Action Replay: February 2016

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It is the end of February and I cannot be more glad. In spite of being the shortest month of the year, it dragged on and on for me. Not in a very good way. The month started off really well with me just back from a great vacation. Even the work at office was not too hectic and I got some much deserved rest. I celebrated the best year of my life and enjoyed falling in love with my home once again. Valentines Day brought with it the most wonderful gift that I could ask for. Cal and I don't believe in this particular day, but we celebrate it nonetheless. The day was pleasant and peaceful and was filled with love. We enjoyed a quiet time in each others company. It was our fifth Valentines together and we sat and looked back at the wonderful memories that we had created.

The second half of the month brought with it a lot of agitation and emotional duress. A period of ill health followed adding to the aforementioned duress. Do you guys believe in negative energy? I do. I believe that some people bring negative energy and chaos into other peoples lives. I have noticed this more than once. Also, I have this weird assumption with my hair. If my hair grows long and I think of cutting it and then decide against it because it looks good, I start to believe that it is the negative energy in my life. As I write this I'm contemplating on whether to cut it or not this weekend. It is growing well and I've been wanting to have waist length hair like forever now. But still, a small part of me wants to get rid of it right away. I have time till the weekend to make my decision.

The highlight of the month was the bloggers meet that I attended. A whole day out with my dear friends is something that provides unadulterated happiness. Blogger meets are awesome. You meet people who are good, bad and weird. Some you hug and embrace while some you look past. Some you ignore and some you want to never let go. Thankfully most of my friends are the ones you never want to let go. We spoke at length and discussed a small number of things and a large number of people. After all what good is meeting friends if you cannot make fun of others. But then again, if you think that you can make fun of others, you should be able to laugh at yourself too. No one gives you the right to laugh at others and expect others not to laugh at you. I love people who can laugh at themselves. That is the first criteria to be a part of my friend's circle and I'm blessed with a wonderfully huge circle.

Reading took a backseat this month. Since my mind was not in the right place, I couldn't focus much on it. I finished 'The Girl On The Train' and took a break from reading. I just watched TV during my free time or enjoyed cooking. Finally, I did pick up 'Mistress' by Anita Nair and I'm halfway through it now. I'm absolutely loving the story within a story concept and I've found a new love for multiple point of view stories. It is really interesting to look at a same situation through different eyes. I cannot wait to complete this one. Three books a month is what I had planned. So I need to complete this one and four other books in March to keep up my target. A book a week will help me get to this in a breeze. Hopefully, my mind will allow it too.

Fifteen posts at least is what I plan for a month on my blog, but this month I could only get it to thirteen. But I did write some posts that I'm proud of. Sponsored posts was something that I wanted to talk about since a while now. Same goes with religion and respect too. Two words that are completely misunderstood these days. I wrote just two poems this month. Doesn't seem like me at all, but my mind was too occupied with unnecessary stuff to churn out rhymed words. Will make up for it in March. I also will complete my long pending fiction series soon. Writing a series is something that I have always failed at. In the recent times at least. Earlier I used to write the entire story and then post parts of it. But of late I write a part as and when an idea crossed my mind. I need to get back to the way I was writing it before. I shall write the whole of 'In Your Words' first and only then put it up here at regular intervals. I need to do justice to my readers as well.

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March looks busy and interesting for now. Work is going to be hectic and I'm not complaining. I've noticed that I'm more active and agile and can multitask better while I'm busy at work. It keeps me energized and active. If I have a slow day at work, then I feel drowsy and bored all day. I hate that! So based on the plan I have for now, March is going to be very busy and exciting. I'm going for twenty posts this month including the completed fiction series. This is to prepare for the A to Z challenge that I have signed up for April. Fingers crossed for me!

How was your February?

Of Religion And Respect

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As a child I have never feared God. Since my parents were not very religious, they did not impose it on us. Growing up, I rarely visited temples or any religious places. The concept of God was not something I believed in, but as a child I was fascinated by it. When you are young and you see a religious function going on in your neighbor's house but not yours it is only natural to be awed by it. This continued for a long long time. But a few years ago, it all came crashing down. Religion is something that I have no clue about and it doesn't matter to me if a person is a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or any thing else. But when people start talking trash in the name of religion and clearly put down a few people, it gets on to me. I'm not an atheist, but I see God as a super power. My only prayers are a humble 'Thank You' for all that I have.

Earlier, I used to be so fascinated by the various pujas, prayers, mantras and shlokas. Mainly because I did not know what they were. But a few years ago when I saw an overdose of these, I knew that they were not significant at all. I saw people trying to desperately please God to get something in return. Blind beliefs wiped away common sense and people were just following a non-existent legacy that had clearly failed. I did not want to be a part of the hoopla. My fascination died down pretty soon and I chose to stay away from it. I believe in working hard to get something and thank God for giving me the strength to do it. I did not want to be part of that cult who sat praying to God all day expecting results without lifting a finger.

There still are so many people who drown themselves in religion and caste. Today man has reached the moon and is targeting other planets and yet there are a few people out here who are drawing boundaries around them and other religions. The first thing that they want to know about a person is their religion or caste. And then perceptions are built and expectations laid. I find it so ridiculous. They think that ABC things only belong to a Christian/Muslim household so a Hindu must not have them. Even before the sex of the child is revealed his/her religion is thrust upon them. And he/she is expected to be the flag bearer of it and pass it on to the future generations. All in the name of religion and a faceless God. For me, humanity is the only religion.

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I have absolutely no respect for people who over do things. Including faith. As we grow up we are taught to respect people who are elder to us. Thankfully, I grew up and unlearnt this. Yes, certain elders do deserve respect, but not all. Have you come across a person who demands respect instead of earning it? Yeah, the world is filled with many morons like this. I like people who have done something for themselves. And irrespective of age, I would respect them. I cannot respect a person who cannot make a living for themselves. I have absolutely zero regard for someone who has all their organs and limbs in place and has not bothered to earn a penny. I have no respect for people who depend on someone else for everything. I immensely respect my juniors at work. They are much more than what I was at their age. It is something that is definitely worth appreciating.

I don't know why people still associate respect with age. Suppose a sixty year old is an alcoholic and creates havoc every time, are we still expected to respect him? For me, respect comes with deed and not with age. And I don't even hide this fact. I might not talk about it on their face and ill treat them. That is my decency. But there is absolutely no respect from within. I don't respect them, but I will not dis-respect them either. I respect the uneducated security guard who looks after the street dog, and not the lady who sends him out to do her chores. I respect the maid who comes in everyday to wash clothes, and not the owner who doesn't allow her in certain areas of the house. I respect the man who does odd jobs to make a living for his family and not the person who hires him and mocks him. I respect anyone who is doing something good for himself and for others and not the ones who are merely watching. People who beg for respect deserve to be laughed at. Also, respect is a two way street.

People have clearly got the concept of religion and respect wrong in our country. The former is something that shouldn't exist and the latter is something that shouldn't be demanded.

So tell me, what is your take on the two?

The Wheel Of Time

PHOTO PROMPT – © Sandra Crook

He was gone for quite a while now and I was wallowing in self-pity. My life did not seem to have any meaning now as I sat and watched the hour glass endlessly. The heart break had left my entire body and soul broken.

Just as the sun rose one day, I noticed the empty half of the hour glass getting filled as the hour passed. That made me realize that my empty heart could be filled one day too. Finally, succumbing to the dose of time I got off my bed and walked ahead to start a new life.

This drabble (100 word fiction) is written for Friday Fictioneers, 19th February 2016.

Is A Woman's Life Worthy Enough?

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Bangalore has a new rule now where in even the pillion rider is expected to wear a helmet for safety. Most of us welcomed this rule grudgingly, while I was happy to buy a good quality helmet and wear it when ever Cal and I took a ride. Although it was irritating at first and it ruined my hair, after a couple of days I got used to it. I also figured that a helmet did make me feel safe and was happy about the move made by the government. A helmet safe guards the head and it is always better to be safe than sorry. And it is necessary to have a well fitting helmet that covers the head and the jaw line. And one with an ISI mark too. When I went to purchase a helmet for myself there were a lot of couples out there doing the same. But the helmet that most of them chose for their spouse was a cheap plastic one, that looked like an inverted wok. Their thought was simple and yet very loud. We just need a helmet to avoid being caught by the traffic cops. So it can be any helmet.

Over the past few days I have seen hideous examples of this. The best was a lady who had wrapped a scarf on her head and wore a cap on top of it to pass off as a helmet. I mean, where do we get such genius these days? I have seen most pillion riders wearing cheap helmets that barely cover their head let alone their face and jaw. Why? Isn't a woman's life worthy enough to be protected? Some people think that since the Government has imposed the rule, the Government should provide the helmets too. Isn't a wife/daughter/sister/mother worth a mere 700-1000 bucks? Yes, that's all it takes to buy a branded full cover helmet. I feel so bad when I see women wearing helmets that sit so loose on their heads without any support. A speed break jolt and the helmet is off the head.

In this country, we clearly do not value a woman's life. Acid attacks have become the new "it" thing. How inhumane should one be to commit such a heinous act? A woman's looks, dignity and everything gets melted along with her skin, but does any body realize that? Rape and murders happen like as if it is a natural occurrence. In an instant they are stripped off their life and respect. Women are expected to dress decently without showing any skin and yet are expected to defecate in the open. Women are subjected to a lot of traumas and some of them think twice before giving birth to a female child. Now comes the most important question. Does a woman think that her life is worthy enough? I have now come to believe that there a lot of women who are themselves responsible for the state that they are in today. And I have noticed that more often than not, it is always a woman who tries to put down another woman.

What do you think is the problem here? Are they jealousy issues or just a never ending grudge between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law? I recently heard about a friend who was so badly tortured after her marriage by her husband and in-laws that within a month of marriage she ran away and is now back with her parents. She claims that it was her mother-in-law who troubled her the most. And now, no matter how much of solace her parents try to provide her, her mother always tries to convince her to go back to her husband. What if they kill her out there? Surprisingly, this thought never crosses their minds. But thankfully the girl realizes her worth and decided to do something on her own instead of relying on others. But do other women realize what they are doing to each other?

A young girl with dreams in her eyes comes to another house after marriage only to be treated like shit. And it is a woman who is inflicting this on her. Doesn't she think that a woman deserves to live a life that she wants to. Or doesn't the girl think that her is life is worth fighting for? So many questions and yet no answers. Women, please know that your life is something that is worth living. And if it isn't, you need to fight for it. Do not let anyone take you for granted. Do not let someone compromise on your safety. If he wants to buy you a cheap helmet, put your foot down and ask for a good one. Your head is important too. Hell, yeah!

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

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Title: The Girl On The Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Thriller/Crime/Mystery
Price: Rs. 210 on Amazon
Pages: 325

I had heard so much about this book from various sources, but was still skeptical about picking this up because there are a lot of highly spoken about books that I have not liked even a bit. The Fault In Our Stars being the front runner. But when a few people whose choice in books I trust, recommended this, I decided to finally pick it up. The fact that it is soon going to be made into a movie fueled the decision. I like watching movies based on books. Mainly to see how another human has interpreted the book and next to find out what was better. The book or the movie. More often than not I know that the book would be better, but still curiosity always gets the better of me. I bought the kindle version of the book and gave myself three days to finish it.

The story starts off with Rachel Watson, who is the girl on the train. Rachel has a drinking problem and has been fired from her job. Her room mate Cathy, who is clearly pissed with Rachel's lifestyle does not know that Rachel is now jobless. In order to keep Cathy thinking that she has a job, Rachel leaves the house every morning and takes a train to London where she spends time in a library and returns home every evening. On the way to London, Rachel sees a string of houses from the train. Number fifteen becomes her favorite as she watches a couple whom she has named Jason and Jess lead a perfect life. The perfect life that she once had in a house three houses away until Anna brutally came into her life.

Anna, now married to Rachel's ex-husband Tom and has his daughter Evie continues to live in the shadow of Rachel right in her house. Anna is annoyed by the concern Tom still shows for his ex. Rachel makes her presence in their lives every now and then and Anna is not the one to take it lightly. Some where deep in her heart, she suspects that her husband is having an affair with his ex.

Rachel's Jason and Jess turn out to be Megan and Scott Hipwell. Megan is a bored housewife who doesn't know what to do with her life and is disturbed in more ways than one. Scott loves and adores his wife and wants to start a family with her. But Megan is least interested in being a mother. When she takes up a job at Tom and Anna's house as their baby sitter or child minder, Scott hopes that Megan will change her mind. But instead, Megan goes missing one fine day.

When Rachel sees the news of Megan's missing, she realizes that she knows something about it. Not knowing what is right and wrong, thanks to her drinking problem she gets involved in the mystery which only takes her down. Where is Megan? How is Rachel connected to all of this? And what finally happens to the girl on the train is what forms the story.

When I started reading this book, I was bored. The writing through brilliant gets repetitive thanks to the same train journey the protagonist takes every day. A lot of time is spent in describing the lives of all the three women that it made me want to put it down at a point of time. Three days passed and the book remained where it was, talking to me about the train journey or what drink Rachel was having. Finally half way through the book, it takes such a giant leap that I was left dumbfounded. A part of it reminded me of Gone Girl and I expected a similar ending. But I changed my mind after a few chapters. I normally am really good at predicting the ending of books even before I'm done with a few chapters. I'm not gloating, blame the writing in the books. But this book kept me guessing every few pages. And when the climax was finally revealed, my jaw dropped. Now, that is what you call brilliant writing.

The multiple point of views are interesting to read and each character is described so beautifully. Every woman in the story is facing pain and how they all get connected to one another is something else altogether. The situations and descriptions are brilliant, although I would have liked some pace in the first half of the book. This book leaves no loose ends and comes together in one of the best climaxes I have read in a long long time. This is Paula Hawkins' debut novel and mark my word, this girl is going places thanks to the train!


Verdict: Deep, dark, poignant and disturbing. And yet so beautifully told. A must read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Beautiful Flower

PHOTO PROMPT © The Reclining Gentleman

What if I don’t survive?” Mariam asks her mother.

You will my dear.

But, the weather will be harsh and hot. The burning sand will hurt my bare feet.

It will hurt only for a while. After that, it will motivate you to get to your destination.”

But the desert is so vast. It will take me days to get to the other end to meet Abba.”

Yes, three days at least. But you must go if you have to live.”

But…

Don’t worry, dear daughter. The most beautiful flower always grows in the harshest of conditions. So will you.”

This drabble (100 word fiction) is written for Friday Fictioneers, 12th February 2016.

Laughing Down The Aisle #LoveAndLaughter


I firmly believe that laughter is something that keeps life going. And a sense of humor is the sexiest trait a partner can have. Humor is not only when we make fun of someone and laugh. You need to be able to laugh at yourself too. Being able to laugh at oneself is quite a feat. And this is exactly what paved way for my love story.

The first meeting alone:

We had known each other for the whole of our lives and by known I mean that we knew that each other existed. It was at a family occasion that we met and spoke briefly. Then he asked for my number and we began chatting. Our frequencies matched and it was really fun talking to him. We then decided to meet. Since both of us enjoy a drink, we decided to meet one weekend over some old monk and coke. We started talking and did not realize how time flew. A drink turned into five and we were still high on conversation. Finally, the pub authorities asked us to leave and we got up from our seats. We were on the fourth floor and the lift lobby was filled with people. We decided to take the stairs down. Both of us were so happy to have had such a wonderful time. We walked down talking and were almost at the ground floor, when I slipped and fell. No, I was not that drunk. I genuinely slipped and was so embarrassed. He was shocked and then helped me up. And both of us burst out laughing! It was 1 am and we were walking on the empty streets laughing non stop and then he dropped me back home.

I had hurt my back and butt due to the impact of the fall. The next day he messaged me asking me if he should come and take me to a "bum" doctor. The laughter continued and I sensed that this was a beginning of something.

A few days later:

By now we had begun to meet every day but had not yet started dating. One fine day we met after work and I was craving for some hot spicy chaat. We went to a place well known for its Calcutta Victoria chaats. We placed our order and then he began to describe the dish that he had ordered. There was so much passion in his voice when he spoke about the spicy potato filling and the juicy tangy sauce with it. I was so excited that I wanted to try it out too. He went in to collect our order and came back with a plate of my chaat and a paper bag. I was wondering what was going on. This is how the conversation went.

Me: What is this in the bag?
He (Acting super casual): This is the chaat I ordered.
Me: Really? The description was something else.
He (sheepishly): Actually, I ordered the wrong dish. I knew the dish I wanted, but got the name wrong.

We laughed out so loud that the entire store was now looking at us! And by now both of us knew that we wanted to laugh together for the rest of our lives.

Burp, I will:

We were in love and that was very clear. He had not yet proposed and I knew that sometime soon he would. One day we went to the famous food street in Bangalore. It was my first time there and I went crazy. We gorged on everything that we could lay our eyes on. By the time we were done, we were so full that we couldn't walk or talk. Our T-shirts had expanded to its seams. And while I was struggling to breathe and walk at the same time, he pops the question. Of course I said a yes, but with a generous burp. And then the laughter began. We laughed our way into being friends, lovers and soul mates.

And It Continues!

Today, as husband and wife this is what keeps us going. Laughter brought love into our lives and it helps us continue to love and grow.

Sharing a life would not have been this easy had we not shared a laugh before.

This post is a part of #LoveAndLaughter activity at BlogAdda in association with Caratlane.

Dame In Shining Armor

photo by Caroline Knopf

The fire rose higher and higher
The whole village was engulfed in a flame
People screamed hoping for a miracle
And then entered in shining armor, a dame

She jumped fearlessly into the fire
Grabbed people and got them out
She bore the heat and pain silently
She would save all, there was no doubt

There were a lot of people out there
And yet she didn't stop for a while
She did not say a word to anyone
When all were safe, she let out a smile

She was badly charred due to the fire
Yet one could see happiness on her face
Once they realized what she had done 
They all knelt down to say grace

Her clothes were half torn in the process
Some one covered her with a thick cloak
They couldn't believe what had happened
A lady had saved them and not a bloke

She walked away feeling content
She had done what she had to do
Dragging her feet she walked on
Her life she had done justice to

She walked to the nearby shore
Distinct cries for help she could hear
She knew someone was in trouble
She jumped into the water without fear

She managed to save them all
Swimming tirelessly all through the night
Some where during all this strife
She had become her own knight

Written for Magpie Tales: Mag 305.

The Best Year Of My Life

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Early 2015, Cal and I decided that it was about time we moved into a place of our own. For various reasons, some good and some bad, we decided to look out for a space of our own and move before our second anniversary in March. Since both of us work full time, there was hardly any time to go out and look for places to rent. The first day we contacted a broker and went and took a look at a couple of houses. They were really small and uncomfortable, while the rent was huge. We were disappointed and yet determined to move out. The next day Cal got a call (he had left his number on a popular real estate site) from a house owner asking us to go take a look at their house. With zero expectations, we walked into an apartment complex which was very close to the place we both worked. After five minutes, we had decided that this was the place that we would take up. Couple of days later, we spoke to the owner and had a deal drawn up. And on February 9th 2015, Cal and I moved into the place that we call home today. And we did this with a month and a half to spare, from the initial plan.

Cal and I are simple people. We do not like too much drama. We decided to set up this place the way we wanted to always. Earlier, all we had was just a room that was so claustrophobic. But here, the whole house was ours! But it was not easy. Since we found the house earlier than planned, we had to sort out our finances quickly. Thankfully both of us work and we managed to get through the hiccups. And almost like a sign and blessing at that time, all our pending incomes like tax returns and free lancing money all came in together at the right time. It was just us who were doing the whole thing and we were so glad. My writing had given me enough vouchers, that enabled me to buy all the items of the kitchen from it. I feel so proud when I look at my kitchen today. Every single item there holds an emotion for me. The same time a lot of writing assignments came my way and the extra income was more than welcome. Cal and I sat down and planned on how to set up our home.

Some of you might think that we were foolish, investing so much on a rented place. But for us, this was much needed. We had been to hell and back over the past few years, and wanted a place to just peace out. We took care of the house like it was our own and planned everything around simplicity. We did not invest in all the appliances right away. We bought one thing at a time. We wanted the place to be young and colorful, so we picked up a lot of posters and got it framed. Today it forms our happy wall. It has Calvin and Hobbes (obviously), The Simpsons, The Beatles, FRIENDS, The Joker, Motivational Quotes and some food related stuff. The Godfather and a few other quotes adorn the other walls as well. Every time I look at it, I feel so happy. Every piece in the house was hand picked by us and it was not easy. We wanted only the best for the house. After a couple of months, almost everything was set up and our house became a home.

It has been a year since we moved into this place and yet the feeling is same. We feel so happy whenever we step into our home. From the day we have come here, everything fell into place. My health improved and both of us were beginning to look so happy. In fact some of my friends at work thought I was pregnant because apparently I was glowing. Ah, what magic some peace of mind can do to you right? The domestic goddess in me was super happy to be in the kitchen to whip up tasty and hot food every day. I enjoyed doing every thing. For the first few days, both of us just breathed freely and enjoyed every moment of our time. It felt like the beginning of marriage and we were feeling like lovers again. Every couple need their privacy, where they are not judged for every action of theirs. And by privacy I mean the time they spend together talking, cooking, eating and just doing nothing. Sex is on the list too, but is not the only thing.

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As Cal and I both hate dependencies, we did not hire a maid or a cook. We do everything in the house ourselves. Cooking, cleaning, washing, sweeping, mopping; yes, all of it. All this along with our demanding jobs and our passions on the side. It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride and yet so fulfilling. We felt so at ease here, that we stopped taking vacations. Our home felt like a holiday home and we were enjoying every bit of it. Since we have moved here, things have only been good for us. Some people thought that we wouldn't be able to handle a house and its demands. In fact someone even told me that we would struggle and would not be able to manage the finances and chores. I just laughed then. And I'm still laughing.

Cal has been the perfect partner in every way. I fall in love with the man again and again every single day. He never lets me do anything alone and is always around to help me. He loves to cook too, something he couldn't do earlier. But here, I have taught him a lot of stuff and he enjoys his time in the kitchen as I watch in admiration. Earlier, home was a place we ran away from. Now, home is where our heart is and come back to it everyday. There is a part of us in every corner of our home and it helps that we started a life in this house with the most simplest foundation of all. Love. Love for each other kept us strong through the rough patches and helped us come out more stronger. The past year clearly has been the best year of my life, where I found freedom again with the man I love. Professionally, this place has seen a epic rise in both our careers. Maybe a clear mind helped us work and perform better. Our passions finally took flight and we are doing really well at it. Personally, it has only brought us more closer and given us immense happiness in the form of love and other things.

People want luxury and other materialistic comfort. But I have seen how some piece of mind can do wonders to one's life. I'm happy to have finally found it in a place with the love of my life by my side. The place which we call our home.

Action Replay: January 2016

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I just realized that I have been doing these Action Replay posts of mine for two whole years now. This was the first one I wrote, and now that I went back and read it I cannot believe that two years have passed since then. I started writing the month end posts just so that I could keep a tab on what all I do per month, but when people started reading and appreciating it I was happily surprised. I write these posts like how I would write a diary and maybe people can relate to it in some way. Personally, I love writing these posts and it takes me back to days that I have loved and loathed at the same time. Looking back at the past few days can do good as well as bad. Good, when you look back and see how far ahead you have come in life. Bad, when an old unpleasant experience sticks with you for a little longer. Nevertheless, I find it important to look back at the month gone by and see how it turned out for me. I also note down what I could have done better.

January started off with a bang for me. I had a wonderful first day of the year with a delicious Italian dinner with the love of my life. When something starts off with good food, how can anything else go wrong? I was busy with work throughout the month and I wanted to focus on my writing as well along with my regular job. That's why the first post I wrote this month was my writing goals. And I have managed to stick on to them for now at least. But the workaholic in me is never at rest. Work always takes first priority and is something that is constantly on my mind. I've worked really hard the past year and I was rewarded and appreciated for all the work that I have done. This month we had our yearly review and I was so pleased by all the nice things that people had to say. It is very simple for me. Smart work is more important than hard work. And work done well always speaks for itself.

My reading goals were also clear for this month. I planned on reading at least three books a month and that is exactly what I did in January. I also read my first P. G. Wodehouse and fell in love with the style of writing. I've always loved British settings. There is something very neat and sorted about it. The flow of language and the subtle humor and sarcasm blew me away. I was surprised that I hadn't read any of his works until now. I have a few more books of his in the pipeline now. I finally read 'Gone Girl' and loved it! Ofcourse I knew the story since I watched the movie first. And yet the book was so gripping. Very rarely do we get books that does not let you put it down.

Personally, I feel that I wrote some of my best work this month. Like I mentioned in my writing goals, I wanted to write about a wide range of topics and I managed to do it in January. Be it a social issue, fashion sense, random debate or a finance one; there were quite a lot of topics that I wanted to talk about this month. I cannot stay away from poetry for long as that is the easiest for me to write. Even the poetry I wrote this month surprised me. I don't know what exactly, maybe I have become more mature as a writer now. The words of 'Scarlet Rose' were plaguing my mind for quite some time and when I saw the image prompt, it just took shape of poetry and came out pretty well. Fifteen posts per month was the target and that is exactly what I achieved in January. And I'm very proud about the quantity and the quality of the posts for this month.

The highlight of January was clearly the vacation that Cal and I took. We hadn't taken a vacation for more than eight months and just planned this on the spur. Shimla and Manali were beautiful and we had such a ball of a time. Cal is the perfect travel companion and we enjoy the place like a travelers and not like tourists. We explored the local landscapes and experienced the local food. We came back feeling so rejuvenated that we decided to take a vacation at least once in two-three months. Travel takes out the clutter of your mind. You will not even know that the clutter existed until you decide to a break. That is exactly what happened to me. I have been working non-stop for the past few months and did not realize the stress that I was subjecting myself too. Being away from the city and technology for a few days showed me what I had been missing. Now that I have seen it, I have vowed to take breaks and travel as much as I can this year.

The year started and January has come to an end too. The shortest month of the year is now here and it already looks promising to me.

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How did the first month treat you?

Enigma

photo by Francesca Woodman

I'm in the air you breathe
All around you and yet you cannot see
I live your life with you every second
You would be long gone without me

Look for me in a fresh drop of water
There you can see my silhouette
I quench your thirst all day long
A part of the potion and yet never wet

I'm the energy you choose to possess
But you will never have me in whole
I'm present and absent at the same time
I'm intricately linked to your soul

A blazing fire slowly forms my shadow
Light an extra match for me today
Pour out all the feelings that you have
Elaborate on love and I might stay

I'm the grain of sand you walk on
Listening to everything without a sound
I match every step you take
And yet my feet never touch the ground

The ringlet of smoke knows my name
Exhale to spill it all out
Take me in with all your might
Then you'll learn what I'm all about

I can spin and vanish into thin air
Call me the phoenix or your karma
I'm watching all that you do
Hidden so that I remain an enigma

Words, For Sale! Dignity, Free!

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Blogging is a wonderful platform to express your thoughts and views. It also is a great platform to meet like minded readers and writers and make some good friends in the bargain. I for one have made some great friends here who are very close to my heart today. Blogging has made me more aware of the world around me and has helped me grow as a writer. Thanks to various blogging and writing platforms, there are new prompts every single day in case you are struggling with a writer's block. One of the most important aspect of blogging is the monetization. Bloggers normally receive a lot of goodies. Either in the form of contest wins or products/books to review. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, there are a lot of companies willing to pay bloggers a good amount in exchange for a well written article. Sponsored posts, these are called and are a boon to many. I have made quite a lot of money through blogging and I will continue to do so.

The money per post is luring, but I would only write about things that go with the theme of my blog or with me in general. Even for product reviews, I would only agree to review a product that has use to me or something that would help me in day to day life. I get a lot of requests to review products, but some of it make absolutely no sense to me. Diapers for example. I'm not a mother and very clearly I do not like taking care of children much. How would I write a review post for a diaper on my blog? It did not make any sense to me, so I had to decline. Someone sent me a tablet to review and the people around me were thrilled and jealous about the fact that I was getting freebies. I had to take photos on the product since I'm a food blogger too and review the tablet. It made sense, so I did it. It was not a sponsored post, but they did send me a tablet in exchange for an honest review.

I see a lot of people jumping into the blogging band wagon, in anticipation of getting free stuff. Thanks to the introduction of Happy Hours by a famous blogging community, almost everyone started a blog and started writing just to win vouchers and other stuff. A blog is an extension of the writer, but when non-writers desperately try to write something in order to get something in return, it cannot be called as blogging. To be honest I have seen a lot of blogs that have posts written only for contests and reviews of almost every product under the sun. Product reviews are good, provided the product is of use to you and you feel the need to talk about it. Over the past few months I have seen some women review a feminine hygiene product and reading some of their posts made me cringe. I agree menstruation is normal and should not be hushed about. But it is not something that needs to be screamed about from the roof tops either. I could sense discomfort in every word of their writing, and yet it was out there. Maybe it was a sponsored post and maybe it needed to be spoken about. But not at the cost of one's comfort. Am I the only one who thinks so?

Book reviews are something else altogether. I wasn't too sure of doing them but once I did, I noticed that people liked it and could relate to the way I was reviewing the book. I write what I feel about the book. I have hated books that are rated four star plus on other platforms. I still go ahead and rate the book based on how I liked it. I've had authors get in touch with me to review their books. They send me a copy and I read and review it. Some authors expect me to always write good things about it, just because they are giving me a free book. Let me tell this out loud once and for all. Reading a book is a time consuming task. So the book being a free copy or something that I have paid for doesn't matter at all. When I'm spending my time to read a book, I am investing something in it. Expectations are always zero with any book, but if it doesn't appeal to me at the end I say so. I have seen people rating every book they read a four plus. Maybe they fear that they will stop receiving books once they put out a bad review. I have seen cases in which the author acknowledges a few blogger friends in the book, and these very blogger friends give the book a five star rating. Irrespective of not liking the book. They are obligated to, they say. I find this absolutely fake and bordering on the the line of sycophancy.

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As a food blogger, people envy me because I get to eat at some really posh and expensive places for free. But people don't get that for a food blogger this is just 1% of what happens. Most of the places I have reviewed on my food blog or on Zomato are those that I have visited out of my own interest with my husband as we love exploring new places and food. As exciting as it seems, food reviewing comes with a set of cons as well. Some food items are not appetizing at all, and yet you have to eat it to review it. Sometimes we end up with food poisoning and other stomach related issues. But people only prefer to see the bright side of it. Free food, what else do you need eh? I have food blogger friends who talk crass about what they have eaten, because it clearly would have been terrible. But when they review the place, they talk only good about it. Again they might fear that being honest and talking about what they feel, might get them off the food scene. But aren't they getting the very definition of being a food critic wrong?

Fashion blogging is another crowded scene. After a very brief stint, I decided to opt out of it. Today, every nook and corner has a fashion blogger. Fashion bloggers get a lot of perks. First hand invites to any fashion/beauty launch, free entries to fashion week and innumerable number of free beauty products. It is good to enjoy the perks, but doing it only for the perks is clearly questionable. If fashion is a passion and you have a lot to say, then so be it. But reviewing every single product on your dressing table is something I have no interest in reading. There is this one particular blog where the lady has reviewed a kajal, an eye liner, a mascara, an eye lash curler, an eye shadow all as individual posts. And the number of posts vary with the number of brands, and yet the same product. Same with clothing brands as well. I know of lot of women who started off as content bloggers (who had some good quality posts) and now have completely ended up as fashion bloggers. And to be honest, some of them are not fashionable or presentable to say the least.

Sponsored posts and product reviews are a good way of making money or owning products, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. You can't write about anything, just because you are getting paid for it. You can contribute to other sites and magazines about anything you want. Although that is not entirely justifiable. But when you are putting up something on your blog, I think it is important to see if it would go with the topics you normally write about. Or if you can connect to it on a personal level. Else, you need to learn a new word. It's called "No". Think twice before accepting a sponsored post or writing an entry for a contest. The same thing applies to book and product reviews too. And you need to be honest and write what exactly you feel. You want to be kind and sugar coat it, fine. That is better than writing a completely made up positive review. Remember, a review can go two ways. And as a reviewer you are entitled to both.

What are your views on sponsored posts?

Rejuvenated: Part 2

Read Part-1 here.
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The night after the barefoot trek was quite something. There was a sharp pulling pain in my feet and I couldn't bear it any more. My feet were frozen and I couldn't even sit. The super cold weather and the barely there room heater was not helping either. While I was looking around the room to find something to warm my feet, my eyes fell on my hair dryer. Half an hour and a few blasts of hot air later, I was feeling better. By then the hot water was ready and I soaked my feet in a bucket for a good hour. The pain soon turned into a burning sensation before finally turning into moderate relief. A good night's sleep helped heal better too.


The next day we visited a Buddhist monastery in Manali, before heading towards Shimla. I find Buddhism fascinating. It is a simple and no nonsense way of spirituality. If I did believe in religion, this one is what I would follow. The place was so quiet and serene that I did not want to leave. We walked around for a while and enjoyed the bleak heat of the sun. And then we were all packed and back in the car for our journey towards Shimla. We stopped by Kullu on the way for some shopping. Winter clothes are available at very good rates there and we ended up buying a few things for our parents. There also was river rafting in the area, but we just went to the location and clicked a few pictures instead. The water level and force was slow, so we were not too sure if we'd enjoy the rafting.

Yeah, I'm an SRK fan!

We passed by Pandoh in the Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh and we knew that we had to stop the car and breathe in the scene around. It was so beautiful. It felt like a mirage when the earth has melted into the water. The green color of the trees perfectly complemented the pure turquoise of the clear water culminating into a peacock blue that refused to leave the eyes. I embraced the air around as you can see in the picture. This view will never leave me for the rest of my life. Next, we stopped by the green valley to check the dense mountains and their lush greenery. After being a part of the concrete jungle for such a long time, any view of green is always welcoming. We reached Shimla by late evening and checked into our hotel and freshened up.


Our hotel was at an elevation and we could see the whole of Shimla city from our balcony. Thankfully it was not too cold here, around 3 degrees. Or may be we were just used to the cold of Manali by then. Soon, the hotel staff brought us dinner which was clearly fit for royalty. By the time we were done, we couldn't lift a finger. When we woke up the next day, breakfast was ready. It was huge too. After stuffing ourselves we went for a drive to Kufri which is around 25 kilometers from Shimla. Strangely there was not a speck of snow fall in Shimla or in Kufri. Kufri reminded me of a beach minus the water. It was barren and yet the air was cold and soothing. There was a telescope point from which they showed us a few important places, including the Indo-China border. Cal and I walked around a lot and ate a lot of street food available there. The ride to this spot was on horses and Cal and me had a wonderful time riding our respective horses Chotu and Lajwanti. I even managed to sit up on a yak and get some shady pictures clicked. No, I'm not sharing them.


On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the famous mall road of Shimla and strolled around quite a bit. This stretch of the road was so beautiful and peaceful in spite of the crowd. The sun was faintly bright and we indulged in some ice cream. We walked passed the famous 3 Idiots spot and shopped for some post cards and books for our flight the next day. The mild breeze was soothing and we spent a couple of hours here. We stopped at a fruit juice center and had fresh carrot juice. The carrots here are crunchy, sweet, juicy and incredibly long. Freshly made unadulterated carrot juice was priced at just 20 bucks a glass and was absolutely delicious. Finally, as the sun started going down we made our way back to the hotel to pack up and leave the next morning.

Our luggage was organized by the OCD freak in me. One case held all our clothes and toiletries. The other held all our winter clothes along with the ones we had recently shopped. After yet another heavy dinner, we got some good rest and left to Chandigarh early next day. We were again awed by the city and the peace it offers. We met a few friends for coffee before leaving to the airport. Since our flight was delayed by half an hour, Cal and I got enough time to look back at the wonderful vacation that we had just had. It was the perfect break and the perfect thrill. The minute we stepped into Bangalore, familiarity greeted us along with a warm gust of air. Bangalore has always been home to us, and this time we embraced it more as we were thoroughly rejuvenated.