The Ice Cream Cone

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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!

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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

 

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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.

Aaaaaaaahchooo!

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 storeamzn.to/2AETuX1

Free for Kindle Unlimited users.

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The Death Wish

A few months ago, in July this year, an elderly lady killed herself by jumping off the balcony in the condominium where I live. Her death haunted me for days and I decided to write something about it. The following piece was my original FB post which I have reproduced here.

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The chalk outline has been washed away, the orange safety cones removed and the greyish black concrete looks as though it has just been laid. There is no trace of her ever having lain there on the ground, cold and lifeless, eyes unseeing.

I have been sneaking out to the verandah every now and then, the entire morning, in between my writing spells to look down at the ground. Trying to imagine how she must have felt in the moment before she plunged down, ten floors, to her death. One moment of hopelessless, futility, unloved by the ones she cared for the most in the world. That’s all it took.

I hope it was all over for her in the flash of an eye. I hope she didn’t suffer or writhe in pain while we carried on with our lives within the comfort of our homes unaware of the tragedy that was playing out a short distance away. Our self-contained boxes.

I must have crossed paths with her as I went about my daily business in the condo. If I had known who she was or the anguish she was feeling, would I have been able to do anything about it? I wonder.

If only I had known.

I’m not a psychic like Tara, the protagonist of my novella, The Ghosts of Gurugram. Sometimes I wish I was.

Six degrees of Social Media!

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My cook sent me a friend request on Facebook the other day.

It was her all right. There was no mistaking that round, smiling face, red bindi plastered on the forehead and brightly coloured saree. The message ominously said “Shakti D wants to be friends with you.”

Below the friend request was a lineup of people Facebook thought I should befriend. They included my plumber, Acquaguard service technician and the cab agency owner I hire taxis from regularly.

As I stared at the screen in disbelief, I realized that six degrees of separation was not an abstract idea anymore. It had become a rather grim reality, in my case.

Now it’s one thing being connected to Kevin Bacon through someone or the other you may know in life. I mean, Footloose is one of my favourite movies. I’ve practically grown up watching it and drooling over Bacon and his dance moves. But the rest, I have a problem with!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not me being snobbish and class conscious. I’m an intensely private person and the only thing I share with the world at large is my writing. It’s bad enough that my family and relatives have invaded my online space and I have to befriend them on various social media platforms and read and dutifully like their Whatsapp messages (read spam) on a daily basis so that they don’t get offended. Relationship quotes, inspirational sayings, funny videos and memes. Bring it on. My phone is struggling to function with the burden of the those.

But when I get a message and a picture of an ugly-as-hell bouquet of flowers from an unfamiliar number that says: “Didi, how do you like my latest flower arrangement? You can buy it from my shop” I have a problem. I mean, I’ve just ordered flowers from the guy once and he is already on my Whatsapp list of contacts behaving as though he were an old friend!

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Block. Block. Block.

As for my cook, I’m still wondering what to do with that invitation. I really don’t want to offend her. My life depends on her turning up to work at the right time and putting hot food on the table for the family. If I jeopardise that relationship, my life will be turned upside down. Literally.

I could live without my relatives but not my cook.

Kevin Bacon can wait. I will make do with Shakti D for the time being.

The Long and the Short of It: Writing Short Stories

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“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

(Neil Gaiman)

Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different forms of writing but the short story has always eluded me. Always by accident, never by design. In the light of recent developments, I view this as a shame.

I have recently finished writing a collection of short stories and I find that writing short fiction is hugely enjoyable, at least for me! It holds a lot of promise. I would actually go so far as to say that short stories are, perhaps, the most challenging thing I have ever worked on in my entire career.

You may ask me why. Well, I’ll tell you why.

Brevity

You don’t have the luxury of writing till the ink in your pen runs dry or the battery in your laptop out of charge, the latter a more likely scenario. You don’t have the luxury of 50,000 words or more. Short stories are typically between 1,000 to 7,500 words though some pieces of short fiction can be as long as 30,000 words! But let’s forget about that for a minute. Say you have a limit between 2,500 and 3,000 words to tell a good story. You need to make sure you keep that limit in mind when setting out or else you may get terribly lost and waste precious time.

Plot

It’s always good to have an idea fleshed out into a tidy plot before you start writing. With a well-defined plot in hand (or in mind) you will find it easier to stick to the word limit rather than amble along as you may have in the case of a longer work of fiction or non-fiction. Figure out how the storyline will develop within the word count. I found it helpful to have a beginning, middle and end and have an approximate word count for each section.

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Characters

Don’t go overboard with a host of characters with complicated sub-plots. Keep it fairly straightforward unless you have a plan to weave all the different characters and their stories into your main plot. Remember, you are not writing a novel and it’s difficult even for an experienced writer to have different things going on at the same time. The story becomes heavy, clumsy and loses focus.

Twists don’t always work

You don’t necessarily need a twist to make your tale work. Often, there is great value in simplicity. Also, open endings work really well. The reader can interpret it whichever way he or she likes. That increases their engagement in the story and which author doesn’t want the reader to get engaged?

Short stories are good practice before you go ahead and write the longer novel if you haven’t written one already. You can write a couple of short stories and then expand them into proper novellas or works of fiction. One of my short stories was actually an idea that I had (inside my head for years) for a longer novel.

My head is already buzzing with more ideas for stories I’d like to write down. What about you? Go on, give them a try.

If you would like to read my short stories, do click on this link: http://bit.ly/2x7mBUm

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