Looking at speculative fiction beyond mythology

Is speculative fiction beyond mythology possible in the literature coming out from our country? Till now, most of the speculative fiction that has come out of the country (even mine) has been heavily inspired or uses characters from our rich Hindu mythology. I take the topic head on in this talk at the LitFestX. This video is from 2015, so a little dated and since I’ve spoken there, there has been a lot of amazing books that have come out in the genre, but I’m adding it now because frankly, at that time, I lost track of things and never added this in my blog. See if you’re interested in hearing my thoughts on the topic. Have thoughts, disagree? Add to the comments below.

Must-have sports apps for sports lovers

Whether it’s finding a sports partner or places to play, your phone has it covered with smart sports apps. During college, Gururaj Upadhya was a badminton champion. But once he started working, he left sports behind. “After 10 years of work, I wanted to pursue badminton again,” says the 37-year-old chartered accountant from Bengaluru. Expensive club memberships would have been a waste, given that he was travelling a lot. This is when he came across Playo, an app that connects people who play sports. He not only found sports mates but also badminton courts he could book at an hourly rate. Upadhya now plays four times a week, hosts badminton matches and runs a 70-people badminton group within the app.

If, like Upadhya, you want to follow your passion for sports, here are some apps that can help you find a place and/or a partner.

Spyn

Continue reading “Must-have sports apps for sports lovers”

Slavery in India and how it compares to the world

While browsing the layers that is the internet, I came across Global Slavery Index and found the facts that they’d written about India after research quite intriguing. There are lots of little nuggets there to mull over and think about various ways we ignore, encourage and are okay with slavery in our country. I had hoped this is not true, that it’s fiction, or something that can come under my Tall Tales section, but unfortunately, that is not to be. An excerpt from the report.


How many people are in modern slavery in India?

India is undergoing a remarkable ‘triple transition’, in which economic growth is both driving and is being affected by rapid social and political change. Economic growth has rapidly transformed the country over the past 20 years, including the creation of a burgeoning middle-class. In 1993, some 45 percent of the population were living in poverty; by 2011 that had been reduced to 21 percent.  In addition to economic growth, ambitious programmes of legal and social reform are being undertaken right across the board, from regulation of labour relations to systems of social insurance for the most vulnerable.

Even with such remarkable change, given India has a population of more than 1.3 billion people, there are still at least 270 million people living on less than US$1.90 per day. While laws, systems and attitudes regarding key ‘fault lines’ such as the caste system, gender and feudalism are rapidly changing, social change of this depth and scale necessarily takes time. In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that existing research suggests that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including intergenerational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into nonstate armed groups and forced marriage. (bold is mine)

…The survey data suggest that there are more than 18 million people or 1.4 percent of the total population, who are living in conditions of modern slavery in India. Industries implicated in the survey data include domestic work, the construction and sex industries, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, manual labour, and forced begging.

Bonded labour

While bonded labour has been outlawed for decades, survey data and pre-existing research confirms that this practice still persists. Narratives available from 2016 survey respondents identify that some respondents perceived their situation to be one of bonded labour, some of which is inter-generational:

“Sir, it is the sin of my father that I have to repay the debts unless I shall have to beg. I have a threat against my family. I am prone to physical violence everyday.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

“This is an old disease in the village that if you are not able to pay off your debts you will have to work as a bonded labor in the field of a powerful person. My husband was employed far from the village so that he can not run away.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

In other cases, it appeared that bonded labour reflected debt lending practices and continuation of a feudal mindset:

“There are many people in the village who were working with me as a bonded labor. I was physically and sexually assaulted when I was working in the field. I had also threat on my life and on my family. I was also threatened that I had to leave the village.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

“It’s very common in this village that we have to work for repay the amount, our family borrowed. I was one of them. My motto was just repay the amount as soon as I could. They threatened to evict us from our homeland, shown their anger if I denied to perform any task. Sometimes the consequence extended to my family and they used physical torture in several time.” (Survey respondent, 2016).

Bonded labour is not only illegal, research confirms that it has serious negative health impacts for those affected, who typically work in unsanitary and dangerous working conditions with no access to health care.

Domestic service

Examples of forced labour of domestic workers were described by survey respondents. While not all domestic workers are abused, domestic workers are a particularly vulnerable group as work takes place in private homes and largely out of the reach of regulation. Official figures in India suggest that there are more than 4.2 million men, women and children working as cooks, cleaners, drivers, gardeners and caregivers across the country. These estimates are from 2004 and experts suggest that there may be many more workers unaccounted for in these statistics…. It is reported that girls as young as ten continue to be hired in private homes.Domestic workers can be subject to threats of and actual physical violence and in, some cases, sexual abuse.

“You are well aware that if a young lady works as a domestic servant she is always a soft target of being easily molested. So with me. I have not paid a single amount and in the name of debt I was made a victim of the sexual violence.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

Forced begging

Street begging by adults and children is a prominent feature of many Indian cities. Though many beggars do so out of economic desperation, survey data confirms that criminals also force people to beg:

“Though I am begging I am not paid a single amount. I have to deposit all to them. I am deprived of food and good sleep. I am not paid my wages only working as a bonded labor.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

“I was forced to do begging and still begging with the others…I cant say anything to you because I am in constant fear. I am threatened by my employer not to open my mouth to anybody otherwise I will be punished severely.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

Commercial sexual exploitation

Existing research and the 2016 survey data confirm the existence of forced prostitution. As one survey respondent said:

“My wife is kept in the locked room and sexually harassed and being forced to work as a prostitute. She is physically punished whenever she refuse to have sex. My family is under death threat. We are also threatened of legal action against us.” (Survey respondent, 2016)

Another reported:

“I was forced to work in the flesh trade… Can you imagine that I kept in a locked room for the whole day when I refused to work under pressure? It is because they had always threatened me and my family for physical violence and tortured.” (Survey respondent, 2016).

Existing National Crime Records Bureau data indicate there were almost 5,500 cases across India under existing human trafficking laws in 2014. As the law does not differentiate between human trafficking and sex work, and there are no formal guidelines on who is identified in rescue and raid situations, it is impossible to know if every one of these cases involved force or children, or whether some were simply cases of economic survival.


This is just a little bit of the report. Read it here completely. Think, ponder, try and change.

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!

What people say when I tell them I’m an author

In workshops at schools, at literary events, festivals, interactions with writers, strangers and friends, I’ve met some really funny responses to the fact that I am a writer. The awkward conversation starts in a party or a hangout, when you chat to a stranger. Or when one is trying to get through immigration or getting a passport renewed. (shudders)

‘What do you do?’ someone asks jovially, a drink down. Heading for another. ‘I write,’ I answer with my winning smile.  Blank stare. ‘Books and articles and stuff,’ I try again. Blank stare. ‘I am an author,’ I venture. ‘An authorpreneur?’ I try again, my tongue doing Patanjali-trademarked yoga on the twisted word, desperate now, mentally kicking myself for paving in to the popular perception and respectability of the word ‘author’ rather than the more humdrum ‘writer’ which is how I see myself.

‘Oh,’ says the stranger.wpid-wp-1432640428580.jpg

What follows can be any of these responses and my response to it.

 

‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book.’

‘Great. Write it.’

‘I have an idea about a book.’

‘Great, write it.’

‘I wish I could write.’

‘Practice makes people perfect.’

‘Will you write a book for me? I have an idea.’

‘No. Ideas are like flies. They’re everywhere. Why don’t you go flush yours down the toilet? See where that leads you?’

 ‘Do you make any money?’

‘Nope.’

Oh, you mean like Chetan Bhagat?’

‘Yes. We both write fiction.’

‘Give me your book, I want to read it.’

‘I don’t carry my book, the same way you don’t carry a factory or the excel sheets you make at office all day long.’

‘Will I get a free copy?’

‘Sure. Can I drill your empty head and stuff it with empathy. Please?’

‘Oh. I need a signed copy.’

‘Great. Order a book, call me. I am always up for signing copies.’

‘Acha hai. You have to do something for time pass.’

‘I am rather fascinated to find the overflowing vat of idiocy behind that bushel of hair that grows so proudly on your head.’

‘Isn’t writing a hobby?’

‘It can be. I just do it all day long.’

‘Wow! So you will become famous like Chetan Bhagat and earn lots of money?’

‘Not really. Most of us don’t earn. It’s a silly profession. Work hard, get nothing. We have no idea why we do it. But we do. Kind of like being addicted to alcohol. Or cigarettes. Or coffee.’

‘Why don’t you make a movie out of it and earn lots of money?’

‘Did I say I was a director?’

‘I have this fascinating idea, which I think will make a really good movie.’ (From a hair stylist, cutting my hair)

‘Ok-ay. (politely, since I did want a nice haircut) Did I say I was a producer?’

‘You don’t look like one.’ (From a rather judgmental 11-year-old)

‘Oh. See my name on the tag of this literary festival? See the name on the book I’m holding? Can you even read?’

‘Oh, I am so jealous. You have an easy life. Sitting at home, making stories.’

‘Try it, will you? Please do. Practice by staring at a screen all day long, waiting to see if your brain will work and produce a publishable phrase.’

‘So how do you earn?’

‘I don’t earn from books. Period. I get my income, depending on mood, from selling peanuts on the road or stealing from overpaid MBAs, by hitting them with a running shoe.’

‘So you will get famous soon?’

‘One hopes, but no. Most authors don’t.’

‘Where can I buy it?’

‘Everywhere. Do you go to bookstores?’

‘Sorry, I don’t read.’

‘What a loss of a perfectly sound brain. Oh, wait…’

‘How was the response to your latest book?’ 

‘Umm. How many times have you had sex this week? This month? …year?’

‘Really? What’s the name of your book?’

‘Cult of Chaos.’

‘Chhaas…what?’

‘Let’s go get drunk. Please.’

(Hurries away to get a drink.)


Cross published in DailyO and YouthKiAwaaz.

Five signs that say you might be depressed

You’ve been sad for a while now. At first you think it’s just a phase, you lose interest in everything, don’t want to eat, are forgetful and lack motivation. According to World Health Organization research, updated in April, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. “Depressive episodes could be mild, moderate or severe in intensity based on the nature, extent and duration of the symptoms,” says Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “In severe episodes you can develop extreme behavioural changes from a high phase of mania to a low phase, become deluded or encounter hallucinations where you can’t stop listening to negative voices in your head.” Biological symptoms include weight loss, disturbed sex drive, a loss of appetite and interrupted sleep. To some extent, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent depressive symptoms, says Dr Malhotra. “Follow a regular sleep-wake schedule, do regular exercise, have a nutritious and balanced diet, engage in creative hobbies and stay away from drug and alcohol abuse,” he says. Continue reading “Five signs that say you might be depressed”

Make time travel with time-lapse video apps

A sunset crunched in 3 seconds. A party shortened to a few minutes. Time-lapse videos used to be a pain to shoot but now with smarter apps they’re as simple as, well, taking a selfie. Here are a few apps to turn you into a video pro.

Hyperlapse

If you’re an Instagram workhorse, Hyperlapse is the app for you to capture a speedball video. The app smoothens hand-held videos using a fantastic image-stabilization software that uses data from your phone’s gyroscope to measure and remove frames that are shaky. Run, walk, jump, fall, drive and take a video and get a cinematic feel without lugging around a selfie stick or a tripod. All you need to do is hold the phone camera up, shoot a video, choose how fast you want it to go (it can speed up your videos up to 12 times)and upload. The only downside of the app is that it is available only on iPhones.

Free on iPhone and iPad. Hyperlapse.instagram.com

Microsoft Hyperlapse

One of the few apps to create timelapse on Windows Phone, the Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile comes with a simple, easy-to-use interface. It offers 32x speed, so you can crunch hours of videos into a few minutes. And you’re not limited to just the app. You can import any video, taken anywhere and speedball them up. What we also loved is that it can record 1080p videos. That’s pro- quality video for free and just right to be seen on the biggest screen in your home. This app can also stabilize videos, though that happens only if you choose 1x speed.

Free on Windows Phone and Android. Research.microsoft.com

Framelapse

Build by Noida-based computer engineer Nishant Singh as part of his project in the last year of his B.Tech course, the app comes loaded with features to take a hyper video. You can adjust the frame interval, speed, zoom, autofocus, adjust white balance, choose the front or back camera, set video resolution and take a video in landscape or portrait. You can also set up a video duration to stop recording automatically. So just place it in a corner of a party and let it do all the work while you mingle. The Pro version, which costs $2.99 (around Rs204), has added advance functions like sleep mode that reduces battery drain while recording and customization of the length of the video, exposure and frame interval.

Free on Android. Neximolabs.com


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Year end and so much to be thankful for

Time is a thing of beauty. There are moments it trickles, slows down enough that you can hear your heart beat, beat by beat. There are flashes when time zooms, taking you on a journey full of laughter and glee. That’s how my 2016 went. Flew by, waited tiresomely and pondered. So I just want to list down the things I was thankful for.

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Made new friends

Beginning of the year, I shivered and learnt from Booker Prize winners at Chichester as a Charles Wallace fellow. Gave a talk in London. Worked on three books simultaneously, editing two and writing a new one. Learnt how empty it feels when you finish a project you’ve been with for years. Wandered in loneliness and heard myself. In the process, hung out with new people and made new friends.

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Learnt about failure

The book I started, refused to come to me. I lacked the skills for it and had to park it. I learnt to breathe and learnt about patience. I learnt to let things go. Attended a wedding in the middle of July in Delhi. Roamed on the streets. Found bugs with nephew and saw them through a lens so we could appreciate the beauty in their wings.

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Did things new to me

Saw a zebra running wild and a lioness being licked by her cubs. Found how hard it was to plant a tree. Launched a book and became a hybrid author. Started a new book, which I’m halfway through as I write this and am hoping to finish. Joined an ATM line, two days after demonetisation was announced and read a book on my Kindle. Joined two startups as their communication advisor.

All through this, I made many new friends and spent time with my old ones. Wandered the streets, chattered over filter coffee and green tea. Heard stories, nodded in empathy and danced away the nights. I’m so thankful my year went so beautifully.

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As you read this, I’m off somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, with my closest buddies, doing what I do to recharge my creative batteries: Walking, hiking and listen to collective wisdom on the road. I’ll come back with new stories, probably of ghosts, woes to share, ideas to write down and more things to be thankful for.

Have a wonderful year end, peeps.

Read, learn, make new friends, be merry, share laughter with strangers, fall in love, learn a new skill, slow down, get fit, plant a tree and listen to what it says to you. Take your life away from gadgets and make time for the people you love. For we won’t be here forever. And remember to be thankful for everything the universe has given you. Oh, and keep having that tea with Mad Hatter.

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Crowdsourced maps of real places in your favourite books

I’m a literature geek who loves to visit places that I’ve read about in fiction, especially detective fiction.  While in Switzerland, me and my husband (who’s equally crazy about this stuff) made a special excursion up a hill to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes tussled with Moriarty and fell off the falls. While posing against the  Sherlock dummy placed there for tourists, we thought it should have been Dudhsagar falls if Doyle never wanted his detective hero to come back (for Reichenbach are just not tall enough).

Which is why when I came across Placing Literature where you can map the real places your favourite author writes about, it made me go glee. The website creates maps of literary scenes that take place in real locations. If you’re in a city, you can check on the website and see which all spots were written about in which all books. Each spot also comes with the description of the scene and what happened in the plot there. Since it’s a crowdsourced map, you can make a map on their site by logging in with your Google account. Isn’t it fantastic?
Explore yourselves while I plan out my travel around spots talked about in Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes or places to visit in New York City.
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5 life hacks for aspiring writers

Want to start on that first book? Aspire to get published? Here are a few tips for aspiring writers that I shared with Writersmelon.

Why do you want to write?

If you want to be a writer, the first thing that you need, which is I think a very individualistic thing, is the desire to write, the passion to create something new, to express a story, a character in a new way. I write because  characters crop up in my head and bang inside, demanding to be let out. I write because it’s addictive and I have no other choice. It’s the highest I’ve ever felt, and also the lowest. It’s hard, but I’m not going to leave it anytime soon.

Once you’ve keyed on this desire, it will drive you through the long, long process of gathering the skills and actually writing the whole thing. Ideas are easy to come by, getting the skill of writing is also not too difficult, but it’s this desire that makes all the difference. This motivation that comes from inside you, will discipline you, make sure you don’t give up halfway and will not let you rest till you complete the creative work. In that sense, it’s an intrinsic value.

A stranger browsing the book. Isn't that nice!
A stranger browsing the book. Isn’t that nice!

Finish that first draft

Don’t let your rational mind take over till you complete the first draft. Write with your instinct, write whatever you see the characters doing, just write without thinking too much. Continue reading “5 life hacks for aspiring writers”