That Funny Feeling…

Like Coffee-Mug rings at the table

Wishing never to break the pattern

Without explanation, beyond logic, it happenes…

That funny feeling presented itself to me, unannounced, unplanned for, uninhibited, with little warning, for a third time, some fifteen years ago. If you feel you have a choice, you probably DO. If you are compelled to act, then you KNOW. The magnetic pull of the feeling is undeniable. It jostles for every ounce of your attention, vying for every second of each minute.

You know how, when you turn on the shower in winter-time, and the water from the water-heater usurps the ‘cold’ portion of your tap? The feeling is like that. All consuming. You know how when you need to write an exam that you’re not prepared for and your mind is clogged with no other thoughts? The feeling is like that. Omnipresent. You know how, at the first hint of monsoon rain, the peacocks don’t stop dancing? The feeling is like that. All pervasive.

A delectable feast with contrasting flavors, rich textures, layered nuance and though surprising, challenging even in the beginning, ultimately, completely, absolutely satisfying. Satiating a soul that you realize later, hungered for something that wasn’t quite known, wasn’t very clear, wasn’t  clearly defined.

That funny feeling came to me some fifteen years ago, and hasn’t left me, even since 🙂

Brownie Points!

As many of you know, I recently conducted a Food-Based Writing Workshop. One of the pieces I’d written for that workshop to share with my students as an example of a Fiction Short Story arising from a Food-Memory, was a story that’s very close to my heart. I thought I must share it. So here goes! Relish…


(title courtesy one of the workshop attendees, think it was Ratika)

Ever since Kartik was a young child, he loved food. Naturally then, when he was shipped off to boarding school in grade six, all of eleven, he sorely missed home. Such was his obsession with food, that it was perhaps less his parents, more the food, that he craved. See his growing up years he’d been lucky to have been lavished with all kinds of yummy dishes, from traditional Marwari classics like gatte ka saag, matar kachauri to even a few western ones like brownies and pasta courtesy of the maharaj at home; as well as continental delights like the sublime Chicken Stroganoff and delectable, fluffy, runny omelettes, thanks to frequent trips to the Rambagh coffee shop that his mum would indulge him in. His was a fairly forward, modern family which resulted in unabated experimentation with all kinds of foods, vegetarian and non vegetarian.

Now, suddenly lodged in this glorified jail called the Doon School, he felt trapped, thwarted, deprived. He heard countless tales of how his friends’ mums were planning to pamper their kids with all manner of culinary extravagance when they’d get home for their debut vacation. Kartik too, dreamed of the same; of fresh baked brownies, perfectly crisp on the outside, soft like a cloud on the inside, each bite, a little piece of heaven!

The fateful day finally arrived. His first term at school done and dusted, the buses were lined up on one of the school grounds. As if stairways to heaven, the boys boarded the quite smelly, unkempt barges. But their poor upkeep didn’t warrant a single thought, because the mind was clogged with one thing alone – home food!

As soon as Kartik arrived home, quick hugs with his folks, he ran to the kitchen to meet his beloved resident-chef, Bhaglu. He was nowhere to be found. And just then, his parents delivered the greatest blow, one that shattered all the built up dreams Kartik had harboured for months, in one swift stroke – Bhaglu, that most loyal genius of cuisine, had passed away! Kartik fell to his knees. He was bidding adieu to two – to a much respected staff member, and to his food-filled holiday!

Kartik’s parents tried their best to lift his spirits. Assured him that a replacement for Bhaglu was being sought with urgent efforts. That they’d take him out for a meal each day, any place he wished to go. That he’d even be taken on holiday for a week to a destination of his choice, that they assumed he’d choose on the basis of the kind of food he’d want to explore. Nothing worked though. See the problem was that Kartik’s mother had never been a cook. She’d hardly even entered the kitchen except to give the odd instruction. In his mind, and heart, Bhaglu was her replacement. And now, he was gone.

Two days passed, he moped and wallowed around the house, listless, lifeless. Seeing this, and perhaps sensing the real reason behind his strife, Kartik’s mother decided to take matters into her own hands. She returned one afternoon with a batter-mix to make brownies, a particular favourite of her son’s.

Kartik lay sulking in his room, his mother’s plan unbeknownst to him, when he got a waft of the oven being preheated, cake batter being mixed. The familiar aroma of that divine mixture ensconced all his senses, his mind was in a state of flux. He felt compelled to investigate. “who is making brownies, have mum and dad found someone in place of Bhaglu?” There was a hitherto unseen spring in Kartik’s step as he leapfrogged towards the kitchen. And what he saw there made him much more ecstatic than he thought in his wildest – it wasn’t a new cook but his own mother, whom he never expected would cook, hard at work in the kitchen for her darling son. They exchanged a knowing, thankful, teary-eyed glance as Kartik sat right there, frozen, admiring. After all, Bhaglu’s void had been filled by none other than his own mum, what could possibly be better. His plans were back on track. He’d have a fantastic time at home and upon his return to school, would be able to share stories with his mates about whose mum cooked what. He felt at peace but excited all at once. Batter mix ready, it was placed inside the preheated oven and the mother-son duo waited together with baited breath. As the dough rose, so did their spirits. Mother and son, had become one. United in their eternal bond, bound by food!

Kartik said, “just 2 more minutes mum.” His mum began to put on her oven mitts, started to reach for the oven door, and BANG!!! A loud explosion, batter splatter all over, the brownie mix had exploded, as if with it, lighting the onlooking duo’s very lives on fire and burning them to the ground. What went wrong, nobody knew!

Kartik’s mum was inconsolable. She feared the absolute worst. From this debacle, there was no return. She had managed to inadvertently wreck not just the intended brownies, but also her son’s heart in the process. As a fearful Archana was scared to even look towards Kartik, a hand touched her trembling fingers. It was Kartik who said, “mum, I love you, thanks for trying!”

Expose Yourself!

As all you regular readers/visitors are aware,  I’ve been unwell for the past 8 days now. But for the sake of blatant self-promotion, I feel obligated to do this post 🙂

I do apologize however for brazen sarcasm and a lack of my usual writing finesse. Somehow, this extended illness, and my ‘ill’ luck of being in Calcutta (rotting in bed without being able to do anything I had planned) has manifested in a complete loss of humility!

Jokes aside though..

For most anything in life, it is probably a good idea to try, before we opine. Many people for instance, who are opposed to non-vegetarian food (not for religious reasons I must clarify) shun it, without having tried it. My point being – unless we EXPOSE ourselves to different experiences, things, places, facets – how will we EVER KNOW what is OUT there?!

That is where the Short Workshop comes in. I’ve been holding them for a while, broadly in the area of Writing & Communications. And I’m delighted to share that my latest one, coming up in December, is at my own favorite Media College in Jaipur – TOSS (The Open Space Society).

Its JUST a week, modestly priced, and will offer you a PERSPECTIVE on Fiction Story Writing. A peek. An insight. An orientation into this enigmatic, fascinating, creative, cathartic world.

Check out the details on the TOSS Facebook Page. And Jaipur, come,


Write Right – Myths About Writing!

Writing… That holy grail of creative pursuits and self-expression that to most, is scary, unattainable,  insurmountable. While I am not claiming that it is easy, what I do want to share with all of you, is that the REASONS a lot of us assume it is IMPOSSIBLE, are WRONG!

When I teach Writing, be it at a school, a college, an independent workshop or at home to an individual student; I often come across certain perceptions that have taken hold, and are difficult to shake-off. So to all you budding writers out there, here is my list of MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS about ‘effective writing’

  1. NO FANCY LANGUAGE is NEEDED – There is a common misconception that in order to write a compelling, engaging piece of fiction (especially), one needs to be some kind of Language Pandit. UNTRUE. The point of good writing is not to use big, flowery words. Sure, it helps to have a wider vocabulary at one’s disposal rather than the alternative. Having said that, it is NOT necessary. Many amateur writers become unnecessarily ‘language-lavish’, which, rather than serving the purpose of the story, draws attention and focus away from it!
  2. DEGREE IN LITERATURE – Similar to the earlier point; many people seem to believe that one has to have ‘studied’ the subject (language), in order to write. Sometimes this is also interpreted in a way where people believe that one MUST have ‘read’ lots, to write. Both are UNTRUE again. Sure, reading helps. But like a dear author friend of mine always says, reading too much, cramps his originality!
  3. NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS AROUND ME – In other words, people feel they do not have an engaging enough PLOT; perhaps not realizing that if we were to really analyze a book, a film, a story that we really liked, we will come to the realization that it wasn’t the ‘action’ or the ‘events’ that got us hooked on to that story but rather its primary CHARACTER/CHARACTERS. Great stories are much less about what’s going on ‘outside’, much more about what is going on ‘inside’ a PERSON.

The Skill-Set that is required to become a good writer are completely different from what we tend to assume. And the good news is, with a little discipline, ANYONE can learn them. In an age where everywhere is going visual and there is less and less ‘written word’, a romantic like I can only hope that we as a society do not let the endless creative possibilities and the resultant joy that writing provides, become extinct. Because while a picture might be worth a thousand words, those thousand words are able to ‘paint’ the picture; and that has immense value!