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Archive for March, 2010

Here are ten simple things (among many more) that we all consider to be facts and never even think to question them.

What makes us believe they are set in stone even though not all of us have exactly seen them (happen) with our own two eyes?

The people who have knowledge of these facts (either by having witnessed them themselves or through scientific investigation) had the presence of mind to record it for posterity – be it in words as we understand them now or in ancient symbols and pictographs.

  1. No planet in the solar system other than earth supports life.
  2. Several ancient civilizations flourished around the world thousands of years ago.
  3. Early human ancestors were apes.
  4. Dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago.
  5. Plants release oxygen into the air.
  6. Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492 A.D.
  7. No two people have the same finger print pattern.
  8. Mt. Everest is the highest mountain on earth.
  9. Among Emperor penguins, the males are responsible for hatching the young.
  10. The continents on earth are continually moving relative to each other.

What are we going to leave behind for our future generations?

 

  • Post Script: Friday, April 2nd, is World Autism Awareness Day. Please wear blue that day – it may start a conversation, which will provide you with an opportunity to spread awareness.

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Children have very few needs. As long as they are fed and clothed, and know that they are loved by those they consider family, they are content. Nothing else makes a permanent dent in their peace of mind.

What changes as we grow older? For adults, at most times, so many parameters and variables become part of the equation that it gets logically impossible to be happy.

I strongly believe that every human being, adult or child, has to look for happiness within oneself.

Whatever the circumstances of your life, whatever the environment around you, it is still possible to be content. You know why? Because only you can define what “happiness” means for you.

Happiness is:

  • Coming across a good book at the library unexpectedly.

 

  • Finishing that pesky 14th hole on a particular golf course on par for the first time.

 

  • Finding the right blouse for those purple and green pants for which you’ve been looking for ages.

 

  • Coming across a pencil topper, in your teacher’s treasure chest, that is missing from your collection.

 

  • Acceptance letter to your number-one university waiting for you in your mailbox.

 

  • Learning that you’re going to be a grandparent soon.

 

  • Putting your feet up after a grueling day and switching on the DVR to watch your favorite show.

 

  • The richness of chocolate coating the inside of your mouth.

 

  • Watching the first rose bud of the season unfurl.

 

The list could go on forever. And there is no wrong item on this list. Why? Because it is your list for your bliss and contentment at any given point in time.

I think happiness is an instinct with which we are all born. For a baby, happiness is a full tummy and a dry diaper. The rest is white noise. As a child grows, that definition changes, but not by much. Love is the one basic essential for them to be happy.

It is not so simple for an adult. Is this because adults tend to tie down happiness with logic and rationality?

It is known that babies are born with an innate ability to swim, but as they grow older that instinct wears off.

Is that what happens with our ability to instinctively define happiness for ourselves? If so, can that be learned again?

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As a writer, what causes you to come to the realization that another revision to your finished (or so you thought) manuscript is inevitable?

Is it during a cosmic, enlightening moment that you discover the need to venture on yet another cycle of revisions?

Probably not! Most usually it is as simple as:

You’re crossing the road, minding your business. Suddenly, the wind shifts slightly (that only you can perceive), and boom, you feel a revision coming on – a revision that will suck you inside a deep hole and deposit you in a world full of variables and new experiences. You will end up feeling somewhat akin to how Alice must have felt when she found herself, not entirely by her own volition, in Wonderland.

Okay, so I exaggerate … but you get my point?

 

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In times like these men should utter nothing for which they would not be willingly responsible through time and in eternity.

                                                                       –  Abraham Lincoln

I have at least a hundred and ten places in the world, big and small, I’d love to visit one day. They are anywhere from Egypt to Ireland to Turkey to Japan to Greece — the list goes on and on. And most of those places have sneaked into my list because of the books I’ve read over the years.

Isn’t it amazing how the image you have of the world is shaped, among other things, by the books (or any printed material) you read? That realization makes the act of writing that much more daunting – forget about how hard the craft itself is.

When it comes to writing books, non-fiction has more rules. Authors of non-fiction are expected to be cognizant of the subject at hand, and they are relied upon to include only proven facts in their books.

Not so fiction.

When writing fiction for adults there’s more leeway, because they are capable of discerning right from wrong (that’s the general belief, at least).

Writing for children? That’s an entirely different beast. Books are one of the cheapest and most commonly used tools to help shape young minds. And children (I’m lumping everyone from babies to teens here) are more impressionable, and hence susceptible to persuasion.

It is well and good to keep books real. I’m all for it. Up to a point.

My problem is when books get gimmicky, all for the sake of sales or some other self-serving need of the creators of the book, and make the depraved characters in it look really cool. Is this really necessary?

Let’s say someone writes a book that has a strong subliminal message that it is okay to make a cheap buck by cheating someone else. And for whatever reason, that book goes out of print after only some hundred copies are sold.

Where do those hundred-odd copies end up? On bookshelves, where they will continue to live for a number of decades. Even if each one of them gets read by one child in each generation, that’s a lot of children brainwashed over the years. And they grow up into adults who affect more children by their beliefs, opinions, and actions. And hence the sphere of influence of that one book keeps growing.

Every book has a message in it, whether it’s an obvious one or not.

As a writer, the bottom line for me is: Would my conscience remain clear even if only one reader embraces the message in my book?

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If you resist reading what you disagree with, how will you ever acquire deeper insights into what you believe?  The things most worth reading are precisely those that challenge our convictions. 
                                                      
~Author Unknown

What’s with us adults and political correctness?

When I read as a child, I was rarely bothered by the opinions that some of the authors seemed to hold that were in direct contrast with what I was taught or what I saw around me. I calmly chalked it up to one of two things:

a) The author didn’t know what s/he was talking about (yes, I was a confident – well ok, maybe just a tad cocky – kid).

b) The time period during which the author lived (I was reading a lot of English classics at one point) must lead her/him to bear such an opinion.

If I liked the book, I just kept reading it. The opinions expressed by some of the characters never lessened my enjoyment of the story itself, and I never sat down to analyze the intentions of those characters.

(I had much better and more fun things to think about: What new and weird-sounding-named snack is mom going to have ready when I go back home from school today; Is Steffi Graf going to beat Gabriela Sabatini in the U.S Open match tomorrow?; What fun things can we do this summer when all of us cousins get together again? to mention but a few.)

When I read the same books now, as an adult, some of the theories expounded in them raise my hackles. Why? Is that because, as adults:

  • Somewhere along the line, we have begun to take ourselves too seriously?
  • We have become intolerant?
  • We tend to attribute the author’s opinions to ourselves and that touches a nerve?
  • We have become so jaded that we cannot take anything at face value without analyzing it to death?
  • We have become vulnerable to hurt?
  • To take it a step further: is it because some feel responsible for all those masses who, according to them, don’t know what is best for them? So, they take it upon themselves to educate the others by telling them which books to read and which ones not to.

Or is it a combination of all of the above? What do you all think?

I never fully grasped the meaning of the adage ‘Every coin has two sides’ more than when I sat down to write this post. Please come back on Wednesday when I try to examine the flip side to today’s topic: responsibility of a writer.

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The one expression I would never voluntarily use to describe myself is: “Sugar Doll”. However, today, I’m willingly, and happily at that, declaring myself as one. Why?

My fellow writer and blogger Jai Joshi, who has quite a few awards under her blogger’s belt herself, has presented my blog with the Sugar Doll Award last month — my very first blog award! I was tickled pink, let me tell you!

I had just begun to blog a couple of weeks prior then. So, I left the award in Jai’s safekeeping until I found my feet around blogosphere. Thank you, Jai — your encouragement and timely words of advice are very much appreciated!

Also, thank you, my dear readers, for challenging and motivating me to do better with every post. I love it when I see you agreeing (or disagreeing) with the points of view I express in this space. That is why these days everywhere I turn, I naturally see subjects worth blogging. That is also why I feel I’m ready to accept this award.

As a recipient of this award, I’m supposed to do two things: 1) Reveal ten things about myself and 2) Pass this award on to another blogger(s).

Here goes my response to the first stipulation:

  • Gardening relaxes me – yes, even the weeding part of it.

 

  • I love to watch (never played it) cricket and can be an occasional couch potato, staying up all night to watch a close match in progress on the other side of the world.

 

  • To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. If you have just one idea that you feel compelled to share with the world, do what Harper Lee did: Write one solid book about it and sit back and enjoy, while your book goes on to make history. Sigh!

 

  • I love watching Korean dramas on T.V. They are clean and wholesome – you don’t have to be on the ready, clutching the remote, to switch to Food Channel or PBS guiltily every time a child passes by when you’re watching prime time programs on that channel.

 

  • I don’t enjoy (to put it mildly) shopping in the mall, much to the dismay of my family. Are you rolling your eyes at this point and going: “Is she kidding?” No, sadly, I’m not. I’m more of a “zero in on the aisle carrying the things you need and get out as soon as possible” person.

 

  • Custard Apples are one of my favorite varieties of fruit and I miss them sorely in the U.S.

 

  • I’m fascinated by the early Mughal period of Indian history. Would love to write a book set in that time period some day.

 

  • I’m not much of a poetry person. There are a handful of poets whose works I enjoy immensely, but I invariably prefer prose to poetry.

 

  • I love to play (shuttle) badminton.

 

  • Growing up, I was an out-and-out tomboy. Back then, if you were looking for me, you’d have better chances of finding me atop rooftops or among the branches of a tree than on level ground.

Phew! Coming up with that list was not an easy exercise, believe me!

Now for the second condition of the award — I would like to pass this on to Leigh Attaway Wilcox and Patti Joy Clark.

We all face challenges, big or small, at one time or another in our lifetimes. Most of us eventually learn to take them in stride and move on. However, some people go one step beyond: they decide to proactively do something about it, like sharing the experience they gained openly, so others could benefit from it. I admire that trait in people very much. Leigh and Patti are two such.

Go check out their blogs and you’ll see what I mean.

Thanks again, everyone, for being there and making writing – something that I already love – that much more fun and meaningful for me!

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Here are excerpts from some beautiful poems about words and thoughts:

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his fame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

               – Life
by Emily Dickinson *

 

You say that father write a lot of books, but what he write I don’t understand.
He was reading to you all the evening, but could you really make out what he meant?
What nice stories, mother, you can tell us! Why can’t father write like that, I wonder?
Did he never hear from his own mother stories of giants and fairies and princesses?
Has he forgotten them all?
Often when he gets late for his bath you have to call him an hundred times.
You wait and keep his dishes warm for him, but he goes on writing and forgets.
Father always plays at making books.
If ever I go to play in father’s room, you come and call me, “What a naughty child!”
If I make the slightest noise you say, “Don’t you see that father’s at his work?”
What’s the fun of always writing and writing?
When I take up father’s pen or pencil and write upon his book
just as he does,-a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,-why do you get cross with me then, mother?
You never say a word when father writes.
When my father wastes such heaps of paper, mother, you don’t seem to mind at all.
But if I take only one sheet to make a boat with, you say, “Child, how troublesome you are!”
What do you think of father’s spoiling sheets and sheets of paper with black marks all over both sides?

               – Authorship by Rabindranath Tagore **

 

There is a quiet spirit in these woods,
That dwells where’er the gentle south wind blows;
Where, underneath the white-thorn, in the glade,
The wild flowers bloom, or, kissing the soft air,
The leaves above their sunny palms outspread.
With what a tender and impassioned voice
It fills the nice and delicate ear of thought,
When the fast-ushering star of morning comes
O’er-riding the gray hills with golden scarf;
Or when the cowled and dusky-sandled Eve,
In mourning weeds, from out the western gate,
Departs with silent pace!  That spirit moves
In the green valley, where the silver brook,
From its full laver, pours the white cascade;
And, babbling low amid the tangled woods,
Slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter.
And frequent, on the everlasting hills,
Its feet go forth, when it doth wrap itself
In all the dark embroidery of the storm,
And shouts the stern, strong wind.  And here, amid
Its presence shall uplift thy thoughts from earth,
As to the sunshine and the pure, bright air
Their tops the green trees lift.  Hence gifted bards
Have ever loved the calm and quiet shades.
For them there was an eloquent voice in all
The sylvan pomp of woods, the golden sun,
The flowers, the leaves, the river on its way,
Blue skies, and silver clouds, and gentle winds,-
The swelling upland, where the sidelong sun
Aslant the wooded slope, at evening, goes,-
Groves, Through whose broken roof the sky looks in,
Mountain, and shattered cliff, and sunny vale,
The distant lake, fountains,- and the mighty trees,
In many a lazy syllable, repeating
Their old poetic legends to the wind.

               The Spirit Of Poetry by H.W.Longfellow *** 

A thought went up my mind today
That I have had before,
But did not finish,-some way back,
I could not fix the year,

Nor where it went, nor why it came
The second time to me,
Nor definitely what it was,
Have I the art to say.

But somewhere in my soul, I know
I’ve met the thing before;
It just reminded me – ‘twas all –
And came my way no more.

               Life by Emily Dickinson * 

The above have been extracted from the following sources:

* – Emily Dickinson Selected Poems – Borders Classics Edition

** – PoemHunter.com

*** – The Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Black’s Readers Service Edition 

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Okay, so the title is not entirely true. I still very much love and enjoy reading. It’s just that the definition of ‘fun’ as it relates to reading has changed for me.

Now, when I pick up a book, it’s not merely to indulge myself. It’s not just a hobby any longer, though I’d have to admit, reading has always been much more than a hobby with me – it’s been a natural part of my life.

It’s just that my objectivity and perspective as a reader have recently altered. It’s like a kaleidoscope: I have adjusted the viewing tube ever so slightly and the whole pattern has shifted.

Let’s take a look at some of the thoughts that are likely to roil through a writer’s head the minute s/he starts reading a good book written by someone else:

  1. Wow, what a strong opening! Guess I need to work on mine (in my novel-in-progress) some more. (This thought can be objectively interpreted as: “Wish I would experience an epiphany and the opening for my novel would strike me like a bolt of lightning.”)
  2. Ugh! How could he have written the exact scene that has been brewing in my head for the past two weeks? (Read as: “The scene is somewhat similar to the one I’ve been sketching – the same one I haven’t been able to cough up coherently enough to put down on paper yet.”)
  3. Yes!! The voice of this character is very close to my protagonist’s. (Read as: “If this book got published, then there’s hope for mine, too!”)
  4. The narrative is so catchy; I admire the style very much! (Read as: “I’m envious, pure and simple.”)
  5. The plot is strong, there is just the right balance of dialogue and narrative, and the flow is so natural in this book. (Read as: “How many more revisions before my manuscript gets this tight?”)
  6. This author is so prolific. (Read as: “I’m jealous of this author.”)
  7. Gosh, I never expected this twist! (Read as: “I need to explore this genre more, if I didn’t see this coming. Sigh!”)

Reading like a writer is a completely different game, with its own set of rules, than reading for fun or relaxation. It is a sport that can become exciting and effective with discipline and practice.

I am game for this: I look forward to fashioning new relationships with a whole lot of new books, and forging fresher bonds with those that I have already read in the past.

Has something like this happened to you? I’d love it if you’d share with us your newfound wisdom!

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In keeping with the topic for this week, here are excerpts from a few children’s classics from my bookshelf. Again, they are presented in no particular order, and these form but a mere fraction of all the incredible works available to us.

 All the books I have selected have the following things in common:

  • They are all written beautifully, almost in a lyrical fashion.
  • Each of them takes place in a different country (or countries) or has a diverse setting.
  • Every one of them provides us with glimpses of lifestyle from various time periods in the past.
  • Each of the authors was possibly influenced, in their writing (both in style and content), by the cultures and belief systems they grew up imbibing.

(And, oh, be sure to stroll by Books-For-Young-At-Heart and Books-For-Young at your leisure – I have populated the latter only recently.)

 

*****

“Anna Maria,” said the old man rat (whose name was Samuel Whiskers), – “Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner.”

“It requires dough and a pat of butter, and a rolling-pin,” said Anna Maria, considering Tom Kitten with her head on one side.

“No,” said Samuel Whiskers, “make it properly, Anna Maria, with bread-crumbs.”

“Nonsense! Butter and dough,” replied Anna Maria.

                    – The Roly-Poly Pudding by Beatrix Potter

As the children walked in, they saw that most of the walls had crumbled down. There were rubble heaps everywhere. In some places, parts of the walls were intact and they could see the niches in them, which must have been used for storage all those many years ago. Once or twice they came across wooden pillars rotting away. On one of them they saw something that looked as if someone had tried to carve a name on it.

The children stared in silence. It was so quiet, it was impossible to believe it was the middle of the day. There were no bird sounds, not even an insect. Two large crows, perched on one of the walls, flew away noiselessly as the children approached.

“It’s … it’s … eerie,” Dinu said, using a word he had just learnt. Polly was too subdued to ask ‘What’s that?’. It was Ravi who asked instead.

“It means, funny and frightening – like this is.”

“Frightening? Don’t tell me you’re frightened, Dinu?” Minu’s face was grave but her eyes held a mischievous twinkle.

                    – The Hidden Treasure by Shashi Deshpande

October was a beautiful month at Green Gables, when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry-trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green, while the fields sunned themselves in the aftermaths.

Anne revelled in the world of color about her.

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill – several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

                    – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“Can’t I go out and play, Ma?” Laura asked, and Ma said:

“’May,’ Laura.”

“May I go out to play?” she asked.

“You may tomorrow,” Ma promised.

That night Laura woke up, shivering. The bed-covers felt thin, and her nose was icy cold. Ma was tucking another quilt over her.

“Snuggle close to Mary,” Ma said, “and you’ll get warm.”

In the morning the house was warm from the stove, but when Laura looked out of the window she saw that the ground was covered with soft, thick snow. All along the branches of the trees the snow was piled like feathers, and it lay in mounds along the top of the rail fence, and stood up in great, white balls on top of the gate-posts.

                    – Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”

In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.

“Earth!” he repeated, “What do you mean?”

“To plant seeds in – to make things grow – to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.

He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quickly over his eyes.

“Do you — care about gardens so much?” he said slowly.

“I didn’t know about them in India,” said Mary. “I was always ill and tired and it was too hot. I sometimes made little beds in the sand and stuck flowers in them. But here it is different.”

                    – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 “You’ll not say anything about it at home, will you?”

“Not a word.”

“And you won’t tease me in private?”

“I never tease.”

“Yes, you do; you get everything you want out of people. I don’t know how you do it, but you are a born wheedler.”

“Thank you; fire away.”

“Well, I’ve left two stories with a newspaperman, and he’s to give his answer next week,” whispered Jo, in her confidant’s ear.

“Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!” cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the great delight of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a dozen Irish children; for they were out of the city now.

“Hush! It won’t come to anything, I dare say; but I couldn’t rest till I had tried, and I said nothing about it, because I didn’t want anyone else to be disappointed.”

                    – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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A couple of dictionary definitions for Tolerance are:

1 : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.     

2 : the act of allowing something : toleration.

Isn’t tolerance one of the most needed qualities in all of us, in this day and age? Is tolerance an instinct or is it a learned behavior? If the latter, could it be cultivated in children?

What are some of the best ways to expose children to diversity?

  • Travel: No better way to teach children about how the rest of the world lives.

 

  • Movies: Remember the three protagonists in Finding Nemo? Marlin, the dad, is a little different, with his paranoia for his son’s safety; Nemo is not your run-of-the-mill Clown fish, what with his one small fin and everything; and Dory is way out there, literally, with her short-term memory loss. Still, at the end of the movie, you come away loving these characters — their idiosyncrasies and all.

 

  • Books: The best and cheapest means of getting your point across, if you ask me. (You guessed I’d say that, right? This is a blog all about books, after all! :)) You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home and which child can resist a bed-time story? There are so many books out there, both fiction and non-fiction, that help us nurture empathy in children that is at the crux of the definition for tolerance.

* Won’t a child be less likely to torture a classmate who speaks with a stutter, if the former understood why the latter does that and how that makes him feel?

* Won’t a child be less likely to bully another who dresses peculiarly, according to her, if she knew the reason/custom behind the clothes being different?

* Won’t a child think before she judges another’s family structure if she were taught to be more sympathetic?

* Won’t a child be a little less likely to be sniggered at because of the contents of his lunch box, if his friends knew the name of the food he’s eating and how it is prepared?

Overall, it is my belief that children exposed early to diversity in geography, culture, and belief systems tend to grow up to be more tolerant and understanding of the physical, religious, and cultural differences in the population around them.

What do you all say?

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