Saturday, 22 March 2014

21 Till I Die

21 days of repeating the same action day after day creates a habit. It takes another 21, of abstinence to break it.
Surviving the first twenty-one weeks in a womb normally means a good chance you will get through the next nineteen; to emerge into the unknown: walking a path that billions have traversed, yet which will be unique to you.

Then, when your soul departs your body, it is said it takes with it 21 grams of that essence which made you human; which sometimes differentiated you from the tame city foxes at the bottom of your garden. Though you have more in common with that reined in beast, and the domestic cats, which frequent your doorstep. Yet, while even these animals vary their routine, you realise you find solace in yours. Indeed you cling to your damn routine with a fierceness that often confounds.

Both life and death seem to be at the mercy of fate. A fate, which is as often decided as much by the throw of a dice, as by parents who attempt to steer you for the first twenty-one years of your life. Until, you taste that coming of age freedom, and travel in search of adventure: trying to define what makes you. A question, which will haunt you for the rest of your life: most of it spent undoing that, which you have been conditioned for.
So, when I found myself writing the 21st episode of the Ruby Iyer series, I  sensed I had crossed a line.
From being a fragment of my imagination, she lived now in real time. Hated by few, read by others, loved by some: nevertheless she was there. I was here.
What had gotten the words out, week after week was that same habit of being consistent, sticking to a routine too.

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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Rise of the Female Superhero

The divine feminine: the cosmic energy worshipped in many cultures has come full circle, with the rise of a brave new breed of female superheroes, who have burst on the scene fully formed.
Take Ruby Iyer - one Monday morning, en route her place of work in Bombay city, she is groped and pushed in the path of a local train. Recovering from the accident, she finds she has been granted super-powers and becomes Bombay Vigilante: sworn to protect women from the daily harassment they face on the streets of this megalopolis. She is not Superwoman. But, when really angry, the adrenaline rush grants her the power of an on screen Bollywood hero: she can take on a dozen bad guys simultaneously, and defeat them, in real life.
Ruby Iyer aka Bombay Vigilante
Bombay Vigilante is the hero every victim wants to be: to take revenge on those who have abused her. A kind of wish fulfilment, you could say: about moving from being the object of target practice to the being the one who actually wields the bow and arrow. She is the epitome of the one holding the rein. After all, abuse often boils down to one thing: power. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world; and the one that welds the smoking gun, destroys the fragile ecosystem of the psyche, all too soon.
My daily commute to university on the over-crowded, notorious local trains of Bombay, equalled a daily brush with assorted body parts of the opposite sex. A grope, it seems can mark you for life: for here I am decades later, trying to right the balance.
The Burkha Avenger leads a different fight: to combat the Taliban's intense opposition to educating girls. The brainchild of pop star Aaron Haroon Rashid, Jiya is a school-teacher by day; by night she dons a special burqa and fights with books and pens, fighting those trying to shut down girls’ schools.
Meanwhile Kamala Khan aka. Ms. Marvel is trying to overcome that perennial teen nightmare of coming-of-age in New Jersey. According to writer, G. Willow Wilson, Kamala’s story is one of being isolated, yet wanting to fit in (courtesy the NY Times.) It just so happens her story is told through the eyes of being a Muslim-American woman with superpowers.
It’s not a coincidence that all these superheroes are women: the time is now for the emergence of the female superhero: for the resurgence of the power revered in mythology.
From KatnissEverdeen / Jennifer Lawrence to Michelle Obama, the strong, sexy, independent, woman who knows her mind, speaks it and leads by example is enthralling. A super power tempered by sensitivity: a perfect balance of Yin and Yang, who packs a real punch. No wonder then, while I love Hell Boy, the concept of Hell Girl is irresistible. Don’t you think?

More @RubyIyer here.  Follow @laxmi on Facebook

I first wrote this post for  

PS: For a real life superhero, look no further than Naheed Hassan. Following the success of Indireads, she has launched SheReadsSouthAsia to celebrate women writers. Follow @SheReadsSA and on FB

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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Eyeball Heroin(e)? Hell, yes! This is how I write.

“Do you write on cocaine?” asked a fellow attendee in my writer’s group. He was referring to an episode of the Ruby Iyer series: a serialised story, which I release as an episode every week, and which I had just read to the group. 

He did not mean it as a compliment, but I definitely took it as one.  I write just as the scenes unfold in my mind’s eye. The story moves at a fast pace: I’d like to think it matches the speed of social media; that it reflects the ADD generation of today, those who we writers need to appeal to. It's certainly how I think, and how many of us live: as one part of a big connected organism. A fabric into the waft and weft of which, we are all intertwined. 

No wonder a tweet can cause a revolution, for our timelines have been reduced to 140 characters. Stickier than a spider’s web, we can easily lose ourselves in the surrealism of the moment. 

Reality, and the introspection needed to sustain it, are restricted to a few purple patches in the daily routine of our lives. We seek them out then—these special simple moments—indeed most of us treasure them. Yet, even in that sacred space, we reach for our phones, to check the latest Facebook update.

But I digress. The point here is that I have often been pulled up for my fast paced style of writing. I am told, I need to slow down: to take the time to unfurl the layers of the onion.  I am the first to admit there is truth in this, and that I need to reflect more on the roses among the thorns in my prose.

Yet, despite trying to do so, to hold back: I keep coming back to my inherent style of writing. One, such that when I read back my words, I can viscerally feel the adrenaline pumping, the passion erupting, love sparking and deception bringing the characters crashing down.

The reason I believe is that sadly, for an author, I am hugely ADD. I am guilty of multi-social-networking when I write. So, the only way to fill the page is to ensure my words are exciting enough: far more riveting than that last tweet or FB update from a friend. It's gotta be compelling enough for my own minds-eye to be fastened to the page: and I have often struggled to describe exactly what this style is.

The answer came to me yesterday, sparked by a comment from fellow author @anna_cn founder of book technology startups +ValoBox and +CompletelyNovel at the London Author Fair. She confessed to reading a lot -- that is, till the advent of Netflix. I have no doubt that she was referring to the addictive, brilliant, House of Cards. You can’t stop till you have watched all the episodes back-to-back, and guess what? You can download them all in one go from Netflix!  Anna called it Eyeball Heroin, and wondered if this was the future for us writers? To, write in a similar style?

Well my answer is, yes! This is the future: it’s exactly what I am attempting to do with the Ruby Iyer series. Fast paced, short 800 word episodes each week, ending on a  cliff hanger to keep them coming back for more.

I suppose I will never be able to write onions; but I do hope to write apples. Bright, red, luscious, juicy, shiny ones. No need to peel it. Just bite into one, and your taste buds explode. Feel the juice as it spurts out and onto the floor of your mouth, dripping down your chin. Irresistible!

Monday, 17 February 2014

How India's first Crowdsourced Library launched

Thanks to Mr. Crowdsourced Library (CSL) -- or  @PeculiarBlend or the Owl Hynpotiser as he refers to himself on twitter -- India now has its very first Crowd Sourced Library, for books.

A modern day take of that wonderful concept: the local neighbourhood circulating library, where one would spend many an afternoon on a summer's day following the adventures of Batman, or the origins of Superman while becoming the sixth of the Findoutter's. Pushpendra Pandya aka Mr. CSL also has the distinction of being the first man to ask @BombayVigilante aka @RubyIyer out on a date. (And you thought HER was just confined to Hollywood?)

In the continuing Inspirational Avatars series, read more on what makes Mr. CSL such an incurable optimist!

Mr. Crowd Sourced Library

a. Why CrowdSourced Library? Do you remember the moment you had the idea?
Why CSL! Because it's post all the computer revolutions, eventually most will perhaps turn to resolve: How to combat the loneliness of heart without typing & validating every human actions.

Offers variety.
Supports local, regional, national & international language books.
Free gyaan to those who wishes read such as slum kids, unemployed, single parents,,senior citizens & curiously confused college students and many more.
Saves real book reading experience. Preserves treasure of words where lovers can share secrets, strangers can scribble their numbers & some can just use beautiful bookmarks such as feathers of birds.
Books are useful to shape personal, professional & social life, like, mostly.

Idea occurred when? Um, I don't recollect but it came & disappeared with some distractions.

b. Have you always been an incurable optimist?
Yes! There's no fire without a spark. I'm like a cryptic monk in a coma. People like me for various reasons but can't think of any apparent reason, why?

c. What's the one thing you want to have accomplished in this life?
I don't know. Really. I hadn't ever imagined that after CSL, I'll be involved in two more ventures of my own.Nothing I plan works. Seems I'm a miserable planner of my future. I could have easily saved Titanic with my confused foresights.

d. Why do we Indians love social media?
Most countries loves social media for its dynamic usage & diversity that it offers to users.
We Indians are like crows, everywhere, hence it occurs that we're the only ones, obsessed about everything.

e. What's been your most surprising moment in setting up India's first crowdsourced library?
 My Amma was really happy when my interview was featured in HindustanTimes, Television Interview with IBN Lokmat & radio interviews. I keep meeting variety of people. That's interesting. It's fun doing this library work. It feels great at the end of the day.

Reach India's First Crowd Sourced Library on twitter @PeculiarBlend

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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Living on a Prayer

In the early weeks of the last month of 2013—when the cold had just begun to seep into the walls of the room, on the lower ground floor of the hundred-year-old Georgian building in London, where I now sleep most nights—I opened my eyes. A sense of something having shifted shimmered in the air. Blinking up at the ceiling, eyes unseeing in the morning light, I bid my muscles relax. First the feet, then my calves, the large ropey ones around my thighs, the shorter ones of my waist, my heart—that’s what had changed. It was now. A window had opened. The choice was mine though. All I had to do was step through. This time you will be supported. Would I?

A few days later, my mum Vibered me. For the first time in more than a decade, kith and kin, were getting together at the temple of the family deity. It had lain neglected except for short annual visits, when one of my cousins would attend to the needs of the God housed there. Situated in Ettayapuram: population size - 12800, it’s only claim to being a dot on the map was as the birthplace of the great Tamil Poet Muthuswami Dikshitar - one of the three pillars of Carnatic music who coincidentally shared the same month and day of birth as my husband.
A series of illnesses, dreams from beyond the funeral pyre, delayed marriages, women having children late or not having children at all, had led to the astrological question being asked: what was wrong?
The answer: appease the divinity at the core of the generational tree.
The last two priests, who had been appointed to perform the daily religious rites, had met their end under mysterious circumstances; since then, the Gods had been left to their own devices and had obviously become unhappy at the lack of attention from the family who had sworn to take care of their footprints on this Earth.
And, so in late December they came, assembling from all corners of the globe. Brothers buried disagreements which had kept them from speaking for a lifetime and daughters of the family who had changed their clan-lineage by marriage had been specially invited to attend, for it was they… us… me?—who had borne the brunt of celestial anger. The rituals continued over two days; my parents later told me. Ancestors were appeased, the foundation of a new temple lain, naysayers were silenced, and then in a divine nod of acquiescence, it rained.
Was it a coincidence that I was a central cog, in the turning of the divine wheels of destiny? Even as the first steps in addressing the faults in the group DNA were being taken, I had sensed the shift. The chromosomes in my cells accepted, even as my logical mind questioned. Yet, my gut told me, the time was here. If I wanted to nurture a seed, they were with me -- this time. Just an overactive imagination perhaps? Was I really so connected with the natural flow of events or was it simply the arrival of the right vortex of opportunity? What now?

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Saturday, 18 January 2014

I was felt up by a teenager

He was about fifteen, perhaps: the makings of a thin moustache struggling to push itself up through the layers of the skin on his upper-lip. I caught a flash of his hand, the colour of mud, before it retreated: slithering back, under the cover of the airline blanket. He continued, looking straight ahead at the small TV screen: fascinated I followed his gaze to where Paul Walker raced a car against time—before crashing in real life.

“How could you?” I hissed at the boy, who turned to look at me, expressionless.  “Every action has a consequence” I pushed, and he looked at me uncomprehending, until I specified: “I am going to tell the stewardess.” At this, brow furrowed, he folded his palms together: the Indian gesture of respect, to signify I see the God in you; also used to plead for mercy. “It's because of boys like you that women in India get raped” I burst out, and he looked at me incredulous.

Minutes earlier, I had fought my way up from under layers of darkness, at the first flutter against my breast. Opening my eyes I had peered through the up-in-the-air shadows, dismissing the doubts storming my mind, before sinking back, into the velvety arms of slumber. Then, a second touch to my breast had me springing up and out of the sluggishness of sleep, my arm darting out to catch the culprit: his hand.

Looking around, to the passengers in their own private cocoons of obliviousness:  I knew I could not spread the blanket of ambivalence over myself. Throwing off my cover, I stepped over his aisle seat and walked towards the rear of the plane. “You okay Madam?” I blinked at the cheery voice of the comfortably rounded hostess, her red lips glistening with freshly applied gloss. I shook my head, “the boy next to me has been touching me all night. I can’t sleep.” Her eyes widened but she did not seem surprised. Just another flight, with fellow passengers feeling each other up under the cover of blankets. 

“He’s just a young boy,” I raised my hands, palms-up in bewilderment.

“His parents are sitting just ahead, I will ask them to exchange seats,” she patted my shoulder fleetingly, before walking down the aisle. Not wanting to see the exchange, I ducked into the restroom. 

When I emerged, the father was in excited conversation with the stewardess: “how do you know he did it?” I overheard his animated voice raised in righteous emotion.

“I am not saying he did anything, just that the woman was uncomfortable and requested he change his seat.” The stewardess stated matter-of-factly.

“But you can’t prove anything” the man threatened, in defence of his own blood. The spawn had to be protected at all cost, nurtured to emerge into the wider world.

A male flight attendant intervened; his tall, broad-shouldered build towering over the other pigeon-chested, pot-bellied, be-spectacled and balding, epitome of middle-age: “Nothing has happened here really…” Turning, I walked to my own row, and stepping through the now empty leg space of the seat next to me, I wore the armour of inertia: eye-mask, ear-plugs, blanket.

A few minutes later, the seat next to me heaved and peering through the gap below my eye-mask, I saw the larger bulk of the mother, her flesh pouring through the space below the armrest. I moved closer to the window and ensuring no inch of my skin was in contact with her, I closed my eyes. 

“I am fine” I heard the woman tell her husband in a low voice before she turned to her son “you okay beta?” she enquired.

Fleetingly, I wondered what I would have done if I had been the parent. Would I have apologised to the woman who my son had touched? Would I have slapped the boy right there for what he had done? Would I have turned a blind eye, for my flesh and blood is always perfect and I will always support him? Or would I have waited to get home before launching a full-blown enquiry into what had happened.

Is it because in India we indulge our men, forgive them, that things have reached where they are? Here I was, a grown confident woman and yet I had hesitated to kick up more of a row. Was it my conditioning that held me back, for at the heart of it as an Indian woman, I don't really want to call attention to my sexuality? Would a woman of Western upbringing have pushed back a lot more. 

When I was fifteen, the man in the seat next to me on a BEST bus in Bombay had crept his hand on my knee; twenty years later a fifteen-year old boy had done the same on a transcontinental flight out of the city. Yet, here I was, back in my life, going about the everyday. Should I have confronted the parents further?

--I thought a lot before sharing this post; did I really want to talk about something so personal? Then when I shared the post with a few friends, I was surprised by their very different, yet extreme reactions. One told me how she had been molested by a friend of the family, in her own home, while his wife and daughter were in the other room. She did not do anything about it, for fear of hurting his family who she knew very well. The other--who had a teenaged son of her own, wondered aloud what she would have done if it had been her son, confessing her first instinct would have been to jump to his defence. Have you had a similar experience, what would you have done? 

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