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Archive for July, 2010

Today, instead of posting a snippet from my WIP (Work-In-Progress), I’m posting something related to it. Below is the recipe for Aloo Subzi (a traditional, but simple, potato curry) that one of my protagonists loves.

Indian cuisine lends itself very naturally to customizations. This recipe is my own take on the age-old recipe of the same name. Even though I learned it by watching my mom cook, this recipe, along with many others that I use, has deviated from hers owing to restrictions in time and the availability of ingredients.

Aloo Subzi
(Potato Curry)

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into two-inch cubes
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped into inch-long slices
  • 2 green chillies, cut length-wise
  • 1 stem of curry leaves, the leaves separated from the stem
  • 2 red, dried chillies, broken into two pieces each
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • ½ cup water
  • salt, to taste

1. Place a skillet on a medium flame and add oil to it. Add cumin, the two kinds of chillies, curry leaves and garlic to the oil.

2. Leave the spices alone for a couple of minutes – they release their flavor when they warm up – and then add the onion to the skillet. Let it cook for about four to five minutes, or until the onion becomes golden brown and translucent.

3. Add tomatoes to this mixture and let them cook for a few minutes, until they become soft. Make sure you keep stirring, so that the ingredients do not stick to the bottom of the skillet.

4. Add potatoes now and stir them for a few minutes before adding salt and water. Place a heavy lid on the skillet to help the vegetables cook with the help of the steam that is released.

5. Keep stirring every few minutes so it doesn’t burn. It may take about 10 to 15 minutes for the curry to be ready. Basically, it is ready when there’s not much liquid left in the skillet and the potatoes break easily when touched with a spoon.

6. Remove from flame, transfer to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro.

For additional color, flavor, and nutrition, a handful of carrots pieces (inch-size cubes), and a handful of fresh green peas can be tossed into this recipe in step 4.

The resulting curry will taste great when served hot either with roti or white rice.

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You pick up a book at the library, because you read an excerpt about it somewhere. You’re very excited about reading it, because you can’t wait to see how the author has handled the plot, how she has sketched the characters, and how well she has balanced action and dialogue with description. And, that book is very close in genre and age-group to the one on which you’re currently working.

You come home and start reading it. Your heart begins to race, because whaddaya know? The book begins very similar to how yours does. Now, isn’t that amazing? You continue to breeze through the book and as you go on, your heart rate slows down until your heart begins to slowly plummet. Why? Because the book is telling your story!

That’s not fair! It was your brainchild. How dare someone else not only have the same idea, but execute it well ahead of you and publish it, too?

Has this (or something similar) happened to you? I’m sure as writers, every one of us has confronted something along these lines at one time or another.

What do you do when faced with such a debilitating experience?

You take a deep breath, shake your head, and finish reading that book. At the end you go: “A very good book, but I’m sure mine will be better.”

Writers are eternal optimists, if not anything else, especially when it comes to their stories and plotlines. Aren’t they?

They have to be, or they couldn’t proceed to put down their inner-most thoughts on paper day in and day out for everyone’s perusal, could they?

If you have faced such a situation, take heart! There are over six billion humans inhabiting this planet of ours. Isn’t it highly likely that any time you’re having a thought, at least one other person on this Earth is having the exact same thought (even if they may be thinking it in a language completely foreign to you?).

That is why many also opine that no story is ever completely original. There are only so many original ideas in the world, in human psyche at least, and every one of them has already been explored. So, whatever story you’re working on right now, you’re trying to tell one that has already been narrated; be it via the written word or by word of mouth.

So, what keeps your effort apart and makes it genuine? The fact that you are trying to tell the story in your own voice.

That is also why, even if there’s a book already out there with a plot line similar to yours, there’s nothing earth-shattering about it. Your book, when it’s done, will still be different from that one, because:

  • Not every twist in the book’s plot could be similar to those in yours
  • Your voice is your own, which makes your book different from every other one out there
  • Your character development is bound to take its own unique path
  • Your setting will have aspects that belong to you, your experiences, and your past and present, which makes it original in its own right

And look at the brightest fact of all:

If a book similar to the one that you’re writing has already been published, then it can only mean one thing…

There is an audience out there that is ready, with its appetite already whetted, for your book.

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When I was seven or eight, a children’s club came into existence within the neighborhood (thank God for those adults who had the idea to found it!) in which we lived.  It was called Baal Bhavan, which translates to “The Building for Children.” And very aptly it was named too, because it was a place where children could be whatever they wished to be: an artist, a musician, a sportsperson, a kid having simple fun, a bookworm, or all of the above.

It was actually a bunch of buildings clumped together in a largish area. This compound had a building that housed the Ladies’ Club, and the one adjoining to it was the Children’s Building. These were surrounded by a play area with the usual collection of see-saws, swings, and monkey-bars.

The children’s building also housed one very special room – the library. It was a long rectangular room with brightly colored kid-sized tables and chairs scattered around the room in cheerful disarray. This was where little kids were given mounds of play dough that they could mould into whatever their imaginations could dream up. (I can still smell the moldy, sticky mess of play dough as I write this. The power of association, especially that of smell, is so immediate, but long-lasting at the same time, isn’t it?)

Three walls of this room, from ceiling to floor, were lined with shelves filled to cramming with brand-new books of all kinds: fat and tall, shiny and bright, hard-backed and full of pictures, paperbacked and full of words. There were books of every kind that a kid’s mind could wish for. (I’m not sure if it was done with intentional, if well-meaning, guile on the part of the adults who ran this club, but I don’t think there’s a better way to instill the love of reading in tiny tots than to surround them with the sight and smell of so many books while they played innocently. I’m sure most of them learned to read by Osmosis alone.)

I devoured all the hard-backed picture books pretty fast and stretched my arms towards the thicker paperbacks, which stood a little ways above the shelves that held the picture books. And my hand closed around one book called “The Summer Adventure” by Shashi Deshpande.

Skimming through the contents of the back flap, I surmised that it sounded pretty mysterious.  I’d never heard of that author before, but I was willing to give any and every author a chance, so I took the book home. And thus began my long-standing (still going strong) affair with mysteries.

That book was one among a trilogy of mysteries solved by a bunch of cousins. They keep coming upon crimes, small and big, as they’re innocently navigating through their vacations in ever-changing (with every book) settings. Sound familiar?

Yes, don’t they sound like some of Enid Blyton’s books? I’m not sure to this day if Shashi Deshpande was influenced by Enid Blyton, but I and my siblings grew up referring to her as the Indian Enid Blyton.

She brought a whole new India, which was very familiar and yet was just out of reach, to us. We couldn’t have enough of this adventurous foursome and their exploits in both rural and cosmopolitan India.

Deshpande is known to have written this series for her two young sons originally, and boy, am I glad that she did! Only much later did I learn that she has only written four books for children, while she has written several short stories, novels, and thought-provoking essays for adults.

Recently, thanks to a wonderful friend (thanks, SK!) living in India, I got my hands on one of Deshpande’s collections of short stories (sadly, her books are not easily available any more even in India).

Deshpande seems to seamlessly vary her voice depending on the audience at hand. (I’m in awe of those authors who tread both adult and children’s literary worlds with seeming nonchalance. I know for a fact that it’s not easy to do.) No wonder she has been awarded some of the highest awards in Indian literature.

Here are a couple of passages from my favorite from the trilogy, The Hidden Treasure:

There was a steady stream of carts on the road. Some had whole families in them, some were full of baskets, pots and all kinds of odds and ends. There were also many people walking, women carrying pots and baskets on their heads, or babies on their hips, with older children walking, or skipping, by their sides. And all the bells around the necks of the animals and the creaking wheels of the carts sang a kind of gay little song. The children exclaimed in pleasure at the sights and sounds.

                “Nothing to what it used to be,” Fakira told them. “Now they all want to go by bus. Nobody wants to walk. My own grandson wants to waste his money on the bus. Even now, I can walk all the way and back very easily,” he boasted.

Growing up, I used to dream about what I’d say if ever I had the chance to come face to face with Shashi Deshpande. I have drafted numerous letters to her, all in my head, which I never put down on paper.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I should do: write to her now and tell how she, along with Enid Blyton, has been instrumental in my finally taking the first plunge into my dream-world of writing for children.

Who has influenced you into taking the first step towards the goal you’re currently working or the one you have already achieved?

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You know you have been bitten by the writing bug, if:                                                                                                    

10.  You cannot seem to switch the muse off, and it hits you at the worst possible moments.

9. You have a better idea about the likes and dislikes of your (target) literary agent than those of your better half.

8. You keep wishing that coffee is a food group on which humans could sustain solely.

7. You keep checking on the net to see if the prices on Dictaphone-Transcribers have come down yet.

6. Much to the agony of the members of your family, you insist on acting out every new twist/conversation in your manuscript.

5. You do not think having conversations with characters in your book out loud is odd.

4. People at your table have to resort to wiping their mouths on their clothes, because you keep snagging the napkins to jot down your ideas.

3. You keep eavesdropping on private conversations blatantly and maintain that it’s all part of your job.

2. It doesn’t embarrass you to accidentally show up wearing mismatched socks to a business meeting, but you’d feel naked if you didn’t lug around your laptop wherever you went.

1. You tend to blubber, “Oh, that’s ’s favorite dish. Wish she could join us today!” when you see certain entrées served at restaurants.

 –**–

My blog has been recently awarded “One Lovely Blog” by kind souls: Rosemary at Miss Rosemary’s Novel Ideas and Lisa at Milk Fever Blog, and Barb at CreativeBarbwire. Thank you all so much!

Rosemary continues to write posts, filled with her quirky sense of humor, related to writing and life in general.

Lisa has just had her first novel, Milk Fever, published recently. Her blogs seem deceptively simple at first sight. However, read on and you’ll soon catch on to the fact that each of those posts packs a down-to-earth truth about the subject at hand.

Barb, by her own confession, is a writer, an artist, a world creator, and a story-teller. She actively pursues ‘happiness’ in various ways in her blog, and also generously shares information she has gathered, about writing and the publishing industry, via her extensive research.

Do check out their blogs, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I’m supposed to reveal seven things about myself. I’ve already done quite a few posts in that vein over the past few months (and phew, that was hard). So, with your permission, I’ll just skip over to the more interesting step of passing on the awards.

I’d like to pass this award on to these blogs:

“You’re Going Places, Baby” award to:

 

“The Versatile Blogger” award to:

All of these blogs give me something to mull over whenever I visit them and hence add a touch of authenticity to my day!

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Hubble floats above Earth

April 24th of this year marked the twentieth anniversary of Hubble, the telescope that orbits Earth. It is one of NASA’s most successful and long-lasting science missions.

Why did NASA put the telescope in space? So its view would not be compromised by the Earth’s atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light reaching our planet. This is one of the biggest disadvantages from which ground-based telescopes trained at the outer space suffer.

Hubble’s discoveries have helped in the advancement of scientists’ understanding of the universe enormously. The telescope’s unique position gives it the best seat to view the universe around it and record it. The information Hubble has gathered over the years has helped scientists look at the universe in a whole new light.

Here are some fascinating facts about The Hubble Space Telescope (gathered from its official site):  

  • It was launched into space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.
  • It sweeps around the Earth once every 97 minutes.
  • It has revealed the age of the universe to be about 13 to 14 billion years, much more accurate than the old range of anywhere from 10 to 20 billion years.
  • It has played a key role in the discovery of dark energy, a mysterious force that causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
  • It is kept up to date and on target by periodic servicing missions from astronauts high above the atmosphere.
  • It has a ‘ground crew’ that tells it what to do.
  • It’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is currently in the works. It is scheduled to launch in 2014.
  • It is expected that Hubble’s components will slowly, over the years, degrade to the point at which it will stop working. When that happens, Hubble will continue to orbit Earth until its orbit decays, allowing it to spiral toward Earth.

Messages for Hubble:

NASA has many things planned for celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the telescope. Among them is its invitation for Hubble’s fans to leave a message in Hubble archives, and hence for posterity.

Never is the adage a picture speaks volumes more appropriate than in this context. So, without further ado, I bow out and leave you with some more astounding pictures (courtesy: http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album) from Hubble’s album that has been created over the past two decades.

For further information and many more mind-blowing pictures, visit: http://hubblesite.org.

Spiral Galaxy M100

 

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I watched a Hindi movie recently, one that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite some time. It’s an older movie (made about five years ago), but since I’m not really reviewing it now, I’m going to keep from mentioning its name here.

It’s one of the more meaningful movies made by a woman director who’s known to make people think through her movies.

So, come Saturday night, I got ready with a box of tissues, (the premise of the movie warranted that, and yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cry very easily during movies. Heck, I even sob openly for characters in a good book), dimmed the lights in the room, and sat down determined to have a good movie-watching experience.

The movie was close to two hours in length and the locales that were chosen were earthy and beautiful. They were showcased in a way which went straight to your heart, and the subject sure was powerful. But that was it. I kept waiting to unwrap the plastic casing of the brand new box of tissues, but never got the chance to do it.

Reason? I was too deeply involved with analyzing how the director dealt with the plotline, how she shaped the characters, how she told the back story, and how she used the setting to “show”.

Ack! Now, when did movie-watching become a study in writing? I don’t know exactly when, but it sure did.

The movie was definitely among the better-made ones that were to come out of Bollywood in the recent past, no doubt about that (notwithstanding the fact that for some reason which I cannot fathom, the director has chosen two lead actors – both models-turned-actors – who definitely looked good in all angles, but could not emote for their lives).

So, here’s my point: if I’d watched this same movie a few years ago, I still would have been left with an unfulfilled feeling. And I’d probably have gone to the length of coming to the obvious conclusion that the main characters were not developed well enough to evoke any emotions in the audience. And I would’ve left it at that.

I find that now I cannot do just that.

I analyzed the movie afterwards, in my mind, to the smallest junctures at which I felt that the director had let down the main characters in their development, and hence the viewer.

I also kept thinking about certain changes to sequence of happenings that would raise the stakes and hence make the movie more palatable. Then I went on to sketching a slightly different plotline and ending that would have made the whole experience a little more rewarding and satisfactory to the viewer.

It was at this point that I caught myself. What was I doing?

I was essentially revising the movie. Argh! Is this how it’s going to be from now on? Is there going to be no innocent enjoyment at the movies anymore?

But then I realized that I’d actually enjoyed studying the movie from the different angles of a writing perspective!

Have you had this happen to you?

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Ahem! Hema has seen some of her blogger friends invite a guest to blog in their stead and has been mulling over whether she should do the same. Since she does not seem to be any closer to making the right decision in the near future, I thought it best to wrest that choice from her and take the appropriate course of action myself.

Hence, here I am, channeling my thoughts to her site, even though I personally abhor self-promotion, and have been successfully able to keep away from limelight for over a decade now.

In case you haven’t caught on to who I am, please allow me to introduce myself in a proper fashion.

I am the mature, shady tree that graces the aforementioned Hema’s backyard.

It is a fact that I would rather be in the exalting company of more sophisticated perennials, such as Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree, listening to their lives’ rich experiences.

It is also true that being an admirer of master craftsmen such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, I would rather be living in the countryside in England, breathing in the same air that they breathed out once.

However, nobody has deemed it necessary to ask my opinion. And not having been gifted with the capacity to move by myself, I am stuck in this backwater.

Having said that, I have to admit, though, that there are certain advantages to living where I do, that make my life not quite such a blight: Hema adores me and makes no bones about it. She fell in love with me when she first set eyes on me over a decade ago, in a tree farm. I was then a mere seedling and had not even acquired any of my admirable qualities – if I do say so myself – yet. She paid a handsome price for me, and had me planted in her backyard in full view of her living room.

She also has never been shy about acknowledging the fact that she is very often visited by her muse when she seeks my shelter.

What she does not yet realize is that it is not strictly her muse that has been finding her whenever she sees fit to gaze up at me or come out and recline underneath my canopy. It is, in fact, mine.

I have always had this bent for classic literature. (Say, could it have anything to do with the possibility that my ancestors have been transformed into the paper that has been used in penning down the thoughts of yesteryears’ master storytellers? Hmm… A thought worthy of further exploration!)

Ahem, I beg your pardon for that detour; I am somewhat prone to getting side-tracked, if I may be so honest.

So, yes, I have been helping Hema with her writing, though I find it rather trying to have to keep sending her ‘womanly’ thoughts rather than my natural masculine ideas. (Also, let it be known that I take umbrage upon whoever burdened me with the family name of “Lace Bark Elm”. Let me take this opportunity to clarify that there is nothing remotely lacy about my attributes, notwithstanding my appearance, upon which I have no say.)

And as if that were not taxing enough, recently, Hema has been seriously bogged down by the need for a more juvenile literary voice. I and think in a childish manner? That is absurd! Hema is definitely barking up the wrong tree in this instance. She is very well on her own for that one, and I am very much tempted to end my authoring-relationship with her!

Finally, this is the conundrum that I am currently grappling with … no, no, a preposterous dangling preposition? Alas, has Hema finally found a way to subconsciously channel her voice and style back to me? That would be the ruin of me!

Let me make another more decent attempt at it:

This is the conundrum with which I am currently grappling:

Do I let Hema know that I have been the one funneling all her writing abilities to her, or not.

Hmm… come to think of it, I may have taken that decision away from myself by being a guest blogger in her blog, even if unbeknownst to her, and attaching my signature to it at the very beginning of this article. She is bound to figure out by herself finally.

Now, if only she would be wise to my feelings about those rowdy chipmunks that see it fit to frolic up and down the length of my branches day in and day out! I lament their lack of respect for age or superiority. I surmise it is in keeping with the sentiments of the majority nowadays. Alas!

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