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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, June 17, 2017

School's out!

This summer break, grant your children the gift of boredom

I still remember the giddy joy I felt as I made my way home after the last day of school before the summer holidays began. True, there was a ton of ‘holiday homework’ weighing down my knapsack, but even that was not enough to dampen my spirits that soared sky-high as I contemplated the month-long break that lay ahead of me.

There were four – yes, count them, four! – whole delicious weeks in which I could do as I pleased. I could stay up late at night, reading my favourite mystery novels. I could get up when I pleased and have a leisurely breakfast. I could spend the entire afternoon getting up to no good at with my neighbourhood friends. I could visit the Botanical Gardens or the zoo (as you can probably tell, I grew up in Calcutta) and deepen my acquaintance with the natural world. I could station myself in my favourite lending library until I practically blended in with the furniture.

But most important of all, I would have all the time in the world to do nothing at all: to remain absolutely idle; to just sit around and daydream; to let my mind wander where it would; and yes, on occasion, get utterly and thoroughly bored.

Looking back now, I realize that that was the most precious gift of all: the opportunity to court boredom, and to learn to cope with it.

And learn to cope with it I did. Sometimes it was by inventing unlikely scenarios in which my future adult self would save the world. Sometimes it was by exploring deep in the recesses of my mother and sister’s wardrobes to play dress-up with their glamorous, grown-up clothes. Sometimes it was by badgering my grandmother or grandfather to play Ludo with me. And sometimes it was by press-ganging my father to watch the latest dance moves I had learnt from the last Hindi movie I saw (no, we didn’t call it Bollywood in those innocent days).

In retrospect, I must confess that boredom and learning to deal with it made me a better person. It helped me develop interpersonal skills (you have no idea what tough negotiators my grandparents were), which came in useful in later life. It helped me discover those inner resources lurking within me that would have remained buried forever if it hadn’t been for those dull-as-ditchwater afternoons. Boredom taught me both to spend time with myself (without always looking for external stimuli) even as it helped me build up my social skills.

So much so, that I often wonder if I would have, in fact, become a writer (of sorts) if it hadn’t been for those enforced periods of boredom in which I had only my imagination with which to entertain and regale myself. Somehow, I think not.

Which is why I am often troubled by the fact that the generations that came after me seem to be raising children who don’t quite know what to do with themselves when – and if – they are granted any downtime. Kids of today have become so used to being ferried from tennis lesson to maths tuition to dance classes, or even special ‘learning camps’ during the summer, that they seem to be at a complete loss when left to their own devices. Or, more accurately, when the devices (smartphones, tablets, game stations, and whatever else they are into these days) they rely on so completely are denied to them.

And, in my view at least, that is a terrible thing. The best way to help children develop their imagination or to create any sort of inner life is to leave them on their own for a bit, without a structured activity to participate in or an electronic scene to gaze into. It is imperative to allow them some breathing space so that they can hear themselves think. And more important, to leave a fallow field on which they can plant their own imaginary seeds, without any help from the significant adults in their lives.

There will be challenges. And yes, there will be pushback. And there will be times when your child – used to being overscheduled to within an inch of his/her life – comes crying to you with that eternal complaint of all kids: “I’m bored!”

And when that happens, I would suggest you respond the way my mother did all those decades ago. “Good,” she would say, with quiet triumph. “Now go and find something to do.”

And you know what? I did. And I was much better off for it.

So, this summer break, instead of booking some insanely overpriced camp, or organizing a series of outings for your kids, or even signing them up for endless classes, give them (and yourself) a break. And instead of endless, organized, enforced activity, grant your children the gift of boredom. They may complain for a day or two, but a couple of years – decades even – down the line, they will thank you for it.

I certainly do.

Bright lights, big city

All great cities have one thing in common – a character of their own

Over the last few months, a series of events have taken me back to a place that I last visited in my childhood. As a young girl, I spent many holidays in the city that Le Corbusier built, at my aunt’s house, roughhousing with my cousins, taking scooter rides down the perfectly-perpendicular streets, shopping in the quiet neighbourhood markets, making the obligatory visits to the Rock Garden and Sukhna Lake.

It was a fun time, but we had to make our fun ourselves. Chandigarh contented itself with being its usual quiet, well-behaved, matronly self, allowing us the space to indulge our high-energy selves but offering next to no encouragement to any boisterous behavior.

But that sleepy, laidback Chandigarh now lives only in my childhood memories. The Chandigarh of today, as I discovered recently, has thrown off that slumber and reticence and emerged as a sleek, sophisticated city that offers everything from trendy restaurants to shopping malls to swanky five-star hotels that would do any metropolis proud. And, more to the point, the once-silent city has found its voice. It still has the quiet, tree-lined streets with the most polite traffic I have encountered in India. But now, it also speaks of prosperity, energy, and a certain can-do spirit at every turn.

The best parallel I can think of is former Test cricketer-turned-TV performer, and now Punjab minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who – by all accounts – was a nice quiet chap who barely spoke two words during his cricketing days, but is now impossible to shut up. (Though, to be fair, Chandigarh is a tad more restrained.)

As I drove down its impeccably-clean roads, I started to think about how all great cities have a personality of their own – which may or may not change over the years – an identity that belongs to them alone and which makes it impossible to mistake them for another.

I grew up in Calcutta, feasting on its faded glory of crumbling colonial buildings, run-down infrastructure, over-crowded streets and dilapidated markets. But for all its decrepitude, there was a certain grandeur to the Calcutta of my childhood and youth: the vast expanse of the Maidan, the looming visage of Victoria Memorial, the shabby but beautiful Strand where we went for boat rides down the Hooghly, with the magnificent Howrah Bridge providing the most spectacular of backdrops.

Just like Chandigarh, the Calcutta of my childhood no longer exists. Now, when I go back to the city, I am overwhelmed by the new construction, the bustling malls, the endless network of flyovers (not to mention the one-way system that I have yet to master). Even the colonial structures I grew up with no longer look the same, now that they have been blue-washed by Mamata Banerjee’s government.

But strangely enough, the spirit of the city survives. Once I look past the gleaming skyscrapers and the sprawling hypermarkets, I can see that Calcutta (sorry folks, it is always going to be Calcutta to me; Kolkata is for when I speak Bangla) is still the same City of Joy, one of those rare places where a live culture can survive outside of a bowl of mishti doi.

Most people who move from Calcutta to Delhi seem to spend their days bemoaning their loss. They miss the easy charm of Cal; they hate the hard-headed, cold-eyed indifference of Delhi. Well, I am an exception to that rule.

From the moment I moved to my tiny little barsati in Defence Colony, I fell in love with the city. I loved its changing moods through the seasons: the flowering roundabouts heralding spring; the blooming laburnum announcing the arrival of summer; the parks bursting with green as the monsoon hit; the trees shedding their leaves in preparation of winter.

I also loved the fact that Delhi allowed me to be. This was the big tent I had been looking for all my life. This was where I could be whatever I wanted to be. If I wanted to immerse myself in theatre, art and culture, there were enough museums, galleries and artistic hubs to do so. If history and antiquity was my thing, then I could spend every weekend exploring historical monuments dating back to medieval and Moghul times. If I just wanted to let my lungs expand in some green spaces, then they too were available to me.

The space granted to me in Delhi was not just literal but metaphorical as well. And it allowed me to grow in ways that I could not even have imagined when I first moved here.

Yes, I know what all you folks in Bombay (oops, sorry, Mumbai; though like Calcutta, this will always be Bombay to me) are thinking right about now. Delhi? Really? You love Delhi? But surely, you know that Mumbai is much better? This is the city of dreams, the city of endless possibilities, the city that never sleeps, the city that, oh well, never mind!

Well, you know what, guys? It is possible to love both. I can enjoy the beautiful, tree-lined boulevards of Delhi just as much as I cherish the sea views along Marine Drive. I can embrace the Staid Dowager that is Delhi just as fondly as I hug the Brash Bruiser that is Mumbai.

Because while cities have personalities of their own, identities that are theirs alone, people like us have the luxury of embracing them all and making them our own. And why settle for less, when so much more is on offer?

Channel turfing

Why I have given up on Indian TV news channels 

There is now a gaping hole in my evenings. No, not because I have turned into an anti-social recluse – I have, in fact, always answered to that description. It’s because I have finally sworn off my addiction to TV news. 

There was a time when I would channel surf through the evening and late into the night, going from one news channel to the other. I watched the headlines as I ate my dinner, I tuned in for a news programme as I did my 30 minutes on the cross-trainer, hell, I even kept the news on mute as I worked on my book.

That is no longer the case. These days I have eschewed the pleasures (using the word very loosely indeed) of TV news, choosing to spend my evenings with Netflix or a good DVD box-set. And when I get tired of fiction and need a news fix, I steer clear of the Indian channels, and dip into CNN International, the BBC or Al Jazeera instead.

Why, you ask? 

Seriously? You really need to ask? Have you not been watching these channels yourselves? Well, okay, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and tell you why. So, here, in no particular order of importance, are some of the many reasons I hate prime time TV news:

First off, there is the fact that it is rarely, if ever, news. You hardly ever hear about all the newsworthy things that happened in the course of the day across the country (as you would if you read the next day’s newspapers). Instead, our news channels (yes, yes, I know there are honorable exceptions, but you could count them on one finger) land on the most controversial story of the day – which is guaranteed to attract the largest number of eyeballs – put together a short video package, and then organize a ‘debate’ around the issue. There’s the evening sorted with minimal effort and maximum ease.

The ‘debates’ themselves can best be summed up by paraphrasing William Shakespeare: they are all ‘sound and fury signifying high TRP ratings’, shedding next to no light on the subject being debated. All you hear is cross-talk, people shouting over one another, the anchor shouting even louder to shut them up, and more cross-talk. You can spend a good half-hour watching (assuming you are a glutton for punishment) and not learn a single thing about the issue in question.

When it comes to inviting guests on their panels, news channels tend to  ‘round up the usual suspects’. So, on any given day, most channels will be discussing the same story with the same people, often at the same time (thanks to that miracle called ‘sim-sat’ – go on, Google it), with all of them saying the same things over and over again. If there is a better recipe for ennui, I haven’t yet gotten hold of it. 

The anchor is rarely ever a neutral party, who elicits the views of his panelists without revealing his own biases. On the contrary, his introduction makes it all too clear which side he is on. Even that would be acceptable (you know all the stuff they say about ‘truthful not neutral’) if only he would let those who disagreed with him finish a sentence – never mind an actual argument – without interrupting to tell them how they are ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ (and anti-national, for good measure). 

Staying with news anchors, why is it that so few of them can ask pithy questions? Instead, most of them preface their queries with long, rambling statements that go on and on without really driving the discussion any further. What’s worse is that after taking minutes of airtime, they instruct their guests to give quick answers because “I have only 60 seconds left”. Well, in that case, you shouldn’t have taken 120 seconds to ask the damn question.

Nobody who appears on news TV – not the anchors, not the reporters, not the guests – seems to be familiar with the workings of a microphone. Or perhaps they are unaware that there is one placed directly in front of them. Why else would they ignore its presence and bellow away, as if they need to shout out loud to be heard across the country?

There is nothing that annoys me more than to see a phalanx of former Pakistani Generals and ISI hands sitting in on our TV shows, tearing into India on a satellite link. Why do we pay these old codgers to come on our news programmes so that they can insult our country, our soldiers, and our intelligence? And strangely enough, it is the ‘nationalistic’ channels that do this most often. I must say, this is a rather inventive way of showing their patriotism. (Or perhaps, more to the point, bumping up their ratings.)

But most troubling of all is the propensity of TV news to give fringe voices the oxygen of prime-time publicity. It doesn’t matter how minor an Islamist cleric you are, or how much of a Hindutva nonentity. As long as you make an outrageous enough statement, you will be guaranteed your 15 minutes of fame on our news channels, as anchors hyperventilate about how you are completely beyond the pale (but, clearly, fit and proper to inhabit their TV studios), quite ignoring the fact that they are only helping to mainstream the fringe.

Given all this, are you really surprised I have given up on Indian TV news? Frankly, I am amazed that more of us haven’t.

Calling it a day

Where will you head when retirement beckons?


My cousin is on a bit of a high these days. Both literally and metaphorically. Her dream house in the mountains, with a spectacular view from every window, is finally coming together. The woodwork is done, the plumbing works, the furniture is in place, the curtains have been hung, and the kitchen is on its way to being fully functional.

This is where she intends to retire when her work is finally done. Living blissfully among the clouds, breathing the fresh mountain air, cooking the vegetables she grows in her own back garden, going for long walks, spending endless afternoons reading and drinking green tea.

It sounds like an idyllic retirement, doesn’t it? Well, I guess it does to most people. But when she showed me the pictures of the house and the view – both amazingly beautiful – and told me of her plan, the first thought that popped into my head was: “Where is the nearest hospital?”

No, of course, I didn’t actually say that out loud. That’s not the kind of thing you say when someone you love announces the fulfillment of the dream of a lifetime. Stamping down on that voice in my head, I went through all the pictures and told her how spectacular it looked – and it truly did.

But all the while I was making the right noises I was thinking about logistics. How long it would take to get to a doctor? How she would negotiate the steep climb up if – well okay, when – her knees went? Instead of voicing these concerns, however, I restricted myself to encouraging her to persuade her sister and brother-in-law (both doctors) to buy a house nearby so that they could serve the tiny community’s medical needs.

Yes, I know, I sound like a complete nutcase. But the truth is that when I think of my own retirement plans, the one thing that takes precedence over all else is the proximity of medical facilities. I would never dream of moving to a faraway village in the hills, no matter how lovely, if I wasn’t sure that there was a good hospital a short ambulance ride away.

The other thing that I am obsessed about is having a single-level house. I have done my share of duplex living, trudging up and down from bedroom to living room and back again. But as my knees begin to twinge every time I walk down a staircase and my heart rate goes up when I walk back up, I have come to realize that I can’t keep this up for long. In another two decades I will need a living space that allows me to shuffle slowly from one room to another, without negotiating any steps along the way.

And where would I like this home to be located? Well, having being born and bred in one big city and lived in several others, I know that country pleasures are not for me. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a trip to the beach as much as the next person. I love to take a break in the mountains when the heat in the plains gets too much. I read, I sleep, I take long walks, I revel in the natural beauty, I unwind, I detox, I distress. I slow my life down, tune out the static so that I can hear myself think. I get in touch with myself.

But after a week of this enforced calm, I start to get itchy. The quiet seems to weigh heavy upon me. I start to miss the energy and excitement of the big city. I begin to long for a visit to the cinema, a quick trip to the shops, eating out at my favourite restaurants, meeting up with friends, catching an exhibition, attending a music recital, or just sitting at a coffee shop, sipping an excellent cappuccino and watching the world go by.

All of which leads me to believe that I would not enjoy a retirement spent in the mountains or beside a beach. The truth is that I only ever feel truly alive while living in a big city. A city that keeps me engaged through night and day, through the seasons, and indeed, through the years.

A city where there are enough public spaces where I can spend an hour or two with friends, with a good book, or even by myself. A city dotted with museums and monuments, where you can drop by when you want a sense of the past that shapes our present. A city that hosts everything from plays, art exhibitions, musical evenings to seminars and international conferences, to keep your brain stimulated in the best possible way. A city with enough beautiful green areas so that taking a walk doesn’t seem like drudgery. A city that is safe enough for a single woman to negotiate on her own, no matter how late she is getting back home.

At the moment, the city that best fits the bill is Delhi – with its verdant Lodhi Garden, its amazing monuments like Purana Qila and Humayun’s Tomb, and the full menu of programmes at such venues as India International Centre and Habitat Centre. The only area where it falls short is on women’s safety. But with luck, by the time I am old and doddering, that problem will be sorted out.

Until then, I live on a hope and a prayer in my one-level apartment, a stone’s throw away from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). And take comfort in the fact that at least medical help is only a (very) short ambulance ride away.
  

Indian Standard Time

Why has turning up late to everything become a national trait in our country?

So, home minister Rajnath Singh had a bit of a meltdown when he arrived at a government function five minutes early; only to have it start 12 minutes late. Incensed at this delay, he publicly upbraided the bureaucrats in attendance – and duly made the national headlines.

The response to his outburst was divided. There were those who wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, a 12-minute delay counts as starting bang on time in a country that goes by what is jokingly referred to as Indian Standard Time (one hour behind schedule is par for the course). So, why publicly shame senior bureaucrats for being true to Indian culture? After all, isn’t that what all of us are meant to subscribe to, on pain of being dubbed anti-national?

Then there were those who were thrilled that someone – and a senior minister, no less – had stood up for the virtue of punctuality, which is conspicuous by its absence in India. And that he had taught those lazy bureaucrats – who couldn’t be bothered to turn up well in time for a function they had organized – a lesson that they wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

I have to say that I am on Rajnath Singh’s side on this issue. As someone who always turns up at the time specified on the invitation card and then has to wait hours for everyone else to saunter in, I both empathize and sympathize with the home minister. It is incredibly frustrating to waste a good part of the day waiting for people who demonstrate by their behavior that they have no respect for your time. (Not to mention, terribly annoying.)

Yes, I can hear all you habitual latecomers muttering by this point. Hey, what’s the problem? You don’t want to wait around for others to turn up? There’s a simple solution. Turn up late yourself.

Well, I’m sorry but that is something that I am constitutionally incapable of doing. I was brought up to be punctual; and I will be punctual till the day I die. After all, you know what they say: “You may not be able to change the world; but don’t let the world change you.” As far as I am concerned, those are words to live by.

So, I end up waiting. I wait at seminars, as the audience straggles in, the hall filling up slowly row-by-row (of course, no one would dare start as long as it is half-full). I wait at fashion shows, sitting obediently on my seat while fashion editors and socialities squaff yet another glass of champagne in the hospitality lounge. I wait at sit-down dinners, gazing mournfully at the sad-looking canap├ęs doing the rounds, while the rest of the guests saunter in a good hour late.

And don’t even get me started on doctor’s clinics and hospitals. By now, of course, everyone knows that when doctors give you a time to turn up, it is less an appointment and more an approximation. But even if you turn up 30 minutes after the appointed hour, you will still be made to wait for another 60 minutes. If you complain about the long wait time you will be testily told that The Great Man can’t possibly predict how long each person will take. And it hardly needs saying that his time is much more important that yours.

But all this waiting around has ensured one thing: I have become adept at filling this empty time with stuff so that I don’t blow a gasket like Rajnath Singh did so spectacularly, humiliating senior officers in the bargain.

I use this time to listen to music; I read the book I have downloaded on my phone; I answer emails; I phone a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while; I scroll Twitter to get my daily quota of outrage out of the way; I post pictures of last night’s dinner on Instagram; I update my Facebook status; I do my Keegal exercises; I marvel at the many inventive excuses that people give to explain their tardiness (bad traffic and car breakdowns are hardy perennials, though ‘My Uber failed to turn up’ is gaining in popularity).

I also spend a lot of time wondering what lies behind this chronic Indian tendency to turn up late for everything. And why we seem to have no qualms about keeping other people waiting.

Could it be that a culture that uses the same word (‘Kal’) to mean both yesterday and tomorrow has a very fluid sense of time? Is it down to ancient Hindu philosophy that see time as a ‘chakra’ – ‘Kaal chakra’, the wheel of time – a circular loop that is both unending and endless? Or are these just excuses for lazy, inconsiderate jerks to hide behind?

But whatever the truth of the matter, how do punctual people like me cope with the habitual unpunctuality of others, other than by developing preternatural patience. Well, these days I have taken to giving my dinner guests a time an hour in advance of when I would like them to turn up (8 pm for 9, for instance). And now I live in dread that one of them will be a punctuality hound like me, and turn up when I am still in the shower.

There really is no winning this one!
  

Just say no

What would be your deal-breaker when it comes to dating?

The headline read: “Why I won’t date hot women any more”. The New York Post article was about Dan Rochkind (described as an “Upper East Sider with a muscular build and a full head of hair”) who, after spending his 30s dating model-types had, at 40, settled for a ‘softer beauty’, getting engaged to Carly Spindel, whom he described as someone “you can take home and cuddle with”.

So, why did Rochkind give up on “hot women”? Well, since you didn’t ask, it was because “Beautiful women who get a fair amount of attention get full of themselves. Eventually, I was dreading getting dinner with them because they couldn’t carry a conversation.”

I know. It seems a bit rich when a man who is superficial enough to choose his dates on the basis of their looks complains about how they aren’t great conversationalists (it would, of course, never occur to him that perhaps he’s not interesting enough to make an effort for). Not to mention the putdown of his future wife, who is “beautiful” but not quite a “swimsuit model”. Clearly, this guy is a keeper!

But whatever you think of Rochkind’s delusional dating rules, there is no denying that there are some types (and that goes for both men and women) that are just not second-date material. And here, for those of you still in the dating pool, is a random sampling, based entirely on my own prejudices. Feel free to add your own.

·      * Those who spend the evening paying more attention to their smartphones than to you. If your date is more focused on Instagramming the food, tweeting about the bad service, Snapchatting with friends, or simply checking on news alerts, rather than engaging with you, you need to ask for the bill and get the hell out of there. If he or she can’t be bothered to focus on you to the exclusion of all else for a couple of hours over dinner, what hope is there that things will ever get better? Yes, that’s right, none at all.

·      * Those who are the heroes of every story they tell. And they just can’t seem to stop telling those stories. How they saved the boss’ life at the last presentation. How they carried the day in court despite being pitted against the best litigator in town. How they ran the marathon with zero training. And so on and so tedious. One evening of this is quite enough; why sign up for another?

·      * Those who can’t seem to stop name-dropping all the rich, famous, powerful and influential people they know/are related to. Her uncle is married to the sister of that famous Bollywood star. He went to school with the current chief minister’s younger brother. Her sister is married to that famous TV anchor. He plays golf with one of India’s leading cricketers every Sunday. It’s a safe bet that those who seek proximity to power and fame to bolster their own self-esteem, don’t have very much of it in the first place. And unless you want to sign up for endless evenings of ego-massaging, get the hell out of there.

·      *  Those who keep banging on about the elite school or college they went to and sneering about those who went to lesser institutions. If, in adulthood, you are still defining yourself and deriving your self-worth from where you studied, then clearly the best years of your life are already behind you. Not to mention that you’re a bit of a snob.

·      * Those who show zero interest in your life. If your date doesn’t bother to ask even basic questions about you – which books you like, what kind of music you listen to, or even, where you grew up – then it is clear that a) he or she is not that into you or b) he or she is completely self-obsessed. Either way, you should cut and run.

·      * Those who are constantly nasty and snarky about their exes. Everyone is entitled to be bitter about their break-up, but it is never a good sign if someone is compulsively rude and derisive about someone they went out with. For one thing, it shows that they are not completely over that relationship – feelings still linger, even if they are only of rancor. And two, it is a pretty good indication of the treatment you will receive if things don’t work out between you two. Stay only if you are willing to take that risk.

·      * Those who are rude to waiting staff. If someone is rude to the waiter or busboy, that is pretty reliable indicator of how they treat people who have less power than them. And being a bully is never an attractive look, no matter how attractive they may look.

·     * Those who order a salad and then steal half the fries off your plate (or self-righteously turn down dessert only to demolish the chocolate cake you order).

     Either these people have no self-control or will power, and you don’t want to get involved with someone who can resist anything but temptation. Or they are downright delusional and believe that calories don’t count if they come off someone else’s plate. In which case, this delusion is bound to extend to other areas of their lives. Best steer clear.

The Young And The Restless

Who would be a teenager in today’s world? Not me, for sure!

When 13 Reasons Why premiered on Netflix, I scrolled right past it after reading the brief summary. A teenager commits suicide and leaves behind a set of tapes to all those who are complicit, explaining why she killed herself, and what role each one of them had to play in her decision. So far, so depressing, I thought, as I clicked on the latest season of Grace and Frankie and binge-watched it through the night.

Then, a week later, when I was at a loose end, I idly clicked on 13 Reasons Why (adapted from Jay Asher’s bestselling 2007 novel of the same name), thinking I would check out an episode or two to see if it was really as good as all the critics insisted. And before you could say Hannah Baker, I was hooked. Don’t worry, I am going to post any spoilers here. Suffice it to say that this is addictive viewing and I highly recommend that you do it over the weekend.

But as I watched the world of teenage angst unfold before me, with all its dramas and fights, its hormone-fuelled rages and passions, its friendships and enmities, I was reminded of just how tough those years between 16 and 20 can be. When you are finding out who you are, trying on different personas to see which one fits, falling in love for the first time, breaking your own heart or the hearts of others, falling out with friends, bullying or being bullied. It’s like being on a rollercoaster of emotions, and what’s worse is that you experience it with that heightened intensity that is a hallmark of teenagedom.

As I binge-watched (yes, again) in fascinated horror, I found myself feeling grateful that I had grown up in the era that I did. Because, hand on heart, I would not be a teenager in today’s world for all the money in the world.

Why, you ask. Well, because while technology (read Google) has made it easier to do homework or research a project, social media has actually made our kids’ lives much more distressing and complicated.

Consider this. In the days before the Internet, our only lifeline to our friends was the telephone. So, we would sit by it for hours, chatting incessantly, while our mothers impatiently gestured for us to get off. And on the days when it didn’t ring, our lives would be miserable. Did no one care about us? Why didn’t anybody call? If it was a boyfriend/girlfriend who had neglected to phone, our misery would be multiplied manifold.

Now, consider the many ways in which the teenagers of today can experience the same anguish of rejection. They could be blocked on Snapchat, have their Instagram images languish with just a dozen likes, see images of parties on Facebook to which they have not been invited, be bullied on Twitter, and slut-shamed on any one of these virtual platforms.

Break-ups are hard enough when you are a teenager but to have them play out publicly, as you unfollow each other on social media, or even see images of your ex with their new partner, can be even more traumatic. What’s worse is there is the ever-present temptation to turn into a virtual stalker, torturing yourself with how fast your ex has moved on while you are still in mourning for what you’ve lost.

Then, there is the constant pressure to look good because, you know, selfies! You must be constantly camera-ready, pout firmly in place, hair styled to perfection, and cleavage on display – and that’s just the guys. The girls need washboard abs and slimming apps (not to mention special filters) to look like those supermodels who have taken over Instagram in their itsy-bitsy bikinis.

If you don’t fit in with this new prescription of beauty and glamour, then prepare to be body-shamed and bullied. In fact, if you don’t conform in any way at all, be prepared to be targeted by bullies, both in real life and in cyberspace, where the cloak of anonymity facilitates the generation of greater bile and venom. And when you can’t see or identify your tormentors, the attacks leave you feeling even more helpless and disempowered.

And then, there is the new face of romantic relationships in an age where most teenagers have seen hardcore porn before they ever experience their first kiss. Where we would have sent an erotic love letter, the teenagers of today feel compelled to share sexy selfies. Instead of talking dirty on the phone, they indulge in sexting, exchanging naked pictures, which often become the stuff of revenge porn when relationships end (as they inevitably do, at that age).

In 13 Reasons Why, it is a unfortunate picture taken of Hannah Baker and circulated through the school that starts the chain of events that leads to her suicide. And the scary part is that, as I watching it, I could see just how easily it could happen to one of our own kids. Just one moment in time, just one little indiscretion, one instant of letting down your guard, trusting in that one wrong person, can have unspeakable consequences.

Honestly, who would be a teenager in today’s world? I certainly wouldn’t. And nor, I suspect, would most of our kids.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Thanking your stars

Take a moment out to count your blessings; you will feel much happier for it

I think it would be fair to say that we live in an age of outrage. And in an age of anger, resentment and fear. Outrage about the state of the world; anger about the fact people hold opinions different from ours; resentment that things aren't working out exactly as we would like them to; and fear of what the future holds.

As a consequence our daily lives are eked out amid a litany of complaints. There are too many refugees knocking at the door of our safe, prosperous societies. There is entirely too much 'appeasement' of 'minorities' (yes, we all know what that is code for). Young people no longer bother to respect their elders. And what do young women think they are doing, dressing in all those tight jeans and short skirts?

I must admit to having being caught up in the outrage machine myself. Just over the last few months I have found myself fulminating on social media on topics ranging from President Trump's now-infamous Access Hollywood tape (the one in which he talks about grabbing women by a certain body part) to the outrageous behaviour of Shiv Sena MP, Ravindra Gaikwad, who was so incensed at not being given a Business Class seat on an all-Economy flight (I kid you not) that he attacked an Air India manager, proudly boasting afterwards that he "beat him 25 times with a chappal".

And you know what? It is an exhausting business. Firing off angry tweets, writing fiery Facebook updates, posting snarky comments, and so on and so forth. And what purpose does that serve? Not only are we eaten up with negativity about the rest of the world, we also end up being angry, depressed and dissatisfied about our own lives.

Well, I don't know about you, but I am tired of living like this. So, in an effort to look past all that is awful and actively search for the good, I have decided to keep what I call a 'gratitude journal'. At the end of every day, I take five minutes to make a quick note about one thing that happened in the course of the day that made me feel grateful for my blessings.

I began this enterprise only a month ago but already reading back through my entries makes me feel better about myself, my life, and even life in general. In case this strikes you as a good idea, here's a tiny glimpse into my gratitude journal, to inspire you to start your own.

* The Tesu trees that dot my street are in full bloom. The red flowers against the brilliant blue spring sky make even the thought of the coming scorching summer seem bearable. And yes, they are so eminently Instagram-able. (Not to mention, they remind me that the Laburnum season is just around the corner. Joy!)

* An unfamiliar number flashes on my phone screen. Am tempted to ignore it. Must be another telemarketer, I tell myself. But some instinct makes me take the call. It's an old friend, who I met on my first job. She has since moved to America and is in India for a couple of days (though not in my town, alas!). We chat, we laugh, we catch up on our lives, we make plans to see each other soon. And I feel so much better when I hang up. Old friends. Something to be truly grateful for.

* Clearing out my cupboard, I stumble upon an envelope of old pictures. My two young nieces on a visit to Calcutta. There we are, perched on one of the many branches of the famous Banyan tree at the Botanical Gardens, laughing our heads off at some long-forgotten joke. And just like that I am carefree college kid again, with not a care in the world. You really can't put a price on that.

* Sunday mornings are the day to experiment with breakfast options. This week, it will be a besan ka pura (or chilla, or whatever you call it in your parts) like my mom used to make. I put together the ingredients from memory, try and get the exact degree of crispness that she managed so effortlessly. And guess what? It's absolutely perfect. The taste of my childhood in every delicious mouthful. Somewhere up there, my mother must be smiling.

* After laying off my Pilates/Yoga routine for a couple of months (bad back, with an old injury flaring up, since you ask), I have been easing myself back into it slowly. It's been hard going. The flexibility that takes months to build up can disappear in a matter of days. So, you can imagine my delight when this morning, for the first time in weeks, I managed to go from cat stretch to downward dog to cobra pose without having to pause for breath. I know it doesn't sound like much to all you exercise freaks out there. But for me, it was a moment of celebration.


At the end of the day, I have come to believe, it is in these tiny moments of joy that true happiness lies. And I am so grateful for each such moment in my life that I have decided to document it. For me, this is like creating a little piggy bank of happiness that I can dip into whenever I am feeling depressed or dejected. And I could not recommend it more highly.


You are what you wear

Or as that old saying goes: clothes maketh the man (and the woman)

We've all heard that old chestnut: clothes make the man. The proverb was first recorded in English in the 15th century (though there is an earlier saying in Greece that roughly translates as 'the man is his clothing'.). The idea duly turned up in William Shakespeare's writings (as things tend to do) with Polonius declaiming, "For the apparel oft proclaims the man" in Hamlet. And more recently, Mark Twain proclaimed, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."

Well, that may well be the case. But certainly there is no denying that our clothes say a lot about us: who were are, what we believe in, where we come from, and sometimes, even what we do.

There is the obvious stuff of course. The hijab, for instance, which is now as much a religious injunction as it is a political statement. There are women in certain parts of the globe who are fighting for their right to throw it off because they see it as symbol of female subjugation. And then there are those in other regions of the globe who are fighting for the right to keep it on to assert their adherence to the Islamic faith. But whether you are in Teheran or Paris, whichever side of the divide you are on, the hijab is always a highly visible marker of identity.

In India, we now have a chief minister, Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh, who wears saffron, traditionally the colour of renunciation in the Hindu faith (yes, the irony is not lost on me either), as he goes about the task of running his state. And even though he makes all the right noises about not discriminating against any faith, his clothes proclaim quite proudly where his heart lies.

So, while clothes may not necessarily make the man or woman, they nonetheless tell us a lot about them. And that applies not just to overtly religious markers but also to more, shall we say, 'secular' choices.

Take a walk through your neighbourhood market or mall. Or just sit in a cafe or restaurant and do some people watching. You can tell a lot about those passing just by looking at what they are wearing, because even though we often don't realise it, all of us inadvertently send out signals about who we are by the way we dress.

There are the yummy mummies having a quick bite while their kids are at school. They sport oversized diamonds on their fingers and in their ears, each one carefully calibrated to show off the size of their husband's annual bonuses. Their designer bags are either 'this season' or old enough to qualify as 'vintage'. Their hair is all high-maintenance highlights and super-sleek blow-dries. And their pastel clothes and high heels a sign that they never ever need to take public transport as they go about their 'ladies who lunch' lifestyle.

Their husbands, meanwhile, only do business lunches. They wear beautifully-tailored, made-to-measure shirts but leave off the ties to indicate that they are not middle management. Their accessory of note is an oversized designer watch, that they glance at ever so often to indicate just how important their time is. If they are meeting with bureaucrats, it is easy to tell the government servants apart. They are the ones with the cheaper looking suits and expressions of grave condescension.

And that's just the five-star hotels. If you go a little downmarket -- or even mid-market -- you can play the 'tell the journo apart from the NGO wallah' game. It's a little bit tricky because both sets prize themselves on being slightly scruffy. But while the media guys pair their faded jeans with shirts and T-shirts, the NGO brigade sticks to Fabindia kurtas and cloth jholas. But it is easy to get this wrong because some journos pride themselves on their 'ethnic chic' too (think tie-dyed saris, handloom kurtis or even, Ikat shirts).

The ones who are dead easy to pick out are the start-up guys and girls. They are the ones looking self-important as they sit in the corner of a cafe they have colonised to hold meetings, tapping away distractedly on their laptops or tablets, dressed in their uniform of designer jeans and T-shirts that are always one size too tight and accessorised with lots of facial hair and black-rimmed glasses to add gravitas to their look.

Politicians are equally easy to identify, with their penchant for white kurta pyjamas, paired with a waistcoat or a tricolour scarf. Off duty, they try to blend in with the rest of us by wearing 'civilian' clothing. But more often than not their air of entitlement -- not to mention the bristling security guards -- give them away.

You can tell fashion designers (or even fashion journalists, for that matter) by their self-consciously trendy, even eccentric, mode of dressing. They will be the ones wearing dhoti trousers with a singlet, tweed skirts with lace camisoles, onesies with giant pink pigs embroidered all over them and so on (and so weird). Pearls and chiffon saris (especially with the head covered) is the patented look of feudals and erstwhile royals (most often spotted at the polo). While anyone who is wearing an old school tie is guaranteed to be a bit of a saloon bar bore (I exaggerate, of course, but only a little).


And thus it goes. So, what do your clothes say about you? Or would you rather not say?

No sex please, this is an office

How to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace

How do you know what sexual harassment is? Short answer: you know it when you feel it. When that colleague brushes against your breast while trying to 'help' you with your PowerPoint presentation. When the guy on the opposite desk stares openly at your cleavage and tells you how sexy you are looking today. When your boss keeps asking you out for dinner even though you turn him down repeatedly. When the men in your office circulate porn clips on group messages and berate you as a prude when you object.

If you are a woman and you have ever worked in an office, the chances are that you have your own sexual harassment stories to tell. God knows I have my own. But it's not about our stories today. It's about how to deal with sexual harassment, whether you are the target, a witness or the person in charge. So, here is my handy -- though far from comprehensive -- guide. 

* When an act of sexual harassment occurs, don't dismiss it in the hope that it is just a "one-off" transgression, an aberration that will never occur again. That may well be the case, but don't assume this as a fact. You may be inclined to give a first-time offender the benefit of the doubt. Do that if you want to. But make your feelings clear while you are at it. 

* Keep the exchange as neutral as you can. Say something like, "I am sure that you don't mean to, but your standing so close behind my desk makes me feel uncomfortable." Phrase your  pushback in a way that allows him an honourable out, if he chooses to take it. Give him the space to make an apology or even express regret. And if he does so, accept it graciously. If he reacts with outrage at the accusation, stand firm. Say that you're sorry that you misunderstood him. But it's only because you value your personal space and can't bear to have it invaded. Surely he understands?

* If the harassment persists, then the time to play nice is over. Tell him exactly how you feel, as vehemently as possible. The tone to aim for is polite but firm. "Those Whatsapp messages you have been sending me are inappropriate. I do not appreciate getting sexual-innuendo laden jokes. Please stop."

* Save all the inappropriate and sexually charged messages and share them with a trusted circle in real time. Take at least one senior colleague into confidence. Ask them to have a discreet word with the harasser. Try and resolve the issue informally if possible.

* If that doesn't work, it's time to up the ante. File an official complaint. Every office that has more than 10 employees is required by law to have an Internal Complaints Committee headed by a senior female officer. If your office doesn't have one, there is a government body called the Local Complaints Committee that deals with such complaints. Present all the evidence you have stacked up, ask your colleagues to bear witness and stand up for your rights.

* Be prepared to lose. Too many of these cases come down to a "he said-she said" impasse and  more often than not the benefit of the doubt goes to the man, who is, by definition, the more powerful of the two. And yes, the temptation to do nothing and just walk away -- which is always your right -- and take another job is strong. But remember you are leaving behind a predator, who is now more emboldened than ever to prey on other women.

* At the end of the day, however, dealing with sexual harassment is not just up to individuals. Companies have to step up and ensure a healthy work environment for women. And just constituting an ICC is not enough. Companies also need to invest in gender sensitisation training so that everyone learns just what is permissible within the workspace and what kind of behaviour is beyond the pale. (You would be surprised how many people simply have no clue.)

* Most important of all, companies must provide a safe space for women to speak out, and create an environment that imbues them with the confidence that their stories are worth listening to -- and taking action on. And yes, while it is crucial to investigate before dubbing anyone guilty, it is vital that women who summon up the courage to file an official complaint be given the courtesy of belief. That doesn't mean always taking a woman's word against a man's. It just means taking her words seriously. 

* As for those who are on the fringes of the drama, looking on with voyeuristic curiosity, I have just one line of advice: if you see something, for God's sake, say something!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Big Little Bestsellers


And can they make a seamless transition to our TV screens?

I discovered Liane Moriarty (what a splendid surname for a writer of murder – well, sort of – mysteries to have, by the way) rather late in the day. Somehow, her major breakthrough novel, The Husband’s Secret, passed me by when it released in 2013. It was only after I read her 2014 book, Big Little Lies, that I was intrigued enough to go back and see what else she had written. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed. And then, last year Moriarty released her latest novel, Truly Madly Guilty (yes, she is rather prolific that way) and I was well and truly hooked. And like most newly-converted people, I went around recommending her to all my friends and acquaintances (“Yes, yes, I know, you’ve never heard of her; but believe me, she’s fantastic!”).

Well, it now turns out that Liane Moriarty will no longer be such a tough sell in these parts. And that’s because Little Big Lies, far and away her best book so far, has been made into a television series starring such A-list stars as Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, with a cast that includes Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgard and Zoe Kravtiz, and is playing on a TV screen right in your living room every week.

Of course, it’s much more fun to watch if you haven’t read the book – and don’t worry, this piece contains no spoilers at all. But even those of us who know how it all ends, can’t help but get caught up with the twists and turns of the plot. And it doesn’t hurt that both Witherspoon and Kidman are rather easy on the eye, as are all the lush shots of rolling beaches, with their full complement of sun, sea and surf.

So, how does the TV series compare with the book? Well, I was prepared to be all sniffy about it, but as it turns out, the TV version captures the novel rather well, with its mixture of domestic drama, dark comedy, schoolyard (yes, I kid you not!) politics, sexual tension and, of course, suspense thriller. There is a murder at the heart of it, but that’s just the hook on which to hang a great story on. And the story survives the transition to a different medium rather well.

As I watched the latest episode this week, I started to wonder which other book had made the transition to TV series quite so successfully. And here, just off the top of my head, is my entirely subjective list of the top three:

Pride and Prejudice: The BBC adaptation of the Jane Austen novel aired more than 20 years ago, with Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy to Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet. But even two decades on, the show lives on in our collective memory thanks to that one scene of Firth emerging from a lake in a wet white shirt and bumping into Elizabeth. It is a tribute to Andrew Davies, who wrote the screenplay, that even though this scene never occurs in Austen’s book, it has become a seminal moment in popular culture.

But leaving wet shirts aside for a moment, this was a show that captured the intelligence and spark of Elizabeth Bennet, the constrained lives of women of that era, and raised an elegant brow at the snobbery and elitism that prevailed in the England of that day. Quite brilliant.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Anyone who has seen the TV series that came out in 1979 (do get a box set if you haven’t) will remember this because of Sir Alec Guinness’ star turn as legendary spymaster, George Smiley, who is brought out of retirement to hunt for a mole buried deep into the heart of the British secret services. Guinness was brilliant in this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel of the same name, so much so that the author admitted that, “If I were to keep one filmed version of my work, this would be it.”

And it is easy to understand why. The plot unravels with the same stately pace that Le Carre brings to his own writing. Each character is fleshed out into three dimensions. The mechanics of spycraft are brought to light in intricate detail. And then, there is the quiet but unmistakable presence of Guinness’ Smiley, all repressed passion and suppressed feelings. An absolute masterpiece.

Game of Thrones: My chronology is a little off when it comes to the Game of Thrones books by George RR Martin. I was introduced to him by the first two seasons of the TV show, which I binge-watched while on vacation. Appetite appropriately whetted, I came back home to download all his books and devoured all five of them in one greedy gulp. So, when season three launched, I was prepared to be disappointed. After all, I knew what was going to happen, so how much fun could it be? Short answer: a lot!

The TV series brought the fantasy to life with such panache that it mattered little that I knew how things were going to turn out. I knew what was coming in the Red Wedding, how the dragons would save the fireproof Daenerys Targaryen, and how Arya Stark would hit rock-bottom. But seeing it on screen still brought a fresh thrill. It helped, of course, that as the series moved along, Martin and the screenplay writers shook things up by varying the endings of various storylines, to give us smug readers a bit of a jolt.


Be Indian, see India

Don’t want to deal with hostile immigration officers in foreign countries? Take a break in your own instead!

Late last year, we had planned to visit America, home to our extended family, with New York as the first stop. But that was before Donald Trump’s infamous ‘travel ban’ and the news that immigration officers in the US now had the right to scroll through your phone and laptop before letting you into the country. (And if they asked you for the passwords to your social media accounts to check that you were not an undesirable alien, you were supposed to hand them over or risk being flown right back to your point of origin.)

Not my idea of fun. And I suspect, not your idea of fun either. After all, who in their right minds would want to vacation in a country in which even valid visa-holders are treated as potential criminals/terrorists who must prove their innocence before being let in?

But while America presents its own peculiar challenges, the rest of the world isn’t a much better bet at this moment. Turkey (another destination we had been toying with) seems a bit dicey after a spate of terrorist attacks. Paris has seen terror wreak havoc on its streets. And we keep being told that London is next on the jihadi hit list.

So, if you are a scaredy-cat like me, and don’t fancy the idea of taking your life into your hands every time you venture out on holiday, then here’s a plan for you. This year, stick to vacationing in India. There’s so much to see and do in this vast sub-continent of ours that you won’t miss going abroad at all. And what you save on airfare, you can spend on experiences.

If the idea appeals to you, then here’s a handy (though far from comprehensive) list of all the things that you can do and the places you can visit without ever leaving our borders.


* Go temple-hopping:

No, I don’t mean a pilgrimage necessarily, though I always find a trip to, say, Vaishnoo Devi or Tirupati, very invigorating. You can always do the religious thing, if that floats your boat. But even if you are a non-believer, a trip to such destinations as Khajuraho, Varanasi, the sun temple at Konark, the ancient Martand temple in Kashmir, is an amazing experience in and of itself. The sculptures, the magnificent architecture, the patina of the ages, all of it makes for stunning visual beauty and a sense of how far back our civilization extends.

Such ancient cities as Mahabalipurum in Tamil Nadu with its rock reliefs that date back to the 7th century and Hampi in Karnataka which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site are well worth a visit. And if you are up to climbing around 700 steps, then head up the hill at Shravanabelagola to get a close look at the Gommattesvara Bahubali statue, which dates back to the 10th century, the biggest sculpture ever to be hewn from a single piece of rock.


* Be a beach bum:

Speaking for myself, I find Goa to be a crashing bore, with overcrowded beaches and murky water. If you want a beach holiday in India, the best place to go is the Andaman Islands, where the white sand beaches are pristine and bordered with the clearest blue water. Head out there before the hordes discover it.


* Hit the mountain trails:

No matter which part of India you live in, a hill station is never too far away. From Calcutta, it is easy to access Sikkim and Bhutan. If you are in Delhi, then the ski slopes of Gulmarg are a short plane ride away, as are the picturesque peaks of Uttarakhand. In the South, you can head to Ooty, Munnar, Kodaikanal or Coorg. And those who live in the West of India, can visit Mount Abu, which has an added attraction in the shape of the Jain Dilwara temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries.

* Go healthy and holistic:

If you are feeling a bit rundown and in need of some rejuvenation, take a spa break. In India, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to this category. You can go all fancy and spend a fortune at such upmarket resorts as Ananda in the Himalayas. Or you could go in for a more earthy and intense experience at such Kerala spas as Kairali, which bills itself as an Ayurvedic healing village and offers treatment for such diverse conditions as arthritis, bronchitis and hypertension. Or you can simply drive to a ‘spa resort’ near your city for a weekend break, involving lots of massages and heaps of indolence.


* Answer the call of the wild:

When it comes to wildlife, India has a virtual embarrassment of riches. Want to catch a glimpse of a tiger in the wild? You can visit Ranthambore in Rajasthan, Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh. If you live down south, then the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Periyar National Park in Kerala are good options. Kaziranga National Park in Assam also has enough tigers to qualify as a tiger reserve even though its main claim to fame is as a rhinoceros sanctuary – it houses two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceros (along with a large population of elephants) and is classed as World Heritage Site. If bird-watching is your thing, then you can’t go wrong with the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, now restyled as the Keoladeo National Park.

So, put away that passport for now. And go the Swadeshi way when it comes to travel. I promise you won’t regret it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Write on

Here are some tips to keep distraction -- and boredom -- at bay

I guess by now the whole world knows that J.K. Rowling was a single mother on benefits when she wrote the first Harry Potter book, the series that would later turn her into a billionaire. But did you know that in those early days she would bundle up her daughter into a stroller and settle down at a cafe, Nicolson's in Edinburgh, to write all day long? And over endless cups of espresso and glasses of water -- all that she could afford at the time -- with her daughter asleep beside her, she would write the words that would resound across the world in the years to come.

Sounds amazing, doesn't it? But if you are writing a book, or even an article or a blog, this approach may not work for you. How do I know? Because when I turn a bit stir-crazy sitting and writing at home, I have tried this whole working-out-of-a-cafe malarkey and take it from me, it does not work for anyone who is not called J.K. Rowling.

First off, this is India. So, there is the noise factor. There will be people bellowing away into their phones. There will be a couple breaking up or making up noisily at the next table. There will be children running around madly, playing some mysterious game of chase. So, it will be impossible to concentrate on the words you are writing given that you will not be able to tune out the word soup sloshing around you.

And then, there is the fact that no self-respecting barista in India will allow you linger all day long if all you order is expresso and water.

So, what is the best way to settle down and write, write, write?

Well, some would say, set off for some scenic location. Hire a place that has a room with a view and get started. But that would never work for me. I would just end up getting distracted by all that beauty.

But there are some writing tips that have worked for me. And here are some of them, in the hope that they help some of you as well.

* Sensory deprivation. Choose a place that has no view. Where there are no books arranged seductively on shelves, tempting you to delve in. And no paintings to distract you with their power. Ideally, position your desk so that it faces a blank wall. You need your imagination to focus on the blank page in front of you to the exclusion of all else.

* No distractions. Make sure that there is no TV in the room. Turn off the wifi on your laptop. Disable social media apps on your phone when you work. Or better still keep your phone in a different room. You can check in on your mail every hour or so. But that's it.

* Don't keep going back to reread and edit what you have already written. Once a chapter is written, print it out and put it in a folder. Only go back to it if you need to double check something as you are writing. Otherwise onwards and forward.

* Put your thoughts down on paper as they occur. Because often, when you pause to rephrase them in a more felicitous manner, you lose your chain of thought altogether. Just write it all down; you can always dress it up later.

* Inspiration can strike any time. Always keep a notebook handy so that you can scribble down your ideas as they pop up. If a notebook isn't your style, then just jot down notes on your phone and mail them to yourself. Save them in a special folder which you can consult at a moment's notice.

* Don't give in to writer's block. There will be days when words simply don't come. Don't get up and walk away from the desk. Get your word count in even if you end up deleting it all the next day.

* Keep to a realistic word count limit per day. Many authors keep themselves down to 500 words, which seems rather paltry when you think about it. But as anyone who has wrestled with a book will tell you, it can be struggle getting 1000 words down every day. So don't get too ambitious because you will only get depressed when you don't meet your unrealistic target. It's better to aim low and hit your target than aim high and end up feeling like a failure.

* Set up a writing routine, depending on what time of day you feel at your best. There are some writers who like to wake up at dawn when the rest of the world is asleep so that they can write in peace. There are others on the opposite side of the spectrum who stay up late when the rest of the family had retired and do their finest work then. And then, there are those who like to carve out chunks within the day when they can work undisturbed.

* Devise a ritual to separate your writing time from the rest of the day. Go to the gym, take the dog for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, leaf through a magazine or just watch a TV show. You can do anything so long as it is not connected to your book. Your brain needs that respite so that you can come back refreshed to your work.

* And most importantly, set aside some time for reading a book that is completely different from what you are writing. Reading a good author is not just inspirational, but aspirational as well.