Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Book Review: The Honest Season

Book Title: The Honest Season
Author: Kota Neelima
Pages: 376
Genre: Political Fiction
Price: Rs. 206 (Amazon.in)
Publisher: Random House India


Sikander Bansi, an unlikely political heir in Delhi, secretly records politicians in Parliament as they haggle to become cabinet ministers, bag defense contracts, dodge criminal charges and collect corporate largesse. Among them is a rising leader of the People’s Party, Nalan Malik, whose success has come through unscrupulous means. When Sikander suddenly disappears, Mira Mouli, a newspaper journalist with an unusual gift of knowing people’s thoughts, receives the controversial Parliament tapes along with clues to find him. She is attracted to Sikander’s principles and is wary of Nalan’s deceit. But her powers of knowing tell her a different story, one that she can unravel only at the cost of her life. From the bestselling author of Shoes of the Dead, this is disturbing political fiction that reveals why Parliament functions behind gates closed to the public.

About the Author:

Kota Neelima has been a journalist for over twenty years, covering politics in New Delhi, India. She is Senior Research Fellow, South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced international Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. Her recent academic research in India on perception seeks to develop a structure based on rural and urban voter choices .Her previous books include the bestselling Shoes of the Dead and Death of a Moneylender, among others. Also a well-known painter, Neelima’s works are a part of several collections in India and abroad, including the Museum of Sacred Art, Belgium.

My Review:

It would be an extremely rare case that I would pick up a book on politics. But the word fiction added to it certainly drew some intrigue. And boy, I'm glad I picked it up. Right from page one, the author does not let you put this book down. She has orchestrated the plot so beautifully, I thoroughly enjoyed all the twists and turns. Kota Neelima has a impeccable hold of the language and the subject matter that she is an expert in. Each page shows the amount of research that has gone into writing the book, and not leaving any loose strings. I would readily recommend this book to those who are uninterested in Politics as I am, because this is nothing short of a best-seller!

Disclaimer: I've received this book from Writersmelon.com in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

5 key things to know about IndiPR.com

Influencer marketing is the latest buzzword riding the wave of content marketing. With brands now targeting influencers in the relevant product and service categories to create engagement that will eventually lead to sales, this trend seems here to stay.

Keeping this in mind, the pioneers of an systemic Indian Blogging Network have recently launched a system to automatically cherry pick the relevant influencers for a brand's campaign. This system is called IndiPR.com and is the brainchild of Indiblogger. Simply put, IndiPR acts as a content marketing platform for a brand's press releases.

Promising? Some reading and analysis of IndiPR's website and press release has made me highlight the salient features of this content marketing platform.

All it takes is one press release.

Since a press release is a bonafide public document stating clearly giving out all the information about the product or service, business or campaign to one and all, so one really cannot go wrong with it. It is a There are no 'relevant campaign information will be shared with shortlisted influencers' sort of declaration. It is all plain and simple and out there in the open. So bloggers will get to view and know what the campaign is all about and then apply for it if it is relevant to them.

Start with a free trial

At first you need not pay. You can use a one-time free trial to test the waters. A free trial allows you to get up to 5 blogposts. All you need to do is upload your press release after registering with IndiPR. And then after 72 hours, volia! Post 72 hours, relevant publishers/bloggers have utilized information from the press release, websites and other sources to create an article/ blogpost about the campaign. IndiPR estimates a 75% publishing rate on an average. Which means out of 10 at least 7 to 10 publishers/bloggers will publish the article on their blogs.

ETA: 72 hours 

All the magic happens in just 72 hours. The 72 hour clock starts ticking the moment the press release is out in the public. A steam-lined process flow makes it simple for anyone to understand. Within 12 hours of the press release being published, it is open to all to apply for the project. In the next 12 hours, the AITE automatically shortlists bloggers/publishers according to certain parameters like the relevance of the project to the publisher's blog theme and more. The blogger is notified as soon as possible, and can choose to accept or reject the project. If accepted, the remaining time can be utilized by the blogger to compose and publish the article on their blog and submit the blog link.
There are 5 stages to a blogger's application -( source: https://www.indiblogger.in/indione-faqs.php)
  • 1: Applied – In this stage, a request for publishing of a press release will be sent out as an email. You can apply to only one campaign at a time. So choose the one that best suits the content of your blog. The application process will be open for 12 hours from the time the project is posted on IndiPR.com.
  • 2: Shortlisted - AITE will automatically shortlist the best candidates for the project and if selected, you will receive an email with the subject line “Shortlisted - ”.
  • 3: Accept/Decline – In this stage, you have to accept or decline this project within 24 hours from the time the project is posted on IndiPR.com. If you reject this project, it will be passed on to the next publisher in the queue. Although a project could be passed on down the queue, the timelines will not change as the project has to be completed with 72 hours from the time the project is posted on IndiPR.com.
  • 4: Completed – Once you have ‘Accepted the project’, it cannot be declined. You will have to submit the article within a total of 72 hours from the time the project is posted on IndiPR.com. Once your status shows “Completed”, you will be able to apply for other projects. Please note that Businesses will rate your IndiPR articles on a scale of 1 – 5 and that these ratings will be by AITE.
  • 5: Paid – Payment will be made within 14 business days of the project being posted on IndiPR.com.

Fairness and Transparency

One thing that affiliate marketing and influencer marketing platforms lack is the transparency in the process of shortlisting. When there is manual shortlisting process involved, there are bound to be certain biases or certain errors in judgement. But with AITE in place one can be rest assured that an automated software make no judgement biases, no matter how many cookies you offer him.
And understanding the history of IndiBlogger, they have always maintain a fair stance and have more often than not been transparent about their processes. It is my belief, that they will continue to do so with IndiPR as well.
Brands can also rate a Blogger anonymously, using the following parameters (picked from: https://www.indipr.com/faqs)

  • 1 Star – Never Again - You will never see this publisher ever again
  • 2 Star – Acceptable - This publisher will be given a very low priority for future campaigns created from your account and feedback will be sent to the publisher.
  • 3 Star – Nice - This Publisher will be considered as an average individual and will only be given priority if the slots for your project haven’t been fulfilled.
  • 4 Star – Highly Usable - This Publisher will be considered above average and will be given a higher probability of being accepted when you come up with a similar project.
  • 5 Star – VIP - This publisher will be given top priority for your future campaigns with similar projects.

Win-win situation 

The real potential of a serious blogger is now slowly being realized as brands tie up with them for paid assignments. However, there are many bloggers who also want to take up paid projects at their leisure and whim. This platform can cater to all since all projects are time intensive. If its a paid project, the blogger would be remunerated withing 14 working days from the publishing date of the press release. And of course, the brand gets their article published on the desired number of blogs, thereby attaining their content marketing goal.

Post the launch, Renie Ravin, the Founder and CEO of IndiBlogger, said, “We believe that this system will help Influencers with fresh and new content on their site every day. In a way, you could be writing about the next Google without even realising its immense potential.” 

So what do you think of this brand new content marketing platform: Promising?
Yay or Nay?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: Ramayana The Game of Life - Stolen Hope

Book Title: Ramayana The Game of Life - Stolen Hope
Author: Shubha Vilas
Pages: 312
Genre: Mythology 
Price: (Paperback): INR 299
Publisher: Jaico Publishing

I was elated when I was directly contacted by the author Shubha Vilas to read and review 'Ramayana - The Game of Life - Stolen Hope' early in January this year after reading and reviewing the previous book in the 'The Game of Life' series. Pleased that this book landed in my lap just as soon as I took up the #HTBrunchBookChallenge 2016 for the first time ever. And it helps the criterion of the Brunch Book Challenge of having to read at least 3 books surrounding Indian context.

But perhaps the main reason for me to read the books - even though it is definitely not my favourite genre of reading - is that I haven't been lucky enough to know the entire story of Ramayana from my grandparents or parents. That somehow motivated me to read this book.

A beautiful note from the Author Shubha Vilas

About the Author: 

Shubha Vilas, a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, holds a degree in engineering and law with a specialization in patent law. 

He has just launched his first book, Ramayana - The Game of Life Book 1 which is a modern rendition of the Ramayana with practical life lessons. 

His leadership seminars are popular with top-level management in corporate houses. He addresses their crucial needs through thought- provoking seminars on themes such as ‘Secrets of Lasting Relationships’, ‘Soul Curry to Stop Worry’ and ‘Work–Life Balance’ to name a few.

He believes that a good teacher, no matter how knowledgeable, always sees the process of learning and teaching simultaneously as an inherent aspect of personal and spiritual growth.

Shubha Vilas periodically interacts with the youth in premier institutes across the country, inspiring them to live a life based on deeper human values. Close to his heart is his role as a guide and teacher to school children, teaching foundation values through masterful storytelling.

He also helps individuals apply the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana and other dharmic traditions in dealing with modern- day life situations.

Source: LinkedIn.com

What I liked about this book:

You need not have to read the previous books to understand the overall story of Ramayana. 

This book helps you reflect on the teachings of Ramayana and apply it to your day to day life. This book not only narrates the story of Ramayana, but is packed with the interpretation of wisdom from the popular epic.

What I did not like about this book:

This book comes across as a mythological book, but is actually is a pleasing read. A lot to takeaway. I felt the length of this book is a mighty constraint for hardcore fiction readers like me who want their readings to be that hooks them, understandably this genre is not one.

Why you should read this book:

There are literally many nuggets of wisdom packed into this book. It took me a lot of time to read and review this book as mythology is really not my cup of tea, my I'm glad that I determinedly finished reading it.

Disclosure: I have received the author signed copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. 

Book Review: Life Mantras

Book Title: Life Mantras
Author:'Saharasri' Subrata Roy Sahara
Pages: 298
Genre: Memoir
Price: Rs. 160 (Flipkart)
Publisher: Rupa Books
Image Source: amazon.in
About the Author:

Subrata Roy Sahara (born 1948) popularly known as 'Saharasri', is one of the most successful, bold, vociferous and talked-about figures of corporate India. When he laid the foundation of Sahara India Pariwar in 1978 with a capital of `2,000 (about $32) and three workers, who would have imagined his company's meteoric rise to a worth of `1,80,000 crore (about $27 billion) within a span of thirty-seven years! A teacher, guide and a proud guardian to his over 1.2 million fellow workers, he ascribes his success to his philosophy of 'Collective Materialism' which means continuous collective growth for collective sharing and caring. Renowned institutions like Harvard School of Business, USA; the Indian Institutes of Technology; the Indian Institutes of Management; and Banaras Hindu University have invited him to address their faculty and students, besides which, a host of awards have been bestowed on him that include the 'Indian Business Icon of the Year' at the Powerbrands Hall of Fame Awards in London; the Doctor of Business (honoris causa) by the University of East London; and the highest honorary degree, 'D. Litt.' by the Lalit Narayan Mithila University, Bihar for his contributions in various fields.

At first glance of the book, the cover is not very appealing, rather it is just pleasant to look at.
Perhaps my only reason for picking this book up for a read, is wanting to know the pysche of the renowned Subrata Roy Sahara and how he built his empire -The Sahara Group - keeping the current soup he's in aside for a while. 
However, contrary to my expectation, this book is not an autobiography, but certainly unravels some life lessons that we have long forgotten.

This book can be said to be a reminder on how to progress with life with certain 'mantras' to make it into a fulfilling one. It speaks to you about the meaning of life, about happiness and positivity, just what an optimist like me would like to hear. It is certainly something that anyone in general can relate to. You might too.

On the flip-side, some bits in the book may get rather preachy. And some bits made me lose interest for a while. 

All in all a good book if you are looking to reinforce and pump in some motivation and positive thoughts back into your life pick up Life Mantras.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Book Review: Raakshas

Book Title: Raakshas: India's No.1 Serial Killer
Author: Piyush Jha
Pages:  242
Genre: Thriller
Price:   Flipkart: INR | Amazon: INR 192
Publisher:  Westland Ltd

One look at the cover of the book and you'll know what it's all about. But the question I asked was, 'do serial killers really exist in India?' or is it purely a work of Indian fiction writers in a bid to mimic the West? The 'Soon to be a motion picture' had me interested.

Intrigued, I picked up a copy in lieu of Writersmelon book review program. And once it landed in my lap, I could not put it down.
The author of this book is Piyush Jha,a noted filmmaker in Bollywood, who is not new at writing books. 

The blurb:

What made him a serial killer?Was he born with homicidal tendencies?Did a harrowing childhood render him criminally insane?The questions haunt, Additional Commissioner of Police, Maithili Prasad as she discovers the horrific murders across Mumbai. As she spearheads the greatest manhunt in Mumbai’s history, she’s determined to contain the reign of terror unleashed by the ruthless serial killer. But before that she must grapple with her personal demons that surface to plague her with self-doubt.Just as it seems that Maithili has begun to understand the deep-rooted resentment that drives the serial killer, he turns around and makes her the object of his revenge. Will she emerge unscathed from this ordeal?

The first few chapters had me hooked with the entire description bordering on graphic details. Sinister yet gripping, is not for the faint hearted. One begins to question, whether serial killers are born so or is it the environment they are in or conditioning they get make them so? 

Initially, the chapters highlighted the story of the main protagonist interspersed with chapters on the history of Maithili Prasad. I had thought initially that it is the author narrating the story, but in fact the author weaves the story together from the point of view of  Maithili. 

Through and through the language used is good, and so is the flow of narration. I felt somehow the pace of the book dips halfway through. But overall, I feel Piyush Jha has done a remarkable job in storytelling and touches the right emotions of the reader.

At the end of the book, is a special section dedicated to Serial Killers in India - which answered my initial question.

I recommend this book to those want a real slice of a thriller.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Valentine Walk in the Woods with Shortcut Safaari

Source: quotesgram.com
Haven't we heard or read this quote at some point in out life? Robert Frost's quote does remind us of the woods, but we don't keep our promise of visiting it! This valentine's weekend, I was going to keep my promise!

For the first time ever, as a blogger, I was invited to be a part of a movie promotion event. If you've been thinking, what's the connection with the title 'Valentine Walk in Woods' and a movie promotion, let me enlighten you...This was unlike any other run-in-the-mill film cliched promotion announcement- this was a zara sa hatke and a fun way to promote the film that keeps it's theme with nature and relates to children.

So on 13th February 2016, I traveled to Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) the Conservation Education Centre (CEC), located near Film City in Goregaon East, Mumbai for a Blogger Safaari with the team of Shortcut Safaari.

I was to meet my fellow bloggers Sujata Tawde, Geeta Sridhar, Amreen Sheikh, UK, Priya, Manujsha Pandey and a few others, invited by Riddhi Sharma. Reaching at 10.30 a.m. a wee bit late thanks to my autorickshaw driver, who had decided to go for his own trail by taking a detour from the venue.

Shortcut Safaari Blogger Safaari

From 10.30 am to 12.30 pm we had set out for a nature walk in the woods, at BNHS - Mumbai's best kept secret. Joining us bloggers on this walk was the Director of Shortcut Safaari movie himself, Amitabha Singh, who had earlier warmly welcomed each Blogger to the venue. And our VIPs of the day were the school children from Nehru Nagar Public School, Kanjurmarg. With instructions registered, pee breaks done and water bottles filled, we formed two groups and dispersed with two BNHS experts, one for each group. As soon as I stepped out side the BNHS observatory and classroom, I was taken back to my school days, a good 15 years ago. (Stop guessing my age!) 

It took me back to the time our school had taken us to BNHS, perhaps for an Environmental Studies assignment. And I'm sure, at that age I was not really paying a lot of attention to information given out about the trees and the critters there. But this time, it was different.

I was refreshed to know so many interesting facts on the bio diversity that is packed inside the green cover of Mumbai. Like did you know, Mumbai is home to the world's largest moth, the Atlas Moth? Or did you know about the agility of the Grey Hornbill or the beauty of the striped Tiger Butterfly? They all live in a biodiversity park within Mumbai's limits almost undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of urban activity.

Egged on by the inquisitiveness and enthusiasm of the children, 15 years later, I paid attention to each word by the BNHS expert. What surprised me to no end was the sheer unadulterated enthusiasm of the school kids in asking and answering questions to the BNHS Experts. And what did not surprise me was the eagerness of the children to pose for snaps! (Yours truly clearly remembers being camera shy, and still is) 

And to cater to such enthusiastic kids with bright and alert minds, a movie on nature is the need of the hour. That's what the movie Shortcut Safaari aims to do. At the end of the trail, we were treated to the music clip of a song from the movie but coded language! Can you guess what they are talking?

About 'Shortcut Safaari'

Shortcut Safaari is an independent film written and directed by Amitabha Singh. Other than being a fun-filled journey, it highlights certain touch points that affect us on a day to day level. In the broader stream of events and themes, the film also focuses on nature sensitizing. To a great response, the Film was premiered during the National Children's Film Festival at the Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi in November 2014, organized by the Children's Film Society of India (CFSI).

Furthermore, it received huge resonating appreciation from the audiences at Nandan, Kolkata during the Kolkata Children's International Film Festival in December 2014 organized under the aegis of Shishu Kishore Academy, Government of West Bengal.

Shortcut Safaari has made its presence felt over various National and International children’s film festivals across the country and now the film has embarked upon a new journey to connect as many children as possible to nature through various innovative activities and screenings. With Shortcut Safaari, Amitabha consolidates his position in the children’s film category. He has earlier helmed the camera for Chillar Party, Khosla Ka Ghosla and India’s Oscar entry in 2014- Good Road.

I'm glad I got a chance to be a part of this Nature Trail cum Bloggers Safaari. I am sure such an initiative fulfilled its aim to view  and to reconnect children with their roots and showcasing the natural world amidst the humdrum and chaos of daily city life.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Say Cheese!

If I were to pen a love story, it would probably be a funny one.
The reason being, I am induced to a fit of giggles whenever I am asked to do something remotely romantic. I could probably give a better sarcastic comment instead. You could say, I am The Chandler Bing of romance!

My dear husband on the other hand is a shy romantic. Yes, he's the more romantic one. Truly the better half in the world of romance. And I'm the funny one. But only when it comes to gifting, we both rock the romance boat. *giggles*

If you ask me to choose the funniest moment, it has to be from my wedding day. No, don't get me wrong.
The funniest moment so far follows a heavy moment of tension and anxiety. And NO it's not about the wedding night.

Let me share the tale:

A couple of years ago, the whole 'spontaneous-in-the-moment photography' - that is now as common as the gulab jamun in weddings - was just very new and very experiential. And to just experience the whole new fad, I had asked my family photographer to capture those emotions by showing him some similar photos. This was after our engagement ceremony. Typical to arranged marriages, we had the wedding post the couple of months of 'dating'.

One day prior to the wedding, all hell broke loose at both our houses when the news flashed:
'Mumbai Sena's Top Chief has passed away. Cremation to be held the next day'

The penny dropped. The next day was our wedding day. I gulped.
Having a wedding celebration on the very day thousands of mourners from far flung corners of Maharashtra will be bidding the final adieu to the revered and feared political chief - was a tricky tricky situation. His followers could anytime gatecrash and put a full stop to our new beginning. And moreover, the wedding hall was only 10-15 odd kilometers away from the crematorium.

Needless to say, we did a cross check of the wedding hall, the panditji and but of course husband's family and husband himself.

And in that tense moment, in one of the phone calls I had made to my then husband-to-be, tensed and worried said the sweetest romantic dialogue I will never forget:
"Come what may, we will get married tomorrow!"

The entire night I could not sleep a wink thanks to the lethal concoction of anxiety of what ill will befall tomorrow's scheme of things and anger at why has it to happen in my case?


The day finally dawned, and as expected the never sleeping Mumbai was deserted. At 6.30 am there were no cars, buses or two-wheelers on the roads. Not a soul in sight. It was like an unofficial bandh. All but our families were in the comfort of their homes, just hoping to get to the marriage hall as soon as possible. Luckily for us, our cars plied us safely to the hall. And upon arrival, I was glad to see hubby smiling his usual cool smile.

His smile had turned my frown upside down.

Morning passed with all the ceremonies (minus a lot of relatives) and we officially tied the knot by noon. Luckily there was no unwanted interference.

As expected, the well wishers and relatives' turn out was less than 25% of the number expected. And my Dad was already trying to control the damage with the caterers by limiting the quantity of food for the evening reception.

Now for the fun part:

One thing about weddings I realized after my own, is the amount of smiling one has to do. So here we were two souls, genuinely happy to be married to each other, but were not happy of the hushed happenings. The sleeplessness, the bubbling tension along with the fatigue of the long drawn wedding rituals was now showing on our faces.

And so came my brother to the rescue. With two Red Bulls.

Handing us a 'refreshing drink' right before our reception meet-and-greet programme, my sneaky brother had given us a disguised Red Bull each to drink. It was like a shot in the arm for us, quite literally, but a high intensity one. Never having tasted it in my life before, the results were stupendous for all there present to see. (I thanked there were few outside the family to witness my theatrics).

Our smiles were now broader, laughs louder, handshakes firmer, and we became more chattier. Our appetites had grown as we were oblivious to the people watching us loading our plate with all the food and eat voraciously.

And thanks to my wedding photographer, he had captured these finely embarrassing moments very nicely. We relive that funny moment in our life again and again when my daughter wants to watch the wedding video. If I may say so, it could well qualify for America's Funniest Wedding Video.

My wedding was one that all others who didn't make it to will remember of missing it. As for us, it will be highlighted by this funny moment.

Caratlane did this cute video with couples and found that funny moments are what binds a relationship. I agree, and laughing off worries together, makes a relationship stronger.

“This post is a part of #LoveAndLaughter activity at BlogAdda in association with Caratlane.”
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