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The 27 day Winning-at-life Challenge

You are what you do everyday.

By that definition, I’m a recovering caffeine addict with sucrose issues who sees the inside of a gymnasium once every quarter. I also have a wakeup routine that involves a daily head-rush because the jump out of bed looks more like dash out the door to meet the way-beyond-grace-period start time. Also, off late, looking down or sideways in the mirror has meant holding my breath to keep the food baby out of sight and out of mind. And the same book has been spending too much time in my bag.

Honestly, I’ve had enough (or maybe it’s one of those weekend-is-approaching-so-let’s-make-promises-to-turn-my-life-around type of things that won’t last). It does feel different this time though. For one, I am going to blog shame myself (even if there’s two people with 1.7 second attention spans reading). Second, there’s a trial period of 27 days (countdown to the start of a trip sounds about right). Third, I started today, a Thursday, which seems to be a good day for being born, starting to date, getting married, going into labour and other life changing things. Fourth, as someone who turned vegetarian one midnight and stayed that way for seven years (until the calf I was carrying made me crave flesh again), I have prior experience in sticking to will-powered plans.

Why all this need to shake things up you ask? Well, it feels like the days are meeting nights sooner than I can down a drink and they must be slowed down and absorbed and enjoyed and caught in many a breath. And there is the hope that during this shaking up, things will fall apart to eventually assemble into semi-neat patterns (who am I kidding, when has that ever happened).

But if life is a sum of days lived and if I have to make the days count for something and make them come together mostly nicely, well then there have to be rules.

Rule 1: Wake up early enough to stretch and smile.

Rule 2: Workout baby workout, atleast 30 minutes everyday.

Rule 3: Ditch processed s*** . Yes, cashew biscuits, we’re through (until further notice). Also you red meat. You’re bad news.

Rule 4: Dial down (or preferably dial out) the sugar darling.

Rule 5: The being-off-coffee-that-gave-you-jitters routine you’ve been practicing, well stick with it. No naked bean dreams, no midnight sniffing cravings. Just no, okay.

Rule 6: Read and write something that’s not an email, a report, a newspaper article. Alice Munro, Proust (again), that short story you almost wrote. Stick to the page and do do do.

Rule 7: Relax.

Rule 8: Hug more. That trick never gets old.

Rule 9: If you can’t keep at it, quit by all means but remember YOU blew it. Not Trump, your partner or the guy at the cupcake counter. It was all YOU.

Now armed with these guiding principles I set forth for 27 days of discipline and self-discovery, hoping to come out of it without a mid-milestone meltdown. I shall report from the front regularly (let’s not say daily, though that’s the dream).

Wish me luck and stay glued (ocularly not olfactorily).

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Return of the Mojo

Calvin and Hobbes _8

Eleven months have passed since I last roamed these streets. Months that had the quality of gushing streams that will carry you a great distance before you can so much as say ‘hey’. The blame, of being away or little writing that makes the heart sing, lies conveniently with the day job or inconveniently with my inability to get my s*** together.

“How’re you?”

“Struggling to stay afloat.”

Until now.

Nothing has changed in the assault of daily routines and deadlines. But the head feels lighter, even without the wine.

Why?

Because believe it or not, for the thousandth time everything seemed to be alright when I stepped away from the madness to breathe. And the release brought revelations that there will be work and school night bedtimes, what-to-make-for-dinner conundrums and furniture store dramas brought on by flaming red chairs. But there will also be books and hugs and morning rays on your face and the burning desire to pick up where you left off a year ago with that story you’re hoping to tell.

Of course weekends have that sneaky habit of making you feel you can change everything if only you make everyday like today. Finish half a book, watch a masterpiece, take an outdoor run, write into the night. And then the week begins, dragging you out of your regimented practice and taking you to war. There you falter, losing control of time, that most precious treasure and reeling from all the mortar flying around you (blame the war metaphors on Hemingway).

Most part of life is never as bad as that, only the head and heart colluding to make you believe it to be so. And we go on believing until either things fall apart or (hopefully) we wake up. The waking up is best when self-induced because then it is more likely to last. But sometimes you need all the help in the world and may you find it.

As Anne Lamott reminded me recently, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a minute, including you.”

Happy unplugging!

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There is no pill for this annoying thing

There is an ad on radio where a woman is asking another how she ‘gets so much done’ in just 24 hours. The super mommy who wakes early, makes food, presentations and evening park visits, credits it all to a pill (not THE PILL meant to keep aforementioned tiny park visit companions at bay).

Since she’s on radio it’s no secret that she’s lying, about three things mainly. First, no pill (or coffee) can make you fill your day with perfectly timed tasks done easy. Second, there is no such thing as perfectly timed tasks. Third, it is never easy.

All that the average lot of us manage to achieve on most days is avoiding a car crash while looking like a car crash. But there are some ‘highly efficient’ individuals, who spoil it for everyone really, because they have one (awfully boring) habit that unfortunately seems to work. It is called (don’t hold your breath) a To-Do list, named so that when it’s over you can end the day with the Ta-Da jig. In recent months I have had the undesirable pleasure of putting it to practice. Now I’m one of those people who either will not enter the rink at all or will go all Karate Kid on it (with many a bludgeoned face to show for it). So in my third decade on earth when I finally seemed to have a handle on what I wanted to do in life (write for peanuts & vino), I decided to begin ‘managing’ my time down to the minute.

Caution: it does not look pretty. It’s more kangaroo on acid on a trampoline (because she forgets she doesn’t need a trampoline). Here’s what the homo sapiens version looks like – you open a shared excel sheet (because it’s easy, accessible on multiple devices anywhere, does not waste paper), list down every darn thing that you need to do every day, decorate it with deadlines (I would curve the life out of them if they weren’t dead already), say ‘done’ on the side when you’ve got it over with and just to make it a party out there (if you’re the kangaroo like me) plugin the start and end time on the dreary bits so you’re racing to get out of there quick.

No one is going to put me on the radio to sell this pill but honey it works for this mama (so far) and it could work for you too. You don’t have to complicate your life exactly as much as I have with this attempt at becoming the boss of me. To your aid have come the good folks who make apps to glue us to our phones even more than we already are. They’ve created a few apps for the list lusters, so why not have a go at Carrot (lists turned into games) or Wunderlist (it’s pretty and allows you to share things like grocery lists with your partner, because c’mon, supermarket scuffles ARE the sex in cohabitation).

What lists allow us to do is break down tasks into surmountable bits that aren’t half as scary when they’re written down and ticked off one by one instead of floating incessantly in our minds. It allows us to do what writer Anne Lamott mentions in her brilliant book ‘Bird by Bird’, “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

The biggest upside of the piecemeal approach to a day (other than the high of writing ‘done’ beside all tasks) is the patterns that appear over time, showing how you may be spending the majority of it in things that add little or nothing to your life (yes Facebook, I’m talking about you). More significantly, tracking your day can be the acknowledgement of one of life’s greatest truths – the only egalitarian treasure all humankind is born with and one we can enjoy until the end, is time (that is, when we can learn to hold down this Road Runner). Beep Beep.

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Lessons on Freelancing: What I learned in the first 6 months

I had dreamed about this day, not today in particular, but one day, a day, in which I would be sitting at a desk in an empty house, writing for hours. It would also involve getting up to do a little jig when the words came out all perfect, as well as moments of dread, sweaty palms and a racing heart for all the wrong reasons. In the last six months, I have seen these and more. As friends (and family) continued to jump off the corporate hamster wheel over the years, I yearned to have the guts to become my own boss. But I liked the cushion of an assured monthly paycheck, the imposed timetable of the day that involved waking up every morning no matter what, knowing well enough that left to myself I would lack the discipline to see a lone venture through.

I was wrong, as we often are, mostly about ourselves. The only thing stopping me from using all the skills I had practiced for building other people’s dreams, could just as well be used to build mine. It has now been six months since I began calling myself boss and learned to measure life’s worth in minutes. Money follows, even if it doesn’t flow, in the beginning. I learned a lot of things, about work, time and myself that I will share in the hope that it might answer questions for someone sitting on the fence. This is not all you need to read to get there, but it is one of the many conversations we will have across the table as we discuss life and all else.

Timing is Everything

Timing is everythingI became a freelance writer after eight years of working full-time in different roles. I sometimes feel I should have begun right out of grad school. I certainly could have. In terms of timing I probably got it wrong, with a move to a different country, a four year old kid and increased expenses at the time of taking the plunge. But what all this time spent elsewhere meant is that I had some savings to fall back on till things took off, plus experience from different industries, which I’m now able to write about. If you had to pick a time, it should ideally be one without liabilities (like when you can bunk with parents), therefore younger is possibly better. Or else, do it after you’ve amassed enough savings to allow for few months of slow pickings before regular income starts flowing in. Timing could save you from quitting a freelance tryout too soon just because you weren’t well prepared. It also helps to gain an understanding of what it will take before you actually give up a full time role. Moonlight on the side while working full time if you can so you can judge if you’re any good and can make a living out of a skill if you could do it all day.

Spreadsheets are Now Your Best Friends

SpreadsheetsIt doesn’t matter if you never worked on or liked spreadsheets (even going so far as to take a dig at friends who spent their work life staring at them). As a freelancer they are your new best friends. Understanding your target market (for instance list of publications in case of writers), monthly account statement, daily tasks, all appear manageable when they’re in neat boxes. Build them early to save yourself from headaches and hypertension later.

Yes You Have to Play all the Roles

all roles

The hardest part about working for yourself (other than getting out of bed) is that you cannot simply execute tasks and move on. You have to constantly be awake to ideas, stories, new business opportunities. You have to build a database of people you can potentially work for, update it regularly. You have to manage finances, market your skills, be each department in a business, at least in the beginning. Read and research as much as you can about entrepreneurship in your sector, from websites that give advice, best practices, etc. Building a pipeline of work is the only way to stabilize your income so keep researching, pitching, breaking your head over the next big idea.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

don't sell yourself short

How does one even begin to set a rate to freelance work? While it would differ from one craft to another, there are certain rules. For instance, in writing it tends to be payment per word for journalism, project-based rates for other forms of content. Unless you’ve researched the market you will not know what you’re worth and how much you should charge. So when you’re building the market spreadsheet, get a sense of payment terms for each potential client. These are rarely heard from the horse’s mouth so check other freelance websites to see if they mention rates. You had heard time was money, and as a freelancer it is a daily lived truth. So no point wasting your precious time on going after low paying gigs that don’t even look good on your profile. Desperation will not get you far. Hence the thing about getting your timing right. If you begin by aiming low “just for now” that cycle will never end. So take time to take the plunge if you have to, but once you’re in measure your skills and aim high.

Build a Portfolio Website

Build a Portfolio Website

There has to be one place for all potential clients to see what you’re about – your past experience, skills, testimonials from previous work, et al. The earlier you build this the better. While it becomes your online resume, it even helps you keep track of things once work starts flowing in and you have to selectively present some projects for a new pitch. Plus it looks more professional than a dangling one page paper. A simple site (on wordpress for instance) takes less than four hours to put together. Then plug this in all social media links, email signature, etc. Unashamedly send it to family and friends too. They’ll know what you’re up to plus a future project could come from anywhere.

Grow a Thick Skin

Thick skin

This one is the most vital survival instincts for a freelancer. Your pitches will get rejected. Some potential clients will be great people who give you constructive feedback on why something doesn’t work. Others will be mean. Most will not reply. Sometimes it makes you want to cry or kill them, but it’s not worth it. What is worth your time is understanding how you could have presented the same idea differently or going back to the drawing board to see what really works for them. Patience and perseverance will see some of the above rejections turning to a resounding yes in due course. That thick skin you’re growing is also reserved for all the people who feel sorry for you (and many will). They will not get that you’re freelancing because that is what you want to do. To them you’re simple waiting it out till a good (full-time) opportunity comes your way. It is how you’re “keeping busy” for the time being. Again, explanations don’t matter. Why sell the prospect of being able to manage time as per your will, the joy of working on an eclectic mix of projects one never can in a full-time job, or simply being able to get to work within 2 minutes of brushing your teeth. They won’t get it and you needn’t sell it. As long as you know why you’re doing it, it’s all good.

It’s work so it’s not free

no free lunch

The most important question every freelancer battles – Should I work for free? The default answer to this should ideally be NEVER. Yes, writing (or photography/design) can be esoteric pursuits but this is not that. When you’ve decided you must earn a living through the pursuit of what is essentially your hobby and passion, then the realistic answer is, offer that service for free ONLY in two cases: 1) While you’re still working full-time and the pro-bono project gets you new experience on your profile. 2) Or you’re so passionate about the project that you want to make the time to do it even for free, but not at the cost of other assignments. Once you’ve begun your freelance career, politely decline ‘free’ contributions. It’s unprofessional to do a shoddy job on any assignment and since all of them (even free ones) will take up time to turn out good, it’s better to spend it in something that is or could become monetarily productive. The lure of free work is huge when no paid assignments are coming your way, but if you have a certain amount of experience in the chosen field, save your time for researching and working on something that will help you build a viable career. Many magazines and websites are built around unpaid contributions, offering ‘visibility’ in return. These are okay if your day job pays the bills and you write for a lark. But if you’re looking to make money as a writer, you can’t offer free anything. And usually, the ones that are worth their visibility also pay contributors.

Being Master is Good and Tough

master

As a freelancer no one will tell you what time you should be at your desk, or how long lunch break can be. You will not be stuck in traffic everyday. You will begin to appreciate the hours in a day because how productive you make them will depend only on you. Because your efforts are not tied to other people (who love long meetings that get little done, or do not understand the concept of brevity), you will suddenly free up more time in the day than you ever thought possible. That, in essence, is what will determine your success or failure, as it does of most people, though they do not often realize it. Character, they say, is what a person does when no one is watching. As a freelancer, while the final product is up for review, the process is in your hands. No one is checking in to see how or what you’re doing. It can be both liberating and scary at the same time. Some days you can sleep in till late but it can’t go on forever and you will begin to slowly love the part of you that sticks to the schedule you made. What makes it good is that it is all coming together for you and what you want to do with your life.

It isn’t perfect so look before you leap

perfect

You will still be slaving at a desk, spending some sleepless nights and hounding people for payment. This life is far from perfect. It isn’t freedom from horrible bosses or nirvana. It is simply a different way of shaping your life. So how bad you want it is a test you should take early on. There will be very good days, when your work gets appreciated, accepted by a prestigious client or a project comes to you on it’s own. There will be normal days when you chug along, doing your bit. There will be bad days, when weeks go by before money comes in. The joy in all of it is still knowing that it’s in your control, for the most part. If you choose the right people to work with, build relationships that last (and give you continuous work), then the pains are minimized. Taking the time to understand what you’re getting into is half the battle won. Like everything else in life, being a freelancer doesn’t come easy and is actually tougher than being answerable to other people. You are your boss, critic and judge.

Be open and flexible about the future

Be Open and Flexible about the future

Planning is important but even as a business manager you can go wrong deciding for a time too far ahead. Should freelancers continue looking for full-time work? I have found that if you keep thinking you can go back to a full-time job anytime then you’re not pushing hard enough to make freelancing work for you. So stop actively searching for a job and give yourself time to build something of your own. Set a date to evaluate yourself. It could be six months to a year or more. Your circumstances in life could determine it. But in that time really, truly, push hard and do your best (no one else but you will know if you did). Then if something full-time comes along, you will not settle out of desperation. You will know what your skills are worth, what drives you and whether the new role is challenging (and engaging) enough for you. This exercise would have taught you more about yourself than a retreat in the mountains will, though do head out for those once in a while.

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The Reading Room of Satabdi Mishra (Co-Owner, Walking BookFairs), Bhubaneswar, India

This is a special picture from a trip Satabdi and her team made to Mayurbhanj district in Odisha where they started the first Walking BookFairs Library in Bisoi Government School for children who were working as child labourers. These 116 children have been rescued and rehabilitated by the district administration. They now go to school and all of them love stories. Walking BookFairs helped start a small library for them with a box full of story books and picture books (some of them cannot read yet).

Satabdi Mishra is a mother of a four and half year old. She co-owns and runs independent book shack Walking BookFairs in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India, which mainly involves driving a van-full of books – the Walking BookFairs traveling bookshop – through villages and small towns of Odisha. She wants to spread the joy of reading all around and strongly believes that books are for everyone, including the poorest farmer in the remotest village.
This bibliophile loves good books, good cinema and good tea.

I invited myself into her Reading Room to hear all about the pages she loves, abhors, goes back to over and over again.

You’re currently reading

An Evening in Calcutta – Stories by KA Abbas (Harper Collins India)

Baluta by Daya Pawar, translated by Jerry Pinto (Speaking Tiger Books)

Last book you bought

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.

I have to confess that it’s been some time since I have bought a book, one of the perks of running a bookshop!

A Book you left unfinished (why, when)

Oh! I do that a lot. Only to re-visit them later.

A Book you’ve wanted to read for years, but haven’t yet

The Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali.

Three books everyone should read

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

The Outsider by Albert Camus.

1984 by George Orwell.

We live in strange times. Anybody who has access to books, should absolutely read these three books!

An author you wouldn’t be caught dead reading

I am someone who would read anything in print. But even with all my love for adventures I am yet to read Chetan Bhagat.

A Book that sums up childhood reading years

Oh! Those glorious years! Alistair McLean, O.Henry, PG Wodehouse and some Sidney Sheldon too!

Book(s) you’ve read more than once & would love to read again

‘100 years of Solitude’ is a book I keep reading again and again.

‘Blindness’ by Jose Saramago.

‘Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair’ by Pablo Neruda.

Favorite author(s)

Gabriel García Márquez, Jose Saramago, Fakir Mohan Senapati, Manto, Nagarjun, Pablo Neruda, Haruki Murakami

A fictional character from a book that you most identify with and why

One of the most brilliant characters in a book is Meursault from The Outsider.

When Meursault finally realizes that people’s lives have no grand meaning or importance, and that their actions, their comings and goings, have no effect on the world. This realization is the culmination of all the events of the novel.

The most prized book in your library

A copy of ‘Siddhartha’ from a very special person in my life. This book and the person who gifted me this book have been my anchor.

Your favorite reading spot

The garden at Walking BookFairs. I spend most of my days reading by the lily pond with butterflies, spiders, squirrels and sparrows for company. But I will read anywhere.

If you’d like to participate in this or other Q&A series, holler on Twitter or leave a message below and I’ll be saying ‘Hi’ very soon!

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Of Childhood Dreams and Book Lovin’ in Bhutan

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express

The slanting rays of the sun peer through the matchbox-stacked buildings that converge onto the square. Traffic slows down at a signal, not from bright changing lights but from dance-like movements of white-gloved hands of the traffic policeman at the junction.

Thimpu is an unabashedly quiet capital city, happily distanced from the only airport serving the country at Paro, 50 km to the west. Among a populace of less than one lakh, there are many who leave for neighbouring nations like India, usually for education and better employment. But some return to their pristine homeland, like Kunzang Choki (or ‘Mui’ to loved ones), who finished school at Darjeeling followed by university at Pune in India. All this time Choki nursed a childhood dream of opening a bookstore, and it was only when she was faced with the unavailability of titles she wanted to read that she decided to open one in Thimpu.

Nestled along a winding road close to the traffic junction on Hogdzin Lam leading to the Clocktower Square, Junction Bookstore is a quaint gem drawing locals and tourists. All visitors are greeted by Toto, a black mountain dog adopted by Choki when the shop opened in 2010. At different times of the day, he may or may not be accompanied by Suzy, the other adopted pet of the bookstore family or any of the seven strays who eat their meals with them every day.

Inside, rows of children’s stories, classics, autobiographies and a special section on writings from and about Bhutan line the shelves. The store owner’s namesake Kunzang Choden’s Folktales of Bhutan is a popular fictionalised insight into the country’s culture. The History of Bhutan by Karma Phuntsho has also been well received by local readers. At the counter, there are glass jars filled with soil friends and customers have brought back from faraway lands. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a book and read, with tea or coffee. There is a tip box to donate for the beverages; this helps buy food supplies for the dogs or refuel the beverage stock.

A Reading Group of six to seven members meets on Thursdays to debate books. Another group, a short story club—or the Junior Bookclub—meets every Sunday to read stories. The bookstore hosted an exhibition last year titled ‘Deliberately Framed: Scenes from a Poetic Stew’ where Choki and her videographer friend Solly collected poems from 16 poets and presented them (unnamed) to photographers who were give three weeks to take a picture best representing their understanding of the chosen poem. The photographers and poets met and saw the outcome only on the day of the exhibition.

“How do you survive, in a country of illiterates?” Choki was once asked by a customer.

The National Library of Bhutan, a few kilometres from the store, was built in 1967 to help preserve religious books and manuscripts. This imposing traditional structure resembles a central temple tower of a Dzong and houses archives and images of revered figures, thus becoming a place of worship, often circumambulated by devotees.

Bhutan is commemorating the 60th birth anniversary of their fourth king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, this year by hosting several events, including observance of 2015 as National Reading Year. While efforts to establish e-libraries across the country are underway, some existing brick and mortar stores, like Junction, have recently made a plea to Prime Minister Tsehring Tobgay to allow importing books from India without 20 per cent custom duty.

Owning and running a bookstore in Bhutan is a labour of love more than a capitalist enterprise, given the modest market size. People prefer to self-publish, which helps maintain a certain natural flavour but also loses the sharpness of editing. In this milieu, love for the written word led a passionate poet and bibliophile like Choki to turn a childhood dream into a reality. Even as her country balances local traditions with restricted tourism and taxed imports, the joys derived from turning the pages of a tome continue to light up the faces of those who step in to her book-laden world.

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Book Review: Inside ‘The Heat and Dust Project’ with Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha

Saurav Jha and Devapriya RoyThis is not a honeymoon or an escape. It is a conscious journey into a world as yet far removed from their own. It will become a permanent break from their unsettled city lives and a portrait of what has for long fueled their relationship. Coming together during their years spent at Presidency College in Kolkata, India, Saurav and Devapriya never harbored dreams of a life linked to a monthly paycheck. Moving on to the creatively charged milieu of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, their intensely passionate environment left them searching for their own version of a fulfilling life.

The answer came in 2009 as an idea that involved traveling across the length and breadth of India, with a budgeted restriction to boot. While it was Devapriya’s idea to put the daily ‘bed and board’ budget to Rs. 500, it was Saurav who proudly owns to having executed it. Soon they pitched it as a book and within months set off on a commissioned, rickety ride across India.

The Heat and Dust ProjectThe book finally shaped up into The Heat and Dust Project: The Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat, a title released by Harper Collins India earlier this year. Initially struggling to describe the entire journey in one book, they soon realized the enormity of putting their experience into words and restricted this first part to only a section of the journey – a thirty-three day leg. The book is as much a delineation of their step by step journey as a historical, anecdotal account of the regions they visited. It is also a reflection of the rigmaroles that a relationship, in their case a five year marriage at the time, goes through on a journey.

The writing process seeped into their plans, with people, places and stories needing to be noted down, in a diary by Devapriya and in his mind full of a hundred stories by Saurav. Devapriya mentions an instance during the journey, in Gujarat, where they left the hotel room with the mission to ‘look for a story’. Most others simply happened to them. In addition to the budget, having set other rules such as not staying in one place for more than three days, a learning from monks who believed that to be enough time to ‘sprout roots’, the couple were forever on the go.

During the journey, where they were back in Delhi, while taking their Israeli friends (twin brothers who readers encounter more than once in the book) on a tour across their city, Devapriya admits to feeling a sense of “intense loss” while crossing the area of South Delhi they used to call home. Now having circled back to the same apartment they held before their journey, they are happily, permanently “dislocated”. Neck deep in the manuscript of the second leg of their journey, the ninety day sojourn from Delhi to Kanyakumari and back up via the Coromandel Coast, they are forever inching closer to their ideal, of an itinerant idler. The second book slated for a June 2016 release will also introduce someone they consider having come closest to their dream state, Anon Ananda, a Canadian of Gujarati descent, whom the couple met in the hills of North India. The release will be followed by their journey to East and North-East India, again for a pre-commissioned book.

While readers await this introduction, the world of these young writers has heralded them into events centered on their book (launch events are soon to be held in Delhi, followed by Mumbai) and the trappings of being a writer among today’s ever diminishing reader class. Seated at a coffee shop in Vasant Vihar in South Delhi, close to their home and a few meters away from ‘Fact & Fiction’, a bookstore that announced closure last month, the reality is playing out in the couple’s own neighborhood.

As we walk outside Devapriya points to a stall at the entrance of the complex, which once stalked only books. These have now been moved to a corner on the ground, while clothes of indeterminate shape and design take up majority of space. The hawker greets the couple as we move closer, telling them that some new titles have been added. We stand there watching Rushdie sit adjacent to Jackie Collins, while Kafka looks over from another line. We speak of recent reading lists and authors we’ve commonly devoured, wondering if soon writers will be the only ones to find joy in the written word. For the sake of those immersed in a writerly life, may such a time not come for very many years.

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How to pack your life in a bag and other moving tales

Maciej Frankiewicz - The SuitcaseMy life is at it again.

You would think a child would settle it, make a homebody out of a nomad, fix my feet in the city where family and only some remaining friends were. When my daughter began pre-school two years ago, I thought this was it. We had signed on the dotted line to be Delhi dwellers forever, or at least till she graduated. Then past fifty I would become a farmer and live in the mountains, again. But forever is a tricky thing. It’s laughing behind your back as you make plans for love and life.

So here we are, on a 14th floor apartment in chilly (if you’re sitting at home) Dubai, overlooking yachts go by in one direction and an unmanned metro crossing buildings that The Jetsons swung their hovercraft around many years ago on the telly. And I’ve been cooking every single day of the one week we’ve been here, me of the never-step-in-the-kitchen syndrome. I’ve already begun an uncertain relationship with the stove. We had our first spat today. It screamed, I shut it down. Soon enough we were okay. I’m also doing the evening slides round with the girl, something we never had time for in the almost four years she’s been around.

I’m the person all the “I’m not going to do that…” things happen to. Never not going to work (current status screams ‘Not allowed to work’ on a stamped paper in case I didn’t hear it clear enough). Not leaving the country now. Not packing like a fool. One week before departure I told everyone how I had finished packing everything and things would be smooth hereon. I wasn’t going to get sentimental and try to take everything. Instead I would take the high road, not clutter our new apartment with non-essential items. Till a few hours before leaving for the airport, I was on Round 7 of the packing-unpacking routine. “I can’t live without Rebecca West’s Black Lamb Grey Falcon or the 75th Anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. I don’t care if they weigh 3 kilos!”

I couldn’t carry everything (except those books of course). Does it matter? Can you really ever pack your life in bags? For the most part just getting up and leaving works too. We can build it here, piece by piece, not in things we buy and hang but memories of that-time-we-lived-here, however long it lasts. My last night in Delhi, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the “Why?” Why were we leaving? Our girl has seen both sets of grandparents around her from the time she was born. And isn’t family all that really matters. Why move to another city now. A better job perhaps but is it really. What if I sit on that white desk in the new apartment and can’t write at all? What if Delhi is where all the words will be? And then I slept, not fighting it anymore. This is what we’re doing right now. This is where we will be. Virtually present with families, physically present in a trio. Learning to live by ourselves, not starting out anew but moving forward.

I went to five different schools growing up. I never have a good enough answer to “Where are you from?” I am from here and everywhere else I’ve been. I am from the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, the stories I’ve heard about strangers. I am from the places I’ve seen and those that mark my dreams. This life can never be packed in enough suitcases and would do just fine without it. It is to be lived and kept in open jars. May it always spill over.

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And Yet the Books…

I’ve always found that poetry, more than any other genre of writing, seems to best capture moments in time, containing answers to nothing and everything. It is like catharsis, like an epiphany, like someone read your mind, picked at your thoughts and made them whole. And there they rest, outside your head, in words spun this way, reminders that all will be well, as long as you have these…

And Yet the Books by Czeslaw Milosz

Chateau X by Martino ~ NL on Flickr

And yet the books will be there, on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

by Czeslaw Milosz

Read about his work here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/czeslaw-milosz

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/apr/07/seamus-heaney-czeslaw-milosz-centenary