Story 31: Sapthapathi!

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One story. Just one more to win the challenge, and I was completely empty.

Seriously. Spent most of day blinking at the ceiling. Could not even ask my brain to think of a new story.

I couldn’t believe I was going to lose now, because of just one story… and you know desperate situations call for desperate measures…

So I dug through my old archives and found a story that was buried deep under the debris that’s my inbox. It was about a woman’s thoughts on her wedding day while the ‘Sapthapathi‘ ritual happens, i.e., taking 7 holy steps around the matrimonial pyre (you guessed it, I wrote it before I got married!).

D Curves.  Noise added.

But now, after two and half years in matrimony, I am wiser (both in subject matter and plot prowess!) and found a lot of bugs in the story to fix. So I kind of slashed the bugger open, did a through re-haul of the plot and edited the story.

YAY!!!!!! I WON, I WON, I WON!

Hopefully, I did NOT win by cheating 😦 😦 😦

Well, even if I did, I now have 30 NEW STORIES that I didn’t have 30 days ago… holy moly!!!!! THANK YOU JULIE FOR BEING AN INSPIRATION!

Ayurveda and why you should go organic NOW

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In my previous post, I had talked about Ayurveda, how you are what you eat, and what we are eating right now is slow poison.When I was a child, we brought our local groceries at the local market. The road I grew up in Saidapet (till we moved to Velachery in 2010) was called Bazaar Road; we were just a few steps from the largest market in the neighborhood. From what I remember, a grocery shopping trip was almost like a ritual and it happened at least every other day (no fridge!).

You go in the early mornings for the freshest greens, the juiciest meat, the most tender crab. You move from one seller to others; who are actually squatting on the streets, their makeshift shops along the platforms, hawking as loudly and as lyrically as they could, each trying to drown the other’s voice. You bargain, you cajole, you weep at the prices, but end of the day, you come home with a satisfied grin which quickly turns into a frown when you realize that you have to prepare lunch for five in two hours.

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Veggies, pulses, groceries… we bought them at individual shops, whose owners were more often than not long time acquaintances, whose own “land” and “farm” yielded their produces. Greens and fish would be fresh, and there would be a huge fallout if any grocer dared to give his “long time customer” something that is less than stellar quality.

Fast forward to 2000, when a modest financial windfall enabled us to shop in “super markets”, then a new concept. As my Granny said, “What… you pick everything by yourself? Then what are the shopkeepers for?”

But soon, the transition became inevitable… everything under the same roof? Home managers were delighted; no more multi-trips to buy the same stuff every month. To save on time and effort, it became first fashionable and then essential to shop at supermarkets.

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Around this time, started my nearly two decade war with food allergies. Milk started to make me puke. I could drink coffee, milkshakes, buttermilk… but if I drink them every day, by the end of the week, I would be sick with a cold and cough. The term sinus infection was a bit alien at that time, but is a part of my life now.

Perhaps it is co-incidence. I don’t know. But I always believed that every action has a reaction. Something changed, when we stopped buying from the local market and started purchasing from departmental stores and supermarkets. Even if it is just my imagination, there is no arguing with the fact that food today is far less healthier than it was ever before.

So what to do when everything you buy is contaminated? Here is my 5-step solution:

1. Stop buying from the mega supermarkets. Cheap is NOT best. Cheap means mass-produced, tasteless, riddled with fertilizers and chemicals. Most of us, especially large families, buy everything by the dozen in big supermarkets, and have completely turned on to auto-pilot when it comes to food ingredient… we don’t even read food ingredients these days. Next time you see those carrots or greens at a cheap rate in your local ASD or COSTC or BIG BAZ, stop and think why they are so cheap 😦

2. Cut down restaurant food to minimum. Fast food, hotel food, take away – NOT good, because they are businesses who will buy everything cheap so that they can make most profit with least investment. Processed and most non-organic food, especially when taken in excess, becomes slow poison. We are not only feeding ourselves, we are also feeding the next generation, a.k.a., tomorrow’s world. So, please, just stop for a minute, and think what you are feeding your son or daughter.

3. Educate yourself. Read about your food. Know what goes into your body. Participate in discussions – Topix has a good online forum about organic food. If you believe in holistic medical practices, visit a well-reputed Ayurveda consultant to get a personalized diet chart. If you have a food addiction program, go for detox. Empower yourself with awareness and pass it on to your family

4. Organic is the way to go. Your own organic vegetable garden, either in your balcony or terrace or back yard – SUPERB. Otherwise, your neighbourhood organic store or farmer’s market is the best choice. Yes, it is costlier… but really, what would you have – less money or less health? You can earn more money, but you CANNOT earn lost health or completely reverse diseases like cancer.

5. Believe that you can do it. This is the most important of all, you must believe and take action. A “what the heck, it’s all going to the dogs anyway” attitude is not going to help anybody! Like Gandhi said, be the change you want to see. With discipline and the right attitude, you can do anything. Read more about why you need to go organic here.

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Yes, these changes are tough. But think of the dangers ahead… surely, a little hard work now is better than a truckload of pain and regret later?

Most people do not buy organic due to its (relatively) expensive… but I live in India and it is not expensive as such but difficult to get 100% organic stuff here; but the scene is slowly changing, with more and more organic outlets online. If you live in India, this link gives you a list of organic stores near your location.

The road to a any journey must start with the first step, in the right direction. You put one foot forward, and the other, and the other… and that’s how you make changes. I understand such a decision is not easy, but I hope you would be able to make some positive changes in your food purchases and lifestyle, because if we don’t, the alternative is too scary to think about. Good luck 🙂

List of Online Organic stores:

GayatriOrganic.com
Farm2kitchen.com
OrganicShop.in
OrganicGarden.co.in
OrganicFoodIndia.com

STORIES 25-30: School Tales for Tweens

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The first school story I wrote was THE BEAST THAT WASN’T, for the anthology Friends are Forever (Hachette, 2010). It was about a silly girl who stops talking with her  best friend (yes, I can hear a certain Mumbaivaasi’s smirk!) and how the fight comes to an end.

Since then I had wanted to write a series of stories set in the same class, but due to a lot of issues (cough-procrastination-cough) I didn’t and could concentrate on them only now. It is about a bunch of girls who learn more about life via their daily interaction with their classmates. I don’t mean morals – just life lessons.

Each story is based on a cardinal sin –yes, a very Christian concept which helped because the afore-mentioned girls’ do study in a Christian school (so did I!).

It was certainly an interesting exercise. I wrote 6 stories to complete the list (THE BEAST was envy).

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Wait a minute, why am I underplaying it??? It was SUPER fun to do the research on the emotions, connect it with kids’ temperaments and complete the story every day.

In fact, before I knew it, I had notes on an entire world of characters and incidents for a new chapter series (which I will not write this year, because you don’t bite more than you can chew!)

I am a bit worried, though. I had a wonderful editor last time for THE BEAST  but since she is not around right now (she is one of the super stars of Indian kidlit industry!), I have no idea if these stories are good or not. So I am going to let them rest for sometime and then revisit.

Only one more to go to win the Story-A-Day challenge!

Ayurveda and how your food is a slow poison – Part 1

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Click here for PART 2

This is not a post about writing,. This is a post about how your food defines you.

Given that sustenance plays a big part in our productivity, perhaps this is a pertinent post after all – why do you think most writers are more lucid and write faster and better during early mornings, when our tummies are near-empty? And have you ever tried to write after binging on junk food or red meat? Yes, exactly.

Early this month, two of my close friends had decided to check in for a 2-week detox program at the Ayurveda Retreat Center in Coonoor, India (www.ayurveda.org). We are in mid-30s and their decision reminded us of a vital fact, something most of us do not even consider: “How we take care of our body in the next 3-5 years is going to determine our health for the next 30-50 years!”

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If you want to keep this one out of your life, read this blogpost.

Hard to argue with that, right? Since I had always wanted to try one of the Ayurvedic therapies, I was hooked and my husband came up with the idea that we could also take a break of 3 days and surprise our friends. However, around the same time, I had my customary food allergy to dairy. I was not lactose intolerant as a child, but suddenly became so in my teens (Why? I have a pet theory which I will reveal in the next post!).

So… in a couple of days, it was a full blown sinus infection that didn’t respond to ordinary antibiotics. Pain between the eyes, ear ache, deep coughing with special sound effects from the chest – the works. Obviously, I cannot do any writing when I get these bouts, let alone go about my daily routine. I was desperate for a cure and now it became completely essential for us to visit the Ayurveda retreat (even though my family tried to stop me from travelling this time – they were right, it was indeed awful, I was coughing the entire journey but I am glad I did it!).

As luck would have it, just around the time we had planned to visit them, our friends had decided to shift their stay to a plantation nearby, which was more scenic and less expensive than the retreat. So we were in a dilemma.

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Classes at Ayurveda Retreat Center, Conoor

Luckily, the doctor at the Retreat Center said: “Ayurveda is not a spa break and this is not a relaxation retreat, but a real hospital, so please come back when you can spend at least a fortnight here and give us a chance to truly heal you!” So that made our decision easy.

I also had an initial consultation done and I found out that my dosha was vata, i.e., air (according to Ayurveda, you are what you eat). I have been asked to stay away from all raw, cold and dairy food which cause my lungs to produce phlegm – not so surprising, given that I always fell sick after binging on these foods. You would think that I would have made the connection long time ago… but nope, we never see what is right before our eyes, unless somebody points it out to us, sigh. (You can find your dosha type here – it includes free diet chart!).

So I took that advice and stayed in O’land plantation (where our friends had moved to), which is the best place for some R&R and they served organic fare, prepared from their farm, which made a huge difference in my recovery. You can read my review here – http://tinyurl.com/olandreviewbyrads

oland

Yep, this is Oland. Must visit!

Here is what I have learned about food, thanks to expert consultations the past few weeks and diligent research on the Net. Almost everything we eat, from rice to bread to vegetables to greens, has been genetically modified and/or sprayed with pesticides. So, basically, we eat pesticide-laden GMO fare for years, slowly accumulating them in our bodies, giving them lots of time to alter our cells. No wonder food never satisfies us as much as it did our parents or their parents (no wonder they lived longer than we ever would). No wonder our children are born with allergies and latent defects and even 30-year olds are diabetic and pre-menopausal.

And the irony is, most of us know this, at least at a sub-conscious level, but we are so conditioned to be blind to what we eat, we do not even care anymore. Thanks to clever marketing and the general human tendency to apathy and denial, we do not even make the connection between what we eat and how we feel and live (like how I never did).

But what can you really do against a world of wrongs? After all, everyone is involved in this conspiracy… the farmers, the companies, the manufacturers, the retailers… when everything you buy is contaminated, what can you possibly do? For the answers, wait for Part 2.

Disability Begets Ability

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It’s been quite a while since I reblogged, and this post is the best way to start it again. PB Author Tara Lazar talks about the greatest secret of all… very inspiring!

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

I rarely talk about my disability here, because really, who wants to talk about that ugly word? It suggests that we CANNOT. Others have decided to label me “disabled,” not me. From the parking spaces I gladly pull into (who doesn’t want to be right by the front door?), to the forms I fill out, I’m reminded of this label constantly. I accept this label but this label doesn’t define me. It’s the last ingredient in the complex recipe that is me. It’s there, but it’s not important. My cake will rise without it. (Oh boy, that’s corny. But hey, that’s me.)

goodluckcow Me and my cane with the “Good Luck Cow” in Brandon, Vermont, May 2014.

Multiple Sclerosis hit me in late 2009, just as my career was catching fire (excuse the blatant allusion to Suzanne Collins). In fact, when I was being interviewed by literary agents, I was on an anti-anxiety medication…

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STORIES 15-24: Tales of Narada

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You haven’t seen me much recently, have you? That’s because I’ve discovered that there is some truth in what they say… if you are blogging regularly, you ain’t writing regularly.

But there are also a lot of folks out there who do both, so…. no excuses!

One reason was my week at a retreat in Conoor, with lots of life-lessons about food and diet (blogpost coming soon). And you know how the return back to reality is… one has to deal with oh-no-the-holiday-is-over blues, and back-to-work blahs, so blogging took a backseat. I had to fit both writing and a lot of new stuff in my life (including ONCE UPON A TIME… all I can say is, Thank GOD I took a pledge never to indulge in the idiot box when it is bright outside, otherwise I would have never gotten any writing done this month!)

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This is where I was. No net, no phone, sometimes no power!

I have been working on adaptations this past 10 days, on a compilation called TALES OF NARADA. Narada is a very tame, pious and watered down version of Mischief God, in lieu of Loki or the Coyote. He likes to be a catalyst, and has done various stuff like bring about a war of Gods, but all in the name of good. In fact there is a saying in Tamil that goes Naradar kalagam Nanmaikke (Narada’s mischief always has a good ending).

They are not complete stories as such. Each day I researched one legend and made summary notes and possible deviations, scenes and dialogue in my “homework” document, and now I have 10 such docs. I do not know if I am still in the StoryADay Challenge, because technically these are not full length stories… but I’d like to think so, because I now have 10 story drafts I can work later.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/macbeck/3985839229/">BLW Photography</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

Oh, I didn’t mean these documents… but someday, I will.

I am not sure if these stories will see the light of the day; right now, retellings are quite passe. And obviously, not everything you write is going to be published! But I wanted to write them because I started my fiction writing career with retellings. I love retelling fiction, especially mythology, but there is no great market or respect for it anymore because it’s been done to death – unless you take pains to be awesome in it, then the editors come to you.

Naturally (at that time), I was not dedicated enough to take up that challenge, not when there were so many other easier ways to make money, so I did the easy stuff, got the easy bucks and I lost my path. Now that I have re-introduced myself to the genre, it feels good to be back 🙂

Tomorrow, you’ll read not about my writing challenge, but a lifestyle one; about my Ayurveda education early this month and why you should go organic as soon as possible, to avoid extinction of the human species!

STORIES 6-14: Myth based on Facts

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In Jan, I rewrote an exercise as a story. The idea was to write a scientific fact as a fairy tale or mythology.

I loved the exercise, and used the last few days – spent in an isolated guesthouse in the Nilgris Mountains to recuperate from a severe bronchitis – to plot and draft 9 similar stories… based on various scientific processes such as photosynthesis, rusting, Newton’s Law of Gravity and so on.

Each story is under 600 words, and it was fun. But to be honest, I did feel a little guilty, as this was easier for me than writing original stories… still, my goal is to win the StoryADay Challenge, and no one said I had to write only original/contemporary stories a day, so am happy to be meeting my target 🙂

As a sample, here is the first story from the compilation:

THE MONKEY’S SPEAR

The monkey was healthy, handsome, and jealous.

He envied the fishes for their colorful lives in the deep blue sea. He envied the birds for their supple feathers and their graceful dance in mid-air. He envied the rabbit for his downy fur, the gazelle for his stunning speed, the elephant for his sharp tusks, the woodpecker for his drilling. He even envied the king of the jungle, who lived safe and sound in a cave, while the monkey had to shiver and hide on treetops.

The monkey was miserable, and his heart was filled with thick, green envy.

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One day, his bitterness got so heavy that it his heart simply had to purge it, so it gave a mighty big push and let it all burst from the monkey’s eyes. For the first time, the monkey wept, his heart now empty and relieved of the heavy burden. His lush, viscous tears drenched the earth and slowly began to take shape of a spear. The monkey lay still and heaving on the ground, his eyes growing wider as the Spear grew taller. Soon, it spoke.

“Command me, father, and I will make you happy,” it said.

“Who are you?” asked the monkey in wonder and fear.

“I am your want. I am too powerful to be left idle; give me something to do, something to keep me busy for a long time. Tell me what you need, and I will get it done.”

Though the monkey’s heart had emptied of envy, the desire had not left his blood. Glad to have the help, he said, “I want to swim, and fly, and have a better, prettier skin. I want agility, protection, strength. I want a safe abode, and a place to call my own.”

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The Spear gave a great bow and said, “Those are too many great wants for me to serve you immediately, Father. Will you be willing to wait?”

The monkey replied, “I can wait as long as it takes you to get what I want.”

“Then promise me,” said the Spear. “Promise me you will keep me alive till you are alive, promise me your children and their children and their children for all eternity will keep me alive, so that I can figure out how to get your wants fulfilled.”

The monkey promised and the Spear gave a big roar and re-entered the monkey’s heart.

For the next few months, or may be for the next few thousand years, the spear worked hard inside the monkey and his descendants. Their body became smooth and hairless, their limbs straightened, their face became flatter, their brain became sharper. Using their enhanced organs, they began to invent and discover tools to make and break, to kill and sew, to race and ride, to swim and fly, to build and destroy.

The monkey kept its deal. The more it became a man, the more bitter its tears were – tears of hatred, betrayal, prejudice and a thousand other sins, kept the spear watered and alive, the price it paid for its progress in this wonderful world of ours.

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