would have but would the 12 year old Kanchana have replied?

D.

I met her in Colombo (2004) when I was lonely and felt I didn’t fit in. With her I felt easy and my stay in the island country sailed through. A qualified doctor who chose to be a homemaker, I loved her company and the pasta she cooked. As a person who’s always hassled & harried that life’s going by and I’m doing nothing significant, D taught me serenity. I don’t think I imbibed much but she calmed me and made my sojourn in Colombo easy. We aren’t in touch since then.

K.

We share the alphabet in our names and that’s where the similarity ends. I met her in Bombay. We couldn’t be more different from each other, yet I learnt so much from her. She was my sounding board for many a writing projects. We have had engaging discussions in her balcony as she puffed in ciggies and guzzled beer. Me the wine aficionado, lover of all things fancy and K – loves whiskey, beer, plastic jewellery & parrot green socks!! My son found his passion in music in her house and his best friend. She taught me to accept difference. I owe her so much. We are in touch but it’s not the same.

M.

I met M in Bombay too, first on LinkedIn and then became friends. He woke me from my slumber. Taught me to feel, breathe and write. He held my hand when I was waiting for the publisher’s acceptance, helping me to keep the faith alive as rejection notes arrived. He taught me to believe in myself and that things work out in their own time. And now I can see that we’re drifting away on our designated paths, away from each other; our ideological differences and life choice too wide a chasm to accept. This is how far we go together.

Why does this happen? Why do we meet people, walk together for a while and part ways? I think Life gives us friends who play a certain role and when the role is over they move on, we move on.

It’s sad but inevitable. Such is life I guess.

To quote from my novel, which hopefully will be out by next summer:

We meet people and they become an integral part of our life’s journey. And in a way they become a part of our lives. A part of us. They affect us, change us; sometimes in a small way. We promise to remember them. Keep in touch. We don’t lie. We really do mean to keep in touch. But life always gets in way. They slip away from our lives and we never meet them again. But they remain a part of us. In a small corner in our thoughts where we don’t go often, but we carry them with us as we move ahead. That morning when … was leaving the hospital, she was heartbroken with the thought of leaving behind the doctor who had become her best friend. Her companion. Her confidante.

As I walk on, I carry them all with me. Thank you for being a part of my journey. We may not be together anymore. We may not cross paths ever again. But your memory is in my heart.

Happy friendship day. Always.

You signed up with a publisher, then what??!!

confused

So you got yourself a publisher, the deal is signed and the ink has dried…hurray!! Now what?

After weeks and months, hopefully not years of agonizingly checking your mail box for the acceptance email and praying not to see the dreaded reject note; you signed up. Yes!! The moment you dreamt of, wished and prayed fervently for finally came true

Apart from the fact that you’ll want and expect the planet to stop spinning and take cognizance of this life altering event and will want to inform all and sundry about it; life will go on.

Laugh all you want (I know you will), I told my driver, the fruit-wala and the milk man…I’m getting published. On being informed of this, which they realized was a big deal judging by the size of my smile, they promptly asked for baksheesh! I complied. I wanted to hug the world. I was walking on air with a silly stupid idiotic smile on my face that refused to go away.

Anyway, the euphoria never really dies, you just teach yourself to smile a bit less and do the jiggly dance of victory with the door closed; but the real kill-joy is when you realise that the journey ahead isn’t all rosy. In fact quite a few unpleasant bumps await and you’ll encounter situations hitherto unimagined.

Bumps…WTF…I wrote the book, got accepted by a good (read great publisher) now what’s the problem? The problem, my dear, lies in the fact, that in the entire odyssey of the book; the simplest, the easiest and I repeat the simplest part is writing it. Yes, those hours of endless toil, staring at the corner of the wall, chewing your pen, pounding the computer keys till they wobble…that frustrating and oh! so gratifying part is the easy-peasy phase. Getting a publisher is mildly tough compared to what you are now stepping into and what lies waiting for you ahead.

First time authors with stars in their eyes, please wake up. Sorry there’s no coffee for you. Just the cold hard truth. You are below the lowest rung in the food chain. Few notches below ground zero. So that means, it isn’t enough to write the bloody book and wait for the publisher’s nod, you have to walk the long extra mile in building a profile, a public profile, some kind of following that would want to buy what you spent months creating. And you have to gear up to market the book, but that’s for another blog. Don’t want to throw open all the doors in the house of horror. The idea is to lure you in gently and then terrify you in instalments.

So here’s what I was told after the deal was inked…

GET ON TWITTER, BE MORE ACTIVE

I am, eh..huh…not a woman of few words. I realized this about myself, long time ago, hence my decision to be a features writer and not a creative writer at an ad agency. I need a minimum of 500 words (more the  merrier) to express myself. So 144 characters…OH MY GAWWD. Needless to say I panicked. Soon I realized that word limitation wasn’t the only problem.

I’m also what you call…after wise. I can’t think of something funny, something smart in a flash. I always think of a wisecrack later. Twitter is all about being instant. By the time I had conjured something remotely funny to say about an event…it was more than three days old. I’m a writer God damit, I need to write, re-write then re-re-write all over again to express the thought. By the time I did that, the time and news was long gone.

So Twitter is my Waterloo and I am Napoleon. God help me!

I think I will start posting pics of Archie (my dog) on Twitter. I’m sure he’ll grab more eyeballs than my pathetic attempt at being smart/funny/sarcastic…whatever!!

START BLOGGING

Get yourself a blog following; was the explicit instruction. What do I write about? Clueless I am. I don’t travel alone, never have. My idea of holiday is a good hotel with great housekeeping and room service with a good wine list, so no backpacking in Leh or jungles for me to tell. My hand is very shaky so no photographs that will leave anyone spellbound. Squint yes…trying to figure what that is but nothing more. Not a hot-shot cook so no tips from my kitchen. My son is 17, if I blog about the woes of parenting a teen; let’s just say so far I’ve been unfriended. If I do the aforementioned he will poison my coffee. So what the hell do I write about?

Hence, I decided to spend my time surfing through some of the blogs by successful writers. I found some good ones, written by those with more than just a flair for the written word. They write about their experience with literary agents, rib-tickling humorous (sometimes tad exaggerated) account of their book launch, literary fests where they hobnobbed with the lit snoots. Really funny and makes for great reading. I clearly don’t fall in this category, as my book will be published in the summer of 2016 (hopefully!) so book launch and lit fests are a long long way away.

Some blog about how to write. These are bestselling authors, so I guess it makes sense for them to pen how to write a bestseller. Mine is yet to be published, becoming a bestseller is a faraway dream. So how am I qualified to tell others how and what to write? The fact that I signed up with Harper doesn’t make me better than others. As a friend very succinctly put it: how did you get harper-fuc&&**g Collins!! I’m just got lucky, bloody lucky. Either there’s someone up in the clouds who loves me or the Gods got worried that the plethora of candles and agarbattis I was lighting on a daily basis would give them a tan, hence gave me what I was groveling for! QED, I don’t want to tell people how to write.

Then there are blogs by very successful writers about restaurants they visited, meals shared with family and other mundane routine chores that put me in coma. Worse, some gave relationship gyan. Gasp! Me no agony aunt. I don’t have deep philosophical thoughts or streams of consciousness when digging into my plate of yummy biryani or heavenlicious risotto. It’s just pure gluttony, bordering on food orgasm. So I don’t see why I should share where I had my last supper with anyone, leave alone the world at large. Neither do I wake up at the crack of dawn to do yoga nor do I cook the morning meal with my husband. No such bonhomie happening in my world. I’m not a rise and shine person. Except when I wake up early to write, I’m at my worst in the morning, even when I do the former I’m still grouchy and grumpy. Clearly I’m not a morning glory. My husband and son keep away till I’ve had my morning coffee and four Parle G biscuits. Till then the only person who comes near me is Archie.

And someone who begins her day with Parle G biscuits isn’t a gym goddess, so no fitness tips from me.

I’m no Mrs Funnybones, smartypants, marathon runner and certainly no relationship advice spouting person.

Oh! dear, this blogging thing is giving me  the chills. It’s proving to be  tougher than writing the book.

I figured write book, get publisher and then just sit back and enjoy the ride. Well, reality seems to be giving fiction a run for its money. I wanted to drown my anxiety in white wine accompanied by pepperoni pizza, till I got hollered by Curly Top (that’s my son). ‘All successful writers are slender with gym toned bodies…look at you.” His harsh words ringing in my ears, I set out to change my handle. MY TWITTER HANDLE…my Twitter handle…good lord what were you thinking??

So all you dear friends please follow me as I stumble and fumble on my bumpy ride. And yes, be kind and laugh at my three days old (sometimes more) humour. BTW… my yoga sir just told me today, “By next year, you will be good shape.” I haven’t quite been able to decide if I should feel angry, insulted or just correct the grammar.

P.S: there are a few more directives that I’ve been ordered to work on but I shall not reveal. for the sake of the writer in you that’s dreaming, for the sake of the story that’s bursting to get out. My lips are sealed.

How I wrote my first book!

woman writing

Innumerable posts are written by established authors on how they managed their corporate life and writing aspirations. Well, I have a job too. Not a 9 to 5 one, it’s 24X7. I’m a mother, a wife, a homemaker and I am an author. Negotiating your way through domestic hurdles is no less of a mine field than corporate quagmires. If you think the boss from hell, spiraling marketing targets and meetings are difficult to deal with; try the domestic circus. It’s no less mindboggling.

As a freelance features writer for the past two decades I figured juggling home and writing should be child’s play. Right? Wrong. As all freelancers will tell you work is sporadic and one has long spells of nothing to do but make cold calls. More than hard work, it was a fabulous excuse to stay away from the kitty party gang in the building.

When I started writing my first novel in Jan 2014, I soon realized I had stepped into a hurricane. More like the eye of the hurricane. And by this I don’t mean sorting out characters, fleshing out the story and etc…I mean dealing with people at home alongside spinning the yarn. If you think conference calls, board meeting and monthly targets get in way of the sensuous scene you are itching to write; try dealing with the local plumber, carpenter or worse, courier fellow who decides  to ring the  bell just when you sit down to write the scene that’s  been playing in your mind since morning.  And the reason you couldn’t write it out isn’t because you have an office to go. It’s because… (pause, take a breath)…the maid bunked. Tiffin boxes had to be packed. The dog had the ‘I need to pee’ look. So you tell the idea to hold on, (I jot it down on my mobile phone notepad. I don’t depend on my memory.) At least with the job you bring home a pay check but being a housewife is a thankless job. To have to shut the laptop because the washing machine isn’t working, the presswala has misplaced your husband’s black trouser (yet again) and the kid needs new sketch pens to do the school project; it can turn the most benign person into a serial killer. I wanted to kill. All I wanted to do was write, why was the universe conspiring against me?

Here’s what I did to get the book out of me…

EARLY BIRD GETS TO WRITE

It took me eight and half months to finish the first draft. I woke up at 5 am, made a huge mug of coffee and wrote. They say the first novel just gushes out of you. It’s true. I couldn’t sleep. So decided to write rather than toss and turn in bed. Also, I told myself that this is the most important thing I’m doing and I don’t want to get to it at the end of  the day when I’m brain dead having dealt with maids, grocery shopping and etc. The family – husband, son and dog – wake at 7. So I wrote.

EVERY PLACE IS A WRITE PLACE

From 5 to 7 is only 2 hours and that’s not enough if you want to have the first draft ready in 8-9 months! Even when I’m not writing on the laptop, I’m writing. In my head, throughout the day.  As I walked Archie (the dog). Waited in my car at the traffic light. As I chopped the salad, stirred the curry and sometimes while doing the groceries. I would keep thinking about the scene, the characters, the dialogues, how I want to change them…I would quickly jot few things. Sometimes I would lean against the shopping cart and write out an entire scene allowing other surprised shoppers to go ahead.

I stopped watching TV. I met my friends less, much to the irritation of some who thought I was avoiding them.

TACKLING HOUSE GUESTS

Just because I’m writing the story that doesn’t let me sleep, eat or breathe…doesn’t mean relatives wouldn’t visit. And they will want to go Lajpat nagar for shopping, Dilli Haat or even the nearby mall. When this happens, deal with it as an adult. Lie and run!! The freelance thing I mentioned in paragraph two came in handy again. I shamelessly pretended to have a string of meetings for the day. I packed my laptop, sat in a café and wrote. I found one where my friends or family weren’t likely to turn up at and hammered away at the story.

HUBBY DARLING!!

Now this one is tricky to deal with. Just three words: indulge, indulge & indulge. Help him focus on a hobby. Encourage him to learn a new instrument, if he is musically inclined. Find groups in the neighbourhood where men play football, cricket and push him in that direction. Golf is a great option too. He will be up at crack of dawn and return by 12, dog tired; while you write.

When sports or music didn’t work out for me, I nudged him towards the ultimate man toy. He bought a Harley Davidson. I gave him the thumbs up as he tried on ghastly leather jackets, helmets, foot gear, even a skull printed scarf and what not. All the while telling myself (under breath), “Keep quiet, woman. He will be out every Sunday from 5 am to 11. Sometimes he will be gone for overnight trips. Think of the number of chapters you can write if you had the whole weekend to yourself!” Bless you Harley!!

MOM DEAR!!

Selfies with daughters notwithstanding, every woman fights the toughest battles with her mother. And I’m no different. Mommy dear called to tell me I didn’t return her call. She called to tell me I don’t listen to her and sound absentminded when she speaks. Then she called to tell me that Riya calls Pipi ten times in a day and Tuki calls kakimoni seven times in a day. Mommy, mommy, dear mommy. What do I with you? What do I do without you? I silenced her with just one sentence. “Ma! I’m dedicating the book to you.” Need I say more!

Irrespective of whether you are a working person or homemaker, single or married, with or without kids; writing isn’t easy. Chasing any dream is the toughest thing in the world. You’ll go mad, curse the world for the injustice of it all, hate yourself for putting your dream before others; and there will days when you will just sit and weep. You will get rejected, you will question if it’s worth it, you’ll fight with your spouse and your kid will complain you haven’t made his favourite lasagna in a long time. But trust me, it works out. I believe life tests you and your commitment by hurling obstacles in your path. The Fiddler on the roof does His thing to challenge you, to see how badly you want it by planting hurdles – domestic, corporate and others – in your path.

So the domestic drama goes on in my life. Maids, plumbers & electricians continue to whip up mayhem. Sandeep cancels a biking trip leaving me shame faced with guilt ruing that I wouldn’t be able to write. PTA has to be attended. Mom has threatened she’ll never visit me again because I write all the time and when I don’t, I run off for business meetings (wink, wink!). The promise of dedication placated her only for a day and half! But I have stopped getting annoyed. I just take a deep breath and tell myself, “This is my day job. Being a mom, a wife, a homemaker. Deal with it and then go write.” If you’re passionate, really insanely passionate about something, you’ll find the time for it.

Harper Collins is publishing my first. I’m now writing the second novel and I just finished getting the living room re-tiled. The bathroom is next. I don’t wait for Life to test me. I take the madness with a tall glass of chilled Chardonnay, then rave & rant…and of course write about it!!