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Re-Orthodoxed (2021)

A coffee-table book which is a treasury of
tribal cuisine and culture
(TATA Steel CSR)

I worked as Co-Researcher and Co-Writer on this book, which is currently in its final stages of design.

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Introduction to the Book


The Cambridge dictionary describes the word ‘tribe’ as “a group of people, often related families, who live together, sharing the same language, culture, and history, especially those who do not live in towns or cities”. In India, the definition runs deeper. The word ‘Adi-vasi’ or ‘Van-vasi’, a common term used for the tribals of the subcontinent, means ‘first man’ or ‘forest dweller’. It still comes closer to the essence than the first one, but all definitions of the word fail to capture the true core or ineffable emotion that is related to the word.

Re-Orthodoxed covers the culture and cuisine of six tribes across the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. The tribes in focus are the Bodos, The Rabhas, The Santhals, The Oraons, The Ho’s, and The Koyas, all of whom have very different yet similar eating habits. It aims to talk about the different aspects food plays in their lives and to highlight the sustainable, ancient yet advanced cooking practices from across the mountains, rivers, plains and jungles they inhabit.


The book features a collection of recipes including breads, soups, chutneys, beverages, curries, desserts and appetisers which are reflections of their histories, memories, principles, aspirations, dreams, strength and spirit. It also features narratives from tribal voices chronicling the past and envisioning the future for both themselves and their tribes. Lastly, it displays glimpses from their rich folk culture; languages, music, tales and histories as old as antiquity itself. In essence, this publication aspires to celebrate the rich culinary culture of the tribes of India, revealing the dishes brewing in their kitchens, the evolution of their palate and a treasury of their unique recipes.


When a young tribal student at the BEd college in Bhadrachalam was asked the question this book started with, he simply
replied,
“Truth.”
So come and take a seat amongst the indigenous people who are the earth-worshippers, leaf-eaters, pig-hunters, herb-gatherers, tree-climbers, fish-catchers, cattle-herders, rice-growers, honey-collectors, fable-tellers, drum-beaters, flute-players and ecstatic dancers of this world.


Sit with them, listen to them and learn from them as you flip through these pages which hopefully give you a taste of this tribal
truth, infused within the flavours of the earth.

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Silent Sentinels of the Sea (2024)

A coffee-table book on 75 iconic lighthouses of India
(For the Govt. of India)

I worked as a Writer and Photographer on this book, which was published by PM Modi in February 2024.

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Writings from the Book

In The Papers

My opinion piece in the Free Press Journal

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Compassion is a Bowl of Sweet Kheer

Lessons in vulnerability from the Buddha, my therapist, mycelium roots, and Baburao Ganpatrao Apte.

Under a tree with a cooling canopy, sat a young man immersed in deep meditation. A babbling brook flowed nearby. A bird building her nest on the branches sang a work song. This ideally should’ve been a portrait of peace, but instead was a sight to cause a startle. For the man sitting in dhyaan (concentration) looked less human and more an exoskeleton; protruding ribs, knobby knees, and sallow skin sucked into hollow cheeks. It felt like the high noon sun which glittered in the stream’s waters would also evaporate the last few breaths left in the meditating monk.

 

This man of extraordinary will was Siddharth Gautam. After a youth of indulgence and ignorance spent within the walls of his palace, the erstwhile prince had slipped out in the middle of the night leaving that life behind with a sincere seeking in his heart for the Truth of Samsar, the world he inhabited but couldn’t seem to make sense of. It had been six years since he took up a life of extreme asceticism, surviving on an occasional, measly meal of a few grains of rice. A stern vow had been taken – he would not stop until he reached his final goal of liberation from suffering, even if the cost was death. This frail figure was perhaps inching towards his fatal fate when a young woman named Sujata arrived at the base of the tree. She had been blessed with a baby boy and had brought a bowl of kheer or milk-rice pudding to offer it to the tree spirit who had answered her prayers.

 

Sujata instead saw the starving Siddharth sitting there. Overcome by compassion, she offered the bowl of kheer to the hermit instead. With this simple act, Sujata became the final teacher of Gautam, her kindness held the last lesson for Siddharth the Ascetic to transform into Buddha the Enlightened One. It struck him that he had received great gyaan (wisdom) from his meditations, but he hadn’t practiced the essence of being free from worldly suffering – having karuna (compassion) towards all beings, including himself. He needed help, not only to keep his body alive but also to find the last missing piece to his spiritual quest, and the Universe sent him Sujata, an ordinary maiden with a bowl of sweet pudding whose act of offering unlocked doors of actualization in the monk’s mind. Imagine what would be of him if it wasn’t for Sujata – the Buddha would’ve perished without attaining the wisdom of the Middle Path and spreading his light unto millions of lives thereafter. He was the flame of a solitary lamp who extended his arm and lit the wicks of innumerable others.

 

This story, told and interpreted from a personal lens, to me is just about that. We might not be as alone as we seem on our journeys, whether it is a battle with a disease, a nasty break-up, or a pursuit of enlightenment. We ‘ekla cholo re’ only to look beside and around to notice that we are all walking alone… together. This story helps me understand that we are a part of a cross-threaded web of beings – a web which is responsible for the sustenance of all Life. We have the option to pull a few of its strings and ask it, ‘Hey, I think I need a hand to lighten this load. It feels too heavy for my shoulders to carry. Could you please lend yours too?”

 

Recently during a therapy session, I realized that my fierce sense of independence which I had always worn like a medal, had begun to manifest in unhealthy ways. I wouldn’t like anyone else carrying my luggage, even if a loaded rucksack already strained my back. Or if life brought a storm, I'd struggle and sail through it singlehandedly, which would sometimes result in me crying in the shower feeling like the loneliest person in the world but hey, at least I was strong enough to do it all by myself.

 

Strong. Weak. Vulnerable. Dependent. How I had misunderstood these words. The vulnerable are the most valorous – the unthinkable courage it needs to reveal one's emotionally bare side and expose that raw portrait of oneself, one which we so often hide from ourselves as well. To accept and acknowledge the side of us who asks for help or forgiveness or love or the one who simply asks to be seen, as opposed to making an elusive island of oneself – safe at the cost of being utterly secluded, tragically concealed. The beauty of someone opening up is that of a blossoming flower - a vibrant and soft creature opening its delicate petals to the oft harsh world. Imagine if a flower thought to itself, "I ought to remain closed in my bud forever. Who knows what will happen to me if I expose myself to the world?". The beauty of smiling flowers and the sweet fragrances that enter our nostrils when we put our noses to it, would be lost to us. That is the lesson a rose, a daffodil, or a sunflower whispers to me... Lessons in vulnerability.

 

Another lesson comes from trees. Forests who thrive together. The mighty trees which tower over us aren’t solitary figures who have touched the skies by themselves. If we could look through the soil, we would see that we are standing above one huge network of interconnected roots, called a mycelium root system. The deeper roots of older trees can reach more groundwater and direct it toward the younger saplings. If a neighbouring tree is ailing, a distress signal is sent out and the healthier trees provide the needed nutrients to keep it alive. “All for one and one for all”, words written by humans but lived out by trees.

 

“If you cannot receive help wholeheartedly, you cannot give help wholeheartedly”, said my smiling therapist at the end of our session. My eyes dramatically widened. Realization had dawned. Reach out for help with an open heart and lend a hand, an ear or a shoulder to whoever asks for it. But you have to ask for it to receive it. I can happily say today that the days of crying in the shower and furiously scribbling in my journal are at a dwindling end. I find myself actively asking for help and confiding my feelings in people (or dogs, the best listeners) – making them a sponge or a mirror – for those messy and entangled feelings. Because often the medicine is that reassuring squeeze of the palm, the sturdy voice which says "whatever happens I am always with you, okay?", or even those wordless pair of eyes which reflect true understanding in them.

 

Baburao Ganpat Apte, played by the iconic Paresh Rawal, sits around a table with a bottle of liquor and his only two friends in the world, and delivers this lovely line in the film Hera Pheri - “khushiyaan baantne se badti hai aur dukh baantne se kam hota hai”. (Happiness doubles when you share it and sorrow halves when you share it). So, let us take our bowls filled with the sweet kheer of compassion and serve others, but not before having a spoonful ourselves.

UNTITLED : a poem

Heraclitus stands naked
In the middle of
The River of Time
Bemused by its endlessness
Bemoaning its indifference
“Panta Rhei” he says ~
All Flows.


All Flows with
The swell of ocean waves
The shifting of dunes
A swirling stroke of paint
A saxophones tune
Soaring wings of a hawk
Tick-tick-tick of a clock


All flows
With the Flow of Life
Atoms in vibration
Frequencies in unison
Fueled by energy
The movement is
The beauty


But if Flow is the
Way of life
Natural state of life
Why does human crave stagnancy?
A monotone over a melody
A bubble of stability
Which can burst
With the slightest brush
By the mischievous hands of Fate



Flow gives and takes
With troughs and crests
Just a pair of cells
Cradled by placenta
Turns to a wailing infant
The child lives the
Span of its life
Bends with age,
Turns senile
Bones powdered to ash
When Death take’s its hand


Strange…
How one is celebrated
The other, lamented
For they are twins
The reason for the others existence
All that has walked the body
Of our Mother Planet
Has transience sewn into
The yarn of its fabric



The desperate human tries
To cup water
From the River of Time
In his infinitesimal palms


But ceases to realise
The harder he tries
The more the water leaks
An activity in futility


Close your eyes a second
Bring two fingers together
Place them on the horizon
Of your neck and ear
And feel the drum of your pulse


Evidence of your existence
Metronome of your mortality
Make this a moment of acknowledgment
There will come a time
When this percussion stops
The last note is played
The body, just a corpse
And the spirit takes flight, once more


The soul’s true nature
Is nomadic
Akin to a Bedouin
Traversing lifetime after lifetime
Shedding bodies, shedding skins
As if tattered garments
The spirit is an unseen
And endless serpent



So somewhere between
The fleeting Internal
And the fickle External
Or perhaps somewhere beyond them
Lies the all-embracing Eternal
Whose name is Love.

Withins and Withouts

A published collection of poetry

"And medicine, law, business, engineering - these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.

But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for!"

-Prof. John Keating, Dead Poets Society (1989)

pondersome proses

Cloud in the Afterlife - 2018

Most people wish to become a star once they die. But I have always wanted my soul to re-emerge as a colossal cloud upon the end of my human life.
Floating freely yet slowly, taking my own sweet time. Being a spectacle for happy children and lovers who lay on meadows to decipher. Some might see a dragon, some a ribbon, others a rollercoaster. But that won't matter to me for I will be forever liberated of any judgment.
Dampening the parched with pearls of glass that fall from my neck. These drops of rain which merge with the relieved tears of an anticipating farmer.
Enveloping the mighty mountains with silver snow, as though they were kings, and I, their royal cloak.
Dropping bellowed bolts on Zeus's command when he is enraged, electrifying the sky, roaring with thunder ‘til little children get scared, covering their heads with their blankets.
Turning grey and gloomy when forlorn by witnessing the tragedies below me on land, caused by man’s earthly desires and passions.
Befriending the sun, the moon, and the stars to gain the wisdom they have acquired from the beginning of time.
Chatting with swallows and sparrows about their lives on earth, often inquiring about my loved ones with concern and warm nostalgia.
Posing as a muse for poets and adorning the landscapes of painters, helping the community of artists I once was a part of.
And eventually, realising that the world may go on just fine without me, but while I'm here, swimming in the vast, endless sky, I mean something.

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Sundays in Goa - 2021

I have coined a saying that goes, “Sundays in Goa are for basking in the sun”, which I follow religiously unless drizzles or stuffy clouds hamper my rites. 
I tend to wash my hair on Sundays. After a luxuriating bath, so long that my fingers shrivel like a prune, I slip into a dress and prepare for my weekly sun-soaked solitary solace. I drag a chair against the soil to the corner of my garden where the sun dazzles the brightest. Eyes closed against the cloudless, azure sky, I soak in the warmth, which travels so deep that it is received by the innermost cells of my skin, and I imagine them opening and closing, like the stomata of a leaf. My very own photosynthesis.
With no visual distractions, my ears perk up. The clattery background noise branches into individual tracks in my brain, like on an audio-editing software. I begin to identify the separate instruments which comprise this natural orchestra.
The invisible critters amidst the tall grass, either bickering or serenading, one cannot say. The answer may lie in the varied pitches of their trills, but I for one haven’t had the time (or skill) to master that distinguished art. A muffled whistle from a passing train travels many kilometers to reach my eardrums. Though far away, if I consciously fade out the other sounds, I can listen to the rhythmic rattling of the tracks caused by the metallic serpent carrying cargo. Next comes the ultrasonic calls of the langurs passing overhead, like a ringing in your ear after you hear something bombastically loud. Their call is quickly drowned by the frantic yawps of the crows who fiercely guard their eggs from being burgled by the apes. The cacophony of threatening caws and shrill retorts cause a bit of a glitch in the orchestra, and so I open my eyes to take in the sights of my sun-kissed garden.
Conjoined dragonflies sit on my aloe vera plant’s leaf, which at first glance seem like a hybrid experiment gone wrong until you realise that they are under the spell of romance in the summer air. A pair of pigeons jerk their heads to and fro as they trot around the garden in search of crumbs and seeds. I have learned much about the psychology and tactics of these deceivingly innocent creatures, who aggressively dart at other smaller birds and pigeons if they dare to eat from their share. Often an ant with the spirit of an explorer climbs aboard my body and traverses it inquisitively. I take it into my palm and watch it walk over the mounts of my knuckles and towers of my fingers. When it rests for a while on my fingertip, I bring it as close to my eyes and observe its teeny eyes and mustache-like pincers. Once we are well-acquainted, I grow afraid of accidentally squishing my new friend, so I inhale deeply and blow it off my palm so that it can continue its explorations on the body of the Earth. After twenty minutes of leisurely sun-soaking, orchestra-listening and bird-watching (or as some would say, doing nothing) my mother will call for breakfast from inside.

Ah, eggs and toast with marmalade, my favourite.

academic writing

A Philosophical Analysis of Chris Marker’s Masterpiece Film, La Jetée (1962)

1.Memory as an Image:
One could say that the opening title-card of La Jetée captures the heart of the film. “This is the story of a man”, it reads, “marked by an image from his childhood”. Upon my first viewing the choice of words seemed ordinary, but upon my second, the nuanced nature of the vocabulary made itself visible. Why has Marker chosen the word ‘image’ instead of ‘memory’? I tried to equate the two and got inclined to the idea that every memory in its essence is more of an image than it is real.

As John Berger articulates it in his book/TV series, Ways Of Seeing, 'An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced ... which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance’. Similarly, a memory is a sight stolen from our perceived reality and recreated repeatedly in our minds. They shape-shift over time, warping to the tune of our desires and fears to act as an antidote for the suffering of the present.

In La Jetée’s post-apocalyptic world, hope is scarce. Humans live in a subterranean world, the ‘kingdom of rats’, and are attempting to save their species by travelling through time. The atmosphere is bleak and lifeless, the world above is ravaged to ruins by nuclear war. The world below is divided into scientists who spy on dreams and conduct experiments for time-travel, and the lab-rats, prisoners-like experimentees, live under the thumb of the tyrannical scientists.
Even though humankind survived, almost no humanity remains. It is in a cold world like this where our nameless protagonist’s memory serves as a lifeboat – not just for him but for humankind as a whole.

The idea of memories being shape-shifting lifeboats which carry us through the many storms of life is one that stayed with me after watching the film and reading Coates’ essay. It places the soul of a memory not in its legitimacy or exactness to reality, but in what remains of a memory when the tides of time wash over it. What we remember, how we remember it, what we hold on to… Hence, characterizing memories as ever-evolving images enriches their value and amplifies their true nature rather than debasing them.

After our protagonist is chosen, his memories resurface from the depths of his consciousness on the tenth day. Frames of simple life emerge – which are pressed upon as being ‘real’ – of birds, a bedroom, a happy day. Coates’ observes that the emphasis on their realness only bring to focus that they are in fact, images, a shadow of a reality that once was. It is an instance of the film speaking to us in a false tongue to unveil the truth.


2. The Mind as the Time-Travelling Machine:
La Jetée doesn’t use grand, peculiar-looking vehicles which travel through wormholes as a time-travelling machine. It uses the most accessible yet complex device we have at hand, the human mind. (Coates, it is only the mind that travels). Instead of aggrandizing the sci-fi concept by making it reliant on hyper-technology, Marker makes us look into and avail our interior worlds, which are often far more advanced than the instruments we build.

And in our protagonist’s time machine, the fuel is love, which propels him into the past and enlivens his memories to such an extent that he can revisit them. It is the image of the mysterious woman, who manifests herself in his memory, that catches a hold on him in this otherwise disorienting world. The time-traveller is experiencing the enigmatic phenomenon of jamais vu. He cannot place himself, both in time and space, yet everything is uncannily familiar, and the only one he is sure he knows is the woman. It is strange how the one thing he is sure about is not a fact, like the name of the city he is in, but a feeling. This is when our memories take the shape of dreams, when they are both woven of the same mystical fabric.

It is frequently in dreams that we know something with absolute assurance to be true, a knowledge that comes from deep intuition rather than logic or reason and is untainted with doubt. Often-times, this self-knowledge needn’t be proved or even communicated. It is true and we know it in our hearts.


3.Love as a Transcendent of Time:
Their love blossoms in an ethereal realm – one where the river of time freezes into an icy lake – a place unbound by strains of the past or the future. A love growing in such place is purer, stronger. It speaks through glances and silences rather than words. It’s sensuality is palpable, even if not visible. It is their fortune to fall in love in that unpolluted realm. Perhaps it is imperative too, for only a love like that could transcend time. Only it could, even if for a brief second, bring the film, a staccato of still photographs, to life, when the woman looks at us and softly blinks. That pivotal moment in the film is also one of those rare occurrences, when the medium is speaking to us as clearly as the content. The abrasive cutting between frames in previous scenes, like when the syringe is injected in the man’s arm, now softens into dissolving overlaps of the woman’s tender movements in bed. It is an imagery of pure beauty. She looks like a porcelain statue gradually coming to life to the crescendo of the morning chatter of birds. A moment of love, of true aliveness, as compared to the death-like stillness of the film. (Coates, “The very form of the film is an imprint of death”).


4.The Protagonist as Sisyphus:
During the course of the film, the narrative is a deceivingly linear, until the very end when we realise its circular form. (Coates,
“As beginning and end interlock, the open linearity upon which time- travel feeds collapses into a circularity that is strangely satisfying, even as it entraps us”). Not only is it circular though, but Sisyphean in nature. The circle is merciless and eternal, akin to a noose, which the protagonist must put around his neck incessantly, but never have the gratifying taste of death. He is not doomed to die, but rather to live forever. Under the thumb of the scientists and separated from his love. It is this infinite toil which is the real tragedy, not his demise at the end. This gives the film its existential core, since the ‘to live is to suffer’ philosophy can be found from Buddhism texts to Nietzsche’s writing. Evidence for this can be found in the scene when the narrator describes the protagonist’s predicament whilst being experimented on, “He doesn’t die or go mad… he suffers”. It is also where the second part of the title-card comes into play. The protagonist is marked by the image of the man getting shot. Like a curse bestowed upon him, a permanent scar he must bear. His obsession with the image is one he cannot escape, perhaps because, as Coates hypothesises, it is the image of his death, but even though he doesn’t know this consciously, it is the subliminal reason for its allure, the reason he cannot let go of it. (Coates, “He haunts-and is haunted by-the scene of his future death; like all of us, he is so habituated to living life in a linear fashion that he can make no sense of the vouchsafed glimpse of the future.)

5.Perhaps to Live (and Love) is Better:
With the theme of existentialism, always come sub-themes of death and mortality. The lovers’ ideal day at the Natural History Museum, one which radiates a soothing happiness compared to the otherwise arid psychological landscape of the film, gives us a sense of relief, and perhaps even an opposing view to the protagonists Sisyphean plight. The two gaze at these ‘eternal creatures’, frozen in time, immortal. But their immortality comes at the cost of non-existence. They are only immortal in their immobility, deathless in their death. Hovering in the liminal space between being and non-being. So, perhaps it is better to live, even if it is to wander within the labyrinth of ungraspable memories and float back and forth through the currents of time. It comes with the reward of moments of solace, when he can gaze at the nape of his lover when she lifts her hair or wake up next to her on a musical morning.


6. La Jetée as Quintessential Cinema:
Throughout this essay I have called La Jetée a film, even though it looks like a photo-montage and speaks like an Orwellian novella. Yet, knowing that the form isn’t traditionally cinematic, all its strings entwine together to create the very DNA of cinema. It bifurcates the two elemental components of film – sight and sound, into two separate beings. While the images are still, the sound flows, often overlapped, in crescendos, in whispers or heartbeats. (Coates, “The images may be frozen, but the words one hears are not. The images float upon the soundtrack like ice flows upon a river”).
But this separation doesn’t weaken the visual or narrative structure of the film. Instead, one can see Marker’s bold leap in avant-garde storytelling, where form and content mirror each other (Coates, “The use of still photographs creates a sense that all that remains after the disaster of World War III are the fragments of a narrative. The very form of the film is the imprint of death”). His artistic choice to abandon the motion picture and adopt moving-still images is what makes the story impactful and highlights the themes it offers. And as the highest reward, it has brought La Jetée an everlasting spot on the list of timeless films.

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Ink-Hearted

A WordPress Blog I wrote till I was 17

finger bowl

7th november 2017

throughout the dinner
i never once meet his eye

my eyes shift from
peas, bread, juice, butter, peas
anywhere and everywhere
but those eyes


for his
have a glimpse of a tiger
right before it’s kill
a lethal blend of
bloodthirst and lust

bloodlust

family dinners are already difficult
grandparents discussing the government
subtle comparisons with cousins
but with him around
they seem impossible

bottles of wine emptied
plates wiped clean
the waiters now place
the finger bowls
in front of us

i wince as i see him
pulp the juice
out of the lemon slice
just as he had
squeezed the innocence
out of me
at seven

nothing
could wash off
the filth from those hands
which had dared to pluck
to unripe fruit
from the forbidden forest of my body
which was supposed to
be savoured by
my lover from the future

but sadly
even though he had
swallowed the sour fruit
it is i
who remains wordless
with a lump in my throat
and the secret
buried somewhere below it.

Sound of Silence

23rd July 2016

The sound of silence is profound, eloquent and indeed earsplitting. What would you want to do when you quarrel with others, don’t get things ‘your way’, endure injustice or unmanageable grief? Maybe blare your lungs out, fulminate, rant, or even curse. We all do it, but is there another approach? In the spur of the moment, when rage trickles down your mind, there seems to be no other option. But there are always two ways, muteness and commotion. Silence can be divine, yet dreadful. It is something you would hear from the mouth of a betrayed friend or a mother, whose daughter never got justice in court. Someone who isn’t just tired but completely exhausted from battling, protesting, or struggling. It is the language of anguish, agony, and fatigue, spoken by ones ill-fated. They say that words hold the power to influence and change… But silence? Silence is like an ocean of esoteric emotions while words are like a chattering, shoal river.

Angry Indian Goddesses

11th march 2018

It was a Friday afternoon when Radha Patel and her husband, Shankar, sat on their verandah, sipping chai and reading.

“This bloody feminist movement around the world. How unnecessary. Women can do so much today. They can vote and work and wear whatever they want”, a hoarse voice grumbled from beneath the newspaper.

It was that time of the day when Mr. Patel would wear his white kurta, sit on the rocking chair and read, nay, whine about the happenings around the globe. His wife looked at him from above her glasses. She didn’t even bother to argue with him, could you possibly change a sixty-one-year man’s outlook? She went back to the novel  she was reading, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ when her phone rang.

It was Aradhana, her beautiful young daughter. In that brief moment, when she looked at her caller screen, a little epiphany hit her. In the past few months, her relationship with her daughter had completely transformed. Before she left for college, Aru had taught her mum immense ways to keep herself occupied. She taught her how to upload blog posts so that her mother’s dying love for writing gets revived. She taught her how to order items from Amazon and pay for them online. She also made her memorize the route to her favourite bookstore in a narrow alleyway, from where she had bought the book her mother was currently reading. Aradhana had persuaded her to not be the sad bluebird that wallows after her babies leave the nest but rather the eagle who soars high above after freeing itself from restrictions.

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