What’s up in July 2021?

Hello, readers!

June was a great month, and I spent some memorable time with my family as we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. However, like everything that must come to an end, those good times gave way to a difficult phase. First, my in-laws left, and then the husband resumed his work. It was essential the kid, me, and Baba agreed to stay back because the kid looked devastated. Before we could adjust to the change, I fell sick and caught a stomach infection.

The anniversary cake

Work had to take a back seat as I tried to ensure that the kid didn’t miss his online classes while gathering enough energy to battle my sickness. After a fortnight, things improved, and I began this month with a paid assignment after a long time. I focused so much on the second Raya Ray novel that I stopped taking up any other project for months together. I wrote a couple of short stories (I haven’t written one since the MFA course finished) and submitted them to a couple of international magazines. Let’s which what’s in store for me – acceptance or rejection. I also have an exciting idea for my next book; I hope to initiate the process before month-end.

The anniversary surprise

While it feels great to share the professional updates, I’ve always written snippets of my personal life on the blog. After a long time, the husband was in town on 1st July – Doctor’s day. While I celebrate the man on every possible occasion, circumstances have made such opportunities selective and family-friendly. I took him out for coffee, and conversations flew to applaud the doctor and his colleagues relentlessly working as Covid warriors for the past 1.5 years.

Celebrating the doctor husband

The third wave is already knocking at the door. Places have opened up, and people are flocking in huge numbers by breaking covid protocols. The second wave has up a reality check of a crumbling healthcare system. Let’s not worsen the situation further. Please mask up, get the vaccine doses, and maintain social distancing. Until we meet again, stay safe and take care.

Book review of ‘Along came a Spyder ‘ by Apeksha Rao

I spent three hours on a Sunday evening, invested in Samira Joshi’s journey of becoming a Spyder, only to realize that I didn’t want the book to end so fast. What a thrilling book my friend Apeksha has written! In January, I read the first book in the Spyder series, called Itsy Bitsy Spyder, and loved it. It took me four months to start reading this novel since I was writing my second detective thriller. ‘Along came a Spyder ‘ was the perfect book to restart my reading journey.

Along came a Spyder

About the author –

 A homeopath turned doctor, Apeksha Rao is a well-known name in the writing world for her literary skills and gripping writings.

Plot –

‘Along came a Spyder ‘ is the story of teenager Samira Joshi, daughters of undercover RAW agents Alka and Ranjit Joshi. She lives with her paternal grandmother as her parents run around to keep our country safe. The book traces her journey as she escapes the conventional path of becoming a doctor and follows the exciting yet challenging route of becoming a spy. She accidentally lands into the den of Spyders, the unofficial training headquarters run by Col. Baldev Singh and his wife, Kakki. Though Baldev is hesitant about letting Samira join the gang, she convinces the boss about her will and skills to stay on. Samira’s mother has taken the u-turn to prohibit her daughter from becoming a spy for reasons divulged later in the book. However, Samira is hell-bent on proving her mother wrong. After a couple of mind-blowing adventures, we discover her disturbing past, which becomes an obstacle in her shouldering responsibilities of her team’s safety. But our protagonist is not the one to give up so easily. She faces her demons’ heads on and proves why she fits in the world of spies with impossible missions.

What worked for me –

  • It’s a well-researched book that holds the reader at the tenterhooks till the end.
  • This fast-paced and gripping thriller takes subtle jibes at gender stereotypes. For instance, Samira’s grandmother’s contrasting reactions to her son being an undercover agent against her daughter-in-law’s association with the same profession.
  • Samira’s character is well-etched out with nuisances and issues of her own.
  • A hard-hitting climax that portrays how despite their contribution to the country, the agents are often left to justify their actions and decisions.
  • The technical details of how the spies work in busting their enemy’s network were intriguing.
  • The author creates an array of interesting supporting characters like Debbie and Milli. I feel Debbie deserves a spin-off with her own story.
  • Apeksha’s writing is so vivid and detailed that I could visualize the story as I kept reading. Even before the book was released, it made it to the coveted list of writings for visual adaptation. I can’t wait to see the unfolding of events on the screen.
The signed copy

What I wish to see in the future –

The book covers a trajectory of multiple small cases that Samira gets involved in though there’s the main story of her parents’ case running simultaneously. Though Samira has proved her mettle by playing an active part in each of these cases, I would love to read a full-fledged thriller of Samira facing a dangerous antagonist by herself.

Rating and overall feedback –

I would rate this book four out of five (4 stars).

It was entertaining, gripping, and thrilling. I can’t wait to read more of Samira Joshi’s experiences in the future as she follows her parents’ steps to venture into the world of deadly adventures.

Thank you, Blogchatter, for the review copy and Apeksha for the signed copy with a heartwarming message.

The book can be purchased here.

A special birthday celebration this year!

The year was 2011. I turned thirty on 29th May and was about to get married in three weeks. I had taken a week off in April for the engagement (ashirwaad, as we call in Bengali), and had applied for 2 weeks’ leave in June for the wedding. So, the birthday celebration was restricted to office colleagues and a couple of friends in Mysore. When I spoke to Ma that afternoon, she insisted that I buy a new set of clothes for my birthday. I laughed it off, saying that I was already getting an ensemble of clothes for my wedding. That was the end of the conversation, or so I thought.

On the day my husband and I left our hometown to begin a new chapter as husband and wife, Ma handed me a new salwar kameez set. During the peak rush of wedding preparations, Ma and Baba hadn’t forgotten my birthday gift. Little did I know that it was going to be my last birthday gift from her. In five months, her love and gifts became a memory for my survival.

A special birthday celebration this year

In the last decade, I’ve restricted my birthday gifts to usually books, journals, pens, cakes, or items related to my writing journey. I never accepted a dress for my birthday. But this year, I made an exception. When Baba asked me to purchase something of my choice, I asked him to buy me a new dress. It took me a decade to get over the fact that Ma would never coax me to get a new dress for my birthday again. Besides, 1.5 years of the pandemic taught me that it is essential to savor every moment with those who mean the world and hold on to them as tightly as possible.

The gifts from the child

Amidst all the gifts, the kid gave me the most thoughtful one. While drafting the second novel, I wrote the plot, updates, and scenes in a journal simultaneously. By the time I sent the story to my literary agent, I reached the last page of the journal. While I got a few amazing notebooks/diaries as gifts, the child made his father search for an identical journal and pilot pen sets so that I feel happy and write a story for him next.

Notebook lover

Tender moments and thoughtful gestures like these make me believe that we still have hope left in the world.

Birthday, anniversary, & vaccination

On 29th May, I celebrated my birthday with the three men in my life – my father, husband, and son. After a decade, I asked my father to buy me a new dress on my special day instead of my usual requests for books and journals. When Ma was around, she refused to listen to my resistance; birthdays always meant a new dress. After she passed away, I never found any joy in the ritual of a birthday dress as a gift. Eventually, Baba let it go.

The first birthday cake

But this year, I decided to celebrate for two reasons – I had finished writing my second novel, and I finally had the three special people in my life under one roof on the day. From cutting cakes to ordering food, we indulged in small moments of happiness. But we also shared these little joys with those who keep us going through their support – our cook, house-help, driver, security guard, and a few more helping hands. I’m going to cherish these memories for a very long time.

The second birthday cake

On the professional front, I completed numerous rounds of editing the book and sent the initial documents to my literary agent. We are working on the marketing plan and publisher details. But, I finally decided to take a break from the second novel (BTW, it has a new title; stay tuned for the announcement). The next item on the priority list was to get my first dose of vaccination. Getting a slot on the Cowin app seemed tougher than cracking UPSC exams.

Fortunately, my residential area organized a paid vaccination drive for the 18-44 age group in collaboration with Apollo hospitals. Thanks to an alert and aware husband, we managed to get a slot for me for 3rd June. From document verification to getting jabbed, it took me less than twenty minutes to complete the process. Except for the pain in my left arm that subsided after nearly two days, I didn’t have any side effects.

Vaccinated

June is a month as precious as May since we will complete a decade of our married life on the 20th of this month. While it’s been more than twenty-two years of knowing each other as friends, best friends, and a couple before making it official, the past one-and-a-half years have taught us both to cherish every opportunity of hope and togetherness.

While I’ll resume the work related to the launch of the second novel very soon, I also intend to start writing for magazines, digital platforms, and other mediums going forward.

New adventures in writing

I hope you have taken the vaccine and got your friends and family vaccinated as well. Please help out your support staff who might find it difficult to use technology for booking a slot. And keep the mask on; we can’t afford to lose this battle.

January 2021 – a month full of reading!

I’m not much into book reading challenges because it takes away the joy of reading from me. I’m quite an old school when it comes to correlating books with happiness.

My breathing issues resurfaced in January, leaving me with very little energy or motivation to write. Instead of feeling miserable about the situation, I decided to spend those sleepless nights reading as I literally continued huffing and puffing. So, I ended up completing 14 books and leaving two midway in January. Right now I’m reading 4 books.

The first set of books read in January

Here are the details of books I read-

  1. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osborne (my best read of the month)
  2. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
  3. Best Served Cold by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay
  4. 5.Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  5. 6.Gunning for the Godman by Ajay Lamba and Sanjeev Mathur
  6. The itsy bitsy spyder by Apeksha Rao
  7. How to be a writer by Ruskin Bond
  8. Dasavatara by Piyusha Vir
  9. A suitable boy by Vikram Seth
  10. Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie
  11. And there were none by Agatha Christie
  12. The TMYS December review by Koral Dasgupta & TMYS team.
  13. Chumki and the elephants by Lesley Denise Biswas
  14. Girls and the city by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
The second set of books read in January

All books have been reviewed on Amazon and Goodreads (if updated).

The only paperbacks I read

Not mentioning the books I left midway, both of which are famous and critically acclaimed.

Currently reading –

  1. Each of us killers by Jenny Bhatt
  2. Along came a spyder by Apeksha Rao
  3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
  4. The artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

As we begin February, I hope that I can continue my reading pace while getting back to writing the second novel.

Stepping into the last week of the MFA in creative writing course

A year back, I posted my first assignment for the MFA course on this day. A couple of days ago, I submitted the last write-up required to meet the credit criteria to complete the one-year creative writing course. Next week, I will have an MFA added to my M.Sc. and MBA degrees. But this journey is much beyond earning a certificate.

When I discovered Writer’s Village University through one of my friends, I had started questioning the rationality of pursuing writing as a full-time profession. I had trashed two manuscripts written with the intent of publishing one of them as Raya Ray’s second case.

WVU taught me kindness and compassion. I discovered a supportive writing network in a virtual world. I unlearned to learn writing like an enthusiastic teenager. I finally understood the impact of constructive criticism.

My writing corner

The last ten months haven’t been easy for anyone since the pandemic bringing our lives to a standstill. For weeks, it was just me and my son trying to adjust to the fact that we can meet his doctor father only once a month. While I am immensely grateful to my father and my in-laws for their support during this phase, it is writing and written words that kept me afloat. The turbulence in my mind found a way out through typed words on my screen.

While I have chosen to continue my association with WVU, I have decided to get back to writing beyond my class assignments from this month onwards. The revived state of my writing desk is the first step towards a new beginning of my renewed writing journey.

Happy Diwali and a joyful children’s day

November isn’t a kind month in my life. Exactly nine years ago, Ma passed away on 12th November, and I am still trying to deal with the irreparable loss. Yet, life has to move on, and I drag myself to face the situation even on days I wish I could disappear.

Today is children’s day, a day that reminds me of the best childhood memories associated with my alma mater, Mary Immaculate School in Berhampore. Due to the pandemic, my son won’t be celebrating his special day with his friends at school. So we are trying to make it a fun-filled day for him at home.

Diwali celebration at home

It is a double delight since today is also Diwali, the festival of lights. It is on this day that we celebrate Kali Puja in Bengal. While the crisis demands us to act sensibly, we decided to have a small celebration with family this year. So, it will be a no-cracker and no-pandal-hopping kind of celebration for us.

As we light up our lives, I pray to Ma Kali that we also become sensitive to the less privileged ones around us and help them enjoy the festival of joy. I also hope that we continue nurturing the child in all of us to make the world a better place.

Happy children’s day

I wish you a happy Diwali and a joyful children’s day. Stay safe and stay protected.

My Friend Alexa Post 8 – Durga Puja in the time of COVID-19

In the last three posts, I wrote about my experience of celebrating Durga Puja in Mysore, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Berhampore. For the last post in this series, I wish to speak about the way life and the idea of celebrating a festival changed for us this year.

Life during the pandemic taught me perseverance and resilience. My son and I hadn’t taken a trip outside Kolkata since March. It was more out of compulsion than by choice that we decided to return to Berhampore after more than a year this October. Leaves were canceled at my husband’s workplace during the festival. Both my father and in-laws weren’t in a position to travel back to Kolkata at such short notice.

Tuneer offering his prayers at home

After the mandatory isolation period, the only distance that I traveled in Berhampore was from my in-law’s house to Baba’s home for a couple of days. I consciously decided not to step out of home for pushpanjali or pandal hopping. We offered our prayers at home. The bhog preparation for our para pandal happens on the ground floor of my home. Thus, we weren’t deprived of the delicious food options during the festival.

Baganpara Durga Puja

While I have a couple of pictures of Tuneer celebrating with my father and in-laws, I could only click a single picture of Ma Durga in the pandal near my home. I took the snap standing 10 meters away from the pandal while I was leaving for my in-law’s place. My husband clicked the other picture of their UCC Durga puja, which has entered its third year since inception.

UCC Durga Puja

We missed out on meeting friends, enjoying the endless adda sessions, visiting multiple pandals, and eating out at restaurants. But it was a conscious decision to stay indoors, not just for our safety but also for the ones who are most vulnerable to this deadly virus. I wish to remember 2020 as a year that showed us the importance of minimalism and sensible choices.

I hope you had a grand Durga Puja, celebrating in your way but without compromising on precautions. Here’s wishing you and your family a Shubo Bijoya Dashami/ Vijaya Dashami and Happy Dusshera. May we overcome the hurdles to go back to the old normal very soon.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This is the eighth and last post in the series; you can read all posts here.