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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Book Review: Shopaholic to the Stars

Shopaholic to the Stars
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Humor

‘Shopaholic to the Stars’ is the 7th book authored by Sophie Kinsella in the shopaholic series. It is the story of shopaholic Rebecca Brandon (Becky) who moves to LA with her family and her best friend Suze, and tries to make it big in Hollywood as a celebrity stylist. Everything from Hollywood celebrities to yoga retreats to paparazzi to red carpet fashion, all of which Becky had always dreamt of, features in this book and the reader gets to find out whether Becky gets to live her dream.

I own every one of Sophie Kinsella’s books. Becky, the quirky, loveable shopaholic around whom all Kinsella’s  Shopaholic books are based on, had always been a good hearted, happy-go-lucky girl, even though she  goes on careless shopping sprees, which culminates into hilariously worded consequences.

 ‘Shopaholic to the Stars’ is not a book I was hooked on to, because this time around, Becky is so super annoying and insensitive that when I reached to one-thirds of the book, I was just wishing that this was over. Like every one of Sophie Kinsella’s other books, I hoped that there would be a twist wherein Becky would be redeemed from her shallow deeds, but the protagonist goes from annoying to vain to almost evil. Even the ‘shopaholic’ factor that keeps the series going is missing from the premise. The book concludes on a cliffhanger that hints to a sequel.

Sophie Kinsella has a knack for humor and her writing is light hearted and seamless throughout the book.

The unappealing character of the protagonist, the massive diversion from the ‘shopaholic’ theme and the reduced number of laugh-out-loud moments makes this book incomparable to Sophie Kinsella’s super hit series.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Corona Diaries: Netflix Addiction

Image Courtesy: Here

Ever since lockdown started, which now seems like forever ago, I have been very committed to Netflix. Even when work kept me on my toes, I always found time to catch up with it. This is only a dignified way of saying that I was ignoring my family and binge watching Netflix series. Well, I must say that it is much better than watching repetitive corona updates on national television.

I started with Suits, which is like the 'Sound of Music 'of courtroom dramas. When it ended, my life seemed meaningless so I started watching Money Heist which is a crime drama, and my life blossomed again. I never expected Money Heist to actually keep me glued to it for hours. Later I decided against watching any series which was when I found ‘How to Get Away with Murder’. Trust me, if you work in a corporate, you really have to watch this one.  Or the people will make you want to explore the options at least.

I may sound like these are some of my achievements, I must admit that my dedication to each of these series was very commendable.

The series ‘How to get Away with Murder’ made me realize that I don’t own any weapons apart from kitchen knives. Everyone in that show owns guns (which are rarely used for self-defense). Even the nerdy students. Whenever someone knocks at their door, they impulsively open the drawer and get their hands on the gun before they even see who it is. What if it was the food delivery guy you people! I never see any of you cooking! Ever! Whereas whenever someone rings the bell at my home, I hurry to wear a presentable pajama and comb my hair using my fingers, else they may shoot me as an act of self-defense against me.

By the way, in the series, the gun drawer always contains ONLY the gun. The characters live in studio apartments and never repeat any of their outfits but can manage to free a drawer only for the gun? This reminds me of my full term pregnant drawers and cupboards. The moment I open one, I would be lucky if a carom board dint fall on my head. If I had a weapon I would keep it in a drawer where there are socks, books, acrylic paints, hair clips, lip balms, a hanger and half of a cabbage.

Secondly, have you noticed that these guys in courtroom dramas do not trust anyone? All calls are recorded without consent, friends and family members turn out to be backstabbers, and cheaters who can camouflage themselves so well to fit in but they exist only for the benefits! Well, I must say this part is very close to real life. Nothing dramatic about that you see. There are characters in this show who remind us of people we all know and can relate to, at the back of our minds, but we force ourselves to believe otherwise. It is an eye opener.

I must say the first two seasons of ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ is dark and negative during which we may even want to quit. However, from the third season it gets better and the finale is an absolute gem. If you are a naïve person whose sharpest weapon is a kitchen knife and has messy drawers, watch it. It can help you get thicker skin and even prompt you to look out for the type of people you should definitely stay away from.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Corona Diaries: The Evolution of Education

Image Courtesy: Here

When my nine year old attends online classes, my spouse and I are also participants of the class, albeit not by choice. He makes sure one of us is aligned with the proceedings of the class, so no tests, projects or activity sessions come as a surprise in the eleventh hour. At age 9, he knows how to be on a safe spot keeping us in the loop. This is exactly why some people keep me in Cc in mails that are not relevant for me. Both my son and these super smart corporate email senders know that there will come a day when they can conveniently share the blame. Had I known this technique earlier, I could have handled some corporate foxes better. Well, child is the father of man you see. We are currently on various topics of ultimate sleep inducing boredom like hemispheres, solstices and eclipses.

The fourth grader attends his classes comfortably seated on a recliner with water, chips, and pillows by his side, I should say we have come a long way in terms of primary education. I feel like a cave woman to have worn a despicable uniform, carried heavy bag and lunchbox to school. I took two buses to school and when I say that to my son, his expression makes me feel like a freedom fighter from the 40's. I already sound like my parents who ceremonially passed on the studying-under-the-streetlight story. *snore* .My grandmother confirmed that they had landline phones when only ten people owned them in the entire state. What is the point of having a phone when the person you want to call does not own one? This is what streetlight learning does to you.

Even though the pandemic is getting worse and jobs are on the edge, the only uninterrupted activity so far has been online learning. The fact that the students can actually go back to the recording of the day’s class whenever they want, makes my son to NEVER want to see it again. “I already suffered 40 minutes in that class and you want me to suffer more?” Well. Being on the receiving end of kids logic is no joke, my friends.

I have been a programmer for many years and all the logic I wrote are coming back to challenge me in the form of a nine year old. One day, we were going out when he was still playing outside. So I called him from the balcony and said ‘We are going outside now!’ and his response was perfect, optimized, short and painfully sweet. This is with a whole bunch of other kids in attendance all looking up at me from the ground.

 He yelled back "SO?" and looked up at me with a confused expression which said ‘why are you dissipating this irrelevant piece of information thereby interrupting my game?’

“So”. Right. Why did I announce that we were going out? I should have said ‘Come upstairs let’s go” or something on those lines so that he would know that he is supposed to come. It would have been a CTA (Call To Action). But I dint. I announced that we are going. Like in my Annual Appraisal form I write pages and pages about my achievements for the year and attach document after document and the employer says "So?"

By the by, when my family elders recited the ‘I studied under the streetlight and we dint have money and I never failed in any exam’ story, I did not, I repeat, I DID NOT reply “So?” That is exactly why that story keeps recurring generation after generation. May be if I said "So?" that story may finally rest in peace.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The First Step.

In this world of artificial intelligence, where the internet browser and devices know more about me than my family does, there are few algorithms that over perform very much to my annoyance. When I login to any of the social media websites, (I really wish I dint, it is just another self-destructive habit that I have) I am often prompted to add people I don’t remember under a tag titled ‘people you may know’.

The mental peace and happiness I had before I logged in seeps through my ears and disappears into thin air.

Honestly, being an introvert by character and an extrovert virtually, I wish my social media was smart enough to understand that I am not looking forward to add to my troubles. I also don’t want to be reminded of people I may know, but honestly don’t remember and I don’t want social media to tell me that my memory failed me. Secondly, going by this impromptu prompt, someone would have fallen into the algorithmic trap and sent me a friend request, which in turn puts pressure on me to find out who this person is. If I reject someone I don’t know, and going by how 2020 has been rolling so far, it could be an acquaintance of either of my parents or even a distant relative I haven’t seen since kindergarten. This is a very dangerous situation because some people take social media friend requests very seriously like their existence depended on it.

Basically all of this matters only if you care about consequences and what other people think. I can swear on my forefathers that I don’t care but I may care a little bit (sorry, forefathers.). We all have to reach that stage in our lives that our relationships are defined by real human connections and not by what we did on social media. Every day, I am trying to reduce a little bit of that self-destructive habit. One step at a time!

I cared too much at one point in time and this pushed me mercilessly to rock bottom. But rock bottom is not too bad, you people! This is exactly the place one reaches to learn that it cant get any worse and that it is high time to change (there is no other option, really).

I started my workout journey from there, exactly a year ago. It turned my life around. I care lesser about things that don’t matter, I slept better and longer, and it improved my mental and physical health in many ways! I was consistent and reached a point wherein I felt bad if I dint find time to do it. I walked by the beach side initially, later used the gym for a few weeks when I couldn’t manage to drive to the beach. The gym, however, feels like another office with walls, air conditioners, digital displays and graphs. It feels like slogging for appraisal. When I walk outdoors, the fresh air, street cats, birds, cars, familiar people who wave…everything about it feels blissful and liberating. 

I am thankful to myself for taking that first step.I pat myself on my shoulder for every single day I was weary, low, blue, stressed or even in tears but pushed myself to go out to walk. It was very hard, but I did it!

There is always that first step you should take, amidst all odds, and keep up at it. To update the resume, to start working out, to sleep earlier than you do now, to cut off that toxic habit, whatever it may be.

That first step. Do it today.


Monday, August 17, 2020

Corona Diaries: Published on Black and White Magazine, Oman.


“So, how are you coping?”

How do we answer this question in a lockdown?

I don’t think there would be anyone with five years of experience in effective handling of lockdown situation, multitasking between work, children, bosses, home and all of it while staying sane. Even the Indian aunty who seems to know everything did not live through a pandemic before, to bestow upon us her pearls of wisdom on how to survive it and be productive at the same time. However, there are experts out there, who still manage to advice everyone around, on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (lockdown version).

So, the best answer to that question would be, to look at the sky and sigh aloud.

There are some silent sufferers we aren’t talking about. Children. They have been deprived of friends, play grounds, malls and beaches. All of a sudden their childhood was ripped off and are confined within four walls with teachers and grandparents meeting them only virtually. They have been subjected to an unusual load of intense drama, stressed out parents and absolutely no friends to mingle with. In the month of March 2020, their world suddenly came crashing down, and were expected to follow a new set of rules, the fun factor completely wiped out of their lives. The rules have been more stringent towards children as have been banned from supermarkets and shops too.

However this time around, we the parents, cannot deliver the golden punchline that was handed down to us from every generation that ever lived. “When I was your age, I was so systematic during lockdown….” Well? I don’t think so. When we were children, we had other stuff to deal with, and none of that even remotely came close to surviving months on end without friends. Here I am, juggling between a full time job, a kid who is turning anti-social and the spouse who is conveniently using noise cancellation headsets.

Nagging him to wash his hands, hushing him while I am attending a call, refusing to play with him when he requests…you name it, I plead guilty to have done it. Later I top up the day with popcorn and Netflix because hey, offering bribes comes naturally to parents.

COVID not only wreaked havoc on the economy and global health, but also it is eating into the lives of our children who have conveniently planted themselves permanently on the sofa with a bag of chips. As adults, we are helpless as we don’t have a choice and are forced to watch them glued to laptops and television, verbally armed with ‘then YOU tell me what to do!” as a standard response to anything that is spoken.

I wish I could go back in time when my kid could play outside whenever he wanted. The uniforms, school bags, and the long hours I used to spend covering his books with brown paper, after which I wore a neck support for two days and blamed the education system that gave so much work to the parents! I want to go back to the times when I used to drag him from the playground at 8 pm for dinner and his friends would look at me as though I am a kidnapper. The days I listened to all the fights and laughs he had with his friends at school.

Never did anyone foresee, that there would come a day when everything we took for granted would turn into something that we’d desperately long for.


 Originally Published in The Black and White Magazine.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Lockdown Diaries: The Missing Tooth.

It's been four months since I started working from home and it already feels like a decade. I haven’t done my eyebrows, trimmed my hair or visited a dentist since! That my teeth hasn’t given me any major problems yet worries me deeply, like preparing me for an impending disaster. Like the calm before a storm. Perhaps all the teeth (that are left) may be silently plotting for a collective walkout?

Three of my teeth have been under the knife for root canal procedures. The dentist planted them using a screw and it stay put for a while. One month into the lockdown, I was munching delightedly into a chicken shewerma when SNAP! It came off. That is a five digit figure in Indian Rupees I paid for that was uprooted by a 1 rial shewerma.

On a normal day I would have freaked out over a tooth and the gap that is pretty obvious when I smile. During a lockdown that is the least of my worries. Well, who is going to judge me about a gap in my teeth? We are all doomed anyway, we should have our priorities right and not bother about appearances now, thought my lazy ass. Instead of throwing the tooth away, I kept it on a tissue paper on my dressing table, screw still under the tooth and like always, I forgot about it.

Image Courtesy: Here
Image Courtesy: Here
Hours later when I walked to the hall, two pairs of eyes were scrutinizing me like I was a criminal suspect. As usual, I ignored them, and kept doing my stuff when I caught them still staring at me.

“WHAT?” I yelled.

They were not speaking and still glaring at me with an unusual expression.

Usually they have only ONE expression which says ‘Where is my food?’. It looked rather different this time.

“I found your tooth” said my son, nine, who watches too many animated movies.

“Oh I forgot to throw that out, don’t touch it okay?” I replied casually, continuing to arrange the mats on the dining table.

“It had a screw under it!” he exclaimed.

He looked and sounded very serious, and had an expression like he caught me red-handed for some offence. My husband stifled a laugh and played along.

“I always knew you were an alien!  Explains why you are always so weird!”

Well, atleast now there is an explanation.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The curious case of Arachnophobia.

Last weekend when my spouse was not in town, I missed him terribly. Who else will open jars for me?  I have a runner’s backpack which holds water too, but whatever I do, I just can’t seem to open it on my own. Every time I walk to him to open a sealed jar, he responds with his typical ‘Are you even an Engineer?’ As if four years at engineering college they teach you to open jars. 
Dude. Do you know how hard is Digital System Processing? Artificial Intelligence? Microprocessors? C? C++? Fact is that I say all this in my head only. I am too tired to start an argument which will eventually end in his favor. That’s what marriage does to you. You learn to let go because arguments can be exhausting. You can very well spend that energy watching Netflix and chill your brain.

Then there was another question which he asked. ‘What do single women do to open sealed jars?’. ‘They call other people’s husbands!!’ I promptly answered. Then he opened the jar faster than usual.

The primary task of the spouse is to take out the trash, open jars, and scare away bugs because I am scared of reptiles and rodents, irrespective of size and color. Thankfully there aren't any of those here. When I was younger, my Dad did the bug elimination dutifully, without counter questioning. We used to live in an independent house in Trivandrum adjacent to an empty plot squirming with rodents and reptiles of all sorts. These pests had no boundaries and used to visit us whenever they got bored of their half acre land. Of all these creatures the one that terrified me most was the flying cockroach. You spot it once, and the next microsecond it is not there. It keeps us on our toes guessing where it could have flown off to, only to realize that it is on your shoulder, wondering why you look so pale and petrified for no reason. I just can’t handle the suspense and horror it brings with its existence and continues until I am convinced that it is ‘taken care of’. Poor Papa had to get rid of it and show it to me as proof for me to calm down. I think that was when my anxiety would have started.

Image Courtesy: Here
Spiders bring with it a different type of horror altogether. Right after I have stepped into the bathroom and shed my worldly obligations, the spider comes into sight. The pervert would be sitting comfortably in a corner near the ceiling almost saying ‘ I am the Adam to your Eve’. When we have crossed a certain age, screaming and running outside like Archimedes is frowned at by the society. So we have to literally scream inside and continue the bath, constantly looking at the spider without batting an eyelid. I wouldn’t have made extended eye contact as such with any human ever. The liquid dripping down my face could have been water or tears. The torture continues until the towel hits the face and for a moment I missed the spider and in a flash of a second it is not in the same place anymore. ‘Mummyyyyyyyyy….!!!!!!’

This is when my Mom got royally pissed and reminded me that I was not a baby anymore and that when I get married people may think I am possessed and send me back home (which also seemed like a good idea!)

To my loving family, I would like to enlighten you that fear of spiders is known as Arachnophobia. It is real. It is incurable.

Spread the word!