Photos: Reading at a book crawl on a lazy Sunday

Love the idea of a book crawl, that is a pub crawl but you get drunk on books instead. You move from book store to book store to check out the novels, comics and other things on sale and to hopefully meet readers and people who are part of the love of reading. When Book and Brews approached me with their unique Book Crawl idea and asked me to participate, of course I said yes. This was the first reading I did from Cult of Chaos  and it was nice to see so many turn up on a lazy Sunday afternoon to hear out how I added in a tadka of tantrism into the book. Leaving you all with some photos.

(photos courtesy: Book and Brews, Darshan CG)

Bangalore history: A 1949 letter by a missionary on anglo-Indians

How were Anglo-Indians perceived just after the Indian independence? A friend on facebook recently shared two sides of an old postcard written by a missionary in 1949 by a missionary KE Munson to a friend of hers in the USA. I was fascinated by the postcard, her opinions and since it’s so difficult to read, transcripted it here for history geeks like me. Read, enjoy, feel free to share! 🙂


From: K.E.Munson, Baldwin Girl’s High School, Bangalore 7-10-1949

To: Miss Hatte Hughes, New York, USA.

Dear Miss Hughes,

How very good of you to send me such a lot of lovely cards. I had forgotten what lovely cards they have at home. I have been giving them out among our mission workers, a dozen or so to each person and they will send them to other friends when the time comes. The do appreciate them so much.

I have kept some for my scrap book, those by Grandma Moses, Currier and Ives, and a few others. Most of them are snow scenes, maybe because I do miss the snow and the cold weather. I really do not approve of the card habit among our Christians when postage costs so much and means that much less to eat. But of course most of the cards are delivered by hand, and in any case take the place of presents that would cost a great deal more. And they are so beautiful, and are treasured for years by those who receive them.

Today a lady is coming to look over the cards and choose her share.

She’s an Anglo-Indian, with some Indian and some European blood. In the early days the East India Company encouraged the men to make temporary unions with Indian women. When I first came to India 30 years ago I knew women who were still receiving pensions as the children of E.I.C officials. The British government paid them. Then of course each war always leaves a lot of children of mixed blood, especially in places like Bangalore that have been military centres. Then too there probably have always been some real marriages, though these have ben difficult among the Hindus because of the caste system.

Naturally the Anglo-Indians, A-I’s as we call them, resent – and justly so – any imputation that their origin has not been honourable.

I suppose that all of them, or at least almost all have quite lost track of their ancestry. That seemed to have been proved true when so many girls wanted to go to America as brides of the G.I. They had to prove that they were either 51 per cent white or 51 per cent Indian as Indians and English had a quota system then. Unless the mixture was in the last generation it was almost impossible to prove. Most of these A-I girls were fair and beautiful, but unless their father was a British soldier and their births registered in Somerset House, they could do nothing about it. You see in the old days, until World War I, passports were not required and birth certificates were rarely saved.

It was these A-I families, many of whom were on the railroad, that William Taylor hoped would evangelize India.

Continue reading “Bangalore history: A 1949 letter by a missionary on anglo-Indians”

Interview: Author Anjum Hassan and Zac O’ Yeah on their writing course

When I first began writing fiction, I didn’t take any creative writing course. There weren’t any I could find. Instead I learnt the old way—reading, scrounging blogs of writers, emailing authors and haranguing them—till I could build that small little wisp of an idea in my head, through plot building, characterization, structure and somehow fit it into the shape of a novel. Learning the art of writing this way wasn’t easy. And if it wasn’t for the support of a lot of authors who replied back to me over email and tried to help, I would have given up before I finished my first novel.

Does a formal writing course help?

Last year, when I attended a few classes at the creative writing master’s course at Chichester University, UK, as part of my Charles Wallace India Trust fellowship, I realized how these classes could have helped me as a debut author. A formal course would have introduced me to concepts of structures, storytelling style, plot building, scenes, pace, and many other little building blocks that each author needs in order to build the magic wand of writing and shape the story in her head. Plus, it would have introduced me to authors and publishers and made me understand how the publishing industry worked a little bit more.

Which is why when I heard about author couple Anjum Hassan and Zac O’Yeah, starting an intense creative writing course in Bangalore, I decided to write about it, hoping that debut writers, who are scrounging now like I did all those years ago, would hopefully attend and build their magic wands of writing.

An intensive writing course will show you possibilities

Bangalore’s worldBangalore’s World-Famous Semi-Deluxe Writing Course as it’s called is a 12-week program at Shoonya – Centre for Art and Somatic Practices where a conglomerate of authors introduces you to various genres including short stories, thrillers, travelogues, children’s literature, writing for film and television, business writing, poetry and translations. You get to meet a lot of wonderful writers and learn from them. Both Zac and Anjum didn’t want to keep the cost very high as they wanted to encourage everyone who harboured a wish to write and not only ‘corporate types’. Excerpts from an interview.

Q) What brought about the idea of doing such an intensive creative writing course?

Anjum: Because it just felt like high time that somebody starts something like this. There have been lots of smaller and more informal courses over the last few years in Bengaluru, but none that actually follows a thought-out curriculum which takes a broad perspective on writing as a possible career. And with more people being interested in writing, who may want to write a novel or whatever they wish to write, it seemed like a nice idea to do something.

Q) Tell us a little bit about this workshop. What modules do you plan, how will you divide the teaching among yourselves.

Continue reading “Interview: Author Anjum Hassan and Zac O’ Yeah on their writing course”

The ultimate Bangalore dosa map. What’s your favourite dosa place?

Bangalore dosa map

Bangalore dosa map? Now that’s called craziness. As I write this, I giggle. A friend recently asked me why do people in Bangalore make early morning plans for dosa rather than evening plans for a drink. It’s true. If you’ve been in Bangalore long enough, or have turned to become one with the city like I have, well, you do talk dosa and breakfasts.

Bangalore dosa mapMy husband, Ashwani, who is absolutely crazy about dosas have always thought about making an ultimate map of all the dosa places that come in our favourite haunts. Which is why when we came across this map, made by a friend of a friend, Niranj, we were absolutely thrilled. It lists down all places where you can have a scrumptious dosa. Know of some they’ve missed? Add them in. So if you’re in Bangalore, explore these spots. For others, come over, we’ll take you there! For there’s nothing better than that sumptuous, delectable thing we call dosa (or dosai, dosha, doshai, dhosa, anything. What’s in a name till oodles of ghee is added on top of it?)

Note: The above dosa image is not from Bangalore. We rarely take dosa pictures, for obvious reasons. This was in a small darshini somewhere in Andhra Pradesh. I can give you the town’s place, but only if you comment below and ask me!

Come over to Bangalore LitFest to swap ghost tales

I’m heading to the Bangalore LitFest this weekend for a fantabulistic workshop. The thing that excites me the most. Ghosts! What else? Come over peeps, swap tales of the paranormal and share your experience of the supernatural. Listen to kids and adults as they share their stories and even write a letter to a ghost you always wanted to chat with. Oh the best part? It’s free for all!
Head to the bangalore literature festival for a chat with ghosts!
Details:
Age: 9+ (courageous parents can join in)
What we will do: Have a paranormal experience to share? Or love to listen to stories that chill and thrill? Join author Shweta Taneja in our spooky circle and listen and write some scary tales.
Time: 45 minutes
This session is part of the Children Literature Fun @ Bangalore Literature Festival.

Call 9945799224 for details or head to its Facebook Events page.

A new begging scam on the streets of Bangalore

A few weeks ago, I’d just come out of my gym in RT Nagar when a couple with a child, looking vaguely from somewhere rural approached me. Both of them spoke on how they’d come to Bangalore on train from somewhere in Bihar, called on a job by a contractor had cheated them. Now they were without money and couldn’t go back home. It was late evening and they begged me to give them some money to buy a train ticket for home. They rightly guessed that I spoke Hindi and spoke to me in the same language to emphasis their alieness to this land. At that time, vulnerable and tired, I half fell for it. Deciding not to give money, I took them over to a biryani place nearby and got them some biryani packed for dinner.

104kjhkAsI bought the biryani, I was pretty sure the Rs 150 I was spending on them was scammed off me, but the polite me didn’t know how to say no. The reason I knew it was a scam was because I vaguely remember the same thing happening in Delhi, when I used to live there more than a decade ago. Also the cashier in that biryani restaurant looked like he’d seen that guy before. There was a flicker of recognition in his eyes. Anyway, I paid up and left, feeling vaguely scammed and hoping I see them again so I could confront them.

The same scam was repeated before me, TWICE at the Trinity Circle today. There were two families I saw. A couple with a child, usually 3-7 years of age trailing behind. One of the families was standing a bit off the other and the other had already stopped a lady who give out Rs 100 to the couple in front of me and my friend. We didn’t stop her at that moment.

Continue reading “A new begging scam on the streets of Bangalore”

That garbage is not my problem

Early morning as the auto drags along, crisscrossing and honking irritably at the traffic, I notice the pavements that travel along with me. Two cleaners from BBMP, on either side of a pavement near Ulsoor (I see one after the other), are halfheartedly sweeping with a broom on the debris, leaving the shit behind. It’s all colours of shit – black, brown, muddy, dried and still squishy and wet. The cleaners sweep all around it, contentiously pick up the debris and the leaves and the dust that had fallen the day before, leaving the droppings of stray dogs and cows that have passed the night before, behind. Conveniently making it someone else’s problem.

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In front of a closed shop, next to a small darshini in Bangalore

The middle class in me screams. Do a good job, I want to say in the righteous voice. These are public roads. It’s your job to clean them. Why are you leaving all the shit behind? Clean properly! Except, says another voice in me, the one that usually makes me squirm. Don’t you do the same thing? It’s your shit finally, isn’t it?

For doesn’t our garbage, the one we create, the one we discard, become someone else’s problem at some point? The moment we dump a coffee cup, righteously, into a trash can. The moment our maid takes out the black plastic bag from our home, dumping it near a tree or an empty plot. The moment we place a beer bottle on the stage floor where an indie band is performing. The moment we finish the dosa in front of someone else’s shutter and leave the plate behind. The exact moment when a child finishes off a bag of chips and casually drops it in front of the waterfall his parents have taken him to. Coffee cups, tea mugs, underwears, plastic bottles, chewing gum packets, juice cans, smashed beer bottles, all half hidden, glittering under dried leaves. Usually, we can even find out what all is available at a picnic spot or at a kiosk around the corner of the road, just by looking at the garbage scattered in the area.

We leave a trail of debris wherever we travel.

On roads, on pavements, thrown from the windows of cars, from autos, delicately dropped onto the grass in the park, left behind post a picnic or a party at friends. Continue reading “That garbage is not my problem”

Tantric Tales: A documentary, real life stories and an occult quiz

The occult quiz is back by popular demand! This time, it’s the kind people at The Beehive who’ve owned up everything tantrism and will be hosting it at The Humming Tree, probably the coolest place in the city to hang out at. We will talk about Cult of Chaos, do an occult quiz (with prizes), a documentary on witch hunting in India and finally, the thing I’m most looking forward to: Everyone who comes there, the audience, the barman, the friends and family, will all sit in a circle and tell a real life story they’ve heard about paranormal, supernatural and tantrism.

VENUE: The Humming Tree, Indiranagar, Bangalore
DATE: 26 April, 2015
TIME: 4-8pm

So come, listen to occult stories! It’s going to be fun. Here’s the fabulous invite made by Aakanksha.

Chillli lemon Beehive final

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THE BEEHIVE
presents
TANTRIC TALES
Exploring the supernatural with Shweta Taneja
author of ‘Cult of Chaos’
In this session of The Beehive, we will explore some secrets of dark magic, tantrism and cults that exist at the fringes of our society with a documentary on witch hunting, a quiz and trivia session and a discussion on tantrism with author Shweta Taneja whose new book, Cult of Chaos has been published by Harper Collins India.
4.00 pm – Documentary
5.00 pm – Trivia and Quiz
6.00 pm – Discussion on Tantrism and Cult of Chaos by Shweta Taneja
6.30 pm – Book Reading by Shweta Taneja
7.00 pm – Story Sharing Circle
We invite all of you to be a part of this and share with us your own personal experiences or stories that you’ve heard from your mother about what happened to your aunt’s daughter’s brother-in law when he was travelling through the Western Ghats on a full moon night.. or the one about the neighbour who took a swim in the village pond and was possessed by the spirits living in the old peepal tree, where she hung her clothes. The best story will get a signed copy by the author!
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VENUE : THE HUMMING TREE
———————————————The Humming Tree is a concept Live Music and Arts Venue (operating as a bar/café as well) opened in June, 2013 and located in Bangalore, India.———————————————
ORGANISERS : THE BEEHIVE
———————————————

The Beehive is a participatory gathering of all the wonderful pool of talents, dreams, hopes, skills and innovations. We all share, we all learn, we all love. Every month, ‘The Beehive’, at The Humming Tree brings something new.

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See you all there this Sunday!

Relationships on the run

Forget pubs, cafés, golf courses and cinema theatres. Dating, therapy, networking—it’s all happening as you sprint to fitness

Two years ago, Genieve Bodiwala saw Sandesh Shukla, 31, at a runner’s bash in Mumbai and fell in love. “I knew I wanted to marry him at that moment. From then on, I plotted to make him fall for me,” says the 32-year-old, who has participated in one marathon and 13 half marathons. Since they were both passionate about running, all she had to do was join the same running group, Mumbai Road Runners (Mumbairoadrunners.com), and then create a subgroup on WhatsApp to coordinate drills, go on treks, and spend time with him and a few other friends. “One day, while we were running, I asked him out,” says Bodiwala. Shukla and Bodiwala, who got married in December, did a 4-hour trek and a short run on Yala beach, Sri Lanka, the day after their wedding to celebrate.

rahul-ke7E--330x220@LiveMint

BONDING ON THE TRACK

Running, the new hangout activity, not only helps bring couples together but also keeps them together. A few years after their marriage, Bengaluru-based Jyothsna Reddy Bathula, 31, and Rahul Tripuraneni, 34, got busy with children, work deadlines and Tripuraneni’s parents, who live with them. “We just didn’t have enough time for each other,” says Tripuraneni. “At one point, we were worried about our relationship.” The couple decided to do something and zeroed in on running, since “Bangalore as a city is so pro-running”. For more than six months now, they’ve been getting up early and running 5km together while their three- and six-year-olds play in the park. “We are fitter, more energetic and spend time talking to each other,” says Bathula.

For many youngsters who are moving cities, running is a way to meet new people. Jay Ashar, 29, who works in the field of knowledge management, moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai. “Shikhsha Shah, a colleague from Hyderabad who had moved at the same time, asked me to join running and I did,” he says. It was during the long training periods prepping for a marathon, and volunteering activities, that Ashar got to know Shah better. “I used to take a train from Dombivali to Powai on Sundays just to train with her. If it hadn’t been for running, Shikhsha would’ve remained a colleague. Now we’re best friends,” he says.

THE CULTURE OF A GROUP

Giridhar Ramachandran, who has been studying social groups like running clubs at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, since 2013 as part of his doctoral research at the department of management studies, compares these groups to gali nukkads. These spaces, which have all but disappeared from the big cities, allowed people to meet, away from home and work. “Running clubs, a recent phenomenon, are the new nukkads,” says the 40-year-old. “In these spaces we don’t play a specific role, of an employee or a spouse, but are just there.” Ramachandran, who has interviewed people from various groups in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune, says these clubs work as support groups too. Continue reading “Relationships on the run”

Are stories real?

This story was recently carried in Swarajya magazine and got over 150 shares online. Thrilled! Editing this a bit and resharing.

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Of stories, Oh muse speak to me.

Some time ago, I took a friend and her nine-year-old daughter to Bull Temple in Bengaluru. It’s the place with one of the country’s largest monolith bull, in the shape of Nandi, the servant bull of Shiva. The majestic Nandi far surpasses the tiny Shiva here, who you almost miss in a small alcove behind the bull. He is spectacular in size, structure and sheer architecture. To excite her, I promised this little lady, who was still sleepy and not too thrilled with the idea of seeing a temple, with a true story after she had seen the Nandi.

Once she was dragged her feet around the bull inside the temple, we sat outside in the temple courtyard, the black sculpture of Nandi behind us and I began the true story I had heard from someone at the same spot the first time I had come to the Bull temple:

“Hundred of years ago, Nandi, one of Shiva’s bravest warriors, was invited to come to the city of Bangalore to save it from its enemies. With all fanfare, a small statue of Nandi, the bull, was placed on top of a hill so that he could protect the city. But there was something special about this bull. Every morning when the people living around the hill woke up, they would find that the Nandi’s sculpture had grown in size. So it kept on happening again and again. At first the statue became the size of a dog, then a bull, then an elephant, then a dinosaur. This caused fear in the masses. Politicians and the adminsitrators of Bengaluru became afraid that if the bull keeps growing and becoming bigger and bigger, it will destroy their entire city. That was when a poet suggested that they build a temple around Nandi. If he is indoors, the poet predicted, he wouldn’t be able to look at the sky and his desire to grow more and more will stop. That will save their city. And so it was done. A temple was built around this ambitious Nandi, the walls so close that the ceiling touches the Nandi’s golden horns and there’s barely space enough to for the Nandi to stand inside. And as soon as a structure was created around the Nandi, the dinosaur-sized bull stopped growing in size, content to remain at that size forever.”

‘Is the story real?’ asked the nine-year-old wisely. ‘Yes, I think it is,’ I answered, ‘the person who told me, told me it was a true story.’ ‘No, you’re making this up,’ she replied, looking up to her mother for confirmation. Her mother, in an equal mood to make her daughter believe answered, ‘It could be real.’ She looked back at the majestic monolith of Nandi, doubt in her eyes, but also a newfound interest. Her mother looked back at me and smiled, conspiratorially. We had done it. We had plotted magic in a child’s heart.

I came back home and started to wonder why more and more of the children I see are not ready to believe in things beyond their five senses, in anything beyond rationality. I ask this to all children I meet in the various workshops I conduct in schools. They call believing in anything other than what’s been proved by science as superstition.

To a four-year-old who I met at a party one evening, I asked if he knows why we don’t see stars in the morning. When he shook his head, I told him because every morning a monster called the Sun gobbles them up. So when you see Sun, you cannot see the Stars. For a second, I saw doubt in his eyes and then he shook his head. ‘Not possible,’ he answered. When with all the dignity of my adulthood I insisted that that was the truth, he went back to his parents to confirm.

We have become a rational, logical society. So much so that we explain to our children that myths and all stories they hear are not real, not factual, but lies and fiction. In our eagerness to divide and tag everything with ‘facts’ and ‘fiction’, somewhere we lose out on the magic and in many ways the emotional truths that stories carry in themselves. Stories can capture the truths of love, creativity, imagination, dreams, aspirations and emotions, the way facts never really can. They give us a glimpse into another world. A world which is beyond what we know or understand, can touch, see and feel. They bring a sense of wonderment, of mystery, of the unknown, of possibility. Stories make us dream, so that we don’t live by the rules and facts provided to us, but make new rules, new societies, new cultures. Stories make us creative, they make us look at ourselves in a new way and bring about change in our beings.

By telling us tales of other people, other creatures, other cultures, other beings and other societies stories show us a different point of view and make us more accepting of differences. They make troll less online and accept that there can be multiple perspectives to the same thing, with none of them being completely wrong and none of them being completely the truth too. They turn us into mature, accepting beings.

I end this blog with yet another story, which my Nani told me a few months ago, sitting in her bedroom. She’s 75 now. I am, well, have been an adult since quite a while. Still, she sat me down like I was the little kid I used to be, her rheumy eyes watery (she has acute cataract and can barely see) and her voice quavered as she told me this story. A true story, she insisted which she had heard from her brother who had been to Haridwar recently, who had heard it from someone who had in reality experienced this:

‘One day in Haridwar, there was a fat-fat lady. She was so fat, so fat, so fat (Nani’s hands spread wide) that her body could barely fit into a car’s backseat. She stood on a road, asking for a ride from a rickshaw-wallah to Hari-ki-paudi, the popular holy ghat on the banks of Ganga. Since the fat-fat lady was so fat, no rickshaw driver was ready to take her up to the ghat, which is a winding road that goes up and then down and up again. She seemed too heavy! She asked many rickshaw drivers, and all of them refused. Finally a thin, scrawny driver pitied her and agreed to take her. He helped her alight on the rickshaw and started to peddle. Surprisingly, though she was so fat, the driver could peddle the rickshaw as if it was empty. She felt weightless.

‘He kept on turning back to see if the fat-fat lady was still on the rickshaw. God forbid she should fall! It was an easy ride for him and he reached the steps of the ghat, the Hari-ki-paudi. The fat-fat lady stepped down and said, “Please wait and take me back. I will just take 15 minutes for a quick dip in the Ganga and come back. Till then, hold on to this. It’s for you.’ With that she took out a handkerchief which was tied into a small pouch from her fat bosom and gave it to the rickshaw-puller. He nodded and waited. Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty, then an hour and then an hour again. The driver started to worry. Had she drowned? Worried, he went to the ghat and inquired. A lot of bathers saw a fat-fat lady go into the Ganga to take a dip but no one saw her come out. One bather informed him that he saw her clothes, floating in the water, but no woman inside them. ‘Poor lady,’ cried the rickshaw driver, ‘she has drowned in the waters of Ganga! She was so fat!’ He finally remembered the little handkerchief that she had given him and opened it. The kerchief had precious emeralds and rubies and diamonds! He went back to the same road he had picked her up from and inquired about the fat-fat lady. Finally he found out that the fat-fat lady had lived in an ashram in Haridwar. She was a rich lady and had died there with a wish to take a dip in the Ganga on her lips. She had died a year before she had met the rickshaw driver! ‘She was a soul who needed to take a dip in the Ganga to be released,’ he thought, ‘and because I happened to help her that she gave me so much money.’ The precious stones had made him enough money to make sure that he and seven of his generations wouldn’t need to work. ‘This is the biggest tip anyone will ever get,’ he thought before giving his rickshaw away. He wouldn’t need it now. This is a true story. My brother heard it from a guy who had happened to meet the rickshaw driver.’

Thank you, Nani, for making my eyes go round with wonderment, even though I insisted after the story had ended that there was no way it could be a true story. Could it?

PS: I hope instead of facts in comment boxes below, everyone tells stories and tales that they heard in temples, roadsides and from grandparents that made their eyes pop out in wonder.