Writing 101 – Day 20 – The Future

Planning

Oh my, I don’t know how I feel at the end of Writing 101! I suppose I am feeling exactly how I felt when I was graduating from university. A mixture of “Thank God, I won’t fall back on assignments any more!”, and, “OMG, what now? Does this mean I have to restart thinking about my own topics to write about?” and part, “I can’t believe I won’t be seeing familiar faces anymore! How will we manage to stay in touch when life gets in the way?” as well as, “I learned so much and I can’t wait to join another course again!” Emotions are just running back and forth, jumping up and down, fighting like cats and dogs and giggling together like little children in my mind.

Of course, the real test comes when you don’t have daily prompts and challenges and when you just have to write on your own. That really terrifies me but it excites me as well. Planning and goal setting is key; two skills that I’ve said time and again that I need to work on BIG TIME!

So what does the remainder of 2015 look like for me?

Starting this month till the end of December, I plan to:

  1. Do lots of blogging and scheduling for most of the posts that have been in my mind and in my notebook since forever, which I did not want to tackle. This includes scheduling posts for the NaBloPoMo which I intend to take part in this November.
  2. Get some fall-cleaning done in preparation for Diwali which coincidentally falls on my birthday this year! So that means lots of de-cluttering (my new best friend!), cleaning and organizing! Looking forward to it at the same time procrastinating on it!
  3. Tackle some little tasks, errands and some shopping which I’ve been putting off for weeks! (Yeah, procrastination seems to love me!)
  4. Go back to my old freelance full-time job from mid-October. I wasn’t planning on doing this but it’s a great opportunity and it also means everything is going to get super busy although I will be working mostly from home till mid-November and then work from the office till end of December.
  5. Keep my fitness routine going but change the timing to first thing in the mornings so I don’t have to worry about it at the end of the day (mostly because my will-power and stamina are the weakest in the evenings after work).
  6. Start thinking about my new pet project which will give me a lot of creative satisfaction and allow me to learn so many new skills. I won’t be able to get it off the ground yet (I need to read and learn a lot!) but to plan it, I need to ponder over it seriously.
  7. Ease back into the 2015 Reading Challenge. I am ashamed to say I have been ignoring this challenge which ironically was the reason why I started blogging seriously in January! Realistically, I know I won’t be able to finish the challenge but I want to try and finish as many books as I comfortably can by the end of this year.
  8. Make my very own planner for the first time! I’ve never used a planner properly before (to-do lists are as far as I reluctantly go!) but I’ve been so inspired to make one of my own and get it printed and spiral bound! Hope this goes well !
  9. Make plans to visit a mountainous region in India next year! Any suggestions? 🙂
  10. Review my 2015 goals and see where I succeeded and where I went wrong and make a better plan for 2016 with revised goals.

Coincidentally, halfway through drafting this post and while taking a lunch break, I picked up the weekend magazine that comes with our newspaper every Friday and checked my weekly horoscope (I don’t know if I always believe in it, but sometimes it uncannily senses my thoughts!) and this is what was written:

You may wish to learn more and could consider returning to an educational course that interests you. Planning personal matters takes priority this week. You will feel happy and a little impulsive, believing nothing can go wrong. A balance between detail and positive thinking will make you a winner.

Is that eerily correct or what? Anyway, all signs are leading to planning, so that’s what I shall do !

What are some of your goals for the remainder of this year? Leave me a comment below and let me know your planning technique. Would love to hear from you!


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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #17 – Lavender and Old Lace

Book #17 – A classic romance – Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
Genre: Classic Romance
Published: 1902
Country: USA
Book to Movie/TV Adaptation: Adapted for film in 1921

Source: Etsy (I do not own this image)

Ruth Thorne, an independent, city girl of twenty-five years and nearly-exhausted due to her stressful job at the city newspaper, jumps at the chance to look after her eccentric aunt’s house on top of a hill in a small seaside village while her aunt is away. When she arrives, her aunt whom she has never met before, has already left for Europe for six months, leaving Ruth only a letter handed to her by young housekeeper Hepsey. The letter has some instructions (but no explanations) including a strange request to light the lamp in the attic every night before bed. Ruth’s reporter instincts immediately come alive – why does her aunt light the lamp every night? Who lives in the house at the foot of the hill where there is a similar lamp burning? Who was Mr. Charles Winfield? While searching for answers to the many questions that keep popping up, Ruth also finds true love on the way.

There’s only one word I will use to describe this book – charming. No, make that three – very very charming. There’s not much I didn’t like about this book. I think the only other classic romance I have really loved is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster and this follows right after.

This Victorian romance is truly timeless and each and every character is lovingly written – from the strong, independent career girl that is Ruth, Hepsey, the very curious housekeeper,  Miss Ainslie, a lady with an almost divine and ethereal presence to Mr. Carl Winfield, a young man of about thirty with a mischievous and endearing charm that quietly steals Ruth’s heart. The other characters which reveal themselves towards the latter half of the story were very nicely sketched too.

Despite being a classic romance, the book’s element of mystery created the main crux of the story. Even though Ruth’s wild imagination makes her cook up different stories about her aunt’s past, she finds herself utterly bored within the first few weeks of her arrival for lack of anything productive to do. Eventually she finds great friendship in her aunt’s old friend Miss Ainslie’s calming presence and later in Carl, who is also from the city and on vacation for six months to heal his tired eyes. Carl, who is her future colleague at the same newspaper, annoys and aggravates her but slowly proves to be her dearest friend and constant companion and gradually, the love of her life. I loved how Carl and Ruth were total opposites of each other but Ruth’s feisty nature attracted Carl and his boyish but caring nature won over Ruth. Their cute, teasing and witty banters were the highlights of their friendship although I didn’t like it much when Ruth slowly changes from being a strong feminist woman, to turn into a much docile version of herself. That was the biggest moot point for me that I didn’t care for.

Towards the end when the mysteries of the past unfold themselves, the book’s tone changes from being light and humourous to a bittersweet one leaving you with a heavy feeling in your heart and a sense of melancholy.

Myrtle Reed’s writing is beautiful – descriptive but simple and not at all over-pretentious. She shares some lovely life wisdom about happiness through Miss  Ainslie’s enlightened self. It is ironic however, because Reed tragically committed suicide in real life at the young age of 36. Still, her legacy lives on in her wonderfully penned words and this book is a priceless gem which I would recommend to any lover of classics.

Book Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #14 – No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom For Life

Book #14 – A non-fiction book – No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom For Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
Genre: Non-Fiction/Spiritual
Published: 2002
Country: USA

No Death, No Fear
I came across this book at my aunt’s place many months ago and opened it up to a random page in casual interest to find words that made a lot of sense to me. Intrigued, I downloaded this and many other books by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh to read “later” (How many of you can relate with me? I download hundreds of interesting books to read “later” and never end up reading them!)

We all go through personal loss, fear of death and grief at one point of our lives or another. Everyone rejoices at the birth of a new being but none of our emotional faculties can really ever prepare us for death, no matter how sudden or impending it may have been. Buddhism has a very profound yet scientific explanation regarding birth and death, one which is logical at the same time comforting.

No matter how open-minded we may be, some of the notions, concepts, beliefs, prejudices and biases that we have been brought up with always form the basis for many of our decisions and judgements. The Buddha observed that the ultimate goal of life is to achieve nirvana which can only be achieved by breaking the bondage of all concepts and notions in our minds that cause us much distress and keep us from our true reality of complete happiness and freedom. One of these is the concept of birth and death.

The Buddha said the nature of your reality is the nature of no birth and no death; no coming, no going, no being, no non-being, no same, no different. The teaching sounds as though it contradicts the teaching that everything that is born must die, the teaching that we cannot escape death, sickness and old age. Practice looking deeply. You will realize that birth is a notion, death is a notion, coming is a notion, going is a notion, being is a notion and non-being is a notion. We have to remove all notions concerning reality. Then we touch the ultimate reality, or suchness. 

Nothing is created, there’s only a transfer of energy from one form to the other. This is something we’ve studied in physics at school but maybe never thought about it carefully in life. Buddhism talks about applying this scientific fact and calls it manifestation. The book mentions several examples one of which is that of a cloud that changes its form into rain that subsequently gets transferred into our body in the form of food and water and repeats its cycle. Similarly, so does the manifestation of life.

Nothing has a separate self, and nothing exists by itself. If we examine things carefully, we will see that all phenomena, including ourselves, are composites. We are made up of other parts. We are made up of our mother and father, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, the earth, the sun and innumerable non-self elements. All these parts depend on causes and conditions. We see that all that has existed, exists or will exist is interconnected and interdependent. All that we see has only manifested because it is a part of something else, of other conditions that make it possible to manifest. All phenomena are neither produced nor destroyed, because they are in a constant process of manifesting.

We are also guided to open our eyes and see that our historical dimension (or the reality that we have been led to believe) is different from our ultimate dimension (the reality that is our true nature). There are detailed examples that help us think outside the box and remove many mental barriers regarding everything in life. The book talks about simple ways of Buddhist meditation and practicing looking deeply in our daily lives and being aware to really awaken ourselves. Although these new and alternative thoughts are not easy to comprehend, practicing mindfulness can slowly help us rewire some of our preconceived notions.

I found myself asking several questions regarding pain and suffering. How can we justify suffering if there is no death, no fear, no coming, no going? There is an answer to that in the book as well. Your actions cause ripple effects around everything else. What you do or don’t do decides the course for others. Although the examples made sense, the justifications were still a bit difficult to take in.

How can I be happy? It’s simple, the Buddha says. Live in the present moment. In other words, be thankful of what you already have in your life.

Please take a pen and a sheet of paper. Go to the foot of a tree or to your writing desk, and make a list of all the things that can make you happy right now: the clouds in the sky, the flowers in the garden, the children playing, the fact that you have met the practice of mindfulness, your beloved ones sitting in the next room, your two eyes in good condition. The list is endless. You have enough already to be happy now. You have enough to be free from coming and going, up and down, birth and death. Nourish yourself every day with the wonderful things that life has to offer you. Nourish yourself in the present moment. Walk in the kingdom of God.

Finally, your own experience is the best teacher. This is what Buddhism is all about.

The Buddha has advised us that we should not accept any teachings as true just because a famous master teaches them or because they are found in holy books. This also includes the Buddhist canon. We can only accept teachings that we have put into practice with our own awakened understanding and that we can see with our own experience to be true.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a huge eye-opener. The philosophies are practical and the spiritual teachings of Buddhism are simple ways of life, the basics of which anyone can practice in their daily lives no matter what faith they follow or even if they don’t follow a faith at all. It’s all about the mind, soul and awareness of the self and waking up to the ultimate reality.

Book Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #11 – Almost Perfect

Book #11 – A trilogy – Almost Perfect by Julie Ortolon (Perfect Trilogy #1)
Succeeded by: Just Perfect and Too Perfect
Genre: Romance/Chick Lit
Published: 2005
Country: USA

Almost Perfect by Julie OrtolonI’ve fallen in a bit of a reading and blogging slump recently. I finished this e-book about two weeks ago but just got around to reviewing it (I blame it on the lazy spell that’s hit me). I also think it’s because I really had no thoughts about this book.

The reason I chose this series was because I felt it was necessary to have some light-hearted reads in between heavy ones. Hence, I chose not to read all three books in succession but reach out to them whenever I fell into a reading slump, much as one reaches out for some chocolate to get a bit of a ‘happy kick’. If you haven’t guessed already, chick lits are my candy.

The premise of this trilogy attracted me. Three best friends – Maddy, Christine and Amy – in their early thirties, get very miffed when they find out that their very successful old college flat mate has used them as examples in her best-selling book How to Have a Perfect Life of people who did not face their fears and settled for less. The three make a pact amongst themselves that they would prove their friend wrong by doing the very things that scare them and complete them in a year’s time.

The first installment of this trilogy, Almost Perfect is about Maddy, a widowed artist who tries to face her fear of rejection by setting out to sell her work to art galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a first step to achieving this goal, she accepts a job offer to be an Arts and Craft Coordinator at a summer camp in New Mexico. The catch? The offer was sent by the matchmaking adoptive mother of her ex-childhood sweetheart who now owns the camp.

But what happens when two exes – a woman who doesn’t trust her own abilities and a man who doesn’t trust anyone else – come together? Fireworks, of course! Maddy doesn’t trust her own talent because her father belittled her as a child and made her lose her self-confidence. Joe doesn’t trust anyone because he had a hard time growing up in foster homes and trusts Maddy even less because she had broken his heart fifteen years ago. Things get very awkward when Joe finds out she is his new staff member and is going to work with him for two whole months. They agree to a truce for the sake of a working relationship and eventually give in to the attraction that never died down even after all these years.

Maddy is a cheerful, free-spirited, gypsy-like woman who wears impractical shoes and colourful clothing whereas Joe is a tough ex-army guy who strives for order and control in his life. The only thing they have in common is their love of art and their battered and bruised souls.

This book is a classic example of the ‘trust issues’ cliché in romance novels that has been done to death. The book was not a terrible read per se, however the theme was nothing new barring the ‘completing a challenge’ aspect of it. There were a few cheesy dialogues, some double entendres, lots of things-said-in the heat-of-the moment and explanations and justifications that had me rolling my eyes each time.

The main reason I was instantly hooked onto the premise of this trilogy was to read the writer’s take on how the three overcome their fears and complete their challenges while having fun and unexpectedly finding love. I didn’t expect it to be anything like a self-help book obviously (and it wasn’t!) but the almost-overnight success of Maddy in the art world was surreal and unbelievable. It all seemed so easy and effortless that the challenge part of it was completely non-existent. Yes, the story focused on the root of the cause – Maddy and Joe’s trust issues – but I just wasn’t convinced.

I also found it silly that Maddy and Joe were able to easily pick up their love life where they left off fifteen years ago only for Maddy to screw it up again towards the end. Those trust issues just kept getting more and more complicated.

However, the only part I sort of liked was that she was in touch with her best friends Christine and Amy via email whenever she needed any advice and the two would virtually dispel her self-doubts. From their brief conversations, I gathered that Amy was the cautious, sensible and staid one and Christine was the slightly more adventurous and reckless kind.

I was bored by this one but am more keen on reading the third installment, Too Perfect when I get to it and hope it lives up to its more exciting synopsis.

Book Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #10 – The Diary of a Young Girl

Book #10 – A book originally written in another language – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Genre: Autobiography
Published: 1947 as Het Achterbuis Dagboekbrieven 14 Juni 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944
Originally written in: Dutch
Country: Netherlands
Book to TV/Movie Adaptation: Adapted for theater in 1955 and for film in 1959. Also dramatized for television in 2001.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 2This is a real life epistolary novel of Anne Frank, a 13 year old Jewish girl living in Amsterdam who went into hiding with her family in 1942, two years after the Nazis occupied the Netherlands.

Anne recounts all her experiences of living in the “Secret Annexe”, the hiding place in Anne’s father’s office building with her parents, elder sister and four others that included a family of three and a dentist. Living a secret existence for two years until 1944 was by no means the easiest thing to do but the eight fugitives had the constant support of a handful of close friends and co-workers who would risk their own lives and supply them with food, news and books from outside.

Like any young girl of a similar age, Anne goes through many several first-time experiences including reaching puberty, discovering her life’s purpose and surprisingly, even falling in love during these two years of being cooped up in the secret quarters. In this unabridged version, she even touches upon a few adult subjects which pique her interest. Her conflict with her mother is also described in great detail, where Anne claims that her parent does not understand her at all. She also ends up saying some very foolish and hurtful things to her father which she regrets later on. Having gone through similar troubled teen years myself, I could relate and sympathize with her parents for bearing with her and loving her unconditionally at the same time.

Despite the turbulent times, Anne was quite mature and wise beyond her thirteen or fourteen years. She was a deep thinker and keen observer of human behaviour,  painting such a vivid picture of all the different members of the house that it was easy to see their individual personalities through her eyes. Anne was a voracious reader whose interests lay in history, Greek and Roman mythology, art, poetry and searching for family trees. She also was a huge fan of film stars, the photos of whom she pasted all over her room’s walls.

I found Anne a very colourful and interesting personality – a girl with a great sense of humour, someone who maintained her ideals, had lots of opinions about everything and who could carry out deep conversations at great length. Towards the end of the book, she herself mentioned that although she sometimes acted superficially with her school peers and friends, she badly wanted someone with whom she could talk about subjects that hadn’t seen the daylight.

Only one thing was going through my mind when I read this surprisingly easy and funny book. It was how bold and fearless Anne was for a girl her age in those unstable times. She had a zest for life and an inimitable spirit that many would have lost in such a precarious situation. Despite the dismal circumstances, Anne talked of only hope, positivity and a beautiful life that was meant to be enjoyed. Anne also described in great detail, the goings on of the shared household from the conflicts that arose from living under the same roof with another family to almost being discovered by burglars and other workers in the building as well as the plight of the Jews who were not so fortunate and were caught by the Nazis.

There comes about a vast change from the thirteen year old Anne in 1942 to the almost fifteen year old in 1944. She becomes more sensible and less prone to acting out which results in some very quotable quotes. Her last entry spoke of how everyone called her a ‘little bundle of contradictions’ and how she was fighting to bring out the real Anne in her which everyone was trying to suppress. All in all, this book was a wonderful read. It took me on a roller coaster journey of happiness, misery, helplessness, fear and hope and I was left with a heavy sadness in my heart after I read the epilogue. The diary was retrieved from the Secret Annexe and given to Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only surviving member of the family, after her death in a Nazi concentration camp. Otto edited the diary and got it published in 1947, thus fulfilling her wish of  ‘going on living after her death’.

Anne was a treasure trove of wisdom. I had a really hard time deciding which of her passages to include in this post but after much deletion, I selected the below:

1. Riches can all be lost, but that happiness in your own heart can only be veiled, and it will still bring you happiness again, as long as you live. As long as you can look fearlessly up into the heavens, as long as you know that you are pure within and that you will still find happiness.

2. And in the evening, when I lie in bed and end my prayers with the words, “I thank you God, for all that is good and dear and beautiful,” I am filled with joy. I don’t think then of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains. My advice is: “Go outside, to the fields, enjoy nature and the sunshine, go out and try to recapture happiness in yourself and God. Think of all the beauty that’s still left in and around you and be happy!” And whoever is happy will make others happy too. He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery!

3. Keep your courage up! Like I do. Although it’s not always easy, your time may come sooner than you think.

4. I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.

5. How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find experience that: ‘A quiet conscience, makes one strong!’

6. Because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.

Book Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Have you read a translated book originally written in another language that you highly recommend? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #9 – Just William

Book #9 – A book you can finish in a day – Just William by Richmal Crompton
Genre: Children’s classic
Published: 1922
Country: United Kingdom
Book to TV/Movie Adaptation: Adapted from 1940 onwards for television, film, theatre and radio. More recently adapted for BBC in 2010.

Firstly, let me tell you, I failed at this challenge miserably. I was supposed to be able to finish this book in a day but…. I didn’t. I took five or six days to finish it!

I do not blame myself or the book for this failure at all but wholly give that honour to the internet for sucking my attention into its deep, dark vortex of everything and yet absolutely nothing. Each time. *sigh*

Just_William_coverAnyway, back to the topic of this popular children’s classic of the 1920’s and thereafter. I’d never heard of the Just William series when I was growing up. My childhood diet consisted of The Famous Five, Secret Seven, The Five Find-Outers and mostly all other Enid Blyton books. I came across these lovely treasures a few years ago in a little corner of the local supermarket, where a collection of books were being sold at an almost close-to-nothing price. I picked up three of these gems and thought to myself, “For this price, how bad can they be?”  I was wrong. They were not bad at all, they were BRILLIANT!

The collection of short stories are about William Brown, a little boy of eleven who has been born with the world’s most mischievous and restless bones in his body. He lives with his parents, an elder college-going brother Robert, a teenage sister Ethel and a dog called Jumble. William is the cause of constant grief in his household due to his free-spirited and oblivious-to-destruction nature.

A wild, runaway imagination and a gang of three other boys are his best friends. The four – William, Ginger, Henry and Douglas – call themselves the Outlaws and their past times include going on adventures, pretend kidnapping, playing Red Indians and consuming an extraordinary amount of sweets. Ah! Such fun!

Well, maybe not so much fun for his family! William is a vandal (as most mischievous boys are!) and he simply doesn’t understand why his father confiscates his favourite bow-and-arrow (after he breaks his neighbour’s windows) or why his own brother doesn’t want him around (after he unknowingly let slip of his brother’s hidden affections to a pretty girl and breaks his bicycle at the same time!) or why his parents won’t trust him to have a house party for his friends in their absence (after he and his friends devour ALL the food in the larder and wreck the house!)

Ginger found a splendid hiding-place in Robert’s bed, where his boots left a perfect impression of their muddy soles in several places. Henry found another in Ethel’s wardrobe, crouching upon her satin evening shoes among her evening dresses. George banged the drawing-room door with such violence that the handle came off in his hand. Douglas became entangled in the dining-room curtain, which yielded to his struggles and descended upon him and an old china bowl upon the sideboard. It was such a party as none of them had dreamed of; it was bliss undiluted. The house was full of shouting and yelling, of running to and fro of small boys mingled with subterranean murmurs of cook’s rage. Cook was uttering horrible imprecations and hurling lumps of coal at the door. She was Irish and longed to return to the fray.

I love Crompton’s style of writing. She describes characters, scenes and exaggerates William’s deviously boyish inner thoughts almost poetically.

The day of the ordeal drew nearer and nearer, and William’s spirits sank lower and lower. His life seemed to stretch before him – youth, manhood, and old age – dreary and desolate, filled only with humiliation  and shame. His prestige and reputation would be blasted forever. He would no longer be William – the Red Indian, the pirate, the daredevil. He would simply be the Boy Who Went to a Wedding Dressed in White Satin. His cheeks grew hot at the thought. His life for years afterwards would consist solely in the avenging of insults. He followed the figure of the blushing bride-to-be with a baleful glare. In his worst moments, he contemplated murder.

Just William is the first of 39 books in the series and I found an e-book version for this challenge. The books are laugh-out-loud funny and one cannot help but wonder how Crompton came up with such hilarious and creative tales, enough to fill 39 of them. While reading this book, I was wondering if she knew of such naughty boys personally or was one of the naughty ones herself or just had a naturally overactive imagination! You will cringe at the things William does, they are that destructive!

He reminded me of Dennis the Menace and maybe, just maybe J.K. Rowling must have had this little boy in mind when she wrote, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” After all, boys will be boys! 😉

Book Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #8 – Poor Little Rich Slum

Book #8 – A book based entirely on its cover – Poor Little Rich Slum by Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2012
Country: India

Poor little Rich Slum

Rashmi Bansal has some great books to her credit. Her Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, Connect the Dots and I Have a Dream are all books that contain a wealth of wisdom and inspiration through real-life stories of enterprising and entrepreneurial people that she has met and interviewed.

Poor Little Rich Slum, a collaboration between Rashmi Bansal and Deepak Gandhi is no different. Except for one important element. It’s about Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum area of around 500 acres in Mumbai with a staggering population of more than a million residents. It’s this hard-to-miss arrangement of tightly squeezed huts covered with tin roofs and blue canopies that you see just as your aircraft is approaching Mumbai airport. The inspiration behind many films, including Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Dharavi is a myriad of cultures, religions, classes and in this case, ideas.

Most Dharavi residents are immigrants from other states, who came to Mumbai with big dreams of earning more money so they could support their families back home and found themselves welcomed by this place with open arms. This book tells their stories – from the twelve-year old boy who slept on the streets when he first came to Mumbai and went on to own an export business with an annual turnover of 120 million rupees to a teenage ragpicker who goes to school in the morning and supports eight of his family members by collecting plastic waste in the afternoon. Every real-life story in this book teaches a deep and profound lesson that when you are at the bottom, the only way to look is up.

Despite the filthy and crowded surroundings, the spirit of Dharavi is unshakeable because of the strength of millions that rely on each other’s support to survive. Alone they are nothing, but together they make a huge difference. And each time the government has failed, self-reliance has kicked in. Enterprising individuals, groups and NGO’s have set up schools, clinics and educational programmes that provide some much-needed support to slum residents at little or no cost.

I love that the focus of this book is not on the poverty and inhumane living conditions of the slum dwellers, but on how industrious the people are, despite their circumstances. They have no time to sit and feel sorry for themselves, instead they are constantly on their feet figuring out new ways to be more productive, resourceful and helpful to each other.These hardworking folk are doing the best they can with what they have and trying to uplift themselves in this fast-paced, madcap of a city.

Like past experiences, I was bowled over by this edition of Bansal’s book as well. The co-authored book with everyday stories of hope and the right amount of human touch strikes a real cord. You do not, at any moment of your reading experience, feel pity for the slum dwellers, instead you feel happiness and pride in their accomplishments and how they are all trying to help each other out of the quicksand of poverty and despair. Each story is packed with some powerful last sentences that remind us how supremely blessed we are and have much to be thankful for than we care to think.

What could have been better about this book was that none of the photographs were captioned. Some were pretty self-explanatory but in most of them I was trying to find out who the main person being interviewed was because there were multiple pictures in each story.

Dharavi has witnessed and borne the brunt of many a difficult time from epidemics to other calamities. Nevertheless, the soul of Dharavi is eternal and has forever found a way to bounce back and rise again like a phoenix from the ashes.

“We can be happy, we can be hopeful, we can be enterprising – no matter where we are.

The question is – are you?

If Dharavi can, so can I.”

Some other lovely parts and quotes from this book:

1. Economies are not built on capital alone. They are the products of human intent. Dharavi is what you get when a million people hold a common intention. To rise above their circumstances, and make the best lives possible for themselves.

2. Dharavi should be celebrated and replicated.

Because every human being has the potential to be ignited.

Poverty is nothing but a state of mind.

3. “Aage main ek bada insaan banna chahta hoon,” says Afsar. “Bada aadmi ban kar jhopad patti walon ko building mein ghar dena chahta hoon.” (Translation: “I want to become a big man in the future. I want to give the hut dwellers a home in buildings.” says sixteen year old Afsar, a ragpicker.)

Because a life lived for oneself is the biggest waste of all.

4. Ranis of Jhansis astride horses of valour. Charging through the narrow bylanes of the mind.

Which are as difficult to redevelop as Dharavi itself.

Book Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #7 – The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Book #7 – A popular author’s first book – The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Genre: Murder Mystery/Crime
Published: 1920
Country: United Kingdom
Book to TV/Movie Adaptation: Adapted for TV in 1990 and subsequently for BBC Radio as well as several touring plays.

christie-mysterious-affair-at-styles-bookcover

What do I say about the Queen of Mystery and Crime? She has set the bar so high for me, that I have yet to read a mystery that can match her level of ingenuity and simplicity. Her characterizations, settings and plots are so deceptively simple yet so clever in their detailing, it is impossible to not be able to imagine them in your mind’s eye. The picture she portrays is crystal clear.

This is her first novel and set in the middle of the First World War. We are introduced to Arthur Hastings, a young man of about thirty years who has been given a month’s leave from the Army to fully recover from an injury he sustained a few months ago. Having no close relations, he is unsure of where to go when he runs into an old friend John Cavendish. John invites Hastings to spend his leave at his home in the village of Styles St. Mary in Essex county, an invitation which Hastings accepts. On the way, John tells Hastings about his old stepmother’s recent remarriage to a much younger man who is disliked by everyone in the house. Hastings senses the hostility towards Mr. Alfred Inglethorp, Mrs. Emily Inglethorp’s younger husband and within a fortnight of his stay, witnesses several arguments in the household. A tragedy occurs when Mrs. Inglethorp is violently killed a few days later by way of strychnine poisoning.

The local police and Hastings unofficially employ the help of trusted friend Monsieur Hercule Poirot, a very famous Belgian detective now seeking refuge in Styles in his old age. Poirot loves a good mystery to exercise his little ‘gray cells’ and is a neat freak who likes order in his surroundings and thought. Despite several odd eccentricities that he is prone to display, Poirot is a very clever man who lets no small detail or information escape his mind.

Hastings is a man with much emotion yet little imagination. He is often baffled at the way Poirot’s overactive mind sees details that no one can see.  Poirot is a man with a method to his madness that only he can understand. Together, the two attempt to solve the mystery that has even got Scotland Yard involved.

The pairing of Poirot and Hastings is akin to Holmes and Watson, indeed the inspiration for the two has been derived from Doyle’s novels, but Christie’s writing style is her own. Her language is uncomplicated and timeless and her insight into human psychology makes for very interesting characterizations, each possessing their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. In fact, body language and expression play a very strong role in her novels.

What I love about Agatha Christie’s writing is her ability to keep the mystery alive till the very end. All the facts of the case are straightforward and laid bare on the table, making you think deeply along with the characters in the book. However, there is a purposeful enjoyment she derives in leading her readers astray. You think you have figured it out but the ending completely shocks you and you realise how far you had been thrown off track. This is a charming characteristic I have not seen in most mystery writing.

Despite my amateur attempts at sleuthing, I definitely did not guess the mystery right as expected, but I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending of this one. I have absolutely enjoyed her subsequent novels more than this first attempt. Having said that, I will definitely recommend anyone to read this book, just to get acquainted with Poirot and Hastings and see if they can solve the mystery.

Book Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #5 – Attachments

Book #5 – A book with a love triangle – Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Chicklit / Romance
Published: 2011
Country: USA

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I have never read anything by Rainbow Rowell before, not even Fangirl, the book that everyone is gushing about. But I sure wasn’t going to pass up any opportunity to read a light-hearted chicklit romance to remove the aftertaste of the previous book I’d read.

Attachments is set in Nebraska, in 1999, the year where every one was preparing themselves for the impending Y2K bug that was threatening to shut down the world. Our bashful, introverted hero Lincoln works the night shift at a daily newspaper in the IT department. His job is to read flagged down intra-office emails to check for offenders who might be sharing emails against company policy and issue them warnings. He really doesn’t like his work and the only bright side of his night is reading daily email exchanges between Beth and Jennifer, two daytime editorial staff, who share many details of their personal lives through emails.

Now Lincoln is not a creep taking advantage of his position. He is a genuinely decent human being who feels that he is a) getting paid to do nothing and b) invading people’s privacy through reading their mails. He thinks that reading bits and pieces about the girls’ lives is not only immoral but also not justified but he cannot seem to stop himself because he find two friends in Beth and Jennifer, two really funny, witty and yet kind and gentle souls, who he hasn’t met at all. Lincoln is also conflicted because he finds himself falling deeply in love with Beth who has been steady with her musician boyfriend for many years. He cannot see himself having an honest relationship with a girl he has never met before since he knows so many personal details about her already.

I loved this book. It had so much heart and dealt with a lot of emotional attachments (hence the title) – a mother-child relationship, a relationship between best friends, relationships between lovers and various other things as well.

You cannot help but but fall and feel for all the characters – every character seems real and flawed in so many ways. Lincoln is still bruised from a breakup that happened nine years ago and lives with his mother. He has trouble meeting new people due to the odd hours he works and lacks ambition and goals in his life, or even finding things that he is really good at.

Jennifer and Beth both have their fair share of problems too, which are cleverly mentioned in their humorously worded email exchanges. Jennifer’s husband wants to start a family but she wants nothing to do with kids and Beth doesn’t see any prospects of marriage and children in the future because of her emotionally unavailable boyfriend.

Now, I am a self proclaimed expert in the genre of chicklit/romance and would definitely recommend this book to anyone – lover of chicklit or not. This book is a great winter read, perfect for curling up with a hot chocolate and some soft music. I loved the use of clever metaphors and references of some of my favorite movies and actors. The book had me keeping up at night, wondering, “Will they? Won’t they?” and I couldn’t rest until I had read till the end. I was almost wishing that this gets made into a movie someday.

Some parts I loved from this book:

1. <<Jennifer to Beth>> At last? October is half over. And what’s in  October anyway?

<<Beth to Jennifer>> Not “what’s in,” what is. October. My favorite month. Which, by the way has only half begun.

Some find it melancholy. “October,” Bono sings, “and the trees are stripped bare….” Not I. There’s a chill in the air that lifts my heart and makes my hair stand on end. Every moment feels meant for me. In October,  I’m the star of my own movie – I hear the soundtrack in my head (right now, it’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”) – and I have faith in my own rising action.

I was born in February, but I come alive in October.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> You’re a nut.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> A hazelnut. A filbert. October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins.

O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!

2. <<Beth to Jennifer>> I think he just gets like this sometimes. Like he needs to pull away. I think of it like winter. During winter, it isn’t that the sun is gone (or cheating on you with some other planet). You can still see it in the sky. It’s just farther away.

3. <<Jennifer to Beth>> Oh, I love period dramas, especially period dramas starring Colin Firth. I’m like Bridget Jones if she were actually fat.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> Oh….Colin Firth. He should only do period dramas. And period dramas should only star Colin Firth (One star upgrade for Colin Firth. Two stars for Colin Firth in a waistcoat.)

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Keep typing his name, even his name is handsome.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> I think we’ve discovered the only guy we’d ever fight over at an airport bar. 

4. “So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.”

 Book Rating: Definitely 5 stars out of 5.

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2015 Reading Challenge – Book #4 – The Five Red Herrings

Book#4 – A book with a colour in the title – The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers
Genre:
Murder Mystery/Crime
Published:
1931
Country:
United Kingdom
Film/TV Adaptations: Adapted for television in 1975. Available for viewing on YouTube.

The Five Red Herrings

The plot is deceptively simple – an unpopular town artist is murdered and suspicion falls upon six of his artist peers with whom he had several unpleasant encounters previously. Five of them are red herrings (or distractions) to keep the authorities from finding out who the real murderer is.

The setting is breathtaking. The adjacent towns of Kirkcudbright, Gatehouse of Fleet and Newton-Stewart with quaint cottages, rolling hills, ramshackle castles and rocky creeks which are part of the Galloway countryside in Scotland provide the handsome premises of the story.

In the beginning, we are introduced to a very drunk and arrogant Campbell in a local pub who provokes a fellow painter, leading to a physical brawl. Several other townsfolk who also find Campbell insufferable, bear witness to this disagreeable situation. Among the people present, is also Lord Peter Wimsey, an Englishman and a fairly newer member of the Galloway community.

The next afternoon brings some unfortunate news. Campbell is found dead by the river Minnoch, in the hills near Newton-Stewart. Luckily, a good old-fashioned mystery is right up Lord Peter Wimsey’s alley and he sets off gleefully in his large Daimler Double-Six to assist the local authorities in solving this case.

Despite the straightforward scenario, the book is utterly maddening, infuriating and exhausting to say the least.

Many difficult elements in this book made for a very laborious read. Too many things were happening at once, creating a tangled web of confusion. Train schedules and routes were so excessively mentioned that it became apparent that the author spent too much time at railway stations poring over train timetables rather than creating a lucid plot. Coupled with that were sudden disappearances of five of the six suspects and quite a few bicycles that dragged the story unnecessarily to the point of sheer frustration.

In fact, the author too shares the same opinion when a dialogue is shared between Wimsey and his faithful manservant.

“Bunter,” said Wimsey, “this case resembles the plot of a Wilkie Collins novel, in which everything happens just too late to prevent the story from coming to a premature happy ending.”

The heaviest use of Galloway slang and accent, although very intriguing in the beginning, slowed down the reading process considerably and I found myself reading these dialogues aloud (in what I considered to be a very good Scottish accent) to get the gist of the conversations.

Like an overcooked melange of conflicting textures and flavours, the involvement of too many characters than was crucial to the plot, completely spoiled the broth.  These included Wimsey, seven official investigators, six suspects and their families, friends, housekeeping staff, neighbours and several other witnesses. It seemed that the whole country was involved in this village mystery.

What was absolutely the last straw was when each official would reconstruct the crime each time a small clue was found and endless possibilities and theories were made to be proved. This must have easily happened at least 15 times in the whole novel. In the end, all seven of the officials and Wimsey gathered to tell their own versions of the sequence of events. It was like swimming through a muddy river with nothing in sight.

Sayers mentions in the beginning of the book that every place described is real (even the irksome train schedules). When Wimsey finds out about the murder, he sets off in his car to the scene of the crime, which is some distance away from the towns. His journey is through a beautiful part of the countryside but it was difficult for me to picturise it due to the overly-described sceneries to the point where I felt like a lost tourist. I felt it was necessary for me to be acquainted to some degree with what was being described about. Google came to my rescue and I found a blog post where the blogger had actually followed Wimsey’s journey in person and posted pictures of the same. You can find the blog post here. 

This book took me the LONGEST time to get through and to abandon it held a strong appeal. Several times I had the urge to press delete (since I was reading an ebook version) and start reading another one. However, since I had publicly declared it on Instagram that this would be my next read, I was determined to see this book through even though it literally put me to sleep each time.

This book is NOT an exciting page-turner in my opinion, in spite of the beauty of the locale and the plot. Google also tells me that many Dorothy fans share the same opinion that this wasn’t her best work.

Some of my favourite parts of the novel, including a lovely typically English breakfast description are:

1. It was a marvellous day in late August, and Wimsey’s soul purred within him as he pushed the car along. The road from Kirkcudbright to Newton-Stewart is of a varied loveliness hard to surpass, and with a sky full of bright sun and rolling cloud-banks, hedges filled with flowers, a well-made road, a lively engine and the prospect of a good corpse at the end of it, Lord Peter’s cup of happiness was full. He was a man who loved simple pleasures.

2. ‘It depends on how clever you are,’ replied Wimsey, coolly. ‘You remember Poe’s bit about that in The Purloined Letter. A very stupid murderer doesn’t bother about an alibi at all. A murderer one degree cleverer says, “If I am to escape suspicion I must have a good alibi.” But a murderer who was cleverer still might say to himself, “Everyone will expect the murderer to provide a first-class alibi; therefore, the better my alibi, the more they will suspect me. I will go one better still; I will provide an alibi which is obviously imperfect. Then people will say that surely, if I had been guilty, I should have provided a better alibi. If I were a murderer myself, that is what I should do.” ’

3. After a further interval came a large and steaming tea-pot, a home-baked loaf, a plate of buns, a large pat of butter and two sorts of jam. Finally, the landlady reappeared, escorting the ham and eggs in person.

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