Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Missing (Chapter-9)

This is the ninth part of the short story that I am writing in collaboration with nine other bloggers on Blogadda. Our team is 'Tete-a-ten'. You can read the previous parts here: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight.

Two voices speak.
I hear just one.
The right says "Stop."
Left tells me to run.

But standing in
The sun so bright.
I fall aground
And lose my light.

Will I ever stand up?
Will I be free
Of voices - shrill,
To discover me?

*  *  *

Tilak Nagar, New Delhi

She eats her spicy golgappas, tears streaming down her cheeks, and asks the road-side vendor for some napkins. The golgappa-seller wipes his hands on his filthy, torn vest and hands his customer a torn piece of newspaper. She rubs her soiled fingers on the paper and tosses it without looking. It falls on a lanky young man walking by.

"Hey! I'm not a dustbin!" he retorts angrily. "Watch where you..." he stares dumbstruck at the paper in his hands. It bears the mugshot of a handsome man under a bold black title "MISSING". With his heart in his mouth, he reads the details -
Name: Cyrus Daruwala
Age: 21 years
Complexion: Fair
Height: 6'3"
Built: Big boned with strong shoulders

Anybody who can bring back Cyrus or provide information that leads to his discovery will be suitably rewarded.

He does not bother to read the contact details for he knows the address by heart. Cyrus is his best friend. Fanus Mistry carefully folds the torn piece of paper and stows it in his breast-pocket. He wipes a tear off his cheek and heads to Cyrus' parents' house.

*  *  *


Cyrus sat stooped on the revolving chair in Dr. Sneha Phadnis's cabin and absentmindedly toyed with the egg-shaped paperweight on the table. Dr. Phadnis was on the phone on a seemingly important conversation. Her clinic was large, but the cabin very small. She only used this room to chat with her patients and their kin. She did all the thorough checkups in the adjacent wider cabin where she usually had an assistant to operate the equipment.

The tall Cyrus always slouched a little to not stick out like a sore thumb in crowded places. But his poor posture stayed with him even when he was alone or in the company of just a few people. Cyrus often blamed his fate for having to visit the doctor every Wednesday night while his friends would go out for a drink. He was a very attractive young man - his skin was as fair as the snow-covered winter-roads in Ladakh. His parents often told him so. Cyrus had light brown eyes that looked like artificially coloured crystals. Unfortunately, his beautiful eyes stayed veiled by his elephantine square-framed specs. But that never failed to charm scores of pretty girls in his college!

Cyrus had finally managed to make it to Delhi's top law school after spending an entire year preparing for CLAT. But as fate would have it, his magical mind started working against him after he joined his undergrad school. He fancied strange and contradictory things all day when he was awake, and dreamt of scenes that pulled his mind into two opposite directions. He suspected that the intense debates and counter-questioning in his practical classes had started splitting his mind. Nevertheless, he ultimately decided to see a doctor on his parents' insistence.

Bored to death in the white cabin that had nothing on the walls but for a painting of twelve horses galloping freely in the meadows, Cyrus smoothed the unruly beard on his chin as he continued to spin the glass paperweight.

"Duodenal Atresia?" Dr. Sneha's throaty voice brought Cyrus out of his reverie. "It's very rare. I'm afraid, I haven't learnt of any cases in Delhi."

Cyrus looked up, his curly hair bouncing with the jerk. Dr. Sneha smiled at her patient and signaled with her fingers the call would be short. "You have found one in Mumbai?" she nodded, her face betraying concern. "A nine year old is too young, don't you think?" she tucked her hair behind her ear. "I wouldn't if I were you! Be careful. It can be very dangerous if Roohi's parents find out." She replaced the receiver and looked at Cyrus with her composure regained. "How are the pills working for you? Any side-effects?"

"Umm... Doctor, I have to go back and prepare for the moot-court session tomorrow. Can we please do this next week?" He was sweating and had a genuine look of urgency on his face.

Dr. Phadnis frowned, "OK... Why don't you ask my assistant to block an hour for you on my calendar?"

"Thanks a lot! I'll do that." He started to leave.

"Cyrus?" she stopped him. "Please take care. I'm worried for you."

"I will. Don't worry. I'm taking the pills." He made a swift exit.

*  *  *

Daruwala's Residence
Greater Kailash, New Delhi

Boman Daruwala, a hefty man with wild, curly chest-hair waits for his son to join them for dinner. "Cyrus? Cyrus! Your favourite, dhansak, is getting cold" he hollers. His full-blooded wife, Sherry, arranges the table and places the water jug at the centre. Receiving no reply, Boman speaks again, "You learn about criminal law and corporate law, but you are yet to learn the laws of this house! Come out, baccha. It's bad manners to let your parents eat on their own."

"The busy boy must be preparing for his moot-court tomorrow." Sherry tries to placate her husband. "That's it! I'm fed up of this boy", Boman storms out of the dining room and raps on Cyrus' door. Still no answer. He twists the door-knob and the door opens into a peach-coloured room with not a single paper astray. The wall on the east is lined with a bookshelf. Tomes of law exam guides and several Manorama editions are neatly stacked inside the teakwood shelf. The bed is neatly made and the Irani carpet in Cyrus' room is speckless. Everything looks perfect. Except one thing - there is no one in the room.

"Sherry!" Boman squeals at the top of his lungs, his fury now infused with anxiety and his heart drumming like a maniac. "Cyrus is not in the house!" His wife drops the serviette she was about to place and rushes to him. "Where is my son? He was right here ten minutes back when I told him to be ready for dinner." Sherry asks without expecting a reply and dials his number.

"It's switched off", she looks helplessly at Boman. Boman digs out the phone-directory and starts calling all of Cyrus' classmates one after another. Sherry, meanwhile, scans her son's room. "Boman, look here!" Sherry's voice trembles as she gingerly hands him a slip of paper.

Dear Ma and Pa,

I don't think I can take it anymore. All I wanted was to study, be successful and live peacefully without people prying on me all the time. I studied so hard and made it to my dream law-school. But it felt nothing like a dream. They are all the same, Ma! I hate this world. I don't think I can live here anymore.

I am leaving. I'm leaving forever. This is probably the only way to keep myself happy now.

Sherry faints on the bed and leaves Boman to do all the hard work. Soon, a series of phone calls to the neighbours and Cyrus' college follows. He finally lodges a lost-complaint with the Police and calls up his friend at the press and  requests him to run Cyrus' missing-ad on one of the leading dailies in Delhi.

*  *  *

Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station
New Delhi

"Chai... chai..." the hawkers were busy even in the dead of the night. Cyrus bought a cup of piping hot tea and took his wallet out to pay. He fingered a handwritten note, behind his banknotes, that bore his handwriting - Mission Roohi : Do it today!

He was nervous but he knew this had to be done. The night had been gruelling this far - rushing out of his shrink's clinic, escaping home right after speaking to his mother, and frantically scanning for trains to Mumbai. He could luckily manage the last train that would reach Mumbai in the afternoon of the day after the next. Something is better than nothing, he thought to himself. His tired eyes could take it no more. He dozed off in his side-upper berth.

*  *  *

Read Chapter-10 here.

My team and I are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with us!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

My First Blogging Conference

Yesterday was the most amazing Saturday I had all month! I attended two exclusive events that I had been yearning to go to since time immemorial. I'll talk about the second event in another post, but first, let me tell you where I spent the better part of my day on the 20th of September - WORDUP!

The honeycomb seating area inside Blue Frog, Lower Parel, Mumbai
The honeycomb seating area at Blue Frog

This invite-only conference was hosted by IndiBlogger and BigRock for bloggers in Mumbai. It was scheduled to start at 9AM at Blue Frog, a popular clubbing place in Lower Parel, but the traffic situation in my part of the city ensured I got late. :-( But my day got better as I entered the room full of bloggers, eager to improve their craft. What first struck me was the honeycomb-shaped seating-booths that went all around the space and framed the centre-stage.

My badge at the Indiblogger Wordup Bloggers' Meet
Here comes the fashionably late Oindrila!

I luckily found myself an empty seat to the side of the stage and saw my gravatar-photo pop up beside me! I was sitting in front of the right screen, and the sidebar announced that I had "arrived"! :-D I was impressed to see they displayed live tweets with the #WordUp hashtag. I immediately pulled my phone out and sent out a tweet to see it come up on the big screen. (Sorry if I come across as bucolic. I've never been to any event like this before.)

Lakshmi Rebecca of the "Chai with Lakshmi" fame. (Can you spot me in the corner? :-) )

Anshul Tewari was halfway through his session on Blog Promotion when I entered the spacious nightclub-turned-conference-hall. Next on stage was the effervescent video-blogger, Lakshmi Rebecca. She took us through her journey of launching 'Chai with Lakshmi', a platform where she interviews the interesting people behind small startups. She interviewed Sunit Singh, the Lead Designer at Cleartrip, and got him to share some valuable tips on user-experience and aspects like font, text-size, design and blog-customization for portable-devices.

We broke for lunch at one-thirty and I was smiling at the exquisite buffet spread. Too bad I forgot to click any pictures of my plate, but I will compensate by describing the vegetarian preparations I indulged in! ;-) The salad bar had poached peaches with pak choi and stuffed button mushrooms for appetizers. The entree table offered a polenta-dish and farfalle with more mushrooms drenched in cheese. There was, of course, a bread basket of assorted buns, whole-grain ciabatta and nachos. For dessert were banana-caramel pastry, chocolate-cake and some vanilla ice-cream. I can't tell you how much I relished the lunch yesterday! I can almost taste the dishes again as I pen this post right now.

A session on Blog Monetization by Varun Krishnan
I'm listening in rapt attention to Varun Krishnan

Next up was Varun Krishnan from FoneArena who told us all about blogging ethics and monetizing our blogs. Shree Krishna Chepuri made an interesting entry with his funny news-grabs from The UnReal Times. He spoke about the legal aspects of blogging. The most important session for me was the one on SEO by Harsh Agrawal. He pointed out some easy steps to improve search engine optimization for blogs.

Selfie at Bigrock and IndiBlogger's blogging conference - WordUp
Selfie with a fellow blogger

Did I tell you there was a selfie-corner outside Blue Frog? And a prize for the best selfie? (No, I didn't win that.) But the next session was a prize in itself! It was all about a day in the life of Scherezade Shroff, a beauty-blogger. They served us some tea and sandwiches at this time. And trust me, the mushroom sandwiches just blew my mind! I had three! There were also purple kraut sandwiches for those who're not as crazy about mushrooms as I am.

Tea Trunk founder - Snigdha Manchanda
Snigdha Manchanda and a glimpse of the backstage

The final blogger on stage was Snigdha Manchanda, a tea sommelier, who illustrated how to tell a story through your blog. She says, there are seven basic frames that the pattern of any story can essentially fit into. Right after the creative writing session, there was Bhavish Ailani's stand-up comedy act. He had all the serious bloggers in splits! Just before the closing ceremony, I ran into another blogger I have known for the past two weeks now - Gauri (I hope you are reading this).

My prize and gifts from Bigrock and IndiBlogger at the blogging conference - WordUp
The treasures I brought back from the bloggers' meet

I probably didn't tell you, but after every session, there was a twitter contest, and guess what! I WON me a Flipkart voucher for tweeting the correct answers! This was not all I brought back home. BigRock gave us a complimentary laptop-bag and one year's worth of free website hosting facility! Inside the bag there was one more goodie - a Wave near-field amplifier (which I tested this morning on all our cellphones, and works wonderfully, by the way). The best thing was laying my hands on my first Blogging-DNA T-shirt by IndiBlogger! :-)

Prizes and freebies apart, I haven't seen so much respect for bloggers! My parents just laugh it off when I tell them I want to consider a career in blogging. My colleagues think it's just some kind of "hobby" I pursue in free time and ask me if I can write about random office-events. *Sigh* However, I have now found a new group of people I admire and who understand what it means to be a blogger. I see a silver lining.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Contest Alert: Fly to Miami!!!

Hey, you! Yes, you! Are you sulking in your room, bored by the fact that nothing interesting is happening in your life lately? Are you in your jammies, surfing YouTube, wishing you could meet your favourite band? Well... what if I told you I could make your wish come true? No, really! I'm not kidding.

For all of my lovely readers, I present the grand opportunity to attend One Direction's Live Concert in Miami!!!!!

Ready to catch waves in Miami with 1D?

And this is not all! You also get early access to Markwins's limited edition makeup collection, which has been created in close collaboration with One Direction! 

Bolt from the blue?
Did you know that this prestige line of cosmetics is a part of the "Looks Collection" by Markwins? The products have been inspired by the albums of 1D that have conquered the world! They have 3 amazing themes you can choose from:- 
  1. Midnight Memories - for the rockstar in you who makes heads turn wherever she goes.
  2. Take Me Home - for the girl next door who steals a million hearts with her smile.
  3. Up all Night - for the party-gal who never shies from flaunting her bold side!

Markwins thrives in the overarching philosophy of simplicity and value. Innovation is their middle name! Their high quality makeup is loved by cool, young girls and smart women of all ages. As you pick your favourite nail-paint from their delightful collections, let me remind you about all the wonderful things you stand to win if you enter this contest...

Here's what you can win:-
  1. Airfare for two.
  2. A stay at Turnberry Isle-Miami for you and your plus one.
View from the hotel
      3.  Two passes to the exclusive ONE DIRECTION "Where We Are" North American Tour Finale, scheduled for the 5th of Oct. (The most happening concert in October!)
      4.  Limited-edition range of beauty essentials by Markwins in a keepsake makeup tin autographed by each of the 5 members of 1D!

How do you enter the contest?

Very simple! All you have to do is:-
  1. Fill up this little form at the bottom of my post.
  2. "Like" the exclusive Facebook page for Makeup by One Direction.
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    This post is powered by BrandBacker.
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    Saturday, 13 September 2014

    Missing (Chapter-1)

    This is the first part of the latest short story that I am writing in collaboration with some very talented writers on Blogadda. Our team is 'Tete-a-ten'.

    Class IV-B
    Radcliffe School
    Juhu Vile Parle Scheme, Mumbai
    14:30 hours - 16:30 hours

    She chewed the pink bubblegum for five full minutes as she watched the dark plaits of the girl who sat in front of her. When the taste of raspberry turned bland, she stopped chewing, and used her fingers to stretch the pink sticky mass into a string. She glanced at her bench-partner and threw him a warning look with her large, round eyes. Then she deftly wrapped her pink chewy waste around one of the plaits she had been eyeing closely. Roohi Dutta smiled mischievously, only to herself.

    Right then, the last bell for the day rang in Roohi's ears. She excitedly unzipped her schoolbag in preparation to leave her yellow-walled classroom after another boring school-day which had begun with Math and was now ending with Science.

    "Class 4-B! Who asked you to close your notebooks? I haven't finished giving homework!" The Science teacher admonished the students, using her red marker pen as a baton. She then faced the whiteboard and penned four questions on 'Deficiency Diseases' and underlined Vitamin-C.

    Roohi Dutta stuck her tongue out and distorted her fair, cherubic cheeks to mock at her strict teacher when she wasn't looking. Clad in starched cotton sarees, the B.Ed in Biology scolded whichever class she taught. Roohi dragged the blunt HB pencil across her single lined notebook with one hand as she twirled one of her ponytails with the other. She did not look up until the teacher had left the class. "Thank you, ma'am", the class stood and sang together in gratitude.

    "Hey, Roohi? Wanna see my new roller skates? Daddy got those from Zurich last night." Little Soumyajit, Roohi's benchmate, was a jovial boy.

    "Nah! I'm going to Myra's birthday party in the evening. Need to go home now." Roohi fastened the clasp of her orange backpack and flipped it over her back, careful not to get her ponytails stuck in  the shoulder-straps. "Bye!" She waved her pudgy hand at Soumyajit and gave him a toothy smile.

    *  *  *

    Forty minutes from the school, a cellphone vibrated on a Rexine sofa. Shekhar Dutta lifted his round, bespectacled eyes from his laptop and frowned at the name that flashed on his phone-screen. He disliked being disturbed when he was writing articles, not that there were too many to write these days. Freelancing wasn't a bed of roses as he dreamed it to be.

    "Yes, Tara", a deep baritone answered the phone with a forced smile.

    "Shekhar, has Roohi finished her lunch?" Tara asked curtly.

    "I think she finished the teacher's as well!” Shekhar chuckled. “Weren't you supposed to pick her up and buy a gift for Myra? Roohi's attending her birthday party today, remember?" He straightened his tee and dusted a biscuit crumb off his blue track pants.

    "No, Shekhar! Don't you ever check my messages? I have a client presentation in a couple of hours." Tara's sharp voice rose.

    Shekhar sat up in his sofa. "What! You didn’t go?”

    “How callous can you get, Shekhar? I am fed up of your constant indifference!”

    “Don't be so generous with your praise, your Highness.” He smoothened his French beard.

    “Shekhar, this is no time to be sarcastic. Can you go to the school now?” Shekhar sensed a tone of desperation in Tara’s plea.

    The phone had disconnected in just forty five seconds. For a moment, Shekhar reminisced how those hour-long calls weren't enough many moons ago. Had twelve years of school, three years of college and fourteen years of married life taken away fifty nine minutes of talk-time? Shekhar shook his head and left for Roohi's school immediately.

    *  *  *

    "This is absolutely unacceptable!" Shekhar thundered as he banged his fist on the Principal's desk. "How can your school let my daughter walk away without a chaperone?"

    “Sir, please calm down. We have five hundred students in the school and Radcliffe has an impeccable safety record. We will find your daughter.” The Principal reassured the light-skinned, lanky man sitting across his desk.

    The school had finished at two thirty and it had been two hours since. The reality gradually dawned on Shekhar as he slumped in the chair at the Principal's office with his bald head in his hands.

    His mobile had five missed calls now and it was ringing for the sixth time. This time, Shekhar decided to answer, “Tara, Roohi is missing.”

    *  *  *

    Read Chapter-2 here.

    My team and I are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at BlogAdda.com. #CelebrateBlogging with us!

    Contest Alert: Win Autographed Makeup by One Direction!

    Hello, pretty ladies! Do you worry about the sky-high prices of cosmetics as you stare at your nails that still carry last week's chipped coating? Is your mascara oh-so-yesterday? If you're moping in agreement, I have some good news for you!

    Markwins International is launching its limited-edition makeup collection!!! This prestige cosmetics line has been created in close collaboration with One Direction.

    Bolt from the blue?
    Did you know that this exclusive range of makeup is a part of the "Looks Collection" by Markwins? The products have been inspired by the albums of 1D that have conquered the world! They have 3 amazing themes you can choose from:-
    1. Midnight Memories - for the rockstar in you who makes heads turn wherever she goes.
    2. Take Me Home - for the girl next door who steals a million hearts with her smile.
    3. Up all Night - for the party-gal who never shies from flaunting her bold side!

    Markwins thrives in the overarching philosophy of simplicity and value. Innovation is their middle name! Their high quality makeup is loved by cool, young girls and smart women of all ages. True to the spirit of the 1D band members, this makeup line is fun, bold and a naughty! As you pick your favourite nail-paint from their delightful collections, let me remind you about the wonderful things you stand to win if you enter this contest...

    • The carefree and confident attitude of the world's biggest pop-band - One Direction.
    • The colorful style of the new generation exemplified by Markwin's makeup. 
    • A chance to receive this glamorous offering which has only debuted at Macy’s!
    • Most importantly, the limited-edition range of beauty essentials in a keepsake makeup tin autographed by each of the 5 members of 1D!!!
    • And... a removable sleeve with ONE DIRECTION doodle-stencils to decorate your collectible tin and show off your unique personality! :-)

    How to enter the contest?

    Easy! This is what you need to do:-
    1. Fill up the form at the bottom of this post.
    2. "Like" the Makeup by One Direction Facebook page.
    3. Hit "Enter", and presto! You're all set! :-)

    Don't forget to thank me if you win! ;-) 

    This post is powered by BrandBacker.
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    Sunday, 7 September 2014

    Oindrila reviews 'Private India'

    I was overwhelmed with joy the other day when I was offered the opportunity to review Ashwin Sanghi's latest crime thriller. This exclusive first-print edition bore Sanghi's autograph! Also, the package arrived with a personalized note signed by the CEO of Blogadda. All of this just made my day! :-)

    Before I begin the detailed review, here are the fast facts:-

    Title: Private India
    Authors: Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson
    Genre: Crime-Thriller (Fiction)
    Publisher: Arrow Books
    Pages: 447
    Price: Rs.350 (Paperback)

    The Main Characters:-
    1. Santosh: Head of Private India
    2. Nisha: The only female investigator at Private
    3. Mubeen: Private's forensic expert
    4. Hari: Technology geek & the youngest Private member
    5. Rupesh: Assistant Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch of Mumbai

    The Review:-

    Private India is the latest in the Private-series by James Patterson. Set in the fast-paced glamour-capital of India, the story begins with the murder of a Thai doctor in a luxury hotel. Soon, the country's premier investigation agency, Private India, is called to investigate the killing. Santosh, the head of Private India, decides to involve the police, and in comes ACP Rupesh from the Mumbai Crime Branch.

    Before they make any headway on the case, within 12 hours, they are faced with another murder - a celebrity-reporter hangs from the ceiling fan of her bedroom. Team Private India wonders whether the two murders are related. Both the victims, though unrelated, have curious props surrounding them... and a strand of hair that Mubeen, Private's medical expert, examines carefully.

    The story picks up pace as more women are killed in quick succession. This ups the pressure on Private to nail the murderer (or murderers?) before more bodies of innocents are rendered lifeless. The narrative explores the lives of each of the key characters, and their disturbing pasts resurface ever so often. There is a certain bitterness between Santosh and Rupesh that hinders them from working together amicably.

    As more murders are reported, Santosh makes a discovery - the strange objects that are placed at each murder site bear some significance... in mythology. Nisha, meanwhile, digs into the past of the victims and unearths some spine-chilling facts that could reveal the motive behind these seemingly unrelated killings. The plot gets very interesting at this point as the team tries to guess the next murder and catch the culprit before another lady is slain. But the road to the murderer is strewn with red herrings and dangers. Private smells the involvement of Mumbai's notorious underbelly and the possibility of a terrorist attack - something that sends shivers down the spines of these detectives.
    Will Private India succeed in solving this case? Or will they end up becoming the next victims of the cold-blooded murderer? Do Gods have a hand in these killings? Or is it Mumbai's most feared gang-lord? Why would anyone want to kill so many people? Are the killings justified?
    You must read this page-turner to have your questions answered!

    My Verdict:-

    This is the first time I read a Sanghi or a Patterson, and I'm thoroughly impressed! The duo manages to hold my attention and keep me hooked to the plot until the very end. The story is not a unidimensional murder-mystery, but a layered masterpiece that has several backstories that reveal more about the characters. Mythology and mystique are beautifully woven into the murders. There is an unmistakable energy in the book - the same energy that courses through the heart of Mumbai, a city that accommodates the rich, the powerful, and the dangerous, all at once. Sanghi has chosen his backdrop well, and has neatly infused this city's iconic sites in the account.

    The piece has scope for some improvement, though. The ending is abrupt and demands more clarification on certain aspects of the story. I feel, some mysteries have remained mysteries. I can only make my own assumptions for those bits to silence my mind that keeps asking more questions. Also, the book could do with one more round of proofreading. I could spot a couple of minor grammatical errors. But then again, I've got an editor's eye. :-P The average reader won't notice a thing.

    Overall, I rate this book an 8 on 10. It was well worth my time and a complete entertainer!

    If you are still undecided on whether to pick this book up, here's the video-trailer that should get you all pumped up! :-)

    This review is part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!