Joyce Purdy and the Old Kenilworth Hotel

Image courtesy: Times of India

I remember being sent out to write a report on the Armenians in Kolkata in the early ’90s for Business Standard. There were a handful of them still living in the city and Joyce Purdy who ran the Old Kenilworth Hotel was on the top of my list. Slightly apprehensive about going to the hotel on my own, I took my mother along with me. I was all of 21 and unmarried.

Joyce Purdy was a formidable old lady and she barked at me from the door. “Go away, I don’t want to talk to anyone. These are troubled times for us and I don’t want more trouble!” (Armenia was at war with Azerbaijan and Turkey had closed it borders to the former as a result of the dispute)

I stood uncertainly wondering what to do next. My editor wouldn’t like it if I came back without a story. The door opened a crack and she peered out again. “Who is that with you?” she yelled. She had spotted my mother looking just as apologetic as me.

“Er … My mother … Ma’am” I mumbled.

“I see.” was her answer.

The door opened wider and she came out smiling. “You can come in dear. I can see you are a girl from a good family. You’ve come with your mother after all. I can’t turn you away.”

There was tea and cookies waiting for us along with stories about the hotel and her childhood.

I hear they are demolishing the hotel to make way for a swanky 35-storeyed residential tower. (Report)

What a crying shame!

The Memory Bank


I’m not a terribly disciplined person when it comes to writing. I have a noisy mind, random thoughts running parallel to one another at any given point of time. Most of them have nothing to do with writing – mundane, routine stuff such as buying groceries, planning meals, running errands or even the washing. There are sparks of inspiration in between.

I don’t have a desk or a fancy office. Most of the time, I am typing away furiously at the dining table or even the bed, propped up by cushions. I don’t like working in coffee shops or park benches. People distract me, conversations disrupt my train of thought and I end up eavesdropping (discreetly of course) without getting my own workdone. The food that I consume when I’m out is also something I could do without.

Many people have asked me how I get ideas for my stories. Here goes.

Mostly, they just come to me, in the middle of something I’m busy with. I may be at the bus stop waiting for my daughter to get home from school or even at the neighbourhood supermarket buying groceries. A face, a smile or the tring of the rickshaw puller’s bell sets me off. My mind is always wandering. But that’s a good thing, in my case.

If you are looking for a place to get ideas, here are some tips to get you started.

Memories are a good place to mine for ideas. Think back to some of your favourite memories from the past. A birthday party or a trip to the zoo. A favourite relative who may not be alive anymore. I remember going for long drives as a child. All of us siblings and cousins would be packed into my father’s green Fiat. He would drive us through Kolkata, down the busy streets towards Strand Road, a long stretch of road running parallel to the river. We would stop for ice creams. The windows of the car would be pulled down, cool breeze on our faces as we contemplated the water, dotted by tiny boats and steamers. My father died when I was very young but those memories will stay alive as long as I’m around.

Step outside. Coffee shops, markets or even a bookstore is a great place to meet people and protagonists for your stories. I met a man at a book fair once who was buying expensive books at a stall. He looked as though he was a man of modest means, shabby white shirt and trousers, disheveled hair. He probably caught my gaze and read my mind. “You must be wondering why I’m buying all these books Didi,” he said out loud, somewhat apologetically. “You see, I’ve just bought a flat after years of saving up. I have a bookshelf but no books. I need books to fill my bookshelf with, the kind they have in wealthy people’s homes.” Story there somewhere!

Writing Prompts. If you don’t find any ideas from your memories or the people you meet, you can always rely on writing prompts. I’ve never used a prompt but most writing websites have them. Perhaps you could use your favourite memory from childhood as a prompt? Let me know how that worked for you. I’d love to read the story.

You can read some of my short stories here

Book Excerpt: Gurgaon Diaries

Pick up any Indian history book, epic like the Mahabharata or you could just Google search, if you’re so inclined, and you will discover that Gurgaon or Gurugram (as it’s been renamed recently) was gifted to Guru Dronacharya by the Pandavas and Kauravas in return for training in military arts. While the legends of the mythical village were woven around the warrior mystic who trained the protagonists of the Indian epic, the Millennium City or India’s Singapore, as it is popularly called, owes its rapid growth to globalization and the BPO boom. Some say Gurgaon got its name from the jaggery (gur) that was sold in markets in and around this region. While I have no idea about the authenticity of these stories, one thing is for certain. There is nothing remotely rustic about the concrete jungle that is modern-day Gurgaon. Other than the cows, that is!

There are designer stores peddling Gucci, Prada and what nots, emporiums, Starbucks coffee franchises, international restaurant chains across the road from food trucks, roadside vans peddling chole bhatures and dhabas selling tandoori chicken and bread pakodas!

Gurugram’s one-million denizens are a motley crew. There are aunties, ‘mashimas’, Jat boys and girls, corporate executives, call centre workers, businessmen, real estate dealers, fitness enthusiasts, socialites, maids, ragpickers, rickshaw pullers and garbage collectors—a melting pot of people from all around the world, literally speaking. All of them contribute towards creating Gurgaon’s rather unique community whose sense of style, etiquette and language has no parallel.

The story of how modern-day Gurgaon came into being is quite remarkable. How a quiet hamlet in Haryana transformed into a leading IT services and industrial hub with the third highest per capita income in India is the stuff of legends. As remarkable as the thought that the Kauravas once ran amok in the brilliant yellow mustard fields that line National Highway 8, which connects Gurgaon to Delhi and the rest of the world. I can almost hear Guru Dronacharya screaming at the top of his lungs, ordering them to focus on their lessons!

Gurgaon Diaries is available at leading bookstores. You can also order it here:

Rupa Publications India

Price: INR 295

Order it here:

The Ice Cream Cone


He stared at the ice cream van with longing in his eyes. Unfurling his fingers to reveal a shiny ten rupee coin resting in his grubby palm. It was from the packet of pens he had sold earlier in the day outside the market. It wasn’t enough to buy himself an ice cream though. There was a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to find that man again, the one he had sold the pens to. He was smiling, holding out an ice cream cone in his hand. For him.

Don’t give up!


In 2012, my first pitch for a novel was turned down by a few publishers. After almost two decades in media, having notched up a reputation as a fairly capable writer, I was devastated. The book, a few chapters of which had been written and was based on a subject very close to my heart, was instantly abandoned. Tossed into a dustbin. I was determined never to attempt a book again. I should mention here that I had written a book when I was a child, inspired by the Agatha Christie novels that I fed on. Death in Croydon, I think it was called, neatly typewritten by myself on my father’s Remington typewriter and stapled together. Of course, that didn’t count as a first novel. I think my mother still has it somewhere in her house.

The husband, God bless him for his good sense, asked me to stop moping and start writing a blog. “How does it matter if someone has rejected your book idea? Write something else,” he said matter-of-factly one morning at breakfast unable to take in my dismal appearance anymore. “Write a blog. About your experiences in Gurgaon. You keep complaining about your life here. Well, here’s your chance. Blog about it.”

So I did.

I started writing a blog. I called it The Gurgaon Diaries. I wrote with a strange zeal I didn’t know I possessed. Thrice, sometimes even four times a week. Some posts were funny, satiric, others sad, poignant. I posted my updates on Facebook and soon I had a loyal following of people who looked forward to my posts every week. I had readers!

There were no expectations. All I did was pour my heart out into my posts every week. For five years in a row. And then last year, I decided to attempt a book again. My confidence in myself had returned. The plot, based on one of my blog posts, was about a funny lady I had met in Gurgaon. I called her Dragon Aunty. I sent a pitch to Juggernaut Books and they loved the idea. I had my foot in the door!

Around the same time, I got an email from another publisher. It seems they had been reading my blog and wanted to turn my blog into a book. All of a sudden, there was two book deals! I had a few months to rewrite my blog completely and turn it into a 70,000 word manuscript. I was elated but apprehensive at the same time. I had been writing a blog. It was completely different from a manuscript for a book.

How did I do it? More about that in my next post.

The moral of the story? Don’t give up on your dreams. Ever. I won’t either. I will complete that first book of mine, still unpublished as of now! I’m quite sure it will be a winner.









Tea Tales



Bishnu, the tea boy, came by every morning with glasses of tea. I remember his face as clearly as though it were yesterday. Brown, the colour of the earth, with white teeth that stretched into a smile each time he laid eyes on me. “Didi, shall I give you some lee-kaar cha (liquor tea)?” he would ask, stopping by my desk. The cha tasted vile but I drank cups and cups of it every day.

Excerpt: The Ghosts of Gurugram

Tara had an uncanny feeling that she was being watched and it wasn’t just the woman. She noticed a pair of bright, golden-yellow eyes staring at her from the darkness in one corner of the room. Good god, what on earth was that? She couldn’t control the sneeze any longer.


Sharma the agent, sitting quietly beside her all this while, nearly jumped out of his skin. “Are you okay Madam?” he enquired, looking at her in surprise.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m sorry Sharmaji,” Tara mumbled apologetically, rubbing her nose. The woman continued looking at her disapprovingly.

“Meaaaoww,” the owner of the yellow eyes, a fluffy black cat emerged from the shadows and padded across the carpet casually to where Tara was sitting. Tara stared at the creature warily. She wasn’t very fond of cats. They were unpredictable beings, cats.

“What’s the matter?” the woman asked sharply, following Tara’s glance to the spot on the carpet where the cat had seated itself and was now licking its tail.

“Erm … nothing Aunty,” Tara didn’t want to annoy the landlady by mentioning the cat. People were usually bat-shit crazy about their pets and she didn’t expect this woman to be any different. She was weird enough as it is.

If you liked the excerpt, you can get the book on the Amazon Kindle

Free for Kindle Unlimited users.

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