When in Milan…

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This is the second time I am visiting this city (my architect husband M visits almost every spring for the design expo). I knew exactly how I spent the one week while he was busy all day at the expo:

  1. Slept. A lot. It was so HOT. (not intended to rhyme).
  2. Pretended to write. Caught up on emails and read a bit. Strictly tabloids and romances.
  3. Took the tram and the train and visited Sforza castle and shopped at the convenience stores inside the tube station. Have to wait a little more years to afford Milanese high street.

 

4. Made daily visits to the nearby supermaket. Restaurant prices were a bit grim, so cooked pasta and sandwiches at ‘home’ and used saran wrap a lot.

5. Went on a FREE walking tour which funnily enough was all about churches (I love churches, fortunately)

    Yeah they are real human skulls

6. Got crushed in the evening crowd at Brera district and was art-ed out in a good way at Brera museum until I wanted to snooze on all the pastrol landcapes

Brera design district

Brera museum

 

7. Really snoozed in the Sempione Park while listening to an indie band sing Aint No Sunshine. You can’t miss it, since it’s right next to Sforza Castle

8. More grocery shopping, cooking, sleeping (this is what happens when you stay in a cute airbnb with no TV.

                Tortellini in pesto

9. Managed to check out some high art in Milan

10. Didn’t manage to catch a movie in the theatre that’s located right opposite our accommodation and absolutely made no new contacts or friends except for the airbnb host who made my life lot easier by being my translator and calling cabs and checking whether a particular product has beef and such (yes, everything is in Italian).

So, in 7 days, I was out for a total of less than 24 hours. No regrets, because, when in Rome and all that, and locals don’t sightseeing from morning till night, dahlings. I believe in living loco whenever I travel, it helps my procrastination and general laziness. Plus it was so hot, as I said before. I kid you not, I later heard that the locals are freaked out by how warm it is now in April. I mean, who really wants to sightsee when it’s 23 degrees outside (apparently, the entire population of the city).

If you are visiting Milan, I highly recommend Chez Sabine. Here’s a peek into the place. Perhaps that might make it clear why I found it so easier to stay indoors!

Next stop, Varese.

 

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My book is launched!

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The Pune Lit Fest this year was lovely. More so because my book The Gurukul Chronicles was launched by such eminent achievers!

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On Day 2, I was very lucky to have my book’s intro session moderated by the charismatic Dipankar Mukerjee of Readomania, who gave me many valuable tips on book promotion and marketing.

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And here’s the other winner from last year’s contest, Piorre Hart, along with my parents. Her book WHERE THERE IS A WILL is now available at Amazon.

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A big smooch for my best friend Maheshwari Thyagarajan and her daughter Kimaya who made the trip from Mumbai to Pune just to cheer for me as I walked up the stage 🙂

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Last but not the least a big shout out to Pune city for its awesome weather, parks and people! I love it a bit more every time I revisit, and how can one not – just take a look below at one of the fab parks that was near the place I stayed! More pics and details in the next post 🙂

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In Deccan Gymkhana, Pune

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When your room comes with a blessedly green view (complete with chirpy bird sounds) and you finally have the time to open that book you have been forever meaning to read, all the while keeping one ear cocked to soak in the rain splashing against the glass window and slowly, gradually, allowing yourself to get lost in the world created by a master storyteller…. I confess, this is certified nirvana for any writer (or reader!)

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As most of you know, I am in Pune now, to attend the launch ceremony of my debut novel, The Gurukul Chronicles. I will also be speaking about it and reading excerpts on Saturday afternoon at Pune Litfest! I love meeting fellow writers and readers, so do Contact me if you are in Pune and want to connect 🙂

 

P.S.: I and my parents are staying at this cute Treebo property off Bandarkar Road, which boasts a fabulous jogging track right next to it. I just about swooned today morning as I walked in the middle of the track, with tall trees and bamboo around me, the temperature being a cool 23 degrees. More pics will be posted soon 🙂

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

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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, click here for PART 2 of this post.

Road trip!

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I plan retreats for writers and a favourite destination has been Pondicherry. My first retreat happened there and it holds a special place in my heart!

About 3 hours from Chennai, this piece of French-Indian town is a haven for artistic souls, looking for some creative inspiration or holistic R& R. I was there on Good Friday, on April 18 this year – the same day that is celebrated as World Heritage Day (bet you didn’t know that!).

It was a family trip and was fitting that we stayed in a heritage home. You can read my review of ESPARAN HERITAGE and see some pics here

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Yep, that’s the French Quarter.

The trip was also kind of a recee plan to identify possible venues for my next writers’ retreat, tentatively scheduled for Independence day weekend.

Slots tend to get sold out pretty quickly, since I rarely take more than 4 writers in each retreat, so if you’d like to be put on a mailing list to know when these retreats will be announced, write to me at contact@childrenswriter.in 

Investing in your craft – 1 (the story)

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As I wind up with my work at Pegasus, I reflect on what I have accomplished in this trip. It was fantastic, memorable, useful, yes, all that, but was it absolutely necessary?

To be frank, No. It was not. It was definitely not a fantastic financial decision. Sure my flights and accommodation were sponsored by the client, but if you have ever looked at London prices, you’d realize how much it would cost just to take the tube every day. Not to mention food, gifts and sightseeing.

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Honestly, I don’t have to be here. I don’t have to spend my time doing data collection for a project (the norm is to hire local freelancers, isn’t it?). I did not need to spend my own money, going on guided walking tours and visiting the college Gandhi studied in London ten times in a week, just in the name of research. Surely, there are thousands of writers out there who are able to write without doing all that live research.

But I am glad, fiercely glad, that I had the opportunity to do so. Now I know what view Gandhi had every time he got off the bus and walked up the road to enter the Inner Temple. In all probability, this may be my debut YA novel, and I want to give it my best shot, and I want to give it now, rather than during the editorial process. My research will translate into a better voice, better prose and a better grasp of my craft. Yes, I know Jack London wrote all those NYC stories without ever setting foot in the Big Apple, but for the rest of us lesser mortals living in the digital era, a specific research methodology is a very good blue print to follow.

To the budding writer who asked me at the SCBWI Editors’ meet a few months back – how does one proceed to the next level? – please accept my apology for offering you a lukewarm answer like “write everyday”. Of course, writing everyday is crucial, but the answer to your question is more complicated than that.

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You go to the next level by investing as much time, dedication and yes, money on your craft. The first two are imperative, the last not so much but still quite important… workshops, courses, research trips, even networking – all cost money but can be a great investment and infinitely useful in making you better than before. How fast you cross the river also hinges on how sturdy your boat is – you choose.

And let’s not forget the book – your book. Your story. Whether you write for kids or gargoyles, you have to give your story the homework it needs and if it needs you to learn to somersault or eat snails or take a trip, you do it. You do it, if you want to be remembered as an authentic storyteller. Being unique and original has always been the ballpark, but more so in the age of Kindle, high concept hunters and Instant karma 🙂

Click here for Part 2

To stop and smell the flowers

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Yesterday was a gloriously sunny day, albeit a freezing 5 degrees. After a cancelled appointment at the Temple Inn, I decided to enjoy the day in one of the best parks of London – Hyde Park.

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There is really something about the parks of London. Green and autumn colors, interspersed with robust humanity. You see these joggers running, huffing and puffing, alone or in a group, you see nannies and moms pushing the pram around and there are those who simply sit in the chairs before the lake and speak softly with their significant others.

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People like me – a tourist/park lover who feels the need to spend as much time as she can at the park before she goes back home! – are decidedly in the minority. I definitely did not see any tourists or backpackers taking the stroll in the park. IMO though, a park visit is as good as doing a bus tour around the city or a day spent inside a museum. The tranquility and views you get here are worth taking the time.

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The squirrels you see in the above picture? They are so tame they will leave you filled with delight. This one in the pic actually climbed up my leg! Before i could snap a pic, though, it scrammed. Still, the whole incident gave me an idea for Day 23 of PiBoIdMo. The seed for a squirrel story was sown in my mind, right then (I know that’s a lot of S!)

Like any park in London, Hyde Park is huge and it is best enjoyed in mild weather, but I surprisingly did not suffer too much in the freezing weather. Layers always help. There are a few cafes and snack stands peppered through out the park at strategic locations, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop or take a break. The friendly squirrels and birds only made the experience better.

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I’d love whipping out my notebook and write while dreamily gazing at the herons on the lake, but in the freezing weather, that would have looked silly. So I contented myself by walking briskly, shooting park scenes, and accosting an innocent bystander to take a picture of me. The brilliant sunlight beckoned me to keep walking, and the end of an hour, I felt inspired enough to catch the 19 to Finsbury Park and hawk at the cityscape from the double deck!

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If you are here sometime, either on business or leisure, take a couple of hours to check out Hyde Park – any park, really. This link will give you a nice intro to the parks of London, and I hope the pictures in this post would persuade you to visit them all 🙂