Grit and Grace: About Women Who Win!

 

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“No!” was my first reaction when I read the email asking me to be a part of the Women Writers Fest organized by SheThePeopleTV in Pune in August. “I’m still new at this, they’ll laugh me off the stage! What can I say that a hundred famous people haven’t already told them?”

Lots of espressos paradoxically soothed my nerves and a few hours later I pressed delete on my ‘Sorry, I won’t be in town on that date’ reply. I would attend!

My session would discuss ‘How are writers different from authors?’ The venue was a cosy, artistic hall packed with women of all ages. I saw gorgeous sarees, khadi kurtas, dresses and jeans. What was common was the palpable excitement in the air, the creativity zinging about the place. Off the page, I’m the quiet sort and love to eavesdrop. So I pulled my chair closer and listened to the mothers, wives, grannies talk about family, community and the muse. What struck me was how every woman there radiated power, she had overcome her obstacles of time, finances or self doubt and stepped forward to express her words.

The lovely and talented Melanie Lobo moderated our session and my fellow panelists were the well known panelists Saaz Agarwal and ex Indian cricketer turned journalist Snehal Pradhan. Saaz was the voice of experience and urged the ladies to be disciplined and work at the craft. She encouraged us all to read great books so we would know how far away we were from being good. If you know you’ve done a good job, self publish your work – retain control over every step – was her advice.

Snehal admitted she liked to add a bit of masala to make cricket more attractive. Still to become an author, she labelled herself. What we all agreed was our association of authors with having published a book. I’ve wanted to write all my life, being more comfortable with the written word rather than the spoken one. But I guess, when you become more professional about it, want to get it ‘out there’ and are willing to face endless rejection, you’re on the path to becoming an author. You need to learn to develop a thick skin, get laughed at and learn to market your work even if you can’t sell water to a man dying of thirst.

What amazed me was the honesty that flowed, from the speakers and the audience. We discussed blocks, heartbreak, self esteem and I realised I wasn’t alone. We all have overwhelming feelings of being a useless writer or jealousy when others get a huge advance, but we’re all in this together. In fact it’s the empowered women who empower others. The ones who refuse to share their knowledge, who cling to their contacts and reviewers and marketing tips – they’re the scared ones and they’re in a minority.

Ask for help, help others and let’s all be winners together!

By Shraddha Sahi Satav

Follow her on Twitter: @shraddhavs

 

 

 

 

Enter the Dragon!

 

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Where did you get the idea for the character of Dragon Aunty or Dolly?

Is Dragon Aunty someone you know in real life?

Are you friends with Dragon Aunty or someone like her in real life?

Are you Mrinalini in the book?

Ever since my book, Dragon Aunty Returns, was published by Juggernaut Books early this year, I’ve been living out the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. It hasn’t been very pleasant, let me tell you. A barrage of questions are invariably thrown at me. At lunches, dinners and get-togethers. Some of my close friends have been acting rather strangely around me, sniffing loudly and looking upset when any mention of the book comes up.

The other day, one of them (we will call her X) couldn’t contain herself any longer and accosted me when I was out for a walk. “Hey!” she whispered furtively from behind the bushes of a park in the block of flats adjoining mine. “I wanted to ask you a question.” I strolled over casually to where she was standing, wondering why she was hiding behind the bushes looking so secretive, all of a sudden.

“I wanted to ask you about that Dragon lady in your book,” X blurted out. “You aren’t writing about me, are you?” While there were many similarities between Dolly and X, I hadn’t thought of the latter when I was writing the book at all. But I didn’t know what to say so I burst out laughing. “Good god no,” I said, in between giggles. “What on earth made you think that?”

“Who is it then?” she persisted, with a petulant twist of her lips. “Is it someone I know?”

I met her stare without blinking. I wasn’t about to tell her anything. A writer never gives away her secrets. Or is it a magician?

“No, it’s not someone you know. So don’t worry,” I added hurriedly.

As I returned home that evening, I couldn’t help smiling to myself. Perhaps, the book should have come with a disclaimer: Any Resemblance to Actual Persons, Living or Dead, is Purely Coincidental. I’d better remember that when I’m writing the sequel!

This strange turn of events also got me thinking. When had Dragon Aunty made an entrance in my life? It would have to be during Durga Puja in 2013. I remember marvelling at the mind-boggling array of tattoos I had witnessed at the different puja pandals across Gurgaon. It had become a fashion fad to get inked and most women I knew were sporting tattoos in various shapes, sizes and colours. I remember writing a post about it in my blog, Gurgaon Diaries. The Aunty with the Dragon Tattoo. Soon Aunty had leaped out of the virtual universe, becoming a figure larger than life. There was just no escaping her. She was everywhere.

As for me being Mrinalini, there’s very little resemblance between Mrinalini and myself, other than the fact that both of us are Bengalis. Mrinalini is stuffy and a prude. I’m neither. In fact, I probably resemble Dolly more than Mrinalini. So it’s safe to say, some days I am Dolly, while I am Mrinalini on others. They are both my alter-egos. As for Panks and Guruji and the others, go figure! I’m not telling.

You must read the book to see if you recognize anyone else. Available on the Juggernaut Books app. You can download it here:

http://www.juggernaut.in/books/56d2433f9f924ad19654f05238d5d4cc

The Man with the Tin Trunk

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The bell would ring at twelve noon. A couple of loud gongs and a horde of girls would flood the school courtyard. It was “tiffin time,” the magical half hour of freedom from rigorous school routine. The girls’ eyes would focus on a particular corner of the vast compound where a thin, moustachioed man with a wheatish complexion would be opening, what looked like, a medium sized tin trunk.

In the next couple of seconds, all hell would break loose. The girls would surround the man. Grubby, sweaty palms (a bewildering number of them) clutching shiny coins would be extended towards him and their eyes would gleam with excitement as they tiptoed to catch a glimpse of the treasures inside the trunk. The man would smile indulgently and reach inside to begin the day’s sales.

The man with the tin trunk or Walter as he was known in official circles had a very important job. He was our school’s candy supplier while we treated him as our very own Willy Wonka with a treasure chest of goodies: green peppermint sweets, stick jaws and fudge toffees. Each of these would cost fifteen paise and if you bought a rupee’s worth, he would give a discount and sneak a couple of extra in.

The green peppermint sweets were my favourites. Round and pale green, wrapped in cellophane paper, these were exquisite melt in the mouth creations that left a refreshing peppermint aftertaste. You couldn’t stop at one. The stick jaws were tricky and it was never a good idea to have them at lunch and land up for class with an immobilised jaw afterwards. Our teachers were not amused if you couldn’t move your mouth to answer their questions. The stick jaws were devilish things and I always avoided them. The fudge toffees would be sugary squares with a hint of chocolate but delectable all the same.

Every once in a while, I have a craving for peppermint sweets. Like now! I haven’t see one in ages. Though I believe there are still some bakeries in Kolkata that stock them. Perhaps on my next trip, I should get myself some. I often wonder what happened to Walter. He’s probably very old now, if he is alive that is. I wish him well, wherever he is. He brought so much joy to an entire generation of children.

Simple pleasures, fifteen paise a piece.

My friend Afsal

 

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My best friend when I was six years old was a boy named Afsal. He was a year older than me, our driver Abdul’s son. I still remember his face as vividly as though it were yesterday. Fair, light eyed with chiselled features. He would come over to play with me after school and we would run around in our garden, shrieking like banshees, trying to climb trees. Our dogs (there were five of them at that time) would chase us excitedly, desperate to be part of the action. They too loved Afsal.

Baba was very fond of the little boy. I remember Abdul would never bring him over without an invitation. But my father would make sure that Afsal was invited over regularly. When he forgot, I would nag Abdul to get my way. The last memory I have of him was from my seventh birthday party. Afsal had come over, dressed in a spotless white kurta pajama with a tiny cap on his head. He had handed over his birthday gift with a shy smile. I remember tearing open the shiny silver paper and crying out with joy. It was a bright-red battery-operated helicopter. We had played with the toy for hours, sitting on the floor of our living room. My mother had served us cake and chips and the hours had flown by.

Baba died a few years after and we moved to another house. Abdul was the company driver so we never saw him after that. My mother tells me he did visit a couple of times when he heard about my father. But I never saw Afsal ever again.

I wonder about him sometimes. He would have grown into a handsome man. I wonder where he lives, where he works, about his family. I wonder whether he remembers me. If he saw me across the street, would he recognise me? Would he even say hello?

We grew up in a different time. One where our faith, backgrounds or bank balances didn’t determine our friendships. I’d like to believe that things haven’t changed. Or have they?

 

Beauty is not skin-deep, thank heavens!

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“My facial should be cheaper today, it’s GST day!” the lady in the chair next to me at the beauty parlour cried out loudly. I turned around to look at her in surprise. Her face was covered in green and three salon attendants were tending to her nails and hair. Two eyes sparkled at me through the green goo. I wasn’t sure whether to smile at her since her mouth hadn’t moved. Possibly to avoid getting wrinkles. Still, I decided it was safer to nod at her in return.

The three attendants perked up from their duties and stared at her with interest. “Oh ho, GST Ma’am,” the wiry chap filing her nails said knowledgeably. “Woh Shuru ho Gaya?” (has it started already?)

“Of course,” the lady sighed and slumped back in her seat. “It started from midnight last night. The parlour should charge less now with the Good Tax, isn’t it?” The three men exchanged glances. I suppressed a giggle.

“There are different taxes for different things, isn’t it Madam?” the hairstylist paused with a strand of coloured hair in his hand. “18 %, 28 % …” The chap had done his homework well.

The lady looked at her reflection in the mirror. The eyes under the mask were round, incredulous. “Yes, yes,” she said quickly. “Different rates.” Her eyes met mine in the mirror. I could tell that she didn’t have a clue about the different rates or the tax! Or the fact that salon services would cost more.

Hours later, I could hear her arguing with the receptionist about the bill. “Arre, no change in your bill. You haven’t given any rebate for GST. This is not done!” before storming out in a huff vowing never to return.

I wonder what the poor woman had been expecting. With all the personal grooming services that she opted for, I’m not surprised she was served a huge bill. It’s a tax for god’s sake, not a discount for looking good.

Like all things, beauty too comes at a price!

 

The Mummy! And it’s not a Review

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Around the time Wonder Woman was leaving Paradise Island to put an end to the World War, another woman was preparing to wage war, of a different kind, on an audience of around 100 unsuspecting movie-goers.

As the story unfolded on-screen, through the corner of my eye, I saw a little girl (she couldn’t have been more than two or three years old) walk down the red, carpeted stairs of the aisle in the movie theatre in search of her Mummy.  “I want to go to Mummy,” she yelled out loudly in Hindi, startling everyone in the audience. I could see heads turning this way and that, all around me. We all wondered where the mother was and why she wasn’t with her daughter.

The little girl walked a few steps down, tottered in the darkness and yelled out for her Papa this time, undaunted by the loud “ssssshs” emanating from various corners of the auditorium. A figure, possibly her harried Papa, darted out in the dark and proceeded to pull her back to her seat. The little girl wouldn’t move. She had reached the landing. Her mission to find her mother seemed more urgent than Wonder Woman’s quest for Ares. God knows where the poor woman was hiding. I had half a mind to look for her myself so that we could all get on with the movie in peace but the husband gave me a warning look and I froze.

Instead I watched as Papa sat his toddler down on the steps next to my seat and kept her entertained for the remainder of the movie with bags of popcorn and cola that attendants delivered at regular intervals. The two kept up a steady stream of conversation that made it impossible for me to concentrate on the movie. I couldn’t even glare at them. It was too dark for them to see!

So I slouched back in my seat and sulked while Wonder Woman saved the World. Unfortunately for me, Papa and his little wonder had ruined mine! Several hundreds of rupees flushed down the toilet. I would cheerfully wring the Mummy’s neck if I spotted her.

Thankfully for her (not for me), she remained as elusive as the prospect of a relaxing movie night after a hard, work week!

 

 

 

 

A Meaty Tradition!

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What is it about Bengalis and their must-have dish, mutton curry, on Sunday?

As I type this, I have mutton and potatoes cooking inside a pressure cooker, delicious aroma wafting into my living room from the kitchen, to remind me that I need to turn the gas off after a couple of minutes. And it’s a Sunday.

There goes the warning whistle.

They say it’s tradition. I find that odd as I’ve never been particularly traditional. Yet I find myself craving mangsho every Sunday. My family isn’t very traditional either. Though my ancestry dates back some three hundred years in West Bengal. My father left home when he was twenty to be a mariner. He loved the seas and was hardly ever seen shopping for groceries on a Sunday morning like most traditional Bengali men. My mother cooked only when she had to, though she was happiest with a book in her hands, not a ladle.

Yet, oddities aside, every Sunday we ate meat curry for lunch.

I’m grown up now. At least I hope so. I don’t live in Kolkata anymore. I couldn’t be further away from it, enconsced in the heart of dusty Jat Land. Yet every Sunday morning, there’s that all-too-familiar gnawing in my stomach.

I buy the meat myself. The husband does NOT go shopping with a tholey (cloth shopping bag – I’ve always hated the ghastly things) though he would oblige if I asked him to. My meat is home delivered. The friendly neighbourhood butcher knows the cuts of meat that I like. I wash and cook the mutton myself, potatoes fried golden brown, chunks of meat marinated and cooked in a fiery amber gravy before being tossed into the cooker with the potatoes to sizzle in their own juices.

The cholesterol scare keeps us away from the dish every now and then but it’s back on our table sooner or later. Always on a Sunday though.

There goes the whistle. I’d better go. My meat is cooked.

What’s your Sunday meat story?