Can we talk about the R word?

I was asked recently whether I thought racism had increased post Brexit. That’s a difficult one to answer. You see, one person’s experience cannot comprehensively cover every person’s experience. Yet one person’s experience can provide valuable insight into uncovering a wider, more insidious problem.

Racism is a troublesome word to associate oneself with, whether as a victim or as a perpetrator. I am not talking about the in-your-face skinhead trolls that wear their bigotry like a badge. I am talking about the more common, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, everyday, pedestrian racism that a foreigner is likely to encounter. The one that is impossible to articulate without sounding as though you have a chip the size of a boulder, on your shoulder. Yes, that one.

Let’s begin with the more virulent kind. The kind where hijabs are ripped off women’s heads, where men are beaten up for being the wrong colour, where a child is bullied for his accent… Has that increased? I cannot say for sure, but someone added me to a Facebook group called ‘Worrying signs’ and a skim through its page revealed enough racial hatred to get my stomach heaving.

I guess the question then needs rephrasing to- did it ever go away?

For someone like myself, who grew up in India, I had only known of racism in an academic way, as something that happened to other people in other countries. When I moved to the UK, and lived in an Asian area, I didn’t encounter it for obvious reasons. In my job, there was such a mix of backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and colours, that discrimination really had zero chance of flourishing.

My first encounter with racism came when I moved to a predominantly white area. At that time, I would have been hard pressed to describe it exactly so. One time, I was sat in a pew in the church, waiting for an Easter performance featuring the school my daughter attended. Not a single person came and sat next to me, despite it getting quite busy in there. Not one person. All sorts of thoughts went through my head. Did I smell? Was I difficult to converse with? Was there something wrong with me?

Over time, it became apparent that this was not an isolated incident. I was often treated as a pariah in the school playground. If I made any attempt at socialising, I was tolerated but rarely welcomed. People were polite, but nearly always, I stayed on the peripheries. Marginalised and largely ignored.

Was this racism I asked myself? After all, no one was being abusive or horrid. No one had mentioned colour, or asked me to go back to where I came from. So, what was it then? Was it me?  Was there something fundamentally wrong with me?

When one is educated, fluent in the language and reasonably assimilated into the culture, it is doubly shocking to discover that none of that matters. All that matters is your colour.

I have heard it said that India is amongst the worst countries when it comes to discrimination. After all, we have the caste system. We have the huge inequities that exist between the rich and the poor. We also have the multiple languages, regions and religions and divisiveness is rife, in one way or another. I have heard this being used as a defence anytime racism emerges as a topic of conversation. Yet, can two wrongs really make a right?

‘Using the race card’ has become yet another weapon to subvert an honest discussion. Yes, the ‘race card’ has been misused and overused, but it is a legitimate concern, and dismissing it as the fall back position of the disgruntled is, once again, disservicing those who are unable to vocalise the sheer helplessness of being on the receiving end of discrimination.

Have you ever been treated like dirt? Have you ever been looked at as though you are something that’s crawled out from under a rock? Have you ever had your pronunciation or your accent mocked? Have your abilities ever been doubted because of your provenance? No? It’s quite illuminating, I can assure you. It makes you look at yourself in a completely different light.

Call it a chip, call it a boulder, call it being hyper-sensitive, the fact of the matter is that most foreigners will attest to feeling disliked and unwanted at some point in Britain. This, in a country, that is known the world over for its tolerance and inclusion. I shudder to think of what it maybe like elsewhere.

I get it. It’s nice to stay in your comfort zone. Surround yourself with people that look like you, speak like you, have the same norms and customs as you. It is so much harder to step out of that zone and extend a bit of kindness to those who don’t. So often I have wondered at those who go completely glassy eyed in my presence, if it would kill them to acknowledge me as another homosapien that shares this planet with them?

I have become quite adept at hiding the hurt. There are times that I react, there are times that I step back and re assess, but every single time, I smart from the unfairness and unkindness of it all.

I have been lucky enough to not have to face the overt discrimination and bigotry that my black friends tell me is their lot. A long conversation with my colleague left me reeling. This is something he has lived with from day dot! Yet, he is polite and gracious at every given turn. What right do I have to complain if a bunch of bored housewives close ranks on me? I have seen nowhere near the level of abuse or segregation that so many others have.

At this point it is important to clarify that I am talking about a small percentage of people who indulge in this kind of behaviour consciously. We have all been guilty of inadvertently ignoring or snubbing someone when in a rush or preoccupied. But to do it, fully aware of one’s own actions and the damage it may inflict, is quite simply unforgivable.

You see, because it is so very subtle, it is also extremely difficult to pinpoint or address. How can any reasonable person say “You were just smiling at the people in front of me. Why the dead pan expression with me?” It sounds churlish and unreasonable and slightly silly. Yet, both the perpetrator and the victim are well aware of what has just passed between them. A snide little put down that whispers- you are not one of us, you don’t belong, I don’t like you, I wish to have no interaction with you. All that subtext in a single exchange.

Now, multiply this exchange several times over, in several different versions and tell me that I am imagining things. Can you?

They say, to feel another man’s pain, you need to walk a mile in his shoes. A white person may face all other kinds of prejudice based on their gender, their class, their education, even their accents but no white person will ever understand what it’s like to be discriminated against on the basis of colour.

So, coming back to the question my friend asked me. Has racism increased post Brexit? No, I can’t say that it has, purely because I don’t think it ever decreased. It just hid behind the veils of politics, laws and economic requirements.

Now, what has changed is that the people in Britain feel freer to express their opinions against foreigners. They have had enough of ‘bending over backwards’ and ‘political correctness’. Now they have the carte blanche to tell an innocent check out girl that she should trip and break her head open. (A true exchange between an old lady and the Asian girl serving her). They have the carte blanche to vilify, demonise, insult, disparage and dehumanise. Brexit has given them permission to.

Why? Because it feels good to air all the ugliness that had been building up inside, in all those years of political correctness. It feels good to tell these foreigners to ‘eff off’, it feels good not to have to put on a mask of politeness because one has to, it feels good to dispense with the token multiculturalism, it feels good to indulge in the casual cruelties of mocking and insulting, it feels good not to have to make room at the table for someone else regardless of how much food may go to waste. It feels good and it feels liberating. Doesn’t it?

Tell me, how else will Britain become great again?

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Tequila! (part 2)

“Mezcal is Tequila’s big, beefy brother.” Promptly, little shots of Mezcal were sent out to everyone attending the cocktail masterclass. I declined mine just as promptly, sipping demurely on my non alcoholic beverage. If the little brother had done such a number on me all those years ago, I wanted very little to do with Big Bro!

Steve covered a lot of facts about Tequila. For instance, Tequila comes from the heart of the Blue Agave plant. The agave plant is not a cactus, even if it looks like one. Blue Agave plants can take 8 to 12 years to harvest. This can be a costly business as there is no predicting whether demand will equal supply. To get around this, a lot of Tequila can be mixed, with only half containing the Tequila from the piña (heart) of the Blue Agave, and the rest being liquor of unknown provenance. These are also the ones that leave you with the killer hangovers! The best Tequila is 100% agave, and aficionados drink theirs neat, without any help from salt and lime. As for the salt and lime, that’s used to mask the taste of bad tequila. So, guess what, if you were doing the salt and lime routine, you probably weren’t drinking good quality Tequila!

Of course, even as I sat and absorbed all this information like a sponge, the people around me were having a party. With every new bit of information he imparted, more shot glasses filled with a variety of Tequilas were sent out to everyone. Each one I politely declined, wondering if I could order a glass of wine instead. Who would hear me above this rambunctious crowd?

Then came time to start making the cocktails. Six random people were picked to go behind the bar and practice a bit of cocktail mixing. From icing, rimming, stirring and shaking, six lucky people got to demonstrate their skills under Steve’s watchful eye. He dealt with mishaps and clumsiness with good humour and jocularity. More drinks were sent out.

Steve caught my eye after one round and said “YOU I will get to soon!” Of course, everybody in the room now knew that I was the numpty with the Tequila allergy. A bit like being the only atheist in a room full of believers. Earth open, swallow me whole!

Amazing what a bit of alcohol, freely imbibed, can do to people’s inhibitions. This room full of strangers was now a room full of friends, ribbing each other, exchanging tips on drinks, war stories on hangovers and bonding over all things Tequila.

“Time to make a good Old Fashioned.” Steve pointed at me. “Come on over.”

With a bit of trepidation I walked behind the bar with five other selectees.

“Can you drink bourbon?”

Heck, yes! I nodded enthusiastically.

“Only the best for you sweetheart.” Steve gave me a bottle of his finest bourbon to add to my Old Fashioned. Who says patience doesn’t pay?

A cocktail broken down is really a mix of alcohol, sugar and bitters or citrus. My Old Fashioned had sugar syrup, two shots of bourbon, four dashes of Angostura bitters, lots and lots of ice, even more stirring and finally the oils from an orange rind to top off the exquisite taste of my very first cocktail of the evening. Boy, did I savour it!

From that point on, the evening got better, but the details got hazier.

I remember sniffing quite a few Tequilas. I remember Steve saying we have about 6000 taste buds in our nose! Who knew? I remember filming V doing her own bartender routine, and giving that shaker a good, almighty shake, whacking the glass on the side, upturning it and pouring the cocktail into the glass. All done with consummate ease (I think?). I remember Steve debunking the popular myth of the worm in the bottle. Legend has it that if a worm was added to a bottle of Tequila and it decomposed, then the liquor wasn’t good enough. The worm would stay preserved in high quality alcohol. But Steve said that was nonsense, and was it Tequila or Mezcal? I remember it getting noisier and friendlier. I remember Steve saying the most popular drink made with Tequila was named after a daisy.  A daisy?

“What’s it called folks?”

And everyone shouting in unison- “Margarita!!”

The two hour masterclass came to an end much too soon. I stood in awe of this man who had not just held our attention but also kept his head having drunk alongside the class the entire time. This was his second cocktail masterclass of the day. Hollow legs or what!

As far as Birthday experiences went, this was right up there with the best. Maybe doing a class with a spirit I could actually drink would push it to the top slot?

V & I talked about our next planned experience, my birthday pressie of a Segway ride. I wondered if we could practice our new found cocktail making skills afterwards. A nice Old Fashioned after trundling through the forests would do very nicely indeed.

And this time, with all due respect to Tequila, I would stick to a spirit of my choice. This worm would turn and how!

 

 

Tequila! (part 1)

In the ‘spirit’ of all things adventurous, I decided to gift my BFF a cocktail making class. We had long ago agreed, that in our frenetic lives we had to try and make time at least twice a year to experience something together. Having known and loved each other since the age of seven, we pretty much had a handle on what sorts of things the other person liked or disliked. Since neither of us had any dislike for alcohol whatsoever, a cocktail making class seemed an inspired choice.

Goat, in Chelsea, runs these classes every Wednesday and Thursday. As the voucher had been delivered to V (my BFF) back in March, I abdicated all responsibility for booking the evening to her. A few hurried whatsapp messages confirmed that we’d meet and eat at the restaurant downstairs first before heading upstairs to the class that began at 7pm.

Both of us were running late, and as I grabbed an Uber at Clapham Junction, my very sweet Turkish driver informed me that Goat was a very au courant restaurant. Brain child of Steve Manktelow and partners, it is a restaurant cum speakeasy-style bar, where twice a week he conducts cocktail masterclasses. So far, so good.

I arrived earlier than V, and requested a table outside in the evening sunshine. Skimming through the menu my eye was immediately drawn to the pulled goat pizza. Coupled with goat’s cheese, grilled tenderstem, caremalised onions and fresh oregano, it seemed the perfect palate pleaser. V arrived, and after our customary hugs and breathless ‘how are yous’, we ordered our drinks and meals.

The trouble with trying to catch up over a meal is that there is never sufficient time to eat, drink, talk, complain, moan about our lives or set the world to rights. How we miss our school days where we spent weeks in each other’s company, and still never ran out of conversation!

Cocktail making hour arrived much too soon, and as we made our way upstairs, we promised each other another day of catching up very very soon. Promises we make each time we meet, and then the usual happens: Life takes over.

Parking ourselves at a little table, we were greeted by Steve and a welcome drink. V took herself off to the Ladies while I tentatively enquired what was in the white, frothy looking mixture. He reeled off a list of ingredients out of which two jumped out at me- Coconut (yummmm) and Tequila (Nooooooo!).

“Ummm, I’m sorry, is there anyway I could get this as a mocktail? You see, I’m allergic to Tequila.”

“Allergic to Tequila?”, he goggled at me, “You do know this is a Tequila cocktail making class?!”

Actually, I did not. In all fairness, neither did V. When she had booked, she had assumed, as had I, that we’d learn to make a variety of cocktails. Of course, logic dictates that only one spirit would be demonstrated in all its avatars, so that we wouldn’t literally be mixing spirits while mixing cocktails. Duhhhh!

“I’ll see what I can do.” he informed me brusquely.

“No, no, no…..please don’t worry on my account!” I implored. “It’s my friend’s birthday pressie, and I’m quite happy to just watch. I’ll just sip on a mocktail.”

“Hmmmm”, he looked at me assessingly and walked away.

The bar was filling up pretty rapidly, and it looked like nearly thirty people had turned up to watch, learn and drink some fancy tequila cocktails.

V looked at me sadly. “I had no idea!”

“I know. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun anyway.”

Many moons ago, when I was still a novice drinker, I had had an encounter with a jug of Margarita which hadn’t ended well. Consequently, I had stayed far away from Tequila and all its permutations ever since. Fate had conspired to bring me cheek to jowl with it once more. Only this time, I would be an observer, not an imbiber.

…..to be continued……

 

 

 

The only solution?

I cannot possibly presume to know what state of mind Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain were in when they decided to end it all. What saddens me and countless others is, that they felt that suicide was the only answer to their problems.

Can taking one’s own life truly be a solution?

I am no advocate for suffering, and in certain instances I do believe that voluntary euthanasia maybe a path out of a miserable existence. However, those are extreme cases where the individual is unable to function in any capacity, their bodies are riddled with disease and their very living is a suffering beyond belief.

Yet both of these seemingly successful, high achieving celebrities had no such known issues. Yes, Kate Spade had suffered from anxiety and depression, and Bourdain had publicly acknowledged his battle with drugs. So why did they not receive the kind of help they required? Are mental health issues still such a taboo subject that those suffering would rather die than ask for help?

The society and the world at large have more sympathy for a person who has a physical disability rather than a mental one. However, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Despite all the so-called connectivity offered to us by social media and the world wide web, we are increasingly becoming more sequestered as individuals. Community and family structures are breaking down and whilst technology has given us enormous independence it has also brought along in its wake, enormous isolation.

As a society, we admire wealth and success and rarely acknowledge the sacrifice that it takes to get to the pinnacle of any career. Nor do we see the struggle or pressure to hold on to that top spot. Celebrities are our modern Gods, and heaven forbid that we discover they have clay feet.

Spade and Bourdain chose to check out early from this daily grind we call life. Perhaps both were in such a dark place that neither love nor beauty nor poetry could alleviate the suffering of their minds. Such wonderful, talented people with so much to offer the world, who did not believe in their own worth. Such a damned shame!

If there is any lesson to take away from their early departures, it is this: Forge and strengthen your own connections, remember to enjoy all of life’s abundance and have the fortitude to overcome the lows that will invariably follow the highs. More than anything else, reach out to those who are suffering, especially the ones unable to seek help. You never know- you may just end up being their lifeline.

 

A bit of Llama drama

“Come on Cluedo…come on boy” I said, tugging vainly at the leash of my eccentric llama. To say I hadn’t envisioned this outcome to my day was an understatement. I had taken many a dog for a walk in my time, but taking a llama for a walk was nothing short of an exercise in patience.

You see, a while ago, in a flash of inspiration I had decided that birthday gifts were passé. What we needed were birthday experiences. So when my younger daughter turned 14, I hunted high and low for something (anything) to do with llamas. She had been obsessed with these funny/cute creatures for a while. So much so, that her sister had even baked her a 13th birthday cake with fondant figures of her getting married to Shawn Mendes (her other obsession) and the entire ceremony being officiated by a llama.

Hence, when I stumbled upon a llama walk, I thought, perfect! Her excitement knew no bounds, and she was ready to go pronto. I had to convince her to hold off, as January is probably not the best month to go tramping through the fields with a 6 foot animal. A bank holiday Monday in May when the sun was shining and the temperature was a balmy 28ºC was. So, we set off at a quarter past nine to arrive in time for our 11am walk with these curious creatures.

Our briefing was done by a soft spoken young chap called Will, and it consisted of how to hold the leash to the llama’s harness: don’t loop it around your wrist because if the llama decides to take off, it can go from nought to 35mph in minutes, and guess what- you’d go with it! Additionally, not to stand behind a llama in case it decided to kick you with its hind legs, and finally not to pat it on it’s head. Anything below the harness was fine.

With all that said, we were handed the leash to our respective llamas. The girls got the gentle giant Nero. We got the perky Cluedo. Perhaps the name should have been a clue to what lay ahead, but truthfully, most of us (except second daughter who was totally clued up on llama facts) were llama novices.

Will led the way, and Nero refused to follow. Nero’s disposition being quite pacifist, he preferred being second, third or last in the queue. Cluedo had no such qualms. He quite happily took the lead, trotting alongside me with a been-there-done-that air. I kept a leash length distance eying him warily.  His gentle demeanour and Bambi lashes put me at ease, and just as I was settling into my pace, he veered to the left and decided to take a five minute grazing break on the lovely grass a hundred metres away from our starting point.

The whole procession of 6 llamas and ten people ground to a halt. I tugged at his leash to no avail. Will looked at me and shrugged. “Yeah, they do that a lot. You may have to be firm with him.” Firm or not, Cluedo took his own sweet time, and when he’d had his fill I had to turn around in a circle to get him back on track.

We trudged on, with Cluedo taking his grass breaks every five minutes and I doing the whole tugging and turning around in a circle routine to get him moving again. Honestly, I felt a bit of a fool, particularly as the rest of the llamas seemed a more sedate lot, content to walk with their partners with little or no drama.

Maybe I just wasn’t very good at this taking a llama for a walk thing. I mean, sure, dogs stopped to sniff and wee in many places during the course of a walk, but goodness, who knew a llama could put away so much grass! I kept trying to catch hubby’s eye to palm the llama off to him, but he was too busy clicking photos, and so, Cluedo and I were stuck with each other for the foreseeable future.

Soon we reached an open field with buttercups that stretched to the horizon, and the tower of a hotel that used to be a convent looming up in the background. Will reached into the back pack of one of the older llamas and pulled out bags of carrots that he handed out to each of us. This was their little treat for the day. A reward for putting up with us pesky humans. He demonstrated feeding them by placing the cut up carrots in the palm of his hand and holding it up to the llama. The llama sniffed and then gently nibbled them up from Will’s hand. Then Will placed a piece of cut up carrot and leaned towards the llama. He wanted us to see what a llama kiss looked like. Of course, animals, much like children, refuse to cooperate at the most opportune times. Christopher, the llama, gave him a dismissive look, and went back to grazing on the grass. After much wheedling on Will’s part, he finally gave in, and took the carrot delicately from his mouth.

I looked at Cluedo, who looked back at me impassively. No, I didn’t think either of us wanted to get that intimate with each other.

“Where do they put it all?” asked a lady in our party.  Llamas have three stomachs,  Will explained, a lot like cows that have four. And even though, they have the grace and the pulchritude of deer, they are more closely related to camels.

These amazing animals are native to South America, and were domesticated and used as pack animals over 4000 years ago by the Peruvian Indians. Llamas are hardy, smart, easy to train and well suited to harsh environments. Their fleece is used in textiles and their wool is warm, light and water repellant. They are social animals that like living in herds, but don’t get on their wrong side or you’ll end up being spat at. In all fairness though, they are more likely to spit at one another in annoyance or a display of machismo.

“When does it all come out?” asked another lady. Right on cue, her llama bent its hind legs and proceeded to display the workings of his intestines. Smart, huh?

An hour into our walk, I was glad to notice I wasn’t the only one encountering difficulties with a recalcitrant llama. Two of the ladies in our party had been dragged through the brambles and shrubberies as their respective llamas enjoyed the sensation of being scratched. I looked at Cluedo and sighed with relief. A greedy llama was better than an itchy one.

Handing the leash over to the husband, I went over to the girls to see how they were getting on. Nero was a dream. Docile as a lamb, he didn’t mind the girls stroking him, dancing with him or doing silly poses. He put up with all of their antics with the patience of an old grandpa.

Another carrot and water break later, we ended up switching llamas. Husband and Nero took off at a stately pace, and daughter number one was left to go around in circles with Cluedo. As we neared the farm, Cluedo’s pit stops increased in frequency till we were lagging so far back to practically lose sight of our group and Will.

“Let’s jog with him” I suggested. I had tried that earlier and he’d responded well to my prompting. Daughter proceeded to put the plan in action. Cluedo jogged a bit and stopped. Then he decided to graze for an inordinately long time. The entire party had reached the top of the hill, and were waiting for us to catch up.

“Come on Cluedo….come on boy!” I urged. Cluedo gave me a disdainful look and kept chewing. A little girl came up to him and offered him a handful of buttercups. He ignored her as well. This was one heckuva stubborn llama. We just had to wait it out.

Finally, in his own good time, Cluedo decided to rejoin the party. As we led him and Nero to their shelters, and handed them over to Will, I felt a pang of sadness. Without meaning to, I had bonded with these lovely llamas. There was something quietly soothing about walking in step with these majestic animals. Although, the Peruvian Indians must have had a few tricks up their sleeves to get anywhere in time with these strong willed mammals.

Our llama adventure over, we picnicked outside, marvelling at the glorious sunshine we had been blessed with. Husband leaned over and said “Babe, don’t take this the wrong way….”

Uh oh!

“You’ve certainly made me experience some strange and wonderful things.”

We smiled at each other and I thought, Well, that’s alright then.

 

 

 

 

 

A Union of Hope

The sparkling wine was chilling nicely, the lemon and elderflower cake had been baked and iced and it was fish and chips, Pimms and scones with clotted cream and jam on the menu for the day. We were planning to have our very own, very propah British celebration for Harry and Meghan’s nuptials. After all, they were only a stone’s throw away in Windsor. Practically neighbours!

Jokes aside, nearly all of Britain (and quite a bit of the world!) was just as caught up in the excitement and anticipation of possibly the last BIG Royal wedding for a few years to come. And what a beautiful wedding it was! From the glorious day to the beautiful setting of St. George’s Chapel, the military precision of the organisers, the pomp and the ceremony, the fabulous guests in their fabulous outfits, the multiple invitees of various charities, the divine music, the attendance of the great and the good, and ultimately to the young couple themselves, it was a spectacle from start to finish.

What is it about weddings that has us getting teary eyed? Vows that we have heard repeated so many times in so many different ways that we could repeat them verbatim, and yet they evoke such a powerful response in us? What is it about getting together and celebrating the union of two people that makes us joyful and hopeful time and again?

Marriage is a leap of faith. It is the coming together of two individuals who may differ in so many ways- in background, education, culture, class, religion, temperament, ideas and opinions- and yet choose to be with one another. Choose to pledge their fidelity and their futures to each another. In their coming together, they knit their families together as well, and in this fashion the fabric of society weaves itself into another beautiful pattern.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding hasn’t just brought together two families, it has brought together two nations and two races as well. In choosing to marry Meghan, a bi-racial divorcee actress who is older than himself, Harry hasn’t just shrugged the cloak of tradition aside, he has practically flung it off.

As for Meghan, what can one say about this incredibly beautiful, progressive, elegant, self assured young woman who so obviously adores her husband? Very little that hasn’t been said already.

1.9 billion people tuned in to watch the live broadcast of the Royal wedding. 1.9 billion people who were just as enthralled by the love story of Diana’s second son as we were. In the melding together of two cultures, we saw the formality and structure of British ceremony marry the fluidity and informality of American culture. In Michael Curry’s impassioned address to the couple he spoke openly about the redemptive power of love.

The same power that saw Meghan walk solo down the aisle for she walked towards the man she loved. The same power that made Prince Charles step in to give her away, for his son and his future daughter-in-law’s happiness. The same power that saw Doria Ragland well up as her daughter spoke her vows, but hold on to her composure with admirable dignity and grace. The same power that made a 96 year old Prince Philip who had hip surgery last month, walk unaided to the front of the chapel. The same power that has seen the Royal family open their arms to the girl their grandson, son, nephew or brother has fallen in love with. Redemptive and transformative.

One can, and must, expect wonderful things from this union. For anyone who sees the Royal family as a stuffy old establishment best consigned to the past, they miss the point. The Royal family is our connection to the past. In their time honoured traditions, in their (mostly) proper conduct, in their tireless service to charity and good works, they function as an example and a barometer of the nation. In this very modern marriage of equals, Meghan will add her own unique qualities and substance to the mix, enhancing their potency and effectiveness.

I am no Royalist, yet I couldn’t help but be enchanted by this young couple’s wedding. Love shone out of their eyes as they looked upon on another, and in that love there was hope for a future where caste, creed or colour will cease to matter.

harry meghan

Why Book Clubs matter

Ask any writer why they started to write, and I can guarantee you that they will confess to a love of reading. A love that first led them through that enchanted doorway into other people’s stories; of faraway lands and mythical creatures, or common place situations and every day folk, to finally feeling an urge to tell their own stories in their own ways.

I was introduced to reading at a very early age. From Fairy Tales to Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie to the classics, I devoured all kinds of books. I had a fine example in my mother whose nightly winding down routine consisted of reading a chapter of whichever book she was currently immersed in. My father, who was never much of a fiction reader, nevertheless took his Materia medica to bed in a similar fashion. My uncles and aunts were all readers, and I was often advised to always have a book at hand while waiting in long queues, for all sorts of journeys and any other boring interludes. It is no wonder that I developed a passion for reading.

Like all passions however, when life decided to overload me, reading had to be relegated to the background. I still read, but intermittently and haltingly. Often losing track of the story or the characters themselves. From reading a book a week, it became a book every few months, and then a book a year, if that. Social media, the Internet, Television, Netflix and other seemingly more urgent activities and pastimes took over.

During that time, I still kept writing. Some of the stuff I produced was pretty good. Imagination and language skills kept me afloat. But a lot of it was uninspiring and devoid of spark. After all, if life and experiences are grist to the mill of writing, then reading surely is the flavour and seasoning.

Two things rekindled my love of reading. Both, strangely, belonged to the virtual world.

The first was a simple application called Goodreads. A place where books were listed and reviewed, not just by literary critics but by the ordinary Joe or Jane. You could befriend or follow people, or you could roam its virtual shelves solitary yet surrounded by innumerable book lovers. You could add to your own list of books that you had read or books that you wanted to read, and you could rate and review a book as soon as you had finished it.

The second was my induction into a reading group on Facebook. Like many other groups that I had either joined or been added to unwittingly, I chose to ignore the posts in the beginning. Then one day someone’s post piqued my curiosity. It was a beautifully written review on a book I hadn’t heard of. I immediately cross checked the reviews on Goodreads, and suitably satisfied, downloaded this book on to my Kindle. From that moment on, my respect for the members of this group grew. From lurking on the sidelines, I became an active participant, posting reviews or chiming in on discussions. I discovered new writers and newer books, and kindred spirits along the way.

In a very 21st Century way, I had become a part of a Book Club.

You see, wherever book lovers congregate, whether in the real world or in the virtual world, certain preliminaries are already taken care of. The major one being an unwavering love of literature. Your tastes may differ, you may prefer one genre over another, one kind of writing over another, but there is always a love for reading that will unite you.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a proper Book Club this week. I was the visiting author, there to talk about my book: Parvathy’s Well & other stories. Whilst it was an odd experience analysing my stories and my creative process, I was thrilled that this group of women had invested their time in my book, and were now willing to invest time in me too. Once my segment was over, I sat back and watched them discuss another book. What emerged was a desire to understand other lives and experiences through discussion, analysis and swapping of their own stories.

Reading is a portal into other worlds, but the reader has to be receptive to the messages that the book is imparting, and be willing to undertake that journey with the author. Along the way, some readers turn into writers themselves. And so, the tradition of story telling, that began with the caveman’s crude drawings depicting life as he saw it, continues in progressively sophisticated formats.

So also with Book Clubs. In increasingly frenetic lives, it is not always possible to commit to meeting x number of times at a venue, desirable though it may be. Virtual book clubs step in here. Like minded individuals can meet and swap ideas, notes and reviews on books they like or don’t, virtually.

Naysayers had once decried the use of e readers, saying that they could never replace the look, smell and feel of real books. That is true. However, e readers have survived because they are portable, and books can be downloaded with a tap. Ease and convenience are not to be overlooked.

Ultimately, words- whether on paper or on screen- are what set our imaginations alight, and Book Clubs- real or virtual- bring us bibliophiles together.

That is no bad thing.