Day 16 of Panchakarma – that slimming thing

“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” That was what my Panchakarma Comrade said to me not long after we met at Dr A’s clinic. We say it to each other frequently. I feel like it’s become our motivation mantra.

That said, both of us are going through the Panchakarma ordeal for more reasons than weight loss. Dr A is not bothered about our weight, loss or otherwise – more important is our health and how that benefits us. But – and in the spirit of ‘keeping it real’ – there’s no getting away from the truth that slimming down is one of those much-loved side effects of these kinds of treatments. I’m dee-lighted to report that my clothes are no longer clinging to or, worse still, ruching around the bulges. The struggle to pull my tunics over my weighty shoulders, down my blubbery back and over hips a pregnant hippo would be proud of has been less arduous the last few days.

Obviously the eating less (especially a significant reduction in sugar intake), cycling back and forth between home and the clinic every day (about a 12 minute distance each way), and having two-hour massages will do that to a body. And this body surely and sorely needed it.

Speaking of massages – towards the end of yesterday’s not only were two people working my body but four. Four pairs of hands worked that fine sand (not actually sand, but precious medicine) into my body. That was pampering. The kind of pampering not many of us give ourselves. Mostly those with money, time and the intention can indulge in those kinds of regular body treats, which is why they frequently look to be in such great shape. Ordinarily, my time and money banks are not replete enough to indulge. But this time round, my mind and body were in a weak condition, a condition that seemed to be presenting me with a bleak future in all sorts of ways. Surrendering to the need for help, for powerful intervention was necessary. So although those four-handed (sometimes eight-handed) massages seem like a luxury, they are a crucial part of the treatment programme that is taking me to better physical and mental health.

An update on noticeable improvements:
– Weight loss (nothing tastes as good as thin feels – SO TRUE!)
– Waist is almost discernible again
– Spine feels looser and elongated
– Skin on my neck no longer looks like a dried out old turtle’s
– Bags under my eyes look like a few more Airbus passengers and their luggage have been chucked out

Yesterday Dr A gave me a couple of stretching exercises to start incorporating into my day. I’ll be doing them in a moment. During today’s massage she informed me that the gristly bit at the top of my inside thigh is a “fat bubble”. Fat bubbles get formed in different parts of the body. Ordinarily fatty foods get dispersed throughout the body (I can definitely vouch for that). What I didn’t know was that sometimes the fat gets deposited as hard lumps in different parts of the body. Weird but true. Knowing that has put a whole new spin on eating cheese that’s for sure. When I next do, and I’m sure I will, I’ll be thinking of the fat bubble that might get deposited some place. I’m not finding that a pleasant notion.

I’m also still chucking out toxins through my skin. But no surprises there given how toxic I’ve become in the last few years. I reckon if I’d undergone this programme not long after my last surgical operation (2013) I would never have ended up in the morass of poor health the way I did. Hindsight, eh!

And so now, instead of that scrummy morning coffee (yes, I am still hankering after a good one) it’s the hot lemon water. Now, for a quick snack it’s a homemade chapati. And tonight’s supper will be brown rice, sautéd cauliflower and onions, and something saucy with mushrooms.

Right, better go to it. I’ve got exercises and cooking to do because: “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels” and for me, thin feels like good health. “Get thee begone you foul fat bubbles. Begone I say.”

So whatever you’re feeling (thin, fat or anything else), have a healthy, happy day – however you do it.

P.S. Also in the spirit of keeping things as close to real as possible – the numbering of my days on the Panchakarma programme started with the first day of treatment so does include the few days of rest I had before the main part of the programme began:
Preparation = 5 days
Rest = 2 days
Purge = 1 day
Rest = 3 days
Panchakarma start date = Friday 10th February

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Writers and Politics – Why Do We Bother?

I recently submitted a response to one of Jason Howell‘s questions. Apparently he was  inundated with good responses so he sweetly rejected my offering – I’m choosing to post my (edited) response myself.

Here are his questions:
Q1: What role do you feel fiction writers are called to play in terms of affecting the political weather, this moment? (including poets, essayists, in general or yourself in particular)
Q2: Does writing seem politically pointless?
Q3: Or do you feel called to action?
Q4: Is there an urge to write in service of amplifying a particular voice or agenda?
Q5: Is there an urge to write to try and diagnose the confusion overall—respecting even the “villains”?

Here’s my response:
First off – can writers truly affect the political weather? Well, yes they can, but, more crucially, do they? I feel Jason’s questions almost suggest the effect writers have on the political weather is slight, something akin to a flock of birds taking off from a lake – the water is disturbed, but only momentarily. However, what’s necessary to note is that during political discourse when we voters get to hear, literally, the politicians spouting on about what they will deliver when they are in power, behind these politicians are writers. Which means, in effect, writers are affecting the political weather, they are the workers who craft the words the politicians read and we hear.

That said, as a diverse group writers are generally interested in rational and open discourse about what constitutes good governance. For example, prior to the UK’s recent EU referendum, many writers added their voices to the Remain group. Their cogent and creative pleas were drowned out by the populist rhetoric of post-truth politics. I should imagine the situation was replicated in the USA. Likewise in India, where  Modi and his many cronies seem intent on increasing their despotic tendencies, any dissenting voices are lambasted as unpatriotic and, similar to anti-Trump campaigners in the USA, targeted with death threats. Seemingly there is a growing reliance on lies to drown out rational discourse whether from writers or the many others across all the interested parties.

Perhaps as the increase in post-truth and fake news politics ascends, the need for rational-thinking writers to write about the truth behind the lies becomes greater, more urgent, more necessary. Perhaps. Because no matter how savvy you are with words no amount of writing will budge an unwilling person from their prejudices and bigotry – those attitudes are massive ego trips and require a very different tack to break them down to something more compassionate.

Nevertheless the urge to write – whether poet, essayist, reporter – is an endless call to action where the output can be many and varied and, depending on the writer’s perspective, borderless and without restriction. Therefore why not attempt to amplify a particular viewpoint? Why not try to unravel the confusion of political game-playing? Why not discover what villainy really is and who is being the villain?

For centuries writers have done just that and many been persecuted because of it, whether voicing a simple opinion or pointing to harsh truths. Writers, in all their various guises, have frequently been vilified as villains precisely because they have used words in response to atrocities, human rights abuses, vile and hateful regimes and political activities. Today’s writers are no less called upon to express their thoughts about these things, and we should do so because eventually when enough voices keep expressing the same truths the noise from the villains just might be revealed for what they are – divisive and destructive.

Now, as ever, adding words with the aim of expressing the truths that define our humanity and raise our individual and collective consciousness and kindness (rather than any kind of villainy) continues to be important. The urge to write about our current political situations will always remain. Thankfully good writers can expertly express the thoughts and feelings, the perspectives and real truths we all need to be reminded of during these times of fake news and post-truths because they can write about what must be said, what can be said and what others wish they could say. After all truth, rather than lies, even in fiction, is at the heart of good writing.

P.S. My header image is of the Gandhi statue on the beachfront at Puducherry, India – I have a notion that Gandhi was not only a politician, or a cotton spinner, but also a writer.

Responses to a Demonetisation Short Story – can you guess what they might have been?

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking part in a short-story writing challenge this year. One of the December stories, and surprisingly only one, had the ongoing demonetisation fiasco as part of its theme.

The story was a simple one. A man takes his last ₹1,000 note to market to buy a longed-for item. To his dismay, his is informed that his ₹1,000 note is no longer acceptable. He is emotionally crushed by confusion and disappointment at this news. But later, along with a group of others, he is serendipitously gifted lots of newly-minted ₹2,000 notes. The story is a fun read and, pardon or not the pun, right on the money in terms of being bang up-to-date. The story line even ends on a happy note (a rare thing in the short story world – short-form writers tend to be joyful realists).

However, out of the critiquing round, can you guess what was the most consistent response?
Was it that the characters were not well drawn?
No.
Was it that the setting was not well described?
No.
Was it lack of a good plot?
No.
Was it that the sudden appearance of new ₹2,000 notes was unbelievable?
No.

OK, suspense over. The consensus was that given the story has an upbeat ending, in amongst the₹2,000 notes there should be plenty of ₹100.

I think this tells us something about people’s true reactions to the demonetisation debacle – which continues unabated – despite Modi’s ascertion that all would be well for everyone by 30th December. Sadly, with only a few days remaining, we still have no sight of the necessary and much needed ₹500 notes or even access to larger daily ATM withdrawal amounts.

Now remember, the story ended on a happy note, yet several of those critiquing the story wanted an additional hit of realism added to the ending. Here’s why.

Much as those ₹2,000 notes would have been welcome, cash is cash is cash after all (hear that Modi and all), those darn ₹2,00o notes are difficult to deal with; many people and businesses cannot constantly give away their precious ₹100 notes as change to every customer. Nor are there enough ₹10 or ₹20 notes to make up that short fall. All in, every day people are continuing to struggle. For some, farmers and labourers in particular, they are facing starvation for themselves and their families, employers can no longer employ workers, or they use workers but can’t pay them. There is much strife and much fudging of the truth around this. For example, propaganda abounds about villages that have gone cashless. IN TRUTH these villages are not cashless, they are poor, have low internet connectivity and regular power outages daily. IN TRUTH cashless educators have simply been to the village and inducted some of the villagers about the processes around being cashless. Giving advice and training about how to process cashless payments is far from being truly cashless, a state which I feel most villagers would decline if they were offered the choice.

Here I am going to do a ‘I told you so’ mini-rant given I expressed this belief back in November  – the ongoing push towards a cashless society was the true motivation behind Modi’s demonetisation drive, and not the hounding of black money dealers he originally declared. Because anyone with even an ounce of savvy about how corporations and governments are behaving can see that being cashless means the populace at large become more visible to an ever-increasingly despotic and authoritarian notion of governance.

As things stand, we in India are only a few days away from Modi’s earlier assertion that things will return to normal by year end. Given the images of long ATM queues, lack of useful change at shops and businesses, and the long, long wait for new ₹500 notes to appear, me thinks ‘normal’ is still some weeks off.

Fortunately, Mr D and I are currently blessed to have minimal needs as well as the opportunity to withdraw cash from a bank branch other than SBI: we’re not hungry; our bills are minimal; we plod on. I’m still hankering after getting certain tasks and jobs I have on my To Do List attended to, but for now they are still deferred until there is cash to fulfil them – clearly that’s a minor worry. For now I am on a Modi-imposed belt-tightening drive. The skipping is helping too.

But back to that short story. I’m truly hoping the writer is even now doing her last round of edits and getting it sent out. The timeliness of the plot line and the wonderful twist at the end are a winner!

Happy Holidays Everyone
   ❤︎    

 

A Kiss to Remember Him By – A Short Story

That Kiss. It had meant something. She was certain. So why would he not reply to her texts? Why the sudden silence after all the talk, the sweetness, the fun, the laughter? And that kiss?

She had been reasonable. She had been fair. Her messages to him had been benign: How’s it going? Hope your hangover’s not as bad as mine LOL. Are you free this weekend to meet for coffee? But nothing: no response; not a silly emoticon; not even a curt rebuff. Where had she gone wrong?

She trudged back in to work on the Monday after the weekend that followed their after-work Friday-night jaunt, and that kiss. An empty text message inbox and overflowing mind still tormented her.

Mid-morning he appeared at her office door. ‘Hi. I think you’ve got something of mine.’

‘Uh?’ She looked away from her computer screen and up at his face. The face with which she had shared that kiss. Sensing how shapeless and humdrum she must now appear – make-up less, hair unwashed since Saturday morning, dressed in black jeans and black jumper – she couldn’t have felt more unworthy of that kiss.

Knowing her bravado on Friday night had been buoyed by alcohol, she nevertheless truly believed in the deep connection she had felt with the man who had just now walked into her office. She had not hesitated when he had moved closer to her on that pub banquette; hadn’t recoiled when he had whispered to her the secret of his strangeness. Instead she had leaned towards him and felt the sweetness of his breath send sensual messages skipping across her nerve endings. His tongue in her mouth had been like nothing she had imagined, not even in the fantasies of her many lonely nights. His kiss, like his secret, had been otherworldly; her whole body had responded as his tongue, his lips, had played on hers and she had felt a swell of sensations in her crotch as his hands had held her face to his.

‘I reckon you’ve got something of mine? From Friday night?’

‘Really? Like what?’ She became aware of how vacuous she must have appeared to him, as though he had been explaining the philosophy of quantum physics. For a moment the shape of his irises narrowed giving her the impression of the arrow slits of an ancient castle, equally disquieting.

‘My mobile phone?’

‘Uh? I mean, really?’ she frowned at him.

‘I spent all weekend checking the places we went to, even tracked down the cabbie we got. You probably grabbed it when we were rushed out of that pub,’ he said. ‘You’re my last hope.’

‘Oh, OK. Let me have a look.’

She rummaged in her cloth backpack, pulled out headphones, wallet, make-up bag. She didn’t pull out the spare tampon, or chocolate wrapper, nor the two used tissues or the dried apple core.

‘Oh God.’ Her hand felt the hard, smooth edges of what she immediately recognised as a phone that was not hers. Pulling it out of her bag cautiously, as if taking a Fabergé egg from a velvet-lined box, and with a physical sensation in her belly as though a sack of rotten eggs was about to explode, she knew exactly what was waiting for him, about her, once he had charged it, once he had accessed his messages, once he had read the trail of texts she had sent since Friday night, through the entire weekend and even that very morning: Don’t know why you’ve not replied all weekend. Was Friday night so awful? Really enjoyed getting to know you. Was hoping we could spend more time together. Cannot believe you’ve not replied. That’s just plain rude. Please don’t come see me for a while. But here he was with a cool outstretched hand, fingers slightly webbed, skin rippling drily. His hand hovered momentarily, then took the phone from hers. She felt her stomach gurgle – those eggs felt ready to explode. When she lowered her eyes and saw her belongings strewn across her desk she grabbed at them and started shoving them back into her bag.

‘Right. Thanks. I’ll be seeing you then,’ he said.

‘Yeah, right,’ head down, she continued to grapple with her things as she listened to his receding footsteps.

She threw her bag onto the floor then flopped back in her chair. ‘Oh God. Oh God, oh God. My life sucks.’ Immediately she remembered, that kiss. It had been a taboo-breaking kiss, but she had enjoyed the thrill of it and now wanted to dive into what lay beyond, the way a free-diver plunges into the ocean. She had liked her first kiss with a reptilian-human hybrid. She had liked it a lot.

A 2016 Short Story Writing Challenge

Back in December 2015 Radhika Meganathan, a writer friend from Chennai (India), was visiting London and we had a lunchtime catch-up in the hubbub that is Westfields just before Christmas. She told me about her 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge that she would be hosting again in 2016. I loved the idea.

Most writers work better with deadlines, but what was also compelling for me was the idea that I would get some much-longed for feedback on my writing. All I had to do each month, along with everyone else on the challenge, was to write a new and complete short story of between 1,000 and 6,000 words and then critique the stories submitted by the rest of the group. A great opportunity to work on my craft and skills, and pull together a collection of stories. I was in.

Now, with only two weeks left of 2016, those of us still in the challenge – about less than half who started back in January – are looking toward celebrating our achievement. No small thing when every participant has so many other priorities and commitments to focus on. In fact, throughout my involvement I have both loved and hated being part of the challenge because of those very things.

What I have loved is …

… the challenge of working through to a completed story each month. The process has involved: wondering what tale to tell, how to weave it into a cohesive, punchy, satisfying whole; starting to jot ideas down and have one, or a combination of ideas, begin to flow and meld into something akin to a story someone, anyone, would want to read; hanging out with some new characters; delving into different landscapes and locations; reaching an end point. For too long I have kept several electronic folders full of started, incomplete and sketched-out stories lurking in the near periphery of my consciousness like persistent mosquitoes buzzing just out of sight. Last year (2015) I think I only completed three stories, so now, with the end of the year in sight, I have 12 complete stories. That achievement is a major confidence boost.

… the challenge of critiquing a significant number of good stories each month. Surrendering myself to new worlds. Exposing my heart and mind to quirky plots, intricacies of erudition, the curious and the fantastical. Seeking ways to clarify the hunch that something does/not work. Figuring out how best to explain a particular problem.

… that my fellow writing challenge participants were willing to give their honest and learned opinions about my work, always managing to highlight something useful, from a bloody obvious typo to some crucial element of the story that’s missing, like a plot hole or a lack of clearly-evoked emotion or a poorly-described scene.

… feeling flattered that these same folk have looked forward to my comments on their stories.

What I have hated is …

… how some months, after taking time out to work on other projects, I suddenly found there are only about a few days in which to produce a decent, rather than very rough, draft.

… how I never gave myself enough time to get the depth and richness out of a story because I didn’t use the full month between submissions to work on what was presenting itself and make the story even better.

… that doing my monthly critiques took me an inordinate amount of time ( I call it being thorough…).

… that each month I wondered if I could keep the momentum going when I had a shit load of other things I was and am trying to move forward. In the end, continuing with the benefits of staying in the challenge outweighed the considerations to quit and the consequent anxieties. I dearly wanted to get on with those other things, but I stuck with the challenge because I was benefiting in a whole host of ways.

Overall I loved…

… completing a fresh batch of stories

… getting concrete feedback about my work

… my writing craft being richly informed and developed by the review process (both giving and receiving critiques)

On a final note about the challenge
A side benefit of being in India during my participation in the challenge was that I got to meet some of the other writers, all of whom were previously unknown to me. Rads, our challenge founder and moderator, has been in the writing world for a long while. She’s run and hosted several writing workshops and online courses, and given talks and encouragement to many other groups. In April 2016 Rads hosted a challenge get-together and I was lucky enough to be able to join them and meet some of the Chennai wing for an afternoon of chat. The meet-up was such fun. Meeting people who for the previous few months had simply been stories, reviews and a few email comments appeared as their real, non-virtual selves in the comfort of a cosy diner in north-central Chennai. As I often find with writers, they were all great people – interesting, quirky, vivacious, thoughtful, wise, funny, opinionated, curious, responsive, intelligent.

Version 2

A happy Sara having just met some of the lovely writers on the 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge

To find out more about Rads and her writing opportunities, follow the links for her blog and Facebook pages.

If Rads decides to run the challenge again next year, I probably won’t take part – not only does a novel beckon, but I’ve got 12 stories need some thorough editing – but if she runs it again in 2018, well then I could be on board with that one.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to crafting my collection of completed (woohoo) stories into something I’ll be proud to see out in the world.

 

Unsung Shorts – For Readers & Writers Everywhere

Do you enjoy reading and writing speculative fiction? If so, Unsung Shorts are worth a gander.

Unsung Logo

As often happens, I was doing that sometimes helpful, sometimes time-wasting Twitter thing of clicking through links and connections (I love how I can discover new and useful people and organisations with a few clicks) and found someone else to follow – Unsung Stories. A couple more clicks later, my email address typed in and viola! I have another selection of interesting and quirky reads as well as an opportunity to submit my own work. Double-whammy delight.

Readers: The stories are fun, quirky, interesting, sometimes dark (I’ve only read a couple so far). I’m sure you’ll enjoy ’em all.

Writers: The writing is good, so put your best speculative work forward.

Here’s what they say about themselves on their Home page:
Unsung Stories are publishers of literary and ambitious speculative fiction that defies expectation. We publish stories that you’ll never forget, from the varied worlds of genre fiction – science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and all the areas in-between.

Why not sign up now – hop on over to their website – and get a  copy of their published goodies. Maybe you’ll also get inspired to write and submit your own fine fiction.

They’re in the business of providing: “Captivating short stories delivered every fortnight…”
Source: Unsung Shorts

Aside

Fatal Flaws – What’s Yours?

For a while now I’ve been cogitating on the aspect of the fatal flaw in my characters. In truth I never bother figuring out what their fatal flaw is, might be, could be, oughta be. I’m the non-plotting kind of writer (hence steering clear of novel-writing – so far) so I feel my way forward with my characters. This is probably because I’m not intelligent enough to conceptualise flaws in enough detail to make ’em fly on the page. That said I’m acutely, painfully aware in an overarching sense of my own fatal flaws, but without the specifics of them, the ins and outs, the playouts and hideouts of them. So in an effort to get more conversant with fatal flaws generally I figured it’d be a good idea to start with my own. I hereby announce that I will be digging inwards to discover what those flaws are and how specifically they manifest to cause all sorts of moral, ethical, courageous, progressive and more fatalities in my life. I’ll be reporting on the steps I take and what I discover. Watch this space- I hope it will be informative……

A Montage of Confusion – a story

May 2011 seems like forever ago. That’s when the following story became my first successful submission winning first prize on the website Cazart. With the hindsight of writing practice and courses taken during the intervening years, I can see the story needs all sorts of improvements. That said, as Cazart no longer exists I thought it’d be fun to post the story here.

Caveat: I recently had a piece of micro-fiction that I thought was tongue-in-cheek cute get turned down due to ‘tones of eroticism’, so if you don’t want to read text containing any kind of reference to sex or human sexual anatomy I recommend you turn away now.

* * *

A Montage of Confusion

A photography exhibition in an East London gallery. Only the young and fit need apply. Only boy-men wanted.

One friend asks another friend to take a photo of himself. The first friend has asked a lot of other friends to do the same. Take a photo. Use the first friend’s bathroom mirror. A reflected self-image. Semi-clothed to fully-naked. Rear view, front view, hard or flaccid; any pose will do. A montage of exhibitionism, vainglory, honesty.

Each friend comes alone, the camera already in position. When he is happy with his image he sets the camera in motion. Click. One friend has the head of his penis coyly peeping out from the top of his jeans. Click, click. Someone has a leg up, the light glinting off his neatly trimmed blond hair. Click. Prune-like, dark-skinned bollocks frame one friend’s light-skinned, semi-hard penis. Click. Another friend challenges and taunts the camera while keeping abs taught. Click.

A photographic montage of male youthfulness is mounted. The first friend’s girlfriend goes to see the show. She checks out all the photos, stands back, moves closer. She tilts her head this way, then that; she smiles a half-faced smile.

In the queue at the Brick Lane Bagel Shop she waits, but isn’t there. On her way back to the first friend’s flat, she nibbles and chews. The montage mounting in her mind. When she arrives, the bagels are gone.

Click. First her bare midriff. Click. White flesh against black and green lace. Each photo revealing more. More of her made explicit. Click. A finger-pinched nipple. Moistened lips. Click, click. Lips held wide and wet, her crotch laid bare, fingers pressing there. Click. Printing the photos from his computer she leaves them in a trail from front door to back bedroom. She wanks. She waits.

The first friend finds her, bit by bit, his pleasures rising. He knows not to hesitate. He begins to please her until finally he mounts her. Just before he comes she pauses, mid-thrust, to ask – What do you prefer, fucking me or perving over your friends? – Which direction is your swing at? – I don’t know if I can live like that.

His weight collapses on her tension. Both lie slowly panting, their intimacy lost to ambiguous confusion. The air heavy with more questions, fewer answers.

* * *

Feel free to comment and (with due regard for author copyright despite the need for additional editing) share widely. Thanks for reading.

Friday Story Prompt

This morning I received a pithy one-line email message from my mother:
“If at first you do not succeed try doing it the way your wife told you.”

Although it’s several words longer than Hemingway’s famous one-line story -“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn” I think she has managed to write a telling tale in only a few words.

Q: What story can you weave out of my mother’s one-liner?
Answers in the comments. Limit your word count to 700.
No prizes, just the pleasure of your own creative output. Looking forward to reading responses.
If you use Twitter, why not add a link to your story in the comments here or your own blog using the hashtag #flashfiction or #microfiction.
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