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. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Blink and Miss: On Millennials & Overcoming Attention Span Disorder



I read recently that millennials have an attention span of 12-8 seconds - even less than that of a goldfish!

I know that most of you already know that but, what are we going to do about it?

As a creator of content it almost turns me into a ball of knots to think that I have no time to catch attention of the people I am trying to catch attention of - go figure!

I have also been reading up on disruption as a technique to catch attention but, I honestly do not believe that attention grabbed that way can be held for too long. It can be used as a one-time-odd gig to pull people in but, it doesn't guarantee that they'll stick around.

So, what can I do to grab those roving eyeballs and turning heads to stay in place and glued to what I want them to see - my content?

I pondered for a couple of weeks on this and meanwhile, kept rewriting my draft here. I spoke to some of these so-called 'dreaded' millennials and found them not much different than me in habits and behavior. Except for one BIG difference - they were way more relaxed in their approach towards life and that they pursued things with passion. If it clicked for them then, they'd move mountains to work on it.

No wonder then that there are so many web influencers who are perhaps half my age but, they have huge following on web portals and social media. They may not be sharing the best, most polished content but, they were dedicated and honest in their postings. They are also interacting with others in their network. They have grown because they actually read what others were writing, cared to comment and strike up conversations. Plus, they are sharing personalized messages and views on what works and what doesn't. There is a lot of care in the chaos if you look at it closely.

Which led me to believe that they were actually not lacking in attention department but, were pretty high on the passion front. They like to be appreciated and in turn are ready to appreciate other people's handiwork albeit it is a personalized and honest attempt and I am not talking of the bloopers videos!

So, wow! Therein lay my answer.

Buried in the discussions on lack of attention we had forgotten that, we are equally inattentive when it comes to things we don't care for. But, the difference between Gen X and the Millennials is that the later are passionate in their pursuit of what holds their fancy. It does not matter too much if it doesn't bring home the bacon but, it does make them feel appreciated. There are so many of them touring the Earth like vagabonds on tight budgets to be able to click pictures of remote places and share them with the world. There are those who are religiously blogging about their newborns and toddlers or baking recipes. They don't care to follow the tried and tested path unlike their predecessors.

It all fell in place the other day while interviewing a girl for a corporate role, I asked her the age-old HR question, "where do you see yourself five years from now?" I was smugly settled thinking she'd make up a long story about climbing the ladder to the top but, she stole my thunder with, "I want to start my own bakery and be a famous TV food host." She was so convinced that she was going to achieve it by watching YouTube videos of other famous cooks and chefs and baking up a storm in her kitchen. She didn't come from a very well-to-do family nor did she look like someone who had everything provided for her by her doting parents. On the contrary, she was contributing to the family income.

I loved her answer and it made me rethink everything that is being said about the Millennials. They are not seeking what the Baby Boomers had not already asked for. Then why do we criticize them for putting themselves and their families first?

We couldn't even say that to our folks at home forget at job interviews.
  
After that I decided to look into each and every bit of content that I have been working on and asking myself:

  • Is is great?
  • Does it make an emotional connect?
  • Is it focused?
  • Is it easy to understand and follow?
  • Does it make an impact?


And the most important question:


  • Will it stop me in my tracks if I had not made it myself?


The last question is the most important. If we are able to answer it honestly. A whole lot of issues that we face with audience attention disorder can be done away with if we can answer that one from our guts.

So, my take on creation for the supposedly ADD Millennial audience:


  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it focused 
  • Keep it useful
  • Don't preach
  • Make it your own


Unless we can honestly tick all the boxes, keep reworking. You will hit the sweet spot! (Pun intended) 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Instructional Designer as a Bespoke Tailer


'Instructional Designing is boring!' I often hear many younger teammates complain. The lack of creativity often turns many towards trying out other more creatively-paying jobs abandoning ID by the wayside.
But, I have always disagreed that argument. An ID's job is NOT boring. On the contrary, it is no less interesting than that of a Fashion Designer's or Bespoke Tailor's!
"Training becomes boring without interactivity." This was the very first input I had received when I started off around 14 years back as an ID.
"But, how much interactivity?"
That is a pertinent question to ask especially when you are creating content for classroom training purposes. Because, in a classroom, the trainer is the helmsman who keeps things going. S/he needs to have a grip over the class. If the content is too interactive, the trainer may have a tough job keeping things together. Unless of course it is an outdoor training camp or a theater workshop. Then of course, the approach changes.
Similarly, while developing creative content which could be either, game-based, story-based or audio/video-based, it is important to know your audience and then, think what would work for them before running with a current fad.
Remember that the latest in fashion does not work for everyone. A stylist or a fashion designer would suggest different clothes to enhance the personality of each client. A dress is often designed keeping in mind the demography, body type, age, season, fashion, purchasing power and finally the outfit to make an impact by enhancing the personality of the one wearing it.
Similarly, Creating training content is like high-end or bespoke tailoring. You need to cut the cloth according to the requirement and keep in mind the personality of the wearer. It may not be as glamorous a job as a fashion designer's but, it is very similar. The idea is to cut the cloth according to need.
Many IDs often think that theirs is a very non-creative line of work. They are not thinking out-of-the-box. A good course material always reflects the ingenuity of the Instructional Designer. They are like well-tailored suits. The cloth is cut and stitched to accentuate the wearer's body and highlight their best features while hiding the flaws. Similarly, a well-designed course should also work for the end user by not just being good to look at but, also allowing them to learn and apply the newly-acquired skills at work thus enhancing their career.
If you don't study your end users or recognize their needs, the training content you create for them is unlikely to make any impact on the learner. No matter how creative, interactive, beautiful, knowledgeable your training material, it will only work if it is relevant for the end-user and enhances their skills and boosts their careers. Just like a beautiful but flashy outfit would look out of place on an elderly person but, works wonders on a younger wearer and vice versa.
To be able to make hard-hitting training course, an ID needs to get inside the mind and working life of the end user. The ID also needs to speak to the manager, the customer and the company head honchos to understand what is it the vision of the organization and where does the target audience fall in the scheme of things. As a dress must be designed keeping in mind the need and the occasion when the wearer is going to put it on. A party dress cannot be worn to work.
Then there is the content itself. It pays to remember that a Subject Matter Expert (SME) is NOT an ID. An ID needs to pick and choose the relevant and discard the rest this is very important. It is often difficult for the SME to do so. Not every tailor can be a designer. Can they? But, a fashion designer need not be an expert tailor. Their job is to make their clients feel confident of facing the world in the clothes designed for them.
Finally, the medium of instruction, how will the training be delivered? Will it be on an online platform? Will it be delivered face-to-face? On a mobile phone? As a book or workbook? As a hands-on training? These factors also have an impact on the course design. Each medium needs to be handled differently and an interactivity used in one for the same course cannot be reused in another - at least not without making proper adjustments to make the activity/ game/ story fit in with the medium. As cloths are designed keeping in mind, season, trend, age, lifestyle and many other factors.
If your assessment is correct then your course design solution is definitely going to make an impact on your learners' careers just like a designer dress on a fashionista. At the end of the day both the Instructional and the Fashion Designer help their clients by making them face the world with confidence.
But, don't forget the Jazz. It helps keeping the story moving in the classroom or in a self-learning session.
Happy designing folks!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Content Can't Be Original But, Treatment Must Be


Creating original content is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world. I was reading somewhere the other day that, 'everything original has already been created by God.'

It's absolutely true.

Every story worth telling has already been told and every idea worth trying has already been applied by someone at some point or the other. Few scientific discoveries are without controversies. For each patent or scientific discovery that is lauded, there will at least be a handful of inventors who at some point will come out and say that they too were on the verge of discovering the same thing or that they had already discovered but, did not file for the patent on time.

This is not unusual because, everything worth discovering is already out there for millions of years. Man has been walking on Earth for a 1000 generations now and every story worth telling has already been experienced/ expressed by someone even if it is the most unique or one of its kind.

So, what makes the cut if every story has already been told?

You.

Yes, you are the USP of your story. How you tell it, what is your focus, your roadblocks, your perspective is what makes it unique.

The greatest storyteller of all time, William Shakespeare never used a single original story. He picked up some of the most well-loved tales from across the continent and adapted them with timeless dialogues and some of the most well-crafted scenes that have been put up on stage ever.

To his credit, he knew the pulse of the audience. He knew emotions made an impact on them. They could connect to them at the level of blood, sweat and tears. There were blood and wars, love and thunder, heads rolling and kissing on stage that made the onlookers throw rotten eggs and tomatoes at the actors in excitement. And made them come back again and again for repeat shows.

Needless to say that William Shakespeare who studied in a free school and was caught poaching a fawn from a rich man's estate retired a rich man himself - not to mention famous and influential and well-known.

I have always believed that Shakespeare's vast success is due to his great understanding of human emotions and being in touch with the common people of his time. Another interesting thing that Shakespeare's works showcase is that human emotions are timeless. The plays with their deep understanding of human nature remain relevant even till date.

Any good content should be treated as your creation. Creation is like giving birth or rebirth. When you create you are bound to put a lot of you in it. And that is what makes your creation exceptional. A lot of great works of arts were birthed by mistake or made unique because of the creator's quirk.
If it was not for cataract, we would not have seen the waterlilies by Monet as they are till date - masterpieces.

I rest my case with what I started with, to be a great creator, you have to immerse yourself in your work and make a difference in the outcome just by being you - just like I did in the image that I created for this piece.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

To the Pedantic Penis

Enough is enough!
This is my space, my life.
I will do whatever I like.
Don't come in my way.
Don't interfere.
Don't tell me I can't.
Keep your pedantic penis to yourself.
If I need any advice,
I'll ask.
Keep out.
Stay away.
I can run the home.
Manage finances.
Light the fire.
Change the bulbs.
Open jars
Mend the car.
Take out the trash.
Also,
Cook,
Read,
Clean,
Do the accounts,
Write cheques.
Wash the dishes,
Lift weights,
Manage children.
Run, drink, smoke.
Climb mountains.
So, take your dirty shoes,
The wet towels.
Your soiled laundry.
Your moods.
Bottles of beer.
Overflowing ashtrays.
And your food critique.
I am done with your ego.
And dare not call my vagina vain.
It's far more liberal,
Than your ideas on the gays.
Or your jokes on blondes.
It's not that I don't love you.
I just love myself more.
As I should.
So, find some other place.
Don't sully my space.
I can manage without your "help".
In fact, if you seek my opinion,
It is you who needs "help"
Not me.
Can you make another person
All by yourself?
Think.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Jaipur Blues: A Tale of Glazed Blue Pottery of India

This winter I was in Jaipur for a few days. Since I am a Dehli'ite, this was obviously not my first trip to the Pink City.

Therefore, I steered clear of the tourist circuit and went searching for local flavors in handicraft shops and decided to visit Blue Pottery workshops.

Blue Pottery meandered its way into India in the 1700s all the way from Egypt via Persia and Kabul through Mongolia and pretty much most of West Asia. There are many stories around this craft - some as colorful as the pottery itself and all available on the Internet. So, I'll not get into it at all.


The Mughals and the Rajputs took to them with equal fervor. Many mosques and mausoleums were beautified using these 'Turkish tiles' in 18th and 19th century India.

Blue Gumbad in Delhi at Humayun's Tomb crossing
If you have the interest in looking for the obvious, you can find it on plenty of domes and walls dating back from Mughal rule scattered all around.

Of course, the Blue Mosque in Afghanistan is the most spectacular of the lot and the most photographed as well. One cannot not close their eyes and not see that one shot by Steve McCurry that slays all shots taken of the mosque before or since. Everything clicked since come out looking like a fake of that iconic picture - if that is possible! :D

Steve McCurry's Iconic Picture of Mazaar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan

Anyhow, I took an auto-rickshaw from my hotel by the famous Jal Mahal and went to town and found myself in shop that also was a workshop owned by the Doraya family called, Blue Craft Studio. I met there, Anil Doraya who is a National Award winning craftsman and the ninth generation practitioner of this craft.


Now into the 10th generation, the entire Doraya family practices, designs, teaches and sells blue pottery. The place smelt more of passion than business as Doraya showed me how the pottery is made from scratch.

A funny fact about Blue Pottery - it is the only pottery in the word that is not made with clay!

The basic ingredients used are the same as was used by the ancient Mongols and Egyptians and in Persia and Mesopotamia.


A mixture of, ground quartz stone, powdered glass, katira gond (glue), eatable gond, Multani mitti (fuller's earth), Saaji (soda bicarbonate/bentonite), maida (wheat flour),  Borax, zinc oxide, potassium nitrate and boric acid and water is ground in a stone grinder (the same kind as used for wheat) to make the 'clay'. Hey! What???

However, since I love colors and glittery exteriors - I'm not complaining.

It is made almost the same way as it was in ancient Egypt. Go figure that!

The Blue Glazed Pottery is not only ancient, it is also immensely usable as crockery, tea service, water jugs, pegs and as wall tiles. Yes, it is expensive. But, I just told you how many ingredients are used to make the dough. After the dough is prepared, it is molded, cleaned, shaped, if required, a base is added using a potter's wheel, then, smoothed and coated with a layer of powdered glass, ground quartz and maida. Mind you, all the above steps are done manually!


Then, the product is hand-painted painstakingly.

Finally, the piece is glazed using a mixture of powdered glass, Borex or suhaaga, zinc oxide, potassium nitrate and Boric acid. This mixture is heated in the kiln till it melts. On cooling, it turns into small pebbles. It is then ground into powder in the grinding machine. This is then, mixed with water and maida (for an adhesive) and the solution is coated on the vessel - all by human hands.

At the end, the pieces are baked in a kiln.

That sounded like a long and painful process but, that is the reason why we need to pay for craft.

Another reason to buy Blue Pottery is of course fear of extinction. Like most other crafts, blue Pottery in India too has almost met with extinction more than once.



It came with the Mughals and flourished during their early regime. They used these tiles extensively to beautify the palaces and mausoleums they built across India. However, during the reign of Aurangzeb when all Arts came under the scanner, this craft also got the axe. However, it was the Rajput kings of Rajasthan, especially the Jaipur dynasty that gave it another lease of life hence, it is called Jaipur Blue Pottery now!

The Hindu kings invited the craftsmen from Delhi to come to Jaipur and work there. There are again many stories here and all available on the Internet. However, this craft was revived once more in the last decade since it had again gone into decline after the abolition of Royalty once India became a democracy!


And even if that doesn't make you want to stock some up, you obviously either don't like the color blue, art or you have skipped the paragraphs and only looked at the pictures.

If you have NOT gone, hopping, skipping and jumping and have loved all the pictures here and love history and art then, go and buy some for your home and get that Royal feeling.

For all those who are planning a visit to Jaipur this year, I'd suggest that you look into one of the Blue Pottery workshops that dot the city. It would be something new to do and off the normal tourist trap.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Confession of a Dreamer who Lost to a Toddler

Yes, yes and yes! Child is the father of man amd that is the truth universally accepted though we all have to learn this by burning our hands and egos. Believe me.

My little niece has picked up one phrase these days that defys all preconceived notions about age vis-a-vis intelligence. Losely translated, It goes this way, "I may be a kid but, I'm no fool!" or as she says in Bangla, "Ami bachcha kintu boka na!" 

I agree!

Today I tried to confuse her by making the doodle tree sprout an orange. Not a one to be taken up by any magical nonsense, she calmly picked up the orange, while I was busy trying to impress upon her that it had sprouted from the doodle tree, and ran with it to my ma saying, "oraaaaange!" 

Yes I should have known she'd see through this elaborate arty nonsense because she's the one who had actually spotted orange on a tree growing in our society while we were playing on the swing a couple of weeks back. I hadn't even dreamed of finding any fruits hanging from that dust-laden tree even if my entire life (whatever its worth) depended on it. It just so defied logic. You wouldn't too if you were me. I fib you not!

Yes babe! You are a genius. You may be all of 2 years and 3 months young but, you definitly outshine me in commonsense. 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

#5 Dear Me: Where I Question Life, Thank Virginia Woolf and Comfort Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Life,

I remember images. They stay with me. I have never been able to remember things for example, where I kept my glasses before hitting the bed or where I put down the book I was reading last. But, I can recall suddenly vivid images of places, moments, people... and they may not be great bookmarks in my life. Yet, I remember them clearly,

So, a few days back, I had this flash from the past. I remembered one afternoon in college. There was sunlight streaming through the windows. I saw myself sitting in a feminist haze of golden yellow that made everything around me opaque. I was sitting somewhere in the middle of a class full of students - I knew they were there though I never saw them in my flash of memory. But, I saw our petite and beautiful professor quoting Virginia Woolf to explain 'Stream of Consciousness':



“Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”

I was really impressed by the quote. To me with my perpetually hazy and myopic vision it may have hit a bullseye on my young and impressionable self. Who knows? Perhaps that is the reason why I suddenly remembered that day.

This quasi-opaque luminous halo has been chasing me around like a mist for a very long time. Some call me a dreamer, others perhaps worse. But, that has not changed a single thing for me.

Thanks to Ms Woolf, I always knew subconsciously that life would not be a straight and narrow path. She had indeed promised that life would be an adventure and I saw myself riding the rough waves and winning. It pleased my young self a lot.

It's therefore not strange that I remember that day and those non-descriptive yellow walls of the lecture theatre with such clarity.

In the years since, I've had my slips and victories and falls but, have pushed ahead and enjoyed the ride all through.

Dear life, today I suddenly wanted to thank Ms Woolf for that quote. Maybe she can read this post in her afterlife or maybe it will be conveyed to her by the universe in general. I have hope that after today, she will know.

Life is definitely unplannable. It cannot be put into neat little compartments to be opened at will or left to be incubated for the right time to hatch. Hell! I can't even hatch a plot by plotting it when I write a story! It just happens and so does life.

The other day I chanced upon an information so astounding that I was blown away. It seems that the Impressionist movement was spearheaded by artists who were actually myopic. The great French masters like Monet, Renoir and Degas, suffered from shortsightedness and thus drew from their - you got it right - impressions. Had they planned it, it could not have worked any better.


For once I was so glad to be a myopic since childhood. No wonder ma says I cannot smell danger even when it is staring me in the eye. I only see the deep green haze of jealousy, the red of anger and myriad other colours that all look so vivid to me.

I love colours. They fascinate me. That make me happy hence, I ignore all other signals that wish to emit. No wonder I trip and fall so often, but, I hardly take my fall badly. It's all good. It's all experience.

However, I sometimes worry about Vincent Van Gogh. His was the most beautiful mind that saw colours and patterns in everything around him. Yet it took a couple of generations to figure it out.

I wish I could also find him somewhere and tell him not to despair. I see his despair in his art - even in his most celebrated works. The decaying flowers, the scavenger crows circling ripe and harvested fields, the barrenness of the vistas, the gnarling of the branches, the claustrophobia that I can smell from his painting of his bedroom. I just want to shake his hands once and quote Ms Woolf to him.


I just want him to be happy. Wherever he is. Because despite his towering talent, he did not have my indomitable spirit thanks to Ms Woolfe's quote.


And here is what I worry about, dear life, that despite the spirit, there is a vital flaw in my thinking. It is self-criticism. I am always criticising the last thing I have created. I can never be happy with the end result of anything I have finished working on. I hate it when someone says they have read or seen my writing. I believe they are all making it up to make me happy.

I wonder at times if it is a big flaw or a small one. I wish someone could answer the question honestly.

I am my fiercest critic. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Should I not be proud and self-promotional in my attitude?

As an artist, I cannot be untrue to myself. My inner artist has very lofty tastes. It refuses to settle for anything less. It insists that I look at myself and rediscover, recreate and rework everything I make from food to hanging up a print on the wall.

It keeps searching for that elusive state called perfection that is practically impossible to achieve. Or is it? Because, it keeps telling me that it is possible.



I await your answer.

Get back to me soon.

Love,

Shoma