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Archive for the ‘Piggies on the Railway – A Kasthuri Kumar Mystery’ Category

Okay, I’m back after a looooong break. In my defence, there are extenuating factors. I was in the process of shifting cities and, like settling into any new place, it took me while to find my feet in Bangalore. That’s right, I am now a resident of namma Bengaluru. Actually I’m in a far flung suburb of Bengaluru called Whitefield where, initially, I rubbed shoulders with goras and celebrated Thanksgiving (more on that later) and Christmas (more on that later still).

How did that go? How does any interaction with they proudly display their (that’s assimilation into Indian culture by casually discussing THE place for best dosa (it’s not) and equally nonchalantly bitch about Raja with equal vehemence.

But then we moved out of Palm Meadows and into a more Indianised community where, reassuringly, we’re planning a bhang-filled Holi party (definitely more on that later).

I’ve been to the city called Bengaluru six times, seven, including the time I went to UB City to see Led Zepp (lica, as it turned out). More on that later.

I’ve seen precisely one movie (in a theatre). Otherwise my run rate of at least a movie a day continues. And since you ask, it was Band Baaja Baaraat, or as they write here, Band Baaja Bharath.

Let’s see, what else have I been up to?  I’ve been rechristened, Smitha.

And, oh yes, this appeared in a paper in Sweden. Google translation.

That’s right, I’ve been farting. A lot.

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Chick lit meets crime fic, with a dash of fun

Normally I’m a little sceptical about this whole new chick-lit-meets-crime-fic genre that seems to have mushroomed recently. It either winds up being really angsty (tough female heroine has never found love and is treated badly) or really cliché (she is saved in the nick of time by her handsome, studly supervisor) or just unable to stick to a genre (skipping wildly from here to there in the attempts to be Agatha Christie meets Marian Keyes.) Anything that is ‘something meets something’ is usually a book you should avoid. Remember that advice. It’ll come in handy someday.

But, I’m always happy to change my mind. (Isn’t that one of the very fun prerogatives of being a woman?) And so when Piggies On The Railway landed on my bedside reading pile, I picked it up with interest, but not much hope. And boy, was I wrong. This book made me eat my words….Read the rest of it.

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And as I write this heading above, the chicklit writer in me can’t resist adding: Which means fabulous. Okay so I also feel exhausted from too much exercise, faint from too little food, asphyxiated from too many cigarettes…but I’m thin. As the wise Kate Moss said, articulating what women worldwide know to be the gospel truth, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

However, that is not what this post is about. Earlier this week I felt that that Piggies’ publicity needed another push. So I logged into Gmail, opened the chat window and wrote to my PR person (henceforth known as AT).

I began the conversation with my usual, I’m not feeling the love. Which I think it’s a cute opening salvo. AT, however, complains, saying she feels I’m doing diva act. The whole I’m-throwing-a-tantrum-because-I’m feeling-ignored which, frankly, is as far from the truth as John Abraham is from making it to the A list.

I am not a diva. I don’t demand round the clock attendance. Okay, so she can call me once a day and affirm to me that my books are selling like hot cakes and that I’m the best there is. And occasionally, just occasionally, like once a day, she can send me a compilation of press clippings also affirming the same.

Oh dear. In my defence, I said I’m not a diva. I didn’t say I’m not a neurotic writer.

Anyway, coming back to the Piggies publicity push, I mean it was topping all bestseller lists and everything but that’s precisely why I felt we needed to prod it along NOW. “Stoke the fire while it’s burning and all that, old girl,” I said.

I was taken aback when she agreed. “Quelle surprise,” I said, jumping across the English channels, if only linguistically.

She said that she had already contacted numerous publications and arranged for me to comment on a host of issues for various publications. Then she logged out of chat and called me on my cell. “Hold on,” she said. “D just called me. She’s on the other line. I’ll conference you.”

“Hey, D,” she said after a while. “So as I was saying why don’t you get Smita’s views on Handy Investment Tips for Housewives?”

Now AT had either forgotten to tell D she had conferenced me, or she’d told her, but had also encouraged her to be free with her opinion about me. Fire the gun from someone else’s shoulder and all that. I’m leaning towards the latter.

“Smita Jain? But she’s a…chicklit writer!” The way D said the last sentence, with a pause after a as though she was looking for the right word, and a kind of squealy emphasis on the word chicklit, left me in no doubt that she didn’t exactly mean it was like asking Einstein to comment on high school physics.

Derision. From a journo who’d just last week written that the French Open final was played between Rafael Nadal and Roland Garros! This was almost too much to bear.

I was left fuming. As Kasthuri says in Chapter One, “if (s)he thought (s)he was dealing with a brainless twit (s)he had another think coming. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him(her)  about my excellent, eighty-percent-plus-all-the-way academic record, and multiple degrees in economics and finance just to drive home the point.”

But of course I didn’t. I didn’t want to upset D. I didn’t want her writing Smita Jain’s latest novel Piggies on the Railway is based on a popular nursery rhyme, did I?

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Guys, in case you’re wondering where I have disappeared to these days, let me tell you, it’s not Goa (sadly). Well, not totally, although it may account for three days last week.

By now some of you may be aware that Piggies on the Railway is doing very well. Commercially, we sold the entire first print run (5,000 copies) in three weeks flat, and critically, we’ve had more good reviews than bad. So, I think, I can exhale now. Phew!

This success is bringing with it its own share of pressures. For instance, my publicity person is now exhorting me to write the next book ASAP. She calls me up to ask me how many words I’ve written so far. And she does this EVERYDAY. Ever had someone who does this to you every day? Wait a minute, I forgot, most of you have jobs. So you know the best way to suck joy out of something is to make it into a job.

And if that’s not enough to rob me of the will to live, my maids have taken off to their respective villages for the duration of the summer vacation. While I’m quite content to live in an inch layer of dust, eating out is proving to be a problem. A drinking problem.

I can’t help it. Ever since I graduated from college, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten out sans booze. Well, there was this one evening bang in the middle of something stupid the Maharashtra Govt observes. A Gandhi birth week during which they force prohibition down our throats (I would’ve have punned here but I can’t think of a clever punch-line to the set-up). But that was only out of ignorance. Usually I’m pretty up to speed on dry days but somehow that one escaped me. Must be ’cos I was new to Bombay.

In any case, I don’t think it’s that big a deal but my friends seem to think that Margaritas in the afternoon are a sign of alcoholism. I tell them it’s not alcoholism, it’s melancholism. I’m drinking to drown my sorrows. But they’re not amused.

I’m also writing a screenplay for an animation movie. I’m doing this because it’s a friend’s project and also it’s a huge amount of fun.

I’ve got my life somewhat under control now. Not totally sorted but managebale. And I hope to be able to post more regularly from now on. Ciao.

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Private investigator Kasthuri Kumar, the narrator of Smita Jain’s Piggies on the Railway, is a kick-ass heroine. She does interior monologues in the style of Philip Marlowe and other hardboiled detectives in 1930s crime fiction. But this being a book that – improbably but successfully – combines a detective story with chick-lit, Kasthuri (also known as Katie) has more on her mind than just solving the kidnapping case assigned to her…Read more

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I walked into the airport cutting a sorry picture.  As if dragging a suitcase that was larger and heavier than me wasn’t challenge enough, I was trying to do it with two other bags slung on my shoulders. And five-inch strappy heels on my freshly pedicured feet. And no, it wasn’t so much role-playing Anne Hathaway in Devil wears Prada as much as lack of space in the suitcase. Okay, okay, I admit, I ran short of space even in the large suitcase. But that’s only because I had to carry some Piggies (My publicity person asked me to carry some copies at the last minute).

In short, it which was the complete opposite of the picture I wanted to convey – that of a cool, calm, collected and sophisticated writer.

I presented myself at the Jet Airways counter, where a skinny thing with an attitude of a designer store saleswoman gave me a look long enough for me to become conscious of each and every one of the fine lines on my face. Not that I have any. Well, maybe just the beginning of a talon of a crow’ foot if you want to be anal about it.

“Sorry ma’am,” she says, “Only one hand baggage allowed.”

“It is one,” I said, patting the gunny sack on my shoulder.  “This one here,” I said, pointing to the obviously laptop bag on my other shoulder, “is my laptop.”

D-uh! Everyone knows that with women laptop bags and handbags are counted as one. As long as you’re not carrying any liquids which in my opinion just defeats the purpose of carrying a handbag. What’s the point if you can’t carry a lip gloss or a deo?

“But ma’am it’s as big as a suitcase!!!!”

“So? It’s cabin baggage specs!!!”

“No ma’am you’ll have to check it in.” Inflexibly said.

I shrugged as if to convey an insouciant, “If I gotta, I gotta.” But my heart was pounding knowing what was to come.

“You’re overweight,” she said after a moment. She quickly rectified her unfortunate choice of words to mean luggage before I could pass out from shock. The upshot of the conversation was that I had a choice. Either I could, like, a zillion rupees in excess baggage, or, open the suitcase and ditch the stuff I didn’t need.

Now I knew what I couldn’t do, and that was the latter. One, because there was nothing I didn’t need and two, I only do that abroad when flying Ryan Air. I also knew what I wouldn’t do and that was pay for excess baggage because, well, paying to transport kilos other than the precious few on my body was anathema to me.

My brain kicked into action. Wait, there was another solution.

“Business class has a larger allowance, right?”

“Yeah,” she said doubtfully, trying to figure out where I was going with this. She’d have to wait. I had to figure it out myself first.

“How much goes an upgrade cost?”

She mentioned a figure that was marginally higher than what I would have to pay in excess baggage.

She nodded.

“Do it.”

And so I got:

  1. to board the plane last and exit first
  2. a wet towel!!!
  3. more solicitous stewards, although that can be a pain.
  4. more space, not that I needed any. There’s enough leg room in economy to fit two of me. Front to back!
  5. and….and I got to carry my stuff for free!!!!

This was an auspicious beginning. Things were auguring well for the launch.

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Finally it was the 22nd and the day before I was to fly out to Delhi. There I sat, in the spare room of my house (Get that? I have a spare room. In Bombay!) surrounded by 15 outfits not counting jeans, tees, PJs and other casual wear; 6 sets of lingerie, not counting changeable straps and sports bras; 5 pairs of shoes not counting my bathroom slippers and Nikes; endless accessories – four belts, a huge make up kit, 2 perfumes and 3 eau de toilettes, scrunchies, headbands, clips, pins…

….and a cabin baggage-sized strolley.  

I swear I was having a tiny Rebecca Bloomwood moment. Like the aforementioned shopaholic, I was having a minor panic attack at the thought of stuffing everything inside the tiny luggage.

Okay, okay, don’t panic, I told myself. It’s just a question of doing things systematically. For instance, the clothes can be sifted through. After all there are only two launches. I don’t need 15 dresses for that. I have the little black dress so I can certainly do away with the red one with the beige and purple flowers. But what if the LBD is too much for 5 o’clock launch, I said to myself? The blue satin number’s shoulder straps are a little dodgy so can’t rely on that totally. And I’m not sure the white printed silk one goes all that well with silver sandals.  No, I’d better take them all. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

And then there’s the shopping I’ll do in Delhi.

Fuck it! I’d better go out and buy myself a bigger, correction, the biggest suitcase available.

So armed with a lot of enthusiasm and not as much cash I made a trip to Lokhandwala market. Of course, since the luggage shop is right next to Firewalkers, it made sense to quickly duck into the dress shop first. Trying out dresses with a suitcase in hand, albeit an empty one, was plain…unwieldy.

Why was trying out dresses, one may ask, when I already had 15 dresses? Well, the answer is that although, verily, I had 15 dresses, not a one among them felt like THE ONE. Besides it makes sense to purchase something you like when you see it. Cos you’ll never get it you actually need it. It’s some kinda Murphy’s Law of Cosmic Causality impervious to prayers and positive affirmations.

Well, Firewalkers didn’t have anything but the shop around the corner Xact had a 50% sale going on so managed to pick up three dresses for the Bombay launch. Yes, I’m almost certain there will be a Bombay Launch.

Then a quick trip to the ATM and it was onto the luggage shop. I resisted the urge to pick out a set of matching, monogrammed suitcases and picked out the largest, sturdiest suitcase available.

Phew! Packing crisis averted, onto excess baggage crisis.

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