Mothers, Go… Get a Life!

 Remember, Sridevi from the Bollywood blockbuster English Vinglish who enrolls in an English speaking course to uplift her self-esteem when she finds herself lacking in comparison with her daughter because of her inability to converse fluently in English. Middle age is definitely not a show-stopper when she decides to go back to school. In the end, she enriches her life as well as that of her children and family. The daughter who was earlier ashamed to even introduce her mother to her teachers is now a proud daughter. Sridevi in the role of the mother perfectly symbolizes a progressive thinking woman.  Agreed, it is not easy to be a child in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced world but it is even tougher to be a mother.

A mother’s responsibility doesn’t end with packing variety in tiffin box every day and taking care of the physical needs of the child. That is the easier part and can be delegated to the house help. A mother needs to be more than just a mother; she needs to be a companion, friend, advisor, counsellor, playmate, entertainer, motivator, role model, disciplinarian and confidant to her child all at the same time. A mother should be in sync with the world of her children’s even if it means staying abreast with the latest in everything including technology, gadgets, smart phones, music or whatever it takes to match her steps with those of her children. She needs to continuously push the boundaries.

Whether she is a stay-at-home mom or a working mother, her role and responsibilities as a mother remains the same. For sure, you have heard of part-time jobs, part-time business and even part-time girlfriend but ever heard of part-time mothers? Mothers – working outside or at home are always full-time. A mother may delegate her children related tasks to her own mother/-in-law but she still remains a full-time mother. This piece is not about whether a working woman or a homemaker makes a better mother. Whether you want to be a working woman or a homemaker- it is your personal choice.

Along with doing what it takes to be a progressive thinking mom, it is equally important for her to cut the umbilical cord early in life for various reasons.

Having her child on her mind 24/7 is no testimony of her motherly quotient. The need of the hour is to strike a fine balance between a contented mother and an over ambitious one. On the one hand, there is no escape for her from motivating her child to excel and on the other hand, she has to ensure that the child is not burdened with parents’ unfulfilled aspirations. If her world revolves only around the thoughts and anxieties about her child’s well being, unknowingly she is bound to raise expectations from her children. Such mothers suffer from empty nest syndrome and are likely to go into depression when the children leave the nest and become independent.

Moreover, it is claustrophobic for a child if the mother doesn’t provide a breather to him.

It is good for the child as well as for the mother that the mother has a Me time. This does not mean that she should not be available if the child wants to reach out to her for any physical or emotional requirement.

There are times when a mother needs to feed her own passions, to think of herself as a person, an individual and a separate entity because she is an individual first and then a wife and a mother. Why should her own desires and dreams always take a back seat in comparison to her child’s aspirations? For sure, the two are not mutually exclusive.

There are many activities which a mother can pursue to carve an entity for herself like learn a new skill or language, nurture a hobby that had been lying dormant for many years, make new friends, meet new people, join an NGO, gardening, fitness, reading, blogging, travelling so on and so forth; if nothing else teach children of your maid servant. She just needs to explore and there will be plenty that will catch her fancy to engage her mind productively. Cultivating a hobby will broaden her perspective towards life and give her exposure to empower her as a person, as a woman and as a mother. Her child will still be the most important person (or the second most important depending whether the child or husband comes first) in her life; wanting to maintain an identity of her own does not change that in any way.

You can still be the World’s Best Mom to your child. Whatever you do, go get a life of your own – both for the sake of your happiness as well as for the happiness of your precious child because only a happy mother can raise a happy child.

Happy Mother’s Day.

(This piece was originally published in Star of Mysore on 10th May 2015)


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 )

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.

The Loss

(This short story is published  in March 2014 )
“(c)” Sujata Rajpal 
“Skating rink,” Samar instructed the auto rickshaw driver as he hopped into the first vacant auto spotted on the road. His heart was pounding. He hadn’t stepped foot into the place for eight years. That day, something was pulling him towards it.

Samar had turned eighteen last month. Coincidentally, his admission to the University of Pennsylvania was confirmed the same day. This could have been the best birthday gift for any student but nothing excited him in life – neither getting an opportunity to study in one of the top colleges in the US nor birthdays.

 “Wow! That’s wonderful news, I am so proud of you,” Anup had exclaimed, stretching his arms to embrace his son when he overheard Samar talking to a friend on the phone.  As always, Samar reciprocated his father’s hug with a shrug. 
It was the first time Samar would be going so far from home; he didn’t know if he was running away from his father or himself. 
His room resembled an ocean of clothes, eatables and books which had to find a place in the new suitcase that his father had kept it in the room last night. 
 “Should I help you pack?” Anup asked when he saw Samar sitting beleaguered amongst the heap of woollens on the bed. 
“No thanks, I can manage,” Samar replied as coldly as he could, his head still buried in the suitcase. 
The auto stopped right in front of the huge iron gate. The deafening noise of skates rubbing against the concrete rink could be heard from outside.  There was a time when that noise had pumped adrenalin into him.
It was evening. He walked in with hesitant steps. The place was full of children, the instructors blowing whistles, mothers impatiently waiting for their children to finish, like it always had been when his life revolved around school, the skating rink and his loving parents.
Samar lowered himself on a stone bench and watched the children skating on the track.
“Samar, run fast!” his mother’s voice echoed in his ears.
The vacant look in his eyes deepened on seeing a woman holding out a water bottle for her young son at the edge of the rink as she waited for him to complete his circuit on the rink.  The boy paused to take a sip of water from the bottle before resuming the race. The scene reminded him of his mother who would hold a water bottle for him in a similar manner, her one foot inside the track.
“Mamma! Stay outside, you will get hurt,” he would tell her.
His mother picked him up from school every day on her scooter and brought him to the skating rink. After gulping down a glass of milk and a few biscuits which she carried with her, he would start his daily practice of fifty rounds. Homework, followed by dinner, reading and a bed time story telling session by his mother, that had been his routine for as long as he could remember.
 “Samar, you have the potential to become an international champion, you must practice daily,” his mother encouraged him when he sometimes complained of boredom. All of ten, he was already a state level junior champion. 
 “Grow up, you are ten years old and still a mamma’s boy,” Anup would reprimand his son affectionately when he would see Sarita pushing bites of chappties  dipped in dal into Samar’s mouth while the boy worked on his school assignments . Samar was very attached to his mother. He hugged her a lot and often told her that he loved her. He had a room of his own but would insist on sleeping in his parents’ bedroom at night saying there were robbers in his room.   All he needed was a hug and a kiss by Sarita to chase him to his room at night.
Samar had only fond memories of his parents from his childhood. Like all married couples that he knew or had watched on TV, his parents too had their share of disagreements and squabbles but their quarrels would last only a few minutes. Invariably at the end of every fight, the entire family would go out to Baskin Robins for ice cream.
 That day it didn’t end with going to the ice cream parlour. Anup and Sarita were sitting on the couch and watching TV after dinner, something they did every day. In between surfing channels, Anup shared highlights of his day at work with Sarita while she flipped through the latest issue of a woman’s journal. Samar who was around ten at that time sat on the rocking chair close by  with his new Tintin in hand which Sarita had bought for him while returning from skating that evening.  He was too engrossed in the comic to pay attention to his parents’ conversation. Inline skates were the only words he could catch.
“You can spend any amount of money on yourself but not twenty thousand to buy inline skates for your son,” Sarita fumed when Anup questioned about her indulgence on inline skates.
“If you were earning money, you would’ve known its value. You just want to enjoy at home and waste my hard earned money?” he snarled.  It seemed he was distressed over something; the demand to buy inline skates by his wife infuriated him further.
 “Your hard earned money? Is this not my money, too? To hell with you and your money!” She flung the magazine that she had in her hand on him. His spectacles fell down with the blow.
 “How dare you hit me?”Aunp stood up. 
Picking up his glasses from the floor, in retaliation he gave her a slight push. Sarita lost her balance and tripped. She banged her head against the chest kept nearby.  Before Anup could react, he saw her lying unconscious on the floor, her silky black hair strewn across her face.
 “Sarita!”Anup panicked when he saw blood oozing out from her head. The sharp edge of the wooden chest had hit the delicate portion of her head.
“Sarita…Sarita get up…,” he cried reaching for the water bottle kept on the table. He turned the bottle upside down on her face and slapped her cheeks lightly to bring her to consciousness but he couldn’t revive her. He felt her pulse and took his mouth closer to hers to check if she was still breathing. 
She was breathing. Samar could see her chest heaving.
“Your mamma has been hurt on the head.  I will take her to the hospital. We will come back soon.  Don’t open the door to anyone,” Samar heard his father say.  “It’s nothing serious, she only requires a few stitches; she will be fine,” Anup added, seeing a dazed expression on his son’s face.
Samar was too traumatized to utter a word.
At home, Samar waited for his parents to return.  That day, he wanted Sarita to read the new Tintin. Though he could read it himself, while snuggled in bed with her, the characters would come alive with his mother’s magical voice. Samar neatly arranged the comic on the side table and waited for his mother to return.
After four hours, Anup returned alone.
Samar couldn’t believe that his mother would never come back to kiss him, read stories to him and sleep by his side.  In an instant, his blissful world was shattered into miniscule pieces.
Why did he kill mamma? Why he had to shout at her? Why he had to push her so hard?  Many unanswered questions hovered in Samar’s mind. 
Samar wished they could roll back in time and his parents start their conversation again, discuss amicably, the way they always did. Who would imagine even in their wildest dreams that a slight push could be fatal. He still believed it to be a dream where everything would be alright when Anup would wake up and Sarita would be standing at his bed side with a cup of tea in her hand and a smile on her lips, her long plait pulled in front.
The memories of that night were impossible to ward off. Their lives changed upside down. Anup stopped going to work; he would stay in his room the entire day. He was unable to come to terms with the loss. He was too shattered himself to comfort his son. They shifted to another house.  Samar was not sure, if the move could fill the vacuum that had been created in his life.
Every night, after Samar went to sleep, Anup would go to his son’s room and sit by his side.
“Samar, please forgive me! It was just an accident,” he would say, running his fingers through his son’s hair while the boy pretended to sleep.
Samar stopped talking to his father. He only spoke to him when he had to, and it was always in monosyllables.  They lived like two strangers under one roof. Samar had lost his mother but Anup had lost both his wife and son.
Sometimes, when there would a power cut in their apartment complex, both father and son would sit across each other quietly in the balcony while they waited for the power supply to resume; in the dark, Samar would hear the soft sobs of his father.  Samar had a strange sense of satisfaction on seeing his father crying.  He abhorred his father. He considered himself an orphan now. Though the court had acquitted Anup, Samar held his father responsible for his mother’s death.
Later, Anup’s mother came to live with them. She repeatedly told Samar that his father loved his mother immensely; they fought because all married couples fight but there was no animosity between them. It was just a freak accident; he didn’t intend to kill her.
“No, you are lying. Daddy killed Mamma because he didn’t want to buy inline skates for me. I hate him,” he shouted at his grandmother before shutting himself in his room.
The years passed. The entire axis of Samar’s life had shifted, though it appeared to be normal to the outside world. He did well in studies, played sports and made friends. He kept himself busy all the time leaving him with no energy to think of the bygone years but happiness was impossible without his mother. The moment he would enter home, he would go into a dismal mood again. He didn’t like to smile in his father’s presence. He didn’t want his father to feel that he had forgiven him.  
 Samar wished he could fulfil his mother’s wish of becoming an international skating champion but he had vowed never to wear skates again in life.  Skates reminded him of his beloved mother.
 “It’s closing time now; better go!” The security guard at the skating rink brought him out of his reverie.
Samar looked at his watch. It was 7 pm.  He took out his mobile from his breast pocket to find nine missed calls from Anup. Though his mobile was not on silent mode, surprisingly he hadn’t heard his phone ring. He kept the phone back in the pocket. That night, he was leaving India. After finishing his education, he would take up a job and settle down in the US. 
He came out on the road and waived at an auto rickshaw.
 “Kings Mansion building,” he told the address of his old apartment to the driver. He wanted to visit all those places that had memories of his once happy family. When he entered the building, he realized that he didn’t have the apartment keys.  He climbed the stairs anyway and was surprised to find that the door of their apartment was ajar. Samar walked in with unsteady steps. He stood in the foyer and looked around.  Everything was as it was eight years ago –the rocking chair, the TV, the couch where his parents were sitting, the chest, the carpet where his mother collapsed.  It had been years since he left that place but it felt like yesterday. He kneeled down and ran his fingers over the spot on the carpet where he had last seen his mother.  The sob that was stuck in his throat burst open. The tears wet his face before falling over his hand. Today he missed his mother immensely.  He just wanted a glimpse of her, to hear her voice or see some signal that she was watching him, understanding his pain. He wanted to hug her and ask her why she left him. But he was 18 and knew that people who died didn’t come back.  He wished for a miracle which could bring her back.
Big boys don’t cry, his mother always said when he would cry after getting hurt while skating. He got up, wiping his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He gazed at a spot in the kitchen and imagined his mother, her petite frame bent over the stove, she humming a tune from an old Hindi film song. 
He wandered in the house aimlessly. He walked up to his room to find a pair of inline skates on the bed.  His eyes brightened on seeing the skates. It refreshed memories of his skating days.  He picked up a skate and caressed it.
Wrapping his arms around the skate that he was holding, he closed his eyes lightly and imagined his mother’s smiling face.  The tears welled up in his eyes again.
 “Mamma, I miss you so much. Mamma, come back….” he sobbed like a ten year old, skate still in his embracing hold. 
 “Samar, what are you doing here?” he heard a voice from behind.
Samar turned his head to meet his father’s moist eyes.
Samar stopped crying abruptly. He stood there looking at Anup, his face stained with tears. None of them spoke. Anup was holding a framed picture. Samar looked at it intensely; it was the same family picture which they got it clicked when once they had gone to the zoo.  All three of them had posed with trained parrots on their arms.  Anup had laughed looking at his wife’s scared expressions in the photograph.  He had insisted on framing the picture.
The photograph brought memories of happy days. His mother was dead but his father was still with him.
Samar spoke breaking the lull.
 “Daddy, my clothes don’t fit in the suitcase, help me to pack properly,” Samar said between sobs as he reached for his father’s shoulder to hug him.
Then both of them wept.

DBC – Death By Choice

As instructed, everyone stood in silence as a mark of respect towards the departed soul waiting impatiently for the silence to end and the work to resume. Oh, one minute never seemed so long. With deliverable planned for the day, the sound of siren exactly after a minute seems relieving for everyone standing in uncomfortable silence. One minute over and the life is back to coding, meetings, phone calls, emails and office gossip.

One moment of silence and life is back to usual business for the rest of the world except the near ones whose life changes for ever. Death being the only certainty in the world is not tragic; the tragic is the way it is sniffed out by choice.

What comes into the person when h/she decides to cut short h/her life? Why no thoughts come to the person’s mind about what will happen to those who are left to cry and fend for themselves, to those who are dependent on you physically, emotionally and financially? Can a temporary grief over a failed love overpower you so much that you let go of everything, everything else seems worthless? That talent, industriousness, friendliness , creativity to pen out of the box scripts, great shots , amazing illustrations … what good were all these?  The same could be used to enhance others’ lives. What a waste of talent? What a waste of life?

A Pi(e) of English Vinglish

Usha  and Soundara
The article was published in Star of Mysore on April 14,2013. 
Usha, Soundara Rajan’s better half greets me with an infectiously warm smile as she ushers me into their modest apartment in Mysore.  For the uninitiated, N.S.Soundara Rajan is Mysore’s connection to the Oscar winning movie Life of Pi. I am greeted with an equally contagious smile when the man in question enters their simple, but aesthetically done up living room. We exchange pleasantries and the conversation obviously rolls into his days on the sets of Life of Pi.
 “Ang Lee is a perfectionist. He wanted the actors to narrate their dialogues with typical accent of the particular state like how Tamilians speak English that’s the reason a person like me was hired,” tells Soundara. Our Mysore man had the task of teaching English with Tamil and Gujarati twang to the coveted star cast with the focused emphasis on perfecting their accent. The offer landed in his lap through his son’s actor friend Thilothama who had auditioned for the role of Pi’s on screen love interest. Though Thilothama didn’t get the desired role, Soundara became the Tamil accent guy for the Hollywood crew. For this septuagenarian, Life of Pi was his first tryst with films where he also doubled up as cultural coach for the crew. 
“It would be an understatement to admit that I was nervous. I was extremely nervous and highly pressurized because the expectations were high and there was no one to give directions. On the first day, I was given a file of all the dialogues which had to be spoken with Tamil and Gujarati accent. After that it was on me to deliver,” Soundara explains, flipping through the pages of the file which now equals a pride souvenir for the family. “I was the final authority in my area of work with no interference or micro management from Ang , actors or anyone else. The renowned director had complete trust in the people he had hired which made us bring our best onto the table,” he raves.  “As I look back to those moments of shooting of the film, I can only have immense admiration and respect for Ang Lee and his wonderful team that worked in this magnificent movie. The amount of focussed energy and commitment to professionalism and realism that has gone into making this epic of a movie is indeed very remarkable. I am proud to have been a crew member of Life of Pi, truly, a once-in-a-several-lifetimes opportunity,” he beams.
With Ang Lee
There is no stopping Soundara when he talks about Ang Lee, the man he is in awe of. Talking about Ang’s professionalism and perfectionism, he recalls a scene from the movie where actor Tabu is taking out colours from an old Bournvita dabba to draw rangoli designs. Ang sourced an old worn out Bournvita dabba from Pondicherry for this scene; every scene had to be closest to reality.
“How was it working with the big names in film industry?” I can’t help asking.
 “Since Ang Lee didn’t have any star like tantrums, the others in the crew too followed suit.  Ang was always the first one to arrive on the sets,” he tells recalling his sixty days at Taichung in Central Taiwan and Pondicherry where the shooting was held. Rightly said, a good leader always leads by example. For sure, Ang should be the right pick to give lessons at our management institutes. “Coaching Tabu and Adil Hussain was not a problem as both of them are versatile actors, but it was extremely challenging to coach Suraj Sharma who played the role of Pi. Here his TGI method, short for Transformation Guided Imagery, came in handy. TGI is a motivational technique where the person is made to visualize success and the final outcome of the task in hand. “I asked Suraj to imagine that he was receiving Oscar and it worked well both ways; Suraj picked up proper diction and we won four Oscars,” Soundara says gleefully. Young Ayush Tandon who plays Pi as a school going boy and a few others were also coached by him.
“Do you have any future plans for more such film projects?” I ask. “I don’t have any plans, but life does strange things so you never know,” he replies philosophically. 
 “Why don’t you pen a book about your experiences?” I prod this former Electronics & Radar Establishment (LRDE) staffer who is now a visiting faculty for Communication and negotiation skills at SP Birla institute in Bangalore, Manipal University and Bhavan’s Priyamvada Birla Institute of Management, Mysore. He evades my poser and expounds on how knowledge of English can change the employability of our youth. Why do students of 10th grade need to study Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare? He questions. They only need to communicate in English which is the key to success. English language should be taught from the usage perspective just like the mother tongue, without bothering much about grammar. In fact, teaching grammar scoops out the fun from learning a language.
 Point to ponder, but that would be another story, another day.
He lovingly calls his wife to join him for the photograph when I take out my Sony Cyber – shot from my handbag for the photo shoot.
“Why my picture, what have I done?” she laughs. 
“You were my unflinching support throughout the journey. Can a man be successful without the support of his wife? ” he asks.
Well, I couldn’t agree more.
Some facts from Life of Pi (Source: The making of Life of Pi by Jean Christophe Castelli )
·    Almost 86 percent of the scenes featuring Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger were shot using a computer-generated tiger.
·     Most of the time, what you thought was the vast sea was not actually a sea but an enormous pool- 246 ft long by 98 ft wide by 10 ft deep- holding about  1,860,000 gallons of water . The waves were generated by a system of blowers stored inside a row of twelve boxes- “caissons,” in tank talk – that had a cumulative 2000 horsepower.
·    The entire ‘sea’ shooting was done indoors in Taichung. Imagine your own indoor sea.
·    The post production period of the mega movie was one and a half years
·     The total budget of the movie was $ 120 million.


Meet The Author of The Shadow Throne

The article was published in Star of Mysore on March 24, 2013.
 “Some people have to look for adventure where as adventure comes to some people like me,” Aroon Raman said light-heartedly, engaging the audience with interesting anecdotes from his own life.  The acclaimed author of The Shadow Throne was speaking to the audience at the Just Books Kuvempunagar library in Mysore on March 17. “This is the most awaited moment for Just Books Mysore. We had been looking forward to this session for a very long time,” said Ms Poornima V. Kumar, welcoming the guests at Meet the Author program.
The bestselling author has definitely a way with the words, not only written, but also spoken. He is an orator par excellence and is naturally gifted with the knack of making the day-to-day things sound fascinating.  He advised the audience to step out of the safe confines of their familiar surroundings to experience diversity in life.  “Story ideas are all around us, we only need to explore and, later build on them,” he advised to the wannabe authors.

The Shadow Throne is actually his second book which incidentally became his first when Osama Bin Laden was killed in his hideout at Abbottabad in May 2011.  The new book due to be released soon by Pan Macmillion is a book on adventure set in Mugal India at the time of Akbar. The book is a product of considerable research like any other book on History.

Talking about writing as a profession or a hobby, “Writing is a gift, for some it comes naturally where as some have to try really hard to make any headway,” opined Aroon.
He also answered rapid fire questions giving a peek to the audience about few of his favourites like favourite peek which undoubtedly is Everest Base Camp.  Not many know that his favourite adda during his days in Mysore was Ramya Hotel.

Aroon is truly a versatile personality and dons many hats – a successful entrepreneur, a bestselling author, trekker, tennis enthusiast, keen traveler and of course a fine orator. He is of the opinion that the authors, even the successful ones need to have a bunch of beta readers who read their book and give feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Your critics are your best friends. They keep you grounded and help you in improving your own work. “My wife is my best critic,” he admits.

Asked whether Aroon the author or the entrepreneur, which one he would prefer.

“Now I prefer author, “he replied candidly before signing off.

Hebbal Lake: From Picturesque to Eyesore

Published in Star of Mysore on 27th March 2013 : 

The swaying trees around the lake on a pleasant summer evening. The cool breeze lovingly slapping both your cheeks.  High pitched calls by migratory birds perched on tree tops. If you are lucky, you might spot the female guarding her nest.  Her human counterpart sitting on the lush green grass nearby gazing at the nature’s bounty.One little boat tied to a tree.Couples waiting for their turn at the boat station. The children playing in the vicinity… Hello, come back from your dream world. With most of the lakes in Mysore left at the mercy of poor governance and unmindful industrialization, the birds chirping and waterswaying find mention only in the poetry.

If you are asked to name the lakes in Mysore then in all likelihood most of us will say …Kukkarahalli (known more for controversies than its serene water body) and Karanji. The survival of the only two lakes has nothing to do with the K factor. Did you know that there are 30 lakes in Mysore? And if all these lakes were allowed to bloom to its natural glory, then Mysore could have been a close contender to Udaipur for the city of lakes tag.  It is different that unlike Udaipur most of the lakes in Mysore are man made  but it is more traumatic to watch the man made lakes literally go down the drain than the natural ones as along with the lake, the substantial amount of money spent on constructing the lake also does a vanishing act.  Hebbal Lake is one such lake which is on the verge of dying a man made death. Most of the people do not even know the location of Hebbal Lake; it is shown outside Mysore even in the map of Mysore district. About one and a half century ago, Mysore witnessed development of many lakes. Hebbalkere was one such water body which was constructed to irrigate the green and flat land for cultivation.  It is a perennial lake with the objective to retain water the entire year. Spread over 30.3 acres in the heart of Hebbal area in north Mysore, the lake is fantastically engineered. There are high bunds (647 metres to be precise) and if you happen to take a walk on the not so narrow pathway, you cover a distance of 2 km.
About a decade ago, JNRUM carried out a study on the lakes of Mysore and emphasized on the restoration of lakes, but only two lakes K and K were restored. A few years later, during the tenure of Chief Minister Yeddyurappa ,  5 Crore were granted to each consistency for restoration of lakes. Eleven lakes were identified for restoration, but only six could be tackled. Those six are – Hebbal Lake, Bommanahalli lake,Bogadhilake,Hinkallake,Dalvoy lake[partial] and Kukkarahalli. The lakes that missed the bus due to official lethargy and ineptness are Lingamudhi Lake, Malalavadilake,Devnoorlake,Kyathamaranahalli lake, and  Hinkalrayanakere.
In the past, the Hebbal Lake witnessed people’s protest against development of industries by KIADB in the vicinity of the lake. Earlier both raw sewage and industrial waste used to pollute the lake. Industrial effluents, junk, waste – the lake became a dumping yard for all kind of industrial and human waste. The direct flow of raw sewage now stands diverted downstream, and only sporadic flows of sewage from blocked UGD makes its way through the storm water drains of Hebbal. Flow of industrial waste water into the lake continues unabated causing concern about the ecosystem health and quality of ground water.  “Unfortunately the money was there for the restoration of the lake, but the opportunity was lost in bureaucratic hurdles and lack of commitment for this cause. Today it is no one’s baby,” tells U.N.Ravi Kumar who has been involved in the restoration of lakes in Mysore.  Ravi is a professor by profession and environmentalist by passion.
Tragically and interestingly the lake is only a few notches away from its complete revival. If you visit the lake, you will see that most of the work has already been done.  Today with secured fencing in place, the lake is free from encroachments. High bunds were also erected later. De silting, widening of bunds and pitching is complete. The construction of Walkway wide enough for a sedan to pass was started with great fanfare, but it is still not complete.
“If the public is aware of its rights, anything is possible. The examples are in front of us. But for public outcry, the scenic view of the water body at the Kukkarahalli Lake would have been blocked by the barbaric fence. The stakeholders which comprises of industries and public mainly people living in the vicinity of the lake should join hands together to restore the lake to its past glory,” says Ravi Kumar.
A few likeminded Mysoreans who consider lung space as their right has been frequenting the lake on Sundays lately. The group is going to present a petition to the deputy commissioner seeking development and maintenance of the lake for the benefit of general public. If on a Sunday morning, you happen to pass by, you will find a bunch of enthusiastic men, women and children cleaning up the garbage around the lake with their bare hands. Join them. Save the lake, it is your right. With World Water Day just come and gone on 22nd March, it is never too late to begin..

Blog …women only

Ladies compartment, separate queue for ladies, ladies tailor ( where the lone man is the ‘master ji’ himself),  salon –ladies only , even government college for women ( my alma mater) and women engineering college is all understandable , but all women bank – for women, by women… why? Does this mean poor husband is not allowed inside and has to stand outside the bank? Is this a baby step towards women empowerment? Does ‘women only’ bank ensure that all financial decisions will be taken by woman of the house alone? Will this encourage more women to open bank accounts and frequent the bank more often to withdraw the money for their husbands? Or does it mean that all the bank related work will now be done by women in addition to their other sundry responsibilities. 
Will it lend only to women run businesses or also to businesses run by men in the name of women, where the woman is like the president of India. If this step is towards women empowerment then why this can’t be achieved by all gender banks? Instead of this eye wash in the name of women empowerment , FM would have done  a real service to women by introducing a few self employment schemes for women, providing vocational skills to women. Anyway, here are a few more ideas after all women bank – women theaters only, restaurants by women, for women, shopping malls for women, women hospitals, et al. 
Happy Women’s Day!