Wednesday, 1 November 2017

In Defence of Khichri

Khichri for comfort after a rough day. Anyday!
I must say that from the time that the khichri debate has started since yesterday I have been shocked. It seems that the present government wants to make khichri the national food of the country and that was enough to stir up a whole hornet's nest. The moment a Bombay daily declared this, a hue rose in the social media, people decided that it was a bad idea and many even said that it was eaten only when someone falls ill hence, it doesn't deserve the status of National Food.

I was upset for a lot of reasons and decided to not get into the Twitter war at all. Apart from retweeting a comment by Omar Abdullah where he asked if we'd now have to stand up and eat khichri, I was not too moved by the whole debate - especially the against part. 

Though I feel that I must confess why?

And here's the reason.

I love khichri!

For me it is the perfect comfort food. I love it. Period.

My dad is particularly scared of the days when I volunteer to cook dinner. His biggest fear being that I will end up making khichri and he'll be expected to eat it without grumbling. But, my dad's a sport. He grumbles but, eats it up.

My ma and my sister on the other hand, refuse completely. They's rather eat bread and milk and go to bed than have khichri. I find their whole attitude pretty bourgeoisie. Very preconceived like the rest  of those who are opposing the move to 'make khichri the national food' campaign.

I have never understood this lack of PR that khichri seems to have. Although I do agree that most people don't get the khichri right. They either make it too bland or thick or make it like a mash of lentils and rice which, I agree is inedible. You can sample this in any hospital and you will know what I am talking about.

Some people make khichri with black lentils or sabut urad and it goes for a toss because, black lentils take much longer to cook than rice and the result is really messy.

I have over the years tried making khichri or kedigree as the British call it in many avataars. On the onset, I must tell you that I will NEVER recommend it being made with black urad unless you soak the lentils separately for much longer than the rice or, start with cooking the urad first and then add the rice - which takes away from the authenticity of the dish!

I have made khichri with chicken and also love the one where I dry fry the moong dal before making khichri which is a very authentic Bengali version of it and is famously known as Bhuni Khichuri. But, I usually love my own version of it. 

So, my khichri is either made with moong or masoor dal. Here's the easy-peasy recipe for my favorite comfort food for dinner at the end of a rough day.

Take equal amount of rice and dal and wash it thoroughly.

Soak them together for say half and hour.

Meanwhile, peal a potato and dice it into four parts.

Take half a carrot and cut it into chunky pieces.

Take a few florets of cauliflower and cut them into medium sized pieces.

Wash a few leaves of palak or spinach.

Take a pinch of haldi, jeera or cumin powder and salt to taste. 

Take a pinch of cinnamon or dalchini powder.

One bay leaf or tejpatta.

A pinch of cumin seeds or sabut jeera.

Some green chilies chopped or cut from the middle - depending on your palate.

Take a clean pressure cooker, add a bit of ghee and wait for it to warm. Add a pinch of cumin seeds and bay leaf and wait till they crackle.

Add the potato and some salt to the ghee and saute it.

Add the carrots to the potato and saute some more.

Add the cauliflower to the mix.

Saute all the veggies till they are semi cooked.

Add the haldi and the jeera power and turn around to cover all veggies. 

Add the green chillies and stir till the mix starts smelling delicious.

Drain the rice and lentil and add to the veggies and stir a bit till everything is nicely mixed up.

Add the spinach and stir a little more.

Add water stir a little.

Add the cinnamon powder in the end.

Put the lid on the mixture.

Wait for one or two whistles and turn the gas off.

When you open up after a while, I dare you not to drool!

Well! That's it - I am going off to make khichri now. I don't care if it is declared national food or named brand ambassador of Indian cuisine. For me it's always been a winner with a capital W!


(Image courtesy, Internet)  

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Beat Stress without Breaking Sweat



As circa 2017 rolls to an end, I am left wondering at the speed at which it flew. The roller-coaster ride has left me breathless and panting. As the days flew by all I was doing was running to catch-up on tasks. Stress has been my arch-enemy for years now and we are often found squaring each other up, looking in the eye and getting ready to fight. This year was no different from the last though over the years I have invented many old fashioned ways to beat stress, my arch-nemesis.

Stress, that dreaded six-letter word never leaves the modern person even for a minute. Whether you are committed to working for one organization or juggling work for a multiple, like I do these days, it keeps dogging your footsteps all the time. The only saving grace this year was the fact that I didn't have to travel as much as I was earlier in my full-time job holder avatar. But, working from home or even from one office for another can be equally tricky because the distractions or the lack of them are often enough to bring on their own set of issues.

Over the years I have found several easy and cost-effective ways to stay happy. I would like to believe that I am my own anti-stress ninja. So because I an feeling extremely generous today, I thought of sharing some here with anyone who'd care to read this post. 

Here's my list:



Meditation: I absolutely swear by it. If you can just sit is one space and count your breath and feel it going in and coming out for even 15 minutes in a day you will be able to face the day much easily.



Chanting: Chant anything that makes you feel good. It could be an ancient and holy mantra or something that you have made up yourself to give you a morale booster. For example, you can chant, "I shall overcome anything that comes my way" over and over right before you start your day and just see how it effects your psyche. You can chant anytime of the day and under any circumstance to overcome your latent fear, fatigue or worries. It always helps.



Deep Breathing: No. This is not a new-age fad. Deep breathing is actually helpful. If you are unable to make a choice or you have too much work that is all on priority, deep breathing will help you overcome any kind of panic. Close your eyes, take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds. Pass it out through your mouth. Repeat a few times till the palpitation in you heart has settled down and so has your brain. Don't let panic get the better of you. Never decide when your head and heart are in turmoil.



Walking: This is the best way to settle your mind though I don't walk so much these days as I used to earlier because of the high rate of pollution but, if you are in a deeply troubled state and need to clear your head, walking till you sweat really helps. In case you have trouble sleeping then, half an hour of brisk walking before you sit down for dinner really helps. It works up your appetite and tires you enough to make you fall into sleep on time. In case you have time to take longer walks, then do so by all means, walking is the best cardio exercise you can indulge yourself in. I walk alone but, you can also do it in a group however, see to it that the group should not be walking too slow. The walk that will help you overcome stress and help you sleep needs to be brisk and long. Hang out with your friends at leisure at some other time if they want a leisurely canter with lots of gossip thrown in.



Listen to other peoples' problems: This is a very useful therapy but, indulge only if you can be unbiased and can keep things to yourself. By just listening to other peoples' problems and suggesting solutions as a third party helps you to unplug your immediate worries and lets you think. This helps immensely because, it helps your head and heart to detach from your own sufferings and start thinking of solutions. However, do it ONLY if you can be unbiased and also if you can stay detached to be able to guide and help others without getting sucked into their problems and adding to your own.



Help Out: Do it purely as a physical activity that goes on to help others. It need not necessarily be for an NGO or in a slum. You can help someone ill in the neighborhood by cooking for their family or taking care of their infant or a pet. You could help your elderly neighbor by watering their plants or buying grocery for them when you go out to buy your own. This kind of neighborly volunteering helps you build relationships with real people who appreciate your help and it is not something you need to go out of your way to do either. It's like car pool. You pick up a few people to ride with you because there is space in your car and they are going your way. 



Adopt a Pet: It could be a tree that needs watering or a stray cat or dog or any other animal or bird that needs to be fed. You don't need to bring them home, just ensure that they are fed and happy wherever they are and run them to the neighborhood vet if they are not feeling well.



Start a Hobby: This is the best way to beat the blues. Pick up a hobby that doesn't need too much time or expense like, cooking or clicking pictures with your smartphone. You could also take up painting or singing if you have the time and a teacher nearby. Hobbies make you happy. They give you a sense of accomplishment. You could just get a bunch of underprivileged kids on your balcony and teach them the English alphabet if teaching is what you like. The sense of joy is immense.



Travel: Go away for a few days if you can. You could go solo or take that one dear friend with you who never badgers you. Taking a simple break is always a great therapy for a stressed mind. If time is a constrain then play tourist in your city. Instead of hitting the mall, go to a museum or for a painting exhibition. Walk around a famous monument, eat local food from authentic joints or do a picnic with your family on a Sunday. A change of scene is always a great detox. It will help you overcome your immediate problems and think clearly.



Sleep: This is my personal favorite though it is often only a short-term solution. If I don't know the answer to a problem, I sleep on it. Sleep refreshes the body and relaxes the mind. Usually, it is easier to find the solution to your problems when you wake up with an uncluttered mind. 



Smile: This is perhaps the most difficult to do than all the others that I have noted above. But, if you can crack a smile and think of a funny incident in the midst of a chaotic day, your stress levels will take a southwards plunge. A smile is like a personal cuddle. It warms you up from inside and immediately relaxes you. Personally, I think of the antics of my young niece whenever I feel stressed. It never fails to make me smile even on a really dark day of work. Whether sitting in a traffic jam or unable to prioritize work for the day despite multiple deadlines, a simple happy thought and the smile that it brings can relax you in seconds. So, keep the happy memories handy on a difficult day. Think of all the happy times you have had and smile a lot. 

These are a few things that I practice to de-clutter and reactivate my brains on stressful days and even when things are going great. The idea is to practice these things so that they become a part of your life and personality. With these simple things as a part of your life, you can breathe happy and stay stress-free all the time. 

(Images courtesy, the Internet)

Friday, 27 October 2017

Say 'No' to Stay Happy




Life is never easy and mostly this is because there are too many choices to make. For every decision you take there are a thousand that 'could have been' or 'would have been' or 'if only'.

Personally, I have always faced a problem has been saying 'No'. I have always been scared of making someone unhappy by saying no when they want me to say, 'Yes'.

It had made my life thoroughly complicated and difficult for many years. The idea that I will hurt someone by saying 'No' always ended up by me being miserable for a long time for saying, 'Yes'.

The heart always knows what is right and the wise always go with their heart. I finally learnt to say 'No' from my young niece. When she was just learning to communicate at around the age two years, she would very clearly let us know if she did not want something. She'd simply say, 'no' and stick to her decision. Whether it was on food, time to be put to sleep, who she would want to be carried around by - for every decision, she'd look at what is on display and give her emphatic decision.

I learnt from her. By closely following her whims, I realized that she was exercising her right to choice without any outward influence. It did not matter whose heart she was breaking by saying no. What mattered was whether she was comfortable with the final decision - I observed that she always was. Once she decided, she stuck to the decision and stayed happy. She actually is a happy human being who is able to light up a dark day with her laughter.



Most of us are like her when while growing up. But, adulthood and society takes care of us soon and we become slaves to what is supposedly 'expected behavior.'

But, each time we say 'yes' to something that we wanted to say 'no' to, we kill a bit of ourselves by putting our happiness on hold.

Since Dussehra just passed us by, another story struck me and made me believe that what I learnt from the baby in the last couple of years was absolutely correct. It is the story of Ratnakar bandit who later became the great sage, Valmiki.

Ratnakar confessed to a monk he had captured that he became a dreaded criminal and highway robber to feed his family. The monk very calmly asked him to go back to his family and ask them if they were ready to take his sins on their heads because he was 'killing and looting innocents to feed them'.

Ratnakar without hesitating for a moment said, "of course they do. They are my mother, father, wife and children. They have always known what I do and how I bring home food. They are partners in my life of crime because they are benefiting from it."



The monk who was tied-up to a huge tree and had the fierce Ratnakar staring at him in the eye with a scimitar ready to behead him said, "Nothing is involuntary in the universe. Go and ask your family and if they say that they are ready to take your sins on their heads, I will be happy to die by your hands."

Ratnakar somehow could not say, 'No'. Perhaps this was his biggest character flaw as he was soon to realize.

He went back to his family in the jungle and asked each one of them separately and then, together but, everyone unanimously refused to take on his sins including his mother and beloved children. They all said, 'it was your duty to take care of us and you did it the way you decided to. We never influenced or asked you to take on a life of crime and murder to feed us. It was your decision to do so and therefore, the sins that you have incurred are also yours.'

No amount of begging or crying would change their minds. Finally, the truth hit the dreaded bandit that we are alone are responsible for taking our own decisions and therefore to suffer or reap the rewards of the Karma we make from them.

He thought he was making his family happy but, in taking care of their happiness he refused to take a road that might have been less paying thinking it would make his family happy. Probably they were too but, Ratnakar himself was not. He was miserable and constantly afraid of death that he meted out to others all the time. Probably it was his inability to overcome his fear of death that made him listen to the monk who had nothing to lose.

In saying 'Yes' to a path of crime, Ratnakar had permanently written-off his choice to be free of the ghosts of his own making. He was successful but, not happy.

He went back to the monk, let him off and took up a vow to cleanse his sins by praying on an ant hill for many years.



How that worked out and how he became the revered saint Valmiki, the author of Ramayana is another story and perhaps his reward for accumulating good Karma post renunciation of the material world.

That day however, was an eye-opener for Ratnakar because, he realized the hard way like most of us that we alone have to suffer our choices. No one will take up the responsibility of our mistakes or bad choices even if we have taken it to make them happy.

What matters is to listen to your heart and follow what your gut tells you.

Choose wisely to live happily because we are the protagonists of our stories and each story deserves a happy ending.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Please Pack my Bags, I Want to Travel



'Travel is a rebellion and packing is a spoilsport.' This happens to be my personal adage. I love to run around the countryside and am equally happy whether on a ramshackle bus or a luxury train. But, what puts me off completely about travel is packing.

'How irritating', is the first thought I get when I realize I have to pack. The entire euphoria of going away goes spiraling downhill. I feel like cancelling the trip and get panic attacks if I realize that I have to pack clothes for a different season. For example, winter wear during Summer if headed for the hills.

Mostly, I am pretty efficient and till date have missed a flight just once because of an inefficient cabby. However, I HATE to pack and often leave it till the end. I sometimes worry that I will one day cancel trips only because I loathe to pack - it is indeed becoming a nightmare of sorts for me as I grow older and thus, more rooted in my ideas!

But, it would be a lie if I say that I loved it when I was younger. Even when in college, I loved travelling so much that my teachers had started calling me Gulliver after the much-traveled chronicler from literature. All this glory when I was always hiding my fear of packing from the world and putting on a brave front.

For me packing is like going on war. I have loved the American novel, Three Men on a Boat for a long time because not only do the friends love travelling and meeting adventures face-on, they also hated packing. The author dedicates a whole chapter on the art of packing where the protagonists get everything wrong. It makes me feel awfully good and connected. As if I was the one Jerome K Jerome was thinking of when writing the story. Sigh!

Anyhow, I have now hacked some parts of it and this is how I manage,



To-do Lists
Keep ready a to-do-list for packing. In fact, I have more than one. One for winter, one for summer, one for road trips yet another for flights and journey by train etc. For long trips, short ones and overnighters. Make as many as you think yo may need and keep them safe - please keep them all together in one place. I keep mine in an old biscuit tin on my work table.

Packing Cheats




Pre-Packed Suitcase
Keep your suitcase packed with clothes for the next season. This really helps. As I said, my worst fear is packing for a different season, therefore, I pack my going away luggage with clothes that are from another season. This way, I just have to add toiletries, slippers, shoes and towels and I am done! Hola!!!



Toiletries
I keep buying two of the things that I mostly use. For example, lipsticks and gloss, hand cream, lotion etc. These I keep in a small pouch that I carry with me everyday. When I have to go somewhere, I just add a toothbrush, paste and body wash to the mix and throw it in. Also, carry a clean comb and a nail cutter if going for a longer trip.

Bedding
Holidays should be for rejuvenation and not for adding to the fatigue. I always carry a light cover up - even the air condition in the car, train or flight can be a killer and a small pillow to keep the neck straight even if you doze off. Saves nursing a stiff neck on vacation.




Food and Water
If embarking on a road trip and even not, I'd suggest that you carry plenty of packaged water. Water and cold drinks from the roadside are often tampered with and can cause a whole lot of stomach and other ailments like, typhoid or even jaundice. Also, carry tetrapacks of fruit juices, butter milk and energy drinks. Avoid buying bottled drinks from railway stations and roadside vendors. Carry packs of ready-to-eat murmura, chiwda, chakli and biscuits that you like. All brands may not be available everywhere. Throw in some dry fruits and pop-corn if you have extra space. This will ensure that you never go without food or water. This saved my life once when I realized after boarding a night train to Jammu that Gharib Rath Express does not serve food or water nor bedding.



Extra Batteries and Chargers
Check all your electronic equipment a day or two before departure and charge the batteries - both working and extra. Try to carry less as these are the things that will not only weight you down but, also attract thieves. Don't carry stuff that you may not require while vacationing like, a laptop if you just want to check your emails. You can do that very well on your smartphone. Carry a torch and some extra batteries - just in case.


Napkins, Wipes and Sanitizer
Carry plenty of wipes, sanitizer, soaps and napkins because not everywhere you go may put cleanliness at the top of their charts. Carry them especially if you are on a family vacation with children and the elderly.

Medicines and First Aid
If you are on regular medication, chances are that you will carry the prescription and the medicines without a reminder but, if not, carry basic medicines that work for you in your luggage. Depending on your requirements and the season, carry medication for fever, stomach conditions, aches and pains and so on. Also, carry plenty of band-aids and medicines for cuts and wounds. You never know when you may need some.



Umbrella and Extra Shoes
It is always sensible to carry an umbrella and extra shoes because, there is no knowing when it may rain.



Tickets, Passport and ID Cards
Finally, ALWAYS check and put the tickets and ID cards or passport in one zip pocket of your purse. Check the dates and time a few days before the trip or mark them on a calendar on your desktop.



Cash and Cards
Keep cash with you because plenty of roadside joints on the highway and even at railway stations will not accept cards. Keep the cash distributed in different areas of the purse or better still wear it around your fanny. Saves a lot of trouble though you may not look chic but, your money will be safe.

Note: Though the hacks are all mine, the images are from Pinterest.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Letter to Myself: Thank You Universe for another Happy Birthday!



Dear Life,

Birthdays are milestones in the story of life but, most tend to get lost in a haze of celebrations (pre-Internet era) and texting "thank you" notes these days.

Today I stopped midway to say thanks to the universe.

Why the universe?

Because, I have now with my slightly cracked-opened mind and heart (it happens as you age) with the "light" coming in through the chinks, I have realized that salvation lies in merging with "The One".

What is "The One"?

That can be interpreted in several ways, one God, one soul, the eternal world. Somewhere where there is harmony and peace. It could also be in a corner of this world or on Moon - who knows?

So basically, after all these eventful decades, I have decided to choose love over war.

No. That certainly doesn't make me a Hippie. But, it means for sure that I am more at peace with myself than I was in my younger self. I am aware of my strengths, I know I am emotional and how to hide it like I have learnt how to hide belly fat and I have decided that only rats run in races. I am NOT a rat!

I know that I am unique and capable of a lot of things that others find very difficult to do and many that I cannot. But, that is fine. I know someone else is better equipped to do it and that is their forte. I am not ashamed of not being able to take up that job.

I like it that I don't know everything. It means I am sane and not a control freak. But, I also know that I can pick up most things pretty fast because I have a curious mind.

Many people hate me but, that is their problem. I care only for those who have seen me through thick and thin.

This is the reason why I want to make another list of thank yous and send it out to the universe. So, here's my list:

Thank you universe for:

1) Wisdom to understand myself and my drawbacks and not feel bad about it

2) Wisdom to empathize but not get swept up by the feeling

3) My human self which comes pre-fitted with the best equipment like, the limbs to run and pick things with, tongue to taste, eyes to see and appreciate, ears to hear and understand meaning of each and every noise and the direction it is coming from and for being the perfect place to perch my glasses on. The nose to smell - danger, food and news! For the brain that takes care of the body, for my stomach, liver, kidneys and every bone in my skeleton. My teeth and nails, hair and skin that is so fragile that I HAVE to wear nice clothes to protect it.

4) My parents and family, because of whom I stay happy and calm

5) My friends and like-minded souls who never forget to give me a hand when I am falling

6) My books and all the writers who have written them with faith, wisdom and filled them with hours of entertainment

7) Movies that never fail to mesmerize me with their visualization that brings characters live on screen

8) Random people who never cease to amaze me with their kindness and warmth

9) Ice cream that keeps me going in Summer when my birthday comes and with it Summer vacations because of which I never got to celebrate in school. It used to feel like tragedy then

10) Food because it can kill the pain of even the worst break-ups

11) Art because it can heal any wound - emotional or physical and help you look and feel good (will explain in detail another time)

12) Teachers for being around always to show the way

13) Babies for demonstrating unconditional love

14) My inner being that shows me the way - this one is impossible to explain but, I swear I am not bi-polar. I took several online tests to check

15) My curious nature that allows me to live everyday counting a hundred small victories rather than one huge failure

I thank the universe for giving me all that is beautiful on Earth and for making those awfully painful cracks in my mind and heart to let the light in.

And finally, thank you all for reading this. May your life be happy and may everyone learn to count their blessings.

Love and light!

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Morning After...

Rainy Mornings
It should rain every night, And eyes feast on green and brown. They call the perfume petrichor. It must not be bottled up and poured, at will. I could not afford to buy if it was, Available in a fancy shop. It smells of womb, My mother's love. It covers me in lightness. My heart and soul, Languishing in the daily rot, Of existence, In mythical cities and towns, Open their third eye, To Tandava of love. Let me indulge, in lucid dreams. Of villages and mango trees. Of empty, faraway groves, That exist only in my head. The music of the rain, Tupur, tapur as the baby says, Makes me want to unfurl my wings. The notes perfect, The sound same, From the time I remember, Sleeping under a sheet of tin. I wish it rained every night. And, I don't have to, Water my plants, Or wash the car clean. ~ Shoma

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

How to Write a Story



I don't know how other people do it, but, this is how I write a good story. I am writing this article (full of trade secrets) because lately, a friend of mine asked me to help her out with writing real life case studies.

The cases happened to her but, after putting them on paper, she still needed someone else to clean them up.

When the lot came to me, this is how I assessed:

1) Too much Information: Too much information, mostly unnecessary or personal which has nothing to do with the story is a definite 'no'. Always remember to take a step back when telling a tale. You cannot become the main character in a story about other main characters. Unless it is your story. If you are a catalyst, then stay that way. Be detached until your cue. Don't clutter your tale with information that is irrelevant.

2) Exposition: Just like good drama, a story should also open with introducing the characters and the problem statement. Don't talk about the nice weather or the cute puppy unless it is for setting the mood. Even then, you should never give it more than 10 - 12 words - max!

3) Character/s: I always create my characters before writing their stories. If your characters are well defined on paper and in your mind, they will tell your story for you. Try it at your own risk though because they will start talking to you and wake you up in the middle of the night and compel you to make changes - joking. But, if you take longer than one sitting to finish your tale, it could become a reality! Don't add unnecessary characters unless they are going to be a part of the narrative with a role to play in pulling the story forward.

4) Problem/s: Your story has to have twists. If your story is a simple narrative of a day in the life of Mr X, it better be more than Mr X waking up and going to the loo and then to work. Ensure that Mr X goes to the loo and meets his match or more in there. Unless there are insurmountable-sounding problems, no one is going to read through it. A story should have enough twists to keep the reader guessing and wanting to know how it will end. Even if your story will have a happy ending or if the outcome is already known from the start, you need to keep throwing twists and suspense to keep the readers glued.

5) Emotions: Don't forget emotions. Humans are a strange species, they have achieved so much in the last few millennia but, despite all the scientific and technical achievements, they only operate out of emotions. Think about it. If your story has the right emotions it will move your audience, make them empathize with your readers and sell your idea. If your tale is cut-and-dried though brilliantly written, don't blame the readers when they stop reading mid-way. You have not been able to build a bond with them.

6) Dialogue: Keep your dialogues simple and short. Write them in the language of the masses if possible. No one speaks using the lexicon to talk to people in real life. Remember, Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit." Long dialogues/ monologues and soliloquies are fine for drama but, no one whispers and talks aloud in real life in difficult sentences without being called a cuckoo! Your dialogues should move the story and add drama. Don't waste words on mundane conversations that don't pull the story forward.

7) Resolution and Climax: Resolution is a must. All the open ends in the story should be closed with proper explanation before the end. If even one problem is not closed or one action by a character is not explained the story remains open-ended and loses its punch. All the characters that you have introduced through the tale and their problems should all be put to rest right before you close the tale. There should be NO lose ends.

8) The End: If your story is written for commercial purposes then end it on a happy note. Even if the protagonist has taken a difficult decision, it should make either him or someone else very happy. It should come out as a sacrifice for 'greater good'. This will help by increasing his worth in the eyes of the reader and raising him to the level of a hero. Ensure that at least one character of the story stays with your audience when the tale is over.

Note: Avoid footnotes at the end! Never moralize or summarize. Don't ever make the mistake of putting a note at the end of your story with a moral or a summary. Never! If you want to preach, then do it through the tale and write it in such a way that everyone is able to get the moral without your preaching.

Here's hoping to read good stories! 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

What Users Want


If you are in the business of content development you should know by now that there is no way to know what will work with your audience.

It is sometimes baffling what will click with an audience and what may not. At times I have posted some well-curated or well-researched content but, found no takers. In contrast, some very random posts get totally unexpected appreciation. The pattern is same with learning content. You may design the best learning games or weave the learning into the best of stories but, when you evaluate retention, you realize the audience was not engaged enough to learn!

I agree that high-end learning does not work for everyone however, there often is no telling what does. What is making the business of catering to tastes more and more difficult now is also the fact that in this era of 'individualism' you cannot really club users into types or groups anymore. There are all possibilities that the content may not work for everyone in the group.

Why?

With increased presence in the social media at all times thanks to the smart phones, everyone has become an 'individual'. The digital social presence that started with chat rooms hanging out with virtual people in the late 90s when a conversation started with, "ASL (age, sex, location) please" is now crowded with curated presence on the Internet. You don't need to ask anything about a person anymore - just go to their Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Reddit, Tumblr or Instagram profile/ handle and it's all there. Every profile has a storyline. You can go on Twitter and check a person's political views or lack of it or read blog posts to determine their thought process.

Each and every person is a storyteller today and have the leading role in the story of their lives. No doubt that a recent survey recently reported that 50% of the Millennials think that their lives should be turned into a movie.

Don't be surprised. When you put up your life on the Internet and treat your smartphone like how Gollum treated the ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and share every moment of your life on a platter with friends and strangers, you obviously start believing that you are a brand. While many argue that this kind of presence on the social media is making strangers of family members because the only place they hang out together is on the Net, I firmly believe that being on the Internet helps broaden your horizons. The access to news, ideas and knowledge is immense and it is all free. When you are browsing all the time and learning so much, your IQ is bound to be much more developed than many others around you and you are bound to have very well-developed interests as well as dislikes - in short, you know your mind and don't care if it does not match your peers'.

Which brings us back to our dilemma, what works for such a diverse and eclectic audience who already have access to almost every information for free?

It is obvious that despite knowing that your audience has individualistic tastes it is not possible to create content targeted for individuals. So, what is the solution if we cannot create content targeted for either groups and individuals then what works?

The best solution would be asking them to do it.

Don't be surprised by the solution. It has already a rage in the marketing world and also in learning and development. It is called, Reverse Marketing' in one and 'Hands-on Training' in the other. It comes with personal branding and endorsement of and from each and every individual involved.

Have you ever thought why a Kim Kardashian is so well-followed individual with immense influence though she is neither a movie star nor a model? I am sure you have and the answer is that she is famous for being famous! She and her family are mostly famous because they hung it all out there for their reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The intimacy of sharing their daily life with television audience for several years made them immensely famous. And while we would think that daily life of a family would put people off, in reality it had the opposite effect. The audience bonded knowing that no one was writing the script and that the storyline was developing on its own just like their own lives and wanted more. The rest as they say is history!

Now, take for example the soap brand, Dove. They burst into your lives with real people and real stories. They ran a series of advertisements where unknown women shared their tryst with the soap on TV endorsing the fact that it made their skin feel smooth and happy. It worked. It still is working. Dove has no celebrity brand ambassadors but, has a thriving niche market!

Now, think of all the blogs and Instagram postings and Facebook and Twitter shares on the social media. It is engaging billions of like-minded as well as diverse sets of people with each other. The influencers with huge online following are as easily unknown people who have gone 'viral' as much as well-known faces from glamour, sports or politics.

So, coming back to our discussion, what works, well... Here's your answer.

I have said it earlier and I will say it again. You can click with your audience by being yourself and being visible. Create a strong platform for yourself. Make your opinion count and let the audience come to you. Be the viral guru!

Or

Throw the platform open. Interaction is the key to your success. Let the users lead the show.

How?

It is pretty simple actually. Let them set the pace. Here are some of the ways you can do it:

1) Use interactive platforms where your users can share their experiences, thoughts and ideas

2) Let the users lead the campaign or training - you can be the facilitator

3) Let the users dive into their experiences and share their understanding of what you want to teach/ sell

4) Ask them to upload videos, submit papers or write ebooks that endorse or reinforce what you are wanting to say

There are many other ways to do this as well but...

Yes there is always a but.

When you throw your doors open to the village, you need to keep a watch that your house is not ransacked.

What do I mean?

Simple. When you are letting everyone share their opinion in your campaign or course, you need to have the last word. Ensure that you check and curate everything that goes out to the world. Your role is the most important here. You will be the floodgate that lets the water out. If you don't know when to clamp-down and when to let go, then it may not work.

How to do that?

Well, that would be the topic for another story. For now, build your community, gather it together and take the plunge!

All the best!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Why Content should Hit the five Senses



Every human being has five sensory organs and uses them to learn, remember and memorize situations and incidents. These memories help shape their character and behavior. As a content person you need to ensure that at least two to three of these sensory organs are getting stimulated to make an impact on your audience. But, hey! They are once removed from you and hence, virtual. So, how will you work it out?

This is a problem that anyone creating marketing campaigns would face. Because, unlike a sales person, a marketing content writer does not have access to a live audience except during an event. But, organizing events is a pretty expensive proposition which would require a whole lot of propaganda to rope in the target audience.

So, how to sell an idea to a virtual person?

The answer is simple, target their five senses.

I'll take a simple example. You need to create a campaign for an audience that travels frequently and enjoys it. You have to 'help' them decide that it is best for them to cook their own food when travelling and then, help them train on basics of cooking using vlogs or videos that have been either made by your team or by a client. Or maybe sell a cookbook or dried ingredients that can be carried around the world easily as they travel.

Your brief is clear but, how about the audience?

Obviously your audience is a bunch of travelers who wake up in two to three different places every month, cooking would be the last thing on their minds. As it is, they can grab exotic local food for very less price wherever they are.

What can you do to make them change their minds?

This is usually the most important part. And this is exactly what your client expects you to do.

Your client wants to sell the concept of cooking-on-the-go to people who are least bothered about cooking because they are travelers. They may not even be looking at anything cooking-related at this time. So, what is the way around to get their attention?

Often a content specialist is expected to sell an idea to an unresponsive audience and therefore, is no less than a sales person. While a salesperson uses spoken words demonstration to sell items, a content person is stuck with the difficult prospect of often selling ideas and concepts to people who are not even engaged. They may not even look at your efforts as they are not hardwired to look for it.

Don't worry there is always a way around. That is why you get paid. Get the attention by hook or by crook. If normal is boring then try disruption. It will at least get you attention. Remember, Shakespeare said it first, "Beg, Borrow or Steal." Or as in this case, use your guile to pull the audience into a cauldron of sensory perceptions.

How?

Do what you have to. Use emotions, explore their interest areas and the mediums best suited to reach out to them because they would be using them more. You have to be aware of your target's head or rather how it works.



Remember, the most important sensory organ are the eyes. Research says that:

  • Almost 50% of your brain is involved in visual processing at any given time
  • 70% of your sensory receptors are in your eyes
  • A visual scene is sensed in less than 1/10th of a second

So, there you are. Grab the eyeballs - literally!

Remember, unless you delve deep, you cannot succeed. I'd say that if the stakes are high, go walk a mile in your users' shoes. You can befriend them online, join clubs where they frequent or travel to a new location where you can hangout with them. In short, see and figure out what they like to see or would want to see.

This is research and is often hard work.

But once you know your audience and what moves their groove, target it. Develop a campaign around it. Maybe they genuinely miss home cooked food or they just want to save money. Who knows? Try all the pressure points you discovered during your research because not everyone will have the same taste or thought process.

Now, start by creating curiosity about your product. How it can change their lives and make it better than it already is? Let the sense of hearing be clubbed here and make interesting videos that not only show and tell but, also compel to touch and taste.

Once the target audience starts hitting your website, they need to be hooked. They need to be interested enough to stay and check it out. That's when your skills at content creation and designing comes in. Your web design should be minimal and website, easy to navigate. If you think that your hard-earned visitors will be hard-pressed for time, make your campaign the central point on the website. It can be a stand-alone page that tackles nothing else.

So, now that your audience is here and looking what should you do? Well! It again depends on the visitors you are attracting. Use this attention wisely. They will only give you a few seconds at first so, be sure that you have your pitch ready and run with your idea before they can say, 'blink'.

Now that you have lived their lives, you must now what ticks their boxes. Go for it. If you think they miss home-cooking then, showcase a tempting video of easy-to-cook meal that tastes just like home and give it away for free. Let them try it out at their own pace. Let their nose smell and tongues taste the labor of their own cooking using your sample video.

If you think, that they need a push in the right direction, you can show them the money or the health benefits of home cooking.

You could use an infographic on how cooking their own meals with simple ingredients can considerably lower their overall cost of travelling. That should make them sit up. Show through it that with the money saved they will be able to take an extra trip every six months maybe. You will of course need to work it out.

Or use the health and safety plank. How cooking their own simple meals can help them stay healthy on foreign trips and unhygienic food.

Use your research and go for the kill. Ensure that they click on a free video to check how to make this miracle happen.

Once, they have tried your product for free, then they can decide if they can really go with it or not.

You must realize that only 10 in say 500 will actually pay and sign-up for your product and maybe just 1 or 2 will further endorse you and refer you to others. So, you need to keep the traffic coming.

Happy fishing!


Book Review: Once Upon a Time... - One Frenchman against British Imperialism



I was going through a reader's block for a while and picked up this book on a whim and also because, Sam Miller's book on Delhi had left me impressed a few years back. I did not expect much from it but, easy reading that I hoped would put me back on the proverbial horseback riding of book reading. I was not disappointed on that front. I took to it like duck to water.

The story is full of hyperbole and loopholes but, the writer tried hard to show Indians in an somewhat impartial manner as humans and not barbarians. He also tried to be respectful of the Hindu religion though failed totally to justify untouchability. I do not think he was wrong in upholding that ideology. Many today will agree with him. He has rather ended the story in a way that the Republic of India was formed a hundred years later - equality for all.

I agreed to him in most of his views though Alfred Assolant never visited India! But, so what? Bibhutibhushan Bondopadhaya had never been to Africa and yet wrote the must-read book of all Bengalis coming-of-age, Chander Pahad. It is full of cliches and a hero who is just out of school!

Anyway, coming back to this book, I loved the characters of Capt Corcoran and his pet tigress, Louison. They are both obviously larger than life and not much unlike the merry gang of Kipling's Jungle Book though, Louison never talks and that's perhaps what puts it on the shelves for young adult and adult readers. Or anyone like me who loves a tale of swashbuckling adventures replete with beautiful young princesses and treasures. I guess no one can find fault in that genre of storytelling. It's as old as the hills.

Also, most people read fiction or watch films is to run away from the reality. Isn't it?

So, to cut a long story short, despite my reading handicap, I finished the story in two sessions and being a Bengali could not help compare it to Chander Pahar that I had read as a young adult in the original Bengali version. It was as riddled with cliches and struggling to rise above it on Africa as this one does on India.

Overall, I enjoyed it immensely because it made me laugh at the antics of the young Frenchman and his adventures in India. It is full of cardboard characters both Indian and British. We never get to understand or delve deep into the head of the characters much though each important one gets a brief historical narration about them and how they ended up in the thick of action that the book is.

However, Corcoran and Louisa are the real plot movers. The captain being the embodiment of everything heroic down to being a good human being and a just ruler and Lousia the tigress being the perfect foil, a diva of present day Angelena Jolie's caliber who can be a female and a toughie in the same frame. The beautiful Indian princess is just a cardboard prop in the story. The Balinese tigress is the real deal.

I'd recommend anyone who loves unrealistic adventure tales to go for it.

It's easy to read and fairly unbiased in narration of the Indian characters though mauling the characters of those serving British East India company badly - in words and through Lousia's actions.

I could go as far as to say that it kind of fits right in with the nationalistic fervor we are witnessing these days!

Happy reading folks.