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Archive for the category “A to Z Blog Challenge”

Zen and the Art of watching TeeVee

Indian television serials can test your patience. The other day I was watching one that has been on air since more than a year. The beginning episodes were interesting because it had an unusual storyline. Underlying it were the standard MIL-DIL face-offs that characterize most of the serials today. It had been a long time since I’d seen any of the episodes but I noticed that the character of the Mother-in-law (MIL) was as antagonistic towards that of the Daughter-in-law (DIL) as she was when the serial took off on air.

This was surprising because quite a few episodes had been devoted to the tele-family comprising of the FIL, MIL, the son and the DIL travelling together to a foreign country for participating in a cooking competition. Could one be faulted for expecting that such proximity would have led to thawing of the MIL’s antagonism towards the DIL especially since the DIL, being educated, had helped to make the trip successful? Apparently, such things do not happen in Indian serials.

So, here I am, watching this episode in which the archetypal cunning Elder DIL is provoking the MIL against the other DIL (the educated one – these serials can get complicated that way).

This is how the scene plays out:

The camera zooms in on the cunning E-DIL who mouths her dialogues with the appropriate twitching of eyebrows and curling of lips and once the dialogues are done, the camera focuses one by one on all the other characters present in that scene. First on the MIL, then the FIL, followed by the DIL, then the E-DIL’s husband and a couple of others that seemed to have joined the cast since I last watched this serial.

The camera then focuses again on the MIL and then goes back to the E-DIL’s face. This happens twice before the E-DIL speaks a few more lines of dialogue and then it is the MIL’s turn to talk. And during the camera-focusses, one should not be surprised to note that the expressions on the faces are completely unrelated to the happenings in that scene. This interplay of dialogues and the intense focus on the characters’ faces continues unabated and at the end of the episode not much action has taken place. Ah, but that’s not completely true. The viewers might have pulled their hair out in frustration.

Contrast this with some other serials such as Homeland. Or Mad Men. One just cannot get enough of them (though Mad Men is somewhat beginning to grate). Snappy dialogues, snappier expressions, not a second of airtime is unaccounted for. The viewer gets drawn, willingly, into the action and lets it go, oh so very unwillingly, when the time is up, on tenterhooks, in anticipation of the next episode.

Does this remind you of writing? Of ‘clunky’ prose and unnecessary backstory when what the reader actually wants is some action. Action, which might not be actually physical, but anything that takes the story forward. Swiftly. Interestingly.

Asides:

Zee TV’s ‘Connected Hum Tum’ promises to be a reality show with a difference, in which six women have dared to bare all (emotionally) in front of the nation. It begins tonight.

And continuing with all things TeeVee, here’s wishing a very Happy Birthday to Alan Taylor who wrote for the HBO series ‘Deadwood’.

What has been your TeeVee experience?

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Yin and Yang

Satin and sandpaper. Bling and minimalism. Spicy and bland. Bitter and sweet. Generosity and miserliness. Silence and gregariousness.

These dualities exist in nature. Some would call them opposites but it is also true that each exists because of the other. They are complementary forces and contain an essence of the other. How else would we appreciate the smoothness of satin if we did not first bear the brunt of sandpaper grazing our skin? The jarring garishness of bling juxtaposed against the sleek aesthetics of minimalism? If neem is bitter, does it not make us appreciate the sweetness of honey even more? Hence it might be quite correct to say that one is not better than the other. In fact, together they form a balanced whole. Like Yin and Yang.

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This applies to writing too. On one hand, we sit at the desk, penning down words on paper. We do this regularly (or at least some of us do), to a fixed routine, for a number of hours or till we have written a pre-determined number of words.

But this is not what writing can be restricted to.

Behind the actual act of writing exists yet another important aspect: the thought process which has developed through reading and observing and analyzing. And so, if we dedicate time to writing then it is mandatory to dedicate time for the behind- the-scenes activity, too. Day-dreaming, going on long walks, reading a lot, taking unscheduled naps and meditating are as important as the very act of sitting down and actually writing. Spending time with one’s self or going on what Julia Cameron calls it, “the ‘Artist’s Date’ which is more mischief and whimsy rather than artistic” are as important as the actual act of writing. When both exist, the synergy they create is harmonious and balanced. Veritably, yin and yang.

Are you able to balance the yin and yang of your writing?

XANADU – the magic of Mandrake

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The Sisters and the English subject teachers in the convent school I studied in were adamant that we, the students, should not read comic books. They were of the opinion that doing so would ‘spoil our English.’

And like good girls, we devoured the comic books in large quantities and with loads of guilt. We read them hidden inside the note books. We read them with our heads on the desk pretending to have a headache but reading the comic book hidden on the shelf under the table.

We read Amar Chitra Katha, Archie and the gang, Tin-tin, Commando war comics, Phantom and last but not the least, which was also my favourite, Mandrake the Magician.

As the name hints, it was all about magic performed by Mandrake. The gelled-haired, pencil-thin moustached caped magic maestro was the proud possessor not just of magic tricks but also a home named Xanadu.

To a nine-year-old mind, it was fascinating to read about gates to the house that opened only when the cars honked out a secret code. Voices without bodies gave instructions to friends on how to navigate the deceptive path. And it was not just about following instructions. A friend visiting for the first time was required to take a leap of faith, literally, to continue driving towards a deep chasm which closed at the very last moment. The final obstacle was a wall of stone that lifted just as one reached it to reveal the smiling host, Mandrake. This then was the majesty of Xanadu, Mandrake’s home, which was considered to be a safe haven for Mandrake who was the target for many powerful evil-doers. Hojo, a superlative martial arts expert, was Mandrake’s chef and lived in Xanadu. But when it is revealed that Hojo is actually the Head of the international crime-fighting organization, Inter-intel, then the mystique of Xanadu shoots up many notches higher for the fan of Mandrake comics.

Did these comic books have an adverse effect on our language? Can’t say for sure, but they were providers of quick shots of magic is not what anyone can dispute.

Did you have a favourite comic book character, too?

ARE YOU WORD-WEARY?

WORD-WEARY

WORD-WEARY

There are writers that can churn out 500-1000 good words or more as soon as they sit down to write. (Really?) Then, there are the others who need to think and compost their ideas and words for hours (days? years?) before they are ready to cut the umbilical cord and release them into the world.

If one belongs to the latter category, then birthing new words everyday continuously for 30 days can be an excruciating challenge. Dipping into the well (which is how Julia Cameron refers to the creative self in ‘The Artist’s Way’) unceasingly, can lead to its depletion, making us ‘word-weary’. The added onslaught of media distraction in our lives makes us lose our train of thought and adds to the word-weariness.

Word-weariness robs us of our enthusiasm for writing and the words we churn out half-heartedly sound as if the burden of the world rests on their shoulders. We wish we too could crawl into a cave like a hibernating bear and refresh our writing souls.

The Artist’s Way offers a tool called ‘Media Deprivation,’ which was known as ‘Reading Deprivation’ earlier. As the name suggests, one is required to deprive oneself, for one week, of reading and of all kinds of media that is a constant source of distraction. No reading, no email, no texts, no internet, no surfing, no social media. Also, no television and no radio. A word-detox, of sorts.

If it is not possible to completely switch off, try to be de-plugged for a major chunk of time. This step, The Artist’s Way promises, will allow you to open yourself to ideas and inspirations.

Do you wonder how you will fill in the days if you are off-media and off-devices?

Some take up dancing classes and others pottery. Some explore gardens, parks, museums, and art galleries. And, some write.

What will you do if  you are word-weary?

 

The Adorable Vamp – Helen of Bollywood

In the late 60s and all of 70s, no Hindi film was complete until a dance number (called an ‘item number’ now but a ‘cabaret dance’ then) by Helen was included. Helen with her exotic wigs, feathers, paints, beads, sequins and alluring makeup brought a sense of style and sensuousness to her performances which were never lewd or obscene.

The story of Helen began many years ago when a young woman and her three kids escaped from Japanese domination in Burma. Through wilderness and villages they travelled, foodless and penniless, till they reached Assam. There they rested and recouped and then shifted to Calcutta. The young woman, who was a nurse, could barely manage to support her family on her meagre salary. This is when they shifted to Mumbai and her young daughter took up bit roles as a chorus dancer in movies. This young girl named Helen Jairag Richardson, got her big break in 1958 when she performed the song, “Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo” in Howrah Bridge.

From then on for almost thirty years, she ruled the roost as the Vamp with the golden heart all the while performing what was termed as the “Cabaret Dance” in all the movies that came out of Bollywood.

What is the secret of her long-lived success in the film industry?

Besides her looks which were very different from those of the demure, conservative heroines of that time, the lyrics of the songs that she danced to were musical and in good taste. In sharp contrast are the dances and songs of today, where the top heroines of the country gyrate to songs with unambiguously offensive lyrics and body movements that make the viewers go red in the face with embarrassment.

Besides dance numbers, Helen has done many character roles and even won a prestigious film award for her role in Lahu ke Do Rang.

Helen has appeared in over 500 films. She is often cited as the most popular dancer of the item number in her time. She was the inspiration for four films and a book. A book about Helen was published by Jerry Pinto in 2006, titled The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, which went on to win the National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema in 2007. In 1998 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Filmfare.

It has been an interesting life and Helen, now 74, has been quoted as saying that she lives in the present and that is the secret of her serene and peaceful life.

Below are videos of a couple of her popular numbers. Enjoy.

WHAT IS YOUR USP, YOU UNABASHEDLY STUPENDOUS PERSON?

In the 40’s, advertising companies did a survey of all successful campaigns and discovered that they all focussed on the USP of the product.

The Unique Sales proposition or the Unique Selling Point of the product referred to that particular property or quality which induced buyers of the similar product of another brand to give that up and make this one their own.

This concept became so popular that even companies began to develop a USP.

Some popular USPs, which most of us are familiar with:

DeBeers : A diamond is forever.

Avis: We’re number two. We try harder.

British Airways:  The World’s Favourite Airline

Which list (certainly, it is not exhaustive) brings us to a person:

Michael Jackson: “The King of Pop”, which leads us to the question:

‘What is your USP? What makes you that Unabashedly Stupendous Person? Knowing what your USP is makes it easy for you to sell yourself to yourself.

Yes, go back, read it again.

In a world where we are bombarded with images and words that try to prescribe to us how to become the Perfect One, we forget how stupendous we are. We chase after a media-promoted ephemeral image that promises to make us feel happy and / or successful.

If you have forgotten how an UNABASHEDLY STUPENDOUS PERSON you are, here are four quick steps to remind you:

  • List down your strengths and all those things you excel at. Wait, don’t answer till you have paid attention for three days to all that you do everyday. You might begin to see yourself in a different light.
  • What are your weaknesses? Don’t waste time trying to make them into your strengths but do try to minimize their power to make you feel less than you are.
  • Are your eyes and ears open to the opportunities that are available to you to make your even more stupendous? Think as big as you can.
  • Innovative and carefully bold thinking will help you negotiate the treacherous threats that could hamper your path to becoming the best you can be.

 

So, are you being the Unabashedly Stupendous Person you can be?

 

 

 

THREE TERRIFIC TIPS TO GET MORE WRITING-TIME

In today’s times, the glut of techno-information has made time a precious commodity and it is easy to let it slip from one’s fingers if one is not careful to make the most of the time available. Here are three terrific tips to follow if you want to make more time to write.

1)      WAKE UP EARLY

The day is always full of must-do lists which even at the end of the day are never completely done. Add to it the distractions of the electronic world and social media and the day is over before you know it. Making time for writing in such a scenario feels like an undeserved luxury. Waking up an hour or so early before the rest of the world starts making demands on your time might be the best way to get the writing done. At night, keep your writing stuff such as your book, pens or pencils ready. Also keep ready the topic of your writing, whether it is a prompt or a story you are already working on. If you write on an electronic device make sure it is not connected to the internet. I’m sure, like television, even social media is on 24×7, but you don’t want to spend your precious time aimlessly. As soon as you wake up walk towards your already set-up table and start writing (no, you don’t get to check your phone before you begin).

2)      DELEGATE

Household chores are never-ending and exhaust you physically. If you have a full-time job, cooking and cleaning after you come back from work could tire you and the fatigue could dampen your enthusiasm towards writing. If you are a SAHM with small kids, you might be exhausted at the end of the day to even think of writing. The solution is to delegate all those jobs that do not need your specific input or presence. So, hire whoever you need for the chores, in order to make time for yourself.  If it’s a baby-sitter for the kids or a part-time cook or even a catering service, go ahead and order them. The free time that will be released will help you write better and more.

3)      PLAN YOUR TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook, Twitter, Google plus, Pinterest… the list is endless. Pick out the ones which you are active on and spend time there. The only caveat is to make it a well-organised mode of spending time. Plan in advance how long you are going to be in each social media and what you are going to talk about. Use a timer if you must. If you are a blogger, make a plan to comment on other blogs on the day you make a fresh post. Rerweet interesting tweets on Twitter, ‘like’ and comment on interesting updates on Facebook. But all to a plan,if you don’t want to wonder where the hours of the day have disappeared and with no writing done.

What methods do you use to make time for writing?

STEVE JOBS: 4 QUOTES BY THE APPLE MAN THAT CAN IMPROVE YOUR WRITING

Who can forget the Commencement Address delivered by Steve Jobs at Stanford?  The CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios is an inspiration and here are four of his quotes which, though don’t refer to writing can still motivate us to write better.

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“The products suck! There’s no sex in them anymore!”
Have you ever read what you’ve written and gone all “yechhhh”? On the other hand, there must have been occasions when you read your words and went all “wow, when did I write that?”  Most writers advocate that the first draft must be written fast and without any editing. Doing this allows the inner editor to be kept tied up and the art to flow. This is not to say that the first draft is the best one and must be sent to the publisher as soon as it is written. But this draft is a diamond mine and within it you will find the rare precious gems of your story. If one edits while writing the first draft, the unexpected is not given the space to come to the surface and what you end up with is trite and clunky prose which makes you say, “yechhh” when you read it.

And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”
Writing has to be a calling. The process of writing a book and then having it published could take many months or more often than not, many years. Rejections and hard work are part of the whole parcel of being a writer. What will sustain you in that time? It is the passion within you that will not be diminished and will not rest till the story which is within you is brought out, worked on, polished and then given to the world to read. Be sure, then, this is what you want to be doing for the rest of your life.

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
It was the time of ‘Twilight’ when vampire stories were all the rage. And who can forget  ‘Harry Potter’ the boy wizard who stole the heart of every reading child and adult. But if at the time when their craze was at its zenith, you decided to begin writing a book based on the same theme, your book would be just another wannabe story. Also, since the time between writing and publishing is often very long (especially if it is your first book)  by the time your book comes out, there will be something else which has attracted the readers’ attention. Isn’t it smart then to write the story that is unique to you and authentic? The market is always ready for a great, well-said story.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
If you are a writer you must be inundated with more ideas than you can write about. They are everywhere and the writer’s eye can see an idea where the layperson can just see a news report or what looks like a couple squabbling in the food court in a mall. So many ideas and too little time! It is therefore of paramount importance to know which ones to work with and which to ignore. One way of judging the worthiness of an idea is allowing yourself to notice how you feel when you think of it transforming into a story. And the more you work this process, the clearer it will become to you which ones to focus on.

Which is your  favourite Steve Jobs quote? 

OF RECIPES … AND CULINARY DISASTERS

When I was fourteen I once felt the sudden urge to cook Batata Poha (I am now cured of such dangerous urges). It was as unexpected as it was unnatural because I didn’t know how to cook. My mother’s specialty lay in cooking chicken and chhole (chickpeas) – both dishes beloved of Punjabis – and she had no clue how Poha was cooked so I could not expect any help from that quarter.

The other expert, my bench-mate in school, was an awesome cook or so I was made to believe by her words. Who wouldn’t want to learn at the feet of a master? Having adopted her as my Culinary Guru I begged her for the recipe. She agreed to give it to me, but on one strange condition. She would dictate the recipe to me but I was not allowed to write it down. I would have to memorise it. I was desperate and could not disagree. I did wonder about the reason behind it. Was she deliberately trying to make things tough for me? Why would she? Hadn’t I always given her my books to copy notes from?

The only option I had then was to rush home after school and jot down whatever I remembered from the dictated recipe. Thankfully, it was not all given at one go. The first few days was about memorizing the ingredients. It was a slow process because the only time one could talk was during the twenty minute recess. And half of that went in deciding what to buy from the canteen and then buying and eating it before the bell rang.

There were one or two lucky days when the teacher was absent and then one had the whole of half hour to discuss the ingredients and the merits of a well-cooked Poha.

The day dawned, two weeks later, when the recipe was jotted down, in full, in my diary. It was time to put the plan into action.

A Culinary Disaster

A Culinary Disaster?

Onions, potatoes and green chillies were already available at home. Even the oil. As well as the sugar and the lemon for the lime juice. My bench-mate insisted that coriander garnish was a must, both for the looks and the taste and so I went to the corner vendor of vegetables and bought a bunch.

Onions were sliced thin, potatoes were diced and green chillies were chopped fine. My mother hovered nearby but I wanted to do this my own way so I shooed her away.

Once the pan was heated, I poured in the oil which sizzled as it hit the hot surface. The notes did not mention how much (did I forget to jot down the quantity) but I had seen Mother pour oil in the vegetables while cooking so a huge serving spoon size of oil seemed quite right. I dropped into the pan next the onions, potatoes and chillies and stirred. I waited for the onions to turn pink as my friend had mentioned. And they did look pink, swimming in the oil. The oily steam that floated out of the pan made me want to throw up.  I added the turmeric powder and the salt followed by the sugar and the lemon juice. The food cooked faster than I expected and Mother whose dog-nose smelled something burning shouted “Stir, Stir” from inside the living room. I stirred with vigour.

The book said, “Add Poha when the onions are cooked and stir gently. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve.”

I was excited to discover how easy cooking was and so much fun. I could almost see my mother’s face light up with pride when I, her dear daughter, served her Batata Poha.

And as I took the bowl holding the Poha and upturned it into the pan, a mini third world war broke out in the pan. Particles of Poha sprung up and flew out of the pan in all directions. Some burned in the pool of oil that now bubbled inside the pan. Thick plumes of steam wafted out with the smell of burning food. The sizzling and sloshing continued even as I quickly put off the gas and picked up the pan and kept it gently on the platform.

As the noise abated I dipped the serving spoon inside the pan and hauled out some of the Batata Poha. A multi-coloured blend of black, yellow and dark brown stared at me, daring me to eat it. I took a bite and immediately spat out the mess of tiny grains of hard, stony Poha and crunchy bits of uncooked potatoes. Clearly, it was a recipe for disaster that I had received from my Guru.

I re-visited the whole process over and over again with my bench-mate but I could never figure out where I had gone wrong. It was my first culinary disaster and put quite a dampener on my future efforts at cooking. That one day I would become an excellent cook is a story for another day.

And it was many, many years later that I discovered the cause of the Poha disaster. The puffed rice needs to be washed and soaked in water to soften it before it can be cooked and which step I had overlooked. Either I had forgotten or it was missed out in the dictation.

Ah, well!

Have you ever had such culinary accidents?

 

 

 

Quixaba, Quimbanda, Quermesse and more…

Q can be quixotic. It is the only letter that is not used in the name of any of the United States. Q (standing for Quartermaster) supplies James Bond with gadgets.

The highest scoring word in the game Scrabble is “quartzy”.

‘Q’ is the least used of all the letters of the English Alphabet.

But have you heard of Quixaba, Quimbanda or Quermesse?

And even more ‘Q’ words. Not just words. Their descriptions and more.

So, presenting ExpatBrazil, a blog – guide to Brazil by Maggie, my fellow blogger in the A to Z challenge.

I’m sure you’ve never seen so many ‘Q’ words in one place. Have you?

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