Book review: The Road Home

Book review:
The Road Home by Rose Tremain


The moving of people from their native places in search of a better life and livelihood is as old as the history of evolution itself. Taking place in this universal movement is the journey of Lev, an East European migrant in London.

The Road Home engages you from page 1 with a simple opening line, “On the coach, Lev chose a seat near the back and he sat huddled against the window, staring out at the land he was leaving.” It draws you in not because it is unique, but because it is such a familiar scene. You already know the answers; still, you want to know what he is leaving behind and where he is going.

With the journey come the relationships that are at the heart of Lev’s experiences. They keep you absorbed with heartwarming conversations and comforting food. Tremain constructs a touching account of the people Lev meets. Through all the strangeness, he discovers an old, familiar bond with them. They are the same people because their story is no different from his. It’s the story of existence. Instead of Lev in London, it could have been Omar from Syria looking for work in New York. Or Raju toiling in Mumbai.

The novel is engaging in its realism and contemporariness. What is missing is depth and description. The move to a new land offers a wonderful canvas to depict the myriad complexities of the journey and destination. Except for a couple of art and culture encounters, the more intimate experiences of London are lost in the daily quest for a meal, shelter, and wages. That Tremain does not mention Lev’s country specifically does not interfere with the narrative. Still, it is a gap that robs the opportunity for rich detailing about his country and culture.

Through a play that he watches with his British lover Sophie, the book offers us a peek into London’s dilettante and their pretentious dalliances with art and theatre. In the play, Dicer the protagonist molests a doll that has been customised to look like Dicer’s young daughter Bunny. Lev’s friends hail the play as ‘groundbreaking’, ‘brilliant’, ‘radical’, and ‘brave’. There is a ‘need to shock’, they state with great determination. “British theatre needs to be taken to a place that it has never visited before – the toilet”, declares Andy Portman the playwright. It is a telling contrast that Tremain sets up between the life and priorities of people. The satire, albeit gaudy, slams home. Tremain must have been grinning wickedly when she came up with the names Dicer and Deluca for the play characters. Lev is enraged, but you will be snorting. That’s the thing about pretences. Different people react differently.

She is not coy either about using her characters to notify the world about her views. Her voice can be clearly heard in comments like, ‘Public Works, Lev. You know, the very term terrifies me to the gills. Because you can never imagine anything good coming out of there. It’s meant to sound philanthropic, but what it signifies to me is some consortium of strangers replacing a thing you love with a thing you need’. 

The Road Home is a good read and the characters are authentic and relatable. The trouble is that they lack deepness and discernment in their description. Think of Atticus or Ma Joad or Jeeves or Hermione Granger or Mrs. Bennet. Their characterization had so much insight and strength. Lev or Ina or Christy won’t be in their league. It keeps the book from being counted among the greats.

For those who haven’t read the book, I won’t reveal how Lev’s journey ends. Either way, there would have been criticism – ‘too miserable’ or ‘too good to be true’. Tremain makes her choice and miserable or good, it is okay.

Will Lev make it in London?

It is a question that you will ask through Lev’s travails.

In a way, that is our question too, isn’t it?


Six reasons why your greeting cards and notes should be deeply personalised

You have got a lovely card, gift or bunch of flowers to celebrate a special occasion.

What about a special note to go with them? Most probably, you might have settled for a standard message that thousands of others have already used.

Personalisation does not only mean adding the recipient’s name to a card or a standard message. It means taking the time out to write and convey things that are deeply relevant to the person receiving the note, card or message.

Here are six reasons why you should invest in writing a personalised message for a special person and occasion:

1. Your personalised message is unique and therefore only one of its kind exists. Can there be a better reason than this?

2. Its value will multiply a thousand times because the recipient will know that your message has not been picked off the Internet or duplicated. It tells the person receiving it that you have invested a lot of time and care in crafting it.

3. Words are forever. Long after the flowers have dried, the candles have been blown out and the cake has been cut, the beauty of words will stay. They will immortalise the occasion and create lasting memories.

4. In the age of mobile phones, abbreviated text messages and vastly identical gifts and notes, a deeply personalised message will be cherished for its originality and genuineness.

5. Businesses are investing heavily in customised outreach to clients. Why shouldn’t you do the same for your personal relationships? The people who are most important to you in this world – your family and friends – also deserve custom-crafted messages.

6. A beautiful card or stationery that carries a generic message will become ordinary and runs the risk of being discarded. A handwritten note will increase in value and meaning when the words are written exclusively for the person receiving it. So ideally you should think about a custom-crafted message even before you get it handwritten or printed on a beautiful piece of stationery.

Next time you resort to writing a generic message, remember that it will dilute the depth of your feelings and make your note ordinary and forgettable.

Get a personalised message written today and experience the depth of your feelings come alive. 

Making Retro Cool Again


Even in an increasingly digital, mobile, instant or plastic world, there’ll be a very special place for the old way of doing things like handwritten letters, personalised messages, and traditional film cameras.

The Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 sits neatly between an ultra-digital and traditional camera. In the age of smartphone photography and DSLR cameras, it evokes nostalgia and renews excitement for traditional photography. The fact that it continues to top the charts of must-haves with teenagers and young adults even after so many years just shows how enduring everything retro can be. Its popularity is more to do with fun, old-world, and vintage and less to do with brilliant photography.

What makes it so appealing is that it comes in a range of stunning colours, matching carry cases, different colour lenses (to mimic today’s digital filters), and an array of frames and clips.


Nailing the product-design-marketing mix is never easy. The Instax Mini seems to have a winning formula – take a bit of retro and package it as cool!

The effect is amazing – the Millennials are craving a Gen X experience!



I placed two orders on Amazon in June.

The two orders were an oversight. I had to place the second order because I forgot to change the quantity from 01 to 02 in the first order.


Two orders; same item. Placed by the same customer (me); on the same date.; within five minutes of each other; to be delivered to the same address. The same logistics partner was delivering the items


The first order gets delivered after 7 days.

The second order for the same item to be delivered to the same address, being delivered by the same partner, reaches my city after 15 days and still does not get delivered.

Reason relayed via SMS: “Could not be delivered as additional address details missing.”

After a number of follow-up calls and social media feedback, the product is traced and delivered after yet another 48 hours.


Get back to the friendly neighborhood supermarket who will not only stock all items under one roof, but will also deliver them free within an hour, while offering a 30-day, interest-free credit to all customers.


Despite all the sophisticated inventory management and software, why is it still so difficult for marketplaces and global leaders in ecommerce to centralize orders placed by a single customer and deliver to a single address on a single delivery date?

Life of a writer on a Friday evening

5 pm in the afternoon and people unwinding
Friends and family calling; it was a Friday evening
The lonely writer sat brooding, copy in hand
There was no escaping this treacherous quicksand

Pronouns, adjectives, British or American?
Tricky apostrophes and commas; will it all be done?
Words much too compound and possessive
Complicated syntaxes and the questions obsessive

Infinitives, articles, predicates and coordinates
Nothing definite about those tiresome indefinites
The evening slipped in between the hyphenations
The writer sighed and longed for an Oracle to catch the omissions

Will the grammar police catch this one?
Don’t be pedantic, that’s fine, said some
Make that your rule and call it your style
Say they’re being picayunish and simply smile

An analysis of President Trump’s inaugural address

Rhetoric no more. He means every word of it!

That was the thought that went through my mind in the first two minutes of Donald Trump’s speech as 45th President of the United States of America.

If there were any expectations of diplomacy, there were none.

Trump was clear. He was not one to be interested in creating history with eloquence. 

He was on a mission. And his inaugural speech would be a reaffirmation of that mission.

His tone was combative. The mood unrelenting. And the strategy divisive.

Here was a speech that couldn’t be more true to the voice of its speaker. Without doubt, this was Donald Trump speaking.

Here’s a detailed analysis of his speech.

Note: Italicized words are portions of the speech and not the full transcript.

Recognises anger

We are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another. We’re transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you people.”

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Look at the early directness and emphatic intent of the speech. At about one minute and 30 seconds, he gets down to business and sets the tone for what is to come.

Trump’s unbelievable rise to become the Republican Presidential nominee and his dramatic win as President was all about the anger of what he masterfully refers to as “the forgotten men and women of our country”.

It is a reminder of why he is there – the Messiah who will deliver the forgotten people.

It’s a powerful sentiment. One that stirs loyalty for the Messiah and stokes anger for the wealthy others.

With that opening, he broke the tradition of delivering positive and unifying messages as a dignified custom of every inaugural speech.

Strokes the populist mood

That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you. This is your day. This is your celebration

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

For someone who rode the rhetoric of divisiveness, it’s interesting to note the inclusiveness here.  

“This is your day” and “your celebration” are not mere indulgences of a generous leader.

He was being careful to reiterate what they already knew. The ultimate outsider had won because the forgotten people had thrown their might behind him. 

Paints a grim landscape

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Celebrations and victories are fine. But they do not evoke powerful emotions.

Stark landscapes do. “Carnage”, “ravages” “dissipated” and “ripped” invoke the grim scenario that Trump wants people to see and remember.

The intention is clear. Cement the resoluteness among the forgotten and the deprived. They must not relent now. This is the way forward if they want better times.

Reaffirms protectionism

We will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. 

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.

‘America first’ was the bedrock of Trump’s campaign theme – ‘Make America Great Again’. The return to a glorious era is rooted in this vision.

We are familiar with ‘Love yourself first’, the philosophy that urges people to love oneself without guilt.

Donald Trump simply extends that philosophy to nation love.

It is an emotion that is difficult to play down or find fault with.

Teases political correctness

We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.

While we didn’t doubt the partisan and protectionist talk, Trump’s attempt at positive and unifying messages rang somewhat hollow.

They were there for those yearning to hear some correctness. Crumbs to make up for the stark lack of diplomacy.

Revels in hyperbole

I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.

We share one heart, one home and one glorious destiny.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.

‘Millennium’ ‘mysteries’ ‘tomorrow’ and ‘ glorious destiny’– didn’t do much either for inspiration or for relief.

Perhaps they were there to make up for the noticeable absence of his pet phrases – ‘very, very amazing’ ‘lovely’ and ‘beautiful’.

Only, they didn’t and rather served to distract from his grim message.

Signals non-interference?

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.

After the brash opinions, one would not expect maturity in the domain of international relations from Trump. So when he talks about the right of all nations* to put their interests first and not to impose, you perk up.

*Post Note: Even if the reference was to Russia

America, the incorrigible Big Brother will let other nations be?

America will not impose its views?

That would be one of the most significant departures from Donald Trump’s expected line of talk.

Talks Tough

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.

The inaugural podium or the celebratory occasion did nothing to soften the blunt reference to ‘radical Islamic terrorism’. He gave the signal loud and clear. He didn’t shy during campaign days to call terror by its name. He wouldn’t shy now as President.

People don’t want euphemisms anymore. He wouldn’t give any.

Wraps up with a touch of the sublime

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

A nation is living only as long as it is striving.

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.

Great speeches capture stirring thoughts that history will invoke and generations will reaffirm.

The desire to hear something poetic and sublime* is satiated in the last few minutes.

*Post Note: Notwithstanding that it was a Trump speech

My pick of the sublime from Donald Trump’s inaugural speech would be this – “a nation is living only as long as it is striving”.

Related: The Audacity of Hope

The Audacity of Hope

This was written in November 2016, just after the US election results were announced.

2017 is here and hope is a good thing. So read on…

To all those who are sad, distressed and fearful about the US 2016 elections verdict, don’t freak out yet—President Trump may not be such a bad idea, after all.

His presidency is not necessarily a vote in favor of racism and bigotry.

His campaign and its appeal have also lain in his talk of lowering taxes, increasing insurance premiums and on concerns on the ground about being forgotten by DC… real problems of people.

It was a vote against elitism rather than against a particular gender or a particular race.

It was an anti-establishment vote and an anti-Washington DC message.

Yes, Trump said horrible, disgusting and unforgivable things about women (and minorities, Latinos and gays). Bill Clinton did not just say, but allegedly did bad things. And allegedly, Hillary is supposed to have shut them up.

Hillary was pro-war, admitted to it and has apologized for it.

While the Democrats focused on issues like Trump’s vulgarity and misogynistic statements, Trump supporters, the working and the forgotten class had other issues to be angry about. And they wanted a change.

In all this, the media, the pollsters, pundits and the Twitterati failed to recognize or highlight their concerns.

His own party took down Bernie Sanders, the candidate who focused on these very issues. He could have won. Who knows? After all, Sanders won against Clinton in both the Michigan and Wisconsin primaries—the crucial states that Clinton eventually lost on 8 November.

Coming to the hope bit now, Donald cannot afford to be at war with the world—he has businesses everywhere, including the “Muzzlum” countries, where he hobnobs with the Sheikhs.

The wall at the Mexico border is unlikely to happen. It will crumble for want of money.

And finally, Donald Trump has been a reality star, a showman. A lot of his hate rhetoric seems to be just that—rhetoric.

In his first ever victory speech at around 3.40 AM ET on 9 November, he said, “We’ll seek common ground, not hostility”. The most important thing for Trump would be to give a stern message to his supporters not interpret this verdict as a license to hate, abuse and attack.

Hopefully, he won’t play out his hate rhetoric. And hopefully, Mike Pence will be the steadying, sobering, wise voice.

Is that audacious?


It’s a new year. But the fundamentals of blog writing will not change

The need for content will remain unabated, as people will continue to seek information, data, news, views and insights.

Subject matter experts will make domain knowledge more accessible than ever.

As you strive to share knowledge and insights, keep these classic rules of writing handy.


The subject can be complex. But your writing shouldn’t be.

Whatever the topic may be, the most important reason why you are writing is to be understood.

Avoid unnecessary jargon and metaphors. Check if you can replace complicated words with simpler ones. For example, in this blog, we wrote, “it’s best to adopt neutral words and phrases” instead of “it’s best to adopt culture-agnostic words and phrases”.

Don’t be vague.

Ask what the reader wants to know and how best you can convey it.

Respect cultural and geographical sensitivities

Context matters.

Remember J K Rowling’s first book? The title “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was replaced with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for the US market. It was done because the publishers felt that American children would be less comfortable with “philosopher”.

Check if words used in your blog resonate with a particular audience, geography or culture. When writing for a global audience, it’s best to use neutral words and phrases.

However, if you are writing for a specific country and if it is important that they relate to your writing, then make sure that your vocabulary and spellings reflect that.

And don’t forget, it’s equally or more important to research what’s not okay or taboo for certain cultures or geographies.

The three golden rules

One: Keep sentences short

This has been said before and we’ll say it again. Irrespective of the length of the blog, sentences should be concise.

A long read requires sharp writing. Findings from the 3rd Annual Survey of 1000+ Bloggers from Orbit Media Studios show that the length of a blog has increased over the years. Readers prefer 800 to 1,200 words articles that can showcase substance and depth. 

If blogs are going to be long, it is imperative that sentences should be short.  Short sentences make it easier to assimilate information and insights.

Two: Avoid long paragraphs

Paragraphs are built to focus on a particular thought, theme, idea or argument. Ideally, a paragraph should not have more than four sentences.

However, more blog writers are resorting to single-sentence paragraphs.

Orthodox writers will argue that a sentence cannot be a paragraph. That would be an oxymoron!

However, one could look at it as a technique where a paragraph is being deliberately deconstructed into single sentences to achieve a distinct style of writing and to hold the reader’s attention.

It could also be driven by the fact that mobile reading has increased. Writers want to avoid paragraphs that look exceptionally long on the average mobile screen.

Read more about paragraphs here by the University of Leicester.

Three: Write in active voice, but don’t junk passive voice altogether

As a rule, write in active voice. It allows for succinct and clear sentences.

Passive voice has its uses too. It works well if you are looking to heighten emphasis for the subject receiving the action. Also, when you are unable to or don’t need to mention the doer, then passive voice comes in handy.

Include links

Provide links generously to attribute source of data, quotes, information or insights. Readers will be grateful for pointers to additional reading. It also adds immensely to the credibility of your piece.

Follow best practices in proofreading

If you treat proofreading as a routine, last minute exercise, your writing will run the risk of errors and show your blog in poor light.

There is a method and discipline to proofreading and it pays to follow it rigorously. Read about best practices in proofreading here.

For more tips and techniques, follow us on twitter.


A non political hyper analysis of the first US Presidential debate, 2016


I kept the alarm, but still woke up 10 minutes late, to watch the Presidential debates from the other end of the Atlantic.

I tweeted, made some observations and here is a television viewer’s take on the most watched debate.

90 minutes. On stage, behind the podium, in front of the audience and the moderator. Scrutiny is an understatement.

90-minutes. Millions watching and hyper analysing every word, gesture and expression.

90 minutes. No commercial breaks. No camera cuts. Just a split screen, zoomed in on the made up faces.

The preparation and homework that must have gone in is unimaginable. After all, the stakes are tied to the most powerful job in the world.

Expression. Eye contact. Gestures. Tone. Pitch. Blink. Flicker. Cough. Sip. Sniffle.

Yeah, the briefing documents must have had notes running into pages for each item.

One almost felt sorry for them. Here we were perched on the sofa with tea and an array of sandwiches, looking forward to 90-minutes of undiluted entertainment.

A chance to play God. And an endless investigation of the key issues.

In addition to no commercial breaks, there were no bio breaks either. They must have been off water, at least two hours before getting on stage.

Still, Donald sipped. And the trolls went berserk with his drinking.

Then the face needed to be arranged exactly in the manner that the campaign managers had told them to.

What to show? How to hide? There’s no place to go, when you are in the limelight.

Smile! Hillary did plenty of that, poor woman, giving in to the criticism that she doesn’t.

Don’t smirk or shake your head. But Trump went ahead and did just that after fifteen minutes of polished restraint. His campaign manager must have sent a text message to his colleague – smh.

He sniffled a bit too and got written about it. Wondering how that comes in the way of Presidency though…

In addition to sniffling, was there shuffling? Who could tell? The podium covered it well. Thank God! You can’t be seen shuffling if you are running for the President’s office.

Don’t cough. You are allowed to choke, preferably on a pretzel and after you become President. But don’t cough. If you cough, you will be written off. She didn’t.

But she did her famous shoulder shimmy, just once. And the trolls went to town with the now famous shimmy GIF.

What to wear? Bright? Sober? Pleasant? Feminine? Humane?

Hillary pulled off the bright red jacket brilliantly, along with the expertly coiffed hair.

Just how many hours were spent selecting the colour and cut? How much analysis and psychological connections of subliminal derivations of colour must have been done.

Looks like it worked. She looked sensational. And Trump saw Red. That explains why he interrupted Hillary 25 times in 26 minutes.

The carefully selected blue silk tie stood out pretty well against Trump’s crisp white shirt. It seemed to have a calming effect on Hillary.

She won this round, in my estimate. Not hands down. Or not because she was brilliant. Mostly, because he was being himself. A brat.