Key Takeaways – Do It Today

This book, ‘Do it today’ by Darius Foroux popped in the suggestions on my kindle unlimited subscription. Generally, around this time of the year, I am quite on ‘high-resolutions’ mode (a mode where you make all high and mighty resolutions for the forthcoming year) and I lapped this book up. Productivity is a subject that interests me infinitely. As far as I remember, I have always been into ‘to do’ lists and on the constant lookout for ideas, techniques, apps, etc, you name it, to improve productivity. More so, since I became a SAHM where ‘schedule’ largely is self-motivated. How much I was dependent on the security of a ‘structured scheduling environment’ as a working individual, I became aware only when I quit work. The days are so open-ended that you are either unstoppable or unmovable (!) depending on how you handle it. Anyhow, this book seemed ideal for me, therefore. Following is not a review as such, but a short compilation of main ideas that the author has explored.

The book by itself is sort of an anthology of various articles written by the author on the subject of productivity, divided into three sections:

  1. Overcoming Procrastination
  2. Improving Productivity
  3. Achieving More

Not a review per se, but just two cents – the articles resonated with me – especially part 1. Most of the things I read in this entire book are concepts and ideas that I already knew. Such thoughts had occurred to me sometime or the other – since I too like the author am on a lookout to reduce procrastination and improve productivity. Nothing groundbreaking. What this book did for me was to compile all these ideas together in simple language (since these probably are blog articles). The author’s conviction and honest, to the point style of writing is also appealing in that he seems to have understood the dilemmas and thoughts of individuals struggling with productivity. Another advantage of the article style of writing is that one can begin with whatever one is interested in without following a particular order. These are some key ideas discussed in the book:

  1. Always have a small set of daily tasks/ activities to give you a basic structure. Complete the most important tasks first. Do it today /Eat that frog/the one thing etc etc etc.
  2. Exercise the brain and body every day without fail.
  3. Eliminate useless activities/things /possessions which have no purpose in your life and in fact distract you.
  4. Remember about past good times and success to propel yourself
  5. Do not rely on willpower to push you. Build a proper system no matter how mundane the task. Build self – imposed deadlines, accountability systems (like friends), be in control of health by eating clean and exercising. Explore ‘WHY do you do what you do’
  6. Measure the time spent on each activity in your schedule for a few days to establish a pattern, identify non-productive work, eliminate time wasters.
  7. Some enemies of productivity – Overworking, worrying too much, Being stubborn and not being open to external ideas, constantly checking emails/ social media, trying to escape ‘real-life’ by shying away from issues instead of tackling them head-on, saying yes, not writing things down, being overcritical of oneself, neglecting personal education, hating the rules
  8. Productivity boosters: reviewing the current day by the end of the day and exploring what needs to be done still / improvements, planning your next day in advance including the outfit, visualize how the next day is going to be and make adjustments to the schedule
  9. Connecting to the internet only when necessary instead of being ‘always online’ and scheduling time for social media activities.
  10. Doing things one loves or learning to love what you do will make you more efficient
  11. Create a self-starting motto/mantra/slogan line and remind yourself of it anytime you feel you are slacking.
  12. Pausing from time to time to calibrate focus because distractions are a constant companion. Also, take vacations, breaks in between just to enjoy life. Rest reduces stress. Improves productivity. Get bored.
  13. Know that you can survive without a phone and consume it only when necessary. Cut the noise.
  14. Perfection is an enemy of productivity in some cases because it may lead to someone never starting a task or keep such high standards for yourself that you always feel you’re failing. In short, the solution for this is what Geeta says – ‘Do your tasks without expectations’ ‘Karm Karo. Phal ki Apeksha mat Karo’.
  15. Take a 5 mins to break every 35-45 mins since the human attention span is up to 45 mins on average.
  16. Stop consuming too much information. YOLO doesn’t help productivity at all.
  17. Don’t multitask. (*I agree. Multitasking is the biggest myth in my experience. Being a woman, I have surprised many by saying this on and off. Except for my husband of course. He has first-hand proof of the fact that not all women can multitask. He feels great that I am not his better half, but his equal.)
  18. Check email twice a day. There is a hormonal reaction associated with constant checking of emails, messages, etc and we should avoid it because it’s got adverse consequences too.
  19. No smartphone during the first hour of your day.
  20. Keep ‘thinking’ to a minimum. (* a struggle for me indeed. I find this is my principal productivity destroyer. )
  21. Avoid useless meetings.
  22. Try time blocking. In other words, dedicate a block of time to only a single activity. Again goes back to avoiding multitasking.
  23. Be open and flexible to the uncertainty in schedules, ideas, and life in general. While you plan your day, be open that some things will always be beyond your control.
  24. The key is to know your ‘direction’ and not your ‘destination’. Never get fixated on the destination.
  25. Work on these skills – Self – discipline, personal effectiveness, communication, negotiation, persuasion, physical strength, flexibility
  26. Leave the workplace on time.
  27. Consistency is the key. Baby steps at a time. Believe in the power of compounding.
  28. Rinse and repeat. Stay a beginner. Always, there will be something that you need to learn.
  29. Measure success by the quality of your energy, your work, and your relationships.

Thought of jotting these down as a synopsis instead of navigating through the kindle notes.

Some bookishness

Today’s post is very very close to my heart. I had thought of writing this yesterday and posting on the occasion of the International Book Day, but it didn’t happen. It was Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu holy day and a national holiday here. With a hovering preschooler and equally hovering (and towering in his calls for attention to x-y-z things that I supposedly neglect) husband, who could find a few minutes to write? Not I!

Actually, its more than a few minutes because I cannot let go of the topic at hand without doing some research here. Also, I got to know that there are 2 different dates when the international book day is celebrated which took away the thunder of yesterday anyway 😉

The topic at hand is exploring the possible reasons why books are so expensive in Indonesia. Some examples in this regard-

  1. I remember very well, the YA novel ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ became popular in Indonesia around the release of its movie somewhere in mid-2014. The popular book-stores Gramedia and Periplus were displaying its copies everywhere. I haven’t read the novel but I used to follow John and Hank Green, aka the vlog brothers on YouTube back then so I was aware how popular this book was. To say I was shocked to know the price is an understatement. I am sure, the price back then was upwards of IDR 300,000, which is INR 1500. About US$ 21. I came to India for a vacation in May 2015 and noticed the same novel everywhere in similar displays at Crossword and other book shops in India. The price – INR 300, which is IDR 60,000 approximately and US$ 4.29! This kind of 5x price difference was astounding!

  2. Cut to today, when I have to purchase books, I tend to compare Amazon.in and Bookdepository.com for the price difference. Just today, I compared ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ again. The paperback is priced on Amazon.in at INR 193, which is close to IDR 40,000. That’s US$2.75. On book depository, it’s selling for a discount of 40% (!!) for IDR 152,000. That’s INR 744. Meaning US$10.6. This amount is at least acceptable. Interestingly, on Amazon.com itself, the paperback is retailing at US$7.59. This means its cheaper to buy this book in India than in the country where it was written! More on this later.

  3. I compared one more book – ‘The paper dolls’ by Julia Donaldson today. The price on Amazon.co.uk (since it is originally a UK book) is GBP 3.99-i.e INR 365.6 and IDR 74,800. This is selling on Amazon.in for INR 280 (GBP 3 and IDR 57,260). On the book depository, it is selling at a discount of 26% (!) for IDR 134,000 (INR 655 and GBP 7), again making an extremely compelling case for purchase in India.

Not that I was expecting ‘at par’ pricing! Definitely, there will be differences. The most important reason being the existence of the ‘South Asian Edition’:

SA editions are the absolutely legal versions of the original work published in local printing presses in India, under copyright and licensing from the foreign publishers. Cheap local labor means cheaper paper and overall inputs. Also, this paper is of a lower quality since its not export grade. This ultimately translates into cheaper books for the readers. I think students are the best beneficiaries of the phenomenon, going by this question on Quora. In India, given the fact that most of the higher education happens in English, the English readership is considerable- definitely when compared to Indonesia. As a result, demand is higher. Also given the extremely price sensitive market and rampant piracy, it is more sensible on the part of a publisher to license out the printing for local edition. These editions are not saleable outside the subcontinent. Though nothing prevents you from buying these when in India and then returning to your university. It is perfectly legal. A standard practice among the Indian students studying abroad I bet!

I am a big fan of the ‘South Asian Editions’ ever since I noticed the price differences for the first time during my MBA days. I remember my ‘S A edition’ of Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management very well, against the one I borrowed from the library. Clearly, there was a difference in the paper quality etc. But the content was the same. It didn’t matter. For sure I didn’t look upon Kotler as a collectible book anyway. I think the first example of the Fault in Our Stars falls in this bracket. Since the publisher Penguin is also a big publisher in India. So is Bloomsbury who printed Harry Potter books. Out of curiosity, I just searched and realized that all of the big six publishers are operational in India. Most of them have India specific websites. They get the books printed locally.

In comparison, a simple google search did not lead to any information on the presence of the big six in Indonesia. Most publications are done by local players and independent publishers. Kompas Gramedia group is the biggest publisher; but since their publication arm is not listed, much of the data is not available on the public domain.

Why the foreign publishers are not in the Indonesian market is clear – and a topic for another (even more detailed) post.

Bulk discounts?

This is something I wondered for those books that are definitely not printed in India and still are sold for a cheaper price in India. For example, an Usborne Phonics Reader title ‘Snail Brings the Mail’ costs INR 134 on Amazon India. Same costs GBP 5.18 in the UK and IDR 117000 (at 25% discount ahem …ahem) on Book Depository.  Since we own a copy of this book, we know that the paperback has been printed in China. The high cost in the UK which is the home of Usborne publications – probably implies import duty? However, what is notable is that in Indonesia its cost is still 4x more than in India. Keeping the import duty part aside, sheer numbers with respect to demand for this particular title are likely to be higher in India than the UK or Indonesia. Which might lead to sales discounts.

Duty structure

Finally coming to duty structure. I confirmed that:

  1. Import duty on books is nil in Indonesia. It can attract VAT of 10%. Which means on a book with the CIF value of USD 100, a duty of USD 10 is likely to be imposed presently. As per my information, no other duty should be charged.

  2. As per this form, a book with of CIF value USD 100, will attract a duty of USD 14.86 in India.

This adds rather than solves to the conundrum because higher duty in India does not explain lower costs of books in India as compared to Indonesia, that too, lower by 4-5x. Reasons could be anybody’s guesses:

  1. Low demand for imported English books in Indonesia. Translates into lower price elasticity. Thus its a sellers market and they are trying to milk it.

  2. India is a very price sensitive market. Good demand means economies of scale possible. Bulk discounts possible and it is possible to be profitable despite selling at low prices.

Unfortunately, up to date data is not available on the printing and publication industries in both the countries. It would have been interesting to compare the profitability of these publishers /sellers to know more.

Hopefully, I will stay interested in this topic to update more!

Mumbai and Jakarta under one umbrella – A rain fed comparison

The first week of March! Not much rain this year during this wet season. By not much rain, I mean only sporadic news on flooding. In fact, every year, low lying areas of Jakarta flood almost every other week during Jan/ Feb. This year didn’t happen. Year after year, the amount of rainfall seems to be reducing. I haven’t checked any official statistic on this, but I can definitely remember the times when roads to the airport used to be flooded and the only time when electricity in my apartment complex got disconnected for a couple of days due to rains. Anyhow, thought of posting something which I began writing in the year 2014, but abandoned. I noticed it today in my drafts. So thought of updating and posting.

Coming from Mumbai, here are some aspects of the Jakarta rains that I thought were striking:

It pours and then vanishes:

Hopefully, this post will not sound like a weather report but that’s the most striking feature. Indonesia falls within the equatorial belt. As such faces a ‘wet season’ with 6 months of regular rainfall and a dry season peppered with rainfall. It rains a lot. And by lot, I really mean in colossal amounts; …in about an hour! Or give and take half an hour more! Coming from Mumbai which faces just 4 months of the monsoon (though severe) – I was used to different kind of rainy days. Rainy days have ‘literal’ meaning in Mumbai. It means it would rain for the whole day. During July and August much more than June and September and cause various kinds of transport and communication disruptions, flooding etc. Most of us 80s and 90s born Mumbaikars would definitely remember 26 July 2005. Yours truly walked through neck-deep water across suburbs that day!

Here in Jakarta, similar copious rain can fall in about an hour/2 hours etc. and then, you are free for the rest of the day. Its surprising for a Mumbaikar. Yes, there is substantial flooding (we call it ‘banjir’) and we do have stories from Jakarta too. But its different. You are not coped up inside your home in Jakarta unless you live in a low lying area. Warm weather even during wet seasons also means things are dry pretty soon. Your clotheslines get dried as usual (its not allowed in our complex to put clotheslines in the balcony and I have put mine in the windowless storeroom. Still clothes get dried pretty fast. Impressive huh?). Smaller difficulties in life such as urgent shopping, wearing a particular dress etc, do not exist here as a result.

Rainy accessories…. Or lack of them

Having landed in Jakarta for the first time during the rainy season, I had expected to see people accessorized with the rain gear. Weird as it may seem, not many people seem to own umbrellas or raincoats in Jakarta. With the type of climate where it rains almost daily – ( even during the dry season, as soon as the temperature exceeds a particular level) – to me, such a climate meant constant accompaniment of the rain-gear. I had also noticed similar umbrella culture in the Philippines (as in India, my home country) so nothing had prepared me for this. Many Jakartans seriously don’t own umbrellas!

Buying rainy shoes has been an important event every year (or every second year if the shoes from the previous year weren’t outgrown or worn out) in my life – ever since I started walking. Like most of the fellow Indians – at least those who live in the more rainy areas of India. It used to be an event especially as you had to not only find the right size and pattern, it needed to be of right material too – so that you wouldn’t get a shoe-bite. Equally important was whether it would make the squeaky sound while walking (obviously you select the one that wouldn’t or at least wasn’t likely to make such a sound). Usually, rainy shoes in India back in the day were hideously patterned. That would be sort of unwritten rule. It HAD to be ugly if it was rainy-footwear. Turns out, this rule is not pan-world. Here in Jakarta, one finds an amazing variety of lovely patterns in rainy shoes. But most importantly, I found one more aberration –  People may not wear rainy footwear during the rainy season at all. Here in Jakarta, you see them wandering with all sorts of fashionable footwear even during rainy season. Ever since I came here, I have not purchased a single rainy/’all seasons’ pair of shoes.

In Mumbai, if you dare to wear non-rainy footwear at all, you’ll probably end up throwing it the very next day. I guess its somewhat difficult to tolerate rainy footwear all around the year. In India, we have to take it just for four months. The nature of rainfall here is different. It doesn’t rain all day usually. So as far as you remain inside during the rains, you are good to go with any footwear especially since it dries up soon too.

Same goes for raincoats and umbrellas. I think Raincoats are almost non-existent here except for tarpaulin ponchos used by vendors, Ojek drivers, and so on. There will definitely be Jackets for bikers etc. But nothing like the mass raincoat buying that would happen in India at the beginning of the school season. Umbrellas seem to be a preferred choice and widely available in the shops; but when it comes to actual streets and rains, nobody seems to be carrying them. When I was working, only one of my male colleagues used to bring an umbrella at work and was teased by others as ‘Bapak Payung’ aka Umbrella Man/Mr. Umbrella. Among women, it used to be a colleague and me bringing umbrellas. 2 women. Slightly better than men! Which brings me to the next observation…

People don’t walk here…

Most importantly people don’t walk! As in pedestrians don’t exist in most areas of Jakarta except for the market places and smaller residential areas. Footpaths are for namesake. Very narrow. Obviously, because people don’t walk. Footpaths are not needed to be wide! People drive. Or get into public transport. Cheap fuel (Quite cheap as compared to Mumbai which is close to 2.5 times expensive) leads to the affordability of vehicles which in turn has added to the traffic woes of the city. A rain-related fact is that most of the vehicles are like mammoth sizes compared to Mumbai vehicles. Some of them indeed seemed like minibusses at first glance to me 🙂 (After 7 years here, I find vehicles back home small). I was told by a friend that this is because families with 3 or more kids are still very common here. Their doors open at a higher level as compared to say many vehicles in India. Due to regular flooding during the wet season, many families choose to own such vehicles so that water does not enter into the vehicle. They also spend a lot of time commuting given the Jakarta traffic; so they prefer to have a good amount of space in the vehicle.

So far, I can recall only so much. I might update this post if I remember something else. 🙂

It does indeed feel like an ‘analysis of rainy season behavior of the Jakartans’ 🙂 but at least I found it interesting. 😉

When a compliment touches your heart…

Beautiful

Compliments! How many of us know the art of complimenting? In fact, the times today are such that a compliment is always viewed with doubt. The other day, a friend mentioned to me that she met an acquaintance at a party who was looking pretty and so she complimented the said acquaintance. The acquaintance, in turn, got so conscious that she kept asking throughout the party whether something was amiss about her look and why did my friend say what she said (a.k.a the compliment). This is probably not uncommon. Most of us cannot take a compliment these days. We get suspicious immediately. The fact is we either think someone is fake complimenting or that we really do not deserve to be complimented. In both cases, we are being judgmental. Aren’t we? We don’t allow ourselves a moment to shine, to bask in self-appreciation that a compliment subtly involves.

On the other hand how many of us really give genuine compliments? Today’s world is hard to please. Many people say that they don’t know how to use flowery words. This somehow is supposed to convey some sort of genuineness on their part while making those who compliment sound fake, and yes, many people belong to this category. Of course, complimenting shouldn’t equate with flattery/sycophancy at all; it needs to be genuine. It needs to come from a place that everyone has something good in them and that needs to be recognized.

Little compliments do matter. Toddlers and preschoolers are the best examples of how. They perform for applause and repeat. What a child can clearly demonstrate, we cannot. That humans are hungry somewhere for appreciation. That all the appreciation is not sycophancy or flattery. That it does make you feel better. How hard can it be to accept compliments gracefully? How hard is it to say kind words to someone? It can be anything. The other day, on a message board I follow, someone wrote a book review and she wrote at the outset that her writing was bad. Her writing indeed had left a lot to be desired for. However, the group moderators set the tone for further conversation. They all complimented the woman for the fact that her review gave them a good idea of the book. They complimented her for her passion for reading, due to which, she took this first step of writing a review and getting over her fear of writing. I felt their way of complimenting was spot on. It was genuine. It showed they had read the whole review despite bad writing and grammar which can be a turn off for many. That they appreciated her active participation. What they began was carried on by other members and this encouraged the woman to post one more review, this time she had proofread the post through her friend – she claimed. Thus beginning to improve her writing quality. This is, of course, an example from the virtual world. She declared her low confidence at the beginning itself. More often than not, posts with bad writing do get trolled very easily. Therefore the moderators who were kind enough need to be applauded. In real life, we mostly don’t declare our lack of confidence or demotivated mindset to the world. It’s trickier. But just imagine, what sunshine a simple unsolicited compliment can bring to someone in a similar situation!

I definitely know now, what a difference they can make. I happened to receive some genuine compliments yesterday and today – somehow I do not remember having received them with such a pleasure over years! Probably because they were received after ages for something that I was appreciated for during my younger days! They brought cheer to my day and even the days to come. I genuinely felt happy. Motivated even. I thought over it. I, who am not a graceful receiver of compliments and probably my way of giving compliments too is awkward and cautious because I keep thinking that the other person shouldn’t get the wrong idea that I am flattering them for no reason – am finally convinced that compliments are genuine verbal sunshine and that everyone needs it. Everyone needs to receive it and emit it every now and then so that the world, in general, is a happier place.

We women especially  – after marriage and child, are prominently in the role of a caregiver. We are busy motivating, boosting other members of our family and we rarely think about our qualities and attributes that once were appreciated – by friends, parents, at work. It’s not a conscious decision by the other members of the family, but definitely, our emotional well being does take a backseat in all the other hustles and hassles of family life and the larger scheme of things. Suddenly one day someone notices you for your work/qualities – and you feel genuine happiness. So this is a post to say thank you to my payers of compliments.

In conclusion, I’d like to share something that Gaur Gopal Das has said in his latest book – Life’s Amazing Secrets, which I finished reading earlier in the month. This is the real reason I got thinking about compliments in the first place. While discussing relationships, he gave the analogy of financial instruments – that one cannot withdraw without investing. Like financial instruments, our relationships need investing and there are various ways he explores – but one important way is to compliment. A lot.  There are ways to build trust first – after which we gain the right to really offer negative/corrective feedback if any. However, the person to whom we offer such feedback will be receptive only if s/he feels adequately appreciated by us for their qualities. Most of what we learn in OB or Human Resources as a subject/psychology or even plain old ancient pithy proverbs such as आधी स्तुती, मग विनंती! (a Marathi saying which means ‘request only after praise’) point to something similar. Still, we need to be reminded of it time and again! In fact, if I have to introspect on how much I have ‘invested’ in all of my relationships by way of compliments, I know I haven’t done enough. About time I changed this. While the book specifically focuses on relationships, my post is also about the compliment to all and sundry. The least we can do is brighten someone’s day with a genuine compliment. I know, I will start immediately.

Wanted: A good GP

At the outset, let me put the disclaimer: A) I do not claim to know about healthcare in entire Jakarta or Indonesia B) This post is related to just my own experiences.

Over the last 7 years, I have concluded that the healthcare options available to us where we live in central Jakarta are at best dubious, despite having 2 very well known state of art hospitals nearby. As an expat, the first problem that one comes across is to find a doctor, a GP, that is reliable. Usually, there are references, but everyone’s perspective and experience are different. Also, it’s not easy to find a doctor whose approach matches with your beliefs.

In Indian context usually, the approach/line of belief is ‘minimum intervention’ – that maximum healing should be done with minimum possible intervention in the body’s natural rhythm and healing process. Treatment only if necessary. Body is a natural healer. We need to allow it enough chances to heal itself. Antibiotics are used at a later stage in the healing process  – usually only after determining that other medicines are not working.  There is something called drug resistance which develops on account of constant, unnecessary and incomplete drug intake. Thus my first preference would be to find such a doctor who believes less is more.

As an expat, very first difficulty is finding a good GP, especially the one that confirms with your own approach of health care. Yes. the doctors KNOW what is right, however, over the years, we laypeople do develop a valid perspective in my opinion, which is in other words known as ‘informed choices’. This became more critical to me after my son’s birth. All the ensuing reading and discussion with his Indian pediatrician led me to be fixated with minimum intervention philosophy. One of my closest friends happens to be a practicing pediatric cardiologist, presently in Germany but who has also worked in India and thus contributed to my education on the subject substantially. I think of her as my lifeline!

The problem might also be because as expats we receive references of doctors who are good with English as well as only state of art clinics/hospitals, which might not necessarily lead to effective treatment. Finding the right medical care is like finding a needle in the haystack. That’s what my experience says.

Urgent need for today’s post came from yesterday’s visit to the nearest GP’s clinic. I had been having fever since early morning and it seemed to increase gradually, so I went to the clinic at my husband’s insistence. It was just the first day of fever. Since I don’t work, I do not have the pressing need to feed myself antibiotics or cure myself immediately. But I do have a 3-year-old at home who is absolutely attached to me and from whom its difficult to quarantine myself. We had been hearing about dengue since last week in Jakarta so we thought better be safe. As my GP measured the temperature, it was 38 degrees (100 F). He asked me certain questions about fever, phlegm etc the usual. Then he immediately offered injection – anti-inflammatory he said. It will also break my fever. I asked him why was he offering injection when it was just 100 degrees. He replied because my throat was extremely inflamed. I said I would not like to take an injection. Then he gave me a total of 6 medicines including antibiotic, anti-allergen, something to manage my stomach acid, a syrup to alleviate sore throat, a flu-related tablet and one more tablet. The syrup was a concoction of some powdered medicines+syrup – what they call ‘Racikan’ here and you don’t know what it includes. I asked him why was he giving antibiotics  – he replied because he was sure I had bacterial flu and not viral flu and that it needed antibiotics. I didn’t argue. I am not a medico. But I have enough experience of falling sick on account of flu and it getting cured by itself with no medication. I was only relieved that it wasn’t much serious.

I came home and messaged my dearest pediatric cardiologist, who despite handling close to 100 patients for the day on account of winter-related sicknesses, replied back saying all I needed to do was just to take a paracetamol and lie down for as long as my son lets me, drink lots of fluids and repeat this for the next few days till I feel better. She was shocked that I was offered injection as well as antibiotic and then an anti-allergy to counter the effects of antibiotic if any.  I followed her advice and my fever has broken immediately and not returned so far as I type.

This, however, is not a sole example. Over the last 7 years, we have always been given antibiotics for flu every single time we saw a doctor from the nearby clinic/hospitals. We being expats are not covered by the national healthcare program and hence our bills for simple flu visits can range up to 700,000 IDR which is near about USD 50 / INR 3500. We do not have health insurance too. Which of course is our own laziness but in any case I don’t think coverage will include flu visits.

I was chatting with few friends on this and they were in fact in favor of a treatment containing antibiotics though aware of drug resistance etc. They were working individuals and felt they didn’t have enough time for the flu to naturally subside. However such strategy is harmful in the long term and someone badly needs to educate the public at large.  Some of them were indeed shocked at the total bill amount I mentioned because larger clinics and hospitals are probably charging a lot more due to their infrastructure and their names. There could be the whole shebang of corporate sales/ profit targets at hospitals behind this for all I know.

When I was in India, the very first pediatrician I consulted, who was attached to the maternity ward where I gave birth, was big on medicines. Which is exactly why I looked up, researched and found the right doctor for my son in India. Here so far despite living for 7 years, I have been unable to.

Play-Doh Saurus

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Dear Play-Doh-saurus,

You are tiny but mighty 3.4 years old with all your willfulness and individuality. You made up your own name in a flash of inspiration from an empty play-doh box and of course, Play-Doh Saurus you are. You definitely are. I have lost the count when we have made instant play-doh at home. Your dad has lost the count of times he bought you play-doh. You definitely love mixing things…textures… colors…exploring new textures sensorily. You love play-doh, kinetic sand, homemade dough, soil from pots, salt and what have you.

In a rare exception, you didn’t want to touch the earthworm because it was slithering in a puddle, though you tried hard to touch a snail and were frustrated that it went inside its house. You are curious about our home-pets (home insects rather)- the ants, you have a love-hate relationship with. Sometimes you follow them to see where they are going and sometimes you want to crush them because they might want to eat your meal. Lizards, a staple in Indonesian housing – you love. You always compare their calls to each other with me calling you. That makes me feel super awesome! ok. I am kidding. I hope by the time you are of age to be able to read this – you will realize how disgusting this is…. you hate errant houseflies but wanted to collect cockroaches and take them home one day.

You love singing. you want to sing nursery rhymes with pretend mike in hand. You need to be sung to so that you can sleep but a lot many times these days it is counterproductive because you join the singing 🙂  you hate going to podium. I have to push you outdoors, but once you go there you love playing on the slides. At home you keep climbing on things – on me too and yet you are a cautious wise pre-schooler. I think you do balance out. You’re not a daredevil. Nor are you timid. You do run like there’s no tomorrow, but always turn around and look for me in a while. I think that’s cute. Though when you know I am really close by, you don’t prefer to look where you are going and ram into things, people and what not. You love tug of war, somersaults, chasing and your cars. Your red car is like your sibling. Just yesterday you called your yellow car your baby too and asked me to ‘gendong’ (Indonesian) = hold the baby. You also love pretend -plays, pretend-talking on the phone, pretend shopping and pretend doctors.

You were not much into soft toys so far but a Diwali visit to meet a  newborn had you reformed. You made your tiny Ele (elephant) your baby and began microwaving it – to keep it warm. Later you kept her in the refrigerator to counter the heat. I was touched when you started calling your small kiwi bird baba when the real baba had gone one business trip. You took it everywhere, fed it meals and even slept with it. When your real baba returned you were excited and even slept on the big trampoline (baba’s tummy) but you never cried when he was away. That reminds me. You call your dad’s tummy big trampoline and mine, the little trampoline! I guess you do have a point there. You want to convey in cute creative words, the need for us to work out!

You have a 3-year-old mind of your own. You value your possessions. A bit too much sometimes 🙂 but I hope you soon will learn to share. You are beginning to notice other kids and wishing to play with them. Your sense of fashion is much ahead of mine. This I concluded almost a year back when you matched white shoes with white design on your orange shirt and requested to wear eyeglasses :-). You have maintained this interest. You hate long sleeves and formal shirts. You hate collars, long pants, and non-cotton fabric. I feel this is cute as well as precocious you know.

You get mad when people make incorrect pronunciations! something that you seem to have inherited from me ;p you began crying while correcting the pronunciation of your friend Y’s original Mandarin name. You call languages ‘talking’. You ask me to play ‘shopping’ in ‘English talking’. You asked me this Saturday – “what talking is going to be there at the birthday party aai? English talking, Bahasa talking, Marathi talking, Hindi Talking or Mandarin Talking?”,  though you only understand Bahasa and Marathi talking mostly 🙂

You observe more than you talk and one day suddenly spill out words of wisdom 🙂 just the other day, you asked me to draw an angry tyrannosaurus (‘ANGRY’) and called it Baba. You asked me to draw a pterodactyl and called it aai. How did you even know these names? or even remember them? That’s when you called yourselves a ‘play-doh-saurus’! You love reading. Mainly car stories. But you are also enjoying stories about insects, germs, and cats. You are a cat person! (We are dog people … so we tried to make you come to the other side. It didn’t work.)

You love love love colors! coloring, drawing. You seem to be engrossed while coloring. You talk in terms of colors. The water bottle is always the red water bottle. Aai-purse is always yellow aai-purse and so on.

Most of all you love me a lot. You used to hate kisses and hugs till you turned 18 months and from then on you have never looked back. You are big on hugs and kisses  – but only with me. Not with baba, not with tante, not with anyone else. That makes me feel so special 🙂 You still have great separation anxiety and still we go together to relieve both ourselves … but I hope you will outgrow this soon.

There are lot many things I want to write but I’ll just sum it up saying you are an awesome kid and I love you to the moon and back ( though you never loved that story).

(Inspired by a post I saw on my friend Rekha’s blog)

Reviews: Regency Romances I read in 2018

‘Regency romances’ is one of my favorite reading genres and so far mostly the only kind of romance books I enjoy. I am all for light-hearted romance, full of witty banter and longing looks and regency manners. I prefer what is nowadays being called as ‘clean’ romances, without much of sex or sleaze and usually, this implies I am comfortable with classic love stories within which I infinitely prefer regency romances. This year I read four!

The Grand Sophy – Georthe grand sophygette Heyer

This was my first ever Georgette Heyer book after having heard of her for too long. Her writing apparently was inspired initially by Jane Austen, the diva of Regency Romances. Give me Austen any day for an engaging, yet lighthearted read about the tragedy-less uneventful lives of the upper class British during the Regency era  :-). Anyway, having had great expectations after reading rave reviews for the book and the author, I was as the logic would go, disappointed.  The language is quite ‘Regency’ for sure. My issue was with the characters. Mainly the protagonist Sophy who is funky, spunky and independent, doesn’t seem to be a Regency character considering the era and the life of women during it. She is quite manipulative without remorse. Somehow almost all the major characters seem more frivolous than the Regency characters I am used to. There are modern authors who have nicely replicated Regency era so I know it is achievable. I only thought that Georgette Heyer is overrated if one has to go by only this particular book. I think what the author did was to mix up Mansfield Park with Emma where Sophy was somewhat like Emma only less gentle and the Rivenhalls were less dramatic or tragic than the Bertrams. Also, of course, Both Mansfield Park, as well as Emma, are more serious books.

My rating was 2.5 stars rounded off to 2 on Goodreads. It probably could have been 3 stars if I hadn’t heard a lot about her all these years that had built up sort of an expectation.

After reading The Grand Sophy in fact I considered stopping reading Regency romances altogether because suddenly I couldn’t see the point of it that I had seen all these years. Sophy was the ultimate antidote apparently. Things changed when I got my Kindle later in the year and I discovered the joy of Kindle Unlimited which, discovering my reading history on Goodreads, suggested me some ‘Novel Abc (insert an actual regency era novel) variation’/s – as they are being called now. Back in the day, they used to be called fanfictions. There were and are loads of sites dedicated to the Regency fan fiction and I would check them out time to time. Some of them indeed had quality reading content. So it is some such authors who published their novels, stories and novellas.  I read three last year and all of them were Pride and Prejudice variations. Let’s see how many this year brings.

  1. ‘The Darcys of Derbyshire: A Pride and Prejudice Variation’ by Abigail Reynolds  – I have read her work on fan fiction sites earlier and I think her language fits my expectation of Regency language. Her characters too are consistent with what the original Pride and Prejudice. Her cleverness lies in the fact that she is able to create novel variations within the same plot (P&P) usually while remaining mostly true to the original Regency character. I have enjoyed her work – whatever I of it I have read. Most of it is better than the celebrated Georgette Heyer above going by Grand Sophy. Anyhow this is a novella and has a lucid backstory. It’s a diverting read, good for some absolutely light-hearted romance on the go. Though I found it out of character for such a taciturn and proud man such as Darcy to elaborate a backstory of his parents with such detail including their feelings etc to a woman with who he tried to share his own romantic feelings and was rejected just a few weeks back. I am sure he would eventually as we know the plot  – but not so soon. I also don’t think that a man too concerned about proprieties will not suddenly flout  Overall my 3 stars for the book.
  2. Did Darcy do it: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Sophie Lynbrook – I was intrigued by a P&P whodunnit. Usually, such outlandish ideas have lame endings but going by the rave reviews I felt like going for it since it was available on Kindle Unlimited. I am glad I did it. This author too is very much focused on sounding authentic regency and she has nicely built the intrigue. She has studied the facts about regency courtroom trials, imprisonment etc. Though its a murder mystery, it still is faithful to the basic concept of regency romances whereby there isn’t extreme angst involved, only light. At the same time, she has built up and nicely unraveled the mystery, provided explanations for the twists and involved some of the popular characters in detective work too. Overall I liked this diversion well. Better than the Darcys of Derbyshire, though, the idea in this story was even more outlandish than Darcy sharing a sentimental story with Elizabeth pretty soon after being rejected in the Abigail Reynolds’ work – somehow the fact that Darcy is accused of murder is gradually built up and at a point seems plausible thing to do given the circumstances in the plot. Which is all to the credit of the author. I gave it 4 stars rounded up from 3.5. Because it was an unexpected  & pleasant surprise.
  3. Wild Goose Chase: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Sophie Lynbrook – Happy with the whodunnit, I decided to try one more of her novellas. This is as outlandish as the other where Darcy and Elizabeth chase Lydia and Wickham through Gretna Green and in the process fall in love. However to make this believable, author built a scenario whereby Elizabeth initially leaves with her uncle and aunt and Darcy joins them in the quest. Thus the question of propriety and chaperon etc is solved. I mean the author cleverly digresses from the original plot for short duration still trying to reflect the Regency society and lifestyle. Her style of writing is enjoyable. I personally do not prefer any sex or sleaze in Regency romances because it feels absolutely out of character. I like the author (her 2 works that I have read) for maintaining this, maintaining the language as well as making her digressions from the plot seem palatable and plausible. So again I felt it deserved 3.5 stars rounded off to 4 on Goodreads.

Let’s see what this year brings. I want to read across the genres so maybe not many from Regency romance genre.

My glorious reading journey in 2018 and goals for 2019

Very happy to be able to post this on the very first day of the year, albeit, 7 more minutes to go for the said day to be over… and since my writing style has never been to the point, this might not be actually posted on the first day. Though I am happy indeed. I am writing. As planned. This didn’t happen a lot many times this past year. Therefore as far as I am able to post this without any interruption (such as my son P waking up  – which keeps happening, and one of the reasons I really haven’t been able to update this blog exactly when I wanted to) – so as far as any interruption to this post doesn’t happen, I am happy. It still remains a win-win situation!

I wont be writing reviews in this post. I hope to do a post/s later for that. I just want to declare my success to the world (if at all anyone really reads this blog). I finished… hold your breath….a staggering total of 17 books in 2018. And exceeded my goal of reading a book a month! This wasn’t really easy. I am an avid reader. Rather, I used to be. But after moving to Indonesia – my reading of physical copies of books was next to nil. I couldn’t find affordable sources of English books anywhere. I suppose these books are expensive here because a majority of them are imported. Whereas in India, same books would cost much lower – because of localised printing because of the fact that English is the choice of majority when it comes to reading. Also due to limited baggage allowance, I have never carried back more than a couple of books during my India trips. As a result, overall my reading has been abysmal. I read a lot of short stories and online works during ensuing years, but my habit of reading regularly went for a toss. Locally as far as I am aware, there’s just one English newspaper that is easily available and that is Jakarta Post. It never had thought provoking articles and interesting Sunday supplements that I used to enjoy back home. I’d say probably because it took me some time to assimilate the local way of living. Also possibly because the day to day English as used in India could be different in ways that only my subconscious might have understood ( I haven’t). The point is, my reading had come to a standstill. It also didn’t help that I refused to buy kindle thinking that the experience would never compare with the joy of reading physical copies of the books… the touch , the smell of paper, smell of print, the bookmarks and so on… I was not exactly right.

I wouldn’t say I was totally wrong. Yes, in fact Kindle experience is not at all close to that of holding the real book. But it is absolutely the more practical choice for any person in my situation – someone who wants to read English books,  wants to be able to afford them (without resorting to piracy) and someone who couldn’t bring more books from India. I failed to see this all these years. I was also totally involved in being a new mom (not that I stopped reading – but my reading was mainly parenting sites and parenting facebook groups. In fact it was obsessive. So much that eventually I uninstalled FB app from the phone to limit my frequent surfing – that used to happen while being in a semi passive stage such as feeding times during the infant stage or insomnia due to difficulty in getting back to sleep after having woken up every time to take care of the baby’s needs)

This year in October, I got Kindle. Till then I had read 5-6 books out of the total 17 I have completed in the year. And that’s exactly why I am happy. This is absolutely promising. If I could finish 10 books in 3 months, I could finish several more in an entire year. So I am grateful beyond measure for the Kindle 🙂 Thank you husband, for such a birthday gift! You kept suggesting over years that it should be bought, but I never paid any heed to you or turned down your offers to buy. I think what prompted you into ruthless action of buying without asking me is the fact that I joined a book club in June and tried to read every month. You saw my life suddenly spring into real life (outside of the preschooler and the kitchen) and you saw me enjoying it, holding on to it  – like a treasure. Normally you ask me before buying anything for me – you don’t like giving surprises for the possibility of them turning out to be unpleasant 😉 as you have wisely learned over the years 😉 😉 But this, you made an exception – and I am really really thankful for that.

With a Kindle Unlimited subscription, I already have access to a large number of books. Though this excludes majority of well – known books and authors, there ARE some of them very well – known and also in my ‘to be read’ list. And needless to say there’s a vast ocean of undiscovered books and authors – which I have begun and am really happy to discover…

I read (not in the order of reading):

  1. One life to ride – Ajit Harisinghani
  2. Wild goose chase – Sophie Lynbrook
  3. Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  4. Montessori at home guide – Rachel Peachy
  5. Midnights with the Mystic – Cheryl Simone and Sadhguru
  6. Did Darcy do it – Sophy Lynbrook
  7. Prachin Bharatiya Shastradnya ani Sanshodhak – Bhalba Kelkar
  8. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamieson
  9. How to take decisions – Devdutt Pattanaik
  10. Laws of the spirit world – Khorshed Bhavanagari
  11. Ready, Study Go – Khurshed Batliwala and Dinesh Ghodke
  12. Chai, Chai – Biswajeet Ghosh
  13. Many Lives, Many Masters – Brian Weiss
  14. Gathoda – P. L Deshpande
  15. My Favourite Nature Stories – Ruskin Bond
  16. Montessori at Home Guide: A short Introduction to Maria Montessori – A. M Sterling
  17. Darcys of Derbyshire – Abigail Reynolds

I aim to post reviews of some of these books that I haven’t already posted.

So what next? The Goodreads app already asked me what my reading challenge for the year is. Instead of putting in a number I’d have liked to make qualitative goals. But Goodreads doesn’t yet let set such kind of goals. Thus I thought of blogging them here:

  1. Equal number of Kindle and Paperbacks – to catch up with some paperbacks that haven’t been read from my earlier collections.
  2. A balance between Indian and foreign authors – to make sure I read even Indian authors – whom I have been mostly avoiding.
  3. A balance between English and Marathi books – to make sure I read enough Marathi. I love reading even Marathi books which were so far inaccessible being abroad and Kindle has made them accessible.
  4. Versatility in reading – Try to get out of my comfort zone and read across genre.
  5. Read some George Eliot because it’s her 200th birth year
  6. Try to finish some books from my ‘Currently reading’ list in Goodreads. The number is 32. Yes. Total 32 that I picked up and abandoned after some time. Not all of them are bad. So try to sort of salvage my list.
  7. Since Goodreads asked for a number I have put 30 books for the coming year, but we are flexible about that in reality – as far as the 5 goals above are met.

All in all, it feels awesome to jot down these goals somewhere. I think these are much in detail as compared to the last year’s a book a month. So a lot of improvement over the last year!

Its 12.40. So we are already on the second day of the year. Like I said, its still a huge improvement over all years. I think since inception. Signing off. Happy New Year 2019!

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The first time I heard about this book must have been atleast 10 years ago. Ever since I have been hearing about this book every now and then. For last many years mainly non – fiction has interested me so I suppose this had remained in my ‘to be read’ for a long time. Thanks to the book club that I am a members of, that I finally read it this month.

Synopsis – The Kite Runner is a book about almost coming of age (literally and figuratively) of the protagonist through one incident in his life which tests him and how he redeems himself later . Its also a story about two friends , a story about a father and son from son’s viewpoint, all of this, against the socio-econo-political backdrop of Afghanistan. All the other circumstances move around the 3 central characters. Amir, the protagonist, Hassan, his close friend and servant and Amir’s father. Amir, who looses his mother at birth, craves for the attention and approval from his father who is the absolute ideal in his eyes and who in turn seems distant towards himself (Amir). His only confidant is Hassan, who braves it up for Amir many a times through thick and thin with loyalty that is fierce as well as servile, that is as innocent as it is absolute, that only children can offer. But Amir fails his friendship for a choice he makes for personal gratification and that choice haunts him for the rest of his life. It strains his ties with the others, including his father. While Amir goes through mental turmoil, Afghanistan goes through political coup that changes the socio – economical landscape of the country forever and forces Amir to leave the country and leave his past behind. Years later Amir is forced to revisit his past and gets an opportunity to redeem himself.

Paras below contain spoilers.

Like many peals of the onion, this book is about several things. It narrates the realities of Afghanistan before and after Taliban came in force, the social hierarchy and discrimination based on it – economic and religious. The book depicts vividly, plight of the servile classes as well as those belonging to a marginalized religion, the status of women in Afghan society, situation due to cold war, the Russian interference, post Taliban takeover, exploitation of masses and even the question of faith etc. It paints a picture of Afghanistan that was much more liberal in the past.

The book describes nature, places and landscapes quite vividly . Author’s style of writing is very lucid. I enjoyed reading this book. It is fast paced and doesn’t have many dull moments. Some scenes, dialogues stood out to me forcefully. Like the one where Amir discusses concept of sin with his father, description of Hassan’s expressions while being oppressed by Asef, where Amir throws a pomegranate on Hassan’s chest and asks him to retaliate, description of travelling in a heavy transport vehicle to cross the Afghan border and so on. However, it read to me almost like a screenplay and I felt it was written with an eventual movie in mind. Some incidents were too ‘filmy’ (a term we use to denote semblance with Bollywood movies) – such as Amir being hurt on his lip and being reminded him of Hassan’s cleft lip, that Amir was childless – it almost was clear even while Sohrab wasn’t introduced that Amir is going to adopt or grow close to or see his own child in Hassan’s child. , later Soharb too working for Asef by coincidence is a ‘filmy’ coincidence. That he has to go through agony similar to his father, that he saves Amir from Asef in similar manner as Hassan once did etc. Also the book is all praise about US and negative about Russia’s role in the Afghan situation. While Russia’s role has been manifold, US hasn’t been entirely blameless as per the popular media that I was exposed to as a reader of international news. As a result I felt this book was not honest on that account. That it was written keeping the US audience in mind. All in all, not a great book to get a lowdown on what exactly is the political situation in Afghanistan etc. but as a fiction with certain realistic elements, it is a lucid read. Sort of populist -pulp fiction version of the Afghan conflict in the middle of a personal story.

Overall rating – 3.5/5

Book Review: Chai Chai by Bishwanath Ghosh

Book’s Name: Chai, Chai: Travels in places where you stop but never get off By Bishwanath Ghosh

Section from the description on the back of the book cover –
Chai, Chai: Travels in Places Where You Stop But Never Get Off allows the reader to join the author-narrator while he experiences new places and faces. The beautiful sun, the rich cultural history and the people are all rendered with humor and love. One can almost feel the narrator going through the little lanes in Kanpur and then end up in Madras. Whether one is drinking tea at a local café or sitting with numerous people in a local train, Ghosh breathes life into every moment. While speculating on life’s little moments, the author also realizes the amount of hours spent in waiting at railway junctions. The destinations are not just stations and stops for trains to drop commuters off. They represent a different life and a new adventure everyday.


It was this description that enticed me into reading the book .Long distance train journeys were ubiquitous for those of us who grew up in India in the 80s and 90s and I have fond memories of traveling with extended family, friends etc on these journeys. Moving across compartments, jolly conversations with these co-travelers with who you would share your meals, stories and jokes like you would with a close friend, street food bought at each such major railway ‘junction’ and so on – where you stopped but never walked out of the station premises. Having had my fair share of long distance railway travels I was curious how these nondescript ‘junctions’ were outside of railway premises .

Therefore, I can now say that the book while a travelogue, is not what I had expected. Author visits Mughalsarai, Jhansi, Itarsi, Shoranpur, Arakkonam, Jolarpetai, Guntakal etc.These places while don’t cover the extensive geography of India, are important connecting points on the railway line, that join the four corners of the country. While I particularly felt Western, Eastern part of country were not really covered, this seemed to be author’s personal journey – the junctions that have been important to him over his lifetime .

His modus operandi was to travel to each of these places, stay for a couple of days, attempt to know the history and collect the stories within such period. His account is in first person, reads like a travel diary really. His go to strategy seems to be finding the nearest popular bar and chatting up with patrons over a drink or two. This seems to have worked for the author because after losening over a drink or two, some strangers have regaled him with very interesting stories. I’ll say that the book in this case should have been called ‘Bar – Bar’ because the author hardly drinks Chai throughout the book, mostly bar hops and has also written from time to time about his cravings for a drink or two and how he met them. In fact Chai might have one passing reference that I already seem to have forgotten. He definitely has been able to capture small town charm / quaint lifestyle, more successfully in the middle chapters where he probably found his groove. I especially enjoyed reading Itarsi, Guntakal and Jolarpet chapters. His descriptions of nature and surroundings especially Jahangir Mahal at Orchha, the Shoranur – Nilambur railway track etc made me google these locations up and look at the images. Towards the end, he seems to have hastily wound up and concluded, either because his modus operandi /Sop got too monotonous or his own interest waned due to language barrier.

Overall, 2-3 days per location are never enough to really understand the culture, history and the roots of the place, the lifestyle of a town. Author seems to have done no homework before landing at the specific town and hence spends most of his 2-3 day stay looking for and describing accommodation, the food he got to eat or trying to reach right persons who could provide him more of historical perspective. Wherever he fails to meet anyone right, he just gives up and moves on to a different location. Also due to lack of homework his go to strategy seems to be wheedling out stories from fellow bar patrons over few pegs of whiskey which as a source of legit information seems dubious to me.

Still, for the off beat topic, and lucid writing in parts, it seems to be somewhat of an entertaining read. However is a one time read because there is nothing profound, no thought provoking observations and despite having finished it just a handful days back, I dont seem to recall most of the anecdotes mentioned therein. 🙂

Overall Rating: – 3/5