Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation. –Graham Greene


I’m no expert in blogging. But the other day, a Mumbai friend, Nandi, dropped me a call. “I need some help! Are you tech savvy? How do I navigate this thing?!!”

So after school today, I hitched a ride with her seven year old son, Taj, who chattered about tooth fairies and rupees. And in her living room, with a Kingfisher in hand, I introduced Nandi to the world of tags, freshly pressed and blogrolls.

After some technology hiccups, she dug out her binder, filled with stories she had spun over her three years of living in Mumbai. Her descriptions lured me into her world of tipping bicycles, juxtaposed beggars and Brad Pitt, and a husband trying to raise his status amongst his colleagues through tiffin lunches.

She’s obviously studied how to be a writer, but that’s not what impressed me. Nandi writes with her heart. Her skill of adding unexpected twists only serves to propel her underlying message. The few stories I’ve read have a pattern. She starts with a metaphor, leaves the metaphor until it’s erased from your memory, and towards the end somehow the metaphor fades in again, unexpectedly, twisting its way into your heart, leaving you with “aha!” moments and hungry for more of her stories.

I’m looking forward to her blog launch. But more than her blog entries, I somehow picture her future novel, resting on my lap, as I’m lured into her world, Kingfisher in hand.

I started this blog in July, took a hiatus in August, and leaped back into the blogging wagon on January 2 of this year. I’ve been posting every day since, and I’m pushing myself, and just hoping I won’t stop. (Oh the backlog guilt! I still have 2 series that I haven’t finished!)

I’ve also been exploring the WordPress Site Stats section, and have been quite amused with the posts that have generated the most hits.

So, here goes–

10. Mumbai Scribbles, Day 3 — My Mumbai Scribble photos are inspired by WordPress’s Project 365. My goal is to catalog images every day that tell the story of Mumbai, a place I’m visiting, or something I’m engaged in. Cataloging images has sparked wonder in me, and it’s inspiring me to appreciate what I have every day.

9. Flounder Flops — It’s funny how this entry seems to pop up on the “how to not make flounder mushy” Google search. I haven’t found the answer, but since misery loves company, I hope that some cooks out there have discovered that they’re not the only ones with flounder flops.

8. Broccoli-Mushroom Curry and the Rat Race — I’m glad that many people have found this quick recipe. It’s a healthy no-brainer for busy people.

7. From Louie’s Kitchen: Lemon-Pepper Tilapia — I’m sure Louie would be happy to know that people have been browsing his recipe and hopefully trying them out! I’m surprised that quite a number of my recipes are on my top 10 posts. Maybe it’s time that I go back to trying at least one new recipe a week that I can share!

From Louie's facebook status update on July 14: Todays menu via the garden and friends. Tomato soup (Thanks Sacha) with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (Thanks Simon and Garfunkel). Maple Glazed Lemon Squash (Thanks Sacha), Cucumber/Scallion/carrot Salad, grilled Green Squash / Eggplant Sandwich on fresh Sun dried tomato/Parmigiana cheese bread (Thanks Laurie for my French bread pan, I really like it), and lemon pepper grilled talipia (Thanks fish farmers)

6. Greek Garbanzos Salad — Another healthy eat! I also bought these dishes to make my food pop out in photographs. It’s a sign! Time to generate healthy eats again!

Students representing South Africa!

5. Mumbai Scribble, Day 18: International Day — My favorite special event in school!

4. Pig Roast in Nancy’s Graduation — The fourth of July last year was one of the most beautiful days I’ve seen and experienced. This was a happy memory with B, my honey, and his family. Nancy tragically died in a car accident a few weeks before Christmas. But she didn’t die in vain. Her smile, kindness and love have left and indelible impact on thousands of lives.

Louie, Anne Marie and Nancy in the Lapp's breathtaking farm

3. Weekly Photo Challenge: Ready / Mumbai Scribble, Day 28: Kala Ghoda Festival — I love doing the Weekly Photo Challenge. It’s another venue for bloggers to share their creative ideas. I find that many of my followers discover Scribbles through this page.

2. 10 Things I Learned from Dilip D’Souza’s Travel Writing Workshop — I scribbled this entry in less than an hour. It was based on a workshop I took a couple of days ago. Little did I know that it would generate so many hits. I’m still happy to have found Dilip and the group. We’re meeting next month in either Bandra or Thane, and we need to work on our first assignment–pick two travel experiences and write an essay that connects them. What a challenge!

DD's Travel Writing Bus in Elphinstone College

Silent Noise by Saini Johray

1. Mumbai Scribble, Day 27: Kala Ghoda Festival — Never in a million years would I have thought that this photo would generate so many hits. It pops up in Google Images when you type in “Kala Ghoda Festival 2012”. I accidentally tapped into something called “Search Engine Optimization”. Thank you, Google!

In the meantime, I’m on the 10% mark of my blogging goal this year, which is to post every day.

I’m trying. Persevering. Writing. Taking photos. And posting. One day at a time.

There are no public loos that are open before ten am in Colaba. I specifically asked the old Fiat cab to drop me off in front of Coffee Cafe Day, and as I alighted a sign hanging from the door greeted me with something like–“Sorry. You’ve come at the wrong time. Come back later.”

I proceeded to skip to Kala Ghoda, hoping to find the Elphinstone College open, making an inner compromise to use their squat loo. No luck. Then I remembered S, a fellow workshop participant, telling me that she would always use the Westside’s (a department store beside Elphinstone) bathroom. Darn! Still close!, the padlocks indicated.

It’s times like this when I miss Manila. We have a Starbucks at every corner, open at 6 am, providing cafe lattes and spotless bathrooms.

Then I remembered my mission, the reason why I decided to come early. The installations! I thoroughly enjoyed taking photographs of the installations a week ago. They marked the streets of Kala Ghoda, and intrigued me because even if many of them weren’t aesthetically pleasing they made me think, and they brought a spirit of curiosity that I haven’t felt since visiting the museums in New York state.

So I decided to ignore the pinching pain in my bladder, erase the memory of Starbucks and cross the street to the island where many of the installations stood proudly.

A crow a crow a crow. I confess that I don’t even remember seeing this a week ago. I’m not sure if they installed it after February 5 or I just didn’t notice. Didn’t care. Why would someone spend so much time and resources recreating a common bird? And not a pretty one at that. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to photograph this installation.

But I read the explanation–

The idea that the dead needed to be saved piqued my curiosity and made me scan the details of the installation. I also like the idea of a crow, an animal that Hindus believe could save, experiencing common human problems.

I appreciated the installation more when the details were magnified under my lens. As I look back at my photos and try to guess what problems Sumeet Patil tried to depict, the stories he was trying to tell, I’m more curious, more inspired to ask and perhaps spin some tales myself. Somehow, I get a vague sense that the stories are about alcoholism, pollution, slum life. Maybe greed. And drought. Fodder for a novelette.

I also like how something or someone who saves becomes a common man, in contrast to human beings reaching for gods that are out of their grasp.

After clicking the photos, I looked at my phone clock–9:55. My workshop, which was located in Elphinstone, was at ten. It was time to put my camera down. It was time to stop clicking photos of frozen crows taking sips from broken bottles. It was time to check if the building was open.

The pinch in my bladder turned into a pinch of guilt as I thought about my needs and how everything was relative.

I walked back to the college, used the squat loo with my scarf, camera and bag hanging from my neck. Knees bent, feet balanced on two narrow footholds.

I used the squat loo without complaint.

Elphinstone College, a university in Mumbai established in 1856, noted for its alumni who have made an indelible impact on India and the world. These include: Jamsedjui Tata, founder of Tata Enterprises and Gopal Krishna Gokhale, founding member of the Indian Independence Movement.

Elphinstone College, famous for its Romanesque style building. It is a structure built from heavy stone, full of arches and details which include antique patterned floors. In Mumbai, it is classified as a Grade I Heritage building.

Elphinstone College, the venue for the travel writing workshop, conducted by Dilip D’Souza. At one point, he asked us to walk down the first floor hall and note down the details we observed. My way of recording details is to take photos.

I couldn’t help but observe that there was a lack of effort in maintaining the building. This gave me a sense of regret because it is a building full of history and beauty. It is a heritage site! Something Mumbaikars should be proud of! And I believe that it is worth pouring funds and effort into to keep it clean and well-maintained. I say this as constructive criticism because I know that if someone drives it, it can happen!

Here are some photos I took for those ten minutes–

The church steeple

One of the workshop participants taking notes on the details she observed.

How much effort does it take to straighten a painting?

Animesh, a fellow workshop participant, noticed that all the old South Mumbai buildings have head sculptures on top of the entrance. He pointed out this detail to me in the oil painting.

A sample of a desk outside the classroom.

I'm wondering why there's a wheelchair, covered by a sack, chained to a pipe. Is it for emergencies?

I love how old elevators look. Not sure if I like riding them, though.

Pigeon poop!

The highlight of the Kala Ghoda Festival for me was Dilip D’Souza’s travel writing workshop, entitled “Got them old travel writing blues, momma!”. At the end of the two whole day sessions, he revealed that it was his first time to conduct a writing workshop.

Gasp gasp! He is such a gifted facilitator and I’ve experienced many! He was very student-centered. He asked questions that provoked thought. He made sure that everyone shared their perspective, and he was very encouraging to those who were afraid to share their stories. He also played his harmonica before each class and after lunch. He certainly used the strategies of a good international school elementary teacher!


Here are ten lessons I learned from his workshop:

1. Travel is the germinator of creativity. It’s one of the reasons I travel, it’s one of the reasons I write.

2. Keep your eyes open when you travel or go through an experience. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Many people take notes as they do this. Taking photos works best for me.

3. The best workshop is to write write write! That’s why I’ve joined Postaday! I encourage you to do the same if you want to meet your writing goals.

4. Write a strong story lead which makes your reader want more. It’s something I aspire to be more conscious of as I continue to share my tales.

5. Take your readers on a journey. Stand by their side. Give them an experience. Wow. Compelling my readers is definitely something I need to work on.

6. Naresh Fernades is a kick-ass writer. We read two paragraphs of “Tomb Raider”, a travel article published in Transition magazine. Those two paragraphs left me thirsty for more.

7. Writing is in the details. A newspaper editor once told his journalists, “Don’t come back until you know the name of the dog.” Details are my waterloo. Now I want to know the name of everything and will make a patient effort to make my stories come alive with detail.

8. Travel writing is not just about describing a place. It can also be about communicating its atmosphere. I’m not sure if I’m ready to consciously adapt this tip yet since I’m already juggling quite a few factors to consider as I write. But will get there.

9. Stay away from cliches. Enough said.

10. Writing doesn’t have to be a lone venture. Dilip was generous enough to give us his contact details so if we need a constructive critique, he can share some. The class has also tossed around the idea of gathering together once a month to critique each others’ work, with Dilip still leading.

And just like that, a writer’s group is born.

Last Thursday, I woke up to work. But before I talk about work, I’ll talk about my home.

I am very grateful to live where I live. I wake up to a view of Aarey Dairy Colony everyday. I get to choose what I want to eat, and unless it’s a workday, I design my schedule, because I have no strings attached. No husband, no children, just a wonderful boyfriend, 8000 miles away. (But that gap will close soon!) I have friendly, helpful neighbors. I get to walk barefoot on spotless floors…ah freedom! I get to focus on my writing, something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

My apartment is my sanctuary from Bombay’s chaos. It’s my sanctuary from smog, the noise, the dog poop (I’m hoping that it’s dog poop!). It’s my sanctuary from the inefficiency, the inconsideration, the lies. The broken promises.

In my apartment, I can walk barefoot. I’m allowed a lack of color, a lack of noise, a lack of stimulation which is necessary for me to think. And to write.

But freedom always has its price. (One day I will blog about my apartment in Evangelista, a downtrodden area in Manila.) The price I have to pay for living here is my time and my labor. My time is not my own. Yes, officially, it’s 7:40 to 4:30, but in reality, it’s when the work gets done. And for many months that meant 12 to 14 hour weekdays and working during holidays. I have to pay electric bills, gas bills, internet. I have to ensure that my apartment is always clean and I’m eating the right food so my health doesn’t deteriorate. In others, I am responsible for myself, with no one to run to except B. But then again, he is 8000 miles away.

Which brings me to last Thursday.

Last Thursday, I woke up to work.

More on Durshet, a Happy Accident in my next entry.