Overcoming Writer’s Block

I have been thinking of starting with my second book but no idea has struck so far. I don’t know what to write on. Should I write on a women related subject like my first novel or should it be a thriller this time? Actually love stories are hot selling these days so it will be a good idea to write steamy romantic scenes but there are already so many romantic novels. Whichever topic I think of, it has already been written about by many authors and there is nothing left for me to write about. It appears that I have exhausted my share of creativity. Does the scenario sound familiar?

May be how self-motivated and disciplined you are as an author, there will be times when you don’t know what to write on next; there will be times when your mind just goes blank when you feel that all the out of the box ideas have already been taken away by other authors. Everything seems boring and not your cup of tea but it is indeed appreciable that despite the blocks you still want to write and continue with your search for that elusive idea or the unpredictable twist in the plot.

When I was incorporating the changes in my manuscript as suggested by my editor Harsh Agarwal , we used to brainstorm on how to introduce fresh ideas in the plot and deal with writer’s block. Here are a few tips practiced by me and so many other authors to ward off the writer’s block.

Stop thinking about that new idea or twist in the story that you are writing. The universal principle that if you don’t chase something desperately, it will come to you on its own is applicable here too. The more you think about it, the farther away the idea will run from you. Chill, take it easy.

For the time being, how about catching up with your reading? Make a list of themes in the books that you have read. Though the main subject is only one, every book is a combination of various thoughts, ideas and characters even if there is just a brief mention about it in the book. The Other End of the Corridor deals with subjects like mental and physical abuse at home, comparison of our lives with others’, self-discovery and finding our strengths when we are in crisis but there is also a passing reference to my protagonist Leela’s brother who being a son was pampered as a child and is given preferential treatment in the family whereas Leela’s desires are always sidelined. How about thinking through the reasons and digging deeper into this thought? Give wings to your imagination and you might be able to build your entire story on a brand new theme.

Another way is to Branch out and focus your mind on blogging, writing an opinion piece for a newspaper, a short story or anything but not that plot which has taken away your sleep literally.

The secret of good writing is not just the main theme but weaving the plot and its presentation. Queen, a Hindi movie of 2014 is a perfect example of this expression. It is the story about a girl’s self- discovery who has been rejected by her fiancé just a day before her marriage. Yawn! What’s so great about the storyline? But the movie turned out to be a Bollywood blockbuster and became unique because of its presentation and narration. Every small idea can be developed in to a full length novel or a short story. All you need is engrossing narration.

Sometimes, the deadline is looming large and you don’t have the luxury of putting your writing away and indulging in reading or something else for a while. In that case, writer’s block becomes really a luxury which we writers can’t afford all the time.

Use your observation skills. Go to a public place, college canteen, mall, restaurant or simply rewind your last social get-together with friends or work friends. List down the people you met or saw. Focus on someone who was most weirdly or stylishly dressed and try to imagine his/her day before she arrived at the party. Did she come alone or with someone? Who was this someone with her – boyfriend, husband, father or a stranger? Did she like the dress she was wearing? Why did she look stressed? Think deeper and you will have a brand new twist to the story.

Do anything but don’t let that writer’s block linger on for very long else it will block you from the writing world.

(This piece was originally published in Huffingtonpost: Link below )

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/sujata-rajpal-/overcoming-writers-block_b_7114646.html

Nice Hair, Deepika ! My Choice…Your Choice…

(This piece was published in Star of Mysore on April 7, 2015)

27, 80, 00,000 web views, 7,715,075 YouTube hits in just a few hours and still counting. For sure, producer Homi Adjania is a happy man. Irrespective of whether you are a social media addict or not, in all probability, you have watched the video or at least heard about this 2.34 minute Deepika Padukone’s My Choice Documentary video supposedly on women empowerment. No issues, if you haven’t yet watched it, it should be ‘Your Choice’ to watch it or not to watch it.

Though well intentioned, this Vogue video has backfired. Let us look at it from three aspects. If the objective is to empower, it has failed miserably. The video is a misdirected attempt to empower women. Instead of portraying a strong woman, it portrays an arrogant one who cares a damn about anyone or anything. It fails to connect. Picturized on 99 women from different walks of life, it is a video by the elite class but it is not meant even for the elite. Does feminism mean exposing a bra strap or declaring from roof top that it is okay to have sex outside marriage? Does that empower women in any way? We know it very well, Feminism is not about superiority rather it is about equality of genders.

No one is denying that it should be a woman’s personal choice to live life in the manner that she wants to. The same way, it is a man’s choice to live life at his own terms. Visualize this video picturized on any of the Khans or Bollywood heartthrobs and it is bound to look comic. And the reaction of any forward thinking woman or a true feminist would be ‘Man, Get lost! If you think, it’s only your choice!’

I can still recall the video on India ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ first telecasted in 1988. The concept for Mile Sur was developed by Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad and promoted by Doordarshan (then India’s sole TV broadcaster) and India‘s Ministry of Information. The song was composed by Ashok Patki and arranged by Louis Banks, with lyrics by Piyush Pandey (then an Account Manager of Ogilvy and Mather, India). It was recorded by people from all walks of life, including a group of Indian celebrities—musicians, sports persons, movie stars, etc. The national integration video was intended to instill a sense of pride and promote unity amongst Indians, highlighting India’s different linguistic communities and societies. That is one documentary film which has stayed in people’s mind. The lyrics are still hummed by many.  Even now when I watch it, it gives me goosebumps.

Coming back to the video, the second aspect is visuals. The video fails to impress even visually. Leave the objective aside, the video could have been made more appealing both visually and emotionally. For sure, the script writer and lyricist could have found more powerful words to empower women. If this is a part of PR strategy to promote Deepika’s upcoming film Piku, then this video was unnecessary. Her confession about her depression won her respect from contemporaries; she genuinely won many hearts. As far as her popularity is concerned, this video is regressive.

I do wonder about the entire process of working on this documentary film. Before working on a project like this, didn’t the team have a brain storming session on what works and what doesn’t and didn’t the producer have a dry run to know the response?

If this was indeed a part of promotion strategy of Deepika’s new film Piku then this video gets full marks. It served its purpose. If you haven’t watched the video until now, you would surely want to watch it after reading this piece. So producer earns another penny. As someone rightly said, there is no better publicity than negative publicity.

The third aspect is the response from the society or its absence. Deepika needn’t bother about public outrage or the little damage that it has done to her sweet girl image. Public’s memory is very short. It was just yesterday when India’s Daughter video went viral. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on it. Another news comes, the previous one is forgotten. Move on, it is time to make place for the next one. Is anyone really bother about the cause or the purpose it serves or fails to serve or the larger impact on society?

My Choice video doesn’t move you at all in any way. It falls flat just like Deepika’s monotone voice. In the end, the only image that stays in your mind is of Deepika’s lovely tresses blown by wind machine. Nice Hair, Deepika!

Judge a book by its Cover

The Other End of The Corridor

The Other End of The Corridor

Do not judge a book by its cover but the debut book of an author is judged by its cover, at least the first impression of the book. The simple Punjabi jutti of Leela, the resilience in her walk as if she is on a mission – and she is. I know this was what I was looking for. My graphic designer could exactly capture the concept I had in mind but it wasn’t as smooth as it appears now. He created many designs but none matched my requirement.

Ultimately, when I couldn’t find an image that I was looking for, it was recommended to conduct a photo shoot but who will be my model? When I couldn’t find a suitable model, I decided to be the model myself. But that again wasn’t as simple as it looks now. Appropriate attire, Patiala salwar with right number of folds, jutti which is not flashy, pedicure feet- amidst the last minute proof reading, there was no time for all this. When I was having sleepless nights over if I am the suitable model for my cover, my designer surprised me by sending two equally attractive designs. Now I had the problem of plenty. Yes, when it rains, it pours.
I circulated the cover design to a few friends and acquaintances whose opinion I could trust. But the confusion didn’t end here. There were more votes for my second choice cover. Even my husband liked the ‘could be cover’. I lost my sleep again. After all, first book, first edition – the cover matters.
Though design B looked more attractive than design A but ultimately I decided to listen to my inner voice. I knew I had taken the right decision when a friend told me that she liked the cover so much that she would’ve still picked my book even if she didn’t know me.

You need to be mad to be a musician, says Benny Dayal

Published in Star of Mysore: Jan 23, 2015

Should you have a backup plan for your dreams? I wonder as I manoeuvre my way towards the make shift interview room, through the fans who have gathered in huge numbers to click selfies with Benny Dayal, one of Bollywood’s singing sensations. The versatile musician was in Mysore recently to perform at SPI’s 20th anniversary celebrations. “There was no question of a backup plan as failure was never an option. I had wanted to be a singer since I was a thirteen years old child. I had decided that I would want to sing until I die,” says Benny Dayal candidly, when I meet him after his rocking performance. He still has ample energy to answer volley of questions.

 

Benny Dayal IMG_1608SOM: I just watched your show. You have unbounded energy on stage. What drives you?

BD: I am mad when I am on stage, but I am a very different and quiet person off stage. I become another human being when I am on stage. Just the feel to be on stage and singing in front of the audience gives me energy. Mad people are the most energetic; one needs to be mad to be a musician. Music or for any art for that matter is a gift from God. Does God gift the entire world to be a musician? No. Therefore, if you are the chosen one, you need to make use of this gift to your optimum potential.

 

SOM: What challenges did you face to reach where you are today?

BD: It was the most difficult to get a break, as no one was willing to take a risk with a new artist. No one wanted to launch me but God has a plan for everyone and I am here today. And then I met Mr A.R. Rahman whom I had no intention of meeting or even expected to meet. Today I owe my success to Mr Rahman. He broke all barriers. He is renowned for giving opportunities to new and unheard voices. Today, the youngsters want to become musicians only because of him.

 

 

SOM: Once a music director told you that you can’t become a singer; how did that affect you? Did you want to prove him wrong?

BD: Music is not about proving a point. I didn’t want to prove anyone wrong but this triggered the worst possible emotion in me. It never crushed me. Unknowingly I took the positives out of it; I wanted to bring out the best in me. Everything has equal and opposite reaction. I thank everyone who has ever said anything positive or negative about me; it helped me to go a step further in my journey. Every single line has affected me positively.

SOM: Which is your favourite song?

BD: I have no favourites. I love to sing all songs. They all are stepping-stones, how can I skip one and go to the next one?

SOM: Which is your favourite language as far as singing is concerned?

BD: I have a flair for languages; I can sing in any language – Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.

SOM: Do you have any role models or inspiration?

BD: Mr Rahman is my role model and inspiration. He is not only one of world’s most accomplished musicians but also an amazing human being. He has launched the music career of so many like me. May his tribe grow!

SOM: You have performed at various countries; which is your most memorable performance?

BD: Yes, one performance was like a dream come true. In 1998, I went to watch Mr Rahman’s concert in Dubai UAE. Ten years later, in 2008, in Dubai again, I was with him back stage and performing with him. It was an amazing feeling. It was like seeing a dream come true.

SOM: What advice would you like to give to wannabe singers or to anyone who want to follow their passion?

BD: Do what makes you happy, you will surely excel. Never stop learning – never think that you know enough. Learn as you earn. Never stop earning and never stop learning. That is the only way to go forward. Have an open mind and passion for anything that you do. Most importantly, observe others. You may not like one particular song but if many people like it so there must be something in that. Don’t have a closed mind. Everyone has a path; you will also find yours sooner or later.

Then he reads out aloud the back page blurb from ‘The Other End of the Corridor’, my debut novel that I presented to him after the interview – ‘when your dreams are tainted with lies and deceit, you have no other choice but to walk to the other end of the corridor….’

He speaks after a long pause, “Everyone has a path. Literally, my life was like a dark corridor, there was only darkness; I was crazy and continued to walk on. I didn’t care even if I tripped but I wanted to just go on, and then a door opened and God said, now you walk on this path.”

The singing star signs off.

One Scoop Of Chocolate Mousse

What you love can hold you captive, but it can also free you. Here’s a story about being free to love yourself, warts and all.
One of the top 5 entries for September’s Muse of the Month writing theme, with the cue “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me” taken from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

April-2014I glance again at my watch, as if looking at it repeatedly would calm my exasperated nerves. My eyes behind the safety of my dark shades scrutinize the people entering the restaurant. I look around. The stylish wrought iron furniture and stained glass windows create a perfect ambience for a romantic lunch.

I check my phone again as I adjust the scarf over my head. There are no missed calls or text messages from Arun. I phone him again but it doesn’t get through. I want to call the airport and check if the flight from Delhi has landed but I don’t know the airline he is coming by. He had gone to Delhi on official work. We had planned to meet at our favourite restaurant before he went home. Negative thoughts crowd my mind. I log into CNBC on my phone to know the latest news. Thankfully, all flights are safe.

May be he has lost his mobile and does not have my number; I ignore the fact that he could have called my office to get connected to me. I think of all possible reasons that could have prevented Arun from reaching me. May be he is stuck in the traffic like last time when he reached the movie theatre post interval…this Mumbai traffic!

My lower back is aching due to sitting erect on the hard iron chair of the café. It is past lunchtime and my stomach is growling. A waiter is coming in my direction bearing a tray with a banana split. It must be for the next table. I go back to playing angry birds on my phone as I swallow my saliva.

“Madam, your order please?” The waiter stops by my table after serving the banana split.

“I will wait for some more time, I am expecting someone,” I repeat for the third time. I pretend to read the menu card intently.

“Madam, we don’t take orders after 3,” the waiter persists.

“Okay, one black coffee and a plate of green salad,” I say, returning the menu card. “No dressing please.”

The waiter pauses for a few seconds before nodding, perhaps at the weirdness of the salad and coffee combination.

I go back to playing angry birds. I kill pigs with renewed fervour.

By now, the waiter has brought my order. I look at the coal-black coffee with a forlorn expression. I bite into a slice of cucumber and fix my eyes on the entrance again. The cucumber is bland and tastes insipid; I chew it anyway.

Besides Arun, my weight loss is my other obsession. I have been sweating it out in the gym for the past four months but the needle on the weighing machine hasn’t moved a centimetre.

“Reena madam, cut down on sweets,” the gym instructor said after the work out.

“I think, I suffer from a sweet disorder,” I told the gym instructor. “My life is bitter without sweets. Just the aroma of chocolates seems enough to add on a few Kilos.”

Arun has not yet told his wife about me. He says he will tell her when the right time comes. Until then he wants me to stay in the wraps. Therefore, we always meet in less crowded restaurants, occupy corner tables, dark shades over my eyes, my head always covered in a scarf. I have never understood the reasoning behind dark glasses, scarf and everything clandestine, but does love ever follow any logic?

My patience seems to be bursting at its seams. I have been waiting for five hours… and three years… my inner voice adds. I am very angry… angry with Arun for keep me waiting, and angry with myself for continuing to wait for him, today and always. I want to go back to work. I am tired of waiting, and the knot of the scarf is itching the delicate skin of my neck. I try to loosen the knot but its noose becomes tighter; its ends have gotten entangled just like my emotions. I pull it with a force. A small tear appears on my silk scarf. I don’t mind, unlike my life, it can be mended easily.

I unzip my handbag to keep my shades in it. The ambience of the restaurant appears brighter without the darkness of the shades. While I am rising from my chair, I observe the image of a flying bird on the stain glass window, its feet wrapped under its wings, but I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.

I take small, slow steps towards the exit. I am gradually finding my dormant energy back.

Suddenly, I feel famished as if I have not eaten since ages.

“One scoop of Chocolate mousse please.” I stop at the Takeaway counter.

Pic credit: 28691409@N05 (Used under a CC license)

Walking that Extra Mile… Pratham shows the way

(Published in Star of Mysore, June 24, 2014) 

By Sujata Rajpal
If there is one thing which sets the children of Private schools apart from those in Government schools, it is the exposure to advanced teaching methodologies and quality education. Government school children are also at the receiving end due to unavailability of qualified teachers, and poor student teacher ratio which aggravate the despicable scenario and further widen the class divide.  Shouldn’t the race be considered null and void, if there is no common starting line for all? Bring everyone at par and then watch the fun. 
Pratham Mysore continues to do its bit to bridge this gap as far as the exposure to quality education is concerned. Its most recent initiative is aimed at bringing the children from government schools to the forefront of competitive excellence. The objective is to prepare the high school children to take up NMMS (National Means cum Merit Scholarship) examination conducted by the Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT) in collaboration with State and Central Government Education departments. It awards scholarships to meritorious students of economically weaker section and thereby helps in reducing the dropout rate of children at Class VIII.

Dr T. Padmini, Founding Trustee of Pratham along with Dr Yoganandan, Professor of Physics at Vidya Vardhaka Junior college, worked on the methodology to execute the same.
As a pilot project, 39 children from three Government Schools (Government High School, Vontikoppal, Adarsha Vidyalaya, Vinayakanagar and Government High School Medar Block) were selected through an aptitude test for the intensive coaching programme.
Fourteen children coached by Pratham have successfully cleared NMMS examination. They will get a scholarship of Rs 24,000/ for four years. At the State level, 56 children have passed the examination from Mysore North Block with only 14 children from the Government Schools. It is a matter of pride that all the 14 children were attendees of Pratham coaching programme for NMMS. 
The students went through rigorous coaching on Aptitude, Science, Social Science, Math and Languages. The classes were conducted for six months after school hours by Pratham’s enthusiastic team of volunteers. When it comes to coaching children from families with hand- to- mouth existence, the challenge is not just training them to learn the curriculum. Besides coaching, there were logistics issues like arranging light snacks for children as they would come straight from their respective schools, transporting them to a common centre, keeping their motivational levels high and such other issues which most of us cannot comprehend. But as they say, if there is will, there is always a way. All issues become non issues when there is a bigger purpose to achieve.
NMMS Examination comprises two tests – General Mental Ability Test (GMAT) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). GMAT consists of 90 multiple choice questions on verbal and non – verbal metacognitive abilities like reasoning and critical thinking. SAT also consists of 90 multiple choice questions covering subjects namely Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, History, Civics, Geography as taught in classes VII and VIII.
The customized programme followed a structured approach to teaching including  three mock tests , and used abundant visual aids. 
“A picture is equal to one thousand words. Visual representation helps in better retention and understanding. I used PPTs and other forms of pictorial representation to teach Math and Social Studies. Even the Great Wall of China should be explained through visuals,” tells Serena Lobo, a volunteer with Pratham. Serena is now an employee of Pratham.
“Apart from teaching aids and a structured approach, what actually works is the positive attitude towards students.  Shun the negative labels and see what wonders they are capable of doing. The objective of this programme is not just to coach them to get the scholarship but instil confidence in them to face life,” tells Dr Padmini.
Nayana M , a 9thgrader from Vontikoppal Government School was thrilled when I spoke to her over the phone.  She is one of the 14 recipients of NMMS scholarship this year.  “I am going to buy only books with the scholarship money, and I want to study Commerce after SSLC,” said Nayana. Her mother Leela who works as a house help called me back as soon as I ended the call.  “Madam, I forgot to tell you, I am very happy not only because my daughter is getting a scholarship of Rs 500 per month but because this programme has improved her confidence level. Look, how confidently she spoke to you over the phone just now,” said the proud mother.
Rightly said, if you are confident, you can conquer any mountain.