Saturday, 29 November 2014

Raise Your Voice!

The Swach Bharat campaign is trending all across India. The latest entrant to this initiative is the #AbMontuBolega drive by Strepsils. It is heartening to see so many brands come together to clean up all the filth in our country. But the big brands cannot do this on their own. They need us! They need the voice of the common man. They need action at the grassroot level before directives and provisions of the law can do much about it.

Strepsils has talked about a very crucial point while launching their campaign. We, the citizens of India - a country that produces far more garbage than it can dispose, must take it upon ourselves to speak up when we see anyone littering. We are quick to lash out at politicians who pose with a broom (and pre-arranged garbage, might I add?) to show their support for a clean India. But do we ever reprimand our friends for throwing chewing-gum wrappers on the roadside? Do we stop kids on the footpath from defecating in the open instead of finding them a toilet? Do we check ourselves before we chuck that bus ticket out of the window?

#AbMontuBolega urges us to speak up about cleanliness and other important issues, both physically and virtually. We must share our views on various social media platforms to garner collective help when we alone cannot bring about the change we strive for. When it comes to big things like getting an MLA or your Chief Minister or Governor to enforce a law, you cannot keep quiet and hope somebody else will persuade them. Take charge! Speak up! Get your followers and friends to back your cause, and the government authorities out there will heed you.

Here is what I am doing to make India slightly cleaner and safer for all - earlier this year, sometime in May, I started a campaign to raise money for women in rural India to help them build toilets in their homes. I was fundraising by running 10.55 kilometers at the Mumbai Monsoon Marathon. The terrain was very difficult and the weather highly humid. But I was happy to have raised more than my fundraising goal of forty thousand rupees.

I did not stop at that. Right after that campaign was over, I started another one. And this time, I will be running a half marathon to raise even more than I did last time. You don't have to do stuff like running twenty one kilometers. But you can talk to people about not dumping their garbage wherever they feel like. You can ask people to separate their organic and inorganic waste. You can be a champion for recycling! Glass, paper, plastic, metal - so many things can be recycled if we take some effort. Reusing still remains the best technique. There's nothing better than to refill your empty plastic and glass jars, reuse those old tiffin boxes to store your jewellery, or use your old tee shirt as a wash cloth.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and RASE YOUR VOICE against littering and wastage. SPEAK UP for cleanliness!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

My Shopping Experience on Jabong

It all started when my mum admonished us for finishing off her herbal products. She was cross at me and my sister for using up all of her neem face mask in a couple of months without letting her have a chance to even sample it. I decided to make amends by buying my mother a new face mask.

But I had no time to go to the supermarket and browse through their aisles. Office and creative pursuits had left me with nothing more than a few minutes for any kind of shopping. That is when I remembered the recent advertisement. While on my coffee break, I quickly checked out the website to see if it could be of any help to me.

First Impression

The site looks pretty neat at first glance. It asks you to choose between "Shop Women" and "Shop Men" to give you relevant results. There's also a little box at the bottom right corner to save your items. I suggest you sign up for a smoother experience on Jabong.

Signing In

You can either login separately or use your Facebook or Google account. Jabong has seamless sign-on integrity with FB & Google. They instantly emailed me a couple of discount vouchers after I signed in. These vouchers have very short validity, so plan your shopping accordingly. There are some interesting discounts on the mobile app too (available on the Google Play Store). I got a Uber credit, but I can't use that as I already have the app installed on my phone (first-time discounts are of no use to patrons).

Browsing has fashion and lifestyle products for women, men and kids. They also have special collections for your home and for sporty people. Don't forget to browse through their premium range. They have some really fine stuff! You can also browse by brands. Although I was supposed to buy a skin care product, I was tempted to look through the multifarious items available for women - clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery and accessories. I also found out that Alia Bhatt has launched her collection for Jabong! If you love the big names, you will be pleased to know that some international brands are available exclusively on this site. Here are a few I found:-

  1. Aldo
  2. Tommy Hilfiger
  3. New Look
  4. CK Jeans


Once I focussed my search on the face pack, I looked through the Skin Care category. For cosmetics, Jabong lets you filter your search by your price-range and choice of brand. I was looking for something absolutely natural and free of chemicals. I quickly found something I knew I would like! :-)

Checking Out

Closing your order is a breeze! You can pay by cards (credit /debit), cash (on delivery) or e-gift voucher. Unfortunately, they accept only one eGV for a transaction. :-( I hope they increase the number. The tracking mechanism for your order is pretty neat. You know exactly when your item will arrive.


I had ordered a relatively small pack of skin care items, but they told me it would be 4 days before my order was shipped. It would take another 2 days to reach me. I was slightly upset by the long wait. I was later informed (after my package was shipped) that my order would take longer to actually reach me. I don't know if GoJavas should be blamed for this, but I wasn't happy with the unreasonably long time this was taking. I usually receive packages from far flung areas in 2-3 days. The only good thing Jabong did was keeping me informed. That was reassuring.


I finally received my parcel yesterday in the evening. I was very happy to ultimately receive my order after 9 days of waiting. And boy, did I love the packing! ;-) This may be bad for the environment, but all of that bubble-wrap and cardboard sure kept my plastic containers safe. :-P

Product Quality

I give Jabong full marks for their water-tight packing. They also deserve praise for stocking very high quality stuff. I ordered a skin care pack from Aura Vedic, and even though this is the first time I'm using this brand, I'm a fan now! All 3 of the items that arrived (2 face masks and a face cream) are organic and have not been tested on animals. I love it when brands do their bit to protect the environment and fellow beings.


All in all, my shopping experience on Jabong was very quick and satisfying, thanks to their efficient categorization and useful description of all the products. However, I'd like to see them accept more eGVs per transaction and bring the delivery time down by a few days.

Spilling the Beans

I have some inside news from Jabong. I'm only letting my loyal readers in on these secrets! Ready? There will be CRAZY DEALS and HUGE DISCOUNTS at the GOSF 2014 from 10-12 Dec. Be ready with your shopping list! You have less than 3 weeks now!

The other news is about the Jabong Online Fashion Week. You must not miss this opportunity if you are a talented fashion designer, model, make-up and hair stylist or photographer. Registrations are already open for the JOFW 2015!

Have you shopped on before? How was your experience? What did you buy? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Shopping from American Swan

Have you checked out the cool website of American Swan? This trendy brand has some interesting stock for shopaholics like us! I happened to surf through the site today, and the first thing I saw was DISCOUNTS!!! :-) They run special discounts every hour! Try shopping from 10 PM to midnight to get the maximum bang for your buck.


I was so confused with all the options I had, that I decided to take some advice from the fashion experts themselves and headed to American Swan's blog - The Swan Confession. The fashion blog is regularly updated and has useful information on style trends for both women and men.


I next headed to the swanky trend-roulette that guided me to 25 key trends of the season. The tool is very informative. It lets you choose your own style from handpicked fashion staples from the ramp.


I personally liked the denim-trend. American Swan has numerous denim outfits, from skirts and bags to shoes and trousers. The beautiful hues of blue can make anyone fall in love with denim!


The most elegant hair accessory I found on the site was a flower-tiara. This exquisite piece can be worn with summer dresses, hot pants and even floor length gowns. This style is truly surreal!


Another exciting trend is the printed pant. The prints are exotic! There's graphics and kitsch, and also abstract and geometrical. The pants have their own dominant color - black-n-white, pastel and blues and greens. These patterned pants can be worn with solid tops and smart stilettos.


Floral seems to rule the ramp this season. American Swan's collection has splendid closed-toed heels in mosaic-floral, printed dresses, embellished tops and flowery-collared blouses. They can be paired with derby hats, briefcase-handbags, pearls and bracelet-watches.


Clutches are also ruling the roost. The superior designs make these purses a perfect arm candy for cocktail parties and business meetings alike. Depending on the colours and patterns, the clutches can be the perfect accessory to hooker-shorts and loose tops, business dresses and stilettos, and evening dresses with wedges.


Polka dots have made a comeback this season, especially on shirts, hats, scarves and shoes. I also spotted some bags with the spots. ;-) Make sure you team these tops with solid pants and skirts. Your outfit should have no more than two polka-dotted items.


With these fashion-tips fresh in my mind, I shopped for some winter jackets for my trip to Moscow next year. I simply LOVE the collection American Swan has! The website makes it very easy to narrow down your choices. There are filters for sizes, discounts, price-range, and even colours! You can also sort your selections on price, popularity, novelty and discount.


They also have a nifty tool to check the size you will require. The size guide has a diagrammatic representation of what you have to measure, and the sizes are mentioned for India, EU and US.


I picked a cute, red overcoat and proceeded to checkout. They have 14-day free and hassle free returns, premium packaging, cash on delivery option, and also express shipping. Shopping is very simple and safe (online transactions are protected by VeriSign).


When are you planning to upgrade your wardrobe from American Swan? Are you a customer already? How has your experience been so far? Let me know in the comments below! :-)

The Magic of a Touch

It was 10 pm and the sky, a magical shade of dark. Sunaina smoothed her fuchsia evening dress and entered the grand ballroom of the Lalit hotel. Today was the first big office part she was attending. She did not have a date, and nobody to dance with. The doorman ushered her into the dark room with psychedelic lights zigzagging all around the place. She scanned the entire hall and noticed the several circles that seemed impenetrable.

Towards the door were a dozen tables, each thronged by half a dozen colleagues Sunaina sort of recognized from office. Whoever told her of the formal dress code was out of her mind! Every girl wore the skimpiest dress in her wardrobe. Some even paired their outfits with fishnet stockings. Isn't fishnet a strict no-no at work? Sunaina was flummoxed. She saw the DJ taking requests and playing all chartbusters one after another. Near the DJ's box revolved circles of the most outspoken people in office. They danced like no one was watching.

Sunaina glanced to her left where the 20 metre long bar table was installed. She wondered if she should have a drink to avoid interacting with the crowd she could not seem to manoeuvre. That is when Tanveer tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to join him for a drink. Sunaina gladly accepted the offer. She would now at least have someone to talk to, even if the noise level disallowed any sort of talking.

"White rum", Tanveer hollered across the bar to the bartender. "Small or large?" asked the barman shaking a drink for someone else's order. Tanveer looked at Sunaina, who mouthed "small". "Two large" ordered Tanveer and winked at Sunaina. Sunaina furrowed her forehead, admonishing Tanveer, but he drew closer and said, "it's only a drink!" The bartender plonked two large shots of a strange looking liquid on the table. "Bottoms up", Tanveer said to Sunaina. "Um.. ok.." Sunaina was unsure, but thought she'd take a chance anyway. She took half a sip and felt the  alcohol burning her throat. Tanveer glared at her mockingly, "C'mon! Bottoms up! That's not fair". "I'm trying!" Sunaina gulped the rest of her drink and held on to the bar table for support. The rum was smooth, but way too strong for her. She was built for milder stuff - vodka with cranberry, late harvest wines, and craft beers.

Tanveer held her hand and swiftly pulled her across to the center of the ballroom. Sunaina smiled, slightly intoxicated by the sudden rush of alcohol. She placed her left hand on his dark brown blazer and held his left hand with her right. She giggled as Tanveer gripped her palm sensuously and twirled her after every three steps. His hands snaked up the curve of her waist and rested firmly on her back. He was skillfully closing the gap between them. This was an office party. They could not kiss. But he drew his face closer to hers. Her heart skipped a beat. Tanveer brought his lips to her ear and whispered, "Nice dress!" Sunaina blushed. She was finally having a nice time at her first office party.

This short story has been written to highlight the magic of  touch. #BringBackTheTouch

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

My Porcelanosa-Perfect Dream Home

I recently heard about the launch of 24K Province in Pune. This luxurious residential complex is the latest offering of Kolte Patil developers. The residence will get a taste of the high life in Spain as the living spaces boast of fine fittings and furnishings from Porcelanosa. While I cannot afford la dolce vita on my current wages, I can certainly day-dream about my future home! I write this post today to give you a glimpse into my aspirations.

STON-KER Floor tiles CASCAIS NATURAL C-3 44x66 cm Grout - COLORSTUK CEMENTO (Source)

The traveler in me wants to have breakfast by the natural lake of some exotic South American town. This will be possible if I install Porcelanosa's Ston-Ker floor tiles that resemble natural stones from the cool caves behind pristine lakes. This patio will be where I will throw my brunch parties for my girl friends and plot our next escape into the wild!

Kitchen furniture: G936 CRISTAL VERDE OLIVA, G625 ROBLE NIEBLA, G575 MOKA BRILLO; Sink mixer - ACRO – CROMO Single lever sink mixer; STON-KER Ecologic Floor tiles; TRAFIC CEMENTO CALIZA; Grout -COLORSTUK GRIS (Source)

The food will be served outside, but the cooking has to happen indoors. For the ultimate gastronomic experience, I will prepare my signature dishes from a world-class kitchen. My counter-top will be an olive coloured installation with a platform so smooth it will double as my chopping board! I shall have two sinks that share a common rotating faucet. Once sink for washing veggies and utensils, and the other for drying the dishes. I am eco friendly by nature, and my floor tiles will reflect my choice. I will have a couple of matching bar stools to share a drink with my partner while we share the stories of the day with each other.

Basin mixer: URBAN C – CROMO Single lever basin mixer with integrated led light (Source)

The water that will flow from our faucets will have a character of its own. Blue LEDs will light up the path of the water that flows into my sink and my bathtub. I will be transported to a magical land as illuminated water graces my skin.

PAR-KER Floor tiles: AMSTERDAM GRIS 14,3x90 / 22x90 cm; Grout - COLORSTUK CEMENTO; Bathroom furniture: MOOD (KRION® NAVY BLUE) 75 cm countertop Pack; Basin mixer - MOOD – BLANCO Single lever basin mixer; Bath - MINIMAL OVAL Bath mixer; MOOD – BLANCO Floor mounted bath shower mixer (Source)

I will have to take to my bathtub after a long day at work. An oval white floor mounted bath will greet my tired body as I set up the aromatic oil dispenser and turn on some soothing music to relax my soul. The floor will be wooden to keep me in touch with nature. The windows to my bathroom will open out to a beautiful, quiet neighbourhood. My place will never be too cold as every room will have a heater. My bathroom shall have some fine paintings collected from my trips to little French towns. I will stare at the artwork and remember the stories of struggling artists on the narrow alleyways of France. I shall not forget to keep a magazine rack in the bathroom for readers like me to while the time away.


After the long relaxing bath, I shall enter my walk-in closet to be spoilt for choice as I scan through my clothes and wonder what to wear to the meeting next day. My wardrobe will reflect the open person I am. It will be white with transparent sliding doors. I will have plenty of hangers to keep my dresses on display. There will also be drawers and shelves to stock my shoes and jewellery. I will finally dig into my fluffy bed, satisfied with my choice.

Toilets Can Change India!

Earlier this year, I started a campaign (Toilets for Tamil Nadu) to improve sanitation facilities in rural Tamil Nadu. The encouraging response I received from my friends and colleagues prompted me to take the initiative further and run another fundraiser (Clean Water for Tamil Nadu) for rural Trichy. I was worried my efforts wouldn't get much traction and the buzz would fizzle out in a few weeks. But I was wrong. There are brands that are taking this cause very seriously. I am talking about Domex here.

Before I tell you what Domex is doing, I wish to acquaint you with a grave problem that is faced by many villages and shanties (in cities) in India - the lack of basic sanitary facilities. Several homes cannot afford (and some choose not to prioritize) to build the cheapest toilet for their families. Defecation by most of these disadvantaged households is undertaken "out in the open". This is shocking, but the reality we cannot turn a blind eye to! Open defecation not only reflects poorly on a country that dreams of being a superpower, but also poses some dangers. Let me tell you what defecating in the open really entails:-

1. People have to walk miles in search of a place that provides them privacy. This mostly means jungles or places surrounded by trees or bushes, or perhaps a land away from the village premise.

2. Jungles can be dangerous in the presence of wild animals. Can you imagine the fear in the hearts of the people who not only have to undertake the arduous task of walking all the way to a desolate place but also keep an eye out for the odd snake?

3. Women are especially vulnerable to the perils of open defecation. In addition to warding off animals, they also have to keep themselves safe from eve teasers and rogue men  on the prowl. The recent rape case in Badaun could be avoided if the girls' family had a toilet at home.

4. Using the fields has the other danger of exposing oneself to several diseases. Excreta-laden fields are breeding grounds for insects that spread umpteen lethal diseases (if the growing number of dengue deaths are anything to go by).

There is a common misconception that the lack of toilets are only prevalent in villages. If we look at cities, we will see shanties lining almost every other highrise. Most of these shanties house hundreds of families and only 1 cursory bathroom is available to all. The most common recourse is for people to station their children on the open drains and use those as toilets. These sights are common at almost every place in Mumbai... even the highways. I want you to watch this video before I talk about a way out:-

Is there a solution to all of this? The good news is - YES! Toilets aren't very expensive. It takes about Rs.30,000/- to build a fully function lavatory with a water connection. However, this amount is out of reach for most of the Indian population. This is why Domex has taken on the #ToiletForBabli initiative to make toilets accessible to all. They are starting this project in Maharashtra and Odisha. You too can bring about a change in the lives of millions of kids. All you need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on your behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Pappu live a dignified life.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Spotlight on Fraudster by RV Raman

This post has been provided by RV Raman's PR associates. It doesn't contain my words.

Author: RV Raman
Title: Fraudster
Author: RV Raman
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette
Year: 2014
Price: Rs. 250
ISBN: 9350098008

Fraudster : The Story of Corporate India’s Black Sheep:
Fraudster is a suspense thriller from R. V. Raman set in the world of corporate finance.

Summary of the Book

Some people will do anything to silence anyone they think are obstacles. They won’t stop at anything, not even murder. In this thrilling novel, a young banker deposes before a commission investigating large-scale financial fraud. She is found dead the very next day. Meanwhile, a leader of corporate India falls to his death from his South Bombay flat. In a multinational accounting firm, the high-security server room is hacked. The hackers want more than just company secrets. Illegal finance, high-profile crimes and brutal manipulation combine in this tale of greed, treachery and corruption amidst corporate India’s worst members.

About R. V. Raman

R. V. Raman is an Indian writer and the former head of KPMG's Consulting Practice and the co-head of their Risk Advisory Services. He was also partnered with A.T. Kearney and Arthur Andersen, and boasts an experience of over three decades and covering four continents. Currently a faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management, Trichy, he teaches Business Strategy. He is based in Chennai and this is his first book.

Copies Available at all online stores:

1. Flipkart
2. Amazon
3. Infibeam

Know More Inside Stories, Connect with The Author:

Twitter: @RvRaman_

Read the book? Write a review on Goodreads.

Friday, 7 November 2014

INK Live 2014 - An Incredible Experience!

Last Saturday, I was at the most exciting place for technologies and ideas in the country! INK Live 2014. I was lucky to be among the few chosen bloggers who were sponsored by Blogadda to attend this incredible event.

Held at the American School of Bombay, INK Live ran the live telecast of the INK Conference. I picked out a good seat to listen to Ramesh Rao who talked about the "dance of the heart". He has researched extensively on the variability of heart rate. Interestingly, most active and successful people in society have a "variable" heart rate (as opposed to a regular heart rate). And contrary to what you might assume, it is normal to have variability in your heart rate.

This "variability" is called the "vegal tone intensity" of the heart. Dr. Rao's research shows that the intensity of vegal tone is directly proportional to the subject's social connections. In plainspeak, this means the more socially active you are, the more variable your heart rate will be (and as per statistics, the more successful you will be! :-) ). Social connections are not a 21st century fad. We have Facebook today, but there was satsang then. People would gather in groups to chant devotional and religious songs. 

Dr. Rao studied this phenomenon a little further, and came upon NNSO events, or instances that see increasing variability in the heart rate. He studied these NNSO events under various situations, and plotted the "dance steps of the heart".  His work reveals that chanting holy prayers and meditation result in the highest number of NNSO events, and therefore, more variability in the heart rate. This means - the secret to success lies in meditation and social interactions! That's a gem of an information I will carry with me.

I skipped the next couple of talks to attend a workshop on crowdfunding. Anshulika from Wishberry delivered the workshop that covered a lot of important things about this innovative way of raising funds from the general public. 

First things first. Crowdfunding is not the right tool to generate perpetual funding for a business. It is for you to start up your idea when you don't have even the bare minimum for a prototype (for hardware-related products). Once you create a prototype or gain some traction in your business, you must look towards venture capitalists and angel investors, who will ultimately pump in the big bucks.

There are four basic types of platforms for crowdfunding:-

1. Equity Platform: You reward your investors by giving them a stake (or equity) in your business. Note here that the Indian Government does not allow you to raise funds through equity crowdfunding online. You may only do this offline, i.e., knock on the doors of VCs & angels for the actual transactions after you've attracted them online. This is a good platform if you already have some sort of a small business and wish to scale up. Let's Venture is an example of the equity platform.

2. Debt Platform: This platform is a good way to take out a loan for your project. You are expected to return the funds with 0% interest in most cases. This is good for businesses which are sure to generate monetary returns in a couple of years after starting up. Milaap is an example of a debt platform. And may I ask you to contribute to my campaign on Milaap which aims to bring clean water and safe sanitation to the rural women of Tiruchilappalli?

3. Charity Platform: This is a platform to crowdfund for charity events and causes. Ketto is widely popular and also used by celebrities.

4. Reward Platform: This is the most popular platform for raising startup funds when you only have an idea and need money for a prototype or to start working on your project. The fundraising periods don't go beyond 6 months or a year. This is because any idea which has wind will make news only for a few months, after which it will fizzle out. If your idea can't raise funds within those months, maybe you need to rethink its feasibility. This platform expects you to reward your funders in some way - it could be early access, exclusive previews or behind-the-scenes access, etc. Wishberry, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc. are some popular reward platforms.

The key to good fundraising is to select the right platform, then make a strong sales pitch. Your sales pitch could be a video or pictures and description, or a combination of all. The more interesting and appealing your pitch is, the more people would want to fund your pet project.

The final step in crowdfunding is to share your campaign on every corner of the internet/social media you can lay your hands on! You must never be shy to ask for funds. The most shameless campaigner gets the maximum funds!

I could go on and on about crowdfunding, but then I wouldn't do justice to the broader theme of INK Live. (I will perhaps write a full post on crowdfunding someday if you pester me enough.) After the workshop, I went back to watch the live stream of the conference. That's when I met Partha, a human rights blogger from Bengaluru. I realized then how far people had travelled to attend this conference. I met some more people from smaller cities who were bunking in Mumbai so they could attend on all the 3 days.

The next talk was by Ben Nelson who propounded on the importance of analytical approach to education and shared his ideas on reinventing the system and bringing in disruptive education.

I wasn't prepared for what I'd witness next on the screen. 13 and 11 year olds - Melati and Isabel Wijsen, the sisters from  the Green School of Bali, took centre stage as the youngest eco-environmentalists. They delivered a powerful speech on the importance of waste management. These two feisty kids founded 'Bye Bye Plastic Bags' and persuaded their government to ban plastic bags from Bali. They also showed everybody how significant little kids could be. We cannot ignore them because (in their words) - "Kids maybe 25% of the present. But they are 100% of the future!"

The stage was then set up to resemble a science lab. Shashwat Ratan, a technology educator, demonstrated some entertaining and interesting toys designed by kids who used multiple science-concepts in creating them. He wanted to drive home the message that the traditional Indian education system discourages students from venturing beyond the prescribed syllabus, whereas kids learn best when they "do" and "see".

I'll remember the experiment that Hannah Roodman, a Jew from Brooklyn, New York conducted as she made the world's first Google Glass documentary. She was disturbed by the rift between the Jews and the Blacks in her neighbourhood. So, she got volunteers from both the communities to wear Google Glasses and record videos of what they saw. In the end, it was discovered that people are all the same, irrespective of their religion, color or ethnicity. They all have similar struggles and dreams. Her video was shown to the neighborhood and they have started embracing one another.

The final talk I attended was that by Preeti Shroff-Mehta who introduced us to CQ - Cultural Quotient. In the interconnected global village that we live today, we cannot expect to work smoothly simply by possessing IQ and EQ. It is imperative that we are sensitive to other cultures to work in the most efficient way possible.

I think it was a Saturday well spent for me. What do you think? If you would like to read about more of such interesting thoughts, please follow my blog and leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Oindrila Interviews RV Raman

Last week, I reviewed Fraudster, the first corporate thriller written by RV Raman. Today, I am pleased to showcase this budding writer on my blog! I asked him a few questions and he took me a little deeper into his world with his answers. Here's a glimpse of our exchange:-

Oindrila: What made you want to write a thriller after so many years in the corporate world?

Raman: I guess it was the desire to do something different, something other than regular work. When I was approaching 50, I decided that I wanted to write and teach. 

I began my writing hobby with epic fantasy, but soon realised that the Indian market for it is very small. So, I tried my hand at crime fiction aimed at the Indian reader. I will continue writing both genres.

OindrilaWhat struggles did you face while writing your novel? How did you overcome them?

Raman: While I wouldn’t call it a struggle, the primary challenge was about striking balances on several fronts:

• The plot must be exciting, yet credible. I didn’t want it to be too fantastic or too mundane.

• How much of plot development v/s how much of character building? Especially when I needed multiple characters for credibly painting an industry-wide scam, and I didn’t want to exceed a certain word limit.

• What kind of language do I use? Closer to the literary end of the spectrum, or the simpler end? Some choices are mutually exclusive.

• How do I make it appealing to the seasoned business executive as well as the common reader? What each looks for is different. Each one’s understanding of corporate India is different. How much do I explain? Familiarity with financial matters vary widely. This issue has been reiterated in reader feedback. While a couple of readers have found it difficult to follow, a couple have said that I’ve explained too much.

Oindrila: How long did it take you to write Fraudster? Were you in a full time job while you wrote it?

Raman: The first draft took four months, but the book underwent considerable changes after that, as friends gave feedback and suggestions. Overall, it took the better part of a year.

Oindrila: How easy/difficult is it to find a publisher for your first book. How did you go about it?

Raman: There were two issues here. First, which were the publishers I wanted to work with? Second, which of them had space for me – a new writer in a sub-genre (corporate thriller) that was yet to see volumes? All we could do was approach them and hope for the best. I’m glad Hachette thought it worthwhile to work with me.

OindrilaHow does it feel now to be a published writer?

Raman: Honestly, it feels no different. In my mind, having the first book published is but the first step. What is important is how readers receive it. If it is received well, it then becomes a question of my ability to write more such books. Only after a few books, and only when he builds a respectable readership, does a writer consider himself established. There is a long way to go for me.

OindrilaWhich are your favourite books?

Raman: The genres I like best are crime fiction, SFF (Science Fiction & Fantasy) and humour. Sherlock Holmes, Poirot and Father Brown mysteries are the ones I like the best in detective fiction. The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, Sphere and Congo were excellent thrillers. In SFF, it is Asimov’s Foundation/Robot Series and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In humour, anything Wodehouse.

Oindrila: Your favourite author?

Raman: It is impossible to name one author, as they are so different from each other. I like Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace & GK Chesterton in mysteries, Michael Crichton & Frederick Forsyth in thrillers, and Tolkien & Asimov in SFF. And in humour, there is only one - Wodehouse.

OindrilaAny plans for a second novel? 

Raman: Another corporate thriller is now underway. It is set in the Indian stock market.

Tata Literature Live! - A Poetic Afternoon

Yesterday, I spent a very interesting afternoon at the 5th Tata Literature Live - the Mumbai Litfest! This was all thanks to BlogAdda for nudging me to go. This International Literary Festival was on from 30th Oct to 2nd Nov, and for the first time in 5 years, they held it at two locations simultaneously! I decided to attend the fest at their Prithvi Theatre venue.

I had already made a schedule for all the talks, plays and workshops that I would attend, but I was in for some disappointment when I finally reached Prithvi. The passes for most of the talks and plays had run out. :-( I should have expected this as the litfest was a free event. (Yes, you heard that right!) Every entry was on first-come-first-serve basis. Luckily, the lady behind the reception kiosk told me I could attend one workshop on my list.

Tired from the long commute in the hot sun, I wanted to sit and grab some lunch. I walked into Prithvi Cafe and stood in a long queue, only to to learn that most vegetarian options were sold out. :-( The guy behind the counter told me I could take the last veg burger, which I did without asking more questions. The cafe has an eccentric, kitsch decor. (Did you notice the kettle in the picture, dangling from the roof and spewing lights?)

With my physical-hunger put to rest, I set out to satiate the hunger of my soul. I was at the Easel Art Hub 2 to attend a workshop on 'Swapping Words and Worlds'. Truth be told, I had no clue what this would be about. I just thought the title sounded interesting, and so, I decided to sign myself up for it.

Before the hosts arrived, I seated myself right on the first row and chatted with participants around me. I knew then that this would be about poetry. The organizer introduced to us the stars of the afternoon - Sampurna Chattarji, a Bengali poet, novelist and translator, and Eurig Salisbury, a Welsh poet who endeavors to bring poetry to children. Eurig was invited to India for the famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas's centenary celebrations.

The afternoon began with Eurig reciting one of his poem's on Dylan. "Dylan" in Welsh is not pronounced like it is in English. The Welsh pronunciation warrants stress on the "l", whereas in English we stress on the "D". Eurig wanted us to concentrate on the Welsh sounds and stress on certain syllables. We would later learn this is very important in Welsh poetry. I found the exotic sounds very calming. Welsh requires good control of your breath. It has some throaty sounds (like those of Arabic and Slavic languages) and conspicuous usage of "kh", "sh" and soft "d".

The Bengali translation of that poem was then recited by Sampurna. And lucky me, I had the opportunity to understand what the poem meant. The aim of this exercise was not to understand Welsh or Bengali, but to appreciate the sounds and words in both the languages.

Sampurna, the jovial poetess, told us how she had given Eurig a Bengali word (bhabachaka) to use in his poem. [Please leave a comment to know the meaning.] Eurig, without knowing anything about the definition or usage of the word, had composed an entertaining poem describing the thoughts of a bird. In return, he had shot the Welsh word, cynghanedd, (pronounced ken-haan-et) at Sampurna. She recited the English poem she had composed in reply. It was an anecdotal one on a fictitious "King Hanedd".

The "workshop" bit of the event started right after, when Sampurna split all the participants into pairs and gave us a task:-

  1. Give your partner a word in your own language. The word can have a meaning or can be meaningless.
  2. Do not reveal the meaning of the word to your partner.
  3. Take the word given to you without asking any questions, and compose a poem (in any language) incorporating that word in some way.
This was really exciting! My partner was a guy called Rishabh. He only spoke English and Hindi, so I gave him the Bengali word - bang-er chhata. I was given "chari-mari". After 15 minutes of composing poems, Sampurna asked us to recite our compositions out loud. We heard words from many languages - Tamil, French, Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, among others. I felt elated to be in a room full of talented poets for they all created wonderful pieces in under a quarter-hour! We even had an eight year old kid recite a very intelligently composed poem, embellished with words like "paleontologist"! Here's my poem:-

On a Saturday afternoon,
The sweltering heat
Couldn't stop me from
Getting on my feet.

I stood outside the Easel Theatre,
Waiting for a treat
While my growling stomach
Begged me to eat.

Said my soul.
"You're sweating!
Take off your stole."

"Buy a muffin.
Your pocket won't develop a hole!"

Said my mind.
"Where is the poetry workshop?
My GPS-enabled smartphone can't find!"

I stepped into a room
Full of people. "Oh my unkempt hair!"
Wait, I'll first groom.

Said the guy next to me.
Oh, poetry! I'm flustered. 
Set me free!
Poetry! Come, set me free!

That poem is certainly going to get me thrown out of such workshops! Fortunately, the hosts changed the topic and Eurig taught us about a Welsh style of poetry - the Cynghanedd. The word, cynghanedd, means 'harmony', and this traditional style has strict rules. Dylan often used cynghanedd in his poetry. He had a certain playfulness to his style and remains the national favourite (much like our own Tagore).

Eurig explained to us the rules for Cynghanedd Lusg (pronounced leesk) - the dragging harmony, the easiest of the 4 types of cynghanedd:-

  1. The last word of the last line must have more than one syllable.
  2.  The stress on that word must fall on the penultimate syllable.
  3. A word in the same line must rhyme with the penultimate syllable of the last word.
The rules may seem overwhelming, but it's easy once you try your hand at it. Here's my first cynghanedd line that I composed at the workshop:-

He took the cupcake,
Tipped his hat and said, "Grazie".

Notice how "hat" rhymes with "grat", the penultimate syllable of the disyllabic word "grazie" (pronounced grat-see) which means "thank you" in Italian.

The aim of this workshop was to bring us out of our preconceived notions of poetry with its traditional rhyme, metre and rhythm, and help us discover internal rhyme and the unusual style of cynghanedd. We also found that when we divorce meaning from a word, we discover sound. And sound is a beautiful thing that can be interpreted in multiple ways by multiple people. A word that denotes a sinister meaning in one language can appear to be soothing to someone who speaks a different tongue. I walked out of that room a little wiser from the interactions and my mind expanded a little more. I returned from Tata Lit Live feeling a little more alive!