I took these pictures from the airplane on my way to (or from high vantage points around) Malaga, Spain a few months ago. Each image gives me pause in terms of perspective and how we humans fit into this beautiful, checkered universe.

And, of course, they take me back to a fun and joyous time–hope they give you joy, too!


Goodbye, Alex Trebek!

I’m heart-broken. Alex Trebek, long-time Jeopardy! host, passed away yesterday, November 8th.

Source: jeopardy.com

I knew he was battling cancer—and how! He pitted himself against the disease with infinite courage but also his trademark poise and grace—and it wasn’t looking good, but still news of his death hit me hard.

Trebek has been a steady presence in my life for the past two decades. The minute he walked onto the game show’s set each weeknight, my living room was transformed into an exciting place of learning for the next half hour. And I looked forward to the special tournaments such as the championship week or GOAT with no less anticipation than I would for, say, the Cricket World Cup!

As my family grew, I’d watch the show with my little ones, and with my parents when they visited. The Jeopardy! opening music signaled to me, even if only unconsciously, that it was okay to close the doors on the outside world for the night. That it was now time for family.

And on the days that I struggled to make sense of this world, Trebek’s calm voice would relax my shoulders and the knot in my stomach would loosen a bit.

Trebek hosted the game show for 37 seasons, which amounts to over 8,200 episodes. In fact, he recorded his last episode on October 29th, mere days before his passing. Talk about work ethic, commitment, and strength of character. Fittingly, this episode will air on Christmas Day this year.

I learned only recently that Alex had also hosted National Geographic Bee for kids for 25 years!

Goodbye, Alex Trebek! Thank you for modeling to me how to live life with conviction and grace.

You leave behind millions of people—of many generations—who’ll miss you terribly but are grateful for the time they had to spend with you.

Wherever you are now, I know you are entertaining as well as slyly educating those around you in that gentle and self-effacing manner of yours.

I voted. Have you? (Those of you, my readers, who are citizens of the United States, that is!)

If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for? Read this post and then hurry to the nearest polling station, please! 😊

Before I move on to the crux of this post, I’d like to mention how much I admire the volunteers at the polling places across the country. Their commitment to civic duty, the bedrock of democracy, is commendable. Especially this year, with COVID-19 numbers on the rise again, those who are still willing to volunteer are nothing short of heroes in my book. Thank you, volunteers!

This year, I couldn’t wait for early voting to begin in my state. Illogical though it was, it felt as though the earlier I voted, the more weight my vote would carry.

So, one bright, shiny morning last week, I drove to the nearest polling station. I carried my ID, and I’d made sure I was registered in the county in which I live. These are the two requirements—in addition to being a citizen, of course!—to vote.

Or so I thought.

Everyone was wearing masks, which was a good thing, but that definitely added to the charged election-atmosphere.

I stood in line, six feet apart from the person in front and the one behind me. So far so good. Soon, it was my turn.

An older, white gentleman was processing my ID. I was prepared for this scenario: he’d try to say my name, and I’d gently correct his pronunciation. Because it happens in 99% of such interactions.

But he didn’t say my name. Instead, he looked at me directly and paused. Then, he casually asked:

Can you read English?”

The world fell away from me. My skin turned hot. At least a dozen answers and questions raged in my mind, but I couldn’t voice a single one. I couldn’t even nod.

Not because I consider not being able to read English a deficiency. Far from it.

But because that man had judged by what he saw for a single moment, not to mention only part of my face above the mask, and penned me firmly into a box.

Because that question was an unmistakable microaggression (though it felt much bigger and weightier than micro) against me.

This was definitely not the first time I’d been asked a judgmental question solely because of the color of my skin. The shape of my eyes. The accent in my speech that exists because I speak multiple languages.

But I have always been able to stand up for myself and give it back better than I got.

So, what was different about this time?

This time, I wasn’t prepared to be singled out.  

This time, I wasn’t prepared to be questioned—even if indirectly—of my capability to choose.

This time, I wasn’t prepared to be challenged whether I belonged.

This time, I’d gone in totally vulnerable.


Because I’d considered a polling station a safe place.

I’d forgotten that divided as we stand, there doesn’t exist a perfectly safe place anymore. Not for people of color.

So, why did that man ask whether I could read English? Because—I later learned—the ballots in my state were available in Spanish as well as English.

Okay. Then, a more respectful and less aggressive question would have been:

“Would you like your ballot in Spanish or English?”

As simple as that.

Counties, do better! Train your staff and volunteers to be respectful. Civil.

Because if we can’t be civil to each other at a polling station—a place where as citizens of a democratic nation we come together to exercise our basic right and privilege—then we’re in deep trouble as a country.

And because:

America, we can do better!

As with any industry, buzzwords emerge in publishing also every few years.

From what I’ve observed, one of the buzzwords currently making the rounds in publishing is: topical.

“Writers! Make sure you write the best story possible. A story that comes from your heart. A story that grabs you by the throat, because that’s what will grab the reader by the throat, too.

“Only, make sure your story is topical.

Got it!

But, wait…what exactly does that word mean?

Merriam Webster defines topical as:

referring to the topics of the day or place: of local or temporary interest

// topical references

// a topical novel

(Ha! Looks like the dictionary has caught on to the trend, too. ;))

Write a topical story. Okay, it’s not bad advice as advice goes.

But therein also lies the catch: the word topical in its very essence means “temporary” or “local.” (Let’s focus on the latter for now.)

Which means, what is topical to the US might not be topical to the rest of the world and vice versa.

And, even more alarming, what is desperately topical for a minority/marginalized group of people might not be topical for the majority. Does that mean their stories shouldn’t be told? NO!

No writer—all said and done—sets out to write a book that’s non-topical. When she sets pen to paper, she has a point to make. A story to tell. Why? Because it is topical for her. But does that mean that same topic will grip you, me, and every reader the same way? Most likely not!


Because we’re all humans with different (subjective) tastes, lifestyles, perspectives, and opinions. So, what is topical to me might not be topical to you. Heck, what is topical to me today might not be topical even to me tomorrow!

So, it boils down to this: “topical” is a label. Another gate. A gate that keeps many writers and stories outside.

(Similarly, whenever I hear in publishing circles the call for more “diverse” books, I cringe. Because while that call is advocating for a much-needed change of mindset, it’s still shining a light on diversity as “other.” As though it’s a trend, a buzzword that needs to be championed. But that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother set of posts.)

I understand why labeling even exists (in publishing): publishing is one of those singular industries that are equal parts business and art. Yep. Not a very harmonic partnership, but it is what it is. So, every story that gets published should be stellar in terms of its features as art, BUT it should also be a lucrative venture for the company that is (in the simplest of terms) printing copies of the book and releasing them into the market.

This places publishing in a rather precarious position. I know. Trust me, I know.

Which is also why I understand it isn’t practical to expect the gates (and the walls that hold them) to crumble overnight. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.

Nothing’s stopping us from resolving to take one step—even if a small one—to widen those gates.

The onus is on the publishing industry: let writers write what is topical to them; create an atmosphere where there is no fear of writers being ignored or rejected for telling stunning stories from their hearts. From their lived experiences. From their status quo. Let the readers decide whether those stories are topical without someone else making those decisions for them.

You, my dear reader, don’t get off easily either. You have a duty here, too. You need to be right there, alongside the publishers, to shove those gates wide open. For every three books you read about people who look/think/behave like you, pick up at least one book that is about people whom you’ve never met, about people who have a lifestyle that’s different from yours, and especially about people who don’t look anything like you.

Let’s—all of us—do better!

Only then we might see a positive change: the definition of what is “topical,” in terms of the books we want to read, beginning to turn on its head.

I was scrolling through the pictures I’d taken over the past few months, and I was struck by the beauty, grace and sheer possibility that’s out there in the world.

The world that we took utterly for granted until mere weeks ago.

This post is my love letter to the beautiful world: yes, we’re apart right now, but we will be together again one day.

That day, I hope I’m gentler, and more mindful, conscientious and appreciative of all the simple and not-so-simple marvels out there, waiting for me to experience.

That’s the least I can do to thank the unsung heroes at the frontlines who are carrying the world forward one selfless act of courage and compassion at a time. #AloneTogether


These collages are of places and times that bring me hope, comfort and great joy. I hope they cheer you up, too, dear readers.


The last few weeks have been different: I’ve started reading just for the pleasure of it again. After a long time. Let me explain.

In the past few years, since I started writing seriously, I have somewhat lost my way around reading. Writing takes up a lot of my time and energy, which means I have that much less of both to put into reading (serious readers know that even if reading is something we cherish, it doesn’t always happen without conscious time and effort on our part). So, I read less than I did before I began to write.


The two-fold irony of the situation doesn’t escape me. I’m acutely aware that: a) I became a writer because I’d been an avid and eclectic reader my entire life and b) one of the habits that adds depth and body to my writing is reading regularly and voraciously across all genres.

Be that as it may, reading had eventually become work. Well, sort of. I read—fiction, nonfiction, craft-books—to “learn” (what NOT to do as much as what to do), or “improve” (my craft), or “critique” (in case of my CPs’ work) or “build” (up my writing muscles and keep them flexed). In all this—even though I was aware that it was happening and bemoaned the fact in one of my earlier blog posts—I’d lost my best friend of decades: reading just for the joy of reading.

And then a few weeks back, I woke up to a new day, shiny as a freshly-minted penny. Having just finished a major revision and packed off the WIP to my agent, I was a bundle of nerves and energy. So, idly, I picked up a book my daughter had read and recommended: SHE WOULD BE KING by Wayetu Moore. And I promptly plunged into a rabbit hole of the most pleasant, multi-pronged and diverse kind possible.

The book had all the qualities that I adore: a well-written historical with a touch of magical realism, but its best feature? It introduced me to a time period in the history of a region (West Africa) I hadn’t read much about before. I devoured that book in a couple of days and haven’t looked back since.

(If you’re interested in exploring the history and narratives of the various West African countries through fiction, I also highly recommend HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi and PURPLE HIBISCUS by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, though I must warn you, reader, each of these books will rip your heart into little pieces and then put it back again bit by bloody bit. But be prepared for the grief and heartache—and horror from the depravity of humankind against its own—to pulse just beneath your skin’s surface for a long time.)

Next up on my immediate TBR pile: THINGS FALL APART (a masterpiece set in Nigeria) by the lauded Chinua Achebe, UNTIL THE LIONS (retelling of the MAHABHARATA, one of the most acclaimed epic texts from India, from the viewpoint of its hitherto minor or sidelined female characters and in such stunning verse that the book demands more than one read) by Karthika Nair, REALM OF ASH (the second installment in the fantastical and fantastic BOOKS OF AMBHA series, also set in India) by Tasha Suri, and more.

(Can you see me drooling yet? 😊)

Wish you all, my readers, a very happy and contended (by your own definition) year ahead.

May you all find compelling rabbit holes into which to tumble headfirst—or to paraphrase Jane Austen: find more lanes hereabouts in which you may lose your way again to-day—willingly and willfully.

I took a trip to the Grand Canyon with family recently—it was one of the best things I’d done for myself in all of 2018.

As I stood at the rim at Guano Point, gaping at the sheer drop into the seemingly bottomless canyon, something locked into place; a small shift that leads to a major adjustment in how you perceive everything.

It was one of those “a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere in the universe, and the ground beneath you reverberates” moments. These don’t come by often, so I hugged mine tight.

The deceptively-unassuming Colorado river flows on serenely, making nary a ripple. Yet, it has patiently and consistently worn down huge mountains over the millennia. There’s definitely a lesson in there somewhere 😊.





The Hualapai, who share a long-standing cultural link both with the river and the canyon, call this expanse of a natural wonder The Living Landscape. They regard it a living entity with a conscious spirit deserving of respect. (And, boy, do they know what they’re talking about! The canyon seems to be breathing, watching—I imagine, with an indulgent twinkle in its age-old eye—as another busload of humans takes in its awe-inspiring majesty and falls head over heels.)

The Hualapai talk to the landscape, offer prayers and consider everything in the landscape as part of their family. This takes me back to my own childhood and upbringing in India, where natural and historic monuments are never cordoned off; we’re taught to be gentle and respectful of their living spirits as we assimilate them into our daily lives. As generations before us have done for centuries and generations after us will continue to.

As I took in the imposing gorges and remarkably-shaped boulders in the Grand Canyon, I realized that the placid river and the majestic walls dressed in multi-colored flamenco skirts with their many ruffles and multiple layers will be here long after I’m gone. And that consciousness was curiously liberating.





Returning from a trip to the Grand Canyon to the Sin City, aka Las Vegas, with its glitz and glamour was a perfect flip of the coin. It was as though I’d gotten a fresh reminder to hang loose and appreciate all the enchantments out there, both natural and man-made.

Happy New Year, my dear readers! Here’s to hoping this year brings to you plenty of wisdom and serenity.

Photo Credits: Assorted members of my family 😊.

Each time I re-visit Philadelphia, I fall deeper in love with the city. It’s because the city does something very right, something I wish more cities in the US did: Philadelphia celebrates its past with an almost reverent abandon while it has its feet firmly planted in its present, all the while focusing a steady gaze at its future.

Here’s a brief chronicle of the impressions and memories I gathered the few times I’ve been in the city.


If you want to explore the different facets and histories of a city, there’s no better way than to go directly to its honest (and unvarnished) roots. And how do you do that?

  • By seeking out the varied and mouth-watering local produce and homemade goodies in its farmers’ market(s)

  • Or walking through the hallways of its long-standing monuments or along the well-worn cobbled streets in its residents’ shoes (or in their ancestors’ attire, as the case may be 😊)

  • Or adding your own colors (not literally, of course) to the murals of its walls that bear a silent and detached testimony to the changing times and mores

  • Or delighting in the hidden gardens you happen upon, which you didn’t know existed

  • Or…the best avenue yet: losing yourself in its quaint independent bookstores bursting at their seams with treasured books. I’ve lost my heart to these rare gems of bookstores at first sight and will definitely re-visit them whenever I’m in their neighborhoods

I look forward to adding more pages to my continued discovery of this wonderful city.

How do you make friends with a new city? Please share!

There’s no better place for quiet reflection and rumination than by the seaside.

Hope y’all are having a great summer, too!




Critique Group

Posted originally on April 21, 2010, but the content has since been slightly edited for better context.


The art of writing — though on some days, writing feels more like a science experiment gone wrong — is a slippery slope. The faster you try to scale the incline, the faster you lose your foothold and scramble downwards.

I believe writing is something that you discover, experience and learn over time and with patience and perseverance.

As I gather information about literary agents, editors, submission guidelines et al, I keep hearing two words – loud and clear – again and again. Critique Group. That seems to be the mantra today in the writing business, and rightly so!

As the publishing industry stands today, most of the houses are refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. In plain speak, they are not accepting manuscripts that come directly, if they are not exclusively requested by them, from the author. They will only look at manuscripts that reached their tables through a literary agent. This guarantees, for them, that the manuscript has gone through at least one round of checking for marketability and viability, along with some editing.

Literary agents, I hear, in turn want to make sure that the manuscript that they consider has at least been objectively reviewed. And this is where our two magic words come in.

A critique group consists of, as its name suggests, a group of people (writers in this case) who come together to critique each other’s work, objectively. Now, that last word is key. So, who constitutes a good critique group for you? A group of writers who are serious about writing, and are willing to be interested in your work enough to be critical about it.

Choose a group that fits your personality and your expectations of the level of critique. This is very important, or you’d be left being part of a group that does nothing for your learning process. It also helps to have the various members of the group writing for different age groups and in various genres. This provides for a better scope of learning.

I have been part of a face-to-face critique group for several years — I’ve been lucky enough to find peers (now my dear friends) who enhance my writing experience in all aspects. This may not always be the case. In which case, try different groups until you can find one that suits your needs.

Online critique groups are in now. And why not? They have some advantages (along with disadvantages, of course) over the traditional group. They eliminate the need for meeting in person at a fixed time – you can work at your own pace and time. The same point may also sometimes work as a drawback. Due to lack of a restriction in meeting time, others things may bump critiquing down the list when your plate is full.

It is also advised that you belong to more than one group in order to get as varied and in-depth an input on your work as possible.

This is what my critique group has been for me when it came to my writing:

–          My support group

–          My coaches

–          My cheering squad

–          My fellow-students

–          The harshest critics of my work

And I wouldn’t want them any other way. I have been fortunate enough to find a group where everyone is serious about writing and is committed to the mutual growth of every member as a writer.

In short, your critique group is a big part of your writing family.

Here are some basics that my group follows implicitly:

When you are offering a critique:

  • Begin the critique you’re offering with positive feedback.
  • Any comments (even the negatives you bring up) can and should be made constructively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear kid gloves every time you offer a negative comment, but it doesn’t hurt to modulate it.
  • Offer your opinions as such and not as hard facts, because they are just that – your opinions.
  • Critique the work and not the writer. Refrain from using words like: “You said here…”. Instead, say, “This character sounds older than his age.” etc.
  • Remember that if a character expresses debatable opinions, that does not necessarily mean that the author subscribes to those opinions.

When you are receiving critique:

  • Be open-minded. You are asking for feedback, so be prepared to hear both positive and negative comments. In fact, be hopeful that you will receive more of the second kind, which will help you better your work.
  • Remember you are not your work – learn to effectively divorce yourself from your writing. This will allow you to receive comments/critiques much more openly.
  • Be respectful of others’ opinions. You have asked for them.
  • Finally, week after week, if all you hear is “Wonderful work”, “Nothing amiss” etc., then it is time to look for another group.

Did you notice something?

The principles above do not necessarily apply to only writing. They hold equally well to any other situation in life.

Consider the following scenarios, for instance:

–          You are required to review a technical document written by a peer.

–          You are discussing right and wrong with your child.

–          You are trying to pitch a new idea to your boss.

–          You are bargaining for a car at the dealership.

Aren’t the above rules relevant to these settings, too?

I think that’s the beauty of belonging to any group that thrives on the principle of give-and-take. It provides you with the discipline needed not only to have a better life in a particular field, but a better life. Period.

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