Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mister Wonderboxx, This is Peanut

(From Peanut's Blog)

So this month another Wonderboxx came. This time I got a box called 'Countries and Flags'. It was typa cool.

First I made the Flags. We could make them out of the fabric they had given in the Box. I made the Indian, Switzerland, France and then the Brazil Flag. I tied them to the string they had given and Mom hung it up in our Room.

Next I read the Book they had given. They always give Books in the Box according to the given Topic. This Book had all the Languages they used. It also had the things they used in the olden days and the food that the different Countries ate. The Book was pretty Interesting though I didn't read the whole thing.

After that I played the World Card Game. It had the Switzerland, France, India, Brazil, Mexico, Congo and Brazil Countries etc  Information. I didn't exactly know how to play but I read the cards anyways.

Then I did the Human Figures Project. In that I had to dress the Human Figures in according to the  Countries they came from. I was supposed to choose that.(!) So I dressed one of them from Congo and the other from Mexico. Really, They gave me only 2! The Human Figures didn't look good either because of the way they decorated the faces. Honestly, they looked awful to me.

Finally, I can stop writing for now. Farewell!!!


Okay, so she was pretty articulate about her stuff from the Wonderboxx, (with their specially-themed and designed boxes of kid's learning tools) this month. I am constantly amazed by how quickly she runs through the box herself - she actually needs very little input from me and I'm very pleased about the fact that she can independently put stuff together. All attributable to the reading habit.

Below you can see some pictures from her Wonderboxx, which was on the theme of Countries and Flags (Check out here)

For the Twins, their Wonderboxx was on the theme of something close to my heart: dealing with emotions. It's titled 'Superheroes and Feelings' and you can check it out here.

We're still going through the box, but I was very keen to have something that reinforces how we deal with emotions. I saw from the booklet that they've created characters that represent various emotions, such as Angry Annie, Happy Henry and so on. This reminded me quite a bit of Inside Out, a movie that we really enjoyed watching together and which I thought helped a great deal in being able to name specific feelings as a first step towards dealing with them.

Their box looks pretty solid, and we've run through a couple of the activities. Unfortunately, as always the 'Kiddo' boxes, ranging for 3-5 years require more hands-on intervention from the parent, and given my schedule, I haven't been able to go through more of the activities designed. I continue to feel that it would be nicer to have more clearer instruction in the younger kid's boxes and also to design it in such a way that there's more self-regulated learning here instead. After all, my twins may not be exactly little Einstein's but they're fairly sharp and already above 5 years - they still struggle.

The Wonderboxx has been put away for a while now given that the twins had a huge fight about who would get to wear the cool superhero costume that they put together ( Pics of the box, the costume, and the kids working on it together below)

Overall, I continue to recommend Wonderboxx as a monthly pleasant surprise for your kids - better than the other crap toys that we end up buying. Yes, it was Christmas and yet another set of Remote Control Cars that cost over a thousand bucks and lasted less than three days *Sigh*

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Looking To Write Your First Novel, Eh?

(Cross posted from my FB page here - you may as well go and like that for more regular updates. But I'd love to hear your comments to know what you'd like to see more of on the blog in 2016. Merry X'Mas and a Happy Happy New Year, Folks!)

A lot of people are apparently looking to get that book inside of them OUT into the world, and they often reach out to me for advice. The most recent reach-out was a conversation I had with someone two days ago - an ex-batchmate from IIMB who said he's inspired by 'you guys' - referring I presume to Karan Bajaj, me and a couple of others from our batch who've churned out a few books.
I had about 5 minutes to give him some stuff about writing and publishing, and here's the gist for anyone else who might find it useful.
1. Get your idea and a basic plot outline in place - who's the protagonist? Their goal? Obstacles? Can you see a climax? A resolution? The basic outline of any story contains these elements.
2. Do some reading to inspire yourself - a lot of writers swear by Stephen King's 'On Writing'. I recommend it too, although I found a couple of suggestions didn't work for me - for example, having a plotline doesn't seem to be high on his priority list! Still worth a perspective.
3. Do some further reading to kick yourself some more - read Stephen Pressfield's works - 'Do the Work' and 'The War of Art' where he will help you figure out what it is that's stopping you making progress on projects most important to you -the 'Resistance' you'll naturally find.
4. Write, write, write - find your own rhythm. Some people write 1500 words a day. When I'm writing, I try to do a chapter a day, but sometimes fall short. I try to write for 1.5 hrs a day. It helps to try and write at the same time each day, if possible. Figure it out for yourself - I've tried mornings as well as late nights and they've both worked. Check when you can fit it in. 1.5 hours is what I recommend, based on a wonderful video by John Cleese, who summed up why you need that much time ( because you'll spend a lot of time fighting resistance)
5. Use little rewards that work - one of the things that really helped me - figuring out that if I ''allowed'' myself to waste 5 minutes on Facebook or general internet surfing before I started to write, it really helped me avoid feeling distracted while I was actually in the flow of writing something. Naturally, you're better off switching off from the net completely when you get down to writing - this is because (interestingly) it helps you avoid the temptation to check that new update and this in turn saves you energy.
6. Energy management - hoo boy, this has been important for me. I've found that I'm one of those people who really needs a bunch of different activities to keep me going. I switch between music, my kids, my work, reading and a bunch of other things through the day. I also find that if I write for too much in a single day it actually drains me rather than energizing me. Again, you'll have to find your own sweet spot.
7. Don't self edit - this is one of the most important things to keep in mind. I tried writing in 2006, and showed my husband the first couple of pages. I didn't write again till 2010. It wasn't his fault. It was mine for constantly seeking validation, and worse, evaluating myself before the the work was finished. Just resist that temptation to read and judge your own work. Get the first draft in place. What helped me tremendously was a post I read once which referred to the process as 'making mud'. I was like 'yeah! mud doesn't have to be pretty or's just...mud.' The base. The foundation. Go for it and don't look back till you're finished.
Yeah. That's it, then. My top 7 tips for writing your first novel. Needless to say, a command over the language helps. And that comes from reading. To borrow from Stephen King's book - he suggests that you 'Read, read, read' as well as 'Write, write, write.'
Final word - publishing itself.
Honestly, when people ask me for publishing contacts, I tell them it's actually as simple as looking up publisher's websites and finding their submission IDs. I got many responses from different publishing houses that way. I don't think publishers have ever been as accessible or as open to new writers as they are today. The battle is really creating that piece of work which you can convince them deserves publishing. It's always much better if the work does the convincing by itself.
Therefore, read points 1 through 7 and just start already, dammit, rather than being one of those annoying people who go about saying ''I've always wanted to write a book but I just didn't because of XYZ''.
Seriously, that would suck big-time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pickle On Adoption

(Cross-posted from my Facebook page here)

A little sick boy, staying home from school watches me as I get ready for work. Thankfully his grandma Didu is coming to babysit.
He has something on his mind and finally speaks up.
"Mom. Do I have to marry a girl?"
"No, son, you don't"
(He thinks for a bit)
"If I marry a boy, will I not able to have a baby?"
(I choke and cough. And then manage to murmur something about adoption)
"But how I will know where to go for the auction?"
"Umm...adoption... And you'll know...(I am inspired) you'll Google it!"
He is satisfied by this. For a moment.
"Can I adoption big people- like Didu?"
Luckily she walks in just then. 

Would be a good idea to adopt her.

Not many adults (including me) would sit down to play chess with a 5 year old on a Monday morning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Notes For a Session at JWT

Last week I was invited for an Inspiration Session at the JWT office. The invite came to me from my friend, the talented Babita  who heads a division in their Gurgaon office. It was a nice, informal, fun thing with tea and Dhokla involved, and I really enjoyed speaking to the folks there.

The day I was scheduled to go over for the talk, I thought it would be best to put down some speech notes - I dashed this off, and of course, didn't end up actually using them while speaking, but it did help to pen down my thoughts. Here's the draft that I wrote, completely different from the condensed, more interactive version of what finally occurred. The reason I thought I'd like to capture it here is that it's a phase in my life when I'm transitioning back to the corporate world, this time as an employee and not as a consultant - after a few years of doing the sabbatical-writing-consultant mix. Here goes -while it's long, I'm hopeful you'll get something out of it too :) - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I’m happy to see you all here, and I’m also happy about this initiative –on a Friday afternoon, an ‘inspiration session’ – a time to actually take a pause from all the activities that keep us busy, time to take stock of where we’re actually headed with all that we're doing. 

I plan to speak to you only about 15-20 minutes so that we have another 15-20 minutes afterwards for an interaction where I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have, provided I know the answers. I’ve been struggling with what I’d like to say to you, given that it’s been some learnings over the last five years really that I think have resulted in some profound changes in my life.

So I’ll start with the year 2010, five years ago – when I was having my twin sons. I was 85 kilos with the weight of the two boys, tremendously uncomfortable and vowing that I’d never have kids again. And that was even before the difficult surgery – two surgeries, the latter that resulted from a complication with the first C-section. It was the most difficult time I’ve ever had to go through with physical pain and weakness and the clear sense of almost having lost my life.

Today, I feel so thankful that I went through that. A lot of people say stuff like this – if I hadn’t been through that really difficult time, I wouldn’t be who I am now. And it’s true. I actually think it’s a pity that more people don’t go through difficult, near-death-experiences because often, it’s the only way that you get whacked enough on the head to see your life for what it is.

For about 8 years before this time, I’d been on the journey of a typical corporate go-getter. Very competitive, passed out of IIM-Bangalore, several years at Levers, aspiring to be one of the youngest AVPs in my current organisation….it was the sickness that caused me to reevaluate what was really important to me. And so, I started writing.

It was as if a veil had been lifted. Something that I’d been hiding inside of myself, busy with the corporate world, a deep passion and a desire to get my work in print had now been activated and I was able to create the first draft of what would become my first published novel in about three months while I was recovering.

 So my first big message to you would be – don’t wait for life to whack you on the head and get you started on what you really believe will make you happy. Just whack yourself on the head and do it. It starts with a pause, like this one. We don’t pause enough.

Sometime after I’d recovered and got my book deal from HarperCollins, I took a call that I wouldn’t ever have taken earlier. It was kind of a big pause. I decided to to for a Sabbatical, for the first time since I’d started working. I had become AVP. But now, it was just a job title and I wasn’t attached to it anymore. My grandma got really sick and I wanted to spend time with her. My writing career was about to start, my children were still small. It was all getting too much. With the help of a supportive husband, I took this call and I moved out of the corporate world for some time.

My sabbatical was important to me. It lasted a couple of years, and I had a few consulting assignments in between but I had plenty of time with my kids. I didn’t travel much, I spent a lot of time working on my health, writing, music, becoming a Zumba instructor, hanging out more with my kids. I wrote two more books, actually three or four if you count the ones that are yet to be published. I read heaps, a lot of work on non-fiction, on creativity, on writing, on managing life, on parenting and yes, many on happiness and finding your passion. It’s almost embarrassing for me now how much I’ve read on different theories and practices for happiness. It’s particularly embarrassing because I have to admit that I’m such a work-in-progress even at the age of 35. But then - I actually believe I’m so much better off at 35 than I was at 30, and I’m really looking forward to being 40, and then older…so I’m guessing I might be doing something right.

A Caveat here: Do I recommend taking a sabbatical to work on something really important to you? Absolutely. Does that mean you all need to go out and ask for one right away? Absolutely not. I was very lucky to be in a unique situation where I didn’t have the financial pressure of being the primary breadwinner. I was also at a stage where I really wanted to look at establishing myself as an author and that needed focussed time and effort; I had the financial AND emotional support of my husband, but very importantly –I think I had the backing of several years of good work in the corporate space, which would ensure that I wouldn’t get left too far behind if I wanted to ever come back. Which I found, as the kids grew up – I did. I do. I’m going back to work next month, in the full-time employ of an organisation that luckily for me, works very well virtually and doesn’t have any problem with people working from home too. Contrary to what you might have thought I’d say, I actually don’t recommend whole-heartedly jumping into following your passion – I do recommend taking the time to figure things out for yourself; and reading an excellent book by Cal Newport called ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You love’

It’s an important time for me right now as I transition back to holding a position and a title at an organization again. I thought I’d take stock of some of the things I’ve discovered for myself over the last few years. In the hope that at least one or two of these, if not more, help you in some way or the other –

1) MANAGING ENERGY – everything that you do from the moment you get up in the morning to the time you go to sleep, requires energy. People often ask me – how is it that you’re doing so many things –managing work, writing books, your children, studying yoga, taking zumba classes, learning music.

a.  I do those things only to the point that they energize me. Yoga and Zumba don’t happen on the same days for me. They’re my own workout, helping both body and mind. I write in fits and spurts for a couple of months at a time, and that too, for no more than a couple of hours each day, or it begins to get me down. The music I’m learning? I play for maybe fifteen minutes a day, if that, and if it begins to feel I’m going nowhere with it, I’ll stop.  

b. Appropriate Goal-setting -It helps to set longer term goals so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. I was feeling overwhelmed by taking piano and guitar classes at the same time. It all started because I used to sit in on my daughter’s piano lessons like any good, obsessive mother would – and it was suggested to me that I should stop doing that and let her learn on her own for more independent progress. I figured, well, I’m taking her anyway, and I should use my time better. But it was only when I set myself a twenty year retirement goal with Piano that it became better – I figured ,if I play even a little for the next twenty years, I’ll be pretty good with the piano when I’m 55 and close to retirement age. So that sounds like a very decent plan to me. And with the guitar, it was almost the opposite. I’ve chosen to have no goals here but to enjoy the process. Some things are good just for the fun of it.

e. Energy through creating vs consuming - Doesn’t watching TV fall into the same category? A few episodes of Mad Men, some social media addiction, Tweeting away what you’re having for lunch…. Research has shown that more active means of occupying you time result in more happiness than these short term consumption-heavy fixes – exercise, time with the family, working on a creative project, things that get you actively into the state known as flow – which is when you’re in the zone of doing something that you’re capable of doing but can get better at with more practice, something that’s creating vis a vis just consuming – those will trump things like shopping binges or social media or TV binges any time.


a.Creating Your Own Time: I find that I have to be very disciplined when I’m working from home because time available is only that much. My staff at home, of whom there are plenty, have learned to respect this over time. They used to keep interrupting me with stuff that drove me crazy ‘Didi? Aaj kya sabzi banegi’ and I’d be like ‘whatever! Who cares! Just make whatever and leave me alone’ And they wouldn’t. But over time, they learned that they must, and now I have the time and the space to work on my creative projects at home. It takes being adamant sometimes with your family but even my kids finally respect my writing time at home.

b. These days, I also find doing stuff in short bursts of 10 or 20 minutes are helpful and get stuff done. 10 minutes of an Ab workout or 10 minutes of scrolling through inane updates? In today’s age of distractions, I think it’s actually quite important to manage even short bursts of time well to get things done. It’s also helpful to tell yourself ‘Okay, let me do 20 minutes of yoga or whatever’ – and often you’ll find you exceed that time and feel good afterwards.

c. I also find that while multi-tasking is actually quite unproductive sometimes, killing two birds with one stone is often a good idea. My music lessons are a time for me to also bond with my daughter, alone time with her in the car. My walk with the husband gets both of us moving in the nights after the kids are sleeping. Even when I’m singing the kids a lullaby, I try to improve my vocals and sometimes surprise them with the dark songs I sing to them. I think it’s more a dual purpose to the things I choose to do rather than doing two things at the same time.


I think things really changed for me when I got myself a desk. Our house is full to the brim of stuff and people, we have a lot of kids and a lot of help. Having my own corner in the house with my laptop, and my books and music system, a little space where I can do Yoga, has been tremendously important for me to move forward with things that matter to me.

Managing your space is important for another reason – to overcome resistance. I moved my guitar back into my room from the balcony where I used to house it so that I’d see it and remember to play it on a more regular basis. My yoga mat and even my running shoes are within my room in plain sight on an ongoing basis.

You need to put away the temptations and bring out the things that will make you happy after you’ve done them ( vis a vis a chocolate bar that feels great while you’re eating it but immediately after, doesn’t feel so good). In fact, this is a great distinction for me –I remind myself about whether I’m going to feel good after I’ve done something and then try to be more conscious about the things I choose to do, or eat, or the way I behave in a day.

Note: in another post, I've updated the tremendous life-changing magic of Tidying Up!


a.  RESISTANCE: Even just sitting down to write on a daily basis is difficult. You’ll be suddenly plagued by how messy your room is or the children’s cupboard is and there will be mails to answer and bills to pay. Your mind has this amazing ability to create something called Resistance, a very powerful force that Steven Pressfield writes about in his books called ‘The War of Art’ and ‘Do the Work’ – in a nutshell, resistance is what wants to prevent you from doing what you really want to do – and it is possibly the single biggest blocker to getting started and keeping on with and to finishing your best work. What a pity if you were to let that force win though. The best way to vanquish it is to know how it works, and be able to predict it and deal with it. I handle procrastination not by fighting it, but by allowing it for short defined bursts of time. I say I’m going to allow myself five minutes of time to waste on Facebook, I’ll then do half an hour or an hour of writing the next chapter of my book. And then I’ll go and do that, and I’ll do that again and again and again. So much better to reserve your energy for creating things rather than using them to fight your instincts.

b. MINDFULNESS : The final point  – being more conscious –more aware of what’s going on around you. I’m a bit of a mindfulness failure myself and yet, I also feel that maybe there isn’t a thing such as a mindfulness failure. I try to meditate, I try to remain aware, I try to detach myself from what’s going on often, and even though I often fail, I keep trying because if I take a longer term view, I know that I’m now a happier, calmer, more sorted person, a better and more patient parent – which doesn’t mean I didn’t lose it with my kids yesterday –but I saw myself from a detached perspective as I lost it with them and that means some progress. If we’re not growing as people as we grow older, I don’t think there’s much point to anything. Of all the reading I’ll recommend a book called ‘10% Happier by Dan Harris’ – a really practical overview on his journey with mindfulness.

I’ll wrap up by borrowing from the end of a speech by the remarkable Prof Anil Gupta from IIMA who has done some fantastic work in innovation for underprivileged societies;  I listened to him years ago as he concluded a speech saying he had found his happiness in the intersection of Life, Love and Learning.  It really connected to me. I think my own personal sweet spot in the intersection of Laughter, Love and Learning. And I try to check in with myself daily about whether I’ve had enough of a dose of all of these things. It keeps me going and it makes me feel good. I highly recommend writing your own recipe and using that as a standard for yourself on a daily basis. It’s really not that much about external benchmark of a job title or pay. I’m not saying those things aren’t important.  But anything that comes from inside of you is worth paying attention to. Please pay attention to it.

Ultimately, a request: please, please don’t become one of those annoying people who say things like ‘Oh I always wanted to write a book’ or ‘I could have really made a mark with my photography’. 

Don’t make excuses anymore.

Make the stuff you’re supposed to make.

Thank you and all the best ;)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reading, Unlimited

The latest book that I've read is the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo.

The woman isn't kidding.

I've always been very lax about tidying up. I have enough househelp for that sort of thing, and Vijay and I have been both hoarders. With three messy kids about the house drawing on walls and generally wreaking havoc and destruction, we had a sort of unspoken agreement: when they're 18 and move out, we'll clean up properly.

This book changed that.

Marie Kondo has devised a simple but very effective methodology of cleaning up - essentially, you lay out ALL your belongings in a particular category on the floor, and then sort through them one by one to choose the ones that really ''spark joy'' in you. Yes, yes, I know it's a little la-la-la-whatever, but it certainly worked for me.

My biggest problems have been my clothes and my books. The house was full of them, shelves overflowing - and with Peanut starting to become a big reader, we easily had more than 500 books in the house.

This was a problem.

Especially given that many, many of them just lay unread.

Don't get me wrong. I think books are beautiful. I'd love one day to have a huge house with a library of its own. But this exercise, which I conducted over one day ( managing to do both books and clothes) was very therapeutic.

This was my pile.

That's a lot of books, hey?

So basically, cut a long story short, I gave away about 60%. It was actually 70% but the mistake I made was keeping the discard 'pile' for too long. So I ended up taking some of them out and putting them back, but I don't regret it - I just asked myself what kind of books I wanted Peanut to be able to read when she grows up a bit more, even if I never got around to reading them. So a whole bunch made it back to my shelf. Twilight, the series, stayed outside.

The other thing that I've discovered of late is that Kindle really makes things a lot easier. I was one of those who believed BIG time in the magic of the good-old-traditional book, and I still think that's a different feeling altogether. I find that reading non-fiction on my Kindle makes a huge difference and most of my reading in the last few years has been on non-fiction as a category (yes, including, the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up!)

So when I figured there was something called Kindle Unlimited, I was pretty curious - a subscription service for Rs.199 and you get access to a million books? Sounded a little too good to be true.

Turned out it wasn't what I had imagined, about being able to greedily run about like a kid in a candy store, filling up a sack to be able to devour at home later. But it's pretty cool either way - first of all, what is Rs.199. Hint - it was the launch price of my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse' and my latest 'There's Something About You' sells for less than that! Kidding, couldn't resist. But that's not the point. The point is that we end up paying more for a coffee or a sandwich in many places. So for a month-long subscription to what is basically a HUGE lending library, with the convenience of browsing while sitting in your pajamas, it's not a bad deal at all.

How it works is that you basically sign in to your Amazon account and buy a subscription. That's it. And then you get to browse, choose and 'borrow' upto ten books at a time. My greedy-kid-in-a-candy-store rebelled at the thought of having to choose just ten at a time, but the past month or so has told me you really do not need more than that (how much can you multi-read anyway?).

I think there's something to be said for discovery through the Kindle Unlimited Program. It does get a little disappointing when a specific book that you REALLY want to read isn't a part of the library. On the other hand, if you search by a favourite author, there are chances you'll come upon some work of theirs that you haven't read. I don't find it very easy to discover by genre, but maybe that's because I've not really explored the same actively. I'd love for more personalized suggestions to come my way rather than always seeing what is most popular.

As an author, I have mixed feelings about the whole 'book-stores shutting down' thing. It's saddening to see those businesses die out particularly because the whole 'browsing' phenomenon was what led you to discover new books, which is so important. But given that we're clearly going digital and there's no going back, I think Kindle Unlimited is a pretty cool way to 'browse'. Also - you may not need to clean out your books in quite such a dramatic fashion in the future.

Mixed feelings about the whole phenomenon in totality.

But Kindle Unlimited: entirely worth a shot. Go for it.

All the price of a cup of (good) coffee. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wonderboxx Time

The pattern is now clear to me.

Every month after the Wonderboxxes arrive, Peanut attacks hers with great concentration. Within a period of just a couple of days, she'll be done creating her new gizmos.

Her October box was ''Optics & Illusions'' - you can check it out here.

This was a particularly neat box. We opened it up to discover that it contained, amongst other things -

a. A little book on optical illusions: Some of the time tested ones like whether you're seeing the face of an old woman or a beautiful princess, and some new ones I'd never seen. She was thoroughly tickled by these and even spent time copying them out in her own notebook.

b. A spinner toy: this was thoroughly entertaining for Peanut. She spent a lot of time showcasing how the spinning patterns caused the effect of something entirely different while in motion.

c. A periscope, a telescope and binocular making set -she was done with these very quickly, although with the last one, she insisted on my 'helping' her - this was also when she saw me helping Pickle and Papad with their box, and I suspect she was feeling left out. Otherwise, as far as the Ginomo boxes, meant for the older kids go, they can be handled pretty independently.

My verdict: Overall, pleased with the way Peanut is taking to the Wonderboxx. Happy about the time that it keeps her busy and away from trying to get in screen time. Of course, she's a big reader, but it's nice to see her building stuff. She also intends to take some of these creations to her Show & Tell at school, which is a great thing from a confidence building point of view. So good job to the team at Wonderboxx!

Peanut's verdict: (from her private blog)

This month another wonderboxx came. I think this one was the coolest for me so far. My wonderboxx subject was "Optic Illusions." In this wonderboxx I made a pair of binoculars. They were blue in color and had pictures of sea creatures on them. The parts were really easy to get as they came in the wonderboxx itself. I also made a telescope,periscope and a spinner toy. The spinner toy was the coolest. The paterns were different and beautiful. One patern was created in the way some persons eyes were getting hypnotized. When it was spun the circles moved round and round. Another had dots which were like circles when spun.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I also got a book which was called "Inside Out". It had so many cool things. Like there was a dog which ears shaped like cats. It asked below it "Dogs or Cats?" Then there was a picture of an old lady in which when I turned the book upside down was a princess. There were many examples like this. So long till my next blog!

The twins, on the other hand, got a box for the Kiddo age group, called 'Words & Storytelling'. You can check that one out here. 

It consisted of stuff like a story-telling puppet-making kit, a calendar, a word-building folder, alphabet puzzles.

Unlike with Peanut, the twins, since they're smaller and not quite as dextrous, this box as usual required a lot more parental involvement. Something that Wonderboxx is making me discover that I still need a lot of patience and work for. I was glad for the theme since I'm really trying to get them to read more as THE most key skill for them. The box had puppet-making, which we did together and which actually turned out nice because they made this frog and tiger-type-cat set and performed a little impromptu skit behind the sofa.

The one thing about the Wonderboxxes is that they don't always come with a LOT of instruction. I assume this is because they want kids to figure stuff out on their own. For someone with limited time and patience like me, this is really an exercise in patience, and we definitely have a lot of near-melt-down moments with the twins deciding that they want to do something their own way. As far as the twins boxes are concerned, I think they're as much about getting a parent more aware of their parenting styles and flaws as it is about firing up a kid's creativity and imagination. I approach each Kiddo box therefore, with some trepidation.

Over time, though, I think the twins are also getting reconciled to the fact that they have to share a box, that things won't always turn out perfect as shown in the colourful manuals, and so on. So overall, there's growth involved. And especially since these two aren't readers like Peanut, I am glad that there's something to distract them on a monthly basis.

We've yet to finish exploring their box thoroughly, even though it's been with us for a while. I want to take out the time to do it myself rather than leave it to them to tear through the box and lose the pieces. Maybe I should let go a little, eh?

In the meantime, I'm already looking forward to opening their November box...since it's the one on handling emotions - ''Superheroes & Feelings'', which you can take a look at here.

Wonder what I'm going to learn ;)

Keep up the great work, team Wonderboxx :)

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Proud Landowners

I can't believe he's actually doing it.

Vijay is turning into a Farmer. Experimenting on Rented Land. 

And now you can read how it all began below -

In Chapter 10 from my book 'Just Married, Please Excuse' - get it on Amazon here

The Proud Landowners
‘You know what? We should look at putting some money in some land.’
Vijay had been reading the property supplement of the paper while I applied my mind to the cryptic crossword. He folded up his paper with a businesslike rustle and waited for my reaction.

‘Really?’ I said. I had no idea about these things, but it definitely sounded like the kind of responsible and vaguely boring thing that a married couple would do. ‘Cool! What kind of land? How do we go about it?’

For a moment, Vijay looked like he didn’t have a clue either. But then he said with determination, ‘I’ll find out about the options.’

As I had already learnt, nothing made Vijay happier than finding out about the options. This obsessive behaviour applied not just to new purchases or investment decisions – even when he had to choose which socks to wear, he would first check out the options. Basically, he liked having a choice in every matter. Perhaps it made him feel in control. Privately, I put the matter of land completely out of my mind. After all, I reasoned, it had taken us four weeks to buy a sofa. Land would probably take four years.

To my surprise, when we got home that evening, it turned out he had already done some research during the day. ‘I got the number of this broker fellow called Dilip and spoke to him – he’s showing us a plot of land on Saturday.’

‘That was quick,’ I said with admiration. ‘So what kind of land is it? Will we build a house on it or are we just buying it for investment’s sake?’

Vijay could not contain his excitement as he announced, ‘It’s an agricultural plot in Devanahalli. We’re going to farm on it!’

Devanahalli was about thirty-five kilometers from the heart of Bangalore, basically in the middle of nowhere. I waited a moment to see if he was joking, but it didn’t look like it. His smile turned dreamy as he continued, ‘I’ve always wanted to own a piece of land on which I could grow my own stuff. Maybe even eventually make a living out of it by growing some medicinal crops, there’s a lot of money to be made in those. And the fresh air and the feeling of being close to nature – wah!’

He was saying something about vanilla, amla and something that sounded like Jethro Tull to me, but turned out to be jatropha. My mind was wandering a bit. I liked Nature as much as the next girl, but had never seen myself as a farmer’s wife. Out loud, I said, ‘Achha, that’s all very nice. But don’t you think we should perhaps look at something more practical? As in, maybe buy some land and sell it for a profit so that we can get our own flat or something?’

Then I noticed Vijay’s expression. He looked like somebody had punctured all his tyres, including the spare, and so I continued quickly, ‘But there’s no harm in checking it out, right? Just as an option.’

Vijay was happy again and I thought maybe it actually wouldn’t be such a bad idea to own some land near Bangalore. The busy corporate couple that we were, it could be our weekend sanctuary. A place where we could perhaps even entertain good friends. Get away from the madness of the city for a couple of days of rustic rest and relaxation.

Saturday rolled around and the two of us got ready bright and early. We were meeting the broker Dilip in the city and then driving together to the land.

It was a beautiful morning. The weather was pleasant and mild and there was a cool breeze. We drove with the windows down, enjoying the fact that we were putting some distance between us and the pollution and chaos of the city. The drive was long but the view was scenic and Dilip was a quiet, honest-looking sort of chap who struck me as the antithesis of the loud, obnoxious type that I had thought a broker should ideally be.

He spoke only a little, to tell us a bit more about the land. It seemed that it was owned by a family in Bangalore, who had been unable to spend time and money in cultivating it and now wanted to buy some land closer to the city. According to Dilip, they wanted to get rid of it at a throwaway price of five and a half lakh rupees. This still sounded like quite a bit of money to me so I firmly resolved that there would be negotiations – if we liked the land at all, of course.
With Dilip’s directions, we finally got to the land. It was quite far from the main road and we had to travel on a dirt track for about a kilometre, which Vijay noted with a muttered ‘Bad approach road’ as he struggled with the wheel to stay on the track. Finally, in a cloud of dust, we pulled up in front of the gate of the plot.

We got out, stretched and looked around appraisingly. The plot was fenced off, in the middle of a fairly barren stretch of land. As we walked through the gate, we were greeted by an old Kannadiga couple who served as the caretakers.

The place itself was beautiful. It was running a bit wild here and there but it seemed to be teeming with all sorts of vegetation. It was segregated into different parts and to my delight, one portion had mango trees. Vijay walked around with Dilip and the caretaker and carefully checked the various crops. There was a vegetable patch with potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes and so on. I had a feeling Vijay was already imagining the taste of his all-time favourite dish – alu gobi – cultivated from scratch.

The land was also much larger than I had imagined. I asked Dilip about the size and he said it was ten acres. It was so large that I stopped following Vijay around after a while and just sat down on a tree stump.

It was quiet and peaceful. The cool breeze brought with it scents of the different plants and trees. The only constant sound was the buzzing of insects. There were also a cow and a few goats owned by the caretakers which, I thought approvingly, gave the place just the right sort of rustic touch. It was intoxicating.

The clincher for us, especially as far as Vijay was concerned, was the borewell. It was not very well maintained, as Dilip admitted, but with some work, it could supply almost all the water required for the irrigation of the land. Vijay was fascinated by the borewell, insisting on drinking its water from it because the caretaker told him it was very sweet. I protested, afraid that he might keel over clutching his throat and die on the spot, or perhaps less dramatically, develop a stomach bug – but he simply cupped his hands and downed a mouthful of the water, leaned back to savour it and pronounced it indeed the sweetest water that he had ever tasted. His exact words were, ‘Wah!’

I observed him as he sat crosslegged next to the borewell. The white kurta that he had donned for the visit made him look like some sort of benign, mild-mannered young thakur. He asked the caretaker all sorts of questions about the different types of soils on the land, discussed with him and Dilip the merits and demerits of the various crops, which had thrived and which had not, and even held forth on what, in his opinion, the owners could have done differently. They had an extended conversation and the caretaker’s wife then served us steaming tea in steel glasses that were so hot that they were a challenge to hold. ‘Made with goat’s milk,’ she said in Kannada and Dilip translated for us. We were a bit sceptical about how it would taste, but after a sip or two, we were pleasantly surprised.

Dilip asked us what we thought, and Vijay and I looked at each other. I gave him a smooth, almost imperceptible nod. He missed it and continued to look blankly at my face for my reaction. I pulled him aside and hissed, ‘It’s nice. But negotiate.’

Vijay nodded and we went back to Dilip. Vijay said that we were prepared to look at the land, but only for five lakh rupees. Dilip said that five and a half lakh was already a very low price and that we could ask anyone about it. But he would try and convince the landowners to consider this price for us because he thought we were a very nice couple and he hadn’t seen any of the other prospective buyers take such an interest in the different aspects of the land as Vijay had. We also seemed to have the blessings of the caretaker and his wife, as they stood around eavesdropping blatantly, with ingratiating toothless grins. We shook hands with Dilip solemnly and left, thanking the caretakers for their hospitality.

We were now very excited about the prospect of owning the land. It was a fair amount of money for us, because I had just started work and Vijay had not felt the need to save a single paisa of his earnings till now. But we were certain we would be able to arrange it through some means – maybe a loan.

When we got home that evening, we talked about the various things that we would do with the land, maybe construct a little farmhouse on it over time or even a small guest house, eventually developing it into a resort. Vijay started off on his agricultural plan, but I tuned out again somewhere around jatropha and instead closed my eyes and imagined indulging myself in the jacuzzi of my very own spa-resort, while he rambled on happily about the various crop options.

By the time Monday rolled around, we were convinced that Dilip would have swung the deal for us and that we now fell in the category of landed gentry. In fact, as we discussed it on the way to work, we recklessly said we would be prepared to pay fifty thousand rupees more for the land, if it came to that. In the office, we talked about it with a few people and they seemed quite impressed, saying that five lakh rupees did sound like a throwaway price for ten acres – in fact, they warned us to be very careful because the price appeared to be so low that perhaps there was something wrong with the ownership of the land. We scoffed at them, saying that of course we would ensure we checked everything out carefully with the help of a lawyer. After all, it wasn’t like we were stupid.

That evening, Vijay got a breathless call from Dilip. ‘Sir, they are close to getting an offer for five point five lakh. I am telling them that if you pay even five point two, you are the people they should sell to – is five point two lakh okay?’

Vijay was very capable of making quick decisions on the spot. ‘Dilip, I’m not even discussing this with my wife. Just go ahead and tell them that five point two is fine for us.’
‘Great, sir. I will call you back in one hour.’ Dilip hung up.
Vijay looked over at me and nodded. He held out his hand and I high-fived it.

When Dilip called back, Vijay put him on speaker phone. ‘Sir, they’ve agreed. Can we set up a meeting tomorrow evening, five p.m., at their residence in Koramangla?’
‘That sounds fine,’ said Vijay. ‘Thanks a lot, Dilip.’
‘It’s okay, sir,’ said Dilip modestly. ‘It’s a good deal, sir.
68 Yashodhara Lal
Getting an all-white deal for fifty-two lakh rupees is not easy nowadays.’
His voice was all amplified and tinny and his words seemed to echo in the ensuing silence.
Vijay attempted to keep his voice level. ‘What did you say, Dilip?’
‘Sir, all-white deal for fifty-two lakh is not at all easy ...’
Fifty-two lakh rupees?’ Vijay’s expression as he looked at me was a mask of horror. I was sure mine mirrored it.

Dilip went on to say something else, but I had stopped listening. It all fell into place now. He had always said five point two lakh – of course he had meant five point two lakh per acre. I decided this was Vijay’s fault, as usual. He was the one who had started the entire discussion with Dilip. He should have been more careful. He should have been more aware. He should have ...

Vijay was saying, ‘Er, Dilip, you know what? We may need to get back to you on this.’
Dilip was taken aback, ‘But sir ... the meeting tomorrow?’ Vijay said, ‘Okay bye’ and hung up.
We stared at each other wordlessly, and then the expressions

of horror faded as helpless laughter took over instead. Vijay pointed at me and laughed. ‘And you thought five point two lakh rupees was too high ... ha ha ha!’
I retaliated by mocking him. ‘What about you? Drinking the water from the borewell, sitting there like some sort of thakur ... Haan, yeh paani toh bahut meetha hain ... Wah!’

‘Poor Dilip,’ he said once the laughter had passed. We maintained a respectful silence for him for a minute. Then Vijay asked me, ‘So exactly how do you plan to explain this to him?’ He deftly ducked out of the way to avoid the pillow I threw.

Poor Dilip was quite disappointed when Vijay finally called him to explain why we were backing out of the deal. Vijay said that we had consulted with some legal experts and there were apparently quite a few issues with the registration for ownership of agricultural land, especially in Karnataka, and it was not a hassle that we were willing to take on at the moment. He also added that we had decided we needed to be a bit more practical and purchase a flat before thinking about any other large investments. He thanked him for his efforts and apologized for the wasted time.

Dilip, who seemed to epitomize the expression Nice Guys Finish Last, said that he understood and respected our decision. He also agreed that the registration issue was a real problem in Karnataka if you didn’t happen to be originally from the state and said it was wise of Vijay to have found out about it. Of course, said Vijay smugly, it was our investment, so we had to look at it from all angles.

After all, it wasn’t like we were stupid. 

(Get 'Just Married, Please Excuse' Here)

And seriously? Like father, like sons. 

My men all believe in getting their hands dirty.