Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Book Review - The Accidental Wife

I just finished reading the second novel by an NRI writer, Simi K. Rao. The book kept me glued to my desk all day, and it is with a happy heart that I write today's review - for "The Accidental Wife".

Fast Facts:-

Title: The Accidental Wife 
Author: Simi K. Rao
Genre: Mainstream Fiction/Romance
Publisher: Kando Books
Pages: 202
File Size: 6.11MB (PDF version)
Price: $1.59 (Kindle Edition ebook)

Key Characters:-
  1. Rihaan Mehta: A ridiculously handsome neurosurgeon and Harvard graduate who is nagged my his mother to get married.
  2. Naina Rathod: A beautiful teacher and photojournalist who becomes Rihaan's "accidental wife". 
  3. Shobha Mehta: Rihaan's controlling and commanding mother whose only goal is to find her son a suitable wife and herself a complying daughter-in-law.

The Review:-

The Accidental Wife is the story of two strangers - Naina and Rihaan, who agree to get married for reasons of their own. Rihaan, a successful neurosurgeon and an incredibly attractive Harvard graduate, is sick of his dominating mother constantly badgering him to get married. All Rihaan wants is to get his mother off his back and live his own life freely as a bachelor in New York. Meanwhile, Naina, a stunning Delhiite, who teaches school kids and ardently pursues her passion of freelance photojournalism, wants to remain independent and single.

By both design and deceit, Naina and Rihaan find themselves in wedlock and are forced by social-appearance-pressures to keep up their little "drama" even as they both outwardly detest being with each other. Life, however, plays cupid, and with time, the two protagonists of this story fall in love with each other.

In a few months, their love story is met with a tragic incident that shatters their tranquil lives. This is when the true test of love is administered by fate. Will Rihaan and Naina persevere and pass this test or will their story end in tragedy? Only this novel holds the answer.

The story at first seems like a regular chick lit or romance novel with the usual elements of two attractive characters besotted with each other, some tiffs and some scenes of unbridled passion. But Simi shows her real skill when she brings in the surprise element in the latter part of the book. That is when the book gets really intense, and enters the realm of a serious novel.

My Verdict:-

The two lead characters are undeniably well fleshed out and have interesting personalities. The plot is very tight and the editing rather good! (I could only spot a couple of typos in the entire book.) Simi is quite adroit with dialogues, and she creates very natural scenes, especially with the words exchanged between Naina and Rihaan. Despite the predictability of the romance scenes, the adept writing makes you enjoy every moment. The first half of the book seems like a run-of-the-mill Bollywood romance movie, but the author ups her game in the second half with the story taking a very grave turn. The animal-passion in the former half of the book transforms into a deeper love that has little to do with bodies.

This book gets an overall rating of 9 on 10 for putting an unusual and interesting spin on an otherwise regular love story. The good quality of writing, easy pace and charming story makes 'The Accidental Wife' an unputdownable book!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Nashta with Mr. Gupta

I am not able to sleep even at this unearthly hour. This is because my stomach is growling with hunger. It is not that I did not have a full dinner. It is just that the very thought of breakfast tomorrow morning is making me salivate copiously. And that's because I am planning to do something different at breakfast tomorrow!

I won't be eating the same old bread with omelette that almost kills me with boredom. Nor will I be relying on my mother who, I am sure, would make yet another poor attempt at getting me to eat papayas. Eating at office is out of question! They only have spicy pohas (I am not much of a "spice girl", if you know what I mean) or tasteless pau bhajis with the bhaji being mostly watery.

I shall go to Guptaji's place for breakfast tomorrow! :-) "Who is this Guptaji?" and "Why his place for the first meal of the day?" you ask? Well, nashta at Mr. Gupta's is an elaborate affair. It's not "food" they have every morning, but "joy" that stays with them all day. Guptaji is served a new dish every day before he leaves for work. And they always have Kellogg's cornflakes! Don't get me wrong. It's not just the plain old milk with cornflakes they eat, but almost a hundred unique dishes made with cornflakes as an important ingredient. Look at this video to see how many people in the neighbourhood yearn to be invited to Kellogg's waale Guptaji so they can have a delicious fill of anaaj ka nashta:

I am already drooling imagining the things I will get to eat when I visit Guptaji. I will start with something sweet - the cornflake coconut laddoos which are prepared with condensed milk and coated with crispy cornflakes. I missed the Gudi Padwa celebrations in India as I was travelling in Russia last week. I totally need to make up for the lost til-gud laddoos (sesame-jaggery sweet balls) with these innovative cornflake-coconut ones.

After my sweet tongue is satiated, I shall wash down the solids with a tall glass of Kellogg's Oats Peppy Papaya drink. This is a cool smoothie with oats and ripe papayas. There will also be some garden cress seeds for garnish. I shall then pocket handfuls of Oats Veggie Nutri cutlets. These are my favourite for the salty taste and healthy ingredients.

I hope Mr. Gupta will also offer me the yummy cornflakes chana chaat. I will ask him to go easy on the chillies though. Dessert will be a cornflake walnut chocolate muffin. The walnuts will keep me intelligent and the chocolate, happy! Let's not forget how nutritious corn is. It is full of vitamin B complex and great for the wear and tear of your body's cells. It is no surprise then as to why I want to go to Guptaji's for nashta!

So, what are you waiting for? Go to sleep so we all can wake up in time for nashta with Mr. Gupta! ;-)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Quick Guide to Pairing Colourful Loafers

Spring is in full swing now, and this is the best time to show off the colours in your wardrobe. While you are busy buying those pretty summer dresses and floral shirts, don't forget an essential part of your look - your shoes! Today, I will show you how to add zing to your attire just by dressing up your feet.

Source: askmebazaar

The easiest way to add a dash of colour to your feet is to buy some colourful loafers. These are also known as moccasins, and are quite a trend these days. You can find loafers in a myriad colours – tan, brown, black, orange, red, navy, ivory, green, yellow, etc. The colours add a bit of youthfulness to your look and shed years from your age. ;-)

The colour of the shoes and the detailing must be appropriate to the occasion. If you are going to work, you will be safe with ebony, tan and similar muted shades. Feel free to don more colours if you are in the fashion or advertising industry.

For a lunch date, get a pair of bright red loafers and pair those with a short white dress. Red and white is a classic combination, sure to win a million hearts! You can also wear a cute light coloured top and cotton hot pants with bright coloured loafers. Try not to match the outfit though. The look stays cooler if you wear contrasting colours.

Loafers are great shoes to wear while travelling. They are easy to wear and easy to take off. These are what your should be wearing to airports, trains, metros and buses. Besides, these shoes are elegant and will add class to your look. This comes in handy especially at airports where you can gain access to lounges sometimes just by dressing neat.

While we’re talking about dressing up, let’s not forget celebratory occasions. Weddings, engagements, baby showers and birthday parties block our calendars almost throughout the year. And a little known secret is that loafers go really well with Indian ensembles! Try pairing shiny and embellished moccasins with your traditional sherwani, Nehru jacket, churidar-kurta, anarkali or kalidar. Tan shades go especially well with ethnic outfits. But be careful not to overuse loafers. You should not wear those with saris or business suits.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Simple Things that Make Me Happy

Happiness, they say, is elusive... a figment of one's imagination... transitory... and hard to grasp. It is true that you cannot see, hear, smell, taste or touch happiness. But you can surely feel it. And, that feeling is all that matters.

We tend to search for happiness at all the wrong places and in all the wrong things - money, bigger houses, more expensive gadgets, extravagant vacations, swankier cars, and the works. All of the aforementioned things make us happy, but only for a while. When the entire neighbourhood has still bigger houses, better cars, more tech toys and plans for yet more exotic holidays, we find happiness slipping out of our clutches. This is because we seek happiness externally. Whereas true happiness lies within us.

Happiness is an energy we all possess. It is only a few of us who know how to harness this secret energy that resides right under our noses. Research shows that people tend to be happier when they make others happy. Happiness increases manifold when we buy things for others, when we gift people and watch them smile. Charity is one of the largest sources of happiness that is known only to the fortunate few who are benevolent enough.

To me, happiness means finding pleasures in the simple things in life. I love to travel and explore the world. I am happy when I see the sun rise in the mountains and paint the sky gold. I am happy when I dive into a pool of cold water and swim on a sunny day. The cool caress of the water makes me cheerful. Happiness is anything that brings a smile to my face and the faces of those I love. I feel one is happy when one is satisfied and free of any tension. Satisfaction comes from contentment and lack of material desires. I am happier at cosy, friendly hostels where I can interact with fellow travellers than I am at star hotels where I sit aloof in my room.

Music is another thing that makes me happy. I love how soothing tunes can calm my senses and fill me with pleasure. I am happy when my mind is. Good books contribute a great deal in refreshing my mind. There is nothing like curling up with a nice, thick book with some hot chocolate to go with it. And the mention of chocolate reminds me how much I love to eat! Food prepared with affection and great ingredients never fails to lift my mood. I like my food to be simple, made with natural ingredients, with the vegetables retaining their true flavours. I also like to spend time with people who are good spirited. I have discovered that good company can do wonders to my level of happiness.

Lastly, volunteering makes me happy. I love to see the smiles on the faces of the children I teach. Kids have a kind of rare innocence and genuineness in their behaviour. The happiness I find at NGOs cannot be matched by all the gadgets in the world!

What makes you happy? Share your happiness mantras in the comments below.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Necklaces that Can Make You a Showstopper

This is the month of March. And March ushers in the season of spring. Along with the lovely weather, this month also heralds the Spring-Summer Fashion season! While you might have a good idea of the colours and fabrics that are in focus for 2015, you are probably confused about the jewellery to accessorize with your marsala (the colour of the year) ensemble. But fret not! I have brought you some wonderful necklace ideas that can make you a showstopper!

If you are a traditional bride, be sure to wear that one necklace that stands out in the marriage hall. You need not wear dozens of gold neckpieces with your bridal trousseau, but you do need to dress like a bride. Choose a single bold necklace that starts at the base of your neck and spreads out by an inch at the shoulders to three inches at the torso. This style will highlight your choli and also make you look slim as it elongates at the bottom. The style works well with gold and silver. If you can splurge more, opt for a diamond piece.

For a day out with your girlfriends, wear a multicoloured charm necklace with your casual yet pretty evening clothes. The colours and the charms will make you appear as the fun loving cute gal. The look will also remain light so you can actually enjoy the day!

For office, you will need a formal look. And what better than pearls! Now, this can get a little tricky if you are not careful. I have seen many ladies overdo the pearl jewellery and appear trashy. You must remember that pearls are very elegant and impactful in themselves. If you wear too many pearl necklaces to work, you will look like you are heading to a temple. Keep it simple. Wear a single elegant pearl string and pair it with single pearl earrings. If you have a slender neck, you can try a combination of two pearl strings entwined together to look like one beautifully crafted necklace. Formal occasions require that you keep the colours understated. So, stick to white or black. If it is a festive occasion, bring out the gold, red and green pearls too.

I hope my little guide on necklace shopping helped you decide what to wear. Let me hear your ideas on how you pick your neckpieces!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Together in Russia

When my sister and I were in school, my family would frequently go on trips to various places in India. Those were the days I dearly missed when I went to college and then started working. We, as family, stopped going out together. We got so busy with our own stuff that we never found the time to share the company of just the four of us - my parents, my sister and me.

And then this month, everything magically changed. I won a couple of return tickets to Moscow, and my sister and I decided to make that trip together. When I broke this idea to my dad, he suggested we all go. I couldn't believe my ears! All the four of us were going to be #together in a foreign country again after thirteen long years! :-)

I am writing this post sitting in our room in central Moscow. And yesterday was our first day here. It was a little difficult to find our hotel and communicate with the locals who only speak Russian. But after the long flight and car ride, we finally found the place. And the people all around us have been really kind. The locals go out of their to help you, and even find people who will speak a little English so they can translate for us. Another nice thing here is that everyone is really willing to help and speak to you. We mostly try translating using Google Translate. I have been talking to our hosts by typing out the English stuff. The host then reads the Russian translation and types back the reply, which I read in English again.

But honestly, the best thing has been being together with my family. Last day was one of the most memorable I had. We walked about the famous Red Square in Moscow. We took hundreds of pictures and ate a lot of delicious Russian food. We are vegetarians, and most people back home told us we would hardly get any veg food in Russia. Our delight knew no bounds when we had an array of veg dishes to choose from. We gorged on kartoshka (potatoes drizzled in olive oil), pumpkin salad, an exotic beetroot preparation with lemon flavours, champignon with buckwheat, pirozhki ( a soft stuffed bread) and sauerkraut. We also drank some kalka vodka and, a berry-jelly drink.

Yesterday was not just a day of exploration, but also one of optimism. We had faith in the fact that we would certainly have a great time despite not knowing any Russian. We did try on our part and learn the Cyrillic alphabet. And that has been helping us immensely! We also believed that we would find great vegetarian food in a country that loves meat. With my family by my side, I know I will always have the strength to find ways to make the best of every moment I have. I will stay optimistic and #lookup.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Daddy takes the #WashBucketChallenge

This post is part of the #WashBucketChallenge activity at BlogAdda.com in association with Ariel India.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Women's Day to generate awareness of the issues that women face, and also to improve gender equity. Ironically, many advertisements today still propagate a stereotypical view of women and men. Take, for example, ads for washing powders. How many ads show a man cleaning clothes? It is always a woman who worries about getting the dirt off her husband or kids' clothes.

However, all is not lost. I just came across the #WashBucketChallenge which beckons all males to show their manliness by cleaning clothes for a change. This piqued my interest and I decided to nominate my dad for the challenge. Now, my father is a great sport and firm believer in equality of the genders. He promptly agreed to do the day's washing by using the Ariel Matic washing machine-friendly detergent that I handed him.

He operated the washing machine with ease and also hung out the clothes to dry. The new washing powder was quite gentle on the clothes. I had forgotten that I had put a delicate top on the dirty-linen pile. My mum always warns us against using the washing machine for delicates. Those are best washed by hand. But Ariel Matic saved my day! Also, my dad was very careful with the top once I told him about my mistake. He took that garment out of the machine after the first wash. I'm proud of my dad! :-) He actually walks the talk. He helps mum whenever he's around. My parents spend their weekends cooking together. And it's my dad who irons the clothes and does the grocery shopping for the week.

I'm very lucky to have parents who shoulder their responsibilities equally. I know, I too will treat my better half as an equal. Our kids won't witness any gender-stereotyping at home!

This review is part of the biggest Sponsored Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free Products!

My Favourite Singaporean Food

I just finished my lunch and will have my evening snacks in some time, but I just can't stop thinking about what to munch in between! Yes, I'm the queen of all foodies! I eat like there is no tomorrow. When I'm not actually eating, I'm always dreaming about yummy dishes.

For a food lover like me, Singapore is one of the best destinations to travel. This island country is home to myriad cuisines from all over the world. The most popular dishes draw their flavours from Malaysia, Thailand, India, China and Europe.

I was in Singapore over a decade back in 2002, when I was still in school. I have fond memories of eating icecream on a street corner and spicy chinese noodles in China Town. There is just so much food there! Even for vegetarians like me.

My favourite Singaporean food happens to be "chai tow kway", which is also called "char kway". It is basically a type of radish cake which can have very interesting flavours depending on the sauce that is used. Yes, cakes also have sauces in them! ;-) If you want a sweet char kway, they'll add sweet dark soy sauce. Otherwise, a white sauce is added. If you can't resist spicy food, you are in luck, because this cake can also be ordered with chilli paste on the side.

Have you ever tasted the food in Singapore? How was your experience? Let me know!!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Oindrila's 5 Mantras to De-Stress

I have to catch a late night flight to Moscow tomorrow, and guess what! I am down with cold and breathlessness. :-( This is what stress does to me. My mum keeps scolding me for my erratic schedule and lack of sleep. I am always just working or traveling or writing. And she is right about the harm that stress is causing in my life.

The good news is...  I am not always this stressed. And I have some fantastic ways to beat stress, which I use frequently and from which I benefit tremendously. So, presenting my 5 Mantras to De-Stress:-

  1. A good night's sleep:

    Sleep is one of the most underrated antidotes to stress. Many of us actually think sleeping is akin to wasting time! This cannot be further from the truth. Research shows that sleeping brings your body temperature down and lowers the secretion of stress hormones such as adrenalin and ghrelin. If you get sweet dreams, then even better! That will ensure you have a good supply of endorphins and serotonin (the feel-good hormones). Make sure you keep the room completely dark when you sleep in the night. Darkness regulates the release of melatonin, the hormone that improves sleep and increases immunity. They say, people grow taller if they sleep well as rest is what helps your proteins repair and build the body. Good sleep also reduces the chances of overeating as you feel satiated.
  2. A relaxing weekend trip:

    The travel blogger in me will always tell you to travel if you want to bust stress. Make sure you keep your trip relaxing. Don't try to cram in too many activities. Watch the sunset, walk on soft sands, breathe in the mountain air. All of this will surely make you forget your stress.
  3. A good body massage:

    Physical stress can best be cured with a good, long massage. Splurge on a spa weekend and get that exotic Swedish massage to soothe your tense muscles. You don't always need to spend so much, actually. Get your partner to join a massage class, and you'll get free professional massages for life! ;-)
  4. Listening to soothing music:

    There are few things that music cannot melt. Stress is the first thing to buckle under the influence of powerful music. Instrumental tunes, especially classical ones, can relive your stress in just ten minutes.
  5. Curling up with a nice book:

    If you are a bibliophile like I, you will know the comfort that envelops you as you lose yourself in a happy-themed novel. Make sure you have some milk and cookies to go with your long read.

These five ways will make sure you slow down in your life when it all becomes too much for you to handle. I am going to try a new quick way to De-stress & #SlowDownZindagi using Parachute Advansed Aromatherapy Oil in association with BlogAdda. Watch this video to see how:-

Contest Alert!!!

I'm sure you too have interesting ways to remain stress-free. I would love to hear how you relieve stress. Leave your answers as comments below and the best comment shall win a voucher! :-)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

ThoughtBuzz - Application Review

I have something new on my blog for you today. I am checking out Thoughtbuzz as part of an activity at BlogAdda. ThoughtBuzz is a new platform that lets you integrate various social media accounts and analyze their performance on a variety of parameters.

I began by integrating my Twitter account and Facebook Page on ThoughtBuzz. The app has a very neat display that lets you monitor all your social accounts from one page. You can view multiple feeds from multiple social media platforms. Currently, ThoughtBuzz lets you add accounts for Facebook (page only), Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. You can also add a public page with its URL.

The application has a simple and clear layout and is fairly easy to use. There are six tabs at the top menu bar which let you operate ThoughtBuzz. The question mark button on the extreme left shows you what each option is for. ThoughtBuzz lets you take the following actions:-

  1. See notifications from your social media accounts
  2. Operate your accounts without actually logging into them
  3. Import subscribers and followers from various platforms
  4. View analytics of your social media accounts' performance
  5. Manage accounts

The first tab (Notifications) has three sub-tabs:-

  1. Trends: You can view trending posts and topics on Twitter, Youtube and Instagram. Currently, ThoughBuzz supports Global Trends for Instagram, and Global, Country and City trends for both Twitter and Youtube.
  2. Notifications: You can get all your notifications for the integrated accounts at one place. You may also sort the notifications by social media platforms.
  3. Top Fans: This tab lets you view your tops fans account-wise. For Twitter it is supposed to show top fans by retweets or mentions, and for Facebook, by likes, comments or shares. Unfortunately, this feature does not work for me. This could be a bug for the ThoughtBuzz team to look at.

The next tab lets you access your feeds - your updates, tweets, mentions and timelines. If you have a paid membership, you can also access your inbox. Another feature on this tab is the ability to compose and share updates and tweets. You can either post immediately or schedule it for sometime in the future. The interface lets you attach files / pictures to your posts. You can also view your past updates and scheduled ones.

The third tab is for importing your followers and fans from all platforms. This lets you track your most engaged and active audience and switch between social platforms. For Facebook, this showed me the number of shares, likes and comments by the top followers and allowed me to sort accordingly. For Twitter, this should ideally show me the ranks as per retweets and mentions, but it only shows 0 against each Twitter follower I have. So, here's another bug for you! One more thing I would like here is to see the number of "favourites" on Twitter. One nice thing on this page is the search functionality which dynamically searches for the names of people as you type. The best thing, though, is the fact that you can export the entire list of fans as a CSV file! You are free to do your own analysis there.

The next tab is for sundry analytics. If you select Twitter, you can see a graph of your daily follower-count, bars of your top 5 retweets with the actual tweet showing when you hover your cursor over a bar, top 5 user locations and top sources of Twitter client. You can also restrict the analysis to a specific period of time. For Facebook, the engagement analysis is mostly what you would get on your own Facebook page-membership.

The last two tabs are for integrating more social media accounts or deactivating them and logging off.


I like the concept and the usefulness of the analytics modules. Perhaps the premium versions have more features that are useful. However, ThoughtBuzz needs to fix a few bugs and do thorough testing before marketing this app to all. Another thing I'd like is to be able to integrate more accounts such as Google Plus and Pinterest.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Book Review - The Winner's Curse

A couple of weeks back, I read The Winner's Curse by Dee Walker. The author was kind enough to sign my copy for me! :-)

Cover Page
Signed by the author

Fast Facts:-

Title: The Winner's Curse 
Author: Dee Walker
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Srishti Publishers and Distributors
Pages: 277
Price: Rs.195 (Paperback)

Key Characters:-
  1. Harsh Mittal: A flamboyant business tycoon who has risen to his current heights through sheer hard work, his genius and the alliance of his "Master"
  2. The Master: The Prime Minister of India
  3. Raghav Badhwar: A successful bureaucrat and Harsh's nemesis since their days in IIT.
  4. Khosla: Harsh's adversary in the Telecom business
  5. Robbie: The Master's son in law, a dimwit but very attractive
  6. Kamal Pandey: Harsh's best friend from IIT and a righteous and austere personality.
  7. Savita Bhambi: A political and corporate lobbyist who hails from a scheduled caste family in a small town.

The Review:-

The Winner's Curse is a novel that explores the dark side of success. The author maintains that as people grow more successful, they fall prey to greed. This "greed" is the curse that always chases the "winner". This is essentially the story of Harsh, a business magnate who was born an orphan. Harsh is discovered by an IITian and the founder of FIITJEE who bring him up an watch as the genius makes it to IIT himself. The book explores the stories and characters of a batch of IITians who study together and grow to be very successful in each of their chosen domains - business, politics, technology, corporate lobbying and social activism.

Harsh is asked by his Master to develop a technology that will uniquely identify all Indians and give powers to the government to directly disburse benefits and subsidies without any middlemen. And thus, Jan Shakti is born. Jan Shakti has the power to unearth corruption and make India clean. But in the shadow of Jan Shakti, there is a sinister program that will impeach on the privacy of people and lead to espionage.

In a parallel world, Arvind Pandey, an honest civil engineer, fights corruption and makes it difficult for Raghav and his corrupt politician friend to carry out their illegal mining and transportation jobs. But Arvind's foes are brutal. Kamal, Arvind's brother, takes up his case as a social activist and seeks some help from his best friend, Harsh. Only the book can tell you whether Harsh will listen to his conscience or let his promise to his Master compel him to do what he shouldn't.

Dee Walker sketches his characters really well. They are all well fleshed out, and the common thread of IIT is woven very well into the story. The story is fast paced and very interesting. The best thing about this story is the fact that you can relate the characters to many real world people. I could draw similarities to Manmohan Singh, Robert Vadra and Nira Radia [the (in)famous lobbyist from the Radia tapes fame]. Many of the incidents also bear resemblance to real life scandals.

My Verdict:-

Walker's grip on the story is very good. His dialogues are impactful and fresh. The book still needs another round of proof reading, but is entertaining nevertheless.

This book gets an overall rating of 9.5 on 10 from me for keeping the book so engrossing throughout. Dee Walker's novel has all the trappings of a classic corporate fiction. You must pick this book up wherever your can!

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This book review is part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours. To get free books, reach out to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Secret to Babies' Happiness

Lately, I have been hearing news of many babies turning one. Every other day, a colleague invites me over for her / his child's first birthday. While I love to see the cute and happy face on the invitation mail, I wonder how those little babies stay so cheerful all the time.

I have seen some very loud and leaky babies who wail uncontrollably and bring the whole house down. On the other hand, some babies just cackle with laughter even when they are not tickled. I wanted answers to this confusing observation. So, I decided to go on a secret investigative mission and attended six birthday parties of toddlers over the past few months.

At the Sakpal family's birthday bash, baby Anushka jumped incessantly on her carpeted floor. I picked her up and planted a huge kiss on her forehead. She exploded in peals of laughter and started playing with my stone necklace. I noticed two clues to happiness here - plaything (my necklace) and dancing. These two activities kept baby Anushka occupied and she was a happy angel on her first birthday.

A week later, I was at baby Piyush's christening ceremony. He was only a few months old and could not crawl yet. When I held his delicate form in my arms, he gurgled and blew spit bubbles. After a few minutes, he wriggled on my lap and made a crying face. I thought he was hungry. I looked at my friend, Shalu. She gestured that she had already nursed him. This could only mean one thing - Piyush was going to pee!!! I held the little boy carefully, worried his diaper would leak and soil my dress. After a few seconds, Piyush's cherubic face burst into a smile. He was done peeing! :-) Looking at my dazed self, Shalu chortled and explained to me that her baby boy wore Pampers Baby Dry Pants which were easy to wear and and easy to dispose. The gel lock technology would also keep little Piyush dry from the inside. This is why that boy did not cry. He was happy and dry!

I knew then that little children needed to stay dry to be comfortable in their skin. What most of us do wrong is avoid diapers and keep changing the panties over and over again. This not only takes up a lot time, but also has chances of infecting the baby with the bacteria in his own puddle of urine. A good diaper is the first trick to keeping your baby happy! And of course, you must indulge your baby with a lot of love and care. Make sure you talk to her / him and take the baby all around the house to expose her / him to new views. New things give little kids a lot of joy. Kids also love rhythmic music. I always try to make little babies dance to children's songs. They find happiness in clapping their hands and wobbling on their pudgy feet.

Now you know many secrets to babies' happiness! Share some of your own with me by commenting below!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

My Ray of Hope

Until last year, I used think new year resolutions were only a bunch of points that were supposed to be jotted down for motivation, and at the end of the day (the first month, rather), chucked into the trashcan. But last year, I did something that changed my perception for good.

Just like in the beginning of every other year, I started 2014 by penning down a slightly long and ambitious list of resolutions. I would have to accomplish each and everyone of those by 31st December, 2014. "Ha!", I thought to myself, "That's never happening!". "I'll be lucky to achieve even one of those eight resolutions on that over-ambitious list."

My resolutions ranged from "Get eight hours of sleep a day" (easy) to "Go on a sponsored trip abroad" (crazy!). I would have given up on my dreams by February if not for a traumatic experience in the beginning of the year. I was so broken during that phase, that it took me tremendous effort to regain my old state of calm and happiness. It was then that a close friend said to me, "Your confidence and strength lie in you! Don't look toward others to pump yourself up."

His words worked like magic on me. I stopped thinking about the past and focused only on how I could achieve my future... my dreams. I started following my first resolution - getting eight hours of sleep. Irrespective of the time I slept at night, I would clock eight hours. I put in new energy into my travel articles. I got quite a few published, and some won me awards! I had succeeded in winning return flights to an Indian city and I even won the stay for free, albeit through separate contests. I had ticked off almost all of the milestones from my list of resolutions.

However, I still hadn't earned a foreign trip by October. While I continued multitasking and bettering my writing, I was surprised to hear that I won return tickets to Moscow! And the news came on my birthday. I was so happy, I had tears in my eyes! I knew I had kept all of my resolutions for 2014. The confidence and the strength were mine. My friend's words had been my ray of hope. I had achieved every little dream of mine by persevering with my hard work. I took time after work to hone my writing skills. I saved up money and leaves for interesting trips across India. In the end, it was all worth it. I had gifted myself a lot of positive reinforcement to become the strong individual I wanted to be.

Today, as I pack my bags for Russia, I look back at last year with pride at my perseverance. I made another list of resolutions for 2015. And I hope to tell you another story next year.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Whole New World

I look at this world from various perspectives every new day, and a million thoughts rush to my mind at once. I am awed by many miracles brought about by science and technology. Then again, I am ashamed of the destruction the same scientific and technological knowledge brings into this world. I am amazed at the depth of philosophy and the beauty of fine arts and performing arts. On the other hand, I condemn the narrow mindedness of our people who set books ablaze and organize riots in the name of religion and God.

My heart shatters into a million pieces as I take in the sight of all the goodness struggling to escape the dark forces of the world. But my brain urges me to think. And I smile as I slowly comprehend the simple truth. The good and the bad in this world are products of our minds. They are all our creations. The natural elements are mere spectators in this land where humans have the power to either prosper or perish. It is with these thoughts in my head that I wonder what I would build if I could recreate this world... make a whole new world...

I would start with the very beginning. My first priority would be to sensitize toddlers and school children to the environment and their fellow beings. I would ensure that "Tolerance" is a subject taught in every school. When the same kids grow up into adults, politicians, businessmen and farmers, we would have a world that respects nature and all life forms. With increasing tolerance, the need to restrict travel would reduce. This would obviate the need for visas to travel across countries. Imagine the kind of freedom we would have if we could take a plane to anywhere and learn about the indigenous people there! The world would live as a giant family. Perhaps we would then understand the true meaning of "vasudhaiva kutumbakam".

I know my world is utopian. But what is utopia today, may just be reality tomorrow! That is the power of thought. But the power sustains only if implemented.

I am participating in the #TheWorldRemade activity at BlogAdda in association with India Today #Conclave15.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

My Father - My Strength

It is not Father's Day today, but I'm still going to go ahead tell you how wonderful my father is. He has been my pillar of strength and source of wisdom since the day I was born.

When I was a toddler, my dad would carry me in his arms and take me to street bazaars and children's parks. He would never tire of picking me up and propping me atop the slide so I could enjoy sliding down numerous times. It was my dad who would see me and my sister off to the school bus every morning. He would always hold our hands when we crossed roads. I asked him one day why he held our hands, and he told me that he would not get to hold our hands and help us cross once we grew up. He wanted to cherish these moments as long as he could.

My father taught me how to draw and paint. He is a talented artist himself! Whichever drawing competition I have won until now (and I have won many), I have won because of my dad. He would spend many hours each day before the drawing competitions and teach me how to draw, what to draw, and how to paint well. My father always encouraged me to participate in all sorts of competitions, be it debate, painting, extempore, math or science. He would go the extra mile to show us how and why we should go the extra mile. All the medals I have won, the exams I have topped, and the accolades I have received are thanks to my father's guidance. My dad taught me how to have a balance in life. He would encourage us to play after we studied for a few hours.

My father also taught me to be self reliant. He would give me pocket money in school so I could learn to manage my own finances. I bought my first big bicycle - a magenta Atlas Ladybird, with the money I had saved up in my piggy bank. His teachings have been very valuable to me all through my life! I would never run out of cash in college when my classmates were perpetually broke. I see the biggest result now - I have a seven-figure bank balance in less than three years of being in the corporate world. I have learnt that savings is not a factor of your income, but of your attitude towards money. Many of my better paid friends have negligible net worth due to  lack of money management skills.

My father has also taught me the value of humility. The thought that my parents are well heeled never entered my mind as my upbringing has been simple. My father has always provided me for my needs. And for everything else, he has given me the education and skillset that will help me fulfill all my desires.

I owe everything I am to my father. And, I love him more than everything else in the world.