31 December 2012

Every Writer I Read Influences Me

Ever so often I read a book that has me hanging on to each page to know just what happens next. In my life I must have literally read thousands of books. At my peak I was reading about 15 books a month. I actually had two books going on simultaneously where one would be a classic like the Iliad while the other would be something fast and racy like an Agatha Christie. I would begin with the tougher to read book and flip over for a break to the faster read.

This was in college when I literally had nothing more to do. Naturally being married and having a kid means that I don't have all that much free time today. However without my monthly book fix I do get grumpy. I typically read about 25 books annually even today.Through this blog I intend to pay tribute to my favourite writers by giving book reviews of their books. I intend to do the book reviews in chronological order whenever possible as that's the way I tend to read each author.

At first I'm just going to assemble book reviews that I have written earlier and publish them on this blog. Then I will begin with Nora Roberts' books as I absolutely love reading her work. Even though I never read a romance or mills and boone till I reached 12th class, once I read some Nora Roberts and Donna Clayton I was hooked. I did not miss out on much when I went through the local library collection. Thanks to the internet I was actually able to interview Donna Clayton, which is incidentally a pen name, many years later on Hubpages.

There are many more I will go on to honour through the blog. I hope that my book reviews give you a good idea about the kind of books that you could be reading.If there is a book that you would like reviewed feel free to tell me about it. If I can manage to lay my hands on a physical copy or a kindle version of the book I will be sure to share the book review. Here's looking forward to sharing my literary experiences with you.

07 November 2012

Book Review Of "After Abbottabad-Terror to Turmoil in Pakistan" published in Diplomatist October 2012

After Abbottabad – Terror to Turmoil in Pakistan

By Anil Bhat
Pentagon Press
200 Pages
Price: Rs 795/-
Review of the book by Cashmere 
The word terror took on a new meaning with the introduction of Osama bin Laden to the world. America’s “Public Enemy Number One” may be dead, but the world he left behind will never be the same again. This book gives us an introduction to the man behind the terrorist attacks that shook our world worse than an earthquake of magnitude 8 on the Richter scale. It offers us a glimpse into bin Laden’s family background and personal traits. The bin Laden family is one of the most prosperous and influential business families in Saudi Arabia, despite its world famous black sheep. It is a portion of this family wealth that financed the religious fanatic dream of the Sheikh.

The book also introduces us to his infamous organization, the Al Qaeda, a name that the western world associates with the most deadly terrorist organization of all time, but which actually and deceptively has a very humble meaning. It literally means “the base.” The author describes the key influences of the more militant Wahhabi Ideology that led to the organization being formed. He also studies in depth the operations that the organization undertook under Osama bin Laden’s leadership.

For many of us Al Qaeda is a known name, but we are often not aware of just what the organization consists of. In this book the author helps us understand the threat offered by Al Qaeda. He explains the leadership, command structure, financing options and activities that the Al Qaeda is associated with. Many of the major terrorist attacks perpetuated by this organization and its field operatives in the last couple of decades are also highlighted.

The game changer amongst these many attacks of terror being the 9/11 attacks in the US, the book includes a step- wise description of the event that shook the world on that day in 2001. The planning an implementation of various stages of the attack on America which led to the destruction of the Twin Towers and damage to the Pentagon is well outlined by the author.

A very important and ominous development is the partnership between Al Qaeda and Pak army, which already steeped in organizing terror, extends its reach and the great irony is that it becomes US’ ‘frontline ally in the war against terror.

The aftermath of 9/11 leading to the “War on Terror” is common knowledge but the inside story of how Osama bin Laden managed to evade the forces after him for the next ten years makes for interesting reading. The execution of the operation which led to the elimination of Osama bin Laden is the stuff action movie scripts are made of. Just how the US Navy Seals moved into the closed compound of the house in Abbottabad which hosted Osama bin Laden and his family members and finally eliminated him.

The Pakistani response to the event and its possible compliance in keeping Osama bin Laden safe while he was on the run from the US forces is also explored. The family drama that ensued with Osama bin Laden’s surviving family after the attack on the Abbottabad house has been brought out. His surviving wives and children in Pakistan are in the unique position where the country wishes to send them away but their host nations are far from ready to accept them back into their fold with open arms. The legal mess over their extradition is going to take some time to solve. Interviews of his wives have also indicated that the ISI was well aware of where the family fled and hid during the time that US forces chased them. This may well have been the reason why the US kept the Pakistani forces uninformed of their final operation to take out Osama bin Laden.

The turmoil that came about within Pakistan in terms of immediate physical repercussions and led to the murder of the bold journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad explores the volatile situation that terrorism related activities have caused in the country. There is no doubt that Pakistan was caught napping by the operation launched by the United States. It is clear that the equation between the two countries will never reach the same comfort level ever again.

The United States is definitely not as pleased with Pakistan as an ally as it used to be, but at the same time it cannot totally break this alliance with a clean cut. It will have to continue a close, but guarded relationship with its former bosom pal. It has already reduced the financial aid that was being doled out top Pakistan. Unfortunately this is not enough for India as the threat of covert terrorism and overt war with its neighbor has in no way lessened since the incident. India’s activities to help rebuild infrastructure in Afghanistan is also unacceptable to Pakistan.

The fall of the Taliban government in 2011 in Afghanistan snapped the bonds of power between Kabul and Islamabad. The departure of the bulk of the NATO forces from the region next year will render it highly volatile and unstable. The Taliban will try to regain lost ground and its Pakistani supporters will do all that they can to help. The acts of terror continue like dogs snapping at the heels of the present Afghan government.

Another matter of concern for India is the growing bond between China and Pakistan. China is backing Pakistan with technology and political support. Pakistan has its own agenda to recover lost ground, both domestically and internationally. While India’s stand on terror from across the border may be vindicated it is still by no means safer than before. If anything the situation today is even more unpredictable and deadly than before.

The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India are very much interwoven. Until there is a step down in terror activities and a demolition of terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda and Taliban, the world will not rest easy. Unfortunately the terror groups that are fragmented across the globe still retain the ability to strike hard and effectively against any nation on earth. India remains fated to live with the uncertainty of volatile neighbours, for a long time to come. All it can really do is maintain a strong defensive position and ward off whatever attack may come next to its shores maintains the author.

The writer is Senior Correspondent, WordSword Features

05 September 2012

Toon Doo

Have you always wanted to draw comic strips but been impaired because you couldn't draw to save your life? Well fear not my friend, its Toon DOO to the rescue. This is a website that has both paid and free memberships. You can make a single character, or a entire comic book using their tools.

Here's the first strip I came up with.

21 August 2012

Article on Afghan Women Published in Diplomatist July 2012

The Plight of Women in Afghanistan
By Cashmere

A couple of months ago I saw a friend’s two daughters fighting over which one gets to go with their father for a hockey match. The decision was left to the girls by the father who had two tickets and could take only one of them along. The teenager finally lost to the tweenie after a heated debate because the mother decided that she needed to complete her school project before she could go for an outing. There was a lot of grumbling but the decision had been made - school work took priority over play.

Recently Afghan school girls were poisoned  after drinking contaminated water in their classes. The all-girl school was located in the northern Takhar province of Afghanistan.  The incident was repeated barely one month later. The girls suffered headaches and vomiting as a result of the poisoning and several in critical condition being treated in a hospital. The act of poisoning the water supply of the school was considered to be the work of conservative radicals opposed to female education resorting to medieval  barbarism.

However the officials were not blaming any particular group due to fears of retribution. The incident brought home to me the relatively huge advantage that a girl child has in India compared to Afghanistan
Incidentally this school session marks the 10th Anniversary of the return of girls to school in Afghanistan. The Taliban had made education for girls illegal when it came to power in the late 1970s after defeating the Russian forces. The lifting of the ban  alone was not enough to support girl child education in Afghanistan .

The April newsletter for the Khaled Hosseini Foundation states on its website that for girls to be able to attend school in Afghanistan there are many obstacles that must be overcome. “ They must have the support of their families.  This is no easy task, as they often must overcome social stereotypes as well as the families’ potential for loss of income when their daughters are in school.  They often must walk lengthy distances, in inclement weather, to be able to attend a school, consisting of broken chalk board tablets with students huddled outdoors or in substandard shells of buildings listening to a teacher who may only come a few times a month.  When they return home they are still expected to do vital housework to feed, clothe and care for their families.”

 The Khaled Hosseini Foundation was started  by the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Perhaps it is over simplistic to say that all girls in India have an advantage over their counterparts who reside in Afghanistan. Surely there are areas in the tribal regions and in the rural parts of  India where the girl child has to overcome great obstacles to get an education. Not only do they have trouble attending a real school with text books, a chalkboard and a regular teacher, they have very limited freedom to do what they like.

 Afghan Minister for Education Farooq Wardak says that “Education is the fundamental cornerstone and a key pre-requisite for durable peace, stability and socio-economic development in every society—Afghanistan is not an exception. Development is about people, not infrastructure, aimed at bringing positive changes in behavior and attitude of people. Education makes people think, behave, act positively, and it promotes social co-existence.”  As per statistics released by the Central Statistics Organization the number of students in schools has steadily increased since 2009 to 2011.

The Taliban has been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes against women in recent times. Stoning to death for being unfaithful to your husband, having acid thrown on your face for daring to educate yourself, being abducted and whipped in public for defying the many bans that were imposed on women, were just some of the many means of punishment against women that the Taliban practiced. They were judge, jury and executor rolled into one. There was no one to appeal to and no guarantee of justice. Not that the punitive regime confined itself to the fairer sex, even the men felt the abuse of power in no small measure.

Many cases of extreme abuse of human rights have come to light in the last decade as global human rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Watch, were finally able to enter the nation to provide relief measures. The Taliban abused their religious values in the name of a cause opposed to the basic Islamic principles of peace, education and kindness. One of the most publicized cases was that of Aisha, a girl whose nose was cut off as punishment for fleeing her arranged marriage to a Taliban fighter. Today the 18 year old has left Kabul for the United States where doctors are assessing her case for  reconstructive surgery. This is a result of the intervention of an NGO, Women for Afghanistan, and the Grossman Burn Foundation .

There was no end to the barbaric acts that the Taliban undertook during the time that they were ruling Afghanistan.  To call the reign of the Taliban a nightmare for women would not even begin to describe their lives in that horrific period. The toppling of the Taliban ten years ago as the west began its war on terror came as a major relief to the female population of Afghanistan. Although women in Afghanistan have often been accused of moral crimes and convicted of them, their state truly deteriorated under the Taliban rule. Much has been done in the years since then to improve the plight of Afghan women and now as the NATO troops set the deadline to withdraw in 2014, the shadow of the Taliban again falls on the nation and its women.

 As a reminder of the rigid reign of the Taliban a recent execution style murder of a 22 year old Afghan girl accused of adultery was caught on video.  The video from Parwan province shows the unidentified woman being shot several times while the gunman is encouraged by people standing by and cheering.  Although the Taliban have denied police allegations that they were behind the killing, it was a chilling reminder of the deplorable abuse women still suffer in Afghanistan.

The current government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now making overtures of friendship to the Taliban in an effort to stabilize its own political position. As per the Western Forces the terror organizations are no longer a threat, but the locals know better. The government hopes to avoid more bloodshed once the NATO troops leave,  by sharing power with the Taliban, especially in the light of the simultaneous bomb blasts across Afghanistan last month which was termed as the launch of the “Spring Offensive” by the Taliban spokesperson . The bomb blasts were a message to the world at large that the Taliban may be down but it is not out of the reckoning. This is the reason that the government hoped to placate them with actions like releasing detainees from a military prison run by the American military near the capital city of Kabul in June 2012.

It is difficult to imagine what the Taliban will do if it is offered a position in the current government. Will it learn from its previous mistakes and realize that no nation can hope to progress by suppressing 50% of its population?  Will it ensure that it does not alienate the majority of the population with its rigid and fanatic interpretation of the Islamic religion? Or will it insist in returning to its old ways and begin oppression of the female population all over again?  The recent scaling up of attacks by the Taliban in Kabul show that they do not want to share power, they do not accept the “Puppet Government”, and they will liberate their country from whom they see as the foreign invaders.

The uncertainty looms large over the Afghan nation and no one can predict what the future will bring. In the meanwhile young girls walk great distances with a scarf covering their heads to attend school. They face possible persecution in the form of taunts, verbal and physical abuse and attacks from those who oppose female education, and yet they do not stop. They hear of attacks on other school girls, and still the brave little girls steel their resolve and do not quit. They are supported by their mothers who know that education is their ticket out of the poverty and oppression that they have to face. That alone gives them the determination it takes to stick it out in school for a better future. Staying in school may seem like a small thing to you and me, but for them it is the most vital achievement that they will have ever earned.

 The writer is Senior Correspondent, WordSword Features

07 August 2012

Article in Early Times on Amarnath Yatra

How the Army aids the Amarnath Yatra
By Cashmere
One of the most difficult pilgrimage treks is the one that leads to the Amarnath Cave in J&K. This holy pilgrimage route is open to public merely three weeks in the year during the month of June/July when the snow lingam forms in the cave. You need to register for the Amarnath Yatra as only a restricted number of pilgrims are allowed up in the region each year. Since 2010 it has been made possible to do this registration online, before that one had to stand in line in an approved post office to get registered for the yatra. Devotees of Lord Shiva come from far and wide to pay their respects to the deity.
The myth behind the pilgrimage is an interesting one. It is said that Parvati once asked Shivji about the beads he wore around his neck. He replied to his devine consort that he added a bead to the necklace each time she was reborn. She then asked him how he was immortal while she had to take rebirth to be with him. He replied that she would have to hear the “Amar Katha” to become immortal. Shivji said that they would then have to travel to a place where they were all alone before he could share that secret, so that no other living being would hear it. Then he took her high into the Himalayan mountains. 
At some distance Nandi the bull was told to stay back at a place called Bailgram. This place is now known as Pahalgam in Anantnag district. A bit further he took off the moon from his hair at a place now called Chandanwari. Next the serpant around Lord Shiva’s neck was discarded at a lake which is called Sheshnag today. Ganapati was told to stay behind at a place now called Manasguna pass. At Panchtarini, Shivji shed the five (panch) elements that are responsible for creation of life, viz. air, fire, water, land and ether.
As evening came upon them after travelling the full day, they reached the holy cave now known as the abode of Lord Amarnath, another name of Shivji. He took Parvati into the Amarnath Cave and danced the “tandav” so that the fire destroyed all living creatures in the vicinity of the cave. This caused the mud around the cave to be covered in ash. Finally convinced that they were all alone he began telling her the secret of immortality. As the night progressed he told her the Amar Katha and kept getting a response “hoon” at each step. The next as they were leaving Shiva was surprised to see a pair of white doves who were hidden in the darkness of the Amarnath Cave. 
Since they had also hard the Amar Katha they had also become immortal. These doves are said to still live in the cave and a pilgrim is considered lucky if he is able to spot them. It is in fact astonishing that these doves actually survive in the cold region in the cave. 
The myth also reveals the traditional route that the pilgrims follow to reach the Amarnath Cave. The trail begins at Pahalgam which is the first base camp for the trek. The second day they trek 16 kms to eventually reach their second camp at Chandanwari. The next pit stop is at Pissu Top, followed by Zoji Bal, Naga Koti, Sheshnag and finally Mahagunas Pass. The pass is perennially covered with snow and makes the trek slippery and tricky. After a final camp made at Panchatarni, it is a 6 km trek to the holy cave of Shri Amarnath. 
Here the devout witness firsthand the white soil called bhasma outside the cave which is said to be the soil with which Lord Shiv adorns his body. They can buy the Prasad from several stalls outside the immediate vicinity of the cave before they enter. They also see the two lingams of snow depicting Shivji and Parvati within the cave which melt away each year and miraculously are rebuilt as the snow begins to melt. If they happen to see the pair of doves in the cave then they are considered especially lucky and truly blessed.

The daunting route is made passable thanks to the effort of the Indian Army, and in particular Victor Force.  They are assisted by the J&K Police and starting in 2012 by the CRPF as well.   All along the route the Indian Army stages camps. Some bhandaras in the lower regions are sponsored by wealthy devotes who take time off from their businesses to come and fed hot meals to pilgrims en-route to the holy cave.  Others are run by the Shri Amrnath Shrine Management organization. While the effort of these civilians is worth lauding, it is easy to see that if it were not for the Army each year the pilgrimage would never be made possible for so many people annually. 
Maj Gen (Retd) U M Maindarkar, who has organized the Amarnath Yatra first hand when he served as Deputy GOC Victor Force, said that "the Army and other security forces not only ensure security of the route, staging camps and the surrounding area but also provide all the assistance to the pilgrims to make their pilgrimage as safe and trouble free as possible and earn their own Punya through this dedicated service to the Lord Amarnath." He has seen people overcome all kinds of odds using the help of ponies and palkies to make the pilgrimage. He specially remembers a youth who had no legs but pulled himself along on a wooden board with wheels. 
The Indian Army does a whole lot to ensure that the Amarnath Yatra proceeds peacefully each year. The route clearing for the trail that he pilgrims will trek begins long before any civilian reaches the area. It is the humble Army soldier who stamps on the fresh fallen snow to ensure that the snow gets packed and settles down for the thousands of footfalls it will receive.  The security of the route is taken into consideration as pickets are set up at all high points along the route to provide protection from possible terrorist attacks.

The collection and disposal of waste is another service that the Army provides on the yatra route, helping to preserve the environment and keep it as pristine as possible.  It is the armed soldiers who patrol the route and neighboring peaks to ensure that insurgents and militants do not cause a security threat to the lives of the many civilians who will pass through the region. Some even accompany each “jatha” of pilgrims incognito so as to be available on hand in case of a possible insurgent attack.
It was solely through the combined effort of the Indian Army and the Border Roads Organisation that the new alternative route from Baltal to the Amarnath Cave via Domail and Barari was laid out.  This 14 km route cuts short the traditional 5 day trek to one day, but the climb on the new route is one so steep that only those in prime physical condition are able to undertake it. Those able to handle the arduous trek leave early morning and make it back after visiting the cave after nightfall.  
There is also the option of booking a helicopter to take you to the helipad that the Army maintains just short of the Amarnath Cave at a point called Sangam. This point is called Sangam, meaning confluence, because both the traditional and new route merges here. Of course for most Hindu pilgrims taking a helicopter ride instead of making the trek would be seen as taking a short cut bordering on sacrilege, but it is a far more convenient alternative for those suffering from medical conditions. 
 There is no civil hospital on the trek route after the major villages have been crossed. The doctors from the Indian Army set up stations along both routes to provide emergency medical aid to pilgrims. There have been cases where casualties of snow avalanches have had to be excavated by the Army. Medical emergencies have been air lifted for evacuation from the region to hospitals in Srinagar.  It has also been the sad duty of the Army to help evacuate the occasional dead body of a pilgrim who was unable to survive the tough trek. Their strong faith may draw the pilgrims to the Amarnath Yatra, but it is the support of the Indian Army and other paramilitary forces that makes it a reality.
WordSword Features
The writer is Senior Correspondent, WordSword Features

You can access the article here in newspaper format.

An edited and shorter version of the article was also published in the Diplomatist Issue of July 2012

31 July 2012

Dil Garden Garden Ho Gaya

Okay, I'll admit to being a music snob. All through school and college I was the one into nice old English singers like Elvis, Jim Reeves, Cliff Richards and their ilk. I even made my best friend in college because she knew who Pat Boone was! Of course that was not the only factor, but it was the first time I noticed her for real in Defence Studies class. I was part of the group who kept track of who won the Grammys and what were the acceptable numbers to listen to.

The point I'm trying to make is that Hindi songs and Bollywood music was acceptable for a bit, but there was no way that you admitted listening to tapori numbers or liking them. You had a rep to uphold and had to trash them. No more Ms Snob. It all started with me wanting to join a Salsa class. Well, I did say I was a music snob, unfortunately with no partner the Salsa business was getting difficult to arrange. Instead I was asked to join Jazz as it was a far more independent dance form.

So after dragging a friend of mine to at least five different institutes that taught dance in Dwarka we finally settled on Shiamak Davar's Institute of Performing Arts. Just one problem. They had only Bollywood Jazz available in the adult group. Any how we took the leap and plunged in. It should be ample to say that I'm still no where near surfacing...

Enter Anubhav and Kamal, the dance instructors. They have introduced me to all the tapori Bollywood numbers and have me dancing to them as well. When they first played the song "Dil Garden Garden Ho Gaya" I was just a little stunned. I mean I had to dance to this??? But as I tried to give the choreography a try I found myself sucked into this vortex of fun! It was amazingly liberating and I was actually enjoying the beat and rhythm. Now I'm looking forward to the Monsoon Funk!

26 June 2012

I am a "Poor Parsi"!

Recently a friend of my called up to console me. She let me know that as per the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, anyone who is earning less that 90,000 rupees a month is considered a "Poor Parsi", and is eligible for some charity being doled out by the Panchayat.
The Parsis have always been an affluent minority with great business acumen. You only have to start taking names when you realize that the Tata's, Godrej's, Wadia's are all from this minority community, but have managed to make a major impact on the Indian Economy.
The community has a lot of money and is also known for its charitable acts. It is only natural that "Charity begins at Home" and the community leaders, aka the Parsi Panchayat, wants to dole out their largess to the not so fortunate members of the community.
Still in a country like ours where every 10th person is living below the poverty line (less than 100 rupees income per day), it does seem humorous that for a Parsi to be considered poor, he or she has to make less than nearly one lakh a month.
That said, since I am definitely not earning that kind of money a month with my freelance writing, I do qualify for the perks that the Parsi Panchayat seems to be keen on extending to me. Only trouble is, I don't think being a One Parent Parsi child will endear me to them much.

17 May 2012

How I jumped out of a lift and other adventures

Since I last blogged I have managed to ride in the Airport Express Metro, meet up with a friend after 11 years, design a book cover and jump out of a lift that got stuck between floors. Life, in a word, is HAPPENING! As I'm sure you would all like to know just how I managed to do all this, here are some pertinent details.

Rehaan's summer holidays have begun and so he wanted to go out "Somewhere" and so I decided to give him a ride in the Airport Express Metro. The train and platforms are totally "Sufi"(to borrow Darshi's terminology). The ticket for a ride from one end to the other is 100 bucks. And I was told later that you get some discount if you show them your dependent card, which I did not. You can collect your metro tokens from a vending machine that swallows your money, or if you are more comfortable with a human being, over the ticket counter.The ride is smooth and till the end of the line takes about 45 minutes. There are just six stations and the train stops for five minutes at each station. The time between trains is 15 minutes. That is a long time to keep a child occupied!

Another sad part was the lack of scenery to keep Rehaan distracted. Except for the part near Dhaula Kuan where the train come above ground, the rest of the line is underground and has zero cell phone connectivity. Which explains why I had message after message for missed calls shooting through my cellphone as soon as the train surfaced. The New Delhi station has a good connect to the regular Delhi Metro yellow line. You don't even have to leave the building. I was not too keen on venturing out to the regular railway station side so don't know how far that would be. Still from what I'm told it cant be too far although with a couple of suitcases it may seem more of a distance than it is.

Catching up with old friends is always great and here I am in Delhi with any number of people in the city I did not know were here. 11 years ago I used to play with her kids and her son was in KG then and now I have my own boy in 2nd. How time flies. The book cover ideas were for my uncle's 3rd book. Its all about the Abbottabad incident and I had a nice time looking into ideas that would make an effective cover. Then it was in the lift in uncle's building that I got stuck. The lift was already full of people two guys and two dames, I thought about waiting for the next one, but since they held the door for me I got it. And then the door shut, thelift moved and then stopped.  Suddenly there I was, stuck in a lift full of strangers.

Panic is not quite the word since I knew I was not all alone, still it did offer me some bad moments. I called up Uncle and he called the security guard. Thankfully the lift was stuck between the ground floor and first floor midway. So once the guard managed to open the door we all hopped out of the lift by sitting on the floor with our legs dangling out. Not an experience I want to repeat no matter how much excitement it generated. It probably contributed to the upset tummy that I have now. Hopefully that won't last too long. Well, that's all folks, see you next time!

02 May 2012

My Chicken Soup Article

Tears to Cheers
At the age of 15, life as a fauji brat had taught me to make friends fast as I would lose them within the next two years to Dad’s next posting. I did my 12 years of schooling in 11 different schools. It was not possible to get emotionally attached to anyone or anything in a place because we were always on the move. I had already learnt to keep my friends at a distance because that way, when we left, it would hurt less.

I was always a bit of a tom boy preferring to play games like “Army Training” to “Ghar Ghar”. So it was assumed that I was the rough and tough kinds. I even had a favourite sticker which said “Anything Boys can do Girls can do better.” That is why it was a bit weird to be leaving the fold. To move away from the fauji way of life, the only way of life I had ever known. And I was petrified, not that I showed it but I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life.

After I completed my tenth class from the worst school that I had ever studied in, I made the most  momentous journey of my life. One which took me out of the Army Cantonments that I had grown up in. Away from the regiment and all its Uncles and Aunties who were like a second family. To a big city called Pune. To a strange experience of living away from parents for higher education. The mere thought was scary and challenging and taking me on a roller coaster of emotions.

At the Babina Railway station my father, who naturally did not get leave to come along, said one sentence to me before the train rolled out. I think he sensed the insecurities that were rumbling in my heart and head as we held hands with him standing on the station platform and me on the train. He said, “Remember you are less than nobody.” For a man who is known for his measured words and quiet persona it was quite a statement.

It also became my mantra for survival when I was surrounded by elder and more sophisticated cousins who had the big city all figured out. Thankfully I had continued in a school which had its own share of Army Kids, KVSC. So I was not a complete fish out of water. I put my heart and soul into all the sports and co curricular activities wanting to prove to the world that I was indeed less than nobody.

Each time I missed home I picked up yet another activity to try and excel at. I turned 16 and spent a year pushing myself to my limits. I was insecure about how good I really was. I missed my home, my parents and my familiar way of life. I was tired of having to look after myself and not have that warm hug at the end of the day from my mother. Emotionally I was all over the place and physically I was exhausting myself with all the activities that I had taken up. I was growing up faster than I ever had in the space of one year.

Finally by the end of eleventh class I was emotionally worn out and just burst out crying in the middle of the SUPW period. To say that my classmates were shocked would be an understatement. I howled for no reason apparent. Just sitting there and letting the tears rush out. I wasn’t thinking at all and the physical release of all that pent up emotion felt good. I calmed down, took deep breaths and felt rejuvenated.

Then I came back to the present and saw everyone staring at me. It was mortifying. The lady who taught us was a fauji wife herself and she took me aside and wiped my tears. When she asked me what was wrong, I said nothing. I may have lost it temporarily but I was back in control. A good cry can really help you release emotional stress like no other device I know. Of course it would be better to do it in a more private place.

The next big event in school was the selection of the school prefects for the coming year. I was confident enough of my position as one of the House Captains and thought no more of it till my Biology teacher called me to the Lab. There she asked me if I would have a problem becoming the School Captain.

The School Captain is usually chosen from those students who have been studying longer than a year in the school and I had never even entertained the idea. After the interviews were done I was selected the School Captain. The only thing I wanted to do was tell my parents. A deed easier said than done because STD had not yet reached the little town of Babina at that time. It took me the better part of 6 hours to patch up and finally get connected to the army phone at home.

When I managed to speak to my parents on the phone my mother was overjoyed that I had been nominated. Her excitement mirrored my own and then she handed the phone over to my father. I quickly announced my news to him. My father said just one word, “Good” but I could hear the pride in his voice and I could hear the echo of the words that he had said to me “Remember you are less than nobody.” I felt that I had validated his statement and his belief in me.

Author Bio – The writer is an Army Daughter and an Air Force Wife. She is also blogs at www.cashlash.blogspot.com. After working as a Travel Agent and an HR Trainer she is now a WAHM (Work At Home Mom) who does freelance writing projects.

30 April 2012

What's the news?

Its been a while since an update and its purely because I have been living much more offline than I do online. Being in a place where you can actually go out and see things is great after the last station. In the last three months I have been to a puppet show at the Indian Habitat Center organized by Ishara puppet theater, the largest Mall in India at Gurgaon, and to the internal wholesale markets in the heart of Delhi-6.
Life could not get any better!
In Gaffar Market I discovered a shop that sells all the imported stuff like Mars bars and Toblerones at whole sale rates. Needless to say my purse bottomed out there! Got some amazing bottle shaped liquor chocolates and lots of tinned sardines and tuna stuff as well. Not to mention huge boxes of sweets for Rehaan to distribute in school on his birthday.
Take a look at my shopping haul from that day!
Now the FA1 is almost on us and then we look forward to the summer holidays. Other than that life is busy due to the on and off absence of the part time maid. The water in Dwarka is horrible. It dried out my oily skin! Can not believe how that happened.
Another unbelievable event was my Twitter Account getting hacked. Read the last blog post for details. 
Other recent excitement included getting an article of mine published in the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul - Teens Talk Growing Up. Its a real thrill seeing your name in print, no matter how much you manage to publish online.   Am also looking forward to the next issue of Salute Magazine...fingers crossed...you may see yours truly's article printed in it.

Twitter Account Got Hacked!

I don't know how it happened, but it did. I have been more involved with the book that I am editing than the online work recently so it could have happened any time last month. All I know is I got a message from the Twitter customer care team saying that my account information had been reset. I had no clue what happened and did not pay too much attention to it.
I, of all people, should have known better. My account had been hacked and every single person on my follower list was @ messaged with a link to some unsafe site. I was blissfully unaware of this till I happened to come to this blog. On the home page I had an app which would show my last few tweets. Imagine my shock when I saw just what these were.
Anyway, I logged into my Twitter account after using the change password link from the email that they had sent me. Now I reset the information and began deleting the tweets that had the link. Imagine my horror when I realized that it was not just a few but literally thousands of tweets. Thanks to the built in security measures at Twitter I can not delete these en mass, but have to do so one at a time.
It was just not worth the effort. So I have deactivated the account and am now going to stick with the blog and Facebook to share whatever I want to. A real violation of privacy and steady reminder of just how unsafe data shared online can be. As of now I am not restarting the twitter account as it really does not provide me with any special advantage. So if you need to get in touch with me use email or Facebook.

22 March 2012

A whole new blog

Its been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. As I had begun two blogs at the same time in 2008 it was the one on wordpress that got more attention as it was more fun. The widgets were more friendly and the themes were fun. Since then there have been a large number of changes at Blogger. It has come up with a number of more useful features and the general format of the site has improved. Plus its much easier to monetize given that Google runs both Blogger and Adsense.

Since I was initially playing around more with the wordpress blog I had given the paid domain name www.cashmerelashkari.com to that blog. Last December when it was time to renew the domain name I decided I did not want it any more. Some privacy issues, and some financial ones made my decision. As of now there is a cyber squatter on that domain. (That is a person who has nothing to do with me but still bought my domain name hoping I would pay to buy it back. Not going to happen.)

Strangely enough once I kind of shut down the personal blog on wordpress I began to miss it and so I decided to revamp the one on blogger which I have been ignoring for the last couple of years. I spent the better part of the morning today sorting out this blog. I took out old posts that would be no use and deleted any internet forwards I had shared. I am wiser now about the kind of content that can get you in trouble. If I don't like my content being copied on other sites, they would not like it either.

All in all I have decided to continue with this blog as my main personal story teller. I have also come to realize that when you write a niche topic it is better to get a different website for it. So I have set up a few other websites. Here are the details

Party Food and Games - Party Food and Games
Tarot - Get a free online tarot reading
Rhymes and Lyrics for Kids  - Rhymes and Lyrics for Kids
Making Money Online - Work from home
Spoken English - Spoken English

Apart from these websites that I have set up I continue to write on a number of other revenue sharing site which includes Hubpages - Cashmere on Hubpages

Now I feel that the blog is cleaned up and ready to take on my story as I discover Delhi. I hope to write more often here than I have been on the wordpress blog. Lets hope it all comes together well. Look forward to your support on this blog, just as much as you supported me on the previous one. So long and take care till the next blog post!