Monday, 29 December 2014

Book review - Sita's Sister by Kavita Kané

Kavita Kané titled her latest mythological fiction ‘Sita’s Sister’. She did not call it ‘Urmila’. Why? Could this be Kavita’s way to make our selectively aroused mythological memories acknowledge the presence of the woman who came from such a significant lineage, but lay forgotten under reams of demi-Gods, if not over-shadowed by her sister’s glory? Somewhere, the very act of writing about Urmila becomes rife with the politics of making the silenced heard, much like what Maithili Sharan Gupt's Hindi poem 'Urmila' sought to do. ‘Sita’s Sister’ thus becomes a bravely imaginative way to re-present one of the world’s most famous stories by letting a woman tell it, not in first person (as the blurb misguides) but through her thoughts and travails as penned by the author. 

Any idea of touching-up our sacred epic must stem from an aim, or wherein lies the point of removing the holy cloth from a codified story so many know by rote? Unlike fiction on shelves, this book is not about its plot and its pace, points of suspense and thrill, peaks of narration, twists or even climaxes. Those, we know like granny told us. This book stands distinct for its strong characterization and the larger socio-cultural ideas that find vent through it. Primarily, Kavita Kané re-creates Lakshman’s wife Urmila for us, portrays her relationships, shows the mind behind her 14-year-long fortitude and honestly depicts the various roles she lives or is made to live. 

In doing so two important things happen. One, the story is contemporized to be assimilated by modern mindsets which like to question gender discourses and patriarchal fabrics. Two, the chosen ideas of the original story which are highlighted help universalize the story. Both these happen because of the epical themes Kavita chooses to fill her novel with, and which I would like to elucidate.

Thematic Significance

Making it Human

From the four ‘disarmingly frank’ sisters in Mithila to the three lonely mother-queens of Ayodhya, from brothers inseparable to Kings of glorious kingdoms and from the scheming Manthara to the evil Ravana, Kavita has shown us the humans behind these calendar personae. 

Sita, who picked up the Shiv Dhanush at 10, is a ‘wide-eyed, lovelorn idiot’ on seeing Ram. Urmila enjoys a ‘flamboyant mind’ and ‘irrational bursts of resentment’, falling for Lakshman, the ‘reluctant man in love’. And, ‘probably he was distracted’ when godly Ram broke the bow during Sita’s swayamvar. Lakshman’s introduction of his brothers to Urmila paints them in all their boyish contrasts. When Lakshman decides to follow Ram into the forest, pure human heart-wrenching turmoil takes over, and Urmila, in faux anger towards her husband, wonders ‘would hatred be easier than loving?’ At this point, emotional portrayals of mortal souls supersede the story itself, giving all characters an earthly dimension.

What have also been humanized are character motivations. Kaikeyi’s ‘evil manipulation’ in opportunely asking for the two boons and demanding Bharat’s coronation, the fulcrum to all events, is ‘self-preservation’ according to her. For did not Sunaina admit to her daughters that ‘maternal love can falter’, after all? 

Overarching is an idea of all humanity living parallel lives. The ‘unusually strong bond between the brothers’ is reflected in the one the sisters share. While the men follow their idea of dharma, the women follow their own. Each woman in the palace of Ayodhya ‘was living in her own pain, their chambers their refuge’. Kaikeyi was prejudiced against Sita and Urmila against Kaikeyi, both wrongly. Ultimately, as Urmila puts it, ‘we are suffering in common – love and loss, separation and abstinence. Or Fate, besides having a twisted sense of humour, is quite egalitarian’. 

Fate reminds me … of course there is a larger pattern at work here - Of ‘moments snatched from Fate’ and predestination, auspicious nakshatras and curses, Gods and their whims and demons and their evil. In the most significant of human circumstances, invisible hands of one or the other of these are realized later. As if men are playthings in their hands of a scheme they cannot defeat.  When Sita is abducted by Ravana in the forest, Sumitra says ‘everyone had lost their minds … this was to be’, excusing human error by blaming destiny, something that even the theory of karma is used for in texts like Kalidasa’s ‘Shakuntalam’. 

However, Kavita has successfully relegated fantastical and fatalistic agencies to the background, to keep the focus on those man-made. I liked how Lakshman reminded Ram in this book - ‘don’t blame it so conveniently on Fate, brother’. This makes us see the author’s mind. 

Women-speak, male order and Dharma

While human thoughts and motivations endow the book with an emotional chord, what gives it a revolutionary strength of overturning boulders of patriarchal thought is the voice given to female characters. No, not just to Urmila! 

Women in ‘The Ramayana’ are to ‘reap what they receive, not what they have sown…’ but the women in ‘Sita’s Sister’ are different. Unabashed, Urmila confesses to Lakshman that ‘I am yours … you are not mine’, when she accuses Lakshman’s faltering love as ‘depriving us of our present at the price of withholding our future’. Sita confesses for Ram that ‘I love him … I have to marry him for myself. To make myself happy’. When discussion is rife in Ayodhaya to get Ram remarried, Urmila lashes ‘I won’t have it, Sita’ and Sita adds ‘And neither will I…it should be me who should be protesting the loudest.’ Urmila bluntly questions Lakshman as to why he needs to go with Ram and Sita into exile. ‘Either take me … or don’t go’ is what she screams. Mandavi wows with her outburst at Bharat’s decision to go into exile too, lamenting ‘I am sick of these lofty words … where am I? Who am I? … I feel like a mad caged animal’. Even Sunaina, their mother, ‘would have calmly broken off the wedding, social mores be damned’ if she knew what was coming. Some very strong statements there.

But nothing will come close to Urmila’s confrontation of the elders and ministers in Ram’s hut in the forest, when Bharat decides to do unto Mandavi what was done to Urmila. It is the questions which Urmila raises here that open the debate between the patriarchal idea of loyalty and duty versus the ‘personal’ one of love for women - an idea beautifully treated in Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ and humorously in Aristophanes’s ‘Lysistrata’.

Lakshman confidently pronounces that a ‘soldier does not take his wife to the battlefield’. Urmila stays back. But when Mandavi is to undergo similar years of loneliness, she bursts out - ‘everything, Gurudev, has been personal here, every single political decision’. This is what she says for the ‘royal family … cruelest to its own family members’ – ‘We have talked about all sorts of dharma – of the father and the sons, of the king and the princes, of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya, even of the wife for her husband. But is there no dharma of the husband for his wife? Of the son for his mother? Is it always about the fathers, sons and brothers?’ Similarly, when Ram makes Sita undergo the chastity test, Urmila says forcefully – ‘It was a dilemma of a husband versus the king- who is higher is the moral question.’ It is a question that is significant for epics from around the world!

Countless such examples of liberties taken exist, not just on the part of women characters but also on the narrator’s. The original story is cleverly pinched and tweaked in places to add challenging facets to it and generate fresh perspectives in the reader’s minds. This merging of original with a new version is so seamlessly done that you wonder if it ‘really’ happened, or is it happening only here, through Kavita’s pen. It is this that can make a reader itch frustratingly, and Google the ‘original’ events. It did me! 

Some problems 

The language used in the book is in keeping with its year of publication, not the original’s. Which means, some readers may find conversations between characters too "modern" (though not slangy) and thus unable to fit into the image we carry of these mythological characters through popular media or from the ancient context they have been resurrected from. Usage like ‘being dolled and decked up’, over use of ‘dear’ combined with enough huge words like ‘perspicacity’ sometimes interfered with the impression.

While all successful effort has been made to describe the characters’ emotions and conflicts, the physical description of palaces and chambers seems typically borrowed from the TV version. They lack in grandeur as well as novelty, and keep the book bereft of much royal beauty. Traits of characters, say ‘composed’ for Sita and similar adjectives for Ram, and ‘huskily’ for Lakshman’s manner of speaking are repeated till Kingdom come, as is the mention of the strong relationship between the two brothers. 

And then there is lots of alliteration, which I personally enjoy but which may not strike the right note with every reader.   


Sita’s Sister’ is a courageous re-creation of mythology, which presents us with a subaltern viewpoint. It seems to be written in response to Lakshman’s burning question – ‘O Urmila! Will the world ever know of your inner suffering, your divine sacrifice?’ yet it is not just her version. Every character is given space and voice, even if the author does not let them break free from the fabric they were originally created in, or turn the events of the story accordingly. None is ‘indicted’ by the author just like none is favoured unduly. Perhaps, Kavita Kané intended to erase the black and white idealism that epics are wont to have. So, while Kavita subtly shows us ‘ugly cracks in the façade (of the palace of Ayodhaya) … hiding a lot more than they showed’ she also works us ‘a reminder … of the little evil residing in all of us.’ 

While each reader receives and appropriates this into their contemporary lives, the book will make us rethink even if it won’t make us question what we have lived believing. It will raise the dust, make us examine ourselves – in the man-made scheme of things and also in the larger pattern. Isn’t this what all epics the world over asked of us – Know Thyself? 

A must read, especially for those who like their mythology served anew. 

Sita's Sister is a Rupa Publication, 2014

[This review was commissioned by Rupa Publications. All views are my own.]

Saturday, 27 December 2014

365 Days in Vegas

Once upon a time, a stranger called Jairam Mohan sent me a hello on FB messenger. True to his habit, or fearing I may throw my jutti at him, he came straight to the point. He asked me if I wanted to do the Wordpress Daily Prompt; 365 Writing Prompts with him, for the year 2014. ‘Arrey? Na jaan na pehchaan. And he thinks I’ll shake hands with him and just agree to a year’s writing commitment and company? Banda hai kaun yeh?’ I didn’t say that, though I instantly scrounged his FB profile for naked ladies in orgies and worse, bad grammar. While I found neither, I politely told him the task seemed too daunting to me and Wordpress was to a Blogger what an air plane is to a cyclist. I suggested we rope in more people to keep the prompts/month real. He suggested Sid Balachandran, the cutie pie daddy on a parenting site. I had Rekha Dhyani in mind – sane, sober and sensible.   

Within hours a group chat formally called Project 365 was buzzing and beeping with to-dos, just a few days before 2013 flipped over to 2014. Various social media accounts had to be set, logos designed, invites for guest authors sent and there was no room for even a susu break in sub-zero temperatures. After the namkaran, we four were now a Core Team, and even though we continued to wear our chaddis under our pants, we knew there was a superhero inside each one of us to have signed up for this. A mad, mad superhero!

Mad, because we were four complete strangers agreeing to be faithful to a shared ‘cause’.

Mad, because between families and friends we now had a bunch of prompts to write on every month for 12 months!

Mad, because who has seen tomorrow let alone a whole year for such a massive commitment made public? Oh, the ignominy if one was to quit. And, the extra prompts!

What led me on, despite my husband’s sweetly strict ‘If you join, you should see this to the finish’? That all four of us had the same aim in mind – to write more and to be read even more than before. It is this that made me feel one with Jai, Rekha and Sid and lay to rest my fears that this was indeed not a plan by South India to take over North India but one of pure and secular brotherhood!

And that’s how it remained …

Our tiny chat box was not just for discussing Guest Author posts, our own late lateef ones, asking Jai to write for unloved Open Prompts or Sid to design the world for Project 365. Between good morning and good night, the tiny window became a place we sought, each one of us, to share personal joys or sorrows, troubles or terrific news, or even gossip piping hot in the vine and consumed like hot potatoes. The ‘seen by everyone’ would excite us suddenly, because it meant we were all four there, despite such different day plans and jobs. Oh, I would go to hell if I revealed what all of who all we chatted about but I will say we rightly named our group chat – Vegas (and the new thread Vegas 2.0, since the first one was creaking under its weight). Vegas - because much was supposed to remain in there, as it does. Superhero swear! 

How did the writing go? 

Moods oscillated between ‘Oh! I love this prompt’ and ‘Gah! Someone murder Wordpress, please!’ Somewhere in between were moments of ‘Guys, emergency in family/travel plans/writer’s block. Someone exchange my next prompt, please?’ Every month each one hoped it was their turn to pick the prompts first but there was much order-order in all the chatty disorder, and a discipline sincerely followed. The presence of a couple of Guest Authors each month kept us feeling smug about the trust over 20 co-writers reposed in our Project. So, somewhere between gentle-manners and wildness, workaholic-ism and parenthood, vanity and bossiness, we managed the writing quite smoothly.  And not a day out of the 365 was missed! The pride was enough to make us feel glad that we did what we did. We began with adulation for co-writers and ended up with realizing our own niches and sharpening our own skills. 

Often, friends seemed surprised at my insistence to write for prompts, or even to continue with a Project that, in their eyes, held little value. There was a belief that this was forced writing, and that creative secretions flow best when there isn’t a topic and an impending deadline. But at the end of the day, we all spent much more time writing than talking about it. Somewhere, those 4-5 prompts a month helped – as an exercise in discipline and one in making us make time for what we claimed to be our passion. Only those who have gone through it will realize its value, but then, just how many can for a whole year? A whole year!

Chaddi out or in, it does feel like a superhero feat. To the Core!

I almost forgot … this is my last prompt post for Project 365. It says ‘You’re a Winner!’ which I am in so many ways. It also tells me that I won $1 billion dollars in the local lottery, asking me how I will spend the money.

Honestly? I’d spend all some of it to fly my Core Team to Vegas, the real one. For who else can I thank for leaving me so much richer by so much writing and such good friends? After all, it's not about who became friends first. It's also about who lasted as buddies right till the end.

I will miss Project 365.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - You’re a Winner - You’ve just won $1 billion dollars in the local lottery. You do not have to pay tax on your winnings. How will you spend the money?]

Monday, 22 December 2014

'Coffee?', and then it began.

Six years back we met online, after six years of passing out from the same school. We scrapped and texted, swung between dilly and dally but finally met to conclude over just three cups of coffee that we should get married. We did, but not in the coffee shop. The owner didn’t think hosting our wedding pheras in that favourite cosy corner of ours would boost his cappuccino sales. 

So strange! 

Anyway, ever since and like never before, we have been running coffee-wards when we are happy or low, cold or hot, or even when in the middle of a domestic argument. We turned to a coffee shop much like one would to a place of worship – for calm, for conflict-ridding and for the cocoa, of course. (No, we can’t create the same "feel" at home, or the coffee. Plus, who will make it while the cold war is on?) 

Then, we had a bubba. (In the hospital, of course!)

Some of his first few baby steps were taken, you guessed it, in different coffee shops around the city. Those places offered us not just a comfortable environ for his toddling but also enough cocoa-happy people on the tables around who kept bubba busy with their ‘cutie pie’ antics. Collateral advantage? Me and my husband could hold hands; over the table while passing tiny packets of brown sugar or collecting used stirrers, wiping off drops of condensation or those of condescension for the fight we carried there. 

And this is how it continues to be. 

Why, only this weekend last we went to one of the bigger malls in South Delhi. The annual ritual of posing in front of as many Xmas trees as possible had to be done. While I wanted to live my childhood fantasy of flicking away a big and delicious decoration for my tree at home, the carols in the background kept me holy and reigned in my sinful thoughts. Perhaps, he had read my evil mind, or maybe he wanted to give his credit card a break from my hands ...

Coffee?’ he asked. ‘You need to ask?’ I said, and as if it is now a part of our very genetic make-up we started looking for a corner table (for three, please) to grab. After a long time in a choc-a-bloc shop, when all I could see was the back of his head, waiting for his name to be mispronounced, he walked back holding two very warm mugs with hot coffee inside. ‘They warmed the mugs too!’ and I could see the glimmer in his eye announcing how this meant we would be sitting, sipping hot coffee longer, maybe discussing our favourite author or our not-so-favourite aunt. 

What did our kid do in the meantime? Why, go around saying hellos and getting his hair ruffled in return, of course. It was a lesson taught well a long time back! 

A couple of days after our latest coffee-session I learnt about Starbucks first ever brand campaign ‘Meet me at Starbucks’. It aims at making people log out of their virtual lives and meet, really meet, to form connections and look for ever-lasting bonds. For a person like me, who carries a real-life #HowWeMet story, this is a campaign that makes me believe in its simple premise that good things, or even very good things, can happen when we get together. 

When you do get together, you realise how memories are formed over shared laughter and smiles, and not through fancy emoticons. You realise how, by switching off from our virtual days, you get to experience life the time-tested way, and that being the real way.

And you also realise how stories can lie waiting to be brewed the moment someone says 'Coffee?'

[This is a sponsored campaign review.]

Friday, 19 December 2014

Wipe 'em clean!

A few days back I shared this on social media; something that I saw on a street in New Delhi:

So this man was peeing for 15 seconds behind a tree, after which he emerged looking relieved and wiping his hands with his yellow hanky. (I am assuming there was no tap there) He zipped up his jacket right to the top, rubbed both his cheeks as if warming up for something and then crossed the road to reach Bangladesh Embassy (minor detail, not important). He spoke to the gate guard and used his pen to make an entry in the register. He scribbled for a long time, and then the pen went back into the guard's upper pocket. Before walking inside, he shook hands with the guard, probably to thank him for the information he gave him. The gate guard was gleeful at being treated so well. Someone shook hands with him! 

The same hands which were being wiped clean of something just a few minutes back. I wonder if the pen realised? The cheeks, maybe? The hanky, of course, must be dead already. 

Moral of the story - Go sanskari. Say namaste instead! You just never know, no?

If I knew toilet talk would get me popular, I would make an early morning ablution of it. My update about the ‘travelling hand’ had caught many fancies. A party of men and women gathered in the comments-section to LOL, drop a few ewws, sympathise with the hanky, call men anything from lucky to yucky for using roadsides thus and generally join in the dirty talk. Two goodly men even cared to share the status update, on their pee-free (I suppose) walls. 

Now, while the image of a dirty ‘travelling hand’ is eww it is also very true that lack of time or awareness makes us find quick short-cuts to reach a semblance of cleanliness without a thought spared to those evil troublemakers called kitaanus. Their salivating mandibles wait eagerly for the slightest slip on our ends – putting rotis in a cloth which just wiped the casserole, spray-shining the appliances and then taking the rag to wipe the baby’s toys or even the extreme case of using a hankerchief to clean ‘relieved’ hands, then a sweaty forehead, snotty nose and later food off a toddler’s mouth too.  

Filthy and futile, both. 

That’s where Dettol Multi-Use Wipes should make their debut in your life. There is that dependability on a brand you grew up using (albeit in lesser nice-smelling formats) and that versatility of using it for various purposes, wherever and whenever. The best bit is, they not only protect skin from germs but help keep it germ-free too, without robbing it of its natural protection. As a mother to a Pisces child born with great love for liquids of all kinds, I have found these wipes handy and useful. By the way, they are available online too!

To end on a note that I began on ... I have kept an extra packet in my car’s glove box now. Not just for myself but also for the 15-seconds-men on the road. After all, a filthy handshake, no matter how golden, is also a totally futile one! 

[This is a sponsored product review.]

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Book Review – Chronicles of Urban Nomads

Much like any collection of short stories by different authors Readomania’s ‘Chronicles of Urban Nomads’ is a potpourri … no wait, let’s use an image in keeping with the season. ‘Chronicles…’ is like that packet of assorted Xmas tree decorations with 19 items inside. Some are exquisitely novel, like delicate musical instruments with bob-tails and golden threads. An equal number of pieces somewhat usual, like candy sticks, yet nice enough to hold your attention. A few, however and inescapably, don’t add much cheer to your season (say, the Styrofoam balls didn’t last the journey home!) You wished the shopkeeper was more discerning, or maybe he was giving every item a fair chance, in keeping with the spirit of generosity? That’s a lot of Xmas to begin with, but I hope you see what I mean to say about the 19 stories in Readomania’s latest anthology. 

The editor’s laudatory note calls the collection of stories a ‘psychedelic fabric that wraps around you’, marries classic with contemporary, and which carries an impact much like ‘a punch in the solar plexus’. The note also introduces us to the two segments into which the stories are divided – Imagine, and Musings. While the former rests on Personification the latter contains more conventionally written stories. Now, even if we ignore the verb-noun conflict in naming the sections and think ‘Imagination’ and ‘Musings’ would be more like it, we cannot the fact that both sections are well-connected by a thread we call human life. Either the personified objects are showing us their human sides or we have life-size characters ranging from parents to spouses, lovers to friends and even children. Thus, what connect all the stories are human emotions and experiences, lending credence to the ‘Chronicles’ in the title of the book. 

Favouritism first. 

Four stories stood apart from the rest, primarily because I couldn’t tease them into pieces I would have written any other way. Also because, and more importantly so, all four seemed to have elements out of the five of short story writing – character, plot, setting, conflict and theme – used well.

The sari in ‘Confessions of a Benarasi Sari’ by Ayan Pal was ‘woven to wow’. It is a most well-rounded personification. Ayan has seamlessly reflected on to its purple sheen feelings of misgiving and vanity, desire and pride. The sari becomes inseparable from the character of the woman (or any woman) who is about to tie the knot. Eventually, it becomes symbolic of the groom’s mother’s mind too, thus wrapping within its folds a universal experience of womanhood. The story is grounded in a Bengali setting rife with visual details without interfering with the emotional tug of the story. As an aside, I wonder if my wedding Benarasi will also confess that ‘every single glance of satisfaction caused my strands of desire to slowly weave themselves into a pair of wings and then suddenly, I was flying.’ 

The Blue Slippers’ by Kirthi Jayakumar is one of the most beautifully written stories in the collection. The streams of consciousness of the object personified (not telling you what) are expressed much like thoughts are formed – sans consideration for proper punctuations. This style of writing can be very impactful, especially when not overdone. The story has two parallel plot-lines which converge in the last bit to leave you contemplative, even as it beautifully renders the sad truth of life that ‘one had to be worse off for the other to be better off’. Much like what the personified object in this very short short-story thinks of itself, ‘The Blue Slippers’ is ‘not your average over-emotional case’. Kirthi does not force emotion out of us readers. The story is told standing apart from the characters and action, a technique very difficult to master. It is showing us a picture but is letting us look for reactions on our own. This is good writing.

Rahul Biswas’s ‘Hopes and Promises’ is written around the ‘thick, sticky net of indifference’ that envelops many marriages of many years. With an eye for minute details without making it wordy, Rahul creates a modern, urban milieu of two couples who are living out their marriages feeling ‘brotherly’ concern towards their spouses, but not much else. Apart from the mature theme, the author very elegantly keeps himself from taking moral sides in this conflict-ridden story, even as he gives due “voice” to each character. An inconclusive end leaves you asking for closed threads yet keeps you fully aware that some stories begun just cannot have an end. What remains is a door hinging around both hope and promise.

Finding Mia’ by Roopa Raveendran-Menon will echo in my head and give me goose-bumps for a long, long time to come. It begins on a spine-chilling note, proceeds as mysteriously, nonchalantly disturbs and makes you start when ‘I touch the bark. I hear a shriek. There is blood on my hands. I faint.’ The characters are named Mia, Mina, Myna/Mynah adding to the eerie effect. The whole story comprises short segments which move sans chronology but without obfuscating the plot. In the end, what is most spooky about Mina’s tale is its reality, after ‘the spell breaks’, of discharge from the mental hospital but with stolen pills in the hands. 

Coming in a close second …

There are some stories that I would like to mention for what they have, and the little extra that they could have had. 

A Little Nugget of Fear’ by Deepti Menon personifies the most interesting ‘thing’. It is a story of a woman who gets married and then bears a child, written with this specific context in mind. Perhaps it is the only personification which has a prevalent reality to portray, in a story with a similar aim. The ‘thing’ is well-enshrined in the woman ever since her birth, forever being provoked and finally leading to the penultimate scene - one of a vicarious murderer in a fatalistic twist to the tale and which I absolutely loved. However, what diluted the disturbing impact of the story was its stereotypical characterization. (Also, ‘little’ in the title was unnecessary.) 

EFIL’ by Bhaswar Mukherjee continued as my favourite story, except when it ended the way it did. It is a story of ‘an apology of a man’ WMD living in a tragi-comic domestic setting and trying his best to draw humour out of it. Until he realizes he wants to look for more meaning than domestic chores endow him with. Using his special gift which brings alive inanimate objects around him, WMD seeks to climb mountains to win over the one ‘lady’ he wants to mount, and who is not his wife. But all the effortless humour and modernist setting blew away with a sand storm the moment Bhaswar brought in a conspiracy theory angle. I wish the story a different end next time.

The Wait’ by Akshay Abbhi impresses with the maturity of its premise and the depiction of the very human conflicts that poverty and old age on the brink of death bring with them. It touched me, this very short story, but what saddened me was the absence of a visual appeal and that the personification did not speak its own language. ‘The Last Letter’ by Dipankar Mukherjee is another such story, lacking in the visual but poignant with emotions of a father making his last journey. It’s a grown-up story which makes you feel but disappoints with the way it reveals the only other character, apart from the father, a tad too prematurely.

I would also like to mention Jagadish Nadanalli’s ‘Bachelor and Baby’. An unmarried man treated suspiciously by the neighbours meets an endearingly created 'baby’. The story subtly makes a comment on the discriminatory attitudes of society and how appearances can be deceptive. The simplicity of narration makes the story impactful. Just that, yet again, it ends on a bed of cliché. 

To be fair, I did sit down to list to myself as to why a handful of stories did not find separate mention. I compiled this, almost in the order of appearance – unripe language, simplistic characters, implausible character motivations, strange generalisations, clichéd dialogues, drunk tenses, moral science lessons, plain personifications, old-fashioned/predictable endings, half-baked emotions, hurried narrations and that’s enough use of adjectives by me for this year. Basically, crimes which tend to rear their heads in any heterogeneous group of stories. But did I excuse the punctuation errors scattered everywhere? Not even the jolly season can make me!

Chronicles of Urban Nomads’, much like any anthology showcasing first time writers, will generate mixed emotions. But much like any such anthology, I wish ‘Chronicles…’ is read by many. Quality platforms for giving new writers a chance to be read are few, and their importance can never be stressed enough. I do wish that the book was not divided into two clear sections. When we know story 1-9 are personifications, reading can reduce to attempts at guessing who what is talking, making the reader miss out on the other elements. Such shoe-boxing can lead to greater undue comparisons too. Of course, if you are smart and realize this soon enough, like me, you will interleave stories from the two sections. 

You must read this book, my way or your way!

'Chronicles of Urban Nomads' is a Readomania publication, 2014

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

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Unexpectedly, sometimes. (A monologue)

Unexpectedly, sometimes, I lose them all. 
My inhibitions. 

I washed my hair late in the evening just so I could blow dry it fresh for the musical night-out. Spent extra minutes on the left-of-back part of the head, where a bunch of strands never, just never, rolls in properly. That elusive perfect wedge! Matched my silk scarf with the spaghetti top, contrasted both with the pants. Cleaned the family’s shoes for the evening. Even the son’s shirt, tucked tightly into place. Socks pulled up, teeth brushed. Proper. Everything. The husband did his own bit. The best of South Asian bands were playing at Purana Quila and neat-3 walked into the crowd just in time. 

Oh, the crowd. Madness sans method. The band from Bhutan was going hard rock and the mass of heads around us were banging to the rhythm. Caught husband’s feet in suede tapping, fingers clicking. Junior was taking time to let the lights, the sound, the noise sink in. And the banging heads. Not a care in the world not a hair in place. Not conscious if they looked like maniacs, or even their age. They were with it and with the drunken beams of light. Sunk deep into the moment. (Is this what they call trance?)

A few ticked minutes away it began. A self-conscious swaying of the body, of a 31-year-old mother who felt old standing amongst the sea of youth but wanted to, so badly, live college again. To let go. To, what they call, be. Bass to guitars to drums to trumpet and gentle swaying had matured into the real thing. I looked at him and winked. He smiled saying do your thing. Eyes closed, music in the ears, nothing in the head and feet in air. Thoughts of troubles and troubling thoughts, all gone. And the well-set wedge I spent those extra minutes on? Nowhere to be seen! 

Unexpectedly, sometimes, I lose them all.
My inhibitions.

Are the shorts too short? They’re not if you think they aren’t, said he getting dressed for the beach. Oh, let me just wrap a skirt over them in any case. When I sit they travel up. You care? Incredulous, it seemed to him. To me, in front of the hotel mirror, they seemed like very short shorts. As if my son’s I was wearing! Anyway, we went. Goggles and sun cream and baby food and a wrap-around on a white scooter zooming to Om Café, Anjuna Beach. 

Their chairs were so comfy. We dug some rolls and poured much Feni. My legs remained crossed. Uncrossing meant a slit right down the centre where the skirt played naughty. It flew too much too, that skirt, as I walked with slippers in one hand and baby’s hand in the other on the black rocks lining the sea. The beige shorts kept winking at me, happy to be peeping and showing. Stop leaving my hand, mamma, was his complaint every time I tried minding the skirt into place. What would he understand? My thighs will jiggle and jaggle, an eye sore in this beautiful place, oh why did I have to wear this damn pair. We walked on, the shadows grew longer, and bodies in bikinis appeared for an evening dip. 

Bodies. Foreigners, some Indians too. Most so shapely I wanted to stare and whistle. Others, quite like mine. Some in their twilight, too much bone or too much flab but so carefree. As if boasting to the setting sun with their wrinkled cleavages and bright bikinis that they had lived their lives and loved what it did to them. I had bunched up the slit of my knee-length wrap in my right hand. To keep it from flying. I let go now. It flapped like a bird and my thighs felt the wind, caught the orange light. Weee, screamed he. I tied the skirt around his neck, like a cape. Made him a superhero. Much like how I felt, heroic and free.

Unexpectedly, sometimes, I lose them all.
My inhibitions.

Examples upon examples... 

Of singing aloud at decibels that shiver on hearing my voice. Because he says he wants to listen to Jingle Bells as we drive back from school. He wants it so how can I hiccup? Never before did I hear my voice thus. Always excused myself from wedding singing, or sang in a whisper that even I couldn’t hear. Singing was not my thing. But it is. Now.

Of meeting estranged family after years of blood they call bad, but blood of the same family. The discomfort in the fidgety hands and feet but the comfort of breaking the ice and leaving bygones where they belong. Loud laughter and back-slapping between kin! There is no better way. Actually, there is no other way!

Of dancing on the road in strangers’ wedding baraats, wearing torn jeans and looking like misfits but feeling happy. Turning gaping stares of dressed up people into amused smiles. Hoping for an invite. Just desserts, please, uncle ji? We were poor, hungry hostellers. A second’s nudge from a buddy and hesitation had been thrown to the wind. I had crossed the road. Hands in the air, pumping shoulders, drums all around and soaked in fun. Living it. At someone else’s wedding, that too!

Examples upon examples, still...

Of tightly packed buses, with a pervert right behind and a public totally blind. (Life’s not all fun and games, now is it?) Exchanging stares with a female friend standing close by. Our eyes asking each other, what can we do? Silence. Just bending and looking out of the window hoping to see our stop. And then suddenly, as if the repressed spring decided to stand up, letting go of the wall of tolerance. Turning around and slapping him, the balding face who was someone’s grandfather. Khataak! Finally. And finally waking the public up, to kick him out of the bus.  

Countless more examples. 
Of a life with times when, unexpectedly, I lose them all. 
My inhibitions...

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Unexpected - Unexpectedly, you lose your job. (Or a loved one. Or something or someone important to you.) What do you do next?] 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Book Review - A Pluperfect Gift by Shalabh Bansal

I will be honest. I had to look up the meaning of ‘pluperfect’ before beginning to read ‘A Pluperfect Gift’ by Shalabh Bansal. It means 'an action completed before a specified time'. It can also mean 'more than perfect'. Either which way it suits the book to the t so much that I wonder what happened first – the conception of the story by the author, who then found this appropriate title or the author learning about this beautiful word first and then spinning a story around it.

A Pluperfect Gift’ is the story of Samar and Arisha. Samar is an engineer in the merchant navy and on the verge of taking on a new sailing assignment. A ‘chance’ encounter with Arisha changes the course of his ordinary life in an extraordinary manner, not just because she becomes his beloved but also because of the fantastical battle they have to wage against Time itself. Yes, this love story floats on a supernatural premise, where Love, Life and Time clash towards a climax. I don’t like being so cryptic but saying more about the story would be a tell-all, and even though the devil in me is itching to spill beans I will over power her. Instead, let me tell you my impressions about the book.

Chapter one, ‘The Pills’, instantly bells the reading cats and draws them in. In a little over two pages, the taut narration shows us a man lacing a woman’s drink on a beach and wondering to himself if this could be ‘the last time I lift her in my arms?’ A sense of suspense is built, as readers start guessing as to why what is happening, especially later on to Samar. However, what makes the opening scene so successful is that no one is guessing right. Because nearly at the end of the book, when the scene reappears connected between the dots of the plot, you could never have guessed the intent of the man or the possible scenario. I lost out on the guessing game but I enjoyed the ‘wow’ moment when page 181 connected with page 1.

While I say that the story of ‘A Pluperfect Gift’ is a different love story, I am aware that I say so primarily because it hinges around the supernatural. A few pages into the book and we know, after Arisha has saved Samar’s life, that ‘something was wrong, either with her or with him’. The mystery of the ‘then-and-now time span’ (I’ll say no more) continues well into the book, to be “cracked” by Samar’s Captain and crew aboard his ship. Once I learnt what was happening and why, I remember asking myself to observe if the book slackens, now that the mysterious cat is out. The story does not slacken and the love angle occupies prominence now. Between doctors and hospitals, donors and failing health the story continues, as does the presence of the fantastical.

Fantasy is not the only element which adds the shimmer of extraordinary to the once-ordinary lives of the main characters. The most important ‘accidental meeting’ is through the hand of destiny, ‘which had something bizarre in store’. Nature seems to collude and gusts of wind seem to have a mind of their own, as if aiding Fate in its plans. The spiritual world of soul connections, the little-known world of chakras and the bodily world of hearts inclined towards the right, or those dying a slow death, impress upon the readers the larger pattern of life and death beyond human agency. And all this is contained within a bubble called Time. 

This may make no sense to you right now, but I have to say that I absolutely loved the unabashed celebration of the penultimate pluperfect ‘gift’ Samar gives Arisha, albeit not intentionally. The happy acceptance of it by Arisha is like the final victory of real love over all (social) else. I think that strengthens the author's claim that ‘their love was now far more than just a tale of romance.

But, is ‘A Pluperfect Gift’, the book, more than just a tale of romance?  

The story is unique in its bringing together of various elements, but has it been executed as best as it could have been? I'm afraid not. The basic problem with the way it is written is ‘more tell and less show’. Like an oral narration over the radio; the narrator telling you the complete story and taking it forward. So, even when your ears are interested, the build-up of tension that should follow the direst or eeriest of scenes often does not happen.

That there is not much character-speak adds to this effect of a long (though not boring) monologue. Even when characters do speak or interact, their conversations are too plain to help us create their images in our minds. They may be flesh and bones, but no effort seems to have been made to let them impress us on their own. Shalabh wields the pen that draws them, throughout the book. Perhaps, not letting them run free from his narration keeps them from becoming a memorable couple in the genre of love stories. The book is also remarkably stark of minor characters, almost as if the couple’s families and friends don’t exist at all. This, though, can swing both ways - good or bad.

You will also come across repetitive mention of character traits, facts and details. Often, in the same paragraph the same adjectives (like ‘slippery’) will feature in every sentence. Doesn’t take away from the story, but certainly from the experience of it.

If I was to re-write this story without tweaking the plot, I would add some spectacular descriptions of the sea and sailing ships, more hospital-smell to the doctors' clinics and sublime fear to scenes of drowning in bath tubs. That would help ease the hurry with which the story rolls, especially towards the end. Getting somewhere is important, but how you get there equally so!

There is definitely a story-teller in Shalabh, but the writer in him needs to ripen his skill set. That is why, his debut book ‘A Pluperfect Gift’ remains a sweet love story about love ever after but not one you will remember forever and after. Perhaps rendering it as a short story would have made it cling to your mushy side much more. All said and done, if you enjoy 'magical' love, free from typical social concerns and tangles of match-making, you might like this. The focus is only on those in love, which is a relief to read. The book came to me right after I watched ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. The theme of the inevitable vulnerability of love and of a larger pattern that we cannot control but which governs us had already made a residence in my head. Maybe ‘A Pluperfect Gift’ was read and reviewed with this background. 

Leaving you with two lovely quotes from the book - one about the relativity of time:

Butterflies count not months but moments, and yet they have time enough

and another about the journey of reaching its end, which stands symbolic of this story itself -

It is too common an Error to invert the Order of Things; by making an End of that which is the Means, and a Means of that which is an End.’

A Pluperfect Gift’, 2014, has been published in association with Authors Upfront.

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

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ab Montu Bolega; Swachh Bharat

I introduced you to Montu, with the very handsome face of Saqib Salim, some days back. Remember him? Montu stands for someone who speaks his heart out; you know as they say ‘Khol Ke Bolo!’ As someone who cares not only for himself but also for those around him, he speaks up for what is right, sans hiccups!

Montu was born as the representative of a new initiative on Strepsils “Ab Montu Bolega” – a digital campaign encouraging people to speak their mind with a ‘healthy voice’. The campaign resides on an exclusive online platform The entire campaign is designed keeping in mind the few most important pillars of our society like Education, Women Safety/Empowerment, Environment, Infrastructure, Cricket and many more.

In keeping with the ‘Clean India’ wave that has overtaken social sensibilities, Montu will be seen promoting the idea of ‘Swachh Bharat’ – a drive to make our country cleaner. How will he do that? You will find him talking to the citizens of India, about their role in cleaning India up. Through banners and posters, blogs and videos, Montu will raise his voice against all those who litter publicly, disregard civic sense and don’t spare a thought for fellow-citizens living in a shared geography.

You know exactly who I mean. A neighbor who tosses his kitchen waste packets right over his boundary wall and onto the main road, without a care in the world for the world. Picnickers in public parks who come, play, eat and leave, and leave behind piles of Styrofoam glasses and plates marring the park’s beauty and ecology. Why, even that morning dog-walker who takes his pooch far, far away from his own driveway but spares not a penny or a thought to buy a poop-scooper. Because after all, it’s public property. His home is spic-and-span, so what goes! And to all such fellow-beings and their ‘bad habits’ we often stand as mute observers, even sufferers, as if there is nothing we can do about them.

But we can!

That’s where Montu comes in. He aims to nudge you into action, especially those Indians who see others littering in public but choose to remain silent spectators to this menace. One fine day, we’ll not just have a swachh bharat at the end of the day, but a healthy idea of co-existence too.

Do you have a Montu in you – a fearless and honest being with the will power to keep India clean?

Watch this Video to join Montu.
Find out what's up on -

Horn OK Please

Flashback first. 

It took me only three sessions of professional driving classes spread over 8 years to learn how to drive.

An inspiring image that refuses to leave my mind is of my instructor hugging the door handle on his side. It showed his belief in my abilities; that my confidence behind the wheel would make him giddy … with excitement. He guided me very well, God bless that ex-truck driver. He told me that the roads in the hills will not straighten up just because a tiny, white car is coming. I have to turn the steering for that, know left from khai. He requested me not to put both feet on the floor of the car even when the radio played 'uthey sab key kadam'. He also made sure I understand that driving with the hand-brake up is by no way a safety procedure, that to reach 5 you need to go to 2-3-4 first and that the sequence is always ABC and CAB is only something I should call for whenever I am in the mood to drive (which he did not say, what a kind man). 

To cut a long distance short, I knew my ABC before I hit Delhi roads recently. I had to hit them, because someone had to pick my boy up from school. And I wanted it to be me. 

Just me

I wanted to keep it special. You know, like carrying a “new” toy (from the millions he has forgotten) and keeping it waiting in the car for him. Apple juice or mango juice, maybe a chocolate too. His favourite music ready to help him stay cheerful after a day’s hectic colouring-claying-crafting at school (Oh the burden of Nursery!). To chat with him over the nine kilometers asking what other mothers send for tiffins and thus keep him awake for lunch at home. Most of all, to see his face shine with happiness on seeing me from his class window. Hai! So romantic my idea was of finally being able to personally pick my child up from school. So romantic that it kept out from its loving whorls the reality of driving on Delhi roads. 

The reality.

Now, this reality did not just dawn on me. Within minutes of being behind the wheel, it was honked and honked up my ears because someone’s behind was on fire at the red light. At the red light!

Within seconds, a new Delhi driver like me had lost my virginity. 

I had rolled down my window and let my hand talk; made an air plane gesture. Only. That day I had returned home, with kid and all, and also with a deep understanding that everyone is about to miss their trains and no one wants to miss being the first to reach somewhere, anywhere, even if it meant only the next red light where Audi meets Zen meets tempo meets cycle rickshaw meets cycle meets 100-ka-10 book/tissuebox seller.

That point near zebra crossing being the biggest and the only leveller sans reservation in our country! 

Makes sense?
Initially, it used to take me full 15 minutes to just get out of my community’s gate and turn left towards the main road. Why? Nobody wanted me to get out of my colony! The left indicator went tic-tic in vain. Some drivers coming from the right would speed up suddenly and whizz past because ‘ladies log kyun first, bhai’ their manly monsters used to grumble. Some others started honking from 100 mts away to intimidate my racing car and make it cower backwards. As for turn, O kee honda hai?

There is no ‘right of way’ there is simply ‘stay right away from my way’!  

Silver lining.

As long as the Delhi belly is not pressing on the horn at red lights, those moments of pulling the handbrake and sitting around can be strangely interesting. At least one driver will be singing aloud, tapping multi-ringed fingers on the wheel, looking as much a mute moron from outside as the talkative RJ sounds inside-out. In your rear view mirror you may spot some reapplication of lip gloss in pout-unpout-pout-smile-pattern, but it could also be plucking of chin hair. If you are really lucky, you too may see the uncle ji I did at Naraina crossing once. At 17 seconds counting down, he suddenly chose to get out and stretch in slow motion, after unsuccessfully pulling his pants up properly from behind. The red ticker was counting down and he was still at scratching his balls, patting his Fiat Padmini’s bonnet lovingly and looking around lazily as if this is the echo point between Doon and Mussoorie offering him a view of the valley.

He certainly couldn’t have had a kid to pick! He did have two nostrils for the purpose. That is, just before the world (and me) almost drove over him and his reverie. 

To have an Earth mover raise its arm over your car makes you believe in God
An empty Ring Road without bottlenecks is like a red velvet cake – smooth and fun. Wait. An empty Ring Road? Is like a red unicorn. It’s all in the head, in children’s books or on another planet altogether. Often, bumper to bumper feels like dancing in a crowded disco, wanting to go-go-go all the way since time is ticking but well aware that any kind of bodily touch may not bode well. It happened once though, that touching.

The bum of a Scorpio which said in red ‘brother of ex-Vice President, Mandakini College’ brushed past the bosom of a car with a big redder bow-and-arrow and Sanskrit verses (no German!) on the back screen. A serious looking guy with his chest puffed to gargantuan proportions walked out from the bow-and-arrow, twirling his gold chain with the God on it. He surveyed the scratch, twisted his lower jaw to one side as he walked over to the ex-something culprit. I don’t know what the ex-something said from the rolled down window but this guy’s chest had gone from 53 to 35 and a meek smile had returned to the Sanskrit car. Some assi tussi kissi kitti had happened it seems. Phew! The power of being a Very Impotent Person had prevented an hour long fist-fight and many behens and mothers had been left alone at Dhaula Kuan. And then they say VIPs are arses! I say they are often some Very Important Parts of our lives!
Anyway, taking a short-cut now to tell you that after losing my virginity on Delhi roads with that hand gesture (air plane then, now slimmed down to a one-finger jet) I realized there was no more scope for foreplay left any more. I had to season myself and my tongue, update myself on Delhi Drivers’ Hand-y Book, and know that nosing or honking my way forward is not impolite, just like snatching parking spots from under another’s wheels is not. It is Darwin’s concept of ‘survival of the fittest’. 

Expecting too much from my skinny jeans!
I too have a sticker on my back screen. Not Shonu-Monu or 'Ma ka aashirwaad' or 'Jat Boyzz' or 'Dude di gaddi'. Mine simply reads - If you have a ‘Guru ji’ on your side, I have a ‘baby on board’ and he’s named after the highest note of the octave. You touch my car and the God on Raisina Hill will hear his child's clarion call!

Off I go now. I think I have stood my car in the middle of the road long enough to type this. Any well-meaning peeing man would have returned to his similarly parked vehicle by now.

OK. Tata Bye bye. Phir milengey, bumper-to-bumper!

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was  - Sink or Swim - Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome?

Monday, 1 December 2014

Run! It’s a keloid!

Leaving a woman’s body alone is the single most difficult task that the world is faced with. If it isn’t about dictating how much skin they show or commenting on how dark the colour of that skin, it is about the marks on it. You know, scars, spots, scabs, specks, stains, and all those tiny-to-big announcements, that a woman’s body is imperfect in some way. Um, defective is another word that comes to mind, especially if I recall their expressions on looking at my keloid.

Heard of keloid? Sounds deadly, doesn’t it? It isn’t, but if the common man’s gaze at my upper chest is to be believed the butterfly shaped keloid there is but the very disease that will bring mankind to its end and let them cockroaches rule. Some withdraw their hands as soon as they see it, disturbing the handshake midway and whispering something like ‘What is that?’ as if they see an alien perched there. Some others, because they like to be right even if rude, pronounce a kind ‘Ugh!’ before they ask me to ‘get it removed, ya!’ Very few have directly asked me (though everyone must have thought of this), with bated breath and the adrenal gland ready for flight, ‘Are they contagious?’ The list of those asking me to ‘keep it covered, why show it’ is the longest, but going by the dimwitted gaze my butterfly invites I guess they must mean well. Plus, how confusing I used to find it once to figure out what exactly they were staring at! 

Only one asked me to get a funky tattoo around it and flaunt its exclusivity. Him I married, even though the idea was ‘preposterous!’ according to a medical doctor (Of the tattoo, not the marriage!).

In short, if my keloid had eyes it would either be squirming with all the unwanted attention or have been a properly spoilt brat by now. Except, it isn’t anything more than collagen cells out camping under a shiny, red ‘tent’. In summers the cells hold a BBQ party and gosh it itches whereas most other times they hate to be disturbed and prick at the slightest rub of a necklace or seatbelt. Funny ones, these guys, who have successfully baffled doctors I consulted as to their mysterious appearance. No injury, no surgery, and I’m not even from the highly pigmented ethnic groups which are 15 times more likely to get them. Anyway, some suspense in life is good!

What isn’t good? This obsession with perfection we seek in others

Remember when the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai put on baby weight and we went ballistic creating humour around her more-rounded personality? We had so much time on our hands, yet not a second to spare to give a second look to our own loving mothers’ girths at home. With puckered noses we pronounce ‘Madhuri looks so old now’ and with equally crinkled noses we say ‘What has Sri Devi done to her face!’ Why go Stardust? Look around in your park! Someone’s baby has unfortunately got his mother’s wheatish complexion, someone’s daughter-in-law has hair like a broom, someone’s daughter needs to mind her weight and yet another’s needs to put some on around her thighs or else ‘they will say your parents don’t feed you’. One was pushed for Lasik to get her spectacles removed the other is struggling to hide her acne under a ton of concealer. And in the process, the little girl who got a burn mark on her arm because she was keeping her kid brother from getting hurt by the hot iron is gradually feeling ashamed of having got it! 

Some scars can have stories. No, actually all scars do!

I remember reading at a popular handloom store how every missed knot in the knit, an extra print or a change in the thread’s sequence is not imperfection but simply a part of pattern which need not fit convention. Like a break, a breather and a point to celebrate. Much like marks and scars on our bodies. African American writers have celebrated those in their works and on their characters as symbols of not just struggle but also survival. A fading whip lash on the back, slashes near the lip where the bit was used or wounds on shoulders carrying the white man’s harvest.

Remove layers of your own clothing and make-up. Bare your own shoulders and tanned backs and look closer at your stretch-marked legs. You will feel so free you will wonder if we really need to cover the countless signs our lives and roles have left on our very human bodies. Is there reason to feel ashamed? Even more, is there reason to make others feel ashamed, enough to scar their minds?

I had no idea when I first spotted a tiny red mound near my neck that it wasn’t a spider lick or a mosquito bite gone wrong. I had no idea it would grow and grow and eventually ‘grow wings’ and become what they call a butterfly keloid for the world to see. But most importantly, I had no idea how an inch of collagen on the neck could become my personal touchstone to know real concern from fake reactions, and real people from all the rest. Perhaps that is why it is called a Butterfly Keloid. If helped fly my mind away from the unabashed and limiting gaze that women’s bodies live surrounded with and find reason to accept and be proud of my own skin.

So saying it once and for all, yes, I love to bare my keloid to the world! Want to know more? I’m thinking of wearing a boob tube and low waist pants to walk around flaunting my C-sec mark, among others. Is there a 6-stitches long surgery keloid there too? Hey, does it matter? It’s a scar.


Just run for your lives, will you?

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was  - Tattoo … you? - Do you have a tattoo? If so, what’s the story behind your ink? If you don’t have a tattoo, what might you consider getting emblazoned on your skin?]

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