Friday, December 27, 2013

Five gifts for my children

As parents, we make it our life’s mission to give our children the best that our purses and imaginations can conjure.

Nothing less than the best will do for our children, we tell ourselves. So fierce is our love for our children that it seems to consume us, making every other priority of our lives shrink in comparison.

We make spoken and unspoken promises to ourselves, regarding the sort of care we will give our offspring. We will give them the best to help them soar, to realise their potential and to enable them to hold their own in a world that, unfortunately, will not view them with the high regard that we do.

We get so fixated on our desire to give them the best that money can buy, we often overlook the need to give them the things that money cannot.

We get so carried away in our desire to give them the things that we didn’t have when we were growing up, we forget to give them the things that we did have growing up.

I’m not a great one for buying toys for my children. Having grown up in a SITK (Single Income Three Kids) family where the budget was often stretched thin, I have learned to regard thrift as a virtue. Reduce, reuse and recycle are not just some catchy mantras for me. They are credos by which I live my life. Credos that I seek to inculcate in my children.

Most of the gifting I do happens in honour of my kids’ birthdays. Of course, I do buy them things on impulse, things that I think they might like. Mostly clothes or books, or even small clips, crayons and drawing and colouring books and odds and ends that might inspire them with a sense of novelty.

But whenever the thought of gifting them something arises, both the Husband and I like to think big. Beyond a Made-in-China toy that might not live to see the morrow. Or an expensive gadget or remote controlled toy, for that matter.

A very famous quote, attributed to more than one person, goes: “There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One of these is roots, and the other, wings.”

This quote has had a profound influence on me. It has become the philosophy that colours my choice of gifts for my children. I believe that every big gift that we buy for our kids should make a substantial investment in their lives, and should give strength either to their wings or their roots.

Here are the five gifts that I would like to give my two children, known on my blog as La Niña and El Niño. 

1)  The most immediate gift I would like to give them is the gift of my TIME and PRESENCE. As children, my brothers and I were fortunate enough to have parents who were fully invested in our lives. They were interested in the small and big events of our lives, and were always willing to listen and talk to us about the profundities and inanities that occupied our minds. Their deep involvement in our lives and their unconditional love and acceptance have touched me deeply.

Children live in the here and now. They are too young to remember the past, or care about the future. They long to have their parents play a more active, vital and participative role in their lives. One that goes beyond buying them the basic necessaries and hoping they will amuse themselves with some trinkets and gadgets while the grownups go chasing after the items on their own to-do lists.

The way I play a more active role in my kids’ lives is by paying attention to them, by answering them every time they call me, by making time for them, switching off the TV and the computer and setting aside the mobile phone, each time they clamour for their Mamma to play with them.

   2)  The ability to LEARN and KEEP LEARNING would be my second gift for them. I wish my children to always want to learn, to know more, to drink in, with wide, greedy gulps, of the vast reservoir of knowledge that humankind has accumulated so far. But I would also wish them to realise that not all the learning happens in a classroom or a school. The most ordinary, unspectacular people can enhance our learning, if we learn to keep our eyes and ears open and our mouths shut.

As WB Yeats said, Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. As a parent, I feel bound to teach them to consider themselves students of life and living as long as they are alive.

I would also like to equip them with the means to learn some skills of their own choice. Whether they choose to learn sewing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, baking, designing, swimming, cooking, painting, building or some form of martial arts etc, no learning is wasted. Every new skill can do wonders to an individual’s sense of self-discovery and ability.

    3)  The next treasure in my basket of gifts would be my BOOKS. My father introduced me to the world of books and instilled in me a love for reading. It was a love that opened my world view, and broadened my horizons. It gave me hours of sheer unbridled joy, and helped me to forget all my cares. It helped me learn from minds wiser than my own, and taught me to love the magic of words. It is a treasure that I have always sought to share with my children.

My books are some of my most valuable possessions. Many of these books I received from Dad. Over time, I have added to my collection. Always the kind of books I would want to read and re-read. The kind that expanded my mind and my heart and enriched my soul. I hope to share my small library with my children.

4)  The other gift that I would like to leave my children is one whose worth will be evident to them when I am no longer with them. I would like to make a WILL, so that, having sorted out all my assets, I am able to leave my tangible and intangible possessions to the two little people whose welfare is and always will be my greatest concern.

5)   The greatest gift that I would like to leave my children is a twin one. It consists of the MORAL VALUES that I learned from my parents and the FAITH in a loving God that they instilled in me.

The values can serve as a compass for a good life, helping them navigate the pitfalls that threaten impressionable youngsters. The faith can be the light that helps see them through the toughest times.

Living a life with faith is no guarantee for an easy life. It will not give them the assurance of having all the answers. 

What it will offer them is the assurance that things will work out alright, and that the doubts that rage in their minds will be stilled in time, if only they are willing to let go and let God.

I hope to be able to share with them my deep conviction that everything will work for good, if they allow themselves to move on meanwhile. To do the chores and the jobs that need to be done, while waiting for the answers to reveal themselves. And they always do.

These are the gifts that I would like to leave them.

Everything else is only pretty wrapping paper.

This post is a part of the 1001 Gifts Activity by HDFC Life in association with BlogAdda

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Blog Review: Memoirs of a Confused Gal

It promised to be a Secret Santa with a difference. 

Instead of buying gifts for someone who’d been naughty yet nice, Vinita, High Priestess at the FB sanctuary that goes by the name of Indiblogeshwaris, came up with the idea of reviewing the blog of a fellow blogger on our own blog. What better way to drive up readership for a deserving blogger, while making a new friend? That is the spirit of Christmas, after all.

The name that popped out of the Sorting Hat for me was that of Pankti Mehta, a relatively new entrant in the world of blogging. 

With a name like Pankti (it means sentence in Hindi), you would not expect anything less than sheer love for the written word from her. And that is just what you get.

She calls her blog, Musings of a Confused Gal, but there is little confusion here. Pankti’s talent is seen in  the range of posts in which she puts her pen (or keyboard) to good use. 

On her blog, you will see her short stories, poems, book reviews, musings, a story series titled, Anything for You, travel tales and photos.

It was her short stories and travel tales that I liked the most. Her short stories do a good job of reeling you, the reader in. She builds mood and atmosphere with as much ease and attention as she devotes to the building of her characters.

The story, Love Me, fills you with disgust and pity in like measure and that is its strength.

Faith is another story about a girl wrongfully accused at school and her sense of reassurance on knowing that her mother believes in her innocence.

Power play shows the depths to which people are willing to stoop when driven by ambition. Interestingly, this story reveals that the protagonist need not always be the polar opposite of the antagonist.

The Travel story details her trip to Sasan Gir, which is 400 km from Ahmedabad. This post was well written and showed both her love for travel as well as her sense of humour. It was in this section that I felt that she completely outdid herself. Pity there was only one post here.

A bookworm Indiblogeshwari, Pankti has reviewed books such as Chakra by Indiblogeshwari Ritu Lalit and Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, a writer whose work I enjoy a lot.

This toddler in the world of blogging has set an example that I could learn from. So many of my posts sit patiently in the Drafts folder, waiting for me to come and wipe the dust off them.

Pankti, on the other hand, has very quickly built up a collection of 67 blog posts, even though she began blogging only in March 2013. The Indirank of 84 is certainly well deserved.

Jog over to her blog and check out more of her work. 

And have a lovely Christmas while you're at it.

May Jesus bless you with love and affection enough to keep you warm in spite of the cold outside.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: RIPPED

Title: Ripped
Author: Shelly Dickson Carr
Publisher: New Book Partners
Pages: 520

Ripped by Shelly Dickson Carr is a time travel tale that seeks to solve a mystery that has remained unsolved for over a hundred years. The finest minds of Scotland Yard could not solve the mystery at that time. More than 120 years later, the aura surrounding the mystery continues to baffle people and inspire speculation and conjecture.

It is in this spirit that Shelly has embarked upon her novel. Putting together the historical facts with elements from her own imagination, always a heady combination, she has served up this delicious story that courses along smoothly for the most part, with only a few glitches ending up affecting the flavour of the dish.

In the 21st century, the Boston-born Katie Lennox finds herself forced to re-locate to London and live with her Grandma Cleaves, following the deaths of her parents in a car crash. Her elder sister, Courtney, lead singer of the rock-chick band, Metro Chicks, lives a lifestyle unapproved by their grandmother. Katie longs to have a family life again, and misses her parents deeply.

On a trip to the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum, along with cousin Collin and his best friend, Toby, to see the Jack the Ripper exhibit, Katie also visits the London Stone, about which legend says that it has the power to grant three wishes of those who are pure at heart.

Even as she longs for her parents’, Katie inexplicably makes a wish for the life of Lady Beatrix, the last victim of Jack the Ripper, and one of her forebears. Her wish is granted and she is transported to the London of 1888, days before Jack the Ripper was to attack his first victim. Believing that Jack the Ripper was somebody trustworthy who could walk the streets unquestioned, Katie decides to find and stop Jack the Ripper and save Lady Beatrix and the other victims that he brutally murdered and mutilated.

But life in the late 1800s isn’t going to be easy. And Katie soon learns that getting what she wished for isn’t always a good thing.

Shelly has done a great job of descriptions and dialogue. Pedigree clearly shows. Her grandfather was John Dickson Carr, American author of detective fiction, whose characters Dr Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale are highly regarded.

The writing makes delightful reading, although there are some occasions that demand a little more drama that Shelly could have exploited to better effect.

Shelly manages to hold our attention with her characterisation of Katie, Toby (from both centuries) and Collin (from the 19th century). Katie, of course, is a feisty little thing, not averse to a little eavesdropping when the situation demands it and wholly game for adventure. And Toby and Collin from the 1880s show themselves to be real. Toby’s broken nose and Collin’s slickly combed hair are touches that bring them alive to the reader. On the other hand, too much attention is paid to the physical description of Lady Beatrix, who has precious little to do in the story.

Because this is the 19th century, Shelly cannot resist dropping names. So we have Oscar Wilde, a washed down, insipid, diluted version of him; James Whistler, the artist, Samuel Clemens, Bram Stoker, and a reference to Friedrich Engels. Shelly tries to make Wilde more real by putting his most famous quotations to use as part of his speech. 
Unfortunately, she doesn’t always manage to pull it off.

Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ripped, there were some glitches that upset the story. That Katie and Collin are cousins today and that Toby is Collin’s best friend is clear. But that Katie should be the cousin of Lady Beatrix, one of her own forebears, who is a dead ringer for her sister, and that Collin and Toby should both be part of the household in the 19th century is just too much to swallow. And what a coincidence that the characters look the same and have the same names across centuries!

Also, Katie’s motivation for risking her own life for a distant member of her family from a previous century is weak. Particularly, when undoing her parents’ deaths was her main concern a few hours earlier.

And whatever happens to the real 19th century Katie from America? Initially, Toby tells Katie that she has changed greatly since she first arrived from Boston. However, after that neither Shelly nor Toby make the slightest reference to her. Did she disappear into thin air? Or did the London Stone transport her somewhere else?

The repeated and liberal scattering of Cockney slang, at the beginning and throughout the book, makes little sense, particularly when it needs to be set off with explanations. The slang could have been left out altogether. It would have made the book shorter and more focused.

There are continuity issues galore. The name of the 19th century Toby’s baby sister changes from Elsie to Emma a few pages later. Somewhere Beatrix’s name changes to Beatrice. Godfrey is spelt without the ‘f’ at one point. The needless fixation with the scenes in the movie versions of Harry Potter is evident, and wears down the reader.

Ripped is a good story that is weighed down by unnecessary slang and some unanswered questions. If only the book were ripped of that dead weight!

I received a free Kindle version of this book from NetGalley.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Babies Strongest

A baby is the purest being, the only one that qualifies to be called an angel by virtue of its very existence. Babies epitomise innocence. They are as God made them, unmarred by sin, unstained by artifice.

As parents, we are overwhelmed by the responsibility of bringing up our children right, even as we feel ourselves consumed by our love for them. We promise ourselves that no matter what other milestones we may or may not clock in life, no matter what goals we may or may not tick off our bucket lists, this bringing-up-baby business is something we will get right, even if we have to spend our whole life doing it.

Before the birth of La Niña, I attended a breastfeeding class at the maternity hospital at which I had registered to give birth. The lecture was organised by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI). The lecturer emphasised the importance of breastfeeding, the most basic nutrition for babies in a practice that dates back to the dawn of civilisation.

Having written an article on the subject of breastfeeding for the first magazine I worked for, I was aware about the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby. But the lecturer opened our eyes to the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother too. I was a willing student, and hung on to every word that she spoke. Her words resonated within me, and gave life to a resolve that I had not yet encapsulated in words. There and then I decided that I would breastfeed my baby exclusively for six months. I would be her primary source of nourishment and nutrition. My body would assuage baby’s hunger pangs and thirst. My milk would be the blood that flowed in her veins.

It was a resolve that gave me many sleepless nights. Well wishers who came to see the baby over the next few weeks chided me for what they referred to as “irrational” behaviour on my part. They told me that they had formula fed their children in their time, and that their kids had suffered no harm as a result.

Others told me that while I may choose to indulge myself in the day by breastfeeding her, I should formula feed her at night to ensure that she slept well, thereby affording me a good night’s rest too. The unspoken assertion was that in refusing to formula feed her at night, I was disturbing my wee one’s slumber by not slaking her hunger pangs effectively.

The logic was incorrect. The truth is that breast milk is easily digested, causing babies to wake up and cry for more, whereas formula, being hard to digest, induces a longer period of rest.

It was not a line of reasoning that appealed to me. I was prepared to sacrifice my sleep even if she woke up three times each night for her feeds and kept me up for 45 minutes each time. I was determined to breast feed on demand, no matter how often the demand was made.

My maternity leave exhausted itself four months after La Niña was born. I was forced to resume full-time work, a fact that challenged my decision to breastfeed her exclusively for the first six months of her life.

A quick phone call to the BPNI lady showed me the way to continue breastfeeding even as I fulfilled my duties at work. The lady instructed me in the right way to express, store and transport breast milk. It was a huge commitment on my part, but I could not have done it without the cooperation of my in-laws who looked after La Niña with intense dedication, and my boss, who let me excuse myself thrice a day, for 30 minutes each time, so I could express milk for my baby.

I had told my boss that I would need to take time off for expressing milk only for two months, until La Nina turned six months old, but she encouraged me to do it for as long as I wanted for the benefit of my child. For the next five months, I was always lugging an array of small steel containers in which to express the milk, besides an icebox in which I stored the steel containers. It was inconvenient, but the positive implications of my actions were quickly evident.

Thrice a day, I would go to a spare room in my office clinic, and there amid the sterile and spartan surroundings, I would express milk for my child in the steel containers. I would store these containers in the fridge during the day, then get some ice from the office canteen for my icebox, and carry the steel containers containing my ‘liquid gold’ home. 

Once home, I would sterilise six steel katoris, by washing them well and drying them over the heat of the gas burner, the way the BPNI lady had taught me. I would then pour the milk from the steel containers into these katoris.

The following day, my in-laws would pull out one of these containers about 15 minutes before La Niña’s feeding time, and warm the milk by keeping the containers in hot water. Breast milk should never be microwaved or heated on the gas. La Niña’s indulgent grandparents would then feed her the milk using a spoon.

We had already decided against using feeding bottles for a number of reasons. The plastic is never 100 per cent safe, nor is the silicon nipple. Nor does extensive boiling of the feeding bottle apparatus make it as clean and safe as breast milk.

Having observed the power of breastfeeding firsthand, I was doubly motivated to do the same for El Niño. Today La Niña is five years of age, while El Niño is two-and-a-half. Our paediatrician’s file for both kids consists of no more than 5-6 sheets. Almost 90 percent of our visits to the doctor have been to get the kids their vaccination shots. On the rare occasion that the kids have fallen ill, as a result of a sudden change in the weather etc, I have observed with gratitude that both of them have recovered within a day or two. Another pleasant byproduct of the fewer doctor visits is that their immune systems have not been forced to endure doses of antibiotics.

I have seen many kids falling prey to infection after infection, their parents forced to take time off from work once too often. The Husband and I have almost never had to take time off to take the children to the doctor.

I have now become something of a breastfeeding evangelist. Whenever I espy a pregnant woman on the train or bus, I gingerly and tentatively bring up my own experiences, and if she seems receptive, I let her know about the many positive effects of exclusive breastfeeding for both mother and child. I tell her of the physical, mental and social development of the child, of the strengthening of the child’s immunity, a gift that lasts almost all through life.

With my breastfeeding efforts having yielded such great results, I was determined to ensure that the effects of the immunity did not wear off. My father had introduced me to the benefits of eating amla, and I sought to share this treat with my children. They didn’t take to it with the same gusto though, so I learned to make amla candy. Now they can enjoy the benefits of eating amla all the year round.

I haven’t stopped at that in my endeavour to boost their immunity. When they stopped being covered by the all-encompassing power of mother’s milk, I introduced them to Dabur Chyawanprash. Fortunately, it wasn’t an acquired taste. Having seen me and their paternal grandparents enjoying a spoon of this mixture every once in a while with obvious relish, they too began demanding a tablespoon of the same.

The first time they tasted it, the expression on their faces underwent a radical roller-coaster upheaval. But they soon took to this part-sweet, part-spicy taste. They are the only kids I have ever seen that lick the Chyawanprash spoon clean with the concentration that most other children reserve for lollipops.

I also make sure that my children eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables and dry fruits every day, that they play around and sleep well too.

When it comes to boosting the body’s natural defence mechanisms, mothers must ensure that nothing is left undone.

My kids are healthy and well.

What more can a mother ask for?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Staying Safe in My City

I am old enough to remember when my city was called Bombay. I was young then, and my city was a safe place. People said that this vibrant place where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis lived together was the best. 

People could travel home at late hours of the night and still arrive home safe. Women could come home late and not fear for their lives or their virtue (how quaint that word sounds!). Neighbours swapped sweets at festivals, and shared one another’s joys and sorrows. They watched over kids and everything felt safe.

It isn’t like that anymore. It hasn’t been like that for years now.

As a woman, I’ve learned to look over my shoulder when I walk. I’ve learned to watch the shadows that fall on the street beside me to see whether they are lengthening or shortening, depending upon the time of the day. I’ve learned to be wary of people, of strange things.

It ought not to be like that. I long for those days of innocence. When the world felt safe. There were bad things happening, but they seemed to leave us unscathed. Now danger hovers near.

I fear for my children, for my dear ones, for myself.

And I realize that if anything can save us now and again, it is the rule of Safety First and Always.

So here are my 10 Suraksha tips for staying safe in Bombay.

Pity I have to call it Mumbai now.

1)  Listen to your gut: Your instinct. Intuition. Women are blessed with the sixth sense. That inner voice which knows without knowing it knows, long before our conscious selves do, that all is not well, that there is danger in the air. We are all blessed with a Spidey sense that tingles. If only more of us would listen to it! 

Not all danger announces itself through tell tale signs, but there are a lot of times that it does. If someone or something makes you uncomfortable, be warned. If we only listened to our gut telling us not to trust certain people or to flee from certain places, it would bail us out of a heap of trouble.

2)  Verify, verify, verify: Make sure that the antecedents of your domestic staff, including cooks, maids, drivers etc are verified. Keep a current photograph of your domestic staff members with you and have them registered at the local police station. Get proof of their residence.

3)  Stay alert: When you walk on the street, make sure that your senses are alert. In the moment. Don’t talk on the mobile. And don’t listen to music. Whether the phone is glued to your ears or whether you have the hands-free earphones on -- both are bad ideas. You need your ears and your wits about you on the street. Whether it is to see the rickshaw, car or bus hurtling down towards you or whether to see that suspicious person rushing towards you with malicious intent. Suddenly rummaging in the innards of your voluminous handbag for a key, lipstick or equally insignificant something is also a bad idea.

Whether you are at home or in a hotel, it is best to be on your guard. Don’t open the door until you see who the person outside is. Have a safety door set up. Once you are indoors, make sure you bolt the door well as soon as you enter. Don’t leave the balcony door open. Or the window, for that matter, if there is no grill fixed on it. When staying at a hotel, don’t take off the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign even if you are going out for a while.

4)  In the driver’s seat: When you are driving, peer into the backseat before entering the car. Get into the car and lock it, before driving away. As far as possible, take known routes. Taking the road less travelled is a good idea when you are speaking figuratively, but not when you are being literal, and certainly not in the late evening or at night. Also as far as possible, stay in public spaces. Park in a parking lot that is easily accessible, not in a lonely area. By the same token, basement parking lots are a no-no. And have a trustworthy person walk you to your car, particularly when it gets dark. Never mind those sneers about how paranoid you are.

5)  Use your mobile phone well: Keep the phone numbers of family members, close friends and colleagues saved on speed dial. It is also a good idea to keep the numbers of women’s helplines handy. Apps like Smart Suraksha are a useful weapon to stock in your arsenal. Download it and use it when required. When you get into a taxi or an autorickshaw late at night, call a close family member or friend and tell them the licence plate number.

6)  On the commute: When travelling by local train at night, get into a bogie that’s meant for women alone for 24 hours. One of the women’s bogies on the Western and Central Railway lines turns into a general compartment at night. I have seen men rushing into those bogies past 10.30 pm. When travelling by BEST buses, make a big noise, if someone tries to grope you. Move away and sit next to women. 

Avoid travelling in an empty train or bus, at night. If you need to travel to Bandra by train at night, don’t get into a Bandra local. Get into a Borivali or Virar local, so there will be other people in the train with you. Also, avoid wearing flashy gold jewelery, unless you are Bappi Lahiri. When travelling alone, make sure you aren’t wearing a tight skirt or heels, so that you can run if you have to.

7)  On a night out: Go out only with people you trust. But don’t accept food or a drink from a stranger, no matter how handsome he looks and how charming he acts. Don’t leave your drink unattended. Watch it at all times. Take it to the bathroom, if need be. Make sure the drink is made in your presence. Failing that, drink only that which comes out of a sealed can or bottle. Also, make sure that at least one of your friends stays sober so he/she can drive you home.

8)  Save yourself: When in trouble, fight tooth and nail. Lash out at your attacker, but don’t flail around randomly. Hit him where it hurts, on areas where he is most vulnerable. For example, the eyes, the groin, the throat. Use those manicured nails to scratch his face. 

Bite. Claw. Jab. Stab. Thrust. Poke. 

It might incapacitate him for a brief spell, but at least it will give you time to run. Also, when you flee, take care to stay in crowded places, so you can lose the attacker. Don’t ever run into deserted alleys.

9)  Steel your mind: This is easier said than done, but it must be said. Don’t allow the attacker to know that you are afraid. Fear is natural, of course. I am filled with fear at the very thought of being accosted by an anti-social element.

But allowing the attacker to see your fear is the equivalent of losing the battle before it has begun. He will relish scaring you further, toying with you as a man-eater plays with its prey before tearing it to bits. Tell yourself that you will not allow yourself to be a victim. When you walk on the street, walk confidently with your head high. Don’t look frightened, even if you are. If someone accidentally brushes you on the street, don’t let yourself feel a sense of shame. Turn around and shout at the person.

10)  Be Cybersafe: Don’t let your FB friends in on every little sneeze and cough in your life. Especially don’t tell the whole world that you are going out on a vacation with your family. The information tells thieves that your house is unoccupied. As far as possible, avoid sharing personal information on social media. Nothing is private, as far as FB and Twitter are concerned.

Stay safe. 

I am sharing my Smart Suraksha Tips at in association with Smart Suraksha App.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Home: A Safe Haven?

It was ironic that she died at home, when everyone warned her of the dangers that lurked outside.

Home was a haven, everyone said. Elsewhere in the world, there were robberies, rapes and murders taking place. But home was where one could forget that one lived in a cruel world. Home was where one was safe. One could shut the door on all the negativity and the horror that prevailed outside.

They forgot that trouble often does drop in unannounced.
Across the street from their home was her husband’s new office and barely 200 m away was the local police station. Children played outside her plush ground floor apartment. The neighbours were home too.

Help was close at hand. She was surrounded by it, and yet she died struggling and fighting for her life, alone in her last moments.

This happened in 1995, so a number of the safety measures that are considered hygiene today had not yet been learned by society. It is only Experience that teaches us the lessons we know.

She was a family friend of ours, a gentle and kind lady whose personality, from her simple slippers to her cotton sarees, was far from flashy and never gave an inkling about the wealthy family she hailed from or was married into.

No one could have wanted her dead. She had a kind word for everyone. She never raised her voice when talking to anyone, not even to the servants that worked in their home, the man as a cook, the two women as general help. She would relay instructions to them in her quiet voice, and they would go about their duties respectfully.

And so her routine went on. Her husband went to his office in the morning, coming home for lunch in the afternoon, then heading back to the office and returning home rather late. Their only son was working for a bank in London. But she was not one of those that spent her day idly, pining for the two men in her life. No TV serials or kitty parties for her either.

She spent her time reading. And teaching English speaking to some underprivileged children.

That day, her husband had had lunch and had returned to the office. She had settled down with a quiet book, when there was a knock on the door. The security guard of the building later revealed that it was the cook with one of the maids and two unknown men.

What happened next was a knowledge that the hapless woman took to her grave. But the police speculated that perhaps the four asked the woman for the key to the safe where the husband kept the money, and when she refused, they must have hit her on the head with something heavy. They then stuffed her mouth with a rag to prevent her from calling for help, and tied her hands and legs. They also ransacked the bedroom and the kitchen to find the hidden key. But they found nothing.

Furious with her, they must have attempted to strangle her but she passed out before their eyes. Fearing that the commotion might be heard by someone, they grabbed the gold jewellery and left hurriedly.

The post mortem indicated that she was alive for at least half an hour after they left. The report surmised that she must have been in considerable pain. The slow decline had begun. Her life was being snuffed out. But it wasn’t peaceful.

How she must have thought of her husband and son, and wished she could meet them one last time! Had someone come to her aid then, she could have received timely medical attention. Perhaps she would have been alive today.

I was quite young when she died, and honestly, I never gave her much thought in the years since she died. But when I heard about the Smart Suraksha app, just like that, her face rose before my eyes.

And I thought of her.

I wish she had Smart Suraksha with her.

I am sure that if she had had the Smart Suraksha app, she might have lived. Her life would have had a kicking, struggling, fighting chance. 

At the press of a button, the Smart Suraksha app enables one to alert five pre-set mobile numbers besides the police to the fact that one is in danger and needs help.

Additionally, it also enables the police to trace one’s whereabouts regardless of whether the GPRS is on or not.

After she died, there were the usual things people said to console one another. They said, she was a good woman, and God has need of good people. Some said that she was in a far better place, removed from the misery and the pain that afflicted the rest of us.

None of this meant a thing to her husband and son who were devastated by her death. Nearly 18 years later, there must still be a large hole in their lives where she once was.

I am participating in the Seeking Smart Suraksha contest at in association with Smart Suraksha App.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Title: Transference
Author: Jeff Fuell
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Pages: 158

Transference by Jeff Fuell is an easy and engaging read, and succeeds in keeping the reader's interest going. 

The book starts from the viewpoint of the unknown villain, the man who wants the hero, who we haven't met yet, dead. All we know is that this bad guy works in an office and hates cell phones. This we know through a long and pointless rant about cell phones, which does nothing to fuel our interest either in the activities of the bad man or the book.

Thankfully, the pace picks up soon enough when the contract killer answers the phone and the villain asks him to bump off the hero.

Next the perspective shifts to the third person viewpoint of Michael, who has lost his wife to lung cancer and is busy trying to be a single father to his 13-year-old son, David. At work, he comes to know of large amounts of money being siphoned off to certain bank accounts fraudulently. He tries to inform his boss, Mathew, about this suspicious activity, and finds his boss anxious to get out of the office. 

Suspecting that his boss is behind this fraud, Michael leaves office on a Friday evening, but is killed by the contract killer. He dies. 

But that is not the end of the story.

He wakes up in the body of Tommy, his son's best friend who, following an accident, had been in a coma for three months.

Now Michael has a completely different set of problems to contend with. Not only does he need to get answers to who wanted him killed and why, and what happened to the real Tommy, he also needs to get ready to live life as a young pre-teen boy, without raising any doubts or suspicions in the minds of those who knew Tommy well.

But the search for answers will not only endanger the life and welfare of his own son, but also that of Tommy’s mother and sister.

Clearly, it’s not easy to be a young boy, particularly the second time around.

Fuell has done a good job of recreating dialogue. He also manages to make some good observations, "Nothing made people move faster than a clock that said quitting time on a Friday."

Bonus points to the author for handling the father-son sections so beautifully. 

The character of Stacey, the younger sister of Tommy, is another treat. It is wonderful to see her precociousness and the spiritedness with which she offers to assist Michael in what is, from her point of view, clearly an adventure. She is mature beyond her age, and yet she is endearingly still a child.

I particularly liked the sections which take Michael back to school. The characters of Leland, the skinny hall monitor who is repeatedly thrust into a locker by sundry people, and another kid who suffers from a severe case of flatulence not only serve as instances of unique characters but also perform important roles in the story.

Transference suffers from the lack of grammar checking that is the bane of indie authors. For the most part, the language is clean, but clichés sometimes upset the flavour of the reading, as in the first chapter. Here, the killer thinks to himself: "Yes, he probably has an unusual lifestyle, one that I really do not want to know the ends and outs of, but still!"

I also encountered another slight error in continuity. After Michael is dead, he realises that he cannot see his own reflection in a glass door in the hospital. And yet, moments later, Fuell tells us that he looked at the door and saw nothing, but himself waving.

Aside from these minor quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed Transference

Fuell has not only succeeded in keeping the pace swift, he has also managed the difficult task of helping us to make Michael's quest our own.

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Like a Drop of Water on the Parched Earth

The best definition of encouragement I have ever read was supplied by author Claire Gillian. She said, “Encouragement is like a drop of water upon a parched earth.”

I have heard other definitions of encouragement, but this one remains one of my favourites. It may not seem like much, particularly if you are a pond or a lake or even a puddle. 

But at various points in my life, I have been the parched earth and I know the value of that drop of water.

I know what it can do to you, when it seems that the only water around is muddled by the salt of your tears.

I know how it can uplift you, and give you the strength to wipe your tears and rush back to the heat of the battle. Suddenly the haze is lifted, and the sweat and exhaustion and even the blood may be forgotten in the relief that comes from knowing that there is one person out there who believes, without the slightest doubt, that you are capable and that you can do it.

It is very easy to offer encouragement to those who are successful. To those who are talented and have already proved their competence. But to encourage those who have been losers in the generally understood sense of the term, that is difficult and it takes a very big heart to do that.

I want to share with you a video. I found it on YouTube. It shows a boy who had been getting Fs in Maths. Apparently, the boy had to keep taking the exam because he kept failing. I imagine his father must have been at the end of his tether, as he wondered if his son would ever get through this bugbear of a subject, which has caused greater minds to quail. Mine included.

The boy studied hard and went on to get a C. That’s a quicker way of saying Average or Mediocre or Ordinary or Unexceptional.

But not the way this young lad’s father saw it. His father recognized the hard work his son had put in, even to get that C, and he appreciated it. He saw the determination that the boy had mustered in order to conquer defeat, and he thought it worthy of celebration.

Pay special attention to the boy’s reaction to his father’s response to the news of his C. Mark my words, whatever the problems this boy faces in life, a fear of Maths will never be one of them. Nor will this boy be constrained by any obstacle, with a father like this.

Watch this video and feel as thrilled as I did. And yes, watch it till the end.

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)


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