Friday 28 November 2014

IndiaMART, Irrfan Khan and 'Kaam Yahin Banta hai'

I saw this video featuring Irrfan Khan today, because everything featuring Irrfan Khan becomes a must-watch!  

There is a story behind this video. With the core message of ‘Kaam Yahin Banta Hai’, Irrfan is a part of a new brand campaign by India’s largest online marketplace, IndiaMART. 

IndiaMART offers extensive opportunities to buyers across the globe by giving them easy access to sellers from an array of product categories. A simple login and buyers can ‘meet’ niche sellers that they are looking for. 

As a well-informed new-age employee of a manufacturing house, Irrfan is confident that all his key requirements can be fulfilled through IndiaMART effortlessly - whether it involves ordering of fabric, office furniture, buttons used in manufacturing of shirts, or even air conditioners! And the ease with which this is possible is amply clear in the video. Finding who you are looking for is like casually playing your favourite tune on the keyboard. That’s how Irrfan does it, and who better than him to lend his realism to the brand, with an extremely effective style of communicating messages and making a connect with the common man to convince him that ‘Kaam yahin banta hai’.    

The focus of the campaign is the new age buyer, who likes hassle-free buying – both to fulfil his business requirements and personal ones too. The campaign has been conceptualized by McCann, and the 360 degree initiative is set to integrate Print, TV, Radio, Outdoor and a digital mix of social media – Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. 

In keeping with the hashtag trend, a massive digital campaign was held around Twitter and Facebook page of IndiaMART, asking people to share their favourite #aaramkitune (tune that relaxes them the most). Thus, IndiaMART created the longest playlist of Aaram ki tunes. The contest was a precursor to the main TVC, where Irrfan Khan plays his aaram ki tune while buying through

Sumit Bedi, Vice President – Marketing, IndiaMART, is thrilled to roll out their first multi-media campaign, “which focuses on increasing the brand awareness for IndiaMART, and also aims at establishing a stronger connect with the buyers. According to a recent global research, businesses spend 52% of their time in identifying the right business partners. This is where IndiaMART comes into the picture. A move in this direction, the TVC seeks to highlight the fact that IndiaMART allows buyers to shorten the time they spend in doing the same and find genuine sellers with help of just a click.”

Kaam yahin banta hai’, portraying ease of buying and convenience, perfectly captures this essence of IndiaMART. IndiaMART hosts more than 15 lac sellers and over 3.5 crore products. It has been successfully helping millions of buyers fulfil their needs, with over 2600 employees located across 40+ offices in the country. Its existing investors include Intel Capital and Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.

Says Aneesh Jaisinghani – ECD, McCann Group, “The TVC is targeted at the smart buyers who are looking for a much reliable, quick and effective solution for all their key buying requirements. It establishes the fact that IndiaMART is their first choice”.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

On Cyrus Mistry’s ‘Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer’

I read 'Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer' some months back. And in those months passed I have confidently recommended it to readers like myself. Then why have I not already put these thoughts together about a book that my husband led me to and which shone like a special sea shell found among the many lining the shores? Perhaps, I did not want this to sound like just another review - following a pattern and trying to make one in the readers’ minds. It may still do both, but my aim is to confess my love for this piece of writing. And all confessions require some making up of the mind. Thus, delay excused.

I pick a line from the book to tell you what the book is about: ‘a sad (and obsessive) investigation into the heart of impermanence’ and metaphorically set in the Tower of Silence. 

This is the story of Phiroze Elchidana, the son of a Parsi priest who falls in love with the daughter of a corpse bearer, Sepideh. By all man-made standards of purity our communities live by, Phiroze becomes the son his father never hoped for. Shunned, he lives the life of a corpse bearer, a ‘Custodian of the unclean’, to feed his family. The story is Phiroze's bildungsroman and circles around this microscopic Parsi community which he chooses to become a part of and which not many of us know about.    

If you think bare-naked depictions of want, of loss, of death and its surrounding hypocrisy make for a "heavy" subject, don’t read this. But if you want to be touched by the beauty these very bleak subjects can come clad in, please do. Don’t get me wrong because I don’t mean fineries. I mean that note of the softest of songs which carries power enough to make you sway. No … loud grandeur, but a prose written with the deftness of effortless art; enough to make you cry at the deprivation portrayed while yet making you enjoy every bit of the description of it all. Not entirely guiltless enjoyment, but then what can you do if good writing makes you enjoy reading about another’s pain? 

But it isn’t about pain alone. A thought that catches Phiroze often, to do with his Sepideh, goes thus:

The conundrum that lurks behind sexual joy, perhaps behind every form of ecstasy: that ultimately there’s nothing to satiety but emptiness, something not far removed from the void of despair.

And in no real hurry (because the book does not want you to) you realize that this juxtaposition of joy and despair, of satiety and void, of ecstasy and emptiness is the very idea that this book is created around. The idea of Blake’s ‘contraries’, without which ‘there is no progress’ and a certain ‘marriage of heaven and hell’, to freely borrow from dear Blake. 

So in this book you will find all kinds of beliefs being questioned, including the one in Life itself. Yet, some are affirmed too and especially at the end of the book. The subtle juggling of opposite forces find a face not just through characters and their thoughts but also in the imagery and symbolism used in the book.

You will notice the Towers of Silence, symbolic of death, are actually surrounded by a lush, fertile garden reminiscent of Eden and where love grows, gets married and bears a child. At the same time, the irony of the pariah life of a corpse bearer being even worse than death itself will not escape you. Thus, Doongerwaadi Hill, the estate of the Towers of Silence, is where Phiroze begins ‘to spend all my time in the sanctuary of its woods’ in order to escape his father’s wrath for ‘childish extravagances’ defying rituals, in the sanctum sanctorum he was the head priest of. 

Except in the last few scenes, where the faith of love makes us see ‘something that flies completely in the face of rationality’, throughout his life Phiroze's relationship with ritualistic beliefs borders on rejection. As a child he finds them humorously confusing, twisting mantras his mother works hard to make him remember. As a teenager he qualifies his narrative about accepted beliefs with ‘or so it is believed’ and sees his father’s priestly activities as ‘a grim religiosity, a credulously ‘scientific’ approach to spirituality’. As an adult he has seen through the ‘smell of piousness’. Yet, at various points you will find him musing whether all the cruel ‘twists and turns of fate were not simply meet punishment for a fatuous giggler … in the face of the divine’ (that he had been all his life). 

However, nothing dilutes the primary portrayal this book aims at, that of ‘the horror of contamination our (Parsi) people are susceptible to.’ Which brings me to this. Mistry’s book is a bold, unflinching depiction of the Parsi community and its obsessive ideas of clean-unclean, living-dead, and those somewhere in the middle, the ‘nussesalar … a glorified untouchable’. Nussesalar? ‘Who performs his duties scrupulously, forever escapes the cycle of rebirth, decrepitude and death. What the scriptures forgot to mention, though, is that in this, his final incarnation, his fellow men will treat him as dirt, the very embodiment of shit.

What will make you cry as you laugh is the easy, humorous talk of the corpse bearers, that bunch of friends and foes who ‘clean and swaddle (corpses) for the banquet of the birds’ because of the ‘squeamishness and ingratitude’ of the Parsi community. Like the graveyard scene from Hamlet, parodying death with laughter, the most poignant philosophy will stem after drinking from bottles that stiffened thighs of corpses held between their legs. It is a life so devoid of respect that sexual molestation by another man makes Phiroze feel ‘more human' because the molester saw him as ‘more than some cadaverous unclean thing’. It is a life where, ‘you have no rights, certainly no right to feel hungry’ especially when you are suspended because you fainted out of sheer hunger and exhaustion and let a corpse drop to the ground while carrying it. Towards the end, the ‘legalistic shilly-shallying of the reformist faction’ of Parsis leads to a tragi-comic fate of a corpse who wanted to end up a certain way but is denied even that. 

At two points in the book Phiroze calls his narration faulty. While he questions his memory as an old man narrating his life’s story, we wonder if this is Cyrus Mistry’s apologia-of-sorts for showing us his community in such starkness. Or is it just a way to escape censure, standing behind his protagonist? While it is difficult to believe if it is either of the two, it also fails to matter because the book is what it is. Each character is flesh and blood, each emotion strikes a chord and every irony spoken is like a hammer on the last nail. The final one being that ‘vultures have become extinct, even before Parsis could’ and one that rings not just with laughter but with the loudness of discomfort too. 

Some lines which refuse to leave me - 

'Do you seriously believe you won’t need me one day? Astride those emaciated shoulders rides the ghost of a corpse. You don’t see him now, but it’s only a matter of time, believe me, before your blood turns to ice, your limbs harden like wood. Then, ask yourself, will your near and dear ones wash and clothe you for the final goodbye? No, sweet man, you’ll have to depend on one of us. And then, we’ll rub you all over …' 

And a parting thought to begin your day with, or maybe a note to read after the sun sets:

At all times life demands from one courage, and perseverance. Humour, too, perhaps wit and discretion as well … without a grain of each of these, I’d certainly feel crushed by the monstrous encumbrance of an incoherent and meaningless existence.’
- Phiroze

['Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer' by Cyrus Mistry is an Aleph publication.] 

Thursday 20 November 2014

Book Review – He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him by Shikha

Shikha’s book ‘He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him’ is not about cricket. As an Indian, I thought it my responsibility to make that clear right at the onset. What the book is about the cover should amply tell you. If not, turn it over and read the blurb. For some reason, the main story line has been included in it, enough to have made me wonder at multiple points why the gist-with-the-twist was made public. Not everything that’s between the covers need come out. 

The book is a hate-to-love story of Shreya and Kunal, living and working in New Delhi and Mumbai, respectively. Matched through a wedding site and arranged by the families, the ceremony takes place in fast track mode only to come crashing down on Shreya’s head on the wedding night. That is when she realizes who Kunal really is, because that is when she sets eyes on him for the first time! A flashback away we realize they share a dirty past which neither is ready to forgive and forget, fixing the marriage being Kunal’s way of getting back at her. The book goes from festival to function to board meeting to festival again to show how the ‘husband’ and the ‘wife’ gradually get to know each other, enough to not just forgive the past but also to ‘rise in love’.  Shikha surrounds the hero and the heroine with enough characters to help take this main plot-line forward. 

Now, I take chick-lit very seriously, and have learnt to ignore men who think it’s only lit by a chick. As a genre, chick-lit is supposed to be an opportunity to write about women’s roles and relationships, aspirations and even their everyday. Of course, in a light-hearted manner and with an eye on mass appeal. Thus, the implied battle of the sexes in Shikha’s debut book’s title got me interested and the ‘She Fixed Him’ made me rub my hands in anticipation. This also marked my primary expectation from the book – that of a well-created female protagonist reflective of her creator’s own mind.

So …

I like how Shikha has trained her writer’s magnifying glass on the middle class marriage scene in India. Chapter 1, in some ways, is reminiscent of the first scene of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. We see Mahesh and Sandhya, Shreya’s parents, worrying over their ‘marriageable' daughter’s ever-increasing pay package. Since she is too qualified, Kunal is celebrated as ‘no less than heaven-sent’ by them.  While prospective parents-in-law talk, Shreya’s brother’s wife, Aastha joins in the chorus with ‘we must make sure Shreya doesn’t hear it until it’s nearly pucca’. In the meantime, Madhav, Shreya’s brother, asks Shreya to relax when she reacts to being ‘put on display on a matrimonial website’. He says, ‘you’ve got to leave it to us to find a good match’. Everything here is as it still happens in countless homes, and at this point Shikha impresses us with this realistic portrayal. This portrayal, however, eventually becomes disturbing.

What Shikha has also managed successfully is to give this book a movie feel, which instantly takes her novel into the mass-appeal category. I may not fully be a part of the ‘mass’ I speak about, but I can see how happily this ‘love story’ will be received by those who like happily ever afters. The days of dramatic reckoning that Shreya and Kunal spend as man and wife are seeped with emotional outbursts, dialogues, celebrations and temple visits straight out of Karan Johar flicks from the 90s. We have a gala Reception, a Karvachauth, a Mata ki Chowki, an ‘iconic dialogue of Kajol’ from ‘DDLJ’, a hero desperate to ‘make it happen that night’ and pulling shirt buttons out for his wife to sew, a man being the boss with his wife in office, a nick-of-time drive to the railway station to stop her from leaving and a swanky honeymoon to bring it all together. There is a short steamy performance in a satin nightdress too. The free-willing role that parents and even extended families play in sorting our very personal marital issues has also been duly portrayed in a good-humoured way. In short, the book is full of exactly the masala that we like to watch on the silver screen, and which I think will contribute to the enjoyment factor of this book for many readers.

Helping this is the language used, which is meant for easy reading, without working hard on descriptions of the pretty kind. You may notice the fickle use of Hindi terms like ‘bhai sahab’ in some places and ‘ma’am’ in other similar contexts, errors like ‘reverted back’ and the biggest word of the book ‘bellicose’ strangely in Sandhya’s mouth. However, the language remains simple and unpretentious and extremely suitable for the story of the book.

But then …

Since the blurb educates you about everything the book has, you expect some memorable moments and characters to go home with. Memorable moments there are, but beyond the song-and-dance growth of true love are some very thought-provoking character portrayals. Call me an over-thinking over-reacting idiot gunning down the romance here, but I am nothing if I have not leaked every drop in my mind. Here are some things which baffled me. 

Shikha’s book began on a note that reminded me of Austen’s classic, but while in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ the characters rose beyond their times in order to mark a break from regressive thought through intelligent thinking, everyone in this book seems to enjoy the time warp. So much so that at many points of the book I failed to realize that this was one written by a professional working woman in the 21st century. 

Shreya agrees to Lasik surgery because Kunal tells her in their first meeting that he doesn’t like spectacles. She readily agrees to Madhav’s advice that ‘you should look more like your profile picture … not to disappoint Kunal’. Later, when Kunal gives her a list of sadistic vows to follow as his wife, she is ‘terrified’ and as a classic case of feminine guilt, decides to suffer it out and ‘remain deaf, blind and even dumb’. Why? Ex-IIM, liberal-minded and scared of a man who wronged her first in the past and is even now being a rogue? Would you have room left for ‘admiration for Kunal’s expertise’ at work if he treated you like a pariah at home? 

Mid-way, she finally decides that he needs to know what ‘being a Woman is all about’. What does she do? Apart from being sassy, Shreya changes her wardrobe to ‘ATTACK!’ Kunal’s senses with her irresistibility. (Even the author calls her ‘correctly dressed’ on a certain card party day after she has modernized her look.) Why is it only her ‘battle half won’ and to be won fully? Why does she need to get irresistible for him? And Kunal’s reaction? A helpless man with a cushion pressing down in his lap! While her ‘selfless and pure love’ makes Kunal ‘rise in love’ and see his wife for what she is, we realize his temper problems and impulsive behaviour have been temporarily tamed and generously excused. All in all, both of them may be ‘qualified’ but they do not come across as mature. Why else would they work thus to resolve a problem that was just a hammering-away-the-past bedtime discussion away? 

To be honest, I really liked Saloni, Kunal’s model ex-wife who he finds ‘immature’ for wanting to continue with ‘stupid assignments … at least respect the fact that you are married now’. She seems to be the only woman who wants to work, sees nothing wrong with smoking or smoking hot clothes, sticks to her own ideas of self and seems in with the times that the readers of this book live in. By showing her a typically scheming vixen in the end I thought Shikha did not treat her right. Sandhya as a mother was well-done, except the unnecessary impolite-streak that she was given at Shreya’s new home. Some of the scenes between mother and daughter were touchingly done. 


I realize that a lot of ideas which don’t sit well with the kind of women I know on various media and fora are not just being portrayed but also endorsed in the book. While the story is filmy and may entertain, none of the characters shine through - neither in wit nor in intelligence. Perhaps Shikha did not want to add an element of seriousness to the book by making bare their real mental conflicts to do with something as serious and as life-changing as marriage. She does add a preachy note on relationships in the last few pages, and acknowledges God ‘as a perfect match-maker’ making you wonder if she means the match-making and travel sites that the book is advertising, and the role of a plush honeymoon in getting two hearts together. 

Shikha aimed to write a light-hearted love story with a happy ending, and if you can ignore what my over-thinking nutty head could not, it will be exactly that for you – an easy, filmy, happy-go-lucky ‘love story’.

Title: He Fixed the Match, She Fixed Him
Author: Shikha
Publisher: Vitasta

[This review was commissioned by the author. All views are my own.]

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Winter Sun

I began typing this sitting outside my son’s school, waiting for it to get over for the day. As always, I was the first parent to arrive, because I am yet to get over the look in his eyes when he sees me as the first person at the classroom door. Before any other ma or papa or driver uncle. I like it that way, so I make sure I leave home a little early and catch his face lighting up before the crowd catches up with our special moment.

Today, though, I was exceptionally early. There were 65 minutes to go before I could get up from this plastic chair under the tin shed and walk up to his class to take him home. Who knew the part of the Ring Road that was squeezed by the Metro workers for months would be thrown open to traffic. What a relief really to have a full road, but still … how much can I just sit and look around now? And look around at who? Or what?

But then, have eyes had time and had to look around. 

The recess had just got over. While the bell announcing the end was met with a loud uproar, a sudden silence was descending over all visible parts of the school. Much like how a dry dupatta falls off the clothes line on the first floor and comes gliding down. In no real hurry but getting there. The silence. The breeze felt nippy. I tightened my stole around my shoulders, hid my hands inside, and re-crossed my legs for the 14th time. Some minutes must have gone by, when I heard a screech loud enough to make the bus driver in the far corner of the parking area turn, and make me look up from fidgeting with my phone.

The guard at the main gate had dragged his chair two meters away from the post and was now sitting in the sun; the metallic letters on his shoulders making tiny reflected moons on the nearby tree. And his face? Gloriously snug and warm. Seconds later, as if it was a sign I was waiting for, I did the same. I shifted my own grey chair right on the shadow line where the tin roof’s shade ended and a sea of sunlight began. 

To describe what I felt when I re-crossed my legs for the 15th time, this time in the sunlight, is impossible for me. It did not feel like first love, no, but certainly like the first warm kiss of the season. I knew that the dark blue top would absorb too much too soon and I will have to relocate, but who worries about teething babies on their honeymoon night itself? I still had a lot of time on my hands, but at least my hands were in the sun now. I looked at them. I ran my left thumb over the slightly visible veins on top of the right hand. Like a ship breaking through pieces of ice, tiny brown wrinkles of collected skin formed. Dryness, despite the lotion. That’s when a scene from my childhood scooped me away from the present …

It either used to be petroleum jelly, which one of her NRI sons brought for her, or mustard oil. Most of winters you would find her rubbing either of those on her arms and feet. My grandmother. My dad’s mother who would enjoy the winter sitting on a folding bed in the tree-lined back yard, and always in the sun. More than the gold bangles it was the patterns on her wrinkled skin that held my childish attention. If I think now, I would say they looked like hexagons made from the most delicate glass. They shone so bright. So thick the layer of oil, so thin the skin. Once done, she would call for her sacred book and its exquisite wooden stand and go oblivious to the world around her, a world which was making its own life around the winter sun.

The older children, with their backs towards the brightness because young girls just didn’t want to get tanned, would be busy with their school books. Winter holidays never came without home work! One of us from the middle rung would be seen helping an aunt spread the orange peels and amla slices on newspapers. To dry. In another sunlit patch, empty plastic jars would sit agape, to be ‘dry-cleaned’ to hold this winter's pickles. Pickles too would be basking in their preserved glory a safe distance away from the two youngest imps throwing mud around, digging the flowerbeds and burying broken idols hoping for a temple to grow. At least one pair of just-washed sneakers would lean against a wall, snoozing in the sun, much like the writer of this post would right after lunch and just below her favourite mango tree, with a shawl on her head because some falling leaves can have tiny bugs on them, plus those fruit flies ... 

There was so much happening in the Sun back then, that the Sun just couldn’t have got bored for the day. Today, I sit wondering here in Delhi - where is the time, the space? Where are the people? And where is the full blown winter sun to enjoy? And then I answer myself – I think we bored the winter Sun away. Because even when we have such moments of free time on our hands and a bright sunny sky, we just don’t know what to do with them. 

Maybe, those bright patches of yellow sneaking in from our windows and doors or catching us unaware outside offices and schools are just asking us to see. To look closer, even if at our own hands. For who knows what streams of thoughts, what journeys into the past are waiting to happen. What bonds asking to be re-lived. And what stories knocking up there, hungry to be told. Spontaneous ones … told just as they come to mind, like this one here. Unedited for now, but a polished version of it waiting especially for him, for bedtime tonight. 

Him. My son. The one I was the first to pick, today again, and around whom my life now revolves. My sun for all seasons to come. 

Monday 17 November 2014

Striking Good Health

I recently saw this video ‘Striker Strikes Back by Manu Singh’. Sunfeast is running a “Health is fun with Farmlite” campaign, and this short film is a part of the Farmlite Bytes Film Festival. Sunfeast Farmlite is the new cookie on the block, from ITC foods - a health-packed combo made with oats, wheat, almonds and raisins. Just imagine biting into one on this beautiful wintry morning in Delhi. Yum!

But first, the video … 

Love at first sight it was when I saw good old Carrom making an appearance thus. I played this game donkey's years back, in times which were free from gadgetry and full of at least four free kids from the neighbourhood who wanted to ‘strike’ around and win the pinky Queen. As if that was not enough to jettison me down memory lane, the voice over in the sepia-coloured video reminded me of those conical shaped carts cycling around and announcing anything from the circus in town to the latest Bollywood flick running in the cinema hall. If you watch it you’ll see it’s quite a creatively done video.

What is even more creative is the way our Carrom is used to make a point – about Health, and how fun activities can make us fitter and more efficient at the tasks we have set our hearts to do. It takes the 82 kg striker, who is lovingly called Dubey ji, three attempts to get the Queen, despite the ‘tez shuruwat’. The Queen sits lamenting with an ‘Offo!’ as to when Dubey will get fit enough to deliver her from the black and white coins which surround her. Dubey ji does get fit, for after all he has ‘exercised’ three times over to reach her, in the warm-up process going from 82 to 72 and finally potting her.

What an innovative way to drive home the point that getting healthier can be made fun too. That some activity, any kind, is better than becoming one with the couch and the television remote. 

Take for instance the pot-pourri that my own house is. 

A fussy eater Nursery-goer who only understands taste and not health needs clever clog parents to magic food which looks wow, tastes wow-er but most importantly hides nutrients inside. A husband who for the most part of the day works sitting in one place, but who has married passion and health in the form of cycling. So every morning he paints the foggy streets of New Delhi red, for a score or more in kilometres. And the woman of the house? Well, apart from making circles running around her two boys, she makes sure that she moves her lazy bum enough – whether it is to walk around and read, dance and do her daily chores or to go real dancing with the boys. Oh, and on the consumption of unhealthy foods keeping a strict eye!

In our own ways we find time and resources to keep our bodies well-oiled, which is not to say with dollops of ghee on every chapatti. It’s good to research and know about healthy foods, reject unhealthy habits often passed down as old-age ‘wisdom’, follow a feasible workout regime and not be negligent of developing signs of medical problems. As a parent, it’s heartening to see how parents today are much more conscious of giving their kids the right food. It seems the parenting ideal now includes a holistic idea of good health, and not the deceptive ‘healthy’ by weight. 

Equally good to know is that the food industry is working with similar ideals. For like a wise woman now says – We are all but strikers in a game of carrom. To play our parts, we need to ultimately strike back’.

Right, Dubey ji? 

[This is a sponsored campaign review.]

Réal's ‘Cheer a Child’ Campaign and 'Family Day'

Just before Diwali I wrote about Real Greetings ‘Cheer a Child’ campaign - A campaign across North India where, Real promised to gift one pack of Real to  Prayas Kids

Réal believes in promoting health and nutrition amongst kids, and hosted and organized “Family Day” for the children as part of this very ‘Cheer a Child’ Campaign, in New Delhi. 

What was the day about?

Some families were selected to spend time with the children from the NGO Prayas. The premise of the event was to encourage engagement with the underprivileged children. Interaction was encouraged through fun activities, which included a magic show, among others. Also, two children from Prayas were teamed up with a family each for a team event. The feeling of bonding and togetherness was over-whelming.

‘Family Day’ was planned such that it not only spelled fun and frolic for the kids but became special in very meaningful ways too. 

The day marked a fitting culmination of the mega initiative 'Cheer a Child', aimed at promoting nutrition amongst underprivileged children, the response to which has been nothing short of overwhelming. Real received 80,000 wishes from the entire campaign (through consumer’s missed calls, online pledges and signatures), which meant that it donated as many Real fruit juice boxes to Prayas.

The campaign continues … 

Mr. Singhal, Dabur India Ltd Marketing Head-Foods, believes the campaign has had a long-lasting effect. ‘We are proud to be able to put a smile on the faces of these children year after year. Beyond a family day out, we certainly hope that this event will make a positive impact on their lives’, he said. Mr Amod K Kanth, General Secretary of Prayas and former Chairman of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights also said, ‘Prayas JAC Society and its more than 50,000 children across nine states/UT’s of India wish to convey sincere thanks to 'Cheer a Child' Campaign of which Prayas feels elated to be the part of and which will spread smiles of healthy happiness amongst our children’.

Thanks to Réal, awarded ‘India’s Most Trusted Brand’ status for 8 years in a row now.

To know more about Real’s ‘Cheer a Child’

Like the Facebook page here 

Follow all the action here

[This is a sponsored campaign review.]

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Speeding cars and my racing heart

Racing is one of my least favourite things. Wouldn’t it be yours too if the only race you ran was in kindergarten and you ran in the opposite direction, all the while thinking you are in the lead? And then crying in front of 2000 parents because you came first and no one gave you a Running Trophy? Good. So, now that you understand my feelings, I can call you my best friend and proceed. 

Ask me to race you in eating hot gulab jamuns or downing beer bottles and I will agree; as long my feet don’t have to move or muscles get used. You see, I don’t like to get tired. I don’t think God ever pronounced ‘I made you in my image. Now go, get tired, man’. Even if he did, he was talking to a man, not the woman in me. Plus, the maximum labour I could undergo was done when I popped my popsicle out. Buss. No more. Not even Popsicles. Finished. Doors closed. Don’t ever ask me, you &%$#$, etc.

However, to watch a pro race is quite something. Especially if it’s on four wheels (or two, but four is more and in Punjabi circles more is gold). Ever since televisions in my house went from buxom to slim-fit, I have been watching, without much knowledge, zooming sports cars racing on tracks on ESPN. Was I waiting for an accident to happen, a car to crash, catch fire, spin in the air and land in the spectator gallery to scream ‘Woah! Tha’ waz cooool’? I will not admit that I indeed was, but understand, dear reader, this half-baked racing fan’s fully baked love for watching mean machines speeding.

That is why I broke my favourite crystal centre-piece with my scream when I saw two invites in my mailbox to the JK Tyre Racing Championship 2014. After all, most first-times are met with a scream and I was a pure virgin when it came to watching motorsport racing live. The first thought that struck me – Is this karma coming full circle? Will a spinning car fly towards me and the driver slap me for all the stunt-obsessed thoughts I watched telly racing with all my life? Thankfully, I was to be in the Lounge, with a thick sheet of glass between me and the ferocious wheels and two lunch coupons in my pocket. Phew and yippee, respectively!

Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida is really huge. Simplistic and wide-eyed as this statement may sound, I cannot get over the expanse that greeted me at 10 am on Sunday morning last. What was once a dot on the map, much like those little dots we cross on the two sides of the highway when going to a noteworthy place, was now an impressively designed structure hard to not stare at and very hard for Nursery-going kids to stare down. 

The sun is disturbing my eyes, mumma. I can’t see the top of the building’ was the gravest problem I had to trouble shoot as soon as we reached. On came the cap and up he came in his daddy’s arms for a higher view of reality, leaving his mother alone to rub her hands in expectant glee. She stopped doing that only when chilled cans of Coke welcomed her in a comfortable viewing space with TVs and a tiny balcony – overlooking the spot where the action begins! Grand indeed this stand was!

But first, it was time for the Pit Walk.

Whoever coined the phrase ‘in the pits’ to mean what it means must never have toured a race track pit. The area abounds with a pulsating buzz of wheels and engines getting prepped to go. Cars, in all their sexy glory, occupy centre stage and each has a crew fussing over every bit of it. Much like princes being readied for a coronation match. Or kings for a battle!

They sit there, those swanky monsters, like panthers without a care in the world. Ready to pounce at the first opportunity but never without reason. In controlled rage, as if, which will only unleash the moment the signal turns green. For now, getting themselves scratched behind the ears but with every angle on their bodies reminding you of the power these sleeping beasts hold within. And the sound when they growl!

What was that? Is it a monster, mamma?’ said he quite perturbed when one of them made the engines roar. ‘No, no, monsters don’t exist. Haven’t I told you that?’ said his mumma, convincing him it’s just a car but secretly knowing them and loving them as hunky monsters, from the very bottom of her heart!

We watched 5 races, back to back. Never met, never even seen before drivers were on a first name basis as I hung like a Juliet from the balcony cheering them on, or going ‘come on!’ watching the TV screen and turning my head as the cars turned. Did my husband mind the sudden surge of heroes in my life, in helmets and racing gear?

Who cares! Did I mind when I caught him waving back at those beauties with foggy eyes, slightly parted lips and like a scene from 'American Beauty'? I am sure I did not! 

Hours went by sped by at break-neck speed, and superb hospitality. Only one problem frustrated the race-lover in me. ‘Can you not set the camera such that I can get a still of a moving car and the moving effect on the still rail, honey?’ There was a tone to my question my beau did not deem fit to take lightly, especially the stress on ‘not’ and the formality in ‘honey’. ‘Just try panning with the focus on the car. That should help.

Yeah, right! He might as well have asked me to ride a super bike, standing. Well, I tried!

Got it!
Still, I loved them when they posed for me standing in one place. All of them, 5 race times over. See!

Oh! The paparazzi. 

Women called the shots!

Oh! I would give my right arm to work here’ said I to no one in particular but knowing fully well that the sudden turn of his head meant he heard me crystal clear on our way to the cab. Shrugged I, ‘What? Oh come on! Not in that black dress, no. Look carefully! Did you notice how many women were employed for every single race? With those jazzy walkie-talkies, skinny jeans, white tees and commandeering the mean machines when they stop or where. And surrounded, surrounded by those racers all the time!’ He didn’t respond, but something told me the flutter of my eye lids got him a little worried. A little. Finally. Needless to say, all 50 kms back home were dedicated to talking about the races, as was what remained of the day.

A friend joked with me if I would be racing on Delhi roads as I go pick up my kid from school now. I think he could, sitting in Bangalore, sense the excitement in this woman's heart. I said no. ‘Racing’ is still one of my least favourite words, when I am a part of one, that is. But ask me to go watch one and I will not refuse. Look below! You think this personified Happiness can ever mean I would refuse another chance?

There's always (w)room for more in this woman's heart!

PS –Just to remind the world that I was very serious about working ‘in the pit’. Psst, don’t tell my husband for now. I’m sure he knows that behind every successful man there is a woman, and around every car racer there's got to be many of them. It's just how the world works. What can we do?

Monday 10 November 2014

The Perfect Game

‘So boring! There’s nothing coming on TV. Scrabble?’ said he with expectant eyes. She, on the other hand, had something else on her mind. She looked at the soundly sleeping baby, bit her lower lip in thought and then finally acquiesced, for now. How long can a game take? Plus, I’ll still have time for mine

He jumped off from the bed, went to the other room and was back in what seemed a second. Like a gladiatorial trophy he carried the green box in his hands and a thick, podgy Scrabble dictionary on top. On top… Uff! Stop it! Concentrate! When was the last time you won? Or even made a 7-letter word? Huh? Gleefully, as if aware already that this game too like most would be his to pocket, he opened the board and smoothed it flat on the bed. With such tenderness he picked the racks and placed them across the board, she just couldn’t watch those fingers any more, without feeling jealous. 

‘Shall we, madam?’ he asked and she wanted to say yes, now, please, right now, on the board, why wait but all she said was ‘Aye aye, Captain!’

Then, it began. The sound of silent thinking or of tiles shuffling in the bag; the click when they were laid as a word on the board, or the click of the tongue at a triple letter poached. His score card soared, like always. Only when by a stroke of chance one consonant and six vowels reared their heads on his rack he strained his neck backwards and she knew it instantly; finally, he’s got tough nuts to crack! 

‘Hey, I forgot our drinks! Be back in a minute. Your turn anyway,’ and off he ran. As if it mattered to her, those few extra seconds, because a Q without a U is like a life without love, unless there’s a free ‘I’ somewhere to couple with it. Qi is a word, isn’t it? I think it is. Should I peep into the dictionary? 

‘With Coke or lemon-soda?’ he called, interrupting, as if he had read her intention. Read my intention. Yeah, right! She said she wanted lemon-soda, for then he’ll take longer and she will plan her attack in the meantime. No. Not just landing the ‘Q’ on double letter or even making two ‘Qi’s. Back-to-back. 

He walked in with a confident swagger of a Scrabble winner despite the bad rack, with the ice jingling in two glasses – one full and grey the other golden and neat. Ah! He’ll need that straight. Wait till he sees what I made. And what I will make, right here, in a little while. Nonchalantly she yawned and stretched letting her strap fall over her shoulder. She let it lie there, the bare shoulder did not go unnoticed by the corner of his eye, but the two ‘Qi’s acted the mistresses demanding full attention. 

‘Oh God! Well played, honey!’ cooed he even before he sat fully, and quickly glanced at the vertical columns of score on the back of an envelope. Those pursed lips and deep-set eyes roving over the numbers told her he was doing the math, mentally. Taking stock of the situation, one slow sip of Bourbon at a time. She smiled wickedly in the lamp light. You fool! You should just have thought of another game then! Today is mine to perfect my way now. She leaned back on the pillow and stretched her legs, letting her toes surpass his knees but not without dropping a caress somewhere along the way. He kept his hand on her foot, rubbed it thoughtfully, still busy thinking of a word-bomb to drop. So him! 

Turn after turn the board filled up, the glasses emptied. Words were now taking longer to make but the edge remained. It could be anyone’s game, he knew that. She didn’t need to care.

Just as he sat down on the bed after getting the third round of drinks, he scrunched up the tile bag to check how many more to go. The bag was empty, except for one tile which would be hers to pick. She noticed that and turned to look at the clock. Aha! Not much longer now

‘What the hell is wrong today? I’ve either had all vowels or all consonants, and now I could open up a shop selling ‘Es’, complained he, as he made a puny ‘E.L.’ in a nondescript corner of the board. She was enjoying this moment, not of victory yet but of reaching it. How I love to see you helpless in a game. Of course, she didn’t say that. That would have been mean, and she wanted to be meaner. So she bent forward, crinkled her eyes and shook her head slowly from side to side ‘Tch tch tch’. He just smiled a good-sport smiled, and drained his glass in one gulp. ‘Ahh! Anyway, pick your tile, miss. The final move. How much damage can you do, after all?’

The tile in the bag read ‘X’. What luck! Just what she needed, but she took her time to do it. Slowly, as if she was making love to it, but more because she was three down and the board swung a bit, she placed it on the triple word. That’s all that was needed. A humble ‘E.X.’ in the same nondescript corner of the board, using his 'E' but snatching 27 points when none extra he could afford to give. The game was hers. 

Only one of them knew if all pieces of Scrabble made it back to the box that night. The board had been pushed to a corner of the bed some time ago by her free arm. Finally! As their moving shadows met on the walls, he had quietly pulled the score card from under her and pocketed the evidence of defeat that he wanted to bin. 

And she had, as quietly, stolen it back from his pocket and slipped it under her pillow, where it later slept satisfied with a pile of tiles that were being hidden away by her ever since this perfect game began. 

What damage can I do, you asked, honey?

The baby slept soundly through the night. 

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was  -The perfect game - You’re set to play poker (or Scrabble or something else . . .) with a group of four. Write a story set during this game. Or, describe the ideal match: the players, the relationships — and the hidden rivalries.]

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Book Review – X Square by Srinu Pandranki

If ever a genre of books was to win a modelling contract on the basis of the votes it got, it would be a Thriller. It’s almost as if aliens in the guise of murder mysteries and detective novels have come to take over the Earth. And even America seems to have no superhero to lead readers to an Independence Day away from this upsurge. However, since we all know by now that the publishing industry too has a demand and supply chain mechanism in place, we have kind of accepted that the young pulse of today says ‘thrill me chill me, even if you have to kill me in the end.’ 

That is why, when Srinu Pandranki asked me to review his book ‘X Square’ I did look up Heavenwards. Then, when I looked back down again, something caught my attention. Srinu is actually a movie director and ‘X Square’ a book adaptation of his critically acclaimed screenplay by the same name. Now that took curiosity to an entirely different level, yes sir! Adaptations between two different media can be a see-saw of surprises and disappointments. Once I knew this plot was a screenplay, I couldn’t keep that aspect out of my mind when I read the book. Was I waiting for a nail-biting, gun-toting, gory, very visual extravaganza being played out in the book? Yes. Did I get it? Let’s see. 

Story in a bullet first.

The book is set in the peaceful town of Palo Alto, California, introduced to us in all its scenic beauty, with a mixed-culture and very low crime rates. That is why, when three brutal murders rock its peace and shock the residents, the best in the police department are called forth to investigate and catch the murderer/s. Shreya Dutt, a tough young homicide detective of Indian origin, teams up with Kevin Holmes - a Homicide Detective now living an uneventful life to plunge headlong into the mystery surrounding the crimes. The book takes us from the grand locales of Palo Alto to shop-lined Chinatown and even to the grimy streets of East Palo Alto. What are we looking for? The seemingly elusive “murder weapon”, rightly called ‘X Square’. Do they find it? What is it, exactly? Do they get to keep it? Well, if you think I will tell you more, I will not!

I read this book in one sitting ...

Yes, I did! Of course, with winters sliding in my boy likes to sleep longer and so that gave me a window to do this. Other than that, it was thanks to two things that Srinu made sure he gave the book – (i) a spectacular visual appeal, and (ii) a continuum of suspense maintained by the narration.

The description of places, people, scenes and situations is so meticulously done that not a detail will escape your mind’s eye even as not a single mention of a button or a bottle will feel out-of-place. For instance, I could see the murdered women with horrific clarity. From facial expressions of characters to movements, photographs to contents of drawers – reading ‘X Square’ was indeed like watching images on a screen, with each image almost never over-done. That it was originally a screen play must have helped. At the end of the first chapter itself, you realize that God is in the details, as is the hunt and the final spotting of X Square much later in the book. 

It is interesting to notice two ‘voices’ in the book propelling the story – the narrator’s and the character-speak. The narration is kept taut and tense for the most part of the book, which doesn’t let suspense sag. Each chapter is often divided into short scenes, and much like in a movie we move – scene to snappy scene, clue to another maze. Throughout the investigations, Kevin and Shreya are ‘only working on suspicion’ even though ‘all the three accused have left their fingerprints all over the murder scene’. With this as the premise, all information is dispensed to the readers much like a syringe administering medicine –gradually and without knowing when the prick is coming. Usually, the prick comes as the last sentence of a chapter, compelling you to read further. 

There is a bit of word-play involved too, added when you least expect it and adding to the convoluted investigation. For instance, Bruce, one out of the three accused being interrogated yet another time thinks to himself – ‘Well, I’m not telling them anything new. They will not make me crack.’ which could pretty much mean both guilty and not-guilty. That each of the murdered has a friend as an accused, and that each accused earnestly keeps repeating ‘I don’t know. I don’t remember’ creates three parallel sub-plots ultimately connected by the X-factor Kevin and Shreya are looking for. While motivations for the three seemingly unconnected murders are nothing but human emotions gone awry, why they went awry takes the book on a ‘super natural’ tangent; enough to make us think if the masked intruder ransacking houses is actually a ghost!

Even after the two detectives have discovered what X Square is, Srinu is in no hurry to reveal it to his readers. We continue in suspended suspense, and much like Kevin who ‘was happy with himself. He was making remarkable progress in the case, or so he thought’ sit we, on no solid ground, knowing Srinu by now and also knowing at every thread tied that ‘This might have been the climax. It surely is not the end’.

That is, up until the identity of X Square is revealed.

After that, the book flips on its head and everything I just said falls apart.

… which doesn’t mean it’s perfect!

All good things must come to an end. With the book ‘X Square’, they did for me soon as I was told what X Square was, just a few chapters before the end. Interesting as the revelation of the concept may have been (forgive me for calling it a ‘concept’ since I cannot say more) the book itself wanes into damp action scenes and over-explanations so reminiscent of Hollywood that you no longer feel interested in reading any further. The tight and intelligent depiction of the investigations was a smooth balance achieved between book and screenplay. The action bit seemed a bit of a literal translation of the latter, adding a sense of big-screen typicality to a book that was proceeding so well. As for the closure, The Thing going missing suddenly shows the author too desperate for a sequel.

Then, while Srinu created each character (and there are many from various cultures and races) in such painstaking detail, along with their individual stories, why did he not work hard to make each sound different from the other? Except an African American house maid, everyone speaks the same way, a way either too formal or too homogeneous for a cultural melting pot that US of A is. I found this amiss with the characterization. Say, ‘no point crying over spilt milk’ is not something I would say to a co-detective after an intruder steals some very important files right from inside the police room, and in the heat of the investigations. I never thought I would ask this question, but where be the slang, dammit? 

Silly mistakes which seemed to be made in a hurry (by the author, editor or auto-correct?) spring up a few times in the book. ‘Shreya gave one last look at the crime scene’, ‘those little followers of him’, ‘made a well neat family’ and ‘please, answer only to the questions you are asked’ being some of them. Not too many to be a big bother, but there, in case you can spot them! 

Yet again I think …

… as to why we love to associate contrabands and exotic concoctions, gun-toting and mindless crime with the orient or with the Dark Continent. Likewise, do crime fighters have to be white? Of course, Shreya isn’t (perhaps because the author is Indian?), but the book’s bent towards reinforcing stereotypes (as do most movies!) is visible. If the colour-scheme was reversed, even if for a day, what a trailblazer such a book could have been! 

Srinu added exclusivity to his story ‘X Square’ by placing his serial murder mystery in a place where it is least expected, because 'the murder rate has declined to a low of just 11 murders in the last decade. According to police records, there are 15 registered sex offenders living in Palo Alto as of February 14, 2014’, as the introduction tells us. Though Srinu did well in how he made this a visual entertainer with a gripping story, he failed to give ‘X Square’ the X-factor to make it an unconventional thriller among the many being written in recent times.

Title: X Square

[The review was commissioned by the author. All views are my own.]

Monday 3 November 2014

Masters in my Room

With a loud ‘Oh God!’ I begin this post, as serious as it may be,
An invocation you may call it, or frustration, to put it simply.
I stood before my book shelf watching spines just newly born,
Thinking what my favourites think,  the ones now dead and gone.

From one genre to the next I went, (did I pronounce that right?),
To talk to the masters about book trends, and what was on their minds.
To see how books and writers have evolved into something new,
To see if we have grown new wings or bid them a quick adieu.

I noticed in a corner Chaucer stood with a knowing smile,
Could he have read the latest Humour best-seller on the vine?
He shook his head from side-to-side, confused me, then he said,
Winne whoso may, (my child) for al is for to selle.’

Amused I stood musing, when Dryden to Pope did say,
An immortal War with Wit’ wages the King of Satire today.
All Arguments, all arguments, but most his Plays perswade,
That for anointed dullness (nothing more), he was really made.

Just then lovelorn Donne glided in, and a hand by his heart did lie,
Was this about the Love story readers swooned over, now swore by?
While I just managed to write an Elegie, to my Mistress Going to Bed,
Such love the writers must now know, to bring lovers back from the dead!

The talk of Love disturbed his reverie, by the gurgling stream,
In walked Wordsworth, took a seat, ho-hummed to then proceed-
What Love you speak about, I just know not what you mean,
No trees, no sun, no Abbeys divine, of Nature books are clean.

So many Thrillers abound today, who has space for a cherry tree?
Shakespeare looked as if he knew, adding mystery to the scene.
Oh mercy, droppeth from the Heavens now, and fall upon her head,
I saw that book’s end coming right after line 1, page 1 was read!

Kundera’s political eyebrow shot-up in brave support,
Kafka in complete profundity said reading's ‘a trial’, no more.
Amitav Ghosh and Anathamurthy in a whisper together said,
Heads bent, shoulders down, a frown and then ‘Is literary nearly dead?

While Lawrence winked and asked ‘So, they think they know all about sex?
Premchand, Manto and Chugtai moaned their own legacy’s death.
Virginia Woolf woke-up from her dreams, only to think anew,
Why have writers closed all windows in what was once a room with a view?

In flowing robes Homer sat till now - quiet, blind, unseen.
Till he roared ‘How epic! How epic! This glorious sea of mediocrity!
Yeats wanted the gyres to turn, a ‘Second Coming’, a beast we need,
But Eliot, out of patience, shouted ‘Shantih Shantih Shantih’.

From me alone with my book shelf we had grown to quite a few,
Confirmed it was that Classic once may never again come true.
Alas! They vanished, one-by-one, those masters from my room,
‘Oh God!’ I sighed with loss once more, before I picked up the broom.

What you see below was a wise young owl, creative and with craft,
But in such pressing hurry to print, this smile he called his art.
What happened next is sad, so, so sad oh tragedy abound!
Just a wide-eyed face was left of what was once a wise young owl.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - It builds character - Tell us about a favorite character from film, theater, or literature, with whom you’d like to have a heart-to-heart. What would you talk about?]
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